Poisonous Ideas for Plots, Encounters & World-Building

I was chatting with moderator @ExileInParadise on the Roleplaying Tips Discord about how poison can inspire toxic challenges and venomous adventures.

Poison is any substance that causes harm to an organism. It basically attacks a single biological process and takes it out. There’s often a spot in the rule book for how to handle poison in our campaigns, but many GMs underuse the option.

So, in that vein, here are a few ideas on how to make our plots, encounters, and settings more toxic:

Deadlines & Urgency

Need to put clock pressure on the party? Poison someone or something that would get the party questing to find an antidote, whether it’s a frantic sprint to the alchemist, or delving desperately through jungles and mountains looking for rare flora.

Credit Cards

Okay, that’s a super obtuse metaphor for using poison as a debuffing condition. If you see health or hit points as plot currency, then conditions are like credit where you borrow some negative effect for a bit and hit the PCs with it.

It’s like conjuring more wounds but without affecting the supply of Hit Point fiat currency. The penalty you pay is you must use conditions judiciously, else they become anchors, boring, and mundane.

Scaling the Challenge

If you’ve taken one of my workshops or adventure building courses, you know I like to plot out fun encounters and then wait to balance them during play. Poison is a lever we can pull to make an encounter more difficult on-the-fly.

For example, if the PCs have weaseled a full rest in the dungeon and are headed into Room IV: Climactic Conflict at 100% strength, I might improvise and give foes poison to make the encounter harder.


Some players would kill for cool treasure that drips viscous edge lord. For example, the Widow’s Whisper. A stiletto blade with scales etched into it that can turn a victim into a poisonous snake once a day.


CharDev is my lingo for Character Development, which is the story arc of each PC over the course of an adventure or campaign. Poison could be an unresolved backstory loop, a long-term affliction to beat, a phobia, or even a moral quandary.


The concept of poison attacking a particular biological process offers some clever GM options by adding combos. For example, the poison attacks the barbarian’s lungs. Then a later encounter features heavy smoke, making the condition worse. When considering implications of effort, perhaps this results in a cumulative CON or combat penalty, movement penalty, and so on.


A whodunnit without poison is like a character without a dump stat. Perhaps the killer uses a poison with unique and traceable ingredients. Maybe a settlement keeps putting animal carcasses into the river to poison a rival village downstream.

World Building

Here’s a cool world-building exercise for today. Brainstorm 7 sources of poison in your world. Set a 2-minute timer and go! Think flora, fauna, and strange effects. Then share your ideas with us on the RPT Discord.


What if poisons were coveted? Intrigue means stealthy actions and shadowy details. For example, kingdoms in the south compete on who can concoct the deadliest poison to inflict higher casualties in a war that has no end in sight. The characters are hired to steal the other side’s newest recipe.


I saved the funnest one for last. Let’s surprise players by adding poison to monster types they’ve encountered before or know about as players. Poisonous orcs, elementals, moose, and t-rexes.

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Hopefully these ideas offer a hint at poison’s potent potential in our games. We can use the danger not just as a mere obstacle but as a reservoir of complications, threats, and hooks with which to challenge players and characters.

Have more fun at every game!

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