Save-or-die poison is a corner often cut when reviving the Old School. Losing that seventh-level character to one bad die roll seems so unfair. So poison becomes a matter of hit points ... or just a knockout, not a killer ... myself, I have been giving players an extra saving throw, the first to avoid being incapacitated, the second to avoid death from the poison's effects.
But in our last session of play, gearing up to fight a venom-tailed wyvern, the player innocently asked if they could buy some anti-venom at the apothecary in town. With a successful availability roll
(-3 seemed about right), a flask of the substance was found. After some haggling ("what price life itself?") the sovereign antitoxin was procured for a measly hundred silver pieces and packed on the person of the dwarf. Good thing, too; in the combat, the self-same dwarf, being the party member least likely to do so, failed a poison save, but had the remedy quick to hand and chugged it before the poison could take effect.
(I'm just noticing, by the way, that I don't feel the need to explain the silver standard in my game. Why? Well, even D&D Next uses it now.)
Although I may want to increase the standard price, there's no doubt to me that making antitoxins readily available through alchemists and apothecaries is a good move. Play-wise, it lets the threat of lethal poison remain, while offering a way out of its dangers through skillful planning and treasure spending. In terms of historical legends and folklore, a huge number of things were supposed to be a sovereign remedy for poison:
- Bezoar (calcified stone found in the stomach)
- Toadstones (stones spit out by a toad)
- The correct half of a toad liver
- Powdered amethyst or emerald
- Herbs: Garlic, Vervain, Betony, Mistletoe, Mithridatum, Theriac
- Unicorn horn
- Confection of Cleopatra (not the best spokesmodel for surviving poison,
but you have to agree she's strangely appropriate for a beverage of
musk, birthwort and scorpions macerated in wine)
Never mind that most of these are nonsense or, by sympathetic magic, obviously poisonous themselves. Never mind that poison was rare enough so that these overhyped antidotes almost never had to pass their screen test. Leaving to more obsessive minds the distinction between snake, insect, chemical and plant poisons, let's consider the standard, composite kind of antidote in the game to be as effective as the mythical bezoar or unicorn horn, against all sorts of ingested, inhaled and injected toxins.
Such a sovereign antidote costs, as base, 200 sp and has availability -3. It is a small, non-encumbering flask. After a failed poison saving throw incapacitates a character, he or she has only 1 round (6 seconds) of feeble ability to take out and apply the antidote. Beyond that, active colleagues have 5 more rounds to administer an antidote. Success means recovery from incapacitation in d6 minutes.
Poison is common enough between monsters, traps, potions, and villainous weapons that it's really something adventurers should have some kind of chance against.