Wednesday, January 5, 2011

DM Advice - Dangers of Using Poison In Your Campaign

Monsters can be very challenging to our players what with their natural attacks, weapons, spells, special attacks and special abilities and I believe most players enjoy fighting monsters under these circumstances. However as a Dungeon Master I absolutely must say that the number one most dangerous character killer is poison.

Let's take a real life example of the common almost humble scorpion. Most of us have at least a modicum of respect for this diminutive little arachnid and it's cousins the spiders but why? It surely cannot be their size. Even the largest scorpions only grow to be about the size of a house cat. So why then do we treat the critters with such care? For starters the critters are just plain alien compared to us humans but their difference in appearance is not the reason we treat them with respect.

It's their venom.

Some of us are highly allergic to the toxins in their venom to the point of death and just because we aren't highly allergic a good many of us at least develop some kind of rash and have crummy symptoms when stung.

Now take that same scorpion and multiply it by about ten and you have a typical fantasy giant scorpion monster. The barbarian and fighter charge in, swords and axes wailing, they can take the attacks from the pincers and the claws but all it takes is one sting from the scorpion to put the fighter or the barbarian down from the game.

Take it from me that when a player starts to take damage or lose points on key attributes (such as constitution or dexterity in D&D) they tend to be a little upset. Now normally they would have a cleric in the party to help heal them or some other type of poison salve or healing balm but what if they do not have one?

This is where it gets tricky when using poison in a game because in most games a character has to make a string of saving throws until they finally succeed or die trying (and trust me Pathfinder is much more 'realistic' for poisons in that a character pretty much dies if they fail their save).

It really stinks when you had a wandering monster scorpion do a total party kill on a couple of heroes that you were trying to entertain with a different game for the night since the cleric did not show up and you didn't want them to venture into the castle of Super Cool Death all because no one made their saves...

My advice for DMs who want to use poison in their game is to make sure that the party is equipped to handle it or at least get some help for it within a reasonable amount of time or you might end up with a tpk yourself.





  1. Your comments and that final picture do a lot for the scorpion's rep..!

  2. Porky thank you. I was attempting to illustrate what it takes to make a giant scorpion.

  3. Then again, slay the scorpion and collect the poision for player use.... so many of the GMs I have played with go out of their way to prevent that, or the poison is not as deadly to other creatures... sigh. Onwards!

  4. @Alfrik - I'd call bad form on your DMs though they may say that D&D and Pathfinder state that poison use is 'evil'. I am of the school that 1d6 Con damage is 1d6 Con damage and it shouldn't matter is the target of the poison is a pc or monster. Poison is an indiscriminate killer. Putting the poison away for later use may require a check however.