Dungeon Master Assistance

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D&D 5E – Poisons


Poisons in D&D 5e explained

Although save or die poisons haven’t been in D&D since before the 3rd edition, I still regret the time I was running an adventure and a first level character encountered a poison spider. He failed his save and died. Not fun. D&D 5e has really simplified the use of poisons. No more initial and secondary damage. No more ability damage. No onset time. No multiple saves (I was always forgetting to require the second saving throw a few minutes later for secondary damage). And, of course, no save or die.

I am sure there will be more about poison when the Dungeon Master’s Guide comes out, but for now here is my attempt to remove some of the confusion about poisons in the current, fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons.  [As expected, the Dungeon Master’s Guide contains additional information regarding poisons. Starting on page 257 it describes the four different types of poisons (contact, ingested, inhaled and injury). It also has a list of 14 different sample poisons with their descriptions and prices. It also has information on purchasing poison and on crafting and harvesting poison.]

Using Poison

The only poison listed in the Player’s Handbook is basic poison. You can buy a vile for 100gp. You can coat one slashing or piercing weapon or up to three pieces of ammunition with it. Applying the poison takes an action. A creature hit by the poisoned weapon or ammunition must make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw or take 1d4 poison damage. Once applied, the poison retains potency for 1 minute before drying.

The description doesn’t say that the poison wipes off when you hit a creature with it, so you can continue doing damage for 1 minute after it is applied. Plenty of time for the typical encounter. The poison damage is in addition to any other damage the weapon would normally inflict. The creature hit by this poison takes poison damage but doesn’t become poisoned (see below).

Unlike previous editions, the Player’s Handbook doesn’t say that using poison is an evil act. So it is up to the DM to decide. Perhaps some types of poison are more evil than others?

Some poisons do hit point damage, some give you the poisoned condition, and some do both.

Taking poison damage

Poison damage is hit point damage, the type of damage is poison. Most poisons allow a Constitution saving throw to avoid any poison damage [basic poison and poison spray spell for example], but some don’t allow a saving throw [like basilisk poison]. Still others do poison damage on failed save, or half as much damage on a successful save [like the cloudkill spell or dragon breath].

Becoming poisoned

Although a failed saving throw is not always required to receive poison damage, you must always fail your Constitution saving throw to become poisoned. When the description says you “become poisoned” it means that you will have the poisoned condition, which gives you disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks.

The poison description will indicate how long this condition will last. The weakest last only until the start of your next turn. Others last until end of your next turn, or for 1 minute or for 24 hours. Some last until saved against and allow you to attempt a saving throw each round. The most powerful last until removed by the lesser restoration spell or similar magic.

On a successful saving throw against some creature’s poison, you are immune to this creature’s poison for 24 hours

Additional conditions

While the poison condition is in effect, different poisons may also impose one or more additional conditions (sometimes the additional conditions are only in effect if the saving throw fails by 5 or more). The additional condition might be Paralyzed, Incapacitated or Unconscious. For the Unconscious condition, some poisons allow another creature to use an action to shake the target awake. Although awake, he would still have the poison condition. Another effect could be that you can take either an action or a bonus action on your turn, not both, and you can’t take reactions. Other poisons have you take some amount of poison damage at the start of each turn, or not allow you to regain hit points while you are poisoned.


Arguably, the worst poisons are those that leave you infected with a disease.

These allow a saving throw against disease or become poisoned until the disease is cured.

Here are the diseases listed in the Monster Manual:

GAS SPORE – Spores invade an infected creature’s system, killing the creature in a number of hours equal to 1d12 +the creature’s Constitution score, unless the disease is removed. In half that time, the creature becomes poisoned for the rest of the duration. After the creature dies, it sprouts 2d4 tiny gas spores that grow to full size in 7 days.

OTYUGH and DEATH DOG: Every 24 hours that elapse, the target must repeat the saving throw, reducing its hit point maximum by 5 (1d10) on a failure. The disease is cured on a success. The target dies if the disease reduces its hit point maximum to 0. This reduction to the target’s hit point maximum lasts until the disease is cured.


16 responses to “D&D 5E – Poisons

  1. Grantopp July 12, 2015 at 3:36 am


    Where can i find the reference to poisoned condition(disadvantage on attacks) effects in the books?


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  3. Sin August 7, 2015 at 4:40 am

    Then.. why dagger of venom in DMG: You can use an action to cause thick, black poison
    to coat the blade. The poison remains for 1 minute
    or until an attack using this weapon hits a creature.


    • Ronny August 7, 2015 at 8:45 am

      I see your point. That item’s description does indicate that the poison is only effective until after the first hit. I see two possible ways to interpret this.

      1) You can rule that all poison is wiped off with a hit. Perhaps they neglected to mention this in the Player’s Handbook.
      2) The dagger of venom, being magical in nature, functions more like a snake bite than a poisoned weapon. All of the weapon’s poison is magically injected into the first victim it hits. The item’s description doesn’t say that it is wiped off.

      I personally will use #2. The dagger of venom’s poison damage of 2d10 is so much greater than the 1d4 poison in the PHB it would make the weapon too powerful if it could poison everyone you could stab in a fight. Most melee’s last less than one minute, That is why so many items have a one minute duration.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ken February 15, 2017 at 6:34 am

    Must you have a poisoner’s kit to utilize poisons? Some argue it only applies to gathering and creating poisons. I’ve home-ruled that to “use poisons” effectively/correctly you need to have a poisoner’s kit. (which counts as your proficiency in using poisons).


    • Ronny February 15, 2017 at 8:59 am

      My home-rule is similar to your’s but slightly different.
      Anyone can attempt to make a poison if they have a poisoner’s kit. If you have the kit and are proficient with it, you add your proficiency bonus to any ability checks to make a poison.
      I would also rule that if you are proficient with poisoner’s kits and have access to similar equipment (as might be found in a well-stocked wizards lab for instance) you could improvise a poisoner’s kit.
      A strict reading of the rules would indicate that, although anyone could use poison, if you have a poisoner’s kit and are proficient with it, you could add your proficiency bonus to any use of poison. So why would you get a bonus to use poison in combat just because are proficient with a kit you have in your backpack? I would rule that proficiency with a poisoner’s kit also makes you proficient with poison use.
      Note that if you attack someone with a poisoned blade, you only get to add your proficiency bonus to the attack if you are proficient with the use of the weapon. I would rule that proficiency in the use of poisons would let you use your proficiency bonus when attempting to poison a creature with contact, ingested, or inhaled poison. To create a poisoned trap you must use a poisoner’s kit. Again, you only get to add your proficiency bonus if you are proficient with it.
      As a house rule, I require proficiency with poisoner’s kits in order to successfully use one. In no case would I require the kit proficiency to simply use a poison.


  5. Cacaaa July 26, 2017 at 1:28 am

    Injury: 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.

    While RAW admittedly fails to make things clear, to me it’s pretty clear that RAI is that poison is a one-time deal.


    • Ronny July 27, 2017 at 4:54 pm

      I see your point. That is not how I read it in the PHB, but I see how you could think that. I don’t think that it breaks anything to use that as a house rule.


  6. Michel Gómez August 21, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    Hey Everyone,

    I have this question haunting me for a while. Ocurred on one character i was playing.
    I got hit by a light crossbow with poison. It was a critical hit.
    Therefore my character was hit by an impressive ammount of 15 damage points (having only 10, full, Bard level 1).
    My master made me do the vs death Saving throw (DC:10) and i succeed (the first time). However he did not mention the poison saving throw.
    Is that because im actually “unconscious”? (almost dead) and the poison cannot affect me anymore, or he simply forgot it?
    I am unable to find a rule on this situation.

    Thanks and regards,


    • Ronny September 4, 2017 at 10:27 am

      Ask your DM. It is his game and what he says goes.
      It was (most likely) not because you were unconscious. The rules as written don’t make characters with that condition immune from making saving throws. However, because you are about to die anyway, many DMs will not add to your problems by requiring additional saves.
      I can think of several other reasons he didn’t ask for a poison saving throw. First, he may have simply made an exception in your case because you were so low on hit points. It is entirely within his power to do that.
      Second, not all poisons require a saving throw. Was anyone else hit with the same poison weapon If so, did they have to make a save?
      But, like I said, talk to your DM. I get the feeling you didn’t ask at the time because you were afraid that he may have just forgot and you didn’t want to remind him. That is poor player activity. Man up and don’t be afraid to remind the DM of bad things that he may have overlooked.


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  8. Saro Lucero November 10, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    This is just another example of watering down the rules to satisfy a few whiners. Ever been poisoned in real life? It’s “not fun”, either! What’s next, nerfing petrification so that it just makes your character mildly stiff? ,So called “Save or die” effects in game are mitigated by resurrection spells and effects. This is a balanced part of the game, and while it shouldn’t be overused, can bring a real sense of fear into a well run game. If you can’t handle it, go play Call of Dookie!


    • Ronny November 10, 2017 at 1:53 pm

      I have never make resurrection spells available to low level characters, but that is beside the point.
      It sounds like you prefer the gritter first edition. Lots of people do. I greatly prefer 5th edition. If you just want to have “save or die” poisons as a house rule in your 5th edition games, that’s okay with me too. I prefer the rules as written regarding poisons. There are plenty of ways for a character to die.
      What is your opinion regarding death saves? When your character reaches 0 hit points shouldn’t he just be dead? And how about not recovering all of your hit points by simply getting a goods night sleep?
      I agree that 5th edition makes it a lot easier for the PCs to survive than earlier editions, but a lot of these changes are ones that I had already implemented in my game as house rules. I would prefer most PC deaths be the results of dramatic, memorial, heroic events. Or the results of bad player decisions. But not the results of a single bad roll of the die. To me at least, that is “not fun”.


  9. Mila Bedelia June 8, 2021 at 8:20 pm

    What about with the poison spray cantrip? does the person just take damage of a poison TYPE or do they take the damage and gain the poisoned condition??


    • Ronny June 9, 2021 at 7:58 am

      Hi Mila. Thanks for your question.
      They only take damage of the poison type. Spells only do what they specifically say they do. If was intended for this cantrip to also give the target the poisoned condition it would have said so in the spell description.
      I don’t know if you have ever been stung by a stinging scorpion, but it hurts a lot! That is how I think of poison damage. It just hurts so much it makes it hard for your character to continue fighting. This is represented in D&D as a loss of hit points. This makes it easier for me to understand how you could take poison damage and not “be poisoned ” or have the “poisoned condition”.


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