Sunday, August 20, 2017

4 Simple Tips For Using Poison in Pathfinder

Poison is one of those aspects of Pathfinder that we all know about, but most of us never really play around with. Much like combat maneuvers, poison is something anyone can technically use... but like anything else in the game, if you're going to make it a big part of your schtick, you should be sure your character is specialized in it.

If you can't make your own dangerous, lethal substances, then store bought is just fine.
If you've been thinking about embracing poison in Pathfinder, here are some hot tips I'd recommend using to minimize your frustration, while maximizing your effectiveness.

Tip #1: Make Sure You Have A Steady Source of Poison

Come here, dearest... time for your milking!
Most of the time when players encounter creatures that use poison, it's a poison they produce naturally. Rattlesnakes, pseudodragons, giant spiders, etc. all have an inexhaustible supply of poison. PCs don't typically have that luxury... most of them have to make due with buying poison, or finding it randomly on enemies like drow, or assassins who've been sent to kill them. The problem with buying poison is that it can get expensive... particularly when you consider it is, in essence, a save-or-suck for non-spellcasters. Even cheap poison can cost triple-digit gold pieces, and if you put it on arrows or darts that don't find their mark, then that's venom flushed straight down the drain.

If you're going to use poison on the regular, you need to make sure you know where your doses are coming from. The easy way to do that is to invest heavily in the Craft (alchemy) skill so that you can whip up just the right cocktail to make life uncomfortable, short, or both for your foes. If you take the feat Master Alchemist while you're at it, this allows you to simultaneously create multiple doses of a poison (equal to your Int modifier), and it helps you craft them more quickly.

Your other option, if you want an immediate, personal source of poison, is to make sure you have a trick up your sleeve. The vishkanya, for example, have a natural poison of their own they can use several times a day as a swift action. If your character has the 1st-level power of the Serpentine bloodline, then they can use their own fangs to deliver venom for a number of rounds equal to 3+ their Cha modifier (more on this strategy in How to Power Up Your Pathfinder Characters With The Eldritch Heritage Feats).

And remember, as the infamous Dungeon Keeper said in Better Traps and Tortures, if you poison enough things, eventually your enemy will fail a save.

Tip #2: Avoid Exposure

Don't slip... don't slip...
You know how when you attempt a combat maneuver check it provokes an attack of opportunity? Well, poison has a similar risk when you use it. If you don't have poison use as a feature, then you have a chance of poisoning yourself whenever you apply poison to a weapon, or whenever you roll a 1 while making a Craft check to make a poison. So, you don't typically see non-specc'd characters messing with poison for the same reason you don't see a lot of players making bull rush attacks if they haven't invested in the necessary feats.

Fortunately, there are a lot of ways you can get poison use. The easiest ways are to take levels in alchemist or ninja, though the assassin prestige class, and the poisoner rogue archetype also give you the ability. Vishkanya get poison use as a racial feature, as do several other races in the game. And, if you're clever, you can even get effective immunity to poison (or at least some kinds of poison). The rogue talent Developed Poison Immunity means you automatically save against any one kind of poison that you've saved against in the past, which means even if you decide to drink it, you save against its ill effects without rolling. And, of course, alchemists develop full poison immunity at level 10.

Tip #3: Unique Delivery Systems

Time to take your medicine.
Most of the time poison is delivered through a melee weapon. After all, if you put it on your knife, it stays until you injure someone with it. You can envenom a ranged weapon, as well, but if you miss and lose the arrow or crossbow bolt, then you also lose the dose of poison you put on it. Risky endeavor, unless you've got poison coming out of your ears... or other parts of your anatomy.

However, there are other options for getting poison into your enemies. Pitted bullets, for instance, allow you to shoot poisoned bullets into targets. The poison shot deed (which is a grit feat), allows you to spray a single dose of inhaled or ingested poison in a 15-foot cone, exposing all enemies in that cone to it. Or you could use the Adder Strike feat as a way to apply poison to your unarmed strikes (though you'll need either immunity, or gloves, to avoid making the save yourself). Additionally, if you take the Poison Bomb ninja trick, then you can add an inhaled poison to your smoke bombs, affecting everyone in the area. If you can get your hands on a Poison Vial of Distance, you can deliver a poison at range without any trouble.

Of course, you can also get tricky with your poison delivery. For instance, if you have poison immunity (or you automatically save against a particular kind of poison), then you could use it in all sorts of unusual ways. You could coat your palm in a contact poison, and shake someone's hand. You could poison wine, and then drink some harmlessly to assure others they're safe. The possibilities are rather extensive.

Tip #4: Remember, A Lot Of Things Are Immune to Poison

Ah crap.
Poison is similar to combat maneuvers in another way... the higher you get in level, the less effective it's going to be overall. Because while a DC 13 save might be a big danger at level 2 or 3, by the time you hit your stride at level 9 or 10 it's got a 5 percent chance of actually working. Even rare, powerful poisons with a DC in the 20s will likely be brushed aside by dragons, and creatures like demons, devils, and undead are outright immune to the effects of poison.

It's still a nasty surprise for that human wizard or sorcerer you tangle with around then, but that's a very situational use of this material.

So what do you do? Well, that depends on how much you've sunk into making poison a viable part of your character. If you use racial poisons, or bloodline poisons, then the DC increases with your character level, and thus remains a viable threat as you gain in power. While you might eat a feat slot or two for a unique poison trick, it won't take up too many of your resources. Most of the time, though, you just have to make sure your poison's ready to deploy, and hope for those low saves from the DM. Don't depend on them, though, and make sure that even without your venom you still have a way to contribute to the game.

With that said, there is one way you can get one over on your antagonists if they're evil creatures typically immune to poison (demons, devils, undead, etc.). An 8th-level alchemist can take the discovery Celestial Poisons, which infuses any poison they administer to a weapon with celestial power. This poison overcomes the immunity possessed by evil creatures, and forces them to actually make a save. However, depending on the poison's effect, it might still do nothing (poisons that deal Con damage will have no effect on an undead, for instance).

Well, that's all for my list! Hopefully folks enjoyed this week's Crunch installment. If you're looking for more content from me, then check out my archive over on Gamers. To keep up-to-date on all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support Improved Initiative, then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. As little as $1 a month can make a big difference, and help me keep making the content you want to see.


  1. I made an alchemist who was a deadly poisoner. I took advantage of the downtime system to cut poison costs down to about 1/6 market price. While technically not RAW, milking a familiar for poison would probably be a reasonable request from your DM.

    I was surprised to see that poison conversion and the lethality of stacking inhaled poisons wasn't mentioned. By stacking say, 12 drow poisons that have been converted to inhaled via the aforementioned discovery, you get a super high DC save or lose (in the high 30's, iirc) for relatively little cost for the effect. Sure, you're throwing about 200 gp at them, but when you basically auto KO everyone in 10 feet, who cares?

    1. Reading the rules for stacking the poison to increase DCs, it seems you have to consistently hit the creature with the same poison repeatedly. Not only that, but you have to fail your initial save for the DC to go up. Which is sort of pointless if you're getting hit with a knockout poison, because if you fail, then you've got the reaction you want.

      Even if you put multiple doses of inhaled poison in an area, the DC doesn't go up in the victim unless they fail their saving throws, and there are multiple doses active in their system.

    2. From what I saw on the PRD, inhaled and ingested poisons are listed as being able to inflict multiple doses at once a few paragraphs below the rules for increased DC.

      I think the stacking rule was actually why poison conversion was banned from PFS

    3. Correct, you can put multiple doses in an area, but that doesn't increase the DC. The DC ONLY goes up when someone fails a save against that poison.

      So, while you can put 12 doses in one square, that doesn't jack the save into the 30s, and make the duration last for 10 minutes. It just means the character exposed to them has to make 12 saves, just as if he'd been bitten by 12 different spiders. If you make the save against a dose, then that dose is nullified, and never does anything.

      So, while you can make the paladin roll 12 times, if he saves against all of them, the poison didn't DO anything. A dose has to be active in the character's system (meaning they failed a previous save) for the stacking to occur.

  2. Huh, most of the forum posts on paizos website seem to follow the stacking method, but now that I think about it, I don't think I saw any devs weigh in on it.

    Guess I better bone up on my poisons!

    1. According to this FAQ post ( inhaled poisons actually do stack their DC if multiple doses are delivered at once.

      On the other hand, I'd also think it's pretty reasonable for a DM to cap how many doses someone can concentrate into one bomb (and perhaps impose an alchemy check), since even an item loving person such as myself thinks the auto lose bomb is quite a bit broken, at least until you start reaching much higher levels