Reading the 5e version of the rules (PHB), I realized, that there are very few rules on (using) poison (different poison types, poisonous plants etc.) or being poisoned.

I thought, that in a game dating back from the late 70ies, there would be an elaborate chapter on that.

Was there ever a more elaborate ruleset about poison and poisoning?

Or is DnD - because of its roots in wargaming - a more weapon oriented system and there was never the need of elaborate poisoning rules - I could imagine different classes demanding different checks, etc.

What it looks like to me (in 5e) is that this is a topic which has to be houseruled. Was it ever more detailed?

  • \$\begingroup\$ How elaborate a poison system do you want? 5e does have different poison types, and some plants in the adventure modules that are poisonous (as well as poisonous plant monsters). Many poisons have additional effects apart from the poisoned condition. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 12, 2019 at 13:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Was there ever a more elaborate ruleset about poison and poisoning?" and "Does this needs houseruling in 5e?" are two distinct questions --- which would you like answered? \$\endgroup\$
    – kviiri
    Jan 12, 2019 at 13:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @David Coffron I have thought of different "classes" of poison, say "class I" poisons which demand a saving throw a day and which aren't deadly; more a nuissance than a danger. On the other hand a "class III" which requires hourly saving throws and is much very lethal without counter measures. Class III poisons require $foo kind of healing potions. Or for short: the same level of detail, weapons have. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 12, 2019 at 14:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasJunk Those do exist. Some are 1 save for an effect, some are persistent saves. Some only trigger after a certain amount of time. Here is a Q&A where all the rules can be found. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 12, 2019 at 14:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Relevant meta: Don't signal your edits in text. You should instead edit your answer to stand as if it were always the best version of itself. Anyone interested in previous versions of the answer can view the revision history. (That PDF is an excerpt from the DMG, as the URL indicates.) Also, I've never seen it written "70ies", only "70s". \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jan 12, 2019 at 19:27

2 Answers 2


Earlier editions of D&D had specific rules for poisons.

Any of these may inspire you for poisons in D&D 5e, but bear in mind that 5e's simpler ruleset is an intentional design decision to avoid the game being bogged down with unimportant detail.

In Original D&D, there were separate saving throws for different categories of special attack, one of which was "Death Ray or Poison". In D&D 5e terms, this essentially required that certain types of attacks required a more difficult saving throw than others. You could be poisoned by a creature attack, a poisoned trap, or unwittingly drinking a poison potion. A saving throw could allow you to take half damage. The rules are a little vague but no creature has a listed damage value for poison, and I get the impression that failing a save against poison meant instant death.

AD&D 1st edition had specific rules for assassins, who may use learn to craft and poison (DMG 20). A table has rules for different sorts of poison, divided by types, dealing damage or death on a failed save and half damage on a successful save, having specific price, onset time and method of application (e.g. ingested or otherwise).

D&D 3rd edition had particular rules where poisons typically deal ability score damage, sometimes permanently. Poisons take effect immediately with a certain effect. They have secondary effects which occur one minute after the initial effect, and separate saving throws are allowed against both the primary and secondary effect. You can poison yourself by accident when applying a dose of poison to a blade. Poison is too expensive to use cost-effectively.

D&D 5th edition abandons the idea of ability score damage and secondary effects with poisons. Creatures who use poison now have their own specific effects, as do poisons used. There is no longer an assassin class in the core rulebooks. There is a "poisoned" status effect but poisons also deal normal damage or have other effects.

In my estimation, it is simplest to use D&D 5e's poison rules, which appear on pages 257-258 of the Dungeon Master's Guide. The older editions' rules typically allow poison to bypass the ability of hit points to protect a character's life, which violates an implicit design principle of 5th edition.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I accepted your answer as the final answer, since it meets the historical dimension. So the most "detailed" poison system would be found in 3.x? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 12, 2019 at 16:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ The 3e poison rules are actually very similar to the 5e rules. The PDF you found is an excerpt from DMG pages 257-258 which I recommend. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 12, 2019 at 19:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ A very common theme for early editions was that the PCs got poison that would deal a small amount of damage, while the NPCs would have much more lethal varieties. IMX, many 1e AD&D modules would occasionally refer to a trap, chest, or object as being poisoned. Most modules didn't specify the type of poison at all, but it was generally assumed that the poison was save or die. It's also worth noting that earlier editions also considered poison use by the PCs as inherently evil. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bacon Bits
    Jan 13, 2019 at 11:30

There are particular rules for particular poisons

The simplicity of the Poisoned condition is deceptive. Many sources that inflict this condition also apply other negative effects for the duration of the condition as a part of their specific rules. Eg. the spell Contagion can cause the condition to develop into a proper disease, and the poison of a Giant Wasp causes paralysis.

The bulk of the poisoning mechanics not caused by spells or used by monsters are in the chapter 8 of Dungeon Master's Guide. The chapter describes the effects of about a dozen different poisons, as well as listing their market price and method of application . There are also brief rules for harvesting and or crafting poisons.

So, to answer both of your questions: yes, DnD has had more comprehensive effects of poison, even in the very edition you're playing --- you just didn't know which book to check for them.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Fair point. Do I understand you correct, that there was a more fine grained set of rules regarding poisoning in former editions? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 12, 2019 at 14:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasJunk I think you'd be better off asking that separately --- many of our 5e experts aren't particularly versed in earlier editions or vice versa :) \$\endgroup\$
    – kviiri
    Jan 12, 2019 at 14:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you! ;) I decided to accept @Quadratic Wizard's answer, which deals with the historical dimension and meets my initial question horizon better. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 12, 2019 at 16:18

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