“Save vs Poison or Die.” says the bearded face from behind it’s screen. The clatter of dice follows, then a groan. The beard tilts downward slightly “Roll a new character, you’ll be in the next room. Everyone else, what are you doing?”
A classic scenario in old school gaming, and a contentious one at that. Save or Die poisons are a staple in many old school adventures. They make dungeons seem deadly and dangerous, regardless of level; and they fit well into certain styles of play. But they do not fit well into every style. If your play group favors focusing on a single group of persistent adventurers instead of troupe play these sorts of poisons can lead to overly cautious play. Players rarely want to risk a character who has rapport with an existing group over a single treasure.
To help resolve this, I’ve implemented some new poison rules in my own games (shamelessly stolen from this video. These follow rules similar to potions, and can be lethal if left untreated, but not invariably so; and not instantly either. The basic rules are like this:
“Upon coming into contact with a poison, either by ingestion, a needle prick, inhalation, or other methods, make a save vs poison. If failed, the poison ravages the characters body for 1d4+2 turns. Each turn, the poison damages the body in some way, and the character makes another save. If successful, the poison has burned out of their system, leaving only whatever damaged it caused behind. If all saves are failed, the poison is lethal.”
Having poisons work this way lowers their lethality, at the cost of long term consequences. It also allows for players to try things to save their possibly dying comrade, rather than just rely on fourth level spell slots.
To balance this, poison effects need to be significantly debilitating, so I’ve come up with a table of some of the ones I’ve used recently and liked
|A creeping rot appears from the affected area. It grows each turn causing permanent necrosis to effect area (starting with just a finger, then whole hand up to an arm ect)||Needles|
|Acidic vapors eat away at the face and vocal chords. Charisma is reduced by 1 and comeliness by 2 each turn.||Gas|
|The body is wracked by spasms (save vs paralysis or become prone), which grow more intense turn (-2 to save each turn). In the future, the character may fall into these fits again when exerting themselves (20% chance per exertion)||Any|
|The character’s throat swells shut, and they begin choking. The lack of air causes their constitution to be affected (-1 CON each turn)||Gas, ingestion|
|Vivid halluncinations cause the character to attack wildly (blind penalties apply). The hallucinations will worsen each round, eventually stopping the heart. They will recur randomly in the characters sleep unless magically healed (10% chance to gain no benefit from resting, removed via Remove Curse or Restore Life and Limb)||Any|
|The character is paralised with pain. This pain worsens each turn, dealing 2 points of illusory damage (being reduced to 0 hit points will instead put them to sleep for 4 turns. They can not be awakened by normal means)||Ingestion|
|Muscles across the body atrophy rapidly. -1 to strength each turn.||Needles, Gas|
|The character becomes indolent and sluggish (movement quatured and damaged halved). They retain sluggishness, always acting last in iniative (if using group initive, they are their own group)||Needles, Ingestion|