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    POISONS.... collection, uses, and social risk
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    Paladin

    Joined: Sep 07, 2011
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    Wed Apr 04, 2012 9:07 am  
    POISONS.... collection, uses, and social risk

    Every assassin or rogue is familiar with a variety of fiendish applications. Every druid and ranger has their medicinal applications. Let us then debate on the many varied and benign forms.....
    IMC I recently had a Cleric of St Cuthbert collect the venom sacks from the large black spider the group had encountered.... Immediacies and outrages in-sued from his fellows on how someone so aligned would not collect poisons...... until he countered with... for generating anti-dotes... thus quieting the protesters...
    But that sparked a thought in my own twisted grey matter (All DMs know of this spot within their skulls) Could a LN cleric impose and utilize a naturally occurring venom in dispensing "justice" to evil foes of the church? Or a similarly aligned Druid defending their forest home and friends from invaders?
    What more erratic and wondrous poisons have been applied?
    For example I have applied a poison dust that only reacts when it comes into contact with gold...... A nice liberal "coating" over yonder chest, and what seems benign and unguarded becomes lethal.
    Just a few thoughts from the dark to get things rolling.
    DLG
    GreySage

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    Wed Apr 04, 2012 9:47 am  

    DLG,

    Wow, you open a great flood for debate on this one. Before I begin, I guess it depends on the edition you use, and how rigidly you keep to 'the rules.' I know it states clearly that poisons cannot ever be used by paladins (at least in 1e and 2e) and that Good-aligned characters cannot/should not use them. Clerics are on the forefront of that list.

    HOWEVER, I am always one to twist rules and not follow things 'to the letter' if a greater reasoning can be offered. Furthermore, I don't necessarily think that using poison/venom is any worse than using certain offensive and brutal spells, or backstabbing someone if they don't see you coming. Additionally, I think there is the context to consider, and the type of character as well.

    Regarding priests, I really think it depends on the Power. Pelor, for instance, would NEVER (in my opinion) condone the use of venom for killing. Using it to create an antidote, though, is perfectly OK. Same with some other Powers like Rao or Heironeous (poison is cowardly). Ehlonna, I think, would not necessarily punish a cleric for using natural poisons from herbal plants, or the venoms of natural creatures like your snake or spiders, to use against those who harm the forest. I surely don't think Obad-hai would care at all. I also see followers and clerics of Trithereon using whatever tools are needed to slay or avenge wrongdoings, especially against agents of Evil (the means justifying the ends, as they say, so long as innocents aren't harmed in the process).

    Just my take and perspective.

    -Lanthorn

    p.s. I have had at least two of my (good-aligned) characters use poison or venom before. One is my bladesinger whose monniker I use, and the other is my cleric-fighter of Trithereon. I think even my ranger used it once...
    Journeyman Greytalker

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    Wed Apr 04, 2012 7:49 pm  

    Lanthorn wrote:
    DLG,
    I also see followers and clerics of Trithereon using whatever tools are needed to slay or avenge wrongdoings, especially against agents of Evil (the means justifying the ends, as they say, so long as innocents aren't harmed in the process).



    If those agents of evil have used poison against decent, goodly folk. I could see Trithereon worshipers considering it fine to use the same weapons their enemy uses, fighting fire with fire, so to speak.

    However, I'm not so sure about an "ends justifying the means" mentality.
    Grandmaster Greytalker

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    Thu Apr 05, 2012 7:15 am  

    This is a great point to bring up. Another thing to consider, just beside whether there are some ethical/religious reasons for characters not to do this, is how society views people who use poison. Even though most scholars think the accusations of being a poisoner that are applied to Lucrezia Borgia were false, they were used as a way to stigmatize her, so you could make an argument that society might take a dim view of poisoners.

    But then there is also the context of the act in which poison is used. Use a poisoned dagger to kill a prominent, but corrupt priest who is a secret cultist of Merrshaulk (Oh, the irony of him dying that way!) and if it becomes known the dagger was poisoned, the character could be in legal trouble, or at the very least their reputation takes a hit. Use poison arrows while wiping out a den of kobolds; well, who cares. They're pretty much vermin anyway. You wouldn't cry about poisoning rats, would you? Granted, this is just one way of viewing it.
    GreySage

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    Thu Apr 05, 2012 8:07 am  

    Gents,

    I completely agree about the remark regarding social stigma, especially in certain "goodly" nations such as Furyondy and Veluna. I doubt the peoples of the Wild Coast or the Bandit Kingdoms would bat an eyelid about the use of poisons. Of course, unless the characters make it evident they use toxic substances, who will know or care to know?

    To BW, my point about the followers of Trithereon is that I see them using whatever means necessary (to a point) to bring about a greater good against their opponents. I view them as the ultimate vigilantes, guided by their own perceptions of Right vs. Wrong, not bothering with the 'technicalities' of Law and Order, so they can do their God's work. As a result, I don't think Trithereon would oppose the use of poison or venom to kill known agents of evil (tyrants, brigands, etc). I don't even think they would necessarily condemn religious "assassinations" to remove their enemies.

    To Smillan, your remark about vermin removal is PRECISELY what I had in mind. We commonly use poisons to erradicate pests and think NOTHING about it. Does that make the general populace Evil? Maybe in the eyes of the countless rodents and insects (and their Powers) we are genocidal. Perhaps a druid would take offense, if the removal of the kobolds somehow destabilized the 'balance.'

    In and of itself, I don't perceive the uses of venoms and poisons as an evil act. To me, it's like using any other weapon or spell (suddenly the statement that "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." comes to mind). As Smillan pointed out, perhaps it's the social (or religious) stigma that is attached that matters most of all.

    Just my take, of course.

    -Lanthorn
    Paladin

    Joined: Sep 07, 2011
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    Thu Apr 05, 2012 10:04 am  

    And as the raging waters rose he sat back basking in the reveal of the debate! Mawaahahhhaaaa Evil Grin
    I must agree and this is the reason for the posting. as it relates to GH ... it is funny that Furyondy and Veluna bubble to the surface as well as certain deities....
    I think this makes for a good roleplay as a PC would be faced with if he traveled from the Wild Coast to such "goody civilized lands".
    One must ask though.. is there a difference in salvaging natural poisons versus concocting new and more menacing ones? Is there a point that it is no longer a salvage form harvested via a "neutral monster type"but a "in your face" act of villainy? Is that line crossed when the well in the village is poisoned? Exterminating the populace? Villainy is cried if the town is Chendl..... but what if its Molag?
    Grandmaster Greytalker

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    Thu Apr 05, 2012 6:27 pm  

    What if a poison is used to make an enemy prone or stunned to avoid having to kill them. It aids in capturing the individual and allowing the proper authories to invoke justice.

    However, with that said poison is thought to be an assassins or cowards weapon. In most medieval type settings one would be denying someones right to a trial by combat by using poison. In some cases neutral and Chaotic neutral types may utilize poisons which are deadly. Lawful neutral types might prefer non-lethal poisons or using a fast acting poison to allow for a painless death.

    There is no fast hard rule everything is a case by case comparison. Though as a general rule poison is seen as something no prudent person would take to using it. Some not even in extreme circumstances. I don't think edition is relevant and no Paladin worth his faith should ever use poison.

    Later

    Argon
    GreySage

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    Thu Apr 05, 2012 8:23 pm  

    Ooh! Interesting topic. I like the points of view expressed already and will throw in my own opinion on a few points. Smile

    On the question of whether the use of poison is considered evil or cowardly, comparisons to the real world are not completely appropriate. In a fantasy setting, a spellcaster disabling a warrior with a Charm Person, Color Spray, Hold Peson, or Entangle spell is not, generally, considered cowardly. Realistically speaking, however, how is that not similar to another opponent utilizing poison to the same effect. Certainly, in the real world, casting any kind of spell at your opponent was considered just as dastardly as using poison against him, but in the World of Greyhawk, magic use isn't so stygmatized (at least not in canon). Interestingly, would anyone call Murlynd a coward for gunning down an opponent with his six-shooters?

    I agree that the Chaotic Good alignment is the epitome of "The end justifies the means," attitude. Chaotic Neutrals don't care about anything and Chaotic Evils only care about their freedom to do evil. Lawfuls are all more concerned with the means than the end. Neutral Goods may accept "the end justifies the means" on ocassions where the means are only slightly unfortunate, but would not take that to an extreme. Neutral Evils are like Chaotic Evils, but a little more patient and purposeful in their pursuit of evil. Evil Grin So, followers of Tritherion would be happy to use nearly any means that gained them a 'good' end. Especially meanas that were not inherently evil in and of themselves. Poison is no more evil than a sword (or a gun). It can be used for good or evil.

    I think it would make for some excellent roleplaying if a Paladin player went to the trouble of convincing his superiors in the church or their patron deity him/herself that the use of poison was really very honorable. What if the Paladin's goal was not the destruction of evil, but its conversion? Killing every opponent would be contrary to such a goal, so the Paladin teams with a NG Druid, Thief, etc. to concoct poisons that incapacitate rather than kill. The Paladin is then able to take dozens of prisoners rather than simply leaving a double digit body count after each battle. How can that not be considered a Lawful Good means to a Lawful Good end. Perfect for a LG character. Happy

    SirXaris
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    Fri Apr 06, 2012 7:35 am  

    Should a LN cleric utilize a poison?

    My answer: Yes, but with a court order.

    More seriously, I've had some thoughts similar to what has been posted. Why shouldn't a paladin use certain poisons? (Drow poison particularly - which in all editions is incapacitating and not lethal.) Wouldn't it be preferable than just running the evil-doer through with a sword - giving the evil-doer a chance for redemption and turning from his wicked ways?

    I think the real question we might ask is: What methods are inherently evil - as opposed to evil goals?

    Creating undead - even if used to confront other undead or evil - is probably the clearest method that is itself evil. Most good deities essentially saying that you don't help matters by bringing more undead into the situation. Same could be said of torture and summoning/binding fiends.

    Mind control. And just how much mind control is "good?" A command spell is brief and could prevent greater harm happening. But is it good to put a life-long enchantment on some creature? However, a lawful neutral society might very well make extensive use of behavior modifying magic. Its for the "good of society" after all.

    Violence. A Paladin's character features improve his ability to inflict violence against others. How good is that, exactly? Do you limit his violence to be against only undead, automatons, and creatures from the evil outer planes (which are only a manifestation of evil itself)? Does the good adventurer focus on some other means to deal with living opponents - affording the opponent the chance of redemption?

    What about lying? Does a paladin have an obligation not to lie - even when being tortured by villains who seek the location of innocents they intend to slay?

    Perhaps in my campaign I let a bit more things slide, but I also try very hard to make my evil villains definitely E V I L. This helps resolve many questions. Its a lot easier to justify the paladin stabbing, burning, bludgeoning and downright slaughtering opponents, when those opponents are out collecting children's eyeballs and fingers to use as power components in their spells. Annihilating a bunch of orcs goes down better for the paladin when those orcs were lunching on halfling infants rather than just looting, vandalizing or stealing livestock. Better still when the orcs enjoyed their lunch more just because it was innocent.
    GreySage

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    Fri Apr 06, 2012 10:44 am  

    DLG, it seems you have the beginnings of a long, enduring thread here!

    OK, Lanthorn back into the discussion, b/c I love shades of grey in all aspects (rules, included, of course).

    Regarding paladins using poisons and venoms, regardless of ethos or deity, I have to say that I have the stance that it is outlawed and anethema in all aspects. I think this is true even if that paladin worshipped St. Cuthbert or Pholtus. Those Powers, in my mind, would see the use of such substances as the tools of villains and thieves. A Heironean, Pelorian, or Raoan paladin would't dare use them for reasons I outlined above, even paralytic types. Again, my perspective.

    Among clerics and followers, I think the use of venoms/poisons comes down to the Power they serve. I look to the Domains or Spheres of Interest that each Power embodies, as well as that Power's alignment, to determine if the use of these substances would be acceptable. Generally speaking, most LG Powers would disapprove of the use of venoms and poisons for the reasons many have stated earlier (notably, DLG), while, on the other end of the "Good" spectrum, a CG Power may justify its use.

    My style of DMing tends to shy away from stark black-and-white situations and terms. Maybe it's because I see life in reality as shades of grey due to my own personal experiences. As a much younger person, life seemed black-and-white (one could say I was more LG), but as I grew older, and hopefully wiser along the way, the contrast grew only cloudier. My whole perspective changed, and now I see a continuum, with The Blinding (White) Light on one end, growing progressively greyer towards the other, until it becomes utter Darkness. My campaigns occasionally (every other plot, typically)have the clear delineations of Good vs. Evil (such as one notable one I am currently running against a vile cult of Iuz), but I have grown bored with most of them. I would rather challenge my (savvy, older) player with ethical, moral, and challenging decisions where there is no stark contrast, and I think he revels in those. Of course, as DM, you know your players best. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy some plots where you KNOW you are fighting utter EVIL, and that makes it rewarding as a hero if and when you best them.

    To add to that, look at some of the spells (and Spheres) granted to some of the priests. Heironeous, a God of Valor and Justice, the embodiment of paladins, allows access to Charm and thus, Charm Person (at least, IMC). When is it acceptable to use that power to alter the mind of a person? A priest of Trithereon can, technically, Animate the Dead, as can a Heironean or Pelorian (and many others). Would these Powers grant such a spell? Those are the conundrums and decisions I enjoy... (For the record, my own priest of Trithereon considered such a ploy, but, while facing a cult of Nerull, thought it ludicrous in the end...however, if faced with a separate group of opponents without a priest capable of Commanding Undead, you can bet your bottom copper piece he would if it meant turning the tables against them to do his God's will!).

    Please take NO offense when I say this (not my intention), but orcs eating babies makes it simple and easy. However, what if the orcs are merely scavenging through the landscape, or you stumble on their campsite and see only a handful of sentries guarding their women and children (especially if you are hunting down orcs in a retaliatory counterstrike)? Now, there's a dilemma...

    -Lanthorn
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    Fri Apr 06, 2012 12:17 pm  

    I think we shouldn't think about poisonuse from our own perspective at all.

    A modern person (mostly from Western culture, right?) thinks that tranquilizers (effectively "drow poison") are ok, burning people at stakes is wrong and you can't marry if you're fourteen.

    A person from the Middle Ages (fantasy or not) thinks that poison is an absolutely satanic thing, burning people at stakes is ok as long you get to watch and fourteen is a good age to marry and have kids.

    A medieval person trying to justify that using sedative poisons makes sense and isn't evil is as realistic as a 21st century person arguing that all women should only worry about child-bearing and nothing more.

    Summa summarum: I want the evilness of poison be keyed with the spirit of the Middle Ages.


    Last edited by Sutemi on Fri Apr 06, 2012 9:23 pm; edited 1 time in total
    Paladin

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    Fri Apr 06, 2012 5:01 pm  

    Sutemi wrote:
    I think we shouldn't think about poisonuse from our own perspective at all.
    A person from the Middle Ages (fantasy or not) thinks that poison is an absolutely satanic thing, ........
    A medieval person trying to justify that using sedative poisons makes sense and isn't evil is as realistic as.........
    Summa summarum: I want the evilness of poison be keyed with the spirit of the Middle Ages.

    Yes and No IMO...
    It is certainly a "medeval" taste that GH has, but to compare it to our own middle ages is not a fair alignment.... The "demons and satanic" influences in the middleages are "questionable" at best and more likely a power/control of the Church system on mankind (won't go there in this thread). Whereas, in GH, those same issues are more likely to have "true" releveance. (ie the flight of Fiends)
    So IMO, the real question is not how this would be perceived in our own "realm" (whether it be 21st or 12th centuries) but how it is viewed across the Flanness and the cultures that reside there.
    I concede we all use our own knowledge as to how our world relates to GH in order to give it a "believable feel" but lets face the facts that GH peoples face things on a daily basis that would seem extraordinary in our world. (ie simple spells, and the presence of divine representation just to mention a few).
    Black Hand of Oblivion

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    Sat Apr 07, 2012 1:04 am  

    It might help to have your characters think of poisons as we think of them.

    I use Raid to kill bugs when needed, or use Gopher Bait to kill those little buggers too. Basically, we poison a lot of stuff, but we resefve the use of such things for what we term to be pests. In a fantasy world there are pests that can come in rather larger sizes, yet they still need to be gotten rid of to a reasonable degree. A little arsenic in some bait might get rid of the ankhegs in that sweet little old lady's garden quite nicely, but she probably won't be using it on he annoying neighbor. We pretty much draw the line at using poisons to kill sentient things, so most characters would too, according to their alignment, of course.

    As to non-lethal poisons, or what perhaps would better be termed paralytic drugs and sedatives, practically anyone could/would use those- even a Paladin, given the right circumstances (granted, those would certainly be some creative circumstances, but I've already got one in mind).

    At to neutral characters, they can have evil tendencies here and there, or just be somewhat apathetic, or even insane, so others are situations where they might use poison on sentient beings. As to evil characters , we don't even really need to talk about them, as their ethics and morals are so far down the scale that, to them, poison is just another tool in their bag of tricks. Granted, that doesn't mean all evil folks would be willing to use poisons on sentient beings, just that they would have less compunctions about doing so than good and neutral characters.

    Then there is a battle application of poison to kill. Wells are poisoned and diseases are spread. Then there is that fun little spell cloudkill, which very much poisons to death those it kills, yet I am sure there are more than a few good-aligned wizard characters out there who have tossed that spell around with nary a thought to how it is going about doing what it does. Well, at least it's potentially quick and humane I guess, unlike being hacked apart by a Mordenkainen's Sword spell, or some such. At least the spell can be used for area denial too. Most people will equate battle magic to direct damage/effect, so whether that good-aligned wizard is killing a group of orcs with a fireball or cloudkill spell, there is not seen to be an appreciable difference, as the end result is what is desired- dead orcs. Good thing that orcs are pests! Laughing
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    GreySage

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    Sat Apr 07, 2012 9:32 am  

    Cebrion, I think you added some good perspective on this topic, and I agree with your logic. I am also happy that you also addressed an idea that I mentioned with respect to lethal spells and how many mages, including "Good" ones, seem to completely overlook how they kill their intended victims. Being roasted alive by a Fireball or electrocuted by a Lightning Bolt is hardly 'humane' and painless, and the visible, auditory, and olfactory results of such spells should be (in my opinion) neatly described in order to convey just that. I've stressed this to my player, especially if his wizard is not 'seasoned' in battle, or is the stereotypical bookish sort who may suffer from pangs of guilt or complete revulsion at having to use such spells, even if necessary for self-defense. Then there's Cloudkill, as you mentioned, which is vaprous poison, and yet, how many "Good" mages use it without nary a thought? To me, there's absolutely no difference between using that spell and coating your sword with poison. In fact, it is b/c of that fact that I had a paladin forbid her associate 'battle' mage from using that spell if she wanted to remain in her retinue...

    Excellent discussion, all. Thanks for this intriguing thread, DLG.

    -Lanthorn
    Black Hand of Oblivion

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    Sat Apr 07, 2012 8:59 pm  

    Well, I think that would be a bit too conservative though. Our real world idea of what is ethical/humane and the medieval fantasy world idea of what is ethical/humane are going to be very different things. Not so long ago, we were using flame throwers to cook people alive, use napalm to do the same, or air fuel bombs to burn up the oxygen in the air, and in nearby people's lungs, consigning them to death by suffocation as they cough up cooked chunks of their lungs. We go back a bit further and we have mustard an other forms of gas, horrific at they are, being used as a perfectly acceptable form of attack. And yet, these were all just seen as the horrible realities of war. War is horrible, and people get killed in horrible ways, by horrible weapons. A medieval fantasy world is a very harsh place, and with that comes a little bit more leeway as to what constitutes the moral and ethical norm, and besides, there is not Geneva Convention in Greyhawk.

    Think about it. The crux of adventurers getting together is pretty much so they can go out and kill anything and everything that could possibly not get along with them, and this includes the good adventurers. Adventurers aren't just minding their own business sitting in their homes, and killing anything that might have the audacity to happen to wander in uninvited. They are actively seeking out things to put to the sword. Oh, and take their stuff too. What? It would be immoral to waste anything! Laughing Very different kind of world, and the baseline of morals/ethics is a little bit skewed to the "brutal" end of the spectrum. Most of the time, the good guys will be more "Pale Rider" than the "Lone Ranger". Wink

    There is a bit of a difference between using a cloudkill spell and coating one's sword with poison though. The latter is underhanded; the former is not. The reasoning for this is that latter eliminates a sense of fairness in what is assumed to be a known quantity, the sword, by introducing an advantage that is not readily noticeable, the poison. Such is not the case with a cloudkill spell. Basically, there is no honor in employing a hidden advantage, which is why a Paladin wouldn't envenom a blade with the purpose to kill, while an underhanded thief has no compunction about doing so. A paladin might wield an envenomed blade for the purpose of incapacitating an individual that they either want to bring in alive to face justice, or to incapacitate an ally that is mentally dominated and that would otherwise kill the paladin due to them being a much fiercer opponent than the paladin could ever hope to defeat through honorable means. There is nothing dishonorable here, as it is honorable to take such actions to save life in this case. Granted, this sort of situation is going to be beyond rare, even considering magical compulsions.
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    Last edited by Cebrion on Mon Apr 09, 2012 11:37 pm; edited 2 times in total
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    Mon Apr 09, 2012 6:09 am  

    Here is one possible explanation of why any good cleric (from lawful to chaotic) as well as paladins may not use poison:

    In Greyhawk all matter is made up of one of the four elements: air, earth, fire and water. By themselves these are neutral - fire can warm as well as burn, water can slake a thirst but also drown, etc.

    The two energies are positive and negative - living creatures and healing magics have positive energy, while the undead and corrupting magics utilize the negative energy. Positive energy is good, negative energy is evil, and the respective clerics (regardless of the patron deity) refrain from using the opposite energy.

    Poisons, and things that are poisonous, are a combination of the four elements that channel negative energy. Foods and medicines are combinations that channel positive energy. The good cleric will avoid poisonous things as much as they avoid the undead and other corruptions.

    (The spells of a good cleric that do damage of some kind are explained as suspending or interfering with the targets positive energy. Evil cleric spells that heal are likewise addressed.)


    So, do you folks think this explanation works for general prohibitions on poison? Could it be just the particular belief of one good deity or held by all good faiths?
    Paladin

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    Mon Apr 09, 2012 10:41 am  

    Interesting A-B....
    makes one wonder where the Big T would play into that..... heheh
    and my thoughts also drift toward animals that are basically neutral yet have poisons in there defense tool-cart. ie the spider (afore mentioned) or the snake or scorpion? And if their neutrality is upheld then one could see where certain less intelligent dragon types may have been "wrongfully labeled"? heheh
    "its only alittle chlorine gas" after all.

    And for a shift in direction.. how about less obvious "poisons" such as vile drowning..... a potion that causes the drinker to save vs poison or drown.
    This also trails my twisted little mind towards something IMOC I do with potions and poisons... unless there is a spell cast properly identifying the liquid I only use descriptors. ie "brown muddy colored liquid with the viscosity similar to honey having a burnt smell to it" might be what the non-spell casting identifier might be for motor oil. Now I do maintain a list of descriptors for consistency.
    Paladin

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    Mon Apr 09, 2012 10:51 am  

    Cebrion wrote:
    A medieval fantasy world is a very harsh place, and with that comes a little bit more leeway as to what constitutes the moral and ethical norm, and besides, there is not Geneva Convention in Greyhawk.

    True the definition of harsh is tempered with society.
    Its a good thing the is no GC or UN, I would have economic sanctions applied to me all the time hehehe

    Cebrion wrote:

    Think about it. The crux of adventurers getting together is pretty much so they can go out and kill anything and everything that could possibly not get along with them, and this include the good adventurers. Adventurers aren't just minding their own business sitting in their homes, and killing anything that might have the audacity to happen to wander in uninvited. They are actively seeking out things to put to the sword. Oh, and take their stuff too. What? It would be immoral to waste anything! lol: Very different kind of world, and the baseline of morals/ethics is a little bit skewed to the "brutal" end of the spectrum. Most of the time, the good guys will be more "Pale Rider" than the "Lone Ranger". Wink

    Seems you and I debated the lone ranger somewhere else Big C! heheh but the point as you have already eluded to is a question of defining the boundaries for ethics & Morality (ie Law/chaos & good/evil) . It is not only a question of if its good but in certain parts of GH is it unlawful.
    Paladin

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    Tue Apr 10, 2012 9:29 am  

    Also another more sublime interpretation might be this little excerpt from something gvdammerung penned...
    ...... For a time, they believed this evil to be Belvor after he quaffed a potion of longevity and appeared poised to rule as an eternal king [over Furyondy]. .
    not a "poison" as defined.. but certainly politically poisonous
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