Poisons

Back to working on my pathfinder House Rules. Poisons have become relevant because a Player wants to make their own poisons for use in combat and I have just added some basic rules for crafting during down time. I have been skirting around the matter for a while, but could never really get to grips with it. Then suddenly today, everything seemed to click …

A short while ago, I had a very brief discussion about poison use in FRPGs.  My position, based on years of playing traditional FRPGs was that it was evil –  the other position was that poisons have been widely used though history, so  they should be more acceptable  than  they are.  That started me thinking –  could I justify either of those positions? With the caveats that I run games based on the standard European Fantasy model.

My games feature  Knights in Armour,  Military Orders, Kings and Nobles – and the traditional fairy-tale view  of wizards, monsters and fey.  Even the religious structures in my game world are built with (albeit modern) European church structures in mind. You will find echoes of Norman, Celtic and Norse history, legends and stories in my games World.   So Europe become the cultural reference point – and most RL European cultures, were warrior based, with military strength and individual combat prowess and honour important.   Even in the fairy-stories it is always the Wicked Queen (or a similar character) with the poisoned apple.

Secondly, I like alignment as a Role Playing tool.  I know many modern players dislike it as ‘restrictive’ and ‘not allowing them to play the character they envisage’ – but  *shrugs*  I don’t run that type of game.  I like games that have a cultural feel to them, rather than the bland ‘anything goes settings’ that game companies come up with to drive sales.  And, realistically, if you consider the alignments broadly –  you can fit most people into one of them.

And just as importantly, I don’t like things that make my GM life complicated.  I am not going to remember to see if the PC poisoned themselves every time they put the poison on their arrow, or transferred it to another container.  Nor am I going to remember to apply round on round damage – I don’t even do that for my monster’s poisons.  So having to change all of my monster stats every round (or two) really isn’t very appealing.

Which leads to another thought.  I tend to use published scenarios for my games and modify them to fit my needs.  Currently, I have three groups in a single on-line game playing in Paizo’s Kingmaker  AP. Some encounters cut out completely, others have been swapped with things from other modules, and there are extra bits added in strange places.  Just to make it worse, the parties are in three different parts of the six-book AP.  Nor are the parties all at the same character level or the same level of design optimization.  All of which means that monsters and scenarios are regularly tweaked, in play.  This helps keep everything at a challenging level for the group, but it means that I change stats and HP in the middle of an encounter to serve my needs – rather than following published material as it is written.

Players in the game come from a number of different backgrounds.  I have players who think that the Pathfinder Society GMs are harsh in their rulings (practically anything in any Paizo rule book is good to go) to players who have to re-read the rules every time they swing a sword.  They are all a valuable part of the game, and add different things to the overall feel of the game.  While combat is only one element of the game, each character needs to be able to play a part, and see their actions as worthwhile.  There is, sometimes, a very careful GM balancing act when a party is in combat!

Game Style comes next:  I play campaign games on-line.  The current game has been running for three and a half years and it takes over six months for a character to earn enough experience to go up a level.    I don’t kill characters lightly  🙂   There have been a couple of close calls, but there is always a chance.  No-one has ever been one-shotted, although there have been a few who have been knocked unconscious and have needed their ‘team’ to save them.  The most recent one came to within one point of death – and that was decided on a 50/50 die roll.  It added much more tension,  more RP opportunities and galvanized the party.  Win, Win all the way around – but it means a bit more creative rule-interpretation on the fly. 

In an online game, player attrition ids a big problem, and that is partly why I have three groups of players.   The game has been running for over three years – at this rate it could well  run for another  five or six years.  This way, Players who stick around will see their character become rulers of the new land that they are building.  And the new land gains a history at the same time.  Rather than new characters coming in  all the time and carrying on where the last character died –  Players and their Characters can achieve something,  build a legacy and create history (for the game world)  at the same time.

I am getting very close to talking myself into disallowing poisons altogether here, on the basis that they don’t fit culturally, and make GMing more difficult.    But on to the poisons themselves.

Poisons are a complete game changer.  They can have the same sort of effect on a combat as some spells, but are less constrained.  A poison might have a low saving throw, but if three or four poisoned arrows are delivered in a single round,  then saving throw isn’t really relevant  Sooner or later the monster will fail its throw and the effects will kick in.  And the effect is cumulative, if the arrows keep coming, the next saves are tougher and the monster is more liable to fail again.  And so it goes on.  Then there are things like Blue Whinnis –  effectively a one-shot opportunity for 100gp – less if you make your own.  My recent CR7 monster (A Chuul) had +7 for Fort –  so effectively a 75% save  rate for Blue Winnis – which works out at a 6.25% chance of a one-shot.  That is significantly better than the chances of a Crit for any of the characters involved in that combat – and a single Crit would not have won the combat

OK, I think I can feel a ‘nerfing’ coming on.  I don’t want to ban poison use completely, however, I don’t want it to make big changes to the way my game works.

  • Poisons are single shot.  You take the prescribed damage if you fail the save – however, there are no subsequent saves and no secondary effects.
  • Poisons are restricted to the CRB (This is a House Rule in many areas of the game)

That said, I would be pleased to hear other people’s thoughts on the subject.

Posted in House Rules, World Building.

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