Section 8 - Poisons

Poison can show up on weapons; on darts, needles, or spikes in traps; in food or drink offered by a treacherous foe; and anywhere else you did not expect it. Human foes are not the only ones who can poison you. Snakes, insects, and certain other creatures have natural poison (usually blood agents) – and eating the wrong plant or animal may treat you to a dose of digestive poison.

Describing Poisons

A poison’s description includes its name, means of delivery, delay, resistance roll, effects (injury and symptoms), and cost per dose – and possibly notes on what constitutes a “dose,” how to use or conceal the poison, and how to treat it (including any antidotes).

A poison can have multiple sets of effects. For example, tear gas is both a respiratory agent (with one set of effects) and a vision-based agent (with other effects).


A given poison might reach its victim in any of several ways:

Blood Agent: The poison must reach a mucous membrane (eyes, open mouth, nose, etc.) or an open wound. If it is sprayed or spat, it must actually strike one of these vulnerable areas (so a spitting cobra must target the face). If it is delivered as a gas or wide-area spray, only those with the Sealed advantage (p. 82) – or with one of Doesn’t Breathe (p. 49) or Filter Lungs (p. 55) and one of Nictitating Membrane (p. 71) or Protected Vision (p. 78) – are immune. These advantages might be natural or provided by equipment.

Contact Agent: The poison must be inhaled or touch skin to take effect. If it is use to poison a melee weapon, the weapon must hit an unarmored and unclad hit location for the poison to affect the target. If it is delivered as a gas or wide-area spray, it affects everyone in the area who lacks the Sealed advantage (whether natural or provided by a suit, vehicle, etc.).

Digestive Agent: The victim must swallow the poison. This is typical of poisonous plants and toxic substances such as arsenic. If the poison has a slight but distinctive taste (e.g., cyanide), the GM can allow the victim a Taste roll or Perception-based Poisons roll – at a basic -2, but +2 per doubling of dosage – to notice it in time. Poisons that are easier to detect give a bonus; those that are harder to detect, or whose taste is masked by suitable food or drink, give a penalty. To force someone to swallow a poison rather than spit it out, you must grapple him by the head or neck and maintain your hold for 10 seconds.

Follow-Up Poison: The poison must be placed on a piercing or impaling weapon, or injected using a hollow projectile, hypodermic needle, etc. If the weapon penetrates DR and does any damage, it delivers the poison. Most “follow-up” poisons are simply blood or contact agents injected into the body.

Respiratory Agent: The poison is a gas that only affects those who inhale it into their lungs. Delivery is usually via an area or cone attack (e.g., gas grenade, spray gun, or dragon’s breath), but an entire atmosphere could be poisonous! Only Doesn’t Breathe and Filter Lungs protect completely against respiratory agents – but a victim who makes a Sense roll to notice the poison in time may hold his breath (see Holding Your Breath, p. 351). Unconscious or stunned victims inhale automatically. An improvised mask, such as a wet towel over the face, gives +1 to HT to resist.

Sense-Based Agent: The poison affects the victim through a specific sense. It has no effect on those wholack that sense or have appropriate protection. A smell-based agent is usually a foul stench that induces nausea; suitable protection is nose plugs, a respirator, or the Protected Sense (Smell) advantage. A vision-based agent is generally a cloud of gas that irritates the eyes; appropriate protection is a gas mask, goggles, or the Protected Sense (Vision) advantage. See Sense- Based (p. 109).


Most poisons require a few seconds to several hours to take effect. This is nearly always true for digestive agents.

Delays given are for victims with Size Modifier 0. The victim’s size modifies delay: each +1 to SM doubles the delay; each -1 to SM halves the delay. For example, if the delay is 1 hour, someone with SM -2 is affected in only 15 minutes.

Resistance Roll

Some poisons give the victim a HT roll to resist. Make this roll after the delay, if any, has passed. There is often a modifier: a mild poison might call for a HT+2 roll, while one that is almost impossible to resist might require a HT-8 roll! HT to HT-4 is typical. DR never affects this roll.

If you’re in a poisonous environment (like a gas cloud or toxic atmosphere) and make your initial HT roll, you must roll again once per second until the poison affects you or you leave the area. If the poison has a delay, roll after each delay period instead.

Some poisons are specific to certain species and do not affect others. Others are easier or harder for particular species to resist. These effects are up to the GM.

Effect of Poison

The most common effect of poison is toxic or fatigue damage. Mild poisons might only inflict 1 HP or FP; more severe poisons might inflict 1d or more. DR has no effect on this damage. These HP and FP losses heal normally, but if the poison is cyclic (see below), no healing is possible until after the final cycle!

Damaging poisons sometimes affect their victims gradually, causing damage each time a specified interval of time passes. The description of such a poison specifies the length of this interval and the total number of cycles. The interval may vary from one second (for a fast-acting agent) to one day (for a slow poison). The total number of cycles may be two to several dozen.

If a resistible poison is cyclic, the victim gets a new HT roll to resist every cycle. On a success, he shakes off the poison; on a failure, an additional cycle of damage occurs. Note that even a poison that inflicts 1 HP of injury per day can be lethal if it’s hard to resist and lasts for two dozen cycles!

A poison always has some symptoms. The basic damage includes symptoms such as swelling, headache, and fever. Poisons that inflict toxic damage may have more severe symptoms that occur automatically after the poison causes enough injury (usually
1/3, 1/2, or 2/3 of the victim’s HP). For example, a poison might result in blindness once the victim loses 1/2 his HP. Symptoms vanish when the victim’s HP rise above this threshold.

Some poisons cause effects other than injury or fatigue, including attribute penalties, irritating or incapacitating conditions (see Afflictions, p. 428), temporary disadvantages, or even the removal of existing advantages (e.g., an alchemical poison that negates Magery). The victim usually gets a resistance roll against these effects, and the effects always have a specific duration. The default duration is a number of minutes equal to the margin of failure on the resistance roll. In a poisonous environment, a failed resistance roll means the effects last for as long as you’re in the environment plus the duration.

Cost Per Dose

It is up to the GM whether a particular poison is for sale – it might be impossible to extract in a useful form, or the authorities might want to keep it off the market. If a poison is available, its cost often reflects how difficult it is to obtain, not its effectiveness. In most game worlds, people who sell poisons are criminals. All of these factors make cost per dose highly variable. See Poison Examples (p. 439) for suggestions … but the GM is free to use whatever prices he feels are reasonable.


The statistics given in a poison’s description always assume one “dose”: enough poison to produce the described effects in one victim. Some additional notes:

Contact Agents: One dose of a contact agent coats or affects a single hit location.

Gases and Sprays: One dose of a respiratory agent, or a blood or contact agent in gas or spray form, affects
one hit location on one victim. For a respiratory agent, this must be the face. Ten doses are enough to affect everyone in a room (say, a 2-yard radius).

Poison Examples

Arsenic (TL1): A digestive agent with a one-hour delay and a HT-2 roll to resist. Inflicts 1d toxic damage, repeating at hourly intervals for eight cycles. $1/dose.

Cobra Venom (TL0): A follow-up poison with a oneminute delay and a HT-3 roll to resist. Inflicts 2d toxic damage, repeating at hourly intervals for six cycles. A victim who loses 1/3, 1/2, or 2/3 HP has -2, -4, or -6 DX, respectively. $10/dose.

Cyanide (TL4): This fast-acting poison is deadly in any form. As a follow-up poison or respiratory agent, it has no delay. As a contact or digestive agent, it has a 15- minute delay. In all cases, there is no HT roll to resist! Inflicts 4d toxic damage. $2/dose.

Mustard Gas (TL6): An area-effect respiratory and contact agent. As a contact agent, it has no delay and a HT-4 roll to resist, and inflicts 1 point of toxic damage, repeating at 8-hour intervals for 24 cycles. As a respiratory agent, it has a two-hour delay and a HT-1 roll to resist, and inflicts 1d toxic damage, repeating at onehour intervals for six cycles. $10/dose.

Nerve Gas (TL6): An area-effect contact agent with no delay and a HT-6 roll to resist. Inflicts 2d toxic damage, repeating at one-minute intervals for six cycles. A nerve gas usually causes agony, paralysis, retching, or seizure as well; see Afflictions (p. 428) $20/dose. LC0.

Smoke: Ordinary smoke is an area-effect respiratory agent with a 10-second delay and a HT roll to resist. Causes coughing (see Afflictions, p. 428) for the time spent in the smoke plus one minute times the margin of failure. Dense smoke can cause actual damage. LC4.

Tear Gas (TL6): An area-effect respiratory and vision-based agent. As a respiratory agent, it has no delay and a HT-2 roll to resist, and causes coughing (see Afflictions, p. 428). As a vision-based agent, it has no delay and a HT-2 roll to resist, and causes blindness. Both effects endure for the time spent in the gas plus one minute times the margin of failure. Tear gas is opaque: Vision rolls are at -1 to -3 per affected yard. $10/dose. LC2.

Individuals unprepared for mustard, nerve, or tear gas may have to make Fright Checks!

Poisoned Weapons: One dose of a follow-up poison envenoms the tip of a piercing or impaling weapon, or fills a hypo. Poisoning the edge of a weapon, so that a cutting attack can deliver it, requires three doses per yard of reach. Most poisons on blades only last for one successful strike or three blocked or parried ones. Misses and dodged attacks do not rub off the poison.

Varying the Dosage: It is possible to vary the dosage of a digestive agent or a follow-up poison delivered by hypodermic. Each doubling of dosage (and cost!) halves the delay and interval, doubles damage, gives -2 to HT rolls to resist, and gives +2 to all rolls to detect the poison (including the victim’s Sense rolls, and any Diagnosis or Forensics roll made to investigate the victim’s symptoms or death). Using less than one full dose may reverse these modifiers or simply make the poison ineffective, at the GM’s option.


If the poison has a delay, there may be time to treat the victim before he suffers any ill effects. Since he will not yet be showing symptoms, he must be aware of his predicament in order to seek help!

A poisonous animal bite is usually obvious – but the GM may require a Naturalist roll to realize that an animal is venomous. Sucking the poison from the wound takes a minute, requires a First Aid or Physician roll at -2, and gives +2 on HT rolls to resist.

If the victim suspects a digestive agent, he or a friend can induce vomiting to expel the poison. This takes 10 seconds, calls for a First Aid or Physician roll, and gives +2 to resist the poison. But for some poisons, vomiting is a bad idea – it can increase injury!

It might also be possible to take an antidote. Antidotes exist for only a few poisons. Where they do exist, they are usually specific to the poison. The correct antidote gives the victim a bonus to HT rolls to resist the poison, or even completely halts the poison.

Medical procedures – chelation, gastric lavage, intravenous fluids, oxygenation, etc. – can also give a HT bonus, but only if the treatment suits the poison. Such measures require a Physician roll. The HT bonus never exceeds TL/2 (round up, minimum +1).

To learn whether it is safe to induce vomiting, or which antidotes or procedures to use, you must identify the poison. This is tricky before symptoms appear! The GM may require rolls against Poisons (to identify a residue on a dart, in a glass, etc.), Naturalist (to identify a venomous animal), or even Intimidation (to force the poisoner to reveal what he used). poison. This is tricky before symptoms appear! The GM may require rolls against Poisons (to identify a residue on a dart, in a glass, etc.), Naturalist (to identify a venomous animal), or even Intimidation (to force the poisoner to reveal what he used).

Once the victim takes damage, symptoms appear. At this point, a Diagnosis or Poisons roll can identify the poison. If the poison is cyclic, the correct antidote or medical procedures can help prevent further damage, providing their bonus to future HT rolls.

Drinking and Intoxication

If you drink too much alcohol in a short period of time, you may become intoxicated. Keep track of how many “drinks” you consume each hour. For simplicity, one drink is a full mug or can of beer (12 oz.), a full glass of wine (4-5 oz.), or a shot of spirits (1.5 oz.).

At the end of any hour during which you consume more than ST/4 drinks, roll against the higher of HT or Carousing. If you continue to drink, continue to roll once per hour.

Modifiers: -1 per drink over ST/4 that hour; -2 on an empty stomach, or +1 if you have recently eaten; +2 for the Alcohol Tolerance perk (p. 100), or -2 for the Alcohol Intolerance quirk (p. 165).

Each failure shifts you one level from sober to tipsy to drunk to unconscious (drunken stupor) to coma; see Afflictions (p. 428) for details. A critical failure drops you two levels: sober to drunk, tipsy to unconscious, or drunk to coma. If penalties reduce your roll to 2 or less, critical failure means you drop three levels! Remember that any roll 10 or more above effective skill is a critical failure; e.g., a roll of 11+ against a modified HT of 1.

Pink Elephants: If you are drunk, make one additional HT+4 roll. On a failure, you are also hallucinating (see Incapacitating Conditions, p. 428).

The Heaves: If you are drunk and keep drinking, your body will try to purge itself of the alcohol (which is a toxin, after all!). When a failed HT roll indicates that you would fall unconscious or into a coma, make a second, unmodified HT roll. On a success, you vomit up the alcohol instead of passing out; treat this as retching (p. 429). On a critical failure, however, you pass out and then retch; treat this as choking (p. 428).

Sobering Up: To sober up, you must first stop drinking. After half as many hours as the total number of drinks you consumed, roll vs. HT. Various remedies may give a bonus. On a success, you move one step toward sober. Continue to roll each time this many hours pass until you are sober. Exception: To recover from a coma, you need medical help!

Hangovers: If you are tipsy or worse, you must roll vs. HT when you stop drinking, at -2 if you’re drunk or -4 if you’re unconscious. On a failure, you will suffer a hangover. This kicks in 1d hours after the end of the drinking session – or on awakening, if you pass out or fall asleep before this time – and lasts hours equal to your margin of failure. During this time, you will suffer from moderate pain (see Irritating Conditions, p. 428) and acquire Low Pain Threshold (or lose High Pain Threshold, if you have it). The GM may decide that preventative treatment (including drinking plenty of water and possibly taking a mild analgesic) gives you a bonus to this roll.

Addictive Drugs

The habitual use of a mind-altering substance can lead to dependency. Abusers have the Addiction disadvantage (p. 122), and may suffer withdrawal (see box) if forced to go without the drug.

Below are rules for three common classes of addictive drugs. Note that these are also poisons. If someone takes a large dose, follow all the usual rules for poison on pp. 437-439, except where specified otherwise.


Stimulants elevate the user’s mood and energy level … temporarily. Potent ones – e.g., amphetamine – restore 1d FP, and give Doesn’t Sleep and Overconfidence (12). These effects endure for (12 - HT) hours, minimum one hour. After that time, the user loses twice the FP he recovered (e.g., if his FP jumped from 8 to 10, he drops to 6 FP), and gains the disadvantages Bad Temper (12) and Chronic Depression (9) for an equal length of time.

If the user takes multiple doses in 24 hours, he must roll vs. HT after the second and later doses, at a cumulative -1 per dose after the first. On a critical failure, he suffers a heart attack (see Mortal Conditions, p. 429).

Stimulants are cheap and only slightly addictive. If they are legal, stimulant addiction is a Minor Addiction (-1 point); if they are illegal, it is a -5-point Addiction.


Hallucinogens – e.g., LSD and mescaline – cause disorientation. hallucinations, and fits of paranoia. They may induce psychological dependency, but not physiological addiction Most of these drugs are taken orally and require about 20 minutes to work. Make a HT-2 roll to resist. On a failure, the user starts hallucinating(see Incapacitating Conditions, p. 428). This lasts for hours equal to the margin of failure. After that time, the user may roll vs. HT-2 once per hour to shake off the drug’s influence.

Addiction is typically worth -10 points if the drugs are legal, -15 points otherwise.

Drug Withdrawal

Use these rules when you try to give up an Addiction, either voluntarily or because you are broke, imprisoned, or in a place where your drug just isn’t available.

Withdrawal is a painful process that requires a series of daily withdrawal rolls. It normally takes 14 successful rolls to shake the habit (thus, it always takes at least two weeks), but the GM is free to vary this. Should you manage to withdraw, you must “buy off” your Addiction disadvantage immediately.

The effects of withdrawal rolls depend on whether the drug is physiologically or psychologically addictive.

Physiological Dependency: Your body has come to rely on the drug! Make daily withdrawal rolls against HT (maximum 13). Each success puts you a day closer to shaking off your Addiction. The results of failure depend on whether the drug is available. If it is, you give in and take a dose; if you still want to try to withdraw, you must restart the process from day one. If the drug is not available, you take 1 HP of injury and may continue the process … but that day doesn’t count toward the 14 successful rolls needed to withdraw. You cannot naturally recover HP lost to withdrawal until you either succeed or abandon the attempt.

function without the drug. Make withdrawal rolls against Will (maximum 13). Use the physiological dependency rules, except that if you fail a roll and the drug is unavailable, you don’t take injury. Instead, you gain -1 point of drug-related quirks, chosen by the GM. These vanish if you give in and take a dose of the drug (but then you must restart the process). If you don’t give in, these quirks grow into progressively more severe mental disadvantages. If you make 14 successful Will rolls, you withdraw – but you must make one final Will roll. On a failure, you keep any quirks or disadvantages incurred along the way!


Anyone who takes two or more doses of depressants risks an “overdose.” This definitely includes taking a single dose of two or more depressants! Any alcohol at all counts as an extra dose. Drug interactions can kill

Overdose occurs on a critical failure on any resistance roll for multiple doses. As with any poison, each doubling of dosage gives -2 to resistance rolls – and as for all success rolls, a roll of 10 or more above effective skill is a critical failure. For instance, heroin offers a HT-4 roll to resist. If a HT 10 man takes a double dose, his effective HT is 10 - 4 - 2 = 4. He overdoses on a 14 or higher.

Overdose causes unconsciousness for hours equal to the margin of failure. As well, the drug acts as a poison with a resistance roll equal to its usual resistance roll (the most difficult roll, for two or more drugs); e.g., HT-4, for heroin. It inflicts 1 point of toxic damage, repeating at 15- minute intervals for 24 cycles. If the victim reaches -1xHP, he slips into a coma (see Mortal Conditions, p. 429)


Depressants induce drowsiness, lassitude, and (in large doses) insensibility. All offer a HT roll to resist. As with any poison, a large dose gives a penalty – see Dosage (p. 438). Massive doses may lead to overdose (see box). Commonly abused depressants include:

Sedatives: These include sleep aids, anti-anxiety drugs, and many psychiatric drugs. A typical sedative is taken
orally and requires 20 minutes to take effect. Make a HT-2 roll to resist. On a failure, the user becomes drowsy (see Irritating Conditions, p. 428) for hours equal to the margin of failure. Habitual users need larger and larger doses to produce the same effect, increasing the risk of overdose. Sedatives are cheap and highly addictive. If the user acquires them legally, he has a -5-point Addiction; otherwise, he has a -10-point Addiction.

Painkillers: Potent painkillers, such as morphine, are used to treat chronic or surgical pain. Abuse is often the unintended result of legitimate use. Taken orally, there is a delay of 20 minutes; injected, there is no delay. Roll vs. HT-4 to resist. On a failure, the user acquires the High Pain Threshold (p. 59) and Unfazeable (p. 95) advantages, and the Laziness disadvantage (p. 142), and experiences euphoria (see Irritating Conditions, p. 428). All effects last for hours equal to the margin of failure. Painkillers powerful enough to produce these effects are expensive and totally addictive. Addiction is worth -15 points if the drugs are legal, -20 points otherwise.

Heroin: This opium derivative has few legitimate uses. It is typically injected, in which case there is no delay. Roll vs. HT-4 to resist. Failure incapacitates the user for hours equal to the margin of failure – treat this as ecstasy (see Incapacitating Conditions, p. 428). In addition to the usual risk of overdose, there is always the chance the heroin was “cut” with toxic filler; effects are up to the GM. Heroin is very expensive, incapacitating, totally addictive, and illegal; Addiction to heroin is a -40-point disadvantage.

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