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I am DMing a homebrew campaign and I created an exotic island ruled by Yuan-ti. I read the Serpent Kingdoms 3rd edition manual and I tried to adapt the osssra table (page 150).

In 5th edition the condition Poisoned tries to simplify the effects of poisons, even if in DMG (pages 257-258) some different poisons and their effects are described. I was actually fascinated by the different osssras' effect on both Yuan-ti and scaleless ones (i.e. non Yuan-ti creatures): collapsing every dangerous effect in the Poisoned condition seemed to me quite inadequate. I thus wrote the following rules.

Osssra Oils

From Serpent Kingdoms:

The creations of yuan-ti spellcasters, osssra oils are mixtures of substances that produce pungent, colorful smoke when burned. Osssra smoke confers benefits on all Scaled Ones but functions as an inhaled poison for all other creatures.

and

The secrets of making osssra oils are guarded by yuan-ti tribal elders, and most humans know too little about them to distinguish one from another.

A Yuan-ti spellcaster/alchemist prepare the osssra oil, then let soak some pieces of wood in the oil for at least 3 days. After this amount of time, the wood is ignited (in a brazier, for example) and the smoke starts to spread, at the speed of 1 foot/round, until the full area of effect is reached (a sphere of 20 ft. radius).

The osssra’s smoke are used in religious rituals, where priests ask for gods’ favour in battle or try to communicate with superior entities (see Duthlah’hass). The ceremony duration depends on the priest, but in order to gain the benefit provided by an osssra smoke a Yuan–ti must stand still in the smoke cloud and inhale it for at least 10 rounds, except for Hooloond.

$$ \begin{array}{|l|l|l|l|}\hline \textbf{Osssra} & \textbf{Ingredients} & \textbf{Smell and aspect}& \textbf{Price (gp)}\\\hline \text{Amasstarte smoke} & \text{Sap from silverthorn weed,}& \text{Green, with silvery} &500\\ & \text{boiled scales from } & \text{metallic flecks; spicy.}\\ & \text{any salt-water fish.}\\\hline \text{Battasss smoke} & \text{Palm oil, petals of the } & \text{Ruby-red, with darker}& 800\\ & \text{fallen snow flower.} & \text{"threads";scorcing milk}\\\hline \text{Duthlah’hass smoke} & \text{Mint, bark of palm }& \text{Bright amber;}& 1200\\ & \text{and sap of jungle clingvine} & \text{burnt moss.}\\\hline \text{Ektharisss smoke}& \text{Purple leaves of the} & \text{Dark purple, with puffs of} &800\\ & \text{nightshadow jungle plant.} & \text{lighter blue color; lemon.}\\\hline \text{Faele smoke}& \text{Boiled boar brain} & \text{Deep blue, with emerald} & 1800\\ &\text{and human blood.} & \text{streams; rotting flesh.}\\\hline \text{Hooloond smoke}& \text{Blood of a constrictor snake} & \text{Yellow-green, with red} &1400\\ &\text{and the venom of a viper.} & \text{jets similar to flames; melon}\\\hline \text{Jalasss smoke} & \text{Crushed snails and} & \text{White; burning paint.} & 800\\ & \text{sap of launteene.} \\\hline \text{Laerisss smoke} & \text{Crushed centipedes } & \text{Brown; burning} &300\\ &\text{and palm oil.} & \text{olives}\\\hline \text{Ruusstantar smoke}& \text{Snakeskin and} & \text{Green, with ribbons of} & 500\\ &\text{crushed boar bones.} & \text{purple vapour; freshly }\\ & &\text{crushed grapes.}\\ \hline \text{Ulathlasss smoke}& \text{Internal juices of both} & \text{Dark green;} &1500\\ & \text{carrion crawlers } & \text{roasting boar}\\ & \text{and centipedes.}\\\hline \end{array} $$

Yuan-ti avoid combining different kinds of osssra smoke, because their effects interact negatevely and/or negate themselves. Moreover, if pieces of wood are soaked in a mixture of different osssra oils and then burned, the result is a smoke that harms each creature in the area of effect (see the table).

If a creature tries to dismiss the smoke produced by burning wood, e.g. using the gust of wind spell, then the area is immediately cleared, but the vapour keep on spreading at the speed of 1 foot/round from the burning source. If a creature manage to light off the source, then the smoke dissipates after 6 rounds (or depending on the room, presence of windows, et cetera).

Effect of Ossra on Yuan-ti

In order to gain the advantages given by an osssra, a Yuan–ti must inhale osssra’s smoke for at least 10 rounds, except for Hooloond. A brazier spreading osssra’s smoke covers a circular area of 20 ft. radius (as the fog cloud spell) except for Ulathlasss which covers an area of 15 ft. radius (due to its particular "heaviness").

Legend:

  • Adv. -> Advantage
  • Disadv. -> Disadvantage
  • rds -> rounds

$$ \begin{array}{|l|l|l|}\hline \textbf{Osssra} & \textbf{Effect} & \textbf{Duration}\\ \hline\hline \text{Mixed flaming } & \text{Disadv on DEX checks and Ranged attacks } & \text{2d6+2 rds}\\ \text{osssra oils}& \text{(20 CON save, no effect on success)} &\\\hline \text{Amasstarte smoke} & \text{Cure Wounds 4d8+8} & /\\\hline \text{Battasss smoke} & \text{Adv on WIS checks, automatic success} & \text{10 minutes}\\ & \text{for Concentration spell checks after taking damage}&\\\hline \text{Duthlah’hass smoke} & \text{The yuan--ti enters in a dreamsleep state (such as} & \text{4 Hours.}\\ & \text{under the Dream spell), in which he can retrieve} & \text{Ends on }\\ &\text{memories (such as where or how they hid something} & \text{damage taken.}\\ & \text{long ago, or snatches of overheard conversation)} \\ & \text{and/or receive messages from their deities.} & \\\hline \text{Ektharisss smoke} & \text{Levitate} & \text{10 Minutes}\\\hline \text{Faele smoke} & \text{Adv on CON saving throws, resistance } & \text{4 Hours}\\ & \text{on piercing, bludgeoning and slashing damage}\\\hline \text{Hooloond smoke} & \text{Cure Wounds 1d6+1/round while }& \text{Instantaneous,}\\ & \text{in contact with the Hooloond smoke} & \text{max 10 rds}\\\hline \text{Jalasss smoke} & \text{Immune to Enchantment spells} & \text{4 Hours}\\\hline \text{Laerisss smoke} & \text{Adv on DEX checks and ranged attacks} & \text{4 Hours}\\\hline \text{Ruusstantar smoke} & \text{1d12 (inhaled smoke) or 2d12 (contact } & \text{4 Hours}\\ & \text{with osssra) Temporary HP} \\\hline \text{Ulathlasss smoke} & \text{Resistance to Fire and Cold damage} & \text{4 Hours}\\\hline\hline \end{array} $$

Effect of Ossra on Scaleless Ones

As soon as a scaleless one enters in an area where an osssra smoke is present, the creature has to make Constitution saving throw (DC set by the type of osssra in the table below). Even in case of success the osssra’s smoke induces damages and/or disadvantages. The effects are active as long as the creature stands in the area covered by the smoke (see previous section for the dimension). If the creature exits the area, it make a Constitution saving throw or suffer from the secondary effect for 1d4-1 (min. 1) more rounds.

$$ \begin{array}{|l|l|l|l|} \hline \textbf{Osssra} & \textbf{DC} & \textbf{Effect on failed save} & \textbf{Effect on succeeded save} \\\hline \text{Mixed flaming osssra oils} & 20 & \text{4d4+4 Poison, Poisoned} & \text{Poisoned} \\\hline \text{Amasstarte smoke} & 13 & \text{Paralized, 1d4+1 rds} & \text{Slow, 1d4+1 rds} \\\hline \text{Battasss smoke}& 13 & \text{Poisoned} & \text{Disadv on WIS Checks} \\\hline \text{Duthlah’hass smoke} & 14 & \text{Unconscious, 1d4+1 rds} & \text{Prone (for retching).} \\\hline \text{Ektharisss smoke} & 14 & \text{2 exhaustion levels} & \text{Speed halved} \\\hline \text{Faele smoke} & 14 & \text{Stunned}& \text{Disadv on CON checks} \\\hline \text{Hooloond smoke} & 16 & \text{4d6 Poison} & \text{Half damage} \\\hline \text{Jalasss smoke} & 13 & \text{3d6+3 Poison, Disadv on INT } & \text{3d6+3 Poison}\\ &&\text{and WIS checks}\\\hline \text{Laerisss smoke} & 14 & \text{2d4 Acid damage,} & \text{2d4 Acid Damage}\\ && \text{Disadv on DEX checks}\\\hline \text{Ruusstantar smoke} & 14 & \text{4d4+4 Poison} & \text{Half damage}\\\hline \text{Ulathlasss smoke} & 15 & \text{1d6+1 Poison,} & \text{1d6+1 Poison} \\ & & \text{Incapacitated, 1d4+1 rds}\\\hline \end{array} $$

Discussion

I have the following thoughts about what I wrote.

  • I tried to follow some logical connections between the effects on Yuan-ti and on scaleless one.
  • Are the DCs balanced? Maybe they are quite low, but even in case of a successful saving throw a creature has some disadvantages, hence I thought it was a good way to create a sort of equilibrium.
  • I decided to put effects on successful saving throws because I think that these osssras are very powerful.
  • Is it ok to make the effect lasting after a creature exits the smoke cloud?
  • The cost (in gp) is very similar to the table of the 3rd edition, but I did not pay too much attention to it. It is up to the DM allowing players to find ingredients and knowledge about preparing osssras,
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    \$\begingroup\$ It may be worth noting that Serpent Kingdoms is one of the most notoriously-imbalanced books in 3rd Edition; I don’t know anything about osssra specifically, and any imbalance in a 3e book isn’t necessarily going to translate into 5e anyhow, but something you should know. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Aug 12 '20 at 13:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan, I did not know that: I liked more the information about the past history, lore and society of the races in that book rather than the game statistics, but I wanted to include some items in my adventure, since one of the players is very interested in poisons et simila. \$\endgroup\$ – Eddymage Aug 12 '20 at 13:23
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In this case, you're probably asking the wrong question.

The thing you're discussing here is a tool for the DM, designed to benefit NPCs. Its primary effect is going to be in adding PC-hostile terrain effects to encounters, probably mostly combat encounters. That means that "balanced" isn't a particularly meaningful question to ask. Instead, it's going to be a matter of adjusting encounter difficulty. You're listing prices, but the prices aren't really important unless the PCs manage to seize some and find a merchant willing to buy the stuff. After all, the smoke spreads from lit braziers. How often are the PCs going to be in an encounter where they have the time to set up a brazier and light it?

Instead, the question that you should mostly be asking is with respect to individual encounters, on whether the difficulty is in line with how hard you want the encounter to be, once the smoke clouds are taken into consideration. Even on the off chance that the party manages to briefly acquire the assistance of some Yuan-Ti and have an encounter where deploying this stuff would make sense, it's still a matter of balance for that specific encounter.

If you do intend this to be something that the party is buying and using, you have other issues.

First, you're talking about single-use alchemical items, some of which have price tags in excess of plate mail. 5e isn't designed for stuff like that. By the time you get enough money that buying some of this stuff would make sense for general use, you should already be on the magic item economy for your gear-based boosts.

Second, there's the fact that this is uniquely beneficial to Yuan-Ti. That makes the first issue much worse. If you have any yuan-ti in the party, then once the party becomes appropriately wealthy, they get significant benefits from being able to lay out raw cash, at a level when "lay out raw cash" isn't supposed to get you much of anything. Basically, this becomes a backdoor buff of the Yuan-Ti race, and the Yuan-Ti race is already one of the strongest PC races in the game.

Third, you need more info. Most of the time, the party gets into fights without warning. Sometimes they have time to prepare. For the first case, you need to know how hard it is to prep a brazier with one of these things, how fast it spreads once you have, how hard it is to disrupt once it's burning, and what happens if you just light the thing and chuck it on the ground. For the second case, you also need to know how long the smoke lasts once it's been produced.

In general, then, introducing this stuff as something that the party is expected to acquire and use in general is probably a mistake. Introducing it as a terrain feature to make certain fights more interesting is great. If you're doing the latter rather than the former, then "balance" is not the way to be thinking about it.

For your own usage, you might be well-advised to start small and work up with this stuff. Start by giving the party an encounter that should be a cakewalk, plus one cloud of ossra positioned such that it will be a meaningful benefit to the enemies. That will give the party a chance to encounter it (and realize what they're dealing with) and you a better idea of how much difficulty it's worth. Then work your way up the chain, both in using ossra and overall difficulty. That way, once you get to your particularly challenging climactic ossra-based encounter or encounters, you'll have a much better idea of how much difficulty they're actually worth (and your players will have a better idea of how to handle them).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Great answer and analysis! You are killing it recently! \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Aug 12 '20 at 14:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden Thanks for the developed answer! Actually, my point was not on the economic side (I did n't put much attention on prices), but if the usage of these osssra makes Yaun-ti too much powerful. Indeed, the players will face some Yuan-ti priests & warriors (mainly abomination) inside a temple, and these enemies are expecting the players: they have all the time to prepare the fight with the party. I was wondering how a clever use (by Yuan-ti) of these smokes affects the encounter: of course I designed them in order to give advantages to Yuan-ti, but I am worried that if it may be too much. \$\endgroup\$ – Eddymage Aug 12 '20 at 14:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ So, you mean that the "balancing" depends only on me (the DM) in such case, where I add these items/terrain feature only to modify a "classical" encounter. It depends on how much I want the fight to be difficult or not, considering the players' level, magical items and so on. \$\endgroup\$ – Eddymage Aug 12 '20 at 14:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage yep. That's basically it. The clouds of ossra are essentially the same as any other trap or terrain feature that's beneficial to the enemies. They increase the difficulty of the encounter, and you're going to have to estimate by how much. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Aug 12 '20 at 15:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage I've added another paragraph of pertinent DMing advice to the bottom. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Aug 12 '20 at 15:06
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Ben's answer is excellent: it's weird to talk about whether this is "balanced" because it's never going to be used by player characters. (Unless one of your player characters is a yuan-ti, in which case this is too much of a buff to that character.)

I think the question you're asking is about whether using these effects as written will make your enemy NPCs too powerful.

In general, I think the buffs you're proposing to add to your yuan-ti NPCs are fine. Even very powerful buffs (such as advantage on ranged attacks, resistance to piercing/slashing/bludgeoning damage, or resistance to fire/cold damage) aren't out of reach of what normal monsters might have.

The debuffs you're proposing to give player characters are very severe, and you should rethink them. In particular, "incapacitated even on a successful save" and "retching and prone even on a successful save" are too severe. ("Disadvantage on melee attacks even on a successful save" is also pretty bad.) If you use these as written, you're effectively telling your melee fighters that they can't enter those clouds; if the yuan-ti quite sensibly stand in the cloud for the whole fight, then your melee fighters can't participate in the combat.

This is particularly bad since these smoke clouds will usually just be a debuff for melee characters; ranged characters will usually be able to avoid standing in the smoke cloud. Severe debuffs for one category of player character are a bad practice.

You should be sure to think about what happens if the player characters try to destroy a smoke cloud, for example using a gust of wind spell or making an attack against a brazier. I think that, if the player characters do this, you should reward their creativity by letting the smoke cloud's effects go away quickly or immediately.

You might also consider changing most of the smoke cloud buffs so that they go away immediately when the yuan-ti exits the smoke cloud. This might lead to more interesting tactical options in combat. (Without this change, we can assume that all the yuan-ti will have the buff before combat begins, so effectively your group is fighting "levitating yuan-ti" or "yuan-ti with advantage on ranged attacks" and the actual smoke cloud is only relevant as a debuff.)

Finally, you should consider how player characters can identify the effects of a smoke cloud. Will they have different colors or different scents? Your characters will care a lot about whether a given smoke cloud will knock them unconscious or give them disadvantage on INT checks, so you should think about how they can figure that out.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, these are the observation I was expecting. Indeed the debuffs are severe, I took inspiration from Serpent Kingdoms: I will modify them. Actually, I thought that these ossras are used when a battle is planned: I wrote that a Yaun-ti must stand for at least 4 rounds to gain the benefits: I may augment this time. About a player that manage to "dismiss" the smoke: yep, I thought the same! Last thing, the players can identify different smokes, since they have different colors and smells: there are descriptions in the original source (eg Battasss is ruby red and smells like schorcing milk). \$\endgroup\$ – Eddymage Aug 12 '20 at 16:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Staying inside the cloud 4 rounds means that either the Yuan-ti pre-charge the buff, or they'll be deep into combat by the time it comes online. More interesting would be they get the buff for one turn when they start their turn in the smoke. It makes for an area the enemies want to stay in, and players try to play around, with skirmishing, area-of-effect, etc. \$\endgroup\$ – Nicolas Daoust Aug 13 '20 at 2:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ My idea was that Yuan-ti use these smokes as prebuff, for example inside a religious ritual in preparation for battle, not during combat. One interesting scenario is indeed if players interrupt such ritual and start combat before the 4 rounds (~24 seconds, maybe I will augment that) have passed: the yuan-tis have not the buffs yet and the players suffers from the consequences of being inside the smoke. But also your interpretation gives interesting scenarios. \$\endgroup\$ – Eddymage Aug 13 '20 at 7:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ I added the description (visual and smell) of the osssras' smoke and the list of ingredients, in order to explain how players can distinguish them. Moreover, as you suggested, I nerfed some effects and lowered the DCs for the saving throws since they were very severe. @NicolasDaoust, I added a (short) description about the rituals I mentioned before: of course one may decide to implement the rules that you suggested! \$\endgroup\$ – Eddymage Aug 13 '20 at 10:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage I think your new versions are much better. But it's better if you don't edit your question after asking it, because it makes the answers to that question obsolete, which is confusing to everyone who reads your question later. If you still have questions after receiving an answer, it's better to ask a new question with your new version, and leave the old question intact. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Aug 13 '20 at 14:54

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