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Poison shouldn’t be evil!

posted Wednesday, March 8th 2006 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering Advice

I don’t think poison should be evil. It’s not lawful, in terms of alignment, and it’s certainly dishonourable, but hitting someone with a poisoned sword isn’t any more evil than hitting them with a magic sword. This is my opinion.

I think the reason that people think of poison as evil is that in real life, weapon poison would probably be lethal and fast-acting in order to kill a person. It’s a pre-meditated, saying in advance, “Whoever it is I fight next, I don’t care who they are or why I’m fighting them, but I want them dead. Not just incapacitated, or defeated, but dead.”

In D&D, most poisons are nonlethal and tend to have a weakening affect instead, perhaps like tear gas. Poisons are not lethal unless they act on Constitution. If Strength damage poison is evil, then Ray of Enfeeblement should be evil too!

I would consider poison use evil only under certain circumstances. One, if it’s a poison which deliberately causes pain. Two, if it causes ability drain, which is permanent and causes undue suffering for the rest of the creature’s life. Three, if it deals Constitution damage, and even then only if it is employed such that it is likely to kill whoever it is used against, regardless of circumstances.

Thus a paladin will avoid the use of poison not because it is evil, but because it is dishonourable, and because certain poisons cause unnecessary suffering.

Comments

  1. Ben

    November 26th, 2007

    Well technically speaking Ray of Enfeeblement, Touch of Idiocy, and other stat reducing necromancy spells act on draining the Soul, Body, and Mind of their target. They are massively invasive, and violate the very essence of their victim. So while for ease of use they are not evil, they should be.
    Poison is much the same way. I don’t just want to fight you, i want to be underhanded. I will do anything to tip the odds in my favor. I want you to suffer.
    (Not to mention that reducing any stat to 0 will either kill ((INT,CON)) or induce a coma ((STR,WIS)), or total paralysis ((DEX)))
    I think poison use should continue to be considered evil.

  2. Wil

    December 10th, 2007

    @Ben: 0 wis or 0 cha traps you in a nightmare
    0 int makes you braindead
    0 str makes you unable to move (fall helpless on ground) as does 0 dex (held still in your position, e.g. standing)

  3. Rob

    October 21st, 2008

    No, poison is definitely not evil. It’s a neutral tool. In BoVD it says that evil tools (greatly paraphrased) “Have to be used for unnecessary suffering, have a connection to evil (ripping out intestines, etc.) or some combination of the sort.” BoED “Poisons are not inherently evil, it just so happens that many evil people use them.” This is like saying “evil people use whips more than good people, so they are evil tools.” Finally, and I quote you, “Poison is much the same way. I don’t just want to fight you, i want to be underhanded. I will do anything to tip the odds in my favor. I want you to suffer.” This draws several assumptions about the THOUGHTS of the person using the poison, not the poison itself. Further, poison in DND is not designed to make people suffer. Poisons are used in combats to finish them more quickly. You cannot claim that poisons cause undue pain because then I could claim that swords cause undue pain, will “pure kill” spells being the only choice, because if you hit someone with a sword and don’t kill them you’re causing unnecessary suffering. I think the only thing that’s evil to use in combat is DISEASE, because it has no immediate effects (most of the time) and just causes massive suffering to the winning party.

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