I’m unsure how poisons work in Pathfinder.

For example: black adder venom. From the frequency of the poison, am I required to make a saving throw per minute for every six minutes? Each time I fail a save, do I take 1d2 str damage? Or do I take all the strength loss once all failed rounds are finished/frequency is over? It just looks like quite a chore referencing each round for ability score drops and I am really unclear on the rules.

If I succeed at rolling a saving throw, do I no longer need to check? And to remove the poison effect (strength loss) I will need to be cured through the various tools offered?

Another type is this:

Sting—injury; save Fort DC 10; frequency 1/round for 6 rounds; effect sickened for 1 round; cure 1 save.

I just really cannot seem to figure out how poison works. Does this sting/sickness stack each round I fail a save?

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ You have read the rules on poisons right? What part of the rules is unclear? \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Jun 7, 2013 at 22:20

2 Answers 2


So, this is how poisons (and most other afflictions) work:

  • You suffer the effects every time you fail a save
  • The frequency tells you how often you make a save, once the onset time has passed
  • If there is no onset, you make a save immediately
  • The poison is finished when the conditions for a cure are met, or the duration has elapsed

For black adder venom, there is no onset, and the frequency is “1/round for 6 rounds”. The cure is “1 save”. That means that:

  • Since there is no onset, when you are hit by the poison, you make a save immediately.
  • If you fail, you take 1d2 Con damage. If you succeed, you've met the conditions for a cure, and so the poison is now out of your system.
  • Because the frequency is “1/round for 6 round” you repeat this once per round until you either make a save (and thus are cured) or 6 rounds have elapsed. Every time you fail a save, you take the damage. This damage can be healed by any of the normal means of recovering strength (restoration spells, resting, etc.)

The second example of a sting is almost identical: the frequency and cure are the same, but the effect is being sickened. The effect is that you're sickened until the poison is up, which is either the first time you make a save or after 6 rounds. (Note that if someone e.g. used magic to heal you of the sickened effect, it would return the next round. It's 1 round of sickened applied 6 times in a row, not 6 rounds of sickened applied once.)

This all follows from the general rules for afflictions -- a category which include poisons and diseases. Diseases tend to have a longer onset time and lower frequency than poisons, but the basic mechanics are the same. If you still find yourself confused, take the time to read through the afflictions page I linked to.


Rather than explain the rules in great detail, I'll simply provide an example. There are two venomous snakes attacking a wizard. They have the following venom:

Black adder venom: injury DC 11 1/rd. for 6 rds. 1d2 Con 1 save cures

  1. The snakes attack. One hits. The wizard rolls his save (DC 11) and passes. He is not poisoned.
  2. The wizard casts magic missile!
  3. The snakes attack. One hits. The wizard rolls his save (DC 11) and fails. He is now poisoned (6r remain).
  4. The wizard takes a five foot step and drinks a potion. He rolls a save (DC 11) and passes. He is cured.
  5. The snakes attack. One hits. The wizard fails his save (DC 11), and is poisoned (6r remain).
  6. The wizard casts magic missile! He fails his save (DC 11). He takes 1d2 con damage, and is still poisoned (5r remain).
  7. The snakes attack. Both hit. The wizard fails both saves (Both DC 11). The save DC against the poison on his turn is now 15. The duration of the poison is extended to 12 rounds total (11r remain).
  8. The wizard casts magic missile! He fails his save (DC 15), takes 1d2 con damage, and is still poisoned (10r remain). One snake dies.
  9. The other snake attacks. It hits. The wizard rolls his save (DC 11) and passes. His poison is not made worse, but he is not cured.
  10. The wizard casts scorching ray! crit! He fails his save (DC 15), takes 1d2 con damage, and is still poisoned (9r remain). The snake dies.
  11. The wizard fails 2 more saves, and dies. He should not have gone adventuring alone.

This example illustrates pretty much every case about which I've seen confusion in the past. You don't suffer the poison's effects until your turn, whereas whether you are poisoned or not and the dosage is decided on the enemy's turn. This is stated in the afflictions section, emphasis mine:

The affliction's effect does not occur until after the onset period has elapsed and then only if further saving throws are failed.

This poison and many others have no onset, so the afflicted character must begin making saves immediately on his turn. In no way does the lack of an onset imply that ability damage is taken the instant poison is contracted. This is inconsistent with all other afflictions and essentially adds one more ability damage roll to a poison that it should not. The roll to determine whether or not you are poisoned is entirely distinct from the roll to determine the effects of the poison.

The distinction between contracting and curing a poison is important because as poisons crop up with more complicated cure conditions, sticking to this consistent set of rules will make things much less confusing. For example, a phase spider's venom requires two consecutive saves to cure. If you took ability damage immediately on failing the first save, that would imply that even if you passed you would still be poisoned and have to save again. That is incorrect. If you make your save against contracting a poison, it does not affect you, regardless of cure condition. By keeping the rolls for contracting and curing separate, you avoid this type of confusion entirely.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I really like this interpretation of the rules, but the official blog post that another answer linked to directly contradicts this. “Valeros is hit by an arrow coated in greenblood oil. He fails the DC 13 Fort save and takes 1 point of Con damage. At the end of his turn, he fails a saving throw against the poison and takes 1 more point of Con damage.” \$\endgroup\$
    – Bobson
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 14:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ so it does... :( \$\endgroup\$
    – Eric B
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 19:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ (Mod note: we took the liberty of updating the broken link in the comment by Bobson with a link to the Wayback Machine archival copy.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 1:11

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .