Monday, July 26, 2010

Poison (Redux)

Only AFTER I posted this morning's post did I figure out exactly WHY I had been so bold as to say poison doesn't instantly kill you.

It's in the rules.

That's right, but you have to actually get to it in a roundabout way. Neutralize Poison, the clerical spell found in the Expert rules can save a person who's been poisoned, REVIVING them (Cook's words) so long as it is used within 10 rounds of the failed poison save.

So let's break this down:

- Clearly Neutralize Poison, a 4th level spell, does NOT raise someone from the dead; raise dead is a 5th level clerical spell, after all. Ergo, we can infer that the character is NOT deceased.

- And yet it's pretty clear that a person that gets pumped full of giant rattler venom or stuck with a purple worm sting is instantly out of action (unlike a bite from a medusa or a giant spider, both of which take many minutes to take effect). "Dead" is actually the term used in the monster description, but since we've established Neutralize Poison doesn't raise the dead and yet revives a poisoned character within ten rounds, well...I guess it's safe to say the poisoned victim is "dead to the world," at least.

I can't tell you how happy this makes me. First off it justified my earlier poison clarification in the B/X Companion. But second off (and so much more fun!) it means any character that fails a poison save is writhing on the floor, shaking and shivering in agony as poison courses through their veins! cool is that?

All you whiners out there who don't like instant death? You've been given a reprieve! Play B/X or BECMI and at least your character has a chance of survival even after failing that D20 roll. Maybe your DM will take mercy on you and allow a fellow player to "suck the poison out" even if your party isn't carrying that O-So-Useful neutralize poison spell.

Oh, and just by the more reason why B/X is the coolest. This little rule? Doesn't apply to AD&D. Neutralize poison can only be used to "de-fang" (so to speak) toxic critters. Hell, being poisoned by a medusa or spider spells instant death as well, per the AD&D Monster Manual, none of this (more realistic in my opinion) waiting on the poison to take effect. You are DEAD, pal.

Of course, what's the use of something like Slow Poison, then? Well, interestingly, this particular spell, a trifle ungracefully I'm afraid, somewhat mimics the B/X version of neutralize poison, basically extending the life of a character that's just been poisoned, possibly in the hopes of neutralizing the venom. Here's the dumb-dumb part (in addition to requiring a double-spell combo to heal a single poisoned wound): instead of giving a person 10 rounds to cast it, slow poison can be case within 1 turn per level of the caster.

How does this even make sense? The toxicity level of the poison is determined by the caster rather than the creature? If I'm a 7th level caster (spell must be cast within 7 turns) it takes 70 minutes for spider bite to finish someone; if I'm 12th level it takes two hours? Ridiculous!

Well, anyway, I'm still happy I'm playing B/X (and triply happy I don't have to keep track of lost attribute points for poisons, thank you very much). As with many things, I think the B/X crew got the poison rules nice and tidy.

[I'll have to check my LBBs later to see if this was 'ported directly from OD&D or not]



  1. The more I read your blog the more I love it. I've always been a fan of the Basic set and it's good to see someone equally as passionate. Great interpretation of the rules

  2. I'm an ocean away from my books, but I seem to recall in 2e (boo, hiss, etc) various types of poisons had various onset times and various status effects. Slow poison had a much clearer effect under those circumstances.

  3. I guess I never read the spell description for Slow Poison very closely. I always assumed it was an offensive spell that slowly poisoned its victim. What a bummer!

  4. I actually prefer the 3x poison and disease rules to the ones in older editions for reasons of clarity and ease of use.

    Still scary, just easier to use and more coherent. Of course not everything got better ..

  5. @ Ghost: Thanks for the kind words. It's easy to gush over a great game.
    : )

    @ Al: All my 2E books (yes, I owned a set once upon a time) have long since been sold to the used bookstore. I'd be curious to see how it differs from 1E as a lot of weirdness got cleaned up in the update.

    @ Brendan: Hey, man, I used to play fairly fast and loose with some of these rules myself. Actually, your version sounds pretty interesting!
    ; )

    @5stone: I don't know, man...the B/X rules are pretty clear and easy.
    : )

  6. This may not be what is said in the rules, as I don't have them handy, but Slow Poison does make a sort of sense.

    If there is no attempt made to slow the poison, then it's one round and you're dead (or whatever). Slow Poison staves of the dire circumstance for long enough to apply whatever aid is needed. Under those circumstances, a more powerful caster will be able to stave off the venom for longer.

    It's not the strength of venom which changes, which would indeed make little sense (although I can see potential in a magic system running along such lines, as magic shouldn't make sense); rather it's the victim's resistance to poison which is changed.

    That seems so obvious to me that I can only assume there's something in the text (again, I don't have it to hand) which suggests that this is not how it works.

  7. DMG p. 20 has onset times for different poison types, though the description of Slow Poison seems to indicate that the spell can work even after a character is supposedly dead, up to the max duration of the spell.

  8. I love the mental picture of players flopping around on the ground, foaming at the mouth, eyes rolling, peeing themselves as the poison slowly, painfully kills them from the inside...

    And by players, I of course mean characters.

    Yup, characters.

  9. @ literally made me laugh out loud, man. Thanks for that.

    @ Kelvin: I'll double check.

    @ Antonio: as I said, "weirdness." That's why if anyone has the 2nd edition PHB, I'd be interested in knowing how/if Slow Poison has changed.

    Not that I'd ever PLAY 2nd edition again, you understand...this is just "research."
    ; )

  10. I am enjoying this topic as it percolates around the old-school intertubes lately. It's funny because I had posted about several interesting rules (this one included) over at Goblinoid Games' forum a few days ago. Synchronicity, eh?

  11. Herewith the text of Slow Poison from AD&D 2nd edition:
    When this spell is placed upon a poisoned individual, it greatly slows the effects of venom, if cast upon the victim before the poison takes full effect. (This period, known as the onset time, is known to the DM.) While this spell does not neutralize the venom, it does prevent it from substantially harming the individual for the duration of its magic in the hope that, during that spell period, the poison can be fully cured.

    So, it works like you would expect, i.e. within the limits of the onset time. In 1e it seems characters are not really dead even when they die. I suppose at some point they DO die, but it's mostly immaterial if you don't have a Slow Poison spell.
    Overall, I prefer the 2nd edition version of the spell, as it interacts with the onset time.

  12. It makes perfect sense, a better caster casted a better slow poison spell, kind of like how a steel door would hold up longer than a wooden door or 1000 gallons of water slow a fire down more than one,