Qualities of a Poison
Poisons work more or less as described in the Enchiridion, but these rules have a little more depth. The full range of qualities a poison might have (though hardly any poison has all of them) are:
- Stability: most poisons decay or denature over time. Assume that a poison ceases to be potent one week after its creation unless this is increased as above.
- Onset: the length of time it takes a poison to affect the victim is based on their Body score. Assume it takes effect in five minutes for every point the victim has in Body. Note that while better poisons take effect more quickly, the very best can linger four hours before their effects are known, letting an assassin escape detection long before.
- Subtlety: This difficulty applies both to the victim to understand that poison is the cause of their problem (Sense + Vigor) and to any healers who might be observing the suffering (Sense + Healing). Unless improved, there is no difficulty for this.
- Secrecy: This difficulty generally applies to Sense rolls to detect poison; there is no difficulty normally.
- Dosage: Poisons with a half-cup dose have to be hidden in full meals if ingested and simply can’t be used to coat blades. Those with a vial dose can coat the slicing edge of a long blade. Those with a spoon dose can coat a short sword, while those with a drop dose may be used on arrowheads or blowgun needles. An area of effect dose is often physically larger (a half-cup), but may be used on more victims.
- Vector: Injectable poisons may be used on any weapon that pierces the skin. Contact poisons may be placed on a chair or mixed into washing water; contact poisons work just as well if injected or eaten, though generally poisons need to be exposed in the correct way to be effective.
- Virulence and Tenacity: These are the difficulties (if any) to purging the poison from a victim with a healing roll (if a healer is working on the victim) or a Vigor roll (for the victim to purge or resist it themselves), respectively.
- Cost: This is the Wealth required for the ingredients to brew a batch of the poison. Generally, the more effective it is, the more expensive it is to produce.
- Difficulty: This is the difficulty of brewing a single batch of the poison.
Though bards and wandering minstrels are the ones most often painted as assassins and poisoners, the dark alchemy of poison-brewing is known to many on Athas, from vengeful nobles to the Sorcerer-Kings’ templarates, even to druids who spend enough time among the world’s natural poisons that they learn to use them for their own ends.
In order to brew a poison, the herbalist needs to have the following:
- a formula for the poison itself, which can be acquired as a secret advantage , invented oneself (see below) or very rarely, bought from another herbalist
- ingredients to make it (generally, this requires having a well-stocked poisoner’s kit. The kit has a rating for the quality and variety of its ingredients; treat this just like Wealth, compared to the cost of the formula (so a poisoner’s kit rated 4 can be used to create a poison with cost 3 at no penalty, or a poison at cost 4 at the expense of one notch off its rating).
- time to brew; generally this means the better part of a night for a single batch
- skill; brewing requires an Knowledge + Expert: Herbalist roll, with a difficulty determined by the formula
After the time and ingredients are spent, the herbalist makes their skill roll and, if successful, produces a number of doses equal to the roll’s width. These doses tend not to keep very well, and will lose their potency in a week, unless the formula says otherwise.
Poison recipes are hardly ever sold and rarely are they passed from one person to the next; cases where they are require a lot of trust between student and teacher. Halfling tribes pass their trusted hunting poisons down through the generations, bardic guilds might trade favors for formulas and some sit in guarded sections of templar libraries. Much more common is the theft of poison recipes (it isn’t as if this is a very reputable craft to begin with), so if a character knows a formula that they didn’t learn through some organization, chances are it was ill-gotten or they discovered it themselves.
To determine the level of secret required for a poison formula, use the One-Roll Poisons chart (below), and count the number of dice necessary to build it; that’s the rank of the advantage. If you do not include a die for a complication, you have to roll it randomly after purchasing the advantage (saving you the point, but at the cost of not being able to pick your complication).
Discovering new poisons requires the skill Expert: Herbalism. Unlike may other skill rolls, when experimenting with poisons, you aren’t looking for just a single set: you take your entire dice pool and roll it in much the same way as with the one roll character table. Depending on which sets you make and which come up as waste dice, the qualities of your poison can vary greatly. Those who want to make frequent use of this skill often follow The Poisoner’s Heart esoteric discipline.
Besides taking skill, discovering a new poison takes time and money (or if not money, access to rare and potent materials. The time is a number of weeks equal to the brewer’s total dice pool, and the materials cost half that amount in Wealth. Making do with less time or less money is possible, but the number of dice in the pool is penalized accordingly. During this time, the character needs to spend at least 10-15 hours a week working on the project; if they are literate, they can break this up over an even longer period by taking notes, but an illiterate must take all their weeks in a row or lose all progress.
Once the time and money has been spent, roll Knowledge + Expert: Herbalism. Take this whole roll (unlike other rolls, you don’t try for just one set) and compare it to the One-Roll Poison chart.
To find out what kind of poison you’ve created, start with these stats for a very basic poison…
- Potency: 4
- Vector: ingested
- Dose: half-cup
- Onset: five minutes for every point of Body the victim has
…and compare all sets from the roll to the Set Height table to see how well it can be improved.
Waste dice on the roll are used to determine the poison’s major and minor effects, and any complications in the formula. After looking at the dice, if you don’t have any waste dice, you have to pick one of your sets to break down, counting it as a single waste die of the same height to determine the poison’s major effect. You have the choice of doing the same for the minor effect, but you aren’t required to. You could do the same thing to add a complication (but you probably don’t want to).
After doing all of this, determine the cost and difficulty of the formula by counting the total width of all the sets used in its creation (complications might modify this somewhat).
Finally, give the poison some flavor; the chart outlines what effects it has according to the game rules, but there is a lot of latitude for creativity. What exotic ingredients are involved? What do the poison’s effects look like to a healer, or what do they feel like to the victim? And of course, what name does the poisoner give to their creation?
Consult this chart for each set that comes up on the Knowledge + Expert: Herbalism roll. These affect the basic qualities of the poison.
- Antidote: you happen to discover an antidote to the poison as well; whenever this poison is brewed, you create an equal amount of the antidote. One dose of antidote neutralizes one dose of poison.
- Virulence: this poison is harder than normal to treat: any Healing roll to purge it from a victim suffers a difficulty equal to this set’s width.
- Tenacity: this poison quickly immerses itself into the body; any Vigor roll for the vitcim to resist or purge it suffers a difficutly equal to this set’s width.
- Stability: once brewed, a dose of this poison lasts for one week for every die in this set.
- Subtlety: Rolls made to identify the effects of this poison in a victim suffer a difficulty equal to the width of this set.
- Secrecy: Rolls made to detect this poison before it is used suffer a difficulty equal to the width of this set.
- Onset: 2×4: the poison takes effect in one minute for every point of Body the victim has. 3×4: the poison takes effect in one combat round for every point of Body the victim has. 4×4: the poison takes effect immediately. 5×4: the poison takes effect in hours.one hour for every point of Body the victim has.
- Dosage: 2×8: a dose of this poison fits in a small vial. 3×8: a dose fills a large spoon. 4×8: one drop of this poison is enough to do harm. 5×8: one dose of this poison has an area of effect of 5 people (so long as 5 people can be exposed at the same time).
- Vector: 2×8: this poison may be injected. 3×8: this poison works when inhaled (gas or powder). 4×8: this poison works on contact with the skin. 5×8: this poison has an exotic or preternatural vector (make up something interesting).
- Potency: Increase the poison’s potency by the width of this set.
Assign one of your waste dice here to determine the minimum effect the poison has. If you don’t have enough waste dice for both a minor and a major effect, you can choose to break one of your sets down and treat it like a single waste die of the same height or you can create a poison with no minor effect.
Assign one of your waste dice here to determine the effect the poison has if it scores a set. If you don’t have any waste dice, you can choose to break one of your sets down and treat it like a single waste die of the same height (every poison has to have a major effect).
- Full shock damage to the affected area (torso if the poison is ingested, head if it is inhaled).
- Paralysis. The victim’s body below the neck becomes numb and unresponsive. They may only lie prone until the poison works its course in 6 hours, minus the victim’s Body.
- Dementia. The victim is plagued by hallucinations, waking dreams and amnesia. They have to roll Sense + Knowledge to remember exactly who and where they are; they become sensible for that roll’s height in minutes, after which the dementia resumes for at least another hour. This lasts for 1d days, minus the victim’s Body.
- Blindness until the victim recovers in 1d weeks, minus their Body score.
- Width + 2 killing damage to the affected area (torso if ingested).
- Progressive debilitation: choose a stat; the victim loses one level of that upon onset and must succeed at a Body + Vigor roll every day or lose one more; once the stat hits zero, the victim is rendered entirely helpless (lost Body might mean death, Sense or Knowledge is a permanent state of incoherence or madness, lost Coordination is a total lack of control over one’s movements, etc.) The poison can be treated any time before the stat hits zero; at that point, lost levels return at a rate of one per week; once the damage hits zero, typical healing is not an option (though powerful magic or extremely rare medicine may work).
- Width + 2 killing damage to the head and torso.
- Width + 2 killing damage to every body location; this damage can’t be healed until the victim recovers in 1d weeks, minus their Body score.
- A deep, deathlike sleep for at least a number of weeks equal to the height of the potency roll, after which the victim may roll Body + Vigor to wake up; on a failure, they can roll again after a like number of weeks.
If you have any waste dice remaining after determining a major and minor effect, you have to assign at least one of them here to determine any drawbacks of the poison or mishaps that occur during research.
- You become exposed to the poison while working. Roll as if the poison has affected you (remember that you have to consider the poison’s subtlety to know whether you were even poisoned).
- The poison itself is very hard to work with and gets everywhere. Roll Coordination + Expert: Herbalism whenever applying to a weapon or food or expose yourself to a dose at half potency.
- The poison expires quickly, becoming inert after just one day.
- Research was costlier than expected. Increase the wealth needed to complete this formula by 1; if you don’t have the funds to cover it, either the research is foiled or you can decrease the value of your brewer’s kit by 1.
- The poison’s ingredients end up being more expensive than expected. Increase its final cost by 1.
- The poison itself ends up being more difficult to brew than expected. Increase the difficulty of brewing it by 1.
- The poison must ferment before reaching its full potency. Brewing a batch takes 3 days instead of one.
- The poison is a distillation or adulteration of another poison; choose one that you already know how to make. In addition to the normal ingredients, you have to use one dose of that poison in order to make a batch of this one.