An assassin’s dagger drips with venomous intent. The King’s cocktail has been mixed with a vicious bite. The air around a poor soul caused his lungs to burst. Poison is all around the world of fantasy RPGs, and that goes for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition! The act of poisoning is a crucial campaign plot hook in many different scenarios, and players can make just as good use of it as their foes can! However, poison is not only a niche option, but a relatively complicated one. It can be difficult to wrap your head around it if you’ve just been introduced! But, don’t fear! This guide will compile everything you need to know about the subject in our Poison 5E Guide.
Everything You Need to Know About Poisons in 5E
This guide will be a primer to nearly all of the poison mechanics introduced in D&D 5E. The goal of this guide is to introduce to you what poisons do in the base game. Your Dungeon Master may introduce new information about poison, or change the rules to their liking. If that is the case, then go by their word first! This guide is just a compilation of information from the D&D 5E rulebooks, and should not be taken as law.
Basic Mechanics of Poison in D&D 5E
A Poison is a consumable item described in the Basic Rules. These items are designed to deal the “poison” damage type, as well as typically apply some sort of debuff. Poisons come in 4 different varieties:
- Contact. This poison is active the moment it touches exposed skin. It can be delivered through any weapon, as long as it is not touched by exposed skin.
- Ingested. This poison needs to be consumed by the victim in order to apply its effects. It can be delivered by a food or liquid.
- Inhaled. This poison needs to be breathed in by the victim in order to apply its effects. Typically, the poison powder or gas is fired into a 5-foot cube and expires. Holding one’s breath does not matter against inhaled poisons. As long as there is a way to bring the poison in by air paths, such as nasal membranes, it will apply its effects.
- Injury. This poison needs to be injected, or on a weapon that deals piercing or slashing damage to a target, in order to apply its effects. It remains potent until delivered through a wound or washed off.
Once applied, each poison has a specific effect and length of effect, with a Constitution save to reduce or negate the effects. For example, the Assassin’s Blood poison deals 1d12 poison damage and applies the poisoned condition for 24 hours. Each poison will specify its effects, what type of poison it is, what the DC to reduce its effects are, and whatnot.
How to Cure Poison in D&D 5E
Poison is rather difficult to cure without magic in D&D 5E. There are no clearly listed mundane cures to poison. You may ask your DM to see if you can craft an Antivenom of some kind. However, that is up to them. Medicine checks may vaguely aid in curing a victim. Depending on the poison, a high Medicine check could cure them outright or simply add an advantage to their next save against the poison. This is up to the DM to decide, and no poison has a set-in-stone Medicine DC.
By the rules, magic is by far your best way to cure poison. The following spells are good cures for poison:
- Aura of Purity (Level 4 Abjuration) grants resistance to poison.
- Heroes Feast (Level 6 Conjuration) cures poison.
- Lesser Restoration (Level 2 Abjuration) ends a poison effect.
- Protection from Poison (Level 2 Abjuration) neutralizes a poison and grants bonuses against future poisons.
- Purify Food and Drink (Level 1 Transmutation) neutralizes an ingest poison from a selection of food or drink items.
- Tasha’s Otherworldly Guise (Level 6 Transmutation) allows for immunity to poison.
Of these options, Protection from Poison is the best anti-poison spell if you think there will be poison in the future. Otherwise, Lesser Restoration is the best spell, since it can also protect you against other effects. It’s also a much lower spell level than some of the other options!
In addition to spells, there are some magic items that offer poison immunity. The Periapt of Proof against Poison specifically gives immunity to poison. And any item that is of Poison Resistance will reduce the damage that you take from poison.
The Poisoner’s Kit
Before we can talk about ways that we can use poisons to our advantage, we should talk about a great item for you; the Poisoner’s Kit. This is a type of tool that you can become proficient in. If you are proficient in this kit, then you may use it for History, Investigation, Perception, Medicine, Nature, and Survival checks to work with poison. You can also never poison yourself by accident while you have this kit on you and proficiency in it.
This kit is one of the stronger options available. Having proficiency in it will allow you to identify fairly common items, as well as learn the symptoms of poisons. You can use this for Medicine checks to treat poisoned victims. While it is a good defensive option, it is also by far your best way to collect poison! The Assassin Rogue archetype gains proficiency in this kit by default. Otherwise, you may need the Poisoner feat or another method of proficiency, such as the House Agent background.
Ways to Get Poisons
Poisons get a bad reputation as only being for evil people or enemies. But, good or evil, damage is still damage! How can the player use poisons to their advantage?
Players are allowed to craft poisons during downtime, but only if they have proficiency with the Poisoner’s Kit. The Poisoner’s Kit allows you to use your Intelligence or Wisdom modifier when creating a poison, in addition to your Proficiency Modifier with specifically the Poisoner’s Kit.
In order to craft the poison, you will need ingredients. These ingredients can range from easy-to-find items in the wild to the backbone of an entire adventure into a dungeon. Either way, you may need to crack your wallet open if you want your poison to be effective!
The DC to craft a poison depends largely on your Dungeon Master. Some dungeon masters will use the Xanathar’s Guide crafting rules, and you will simply have to work several workweeks on a potion. In this case, the Xanathar’s Guide rules state that a potion will take weeks equal to its price divided by 50. The lowest power potions in the Dungeon Master’s Guide will take your 3 weeks by these rules. You may wish to talk with your DM about lowering the time required. Other DMs will require you to roll a check with your Crafting kit. This check usually has a DC equal to the DC of the poison, but this can vary wildly. The crafting rules are insanely flexible!
Alternatively, you can try to steal poison from a creature! If a creature’s poison can be harvested, you will need 1d6 minutes and a DC 20 Intelligence (Nature) check. Alternatively, you can use your proficiency in a Poisoner’s Kit. If you succeed, you gain 1 dose of that creature’s poison. On a failure, you can’t extract it, and usually are not allowed to try again. If you fail by 5 or more, you accidentally poison yourself. Dang it!
The last way to get poisons, and also the least elegant. Poison is very expensive. Even weak poisons go for 150 gold! The extra damage is almost always worth it, but this can drain your funds quickly.
In addition, poisons are usually very taboo. If you’re in a town that values honor or justice, you will very rarely be able to purchase a poison. You will have to find black market dealers or underground alchemists, who may charge you an arm and a leg for it. If possible, try to find a way to craft or harvest poisons. Your wallet will thank you!
Ways to Use Poisons
Alright, so let’s say you have a handful of poisons. How can you make poisons work during a fight? We have a few tips.
By far the most common use for poison, you can coat a weapon or piece of ammunition in the liquid. This takes an action. For Injury poisons, the poison lasts until you deal piercing or slashing damage with that specific weapon. For Contact poisons, it lasts until something touches it.
Applying poison before a fight can be a huge boost to your first round damage. It can also debuff the enemy, causing them to be less useful immediately. Because of this, poison can be a legitimately strong strategy early on in a combat.
Using Inhaled Type Poisons
If you need to use an Inhaled type poison, you can simply spend an action to blow the powder or release the gas. This will only spray it into a 5-foot cube. You can direct it, but your DM will be the final arbiter on range and how the wind affects it.
Because of this, Inhaled-type potions often are best used with trap setups. This will require DM aid, and perhaps a character with a Smithing kit. But, as a last resort, you always just try to throw it and run!
Ingested Poisons are Tricky
Ingested poisons will always require setup. Because they must be swallowed, you cannot inject this into your enemy with a syringe or anything like that. You will need to find a way to poison a well, or drop it into a meal. These poisons are potent, too! Try to make a plan around the successful ingestion of this poison type.
However, don’t make too many doses. The occasions where you will be allowed to use this type of poison are few at best.
The Poisoner Feat
There is one thing that will make this significantly easier for you; the Poisoner Feat. This feat will replace an Ability Score Increase with the following three benefits:
- Whenever you deal poison damage, you ignore poison damage resistance.
- You can apply poison to a weapon as a bonus action.
- You gain proficiency in the poisoner’s kit and, with an hour of work and 50 gp of materials, you can make a number of weak poisons. These poisons have a DC 14 Constitution save DC for 2d8 damage and poisoned until the end of your next turn. This type of poison will only be active for 1 minute once applied to a weapon.
This feat makes using injury and contact poisons significantly easier. Being able to apply as a bonus action is a godsend, and will buff your damage every round rather than right at the beginning of a fight. And the ability to ignore resistance to Poison damage is incredibly useful!
However, there is a slight problem; many creatures are completely immune to poison damage. If you get a feat to use poison, and then your DM throws constructs at you… You’ll be in trouble! Only take this feat if you’re absolutely sure you’re willing to take that risk. If you do, make sure you keep an eye on your poison stock, and use them like crazy to deal massive damage during fights!
The feat does not specify a maximum number of poisons, either. You can theoretically build a stockpile of 2d8 bonus action damage poisons that you can use on a rainy day. Or you could sell them to some schmuck to make some cash. Poisons are hard to get!
Fun feat, but it’s best used in campaigns where you know you’ll be fighting living creatures most of the time.
The Poisoned Condition
Many poisons apply the Poisoned condition. This condition applies disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks.
In combat, this debuff is most effective when applied to characters who rely on weapon attack rolls. Casters like Wizards will not need to make attack rolls as much, and thus this condition is less effective. Try to choose targets that are guaranteed to take massive penalties from their attack rolls being made at disadvantage. Rogues and Assassins, for instance, have more trouble landing Sneak Attacks while Poisoned.
All Poisons in the DMG
The following is a list of all base poisons in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. This is not exhaustive, but it should give you a good overview on what you have going for you.
A DC 10, 150 gp Ingested poison. On a failed save, this deals 1d12 poison damage and poisons the target for 24 hours. A successful save halves the damage and prevents the target from being poisoned.
An immensely simple and weak poison. If you can get this to work, the poisoned condition lasts forever. It can be a good way to trick someone into a bad fight with a mere bottle of wine. But it requires setup and has a very low DC.
Burnt Othur Fumes
A DC 13, 500 gp Inhaled poison. On a failed save, this deals 3d6 poison damage and every turn, they must try to save or take another 1d6 damage. It only ends after three saves.
This poison can get nasty quick. 1d6 damage a round isn’t too much, but it’s free! And they need to save three times to escape. Even later on, 3 average damage a turn can really add up. And since this is an inhaled poison, you could use it to deal area of effect damage.
Carrion Crawler Mucus
A DC 13, 200 gp Contact poison. It is harvested from a Carrion Crawler. On a failed save, the creature is poisoned and paralyzed for 1 minute. They can try to make a save every single round, on their turn, to end the effect.
A devastating poison. You can touch someone’s arm with a glove covered in this and basically kill them on the spot. Well, as long as your friends can follow up. Sincerely, accessing this poison can give you a hail-mary shot to just end a fight, even with its relatively standard DC.
A DC 13, 200 gp Injury poison. On a failed save, the creature becomes poisoned for 1 hour. If they fail by 5 or more, they fall unconscious. They wake up if they take damage or if someone else shakes them awake.
If you can get the ingredients, and the secrets of making it from a Drow, this is a fine poison. Poisoned for 1 hour is probably too long, even. Being able to guarantee poison for the duration of a fight can help against healthy bosses. And the minor chance to knock anyone unconscious? Very tempting. A good default option, if you’re looking for the debuff.
Essence Of Ether
A DC 15, 300 gp Inhaled poison. On a failure, the target becomes poisoned for 8 hours and falls unconscious. It wakes up if shaken or if it takes damage.
Not bad at all! A great save for its cost makes this a powerful ally. But, because it is Inhaled, it will require more setup than other poisons. Throwing caution to the wind is a bad idea if it blows back into your face and knocks you out! Use this powerful poison carefully… But it is a super great thing to grab if your DM is nice with blowing powder at people!
A DC 15, 250 gp Inhaled poison. On a failed save, the creature is poisoned and poisoned for 1 hour.
Simple, despite the edgy name. Poisons for a while, and blind is a hugely debilitating status effect. The relatively good DC is also quite helpful! Runs into the same problem as all inhaled poisons. Use it only if your DM is nice about how you can blow, throw, or set up this powerful item!
A DC 17, 1,500 gp Ingested poison. At the stroke of midnight, a failed save deals 9d6 poison damage to the target.
Pretty whatever. It has great damage and a high DC, but it’s gimmick of dealing damage at midnight will get old quick. It’s also ingested, by far the hardest type of poison to make consistent use of. Great for assassination jobs against targets with higher HP, but not useful otherwise.
Oil Of Taggit
A DC 13, 400 gp contact poison. On a failure, the creature is poisoned and unconscious for 24 hours, but wakes up from damage.
It has low DC for its cost, but it is a contact poison and knocks someone out. Neat! Good to use as a hail-mary to throw on someone to see if it’ll put them to sleep. Then you can set up a kill or just leave them to take a 24 hour nap. Decent idea to grab!
A DC 16, 250 gp ingested poison. On a fail, the victim takes 1d6 poison damage and becomes poisoned. Every 24 hours, they must make the save again or take another 1d6 poison damage. This poison cannot be healed. It takes seven saves to heal naturally.
A weird one. Ingested, so you’ll need to plan around it. But, you can slowly and torturously kill low-health targets with the effect. Very rarely will this be useful for a player, since it just acts so slowly. But, its very high DC for its cost can guarantee some lower health if you want to plan a week ahead to target someone.
Purple Worm Poison
A DC 19, 2,000 gp injury potion. Can be harvested from a Purple Worm. On a failed saving throw, the victim takes 12d6 poison damage. A successful save halves this.
A big nuke! This is the Dungeon Master’s Guide’s best poison for combat, as it just hits for a billion. Great for rogues trying to pad their damage! But the cost is very, very high. Unless you’re fighting purple worms all over, this is going to be very hard to find. And you might not want to immediately use something that expensive! Great choice, but don’t expect to have many doses.
A DC 11, 200 gp injury poison. Can be harvested from a Giant Poisonous Snake. On a failed save, the victim takes 3d6 poison damage. A successful save halves this.
One of the most bland of the bland types of poison. This is a bit worse than what you should consistently gun for. Its low price tage does make it a bit more workable, but the low DC will leave you frustrated. Grab it if it’s at a low price tag.
A DC 15, 600 gp ingested poison. On a failed save, the target is poisoned and knocked out for 4d6 hours.
This is a great poison! It has a good DC and knocks a target unconscious for hours, with no ways to wake them up (without magic)! If you can set this up so a boss drinks or eats from it, you’ll basically win the fight! But, it is ingested. If you can’t set it up, then it isn’t worth going for.
A DC 11, 150 gp ingested poison. The target becomes poisoned for 1 hour on a failed save. While it’s poisoned, it can’t lie.
Fun, and cheap. But, its low DC and ingested type make it very hard to use well. It can be a nice “plan A,” and can often work if a low-level character seems to be hiding information from the party. But, it suffers from the same downside as the Zone of Truth spell. It’s not foolproof, but it is probably the most legal of the poisons.
A DC 15, 1,200 gp injury poison. Can be harvested from Wyverns. On a failed save, the target takes 7d6 damage, or half on a successful save.
This is the middle of the pack of the pure damage injury poisons. DC 15 is fine, but the price tag is a bit high. If the goal is to deal damage in the midgame, you’re probably going to have to default to this. Not that this is terrible or anything.
These poisons are less likely to come up in most campaigns of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Hopefully, you can use these as examples of more complicated poisons that you can make.
Basic Poison (Vial)
A DC 10, 100 gp injury poison. On a failed save, the target takes 1d4 poison damage.
Completely pointless. It’s the most basic of basic poisons, but Serpent Venom is significantly better and only twice as expensive.
Blood of the Lycanthrope
A DC 12, injury poison with no listed price. Can be harvested from a lycanthrope. On a failed save, the creature is cursed with lycanthropy. Can only be cured by curse removal.
Lycanthropy is a double sided coin. If the target doesn’t embrace the curse, this can debilitate them relatively easily. If they accept the curse, you’ve just buffed your enemy. You can use a dart to deliver this curse and then leave the scene, dooming the target to being hunted by werewolf hunters. But, as a pure combat tool… Exceptionally difficult.
Dust of the Mummy
A DC 12, inhaled poison with no price. On a failed save, the target is infected with mummy rot. They take 3d6 damage every 24 hours and can no longer regain hitpoints. Can only be cured by curse removal.
Another weird curse option. This one is significantly stronger, as it prevents the target from healing. Removing curses will be typically harder to pull off. The damage will not come in for a while, so this one isn’t really worth using unless you want to ruin a cleric’s day.
A DC 18, inhaled poison with no price. This specific poison comes from an alchemist. On a failed save, the target falls under a Dream spell the next time that they sleep where Ivana predicts their reactions with an alchemically coded message.
This poison is by far the most interesting poison that 5E has released. With a great check, you could make a similar poison! Be creative, and use this poison as an example of what you can pull off! It might take some elbow grease, though.
A DC 15, ingested or injury poison with no price. On a failed save, the target is polymorphed into a random creature it has seen for 24 hours. This requires a greater restoration spell to cure.
Another fun one. Polymorph is a very strong spell. Using a weapon to apply this spell can give yourself a massive advantage in the fight. Remember that you’re not dealing damage to the target until the creature’s health bar dies. So, use this to take a creature out of combat and focus on others!
How Good is Poison Damage?
A few of these poisons do nothing except deal poison damage. This is the biggest problem with poisons. Poison damage is by far the weakest damage type in the game.
Demons, constructs, and even Undead tend to be completely immune to poison. Creatures like vermin have resistance to it. Relying on poison damage as your main source of damage is very difficult as a result. Heck, even Monks get immunity to poison damage at level 10 with Purity of Body!
What Are The Best Targets for Poisons?
Because of this, your best poison targets are living creatures. Dragons can be fairly heavily affected by poisons, though the Poisoned condition doesn’t debuff their breath weapon. However, make sure you don’t attack a Green Dragon with this effect.
Humans and player characters tend to be perfect for Poison. Even then, creatures like Warforged will still be resistant or immune to poison. Even Dwarves can have poison resistances!
As a poison-based character, your best friend will be ability checks to identify creatures. The most common ones are Arcana, Nature, and Religion. However, some DMs may allow you to roll a Intelligence (Medicine) check to identify whether a target might be affected by poison.
Good article Jason Toro! After reading this I don’t think I will bother using poison. It seemed like a good idea with a Rogue or Bard but on the whole just too much planning and work. I do like the Truth Poison but again there are so many other easier options like Charm, etc. Dust of the Mummy seems pretty cool as it can be dispersed easily and the compounded effects are very good. I got poisoned in our latest adventure and none of my party had any Lesser Restoration spells and even our healing potions did not neutralize poison. I am real DnD scenario, where are you going to find a healing chapel or spell that removes curses/poisons? Most parties have healing but neglect the poison/curse aspects. The loss of advantage on attack rolls is not bad BUT when you lose your proficiency check as well…then we have some real problems.