Last Updated on January 22, 2023
The weapon of choice for assassins, drow slavers, and all those who are as unscrupulous as they are effective, poison is one of the coolest and most underappreciated parts of Dungeons & Dragons 5e.
From mind-addling powders and ingestible paralytics, to blades smeared with carrion crawler venom, there’s a dizzying array of poisons to be found in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, along with instructions on how to use, buy, and craft them for your own nefarious ends.
How do Poisons Work in D&D 5e?
In D&D 5e, poison is both a damage type and a category of item. Poison Damage is typically inflicted by venomous or magically poisonous monsters like green dragons, or by spells like Poison Spray. Items include poisoned weapons or vials of liquid poison.
Different types of poison can have different effects, from dealing poison damage and inflicting the poisoned condition to blinding, paralyzing, and knocking those affected by it unconscious.
The effects of a particular poison depend on the components – usually rare herbs or venom harvested from monsters – and some are harder to come by than others.
Creatures that ingest or come into contact with poison must make a Constitution saving throw (the DC depends on the specific poison, or perhaps the poisoner who crafted it) or suffer its full effects.
However, poison damage (and the harmful effects of ingesting poison) is the most common damage type to which monsters (and player characters) have immunity, resistance, and advantage on saving throws to resist. Choosing the right target for a poisoning, then, is just as important as choosing the right type of poison.
The Four Types of Poison
There are four types of poison described in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. A poison’s type is determined by the way in which it is applied.
1. Contact Poison
Contact Poison is smeared on an object or article of clothing, where it remains potent until touched or washed away. Any creature that comes into skin contact with the poison is affected and remains potent until it is touched or washed off.
This is probably the most dangerous poison type if it cannot easily be detected. A poisoner (or cruel DM) might smear contact poison on the underside of a door handle, the lid of a chest, or around the outside of a cup.
While adventurers can minimize the risks of contact poison by wearing gloves or using the Shape Water spell to wash anything suspicious they plan on manhandling, anything a person’s bare skin could touch (like a toilet seat, if you want to be especially dastardly) is a potentially lethal threat.
2. Ingested Poison
Ingested Poison requires a creature to swallow an entire dose to suffer its effects. The dose can be delivered in food or a liquid and could either be highly noticeable or virtually undetectable without sampling it first.
The DM might rule that only consuming a partial dose has a reduced effect, and might grant advantage on the saving throw or have the poison only inflict half damage on a failed save.
3. Inhaled Poisons
Inhaled Poisons take the form of powders or gases that take effect when breathed in. They could be administered by blowing the powder into the victim’s face, or releasing gas into a room.
Creatures within a 5-foot cube of the poison are affected; although pumping an entire room full of gas might take a few minutes, it would steadily cover the entire area.
The resulting cloud dissipates quickly after taking effect, but holding your breath is ineffective, as inhaled poisons affect nasal membranes, tear ducts, and other parts of the body.
Easily the scariest type of poison (seriously, I googled mustard gas and scopolamine so you don’t have to – and now I’m definitely on a watch list) that can turn a lighthearted romp through a dungeon into a frantic fight for survival.
4. Injury Poisons
Injury Poisons can be applied to weapons, ammunition, trap components, and other objects that deal piercing or slashing damage and retain their potency until delivered through a wound into a creature’s bloodstream or are washed off the weapon.
A creature that takes piercing or slashing damage from an object coated with the poison is exposed to its effects.
That’s right. It’s time to slather up that greatsword with some sweet, sweet venom.
How Do I Make a Poisoned Weapon?
Coating a bladed weapon (as well as ammunition or a hastily-constructed trap) with poison can add some much-needed extra damage to your attacks.
While you can coat your intended delivery mechanism, as long as it deals piercing or slashing damage, with any Injury Poison of your choice (see below for more), the Player’s Handbook provides only Basic Poison as an example.
Poison, Basic (vial)
Type: Poison Cost: 100 gp Weight: —
You can use the poison in this vial to coat a weapon that deals slashing or piercing damage – or up to three pieces of ammunition – as an action.
A creature hit by your poisoned weapon or ammunition must succeed on a DC 10 Constitution saving throw or take 1d4 poison damage (in addition to the damage dealt by the base weapon). The poison remains active for one minute after you apply it.
Even the most basic form of poison can theoretically grant an extra 40 poison damage to your melee attacks – assuming you attack once per turn for 10 rounds and your target fails all their saving throws. In the hands of a character with multi attack, this can quickly start to add up.
Poison and Conditions
Many poisons, in addition to inflicting damage, also impose conditions on creatures affected by them, as the toxins attack their nervous systems and eyes.
Different poisons can apply one or more of the following conditions when the target fails a Constitution saving throw. These conditions can last for differing lengths of time, depending on the poison’s type.
The most commonly inflicted condition as the result of poison. A poisoned creature has disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks.
A paralyzed creature is Incapacitated (unable to take actions or reactions), and can’t move or speak. The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws.
Attack rolls against the creature have advantage, and any attack that hits the creature is counted as a critical hit if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature.
A blinded creature cannot see and automatically fails any ability checks that rely on sight. In addition, attack rolls made against the creature have advantage, and the creature incurs disadvantage on all its attack rolls.
An unconscious creature is incapacitated, as well as being unable to move or speak and is unaware of its surroundings. When a creature falls unconscious, it immediately drops anything it is holding and falls prone.
While unconscious, the creature automatically fails any Strength or Dexterity saving throws. Attack rolls make against the target have advantage, and any attack that hits the creature counts as a critical hit if the attacker is within 5 feet.
Essentially, while poison can be a powerful source of damage, its use as a way of disabling and debuffing enemies is where it proves to be most effective.
How Do I Cure a Poisoned Creature?
Besides simply finding a safe place to lie down and ride out its effects, there are a few ways of removing the effects of poison in D&D 5e. These are particularly effective in the case of poisons that deal damage repeatedly over a number of hours or even days, or those that leave you paralyzed or blinded.
Protection from Poison is a 2nd-level abjuration spell available to clerics, druids, paladins, rangers, and artificers. The caster touches a creature and neutralizes one poison that is affecting it. For the next hour, the target has advantage on Constitution saving throws against being poisoned and gains resistance to poison damage.
Lesser Restoration is also a 2nd-level abjuration spell. Available to the bard, cleric, druid, paladin, ranger, and artificer, this spell allows the caster to end one of the following conditions affecting a creature they touch: blinded, deafened, paralyzed, or poisoned.
Note that some poisons impose multiple conditions on a target. While I would rule that ending the poisoned condition effectively neutralizes the poison, and therefore ends the other conditions, the final decision rests with your DM.
As in the real world, you can’t simply wander into any random shop and pick up a few vials of murder juice. In D&D, the nature of poisons means that, in most civilizations, their sale and use is strictly prohibited – or perhaps regulated by the authorities.
Still, there is more than one way for an adventurer with a pocketful of gold, a few criminal contacts, and a can-do attitude to get their hands on a few doses of something deadly and undetectable.
Where Can I Buy Poisons?
While in civilized areas, legal routes to acquiring poison are likely to be unavailable to you. In some settings, strict laws prohibit the possession and use of poison, and your character could face strict punishment if caught using, buying, selling, or simply possessing them.
The law can’t be everywhere at once, of course, and a black-market dealer or unscrupulous apothecary with gambling debts to pay might keep a hidden stash for sale – assuming you can convince them you’re not a narc, that is.
Characters who have connections in the criminal underworld or work for a faction of thieves and assassins may find gaining access to a wide array of deadly poisons easy. Other characters might have to spend days searching, bribe guards, and pay over the odds when they do finally locate a merchant.
Characters with criminal contacts might be able to acquire poison relatively easily. Other characters might have to make extensive inquiries and pay bribes before they track down the poison they seek.
The list of example poisons at the end of this article also contain suggested prices per dose that characters might pay. Keep in mind, however, that things like supply, demand, and whether or not the merchant still kinda thinks you’re a cop can all affect an item’s final price.
If you’re struggling to find a local poison contact, or suspect that your current dealer is ripping you off, you may want to try plan B: making your own.
How Do I Craft My Own Poisons?
During downtime between adventures, you can use the crafting rules found in Chapter 8 of the Player’s Handbook to create basic poison if your character is proficient with a poisoner’s kit.
This can be a somewhat arduous task. For every day of downtime you spend crafting, you can create one or more items with a total value of no more than 5 gp.
You must also use up raw materials equal to half the item’s final value. If something you want to craft has a market value greater than 5 gp (like pretty much all poisons) you make progress every day in 5-gp increments until you reach the market value of the item.
A single dose of Purple Worm Poison (which has a market value of 2,000 gp) would then take 400 days to craft. A dose of basic poison (which has a value of 100 gp) would still take 20 days and 50 gp for a single character to craft – which hardly feels worth it for a measly 1d4 extra poison damage per turn assuming you’re not fighting one of the 100+ monsters in the Monster Manual with immunity or resistance to poison damage and they fail every single DC 10 Constitution saving throw.
You can accelerate this process by having multiple characters with poisoner’s kit proficiency work together. Still, each character only adds another 5 gp worth of effort per day.
At the DM’s discretion, the character can craft other kinds of poison. To make things even trickier, not all poison ingredients are available for purchase, and tracking down certain ingredients often requires extracting them from the monsters that produce them.
That, or you have to go and steal them from someone who was tough (and crazy) enough to climb inside a purple worm’s mouth with a jam jar and a spoon.
The Poisoner’s Kit
Cost: 50 gp
Weight: 2 lbs.
A poisoner’s kit includes the vials, chemicals, and other equipment necessary for the creation of poisons. Proficiency with this kit lets you add your proficiency bonus to any ability checks you make to craft or use poisons.
Being proficient with the poisoner’s kit is also the only way that you can craft your own poisons from scratch. The Assassin rogue subclass is the only class that gets poisoner’s kit proficiency as part of its main class features.
If you’re not playing an Assassin, you can choose to create a Custom Background that grants you proficiency, or study to gain proficiency using downtime.
Lastly, the Knowledge Domain cleric can also temporarily gain proficiency with a tool kit of their choice, and so could briefly know how to use a poisoner’s kit.
Harvesting Monster Parts
The necessary components required to craft more potent poisons may often require you to go and track down something nasty and collect some of its poison, venom, or other body parts straight from the source.
These caustic substances can then be synthesized into stable poisons to use. Some poisons specifically list a component that needs to be freshly harvested from a particular monster.
Even if you find and defeat the monster you need, however, getting a usable sample of poison is no walk in the park.
Any character can attempt to harvest poison from a poisonous creature, such as a snake, wyvern, or carrion crawler.
The creature must be incapacitated or dead, and the harvesting requires 1d6 minutes followed by a DC 20 Intelligence (Nature) check. (Proficiency with the poisoner’s kit applies to this check if the character doesn’t have proficiency in Nature.)
If the check is successful, the character harvests enough poison for a single dose of poison. On a failed check, the character is unable to extract any poison at all and, if they fail the check by 5 or more, they accidentally prick a finger on a fang and are subjected to the creature’s poison.
It’s nasty work, but assassins guilds will likely pay handsomely for an intact sample of venom.
As a DM, I would let characters who have poisoner’s kit proficiency and are willing to spend the time researching create their own poisons – typically requiring a harvested monster part and a decent amount of gold.
In addition to homebrewing (literally) your own nasty concoctions, the Dungeon Master’s Guide contains the following poisons for you to kit out the next team of assassins sent to try and take down the party in the dead of night.
|Price per Dose
|Burnt othur fumes
|Carrion crawler mucus
|Essence of ether
|Oil of taggit
|Purple worm poison
Assassin’s Blood (Ingested). A creature subjected to this poison must make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, it takes 6 (1d12) poison damage and is poisoned for 24 hours. On a successful save, the creature takes half damage and isn’t poisoned.
Burnt Othur Fumes (Inhaled). A creature subjected to this poison must succeed on a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or take 10 (3d6) poison damage and must repeat the saving throw at the start of each of its turns. On each successive failed save, the character takes 3 (1d6) poison damage. After three successful saves, the poison ends.
Carrion Crawler Mucus (Contact). This poison must be harvested from a dead or incapacitated carrion crawler. A creature subjected to this poison must succeed on a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for 1 minute. The poisoned creature is paralyzed. The creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.
Drow Poison (Injury). This poison is typically made only by the drow, and only in a place far removed from sunlight. A creature subjected to this poison must succeed on a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for 1 hour. If the saving throw fails by 5 or more, the creature is also unconscious while poisoned in this way. The creature wakes up if it takes damage or if another creature takes an action to shake it awake.
Essence of Ether (Inhaled). A creature subjected to this poison must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or become poisoned for 8 hours. The poisoned creature is unconscious. The creature wakes up if it takes damage or if another creature takes an action to shake it awake.
Malice (Inhaled). A creature subjected to this poison must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or become poisoned and blinded for 1 hour.
Midnight Tears (Ingested). A creature that ingests this poison suffers no effect until the stroke of midnight. If the poison has not been neutralized before then, the creature must succeed on a DC 17 Constitution saving throw, taking 31 (9d6) poison damage on a failed save or half as much damage on a successful one.
Oil of Taggit (Contact). A creature subjected to this poison must succeed on a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or become poisoned for 24 hours. The poisoned creature is unconscious. The creature wakes up if it takes damage.
Pale Tincture (Ingested). A creature subjected to this poison must succeed on a DC 16 Constitution saving throw or take 3 (1d6) poison damage and become poisoned. The poisoned creature must repeat the saving throw every 24 hours, taking 3 (1d6) poison damage on a failed save. Until this poison ends, the damage the poison deals can’t be healed by any means. After seven successful saving throws, the effect ends, and the creature can heal normally.
Purple Worm Poison (Injury). This poison must be harvested from a dead or incapacitated purple worm. A creature subjected to this poison must make a DC 19 Constitution saving throw, taking 42 (12d6) poison damage on a failed save or half as much damage on a successful one.
Serpent Venom (Injury). This poison must be harvested from a dead or incapacitated giant poisonous snake. A creature subjected to this poison must succeed on a DC 11 Constitution saving throw, taking 10 (3d6) poison damage on a failed save or half as much damage on a successful one.
Torpor (Ingested). A creature subjected to this poison must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or become poisoned for 4d6 hours. The poisoned creature is incapacitated.
Truth Serum (Ingested). A creature subjected to this poison must succeed on a DC 11 Constitution saving throw or become poisoned for 1 hour. The poisoned creature can’t knowingly speak a lie, as if under the effect of a zone of truth spell.
Wyvern Poison (Injury). This poison must be harvested from a dead or incapacitated wyvern. A creature subjected to this poison must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw, taking 24 (7d6) poison damage on a failed save or half as much damage on a successful one.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.