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Will poison work on Polearm Master feat's bonus action (second)attack when using a poisoned halberd?

Poison can be applied only to slashing or piercing weapons, but it's not applied directly to the opposite end of the weapon. So, will it work?

The Polearm Master feat (PHB, p. 168) says, in part:

When you take the Attack action and attack with only a glaive, halberd, quarterstaff or spear, you can use a bonus action to make a melee attack with the opposite end of the weapon. The weapon's damage die for this attack is a d4, and the attack deals bludgeoning damage. This attack uses the same ability modifier as the primary attack.

The description of the vial of basic poison says:

You can use the poison in this vial to coat one slashing or piercing weapon or up to three pieces of ammunition. Applying the poison takes an action. A creature hit by the poisoned weapon or ammunition must make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw or take 1d4 poison damage. Once applied, the poison retains potency for 1 minute before drying.

Will the second attack, if successful, apply the poison to the intended target?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hello and welcome! You can take the tour to learn about the site. This seems like a good question to me. Thank you for contributing and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – Sdjz Feb 4 at 18:16
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As an edge case, the RAW technically allows this

You can use the poison in this vial to coat one slashing or piercing weapon or up to three pieces of Ammunition. [...] A creature hit by the Poisoned weapon or Ammunition must make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw or take 1d4 poison damage.

The problem here is that this is an edge case. Normally, a slashing or piercing weapon is a weapon that does only slashing or piercing damage. Nowhere in the rules does it explicitly say that the poison must be delivered by those damage types. But since the rule only mentions the weapon and a halberd is a weapon that does slashing damage, technically the poison could be applied here even though the Polearm Master attack itself only does bludgeoning damage.

Logically, this shouldn't work

However, if we look at the rules from the perspective of what they are trying to say instead of the strict letter of the rules, I think we come to a much more reasonable ruling.

The rules state that a slashing or piercing weapon is what needed to deliver the poison. In the rules, damage types are almost always attached to weapon damage and not weapon identity. So, this wording is very unusual. Even so, the damage type is clearly a reference to the expected damage type of the weapon damage. Thus, I think it is highly reasonable to read the poison rules as saying "slashing or piercing damage from a weapon" because of this.

In fact, one of the sample poisons from the DMG (published after the PHB where the Basic Poison is written) is already written this way1:

A creature that takes piercing or slashing damage from an object coated with the poison is exposed to its effects.

Narratively this all makes sense as logical inference from the rules seems to be that the target must be cut or pierced in order for the poison to enter the body and take effect.


1 - Thanks @NautArch

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Personally, I think the Injury Poison reason is why the RAW suggests it won't work. However, the missing piece is the unequivocal statement that Basic Poisons are Injury Poisons. It's implied because of the slashing/piercing requirement, but I don't think it outright says it (or at least not that I've found.) \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 4 at 19:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch if the basic poison was worded that way then the RAW would be crystal clear. However they chose to word it differently (or likely the reverse since DMG was published afterwards). I can see an argument for intent, but the RAW seems clear. As written, the injury poison has nothing to do with the basic posion and they contain similar, but different wordings. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Feb 4 at 19:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's a maybe, and definitely a stretch to say it would work. I still think that the wording of Basic Poison (needing piercing/slashing) and then same requirement for Injury Poisons suggests (and on others) suggests that it is of that type. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 4 at 19:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Basic Poisons might not be Injury Poisons because they seem to work with any kind of ammunition, including slings which do bludgeoning damage. (or it might be a specific vs general thing) \$\endgroup\$ – Sdjz Feb 4 at 19:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells right, hence the issue. Treating it like two weapons is an easy (and reasonable IMO) houserule as long as you ignore the other implications of it (two weapons in one hand) however, it clearly is not supported in the rules as that. I like the method of interpretation in my second section a bit better though since it doesn't involve changing the mechanics of the interaction. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Feb 5 at 21:23
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Probably Not

I don't think there is a specific rule about this but logic and general reasoning seems to suggest it would not work. Poison needs to be inside your body to take effect, hence the rule about slashing or piercing. Especially when the PAM rule says the reverse side damage is bludgeoning.

I say probably, because its up to your DM but I wouldn't allow it.

There is such a thing as "contact" type poison (DMG pp 157-8) which needs to touch bare skin to take effect, this is not basic poison, and would require a rule or a special situation where you are hitting skin and not armor/clothes. You would have to find/buy one of these special poisons that have this type.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm unclear why your phrasing suggest that a specific rule doesn't address this. From what you've stated combined with the portions of the rules that querent cited, I'm pretty sure that's the specific rule. Basic poison needs slashing/piercing damage to take effect; PAM says the secondary attack deals bludgeoning. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Feb 4 at 18:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Pyrotechnical: the rule says it needs "one slashing or piercing weapon" it never talks about the damage type needed to deliver it. That is the heart of the ambiguity. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Feb 4 at 19:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ You could also reference Sample Poisons in the DMG where it states for Injury poisons "A creature that takes piercing or slashing damage from an object coated with the poison is exposed to its effects" to close the loop on your already good answer. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 4 at 19:10

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