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I am running a homebrew tier 3 adventure in which the players will eventually encounter vampires. I'd like to introduce an item that will be particularly effective against vampires and vampire spawn, without it being obvious that this is the case. In addition, I'm dissatisfied with the efficiency of poisons. Basic poison, in particular, seems very weak for its cost. More expensive poisons don't seem to scale well either.

I drafted a magic weapon that I believe handles both these problems. The intent is that this weapon appears to be a way to make certain consumables more effective, but in reality is intended to be of superior use against vampires in particular, due to its ability to deliver holy water.

Here is what I drafted:

Infused Yew Dagger

Weapon (dagger), Uncommon

This wooden blade is porous and stained multiple faded colors. You can apply to the blade any fluid which can be spread on a weapon (such as Poison) or flung (such as Oil,) infusing the blade with that substance.

For 1 hour after application, the blade gains the following property:

The first time you hit a creature with the blade each turn, the effect of the most recently infused substance is applied to the creature in addition to the normal piercing damage (that creature can make any relevant saving throws allowed by the infused substance.) If the substance would normally lose its potency after its effect is applied, it does not.

Whenever the blade is unprotected and takes any amount of acid or fire damage, it is rendered useless.

The specific question that I want to be answered is: Does this weapon do anything overly powerful beyond what I intend it to?

For the purpose of this question, we can ignore whether the rarity is correct, as well as whether or not poisons are actually too weak.

My specific intent with this weapon is the following:

  • Since it is a dagger, it will not be the usual weapon of choice outside of its niche.
  • Since it is wooden, it can be used as a stake for vampire hunting.
  • It is a particularly effective way of delivering holy water.
  • It does not work more than once per turn, and should therefore not be too abusive given the typically short length of 5e's combat.
  • It allows poisons to be used for longer than their restrictive one minute/one use clauses, while still allowing a save for the more powerful poisons.
  • The last clause does not support the less expensive acid option, which I believe would be too strong for the cost.
  • The last clause does not support alchemist's fire, which I feel would be strange for a wooden weapon.

Does this weapon have other severe balance implications, or other abusable options that I have not considered?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Acid can be flung. Why does acid damage render the blade useless when I can coat it in acid? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 0:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ The intent is to explicitly not allow its use with acid, since it would be both less expensive and more effective than even basic poison. I should probably clean up the wording to make it clear that applying acid to it would trigger the last clause. \$\endgroup\$
    – 1600hp
    Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 0:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Would you be interested in other modifications such as reducing poison price (eg all poisons 90% off), or making poison have an over time effect (eg poison effect repeats until the save is made)? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 5:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ In general I would be interested in other solutions, but since this homebrew has the additional goal of being able to use holy water, I'm not sure they'd fully deal with the question in this case. \$\endgroup\$
    – 1600hp
    Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 13:10

1 Answer 1

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If you allow DMG poisons, yes, it may be a problem

The reason, e.g., Purple Worm poison is not broken is that it can only be applied once per dose, which is quite expensive (2000 gp), and applying it takes an action, so it is essentially a "first hit burst" type of damage. Using your dagger, it is now essentially a 1 hour buff, so the adventurers can go dungeon crawling and use it in many more combats. Do note that a DC 19 with 12d6 damage on failed save or half in a success is a very high damage - equivalent to a Single Target Sunburst (without blinding the enemy). It's essentially doubling the damage from the Sneak Attack of a 11th rogue (6d6), at worst (i.e. enemy passing every save).

In particular

Since it is a dagger, it will not be the usual weapon of choice outside of its niche.

This doesn't really matter for a rogue, for example. The main damage comes from the Sneak Attack, and if you can buff it even with Serpent Venom, it's already better than any regular weapon.

It does not work more than once per turn, and should therefore not be too abusive given the typically short length of 5e's combat.

Possibly extra 12d6 damage every turn is a lot. And since it lasts for one hour, expect it to be used not in one combat, but rather in at least 3.

Maybe it will not be a problem in your campaign, but what you may be missing is that gold is easy to come and hard to spend. Usually you can't buy magic items except for a few consumables, after 5th level your tanks already have that expensive full plate, and now Gold, while still having its uses, is hard to spend. Castle Ravenloft in CoS, for example, allows the players to get out there with about 120k gp worth in relics, valuable books and stuff like that, and that is a 9-10th level dungeon (theoretically haha). Even if you consider that too much, it's not uncommon for dungeons at this level reward the characters with at least 30k gp. Some of which will be used by the party's Wizard in his spells, some which may buy a ship, some horses or land, and some which will be used in bottles of Purple Worm Poison to infuse in your dagger.

The silver lining for balance is that an absurd number of creatures is actually immune to poison damage, but that will depend on what creatures you are using in your campaign.

Note: it is also unclear how infusing it with Oil (as an example) would work. You cut the guy and then a Venom-like symbiote comes out of the dagger, coating the person with Oil? Heh.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I feel like the intention of the weapon is to turn poisons into a 1 hour buff. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 5:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @gszavae I think the point is that, even if that is the intentioned, it is too powerful of a boost when used optimally. It might be fine at low levels but at high levels it multiplies the effect of already powerful items. \$\endgroup\$
    – user60913
    Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 6:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Odo I am not sure that this is more powerful than the intention, it seems to be exactly what was intended. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 8:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, if the worst balance implication is that rare poisons are now much more powerful, I'll be happy to accept that. Availability and cost of the most dangerous DMG poisons is something the DM can easily control, of course. \$\endgroup\$
    – 1600hp
    Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 13:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @1600 Although the DM has full control over the availability of poisons within the campaign, this item would actually serve to hinder how flexible the DM can be in distributing poisons. For example, a DM might normally be fine with giving a vial of Purple Worm poison (12d6 on a hit) to a player to save for a special moment, but if this item is ever implemented, the same poison results in an additional 42 damage per round for the next boss fight. This is not really something the DM can give a player without trivializing encounters, and so the PWP is suddenly no longer an option. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcosa
    Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 0:25

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