I was reading about poisons when I stumbled upon the "Serpent Venom". In short, you can harvest the poison of a Giant Poisonous Snake and then use it on weapons / poison edibles. I was wondering, if I use Conjure Animals to spawn eight Giant Poisonous Snakes can I harvest their poison and store it or will it disappear once the spell ends?

The spell description states that:

Each beast is also considered fey, and it disappears when it drops to 0 hit points or when the spell ends.

I would guess that means all parts of the animal will disappear but I would like some clarification before making any plans.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related on What happens to a polymorphed character if he is shorn as a sheep? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jan 15 at 16:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also related to 'body parts' and such \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 15 at 22:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ ...does a character that gets bitten and by envenomed by a summoned snake suddenly get cured of poison when that spider disappears? Or maybe venom that gets injected into a body now no longer counts as part of the snake? I guess you could then extract the poison from the victim after the bite. \$\endgroup\$ – leinaD_natipaC Jan 16 at 7:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Or maybe you need more than just a bite's worth of venom to get your dose. Would you need to extract the entire venom sac without reducing the snake's hit points to zero, then inject the whole damn thing into a "willing" test subject?!?! :( \$\endgroup\$ – leinaD_natipaC Jan 16 at 7:29

It's unclear by the rules as written. Flavor might suggest yes. Game balance strongly suggests yes.

I'm not aware of anything written in the rules that governs summoned creatures at this level of detail, which would mean this is an issue for the DM's discretion.

However, the spell description is suggestive:

You summon fey spirits that take the form of beasts [...] Each beast [...] disappears when it drops to 0 hit points or when the spell ends.

Emphasis mine.

There are a few elements which seem relevant:

  1. These summoned creatures are fundamentally not quite the beasts they resemble. There is no Giant Poisonous Snake conjured by the spell, only a fey spirit which takes the form of one. It's not a snake, it's a snake-resembling spirit. Extending that logic, there is no Serpent Venom either, properly speaking, but instead a specific manifestation of the fey spirit which is shaped by the spell.

    I'm not sure how official the following interpretation is (I can't find a citation), but it's worked well as a houserule for me: a "beast" summoned by this spell is a blob of fey energy which, when brought to the Material Plane by the spell, precisely resembles the desired beast. In nearly every way (save for creature type, which is automatically fey) the fey spirit is indistinguishable from the beast it resembles.

    So its venom still works the same way as in a mundane Giant Poisonous Snake, but it's not venom made from mundane elements-- it's the fey spirit exactly imitating the venom. No fey spirit, no venom, so when the spell ends and the spirit departs there is nothing remaining to comprise the Giant Poisonous Snake or any portion thereof.

  1. There is no divisibility in the spell description. Since it doesn't describe anything about any portion of a beast remaining, there isn't a strong basis for suggesting that the spell does more than it says and leaves portions behind.

    I suppose you could argue that a portion of a creature is not generally a creature but an object, and therefore could remain, but that's also for the DM to adjudicate. Creature body parts aren't statted, so it's not clear to me if they would immediately have an HP of 0 or couldn't be evaluated that way at all.

    It also brings up complications in other scenarios, like summoning a Giant Boar and cutting off portions to use as food. Also clever, but it steps all over other spells like Create Food and Water.

  1. Serpent Venom is a priced item, and at 200 gold per dose isn't particularly cheap. It's also weightless and doesn't expire or become less effective. It's not trivial to harvest, but far from impossible-- even a character not specialized into Nature or poisoning can easily get enough of a bonus to make the harvests much easier.

    Taken together those properties mean that someone with access to the spell will be able to quickly produce large quantities of the venom for free (there are no material components to the spell), and carry an unlimited amount of it at a time. Adventuring becomes a money-losing career at that point.

    This has balance implications for combat (that the venom is fairly expensive suggests that it's not expected to be available for every attack) and completely ruins any economic balance that might otherwise exist. If the character can cast the spell once per day, they can summon eight of these snakes, and get up to eight doses of Serpent Venom every day.

    Each effort to harvest takes 1d6 minutes and the character has to make a DC 20 Intelligence (Nature) check. So success isn't guaranteed, but with eight attempts available each day even a modest bonus from INT + Nature + (Proficiency, if proficient in Nature or with a Poisoner's Kit) gives good odds of extracting multiple doses each day. (Harvesting rules from DMG, Chapter 8, under the Poisons heading).

    That's up to 1600 gold's worth of goods, obtained in less than an hour, with very little risk (the harvester could fail their CON save and take 3d6 damage, but that's a manageable amount in a situation with no other health risks).

Subjective opinion as a DM:

It's a clever plan, and I like to reward those. But I would be wary of abuse, particularly if your character has good bonuses for the harvesting check, and so would either impose some homebrewed limitations or would be very ready to shut the scheme down by DM fiat if it seemed like it was becoming a problem. I would almost certainly decide that this plan arbitrarily cannot be carried out during downtime, as that would render even the cost of using a spell slot very cheap.

I also don't like making certain character choices irrelevant-- if someone in your party took Create Food and Drink as a spell they know, they chose it over some other spell they could have taken. Having your PC suddenly make that spell less distinctive and significant for reasons external to the written rules may not be fun for such a player.

Because this application of the spell does that, at least somewhat, I would tend towards ruling that the spell (RAW) can't be interpreted this way without adding some additional homebrew elements. And once we're into homebrew territory the text of the spell no longer constrains it at all, and this becomes a question for the DM rather than RPG.SE (or at least another, related RPG.SE question!).

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    \$\begingroup\$ While I do agree with your interpretation, does that also imply that poison injected into a creature by a conjured snake during a fight would also disappear? \$\endgroup\$ – Dakkaron Jan 16 at 12:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ If I were DM I'd approach this in a fool's gold way, you get to milk the snake and the venom doesn't disappear as fast as the snake but it'll still turn into water if you try to keep it overnight. Also handily solves Dakkaron's question \$\endgroup\$ – Borgh Jan 16 at 14:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Dakkaron It might, but it's probably moot anyways. The attack from a Giant Poisonous Snake doesn't cause any ongoing effects, it only adds extra damage dice to an attack. There might be an edge case I'm not thinking of, but if the snake exists long enough to hit with its attack the poison damage should occur instantly. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Jan 16 at 15:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am sorry, I have to admit I have never played DND5e. I just enjoyed the answer and figured that this might be an edge case that could cause trouble. \$\endgroup\$ – Dakkaron Jan 16 at 16:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Dakkaron No worries! I still feel like the Poisoned condition should come up in the game all the time, even though it almost never does. It's caused some interesting situations at the table, and really frustrated some combats I've planned out. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Jan 16 at 16:53

What a clever idea!

I think this one will ultimately fall to the DM to decide/mediate.

The Conjure Animals spell states that the animals you conjure disappear. If you extract venom from the animal, it is arguably neither the animal itself nor a part of it and therefore not necessarily subject to disappearing with the snake itself.

Serpent Venom is an injury poison:

Injury poison can be applied to weapons, ammunition, trap components, and other objects that deal piercing or slashing damage and remains potent until delivered through a wound or washed off.

This means it is good for one use before needing to be reapplied which limits its usefulness in combat to one attack. That's hardly game breaking in my eyes.

As a DM, I personally would handle this matter by requiring the player to make a skill check to harvest the venom per the DMG:

A character can instead attempt to harvest poison from a poisonous creature, such as a snake, wyvern, or carrion crawler. The creature must be incapacitated or dead, and the harvesting requires 1d6 minutes followed by a DC 20 Intelligence (Nature) check. (Proficiency with the poisoner's kit applies to this check if the character doesn't have proficiency in Nature.)

To me, burning a 3rd level spell slot to summon the snakes and spending the time to harvest the venom seem like more than sufficient costs* compared to the 3d6 bonus damage it can do for a single attack, even if multiple samples of the poison are harvested and shared between the party members.

Upper_Case points out some other considerations that bear thinking about as a DM. If the party tries to sell the venom, valued at 200gp, that changes the balance a bit and I agree with him that this would be exploitative and would either prevent its sale or homebrew a different, much lower value.

If the party decides to stockpile venom or take advantage of this lenient ruling, a discussion might need to be had (although I will point out that poison is one of the most commonly resisted/immune damage types, so it may not be as effective as the party hopes).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ But it is a nice free bonus if it's done after using the Conjure Animals in an encounter and extracting the venom from any snakes that survived. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Jan 15 at 20:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ I had already +1'd, good answer \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 16 at 1:01

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