|If you can't make your own dangerous, lethal substances, then store bought is just fine.|
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
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.