Monday, August 13, 2012

Memorable Mechanics Part 5: Poison

Hello, hello! Before I get started, I really want to thank readers for the response to the first 4e Forever playtest. That post quickly became my most viewed of all-time, and I have gotten lots of feedback. It is much appreciated! If you haven't checked it out yet, it is free to download, and I would love to hear your "two cents". I had the pleasure of running an online game with some folks and it was a sight to see 20+ PCs and henchmen take on 40 Giant Ants!

I haven't made a post in the "Memorable Mechanics" series in a while, but thought I might share some of my recent ideas regarding Poison in 4e.

In the old days, poisonous creatures were feared and dreaded. In fact, if I was playing, and I knew a creature was poisonous, I would likely yell to the party to run. Why? Well, one bite could mean death. Since that time, the history of poison in D&D has been one slow, gentle retreat from the cruelties of yore. Nowadays, there are only a few points of light in the 4e community and blogosphere that feature anything approaching save or die mechanics.

Now, I do not want to go back to insta-death from poisons, but I do want to bring a healthy fear of poison back to the game. To do that, I first wanted to differentiate between common "poison damage", and capital-letters-run-like-hell Poison. As you know from this blog series, I want to add memorable mechanics to games. Even if it goes badly for your PC, things are a lot easier to take if you died a spectacular or memorable death. I also like 4e conditions a lot; as I have mentioned before, I like the codified nature of them, how they are the same table to table. So, my thought was to come up with a "Poisoned" condition. Something not quite "save or die", but still "run like hell".

As I was thinking about bringing this idea into my 4e Forever project, I realized that if I gave EVERY Giant Snake and Centipede the ability to poison PCs, it would be too much. So I decided to make "poisoning" a daily, perhaps weekly, ability for a creature. Once they have "spent" their poison, it has to have time to build back up. The determination of whether a creature is currently "poisonous" is left to random chance, partly because I am always looking for any excuse to make a random roll. So for example, if a Giant Rattlesnake is encountered, there may be a 2 in 6 chance that it is currently poisonous.

So what is the "Poisoned" condition?

Poisoned (edit): A poisoned creature is weakened, slowed, and grants combat advantage (save ends all). If the creature is not currently bloodied, its hit points also drop to their bloodied value. On each failed saving throw, the creature's hit points drop to zero.

I am really digging this! I hope you like it too! If you have any thoughts, leave a post, and thanks again to everyone for checking out the playtest!


  1. I have to say I really don't like the picture you used. I think those things need to die in a fire. I really like your poisoned mechanic, but I think the last failed save might be a bit much. Maybe you could add you get a (Cumulative) -2 to death saves for each failed save or something

    1. James, thanks for checking things out, as always. Looks like someone else has had the (dis)pleasure of reading that Chick pamphlet. It goes without saying that I don't support any notion of that artifact, but even as someone whose mom threw out his AC/DC albums based on that sort of thing, I still find I can laugh and marvel at it now. I can promise you that is the first and last time you will see an image taken from that.

      I hear what you are saying about the Poison effect. I spend so much time completely focused on Epic and Paragon that I sometimes do not consider how things play out in the Heroic tier. This is likely too strong for low levels, but at high levels the damage mitigation (popping back up from 0 hit points), affordability of Raise Dead, and save bonuses (endless rerolls as well), make it somewhat easier to deal with.

      I feel it would be a cop-out for me to just make the effect for high level PCs only; I would like it to work the same way across tiers. So, after thinking about it this morning, I think the best solution might be just to "cut" it after the creature drops to 0, dropping the "second failed save" piece. Maybe that last bit could be added in selectively and noted as "special" if someone wanted to use it. Also, instead of reading "first failed save", I could perhaps make it "each failed save", making it possible for PCs that get healed, but do not save, to repeatedly drop to 0. Something to meditate on.

      Thanks again for checking it out!