The Drow Elite Warrior does 3d6 extra poison damage (no save!), it's not a magical sword but an ability of the creature. So that same sword in the hands of another character is just a sword, it's the super special drow elite poison that makes the damage. I'd feel cheated if I were a player, considering that according to the DMG errata injure poisons stop working after being delivered through a wound.

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.

The rules say nothing about this, that I could find. Any suggestions about how to handle it in a game, particularly while playing Out of the Abyss? If they by some strike of luck manage to kill or subdue an Elite, they are going to want to have that super-powerful sword. Or the first time they poison their swords they are going to be annoyed that the poison just works for one attack... Probably they won't notice, but I rather be prepared.


2 Answers 2


As you stated in your question, this is a creature ability, not a weapon bonus. You can think of this as an elite fighting style where the drow are trained to keep their weapons poisoned as part of the fighting style by whatever theatrical method you choose.

Perhaps the elite drow keep the outer layers of their greaves soaked in this poison, and after each successful hit, they draw the length of their sword along their greaves as part of the motions for readying for the next turn.

Ultimately though, the players who pick up these swords will not gain the benefit unless of course you choose to rule that the weapon has been poisoned per the rules and is effective for one successful hit, but that's your call.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, drow poison exists (DMG 258) and can be applied to weapons but has another effect. In Out of the Abyss, you can even find vials of it that the drow use to treat crossbow bolts (OotA p. 12), which then gives the effect as described in the Hand Crossbow action of the drow elite warrior (MM 128). However, the sword's effect can't be explained as easily... maybe they use something similar :) (which would imply that they have to apply the poison regularly) \$\endgroup\$
    – Yotus
    Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 15:18
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ The poison and vials don't really have to do with how it's applied to the weapon. Obviously arrows, bolts and quarrels are multiple weapons so when you treat a quiver of them, they are all poisoned at once but get used individually. However the rules for poisoned weapons are still the same no matter which poison is being applied. So the elite drow warrior must be practicing a technique that allows them to continuously recharge the poison on their blades. I just posed a single theatrical mechanic of how that might be accomplished, but it's really only an example. \$\endgroup\$
    – Escoce
    Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 15:22
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ An unofficial Crawford tweet from April 2018 supporting this ruling: "Sometimes a monster's stat block lets a monster deliver a special effect through an object, such as lightning damage through a scepter. Unless a rule says otherwise, the special effect is a function of the monster's use of that item, not a function of the item itself." \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Nov 3, 2019 at 5:26

This is up to you as the DM

The accepted answer already gives you the technical result: the poison damage is coming from an ability of the monster; nothing to be gained here. Move along.

However, you are not only asking for the technical read, you are also asking how to handle it in game:

In-game justification

Many races, including drow, have supernatural abilities, for example the drow magic (page 24 of the PHB) trait that allows them to cast spells like dancing lights. If you as a DM are concerned about the believability and verisimilitude of your world, you could say that drow elite warriors have a supernatural ability that applies poison to their attacks.

Considering your desire to potentially reward the players for defeating an elite drow without unbalancing the game, the rules also do provide some amount of support and guidance.

Looting equipment

On page 11 the monster manual under equipment states:

A stat block rarely refers to equipment, other than armor or weapons used by a monster. (...) You can equip monsters with additional gear and trinkets however you like, using the equipment chapter of the Player's Handbook for inspiration, and you decide how much of a monster's equipment is recoverable after the creature is slain and whether any of that equipment is still usable.

The Players Handbook does not list the high powered elite drow poison, but it does list basic poison. So it would be within guidance to decide a vial of poison might be recoverable, in addition to the armor and weapons, or that one dose of poison remains coating the blade.

For basic poison, the rules state

Applying the poison takes an action. (...) Once applied, the poison retains potency for 1 minute before drying.

These mechanics indicate that you cannot just transport a coated weapon and expect the poison to remain potent, the poison would dry and lose its potency. The players may learn this the hard way, if they just take the poisoned sword along.

Harvesting poison

If you determine the poison is applied supernaturally to the weapon by the drow attacking, and you want to make it possible to scrape off the poison: there ​is a section on page 258 in the DMG about Crafting and Harvesting Poison:

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 ld6 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.) On a successful check, the character harvests enough poison for a single dose.

While these rules seem intended more for naturally poisonous monsters, the elite drow warrior technically also is a poisonous creature, because they are a creature and their attack is poisonous, if the poison does not come from equipment that could be looted.

You could apply these mechanics to scrape off a dose of the poison from the short sword, in a way that is balanced.

Game balance

It is easy to see why by default there is no irresistible poison short sword or vial full of poison to be looted: a typical PC attack without magical or feat enhancement deals about 10 damage. A weapon repeatedly dealing 4d6 (average 14) plus Dex bonus damage, or a poison repeatedly adding 3d6 (average 11) damage to these attacks would heavily influence PC damage output, and potentially unbalance the game.

However, if this effect is limited to a one time benefit per elite warrior, and if applying the poison to the blade consumes an action, then there is much less reason for concern about balance issues.

In D&D drow have a long tradition of screwing player characters when it comes to loot

This goes back all the way to the first appearance of drow in first edition in some of the earliest modules for the game. There drow sported enhanced equipment and poison, both of which lost their potency when exposed to sunlight. Queen of Spiders, page 127:

Drow weapons and armor are usually crafted from an adamantite alloy of metal. All such items (cloaks, boots, weapons, and armor) do not radiate magic, but are magical in effect. They lose their power if exposed to sunlight. (...) Drow sometimes poison their weapons, and a -4 penalty applies to all saving throws against such.

Male Patrol guard: Level 2 Fighter; hp 9; (...) chain +1, buckler +1, shortsword +1, dagger +1, hand crossbow with 10 poisoned bolts

The game balance reason for this screw-job is easy enough to understand: Imagine if every single drow guard they defeat provided the party with the equivalent of four uncommon and rare magic items.

Since then, design has changed and instead of strenghtening weak opponents with overpowered equipment which invariably will end up in the hands of the PCs to cause problems, monsters have more inborn power. But echoes of this tradition remain.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You're making a lot of assumptions about designer intent in this answer. They're all pretty logical, and are likely correct, but you need to support them. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 14:06

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