Poisons in Pathfinder RPG: How They Really Work

“Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.” – Paracelsus

The assassin’s favorite weapon, and the underhand of many empires!

In the wild, Poison is a survival evolution. Flora and Fauna use poisons to protect themselves as well as hunt for prey. While in the hands of more sapient individuals, Poison is the weapon of intrigue and guile.

Poison can perform all manner of things: weakening a target, controlling their actions, or even causing death! In a world where magic blends with reality, poisons can get even more impressive!

Pathfinder First Edition Poisons

Pathfinder 1e defines Poisons as “a substance that interferes with the natural functions of a living creature’s body…

Notice it mentions living creatures there, as some creatures (constructs and undead) are immune to poison because they have no “natural functions.”

A poison is typically contracted one of four different ways: contact (touched with bare skin), ingested (eaten or drunk), inhaled (breathed in), and injury (delivered through an attack).

Some poisons have what is known as an “onset period” which means how long it takes for that poison to take effect. Inhaled and injury poisons have no onset period. Contact poisons have a 1 minute onset period, and ingested poisons have an onset period of 10 minutes.

Poisons also have something called Frequency. The frequency of a poison is how often that poison deals damage to the target who has contracted it.

Contact and Ingested poisons have a frequency of 1 minute, while injury and inhaled poisons have a frequency of 1 round. 

Dosing Mechanics

If a person comes into contact and contracts a poison, there are simple steps to go through.

  1. You’ve been poisoned! Make a Fortitude saving throw to resist!

Success: You resist the poison and suffer no effects.

Failure: You are now poisoned and will suffer the listed effects. If further saves are called for, you must make them as well. If the poison has an onset period, you won’t suffer any effects until after that period is over.

  1. In the case of multiple doses of poison, roll a second saving throw with a +2 to the DC to resist.

Success: You resist the second dose of the poison. This save does not count toward any secondary saves required by the other poison doses.

Failure: You contract a second dose of the poison. All DCs to resist the subsequent effects of all doses of this poison are increased by 2, and the duration of the poison is increased by half again its normal duration.

  1. For the length of the onset period, nothing happens. If there is no onset period, jump to the next step.
  2. The Next Frequency Interval (On your turn if 1/round, after 1 minute, 10 minutes, a day, etc.) roll another saving throw. You can do this at any point during your turn.

Success: You take no adverse effects this frequency, and gain one save against the poison. If the poison only requires one save, the effect is cured. Some poisons may require more than one.

Failure: You suffer the listed effects over again.
Repeat step 4 until you have accumulated enough saves to end the poison effect, or the poison duration ends.

Some poisons have secondary effects.

If the poison has a secondary effect and no onset effect, you suffer the initial effect when you fail the first save. Any subsequent saves are against the second effect.

If the poison has a secondary effect and an onset effect, when you fail the first save nothing happens. When the onset effect ends, you save against the initial effect. Every subsequent frequency, you save against the secondary effect.


For the most part, players are typically going to use injury poisons, and these are typically applied to weapons. When applying the poison to the weapon or ammunition, there is always a 5% chance that a character will accidentally poison themselves while doing this.

Some classes, like the Assassin or Alchemist, have an ability called Poison Use. This ability keeps them from accidentally poisoning themselves when applying poison to weapons. Should a character roll a 1 when attacking with a poisoned weapon, they also expose themselves to the poison.

A poisoned weapon remains poisoned until it strikes someone and uses its “dose” of injury poison. Accidentally exposing yourself to the poison, either through the 5% chance during application or rolling a 1, does not count as using the dose of poison.

Though once this dose is used, you will need to reapply the poison. The act of applying poison to a weapon or ammo is 1 standard action.

Finding Poisons

There are a few ways of getting a hold of poisons in the world. You can harvest them from the environment, purchase them from a shady vendor, or craft them yourself using alchemy.

Harvesting Poisons

When Harvesting from a dead creature (one you might have recently killed in an encounter), you need to make a Survival check at DC 15 + the CR of the Creature you are harvesting.

To complete the task, you need 10 minutes, surgical tools, and a container for the poison to go into. The Tools can be substituted for using a light slashing weapon or dagger, but the DC goes up by 2 for the lack of tools.

Should you succeed at harvesting poison from a dead creature, you get 1 dose of poison + 1 for every 5 points over the DC they rolled. The maximum amount of poison that can be extracted from the target is equal to the dead creature’s constitution score.

To Harvest from Hazards, like Yellow Mold, requires 1 hour of work and a set of alchemist’s tools or an alchemy crafting kit. You have to have the kit or tools on this one, not like when harvesting from creatures.

The Survival DC is 15 + the CR of the Hazard. The harvesting character might need to get close enough to set off the hazard. That is at the discretion of the DM to decide if they set it off or not.

Poisons harvested in this way only last 24 hours away from its source. To make it last longer, the character needs to preserve it. To do so, they need to use the Craft (Alchemy) option to brew a poison. The raw poison acts as the ingredients, and sits in for the GP cost of brewing the poison. 

Purchasing Poison

Poison purchasing is less rule intensive and more Roleplaying intensive. Purchasing it is simply an exchange of gold for a product. The issue is finding a place to buy it. Most places in “civilized society” poison is typically frowned upon, as it implies murder or assassination.

A party of adventurers is going to need to be pretty savvy and subtle if they want to find someone who can sell to them. Even then, there is a real chance they are going to be paying through the nose for the best stuff.

Crafting Poison

Using the Craft (Alchemy) skill, characters can create their own poison. If creating poisons already listed like the Crafting Table on the SRD, the crafting DC is equal to the Fortitude Save DC of the poison in question. Much like when applying poisons to weapons, there is always a question of danger even when making the concoction.

When making a poison, rolling a 1 on the Craft check will cause you to expose yourself to the poison. Again, the Poison Use ability some classes have will allow you to work without worrying about poisoning yourself.

Curing Poison

Making and using Poison is all well and good, but how do you deal with it when YOU are the one poisoned?

There are multiple options over all. Magic, Items, and even Skills can be used to treat poison or poison damage.


There are many spells in a Pathfinder’s arsenal to deal with poison. Detect Poison can be used to identify a poison in a creature or on an item or area. Delay Poison will actually hold a poison at bay for a long period of time to give more time before it takes effect.

Accept Affliction will move the poison effect to yourself, and finally Neutralize Poison will remove a poison effect from a creature.


There are a few magical items used to cure poison. All the above spells can be scribed into a scroll, be brewed into a magical potion, or manufactured into a wand.

The Periapt of Proof against Poison also provides poison immunity. There is also a base non-magical item called Antitoxin that gives a bonus on Fortitude Saving Throws to resist poison. 


The Heal (Wis) skill has an option for treating poison effects. Unfortunately it isn’t a complete cure, but it can be very useful. If you manage to beat the Fortitude DC with your Heal check, the next time the target makes a save, they get an extra +4 bonus on their Saving Throw to throw off the effect of their poisoning.

Keep on Partying, Pathfinder!