July 1, 2016

Handling Poisons in Hari Ragat


Poisonous creatures and use of poisoned weapons abound in the Hari Ragat setting. They have to, for  me to faithfully depict the historical and natural inspirations behind Hari Ragat. Coming up with satisfactory mechanics for handling poisons, though, was a real challenge for me.

I rejected the idea of Save or Die quickly. Poisoning is too likely and frequently to happen that a Save or Die treatment will move from being a remote frisson of fear for the player to a big ball of no fun.

Likewise, I didn’t want to use the system of Damage Over Time, as it would introduce added bookkeeping to the game. DoT is good in computer games, where a machine tracks this for you, but I want neither GM nor player to have to think about it.

Nor did I want prepared antidotes to be readily available nor work as instant magical cures. Poison should be feared (by the way, I’m using poison to mean both poisons and venoms). Easily available and instant antidotes would simply have my players buying antidote every chance they get. And antidotes shouldn’t be generic; they should be unique for every different kind of poison.

Then it hit me. The poisoning of a character isn’t a player problem: it’s a party problem. Becoming Poisoned can be a subplot trigger, that subplot being the search for a healer of sufficient skill, or if there is one is in the party, the search for antidote ingredients a la Aragorn’s search for athelas in Fellowship of the Ring.

Thus, to summarize the current poison mechanics for Hari Ragat I have:

  • Poisons have two effects, an Immediate effect which is usually Disadvantage for the character from pain/swelling/shortness of breath or whatever, and a Terminus, what happens if the poison runs its course and when.

    For example, one snake’s poison could have an immediate effect of severe Disadvantage because it hurts like hell, and death in three hours.
  • Antidotes are herbal, and require fresh herbs. The good news is, the entire pharmacy is right outside the characters’ doors, or more likely, they’re already in it. The whole jungle is stocked with good stuff. It’s just a matter of finding the right herb in time.
  • All Baylan characters automatically recognize poisons after a minute or two of observing the victim. The idea is to use different poison types to inject an exotic jungle flavor into the game rather than make them failure points for the players. (Yes, you can see the Gumshoe DNA here). The game is in the search for antidotes.
  • If you’ve no Baylan with you – shamans being the healers and herbalists here – then the search can be for a healer instead. The good news is you’re either near a settlement, which means you’re near a healer, or you’re far from civilization, which means you’re near a Diwata or other nature spirit. What will you offer for a comrade’s life?

Oddly enough, I’m finding that the Immediate effect + Terminus treatment is closer to reality despite my admittedly Narrativist motives in coming up with it. The toxins found readily in nature are pretty slow, even cobra and mamba bites can give the victim half an hour or more to get help before they’re lost.

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