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In Xanathar's Guide to Everything near the bottom of the first column on page 82 is a table for Herbalism Kit Activities. One of the Activities is named "Identify poison" and requires a DC 20 to be successful. Since a DC 20 check is a bit high for identifying a poisonous plant (assuming the user has proficiency), I'm trying to determine for what types of poison this Activity is applicable.

My impression is that the DC 20 check to "Identify poison" may have been in the context of determining whether a Potion is a Potion of Poison. But in the case where it is implied that a user's experience making antitoxin (for those with proficiency) has given them insight on poisons, would the activity apply to all poisons, or just plant poisons? (Some poisons are derived from creatures or magic.)

(See this related question that clarifies that the intended use is indeed to identify poison, and not a potion, because except for a potion of poison, those can be identified by taste).

Question: Does the Herbalism Kit Activity "Identify poison" apply to all poisons or only plant poisons, and can it be used on a Potion to determine if it is a Potion of Poison?

Here is my reasoning for use on Potions of Poison:

None of the Herbalism Kit Skills indicate a thorough knowledge of poisons in general, but (for those with proficiency) the Special Use for the Herbalism Kit "Identify Plants." states:

Identify Plants. You can identify most plants with a quick inspection of their appearance and smell.

This indicates that identifying a poisonous plant is trivial in most cases (when the user has proficiency). This also suggests that the Activity "Identify poison" with a DC 20 may not be for identifying poisonous plants.

However, the Arcana skill description of the Herbalism Kit states:

Arcana. Your knowledge of the nature and uses of herbs can add insight to your magical studies that deal with plants and your attempts to identify potions.

Since identifying potions in 5E is trivial, it seems unusual to roll an Arcana check to determine what kind of potion it is. However, in the context of determining if it is genuine or a Potion of Poison, a DC 20 appears to be a reasonable check.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Mentioning and linking your previous question would give some helpful context to your question here. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 22 at 23:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Thomas Markov I am not sure how to do that just yet, but I hope to learn. I know the questions sound similar, so I made a new post to avoid confusion. If anyone who can wants to take the liberty to edit this post for the sake of clarity and example I would certainly appreciate it! \$\endgroup\$
    – Kronecker
    Jun 22 at 23:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Identifying a plant, which, as it happens, you know is poisonous is quite a different kettle of fish from seeing a strange plant and determining whether it's poisonous. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mary
    Jun 23 at 0:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kronecker You can add links be either copying the URL of the linked page, marking the text you want to link in edit mode, clicking on the little two-circle logo at the top of edit mode and pasting the URL there, or by enclosing the text you want to link in square brackets [ ], no space at the end, and then in parentheses ( ), again no spaces, the URL like so: [text to link](URL) \$\endgroup\$ Jun 23 at 6:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Groody the Hobgoblin Appreciate the assistance! \$\endgroup\$
    – Kronecker
    Jun 24 at 0:53

2 Answers 2

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It works on any normal poison

Identify plants does not require a skill check, and includes identifying poison plants. These are not poisons, processing is needed to extract the poison from the plant, and there is a special tool proficiency for creating actual poisons, the Poisoner's Kit1 .

Identify Poison from the activity table is not for identifying poison plants, it is for identifying outright poisons, including basic poison.

The DC of 20 is not unduely high. The main purview of the Herbalism Kit proficiency is to deal with medicinal plants to help with healing or allay poisoning. This requires some level of understanding of poisons, and that is expressed in the ability to identify them, but it does not make you an expert in poisons. Poisons in general are difficult to deal with in the game, so they require the special Poisoner's Kit proficiency. Also narratively, it is much easier to recognize the form and smell of a plant, than the nature of a processed (and illegal) substance2.

Potion of Poison

It's unlikely Identify Poison would identify a potion of poison, as in the potion's case, the nature of the potion is magically masked from you. Its description states that you need an identify spell to reveal its true nature. It's likely that detect poison and disease will also work, but mundane means likely will not. This may be up to your DM to decide.


1 Weirdly, called Poisoner's Tools in Xanathar's, I guess the editing there was not the best.

2 Thanks to Matthieu for pointing this out.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The high DC also make sense narratively. Plants usually have a recognizable shape, smell and such, but poisons are both less commonly seen (according to basic rules, they're illegal in most societies) and are usually mixed in with something else, which in turns only leave very faint clues of their presence, even less their nature. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Jun 23 at 6:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Matthieu Indeed; good point. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kronecker
    Jun 24 at 1:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Groody the Hobgoblin Thanks for the references, they helped me revise my question for clarity and generality (sorry!). Any thoughts regarding the applicability of the activity "Identify poison" to poisons not derived from plants? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kronecker
    Jun 24 at 1:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kronecker It is not limiting the ability to just plants in the text. I think it will also apply to other poisons. You might rationalize this by saying that they understand the fundamentals of how poisons work from their study of plants, and these also apply to other sources of poison causing such effects. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 25 at 8:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ I disagree on the part about potions of poison not being identifiable this way. The description says that an identify spell will tell you what it really is, but it doesn't say that this is the only means of achieving that. I'd say this is a case of specific overriding general. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 25 at 8:47
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It would refer to all poisons

Potions of poison aren't the only kind of poison an adventurer might encounter. The basic rules includes a number of them. You might need to test if an item, or food, has been poisoned. Alternately, you might need to check to see if a creature has been poisoned.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Would this include poisons derived from creatures and magic? My apologies, I've revised the question for clarity and generality. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kronecker
    Jun 24 at 1:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kronecker Yes. The rule just says poison, it says nothing about the source of the poison so it applies equally to all. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 25 at 8:44

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