D&D 5e: Be As Toxic As Possible With The Poisoner Feat
D&D 5e: Be As Toxic As Possible With The Poisoner Feat
SOURCE: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
Rating the Benefits of Poisoner
Benefit #1 –
Your damage rolls ignore poison resistance
Ignoring resistances is a good general benefit if you’re fighting enemies that are resistant to the damage type. Poison resistance is rare, but this is still nice to have
Benefit #2 –
You can use a bonus action to coat a weapon in poison, instead of a full action
If you’re leaning hard into combat poison, the ability to apply it every turn and still take the attack action is a major boost to damage
Benefit #2 –
Gain proficiency in the poisoner’s kit. By taking an hour and spending 50g, a character can create several doses of a potent poison, which deals 2d8 damage when applied to a weapon
2d8 is a reasonable boost in damage, equivalent to a level 1 spell. The created poison can also be applied as a bonus action, because of the second trait granted by this feat.
Mechanics and Requirements
Understanding How Poisoner Functions
The Poisoner feat offers a wide range of benefits that all revolve around a single theme.
Yeah, shocker, we know. But the feat gives a character everything they need to successfully use any type of poison effectively, as well as create their own concoctions.
Ignoring Poison Resistance
The Poisoner feat lets a character ignore resistance to poison on all of their damage rolls.
Resistance halves the damage taken from a source, so attacking an enemy that’s resistant to your damage literally cuts your combat effectiveness by 50%.
It stands to reason, then, that ignoring resistance to poison damage is good, right?
The big problem is that poison resistance is vanishingly rare among monsters in 5e. As of writing, the published monster manuals have less than a dozen creatures that have resistance to poison damage.
And almost a hundred creatures have complete immunity to poison damage. Which this feat does nothing to prevent. Many creature types, such as undead and constructs, regularly ignore poison damage, literally reducing the effects of this feat to nothing.
This benefit jumps in value if you’re playing a campaign where regular enemies are humanoid races, many of which have poison resistance built into their racial traits: Races like Drawves, Warforged, Goliath, and the Stout Halfling all have poison resistance at base. Many magic items and spells can also confer resistance to poison damage.
The utility of this trait, then, is almost entirely dependent on your campaign. On who or what you expect to be fighting, and the types of enemies you regularly face.
It is worth pointing out here that the Poisoner feat ignores poison resistance on all damage rolls. Spellcasters hitting targets with poison damage. Dragonborn breathing out waves of poison gas. Subclasses like the Circle of Spores Druid. All sources of poison damage qualify. If you’re playing a hybrid class that deals poison damage from multiple sources, the value of the feat jumps accordingly.
Applying Poison as a Bonus Action
Typically, applying a poison to a weapon takes an action, preventing a character from taking important combat actions like attacking or spellcasting.
The Poisoner feat instead allows a character to apply a poison as a bonus action.
This lets a character apply a poison to their weapon, and then attack with it, in the same turn. Potentially, as long as poison reserves hold, a character could do this in every round of combat they have.
With one hour of work, a character with the Poisoner feat can craft anywhere from 2 to 6 doses of contact poison; which deals 2d8 damage per dose and poisons the target for an entire round, after striking with a weapon that’s had the poison applied to it.
Is this good?
Again, like much of this feat, it all depends on your campaign, your GM, and your level.
Early game, this is a monstrous amount of power. A character picking this up at level 1 through background or race could scrounge together the gold to craft 2 doses, then use them to absolutely annihilate anything that’s equivalent in CR to the party.
The problem is scaling. In the early levels, 2d8 damage is a lot. It’s equivalent to a Paladin’s Smite or a Rogue’s Sneak Attack pre level 5.
But so is 50g. Upon reaching level 5, a character should expect to have around 700g worth of equipment. This includes mundane gear, consumables, and minor magic items.
So ask yourself. How much of your character’s worth are you willing to burn on poisons?
You also need to consider that this damage doesn’t scale. At all. At level 3, 2d8 damage is incredibly good. At level 13, when the Fighter could potentially attack 6 times in one turn for 2d6+5, or more, and the Wizard is throwing out buckets of dice on their biggest blasts, it’s … less good.
Another issue is the lack of scaling on the save DC. It starts, and remains, at a DC 14 Con check from level 1 to level 20. Level 1 enemies have a serious chance of failing this. Level 20 enemies… probably won’t. And this is without factoring in Legendary Resistances on boss encounters.
The amount of doses crafted does scale, from 2 up to a maximum of 6 at level 17 and higher, but again, this prompts questions. In the early game, gold is hard to come by, and the 50g asking price for this is weighty enough that you might have to consider whether you can buy your poison or a healing potion.
But late game, when characters are rolling in money, that same 50g is far less of a problem, and somehow still goes further.
The other side of this is that paying money for character power feels like a throwback to past editions. Buying damage consumables is so heavily against the rest of 5e’s design principles that it stands out like a sore thumb. Imagine a Sorcerer having to pay gold every time they used their Metamagic. Weird, right?
While it’s not our place to offer rule fixes, we feel like this feat, if it came out today, would give one free use of the crafting ability every day, and those poisons would expire after a 24-hour period. This feels reasonable and allows a character to use the benefits of this feat without having to permanently burn gold to deal meaningful damage.
The Poisoner feat offers no stats as part of its benefits and doesn’t technically require any stats in order to work.
The poison crafted through the Poisoner feat does require the use of a weapon, so a character with this feat is going to want at least a high Strength or Dexterity, weapon depending.
If you’re leaning into crafting or harvesting poisons, a high Intelligence might also be useful to help successfully pass the necessary check.
Ideal Characters for Poisoner
Rogue – The Rogue typically only has one real attack per round, frequently has access to their bonus action, and loves stacking extra damage on top of Sneak Attacks.
The Assassin might be the best user of this feat. Attacking with advantage, and possibly even surprise, can near-guarantee a critical hit and boosted damage from your poison. Extra points for the near-perfect fit in style and tone.
Barbarian – As paradoxical as it feels, there’s nothing stopping a Barbarian from using their bonus action to coat a greatsword or maul in poison before smashing headlong into the enemy.
Because this eats your bonus action, look to fighting styles that don’t rely on it. Sword and board or big two-handed weapons are best.
Artificer – The Artificer can comfortably build towards melee or ranged combat both, depending on subclasses and spell choice. The Artificer is also possibly the best class in the game at crafting, plus has a whole host of out-of-combat utility.
We’d also pay close attention to the Replicate Magic Item infusion. One of the options, available from level 2, is an Alchemy Jug, that can create a dose of Basic Poison per day, every day. That might not sound like a lot, but added up over days of travel during adventures, could give a character a host of small poisons to use in addition to their stronger choices.
Race or Subrace Choices
Grung – The Grung race poisons enemies on skin contact, meaning there’s space for a close-range grappling build here. They can also apply their poison to any piercing weapon as they attack, on every attack they make, which stacks incredibly well with the resistance traits granted by this feat.
Finally, the Grung are completely immune to poisons and the poisoned condition, making them the single best race in the entire game at poison harvesting, because there’s no longer a chance of accidentally poisoning yourself to death on a failed roll.
Bugbear – Attacking with reach, and bonus damage on surprise, are both excellent for melee poisoners. The lore of the race also fits perfectly, as sneaky assassins or brutal combatants who use every available advantage.
Fairy – Flight is one of the best ways to target specific enemies with your poisons while staying safe, and Faerie Fire as a spell benefits everyone in the party, throwing down advantage on attacks in a wide area once per day. This is only Green for its lower-damage weapon limitations.
Combos, Tactics, and Synergies
Polearm Master – There’s nothing stopping a character from poisoning the business end of their halberd every turn. It sounds strange, but polearms are some of the best users of poison, especially backed up by this feat.
An out-of-turn attack gives a character another opportunity to apply their venom-encrusted blade, and in the turns where you’re not burning gold and resources, the bonus action attack keeps DPS numbers up.
Skill Expert – A skill proficiency, plus Expertise in a skill you’re proficient in. If you’re planning on harvesting poisons from creatures, the DC 20 check is difficult enough that many low-level characters have a high chance of failure. Skill Expert in Nature fixes that, pushing your chances closer to success than not.
Chef – Not going to lie, there’s no real synergy between the feats here. While Chef is a good general partywide support feat, we’ve included it for the hilarious image of a character who regularly brews up lethal concoctions offering out treats to the rest of the party, a wry grin on their face.
Spells that Synergize
Mind Sliver – A direct minus from the next saving throw makes it that much more likely to fail the Con save against Poison.
Silvery Barbs – Widely considered one of the strongest low-level spells in 5e, Silvery Barbs basically forces disadvantage as a Reaction, ensuring enemies fail key rolls.
Bane – Hitting multiple targets, Bane is a powerful spell if it sticks, but needs enemies to fail their initial save in order to work.
Strategies for Maximizing Poisoner Effectiveness
The Poisoned Condition
One of the strongest parts of the Potent Poison that this feat creates is the Poisoned condition it applies on a failed save, which lasts until the end of your next turn.
An enemy that’s Poisoned has disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks. This has two major effects:
- Enemies that rely on attack rolls for combat suddenly become much less effective, as all of their attacks are made with disadvantage
- Disadvantage on ability checks is deceptively strong. Grappling is an opposed ability check. So is breaking free from many spells like Web and Entangle, and many subclass abilities. If your party members have synergies like these, they’re perfect to hold enemies in place as you stab them to death.
Both of these combined mean that any enemy that’s poisoned is vastly less effective in combat.
While there’s nothing to directly prevent spellcasting, the disadvantage on ability checks means it’s much easier to tie casters in place. A mage restrained by Web, having to make escape checks with disadvantage on his weedy 8 Str, essentially can’t do anything.
Poisons almost always require a Constitution save, so choosing the correct targets for your tender ministrations is important.
Many enemies have a high constitution save, so make poor targets for poisons, many of which do very little on a successful save. Big monsters and bruiser humanoids that focus on melee typically have a solidly positive score.
On the other hand, weaker, more fragile foes that cast spells, attack from range, or rely on other defenses, have weaker Con saves and a much higher chance of failing.
It might also be worth working alongside party members who have the capacity to reduce enemy saves. The guide touched on this above, in the spellcasting section. Even reducing a save by d4, an average of 2.5, reduces the chance of success by 12.5%.
TLDR, save your expensive poisons for targets that you know are more likely to fail.
The poisons created using this feat aren’t the only ones available to Player Characters. The DMG has a list of commonly available poisons, ranging from Serpent Venom, which is roughly equivalent to the Potent Poison created by this feat, up to truly monstrous Purple Worm Poison, which deals an obscene 12d6 damage but has an equally eye-watering price tag to match.
All of these poisons work alongside the benefits granted by the Poisoner feat. Nothing gains damage resistance against you, and you can apply them to your weapons as a bonus action.
What matters to you is how easy it is to access these poisons. The DMG specifically notes that many settings have restrictions on poison access, and might require dealing with criminals and avoiding the attention of the law.
It’s a reasonable consideration for a character constantly buying up all of the poisons in a town to expect a visit from the guard. Whether that’s something your party wants, perhaps as a lead-in to a side quest, is up to you.
The other option is possibly more interesting. Crafting or harvesting your own poisons.
The crafting rules in 5e are relatively slim, fitting neatly into the downtime rules but staying loose and flexible. The edition wasn’t really designed with significant downtime in mind, which means that crafting is something you, your GM, and the other players, are going to have to agree upon.
Again, many of the options on the poison list come from creatures. Giant Poisonous Serpents. Wyverns. Purple Worm. A character with proficiency in Nature or the Poisoner’s Kit (which this feat grants) can take a DC 20 Intelligence check to successfully harvest a single dose of poison from a creature that is incapacitated or dead.
A particularly adventurous group might put together a hunting party, seeking out these monsters specifically to harvest their venom, as well as gain any bounty the local lords might put down for their capture or death.
Weapon Efficiency and Poisoner
Using poisons consumes your bonus action, which pushes characters planning on making heavy use of this feat into certain weapon choices.
Generally, two-weapon fighting is the least efficient option. To stay relevant in DPS numbers, two-weapon fighting requires your bonus action to make extra attacks, and poison can only be applied to one weapon at a time per action.
While you can slip one of your weapons into its sheath every turn, this is an awful lot of bookkeeping and faff just to poison your main-hand dagger. We’d wholeheartedly recommend avoiding trying to mix poison and twin weapons.
Ranged weaponry isn’t a bad option when it comes to poisons, because most characters who use ranged attacks tend to have their bonus action free to apply the poison every turn using this feat.
The biggest issue is missing your attacks. When attacking with a poisoned ranged weapon, you poison the ammunition, not the weapon. So, technically, if you miss, the poisoned ammo disappears off somewhere. Most poisons last a minute after application, so you can still run after it and try again, but tracking down a crossbow bolt that’s skittered into the corner of the dungeon, while trying to avoid getting stabbed by goblins, adds unnecessary complication.
This leaves sword and board, single-handed, and two-handed or great weapons.
Sword and board are generally fine. Your GM might have issues with applying poison to a weapon while also holding a sword and shield, because technically both your hands are full. But most relatively permissive GMs should give you a pass here.
If that’s a problem, a single weapon by itself has no restrictions but lacks in damage unless you can pick up the Duelist Fighting Style from somewhere. Characters fighting like this also tend to lack in defense, because you’re not getting the +2 AC from a shield.
This means that, ironically, the best weapon for in-combat poison use is ridiculously huge swords or 8 foot long polearms. RAW, you can take your hands on and off a two-handed weapon as many times as you want in your turn, leaving a hand free to take the Use An Object action to apply the poison.
These weapons also tend to have high damage numbers, are usable by almost all combat characters, and have great feat support, including out of phase attacking and reach.
Breaking The Black Market
One thing not addressed by the details of the Poisoner feat is whether you can sell your poisons once they’re made.
As written, the poison created by the Poisoner feat is as good, if not better, than Serpent Venom:
Potent Poison: DC 14 Con, 2d8 (9) damage + poisoned until the end of your next turn
Serpent Venom: DC 11 Con, 3d6 (10) damage. Half damage on a success
As we can see, the damage is roughly equivalent. Serpent Venom applies half damage on a successful save, but that’s an incredibly low amount of average damage, and not really worth consideration.
The Potent Poison has a significantly higher save DC, which means many more enemies are going to fail their checks and take full damage. It also applies the Poisoned status effect for an entire turn, which confers disadvantage on attacks and ability checks, further debilitating your target on a failed save.
As written, there’s also no time limit on the Potent Poison’s use, meaning it should be safe to store until it’s applied to a weapon. We can assume that these poisons stay stable and usable for at least a reasonable amount of time if stored correctly.
There’s also no limit on the amount of poison you can create, apart from the size of your purse and how many hour blocks you’re willing to burn. So a character with enough gold could potentially use this ability 16 times in one day, crafting at minimum 32 doses of Potent Poison.
This is important, because Serpent Venom, despite being one of the cheapest poisons, still costs 200g to buy. Items sell for half their value, which means you could sell this for around 100g to the right buyer.
The Poisoner feat lets you craft 2-6 doses of Potent Poison, for 50g.
Even if your GM rules that each dose only sells for 50g, at base that’s a 100% profit margin, which pushes up to 250g of profit at high levels. Per use of the ability.
Of course, a smart GM will play with this. A flood of strong, effective poisons hitting the black market is sure to catch the interest of the guards, the local criminal gangs, adventurers, and basically everyone else. Plus, supply and demand ensure that your poisons devalue themselves as soon as you start making more than people can use. After all, how often do people have the need or gold to buy potent injury poisons that can drop an Ogre on a failed save?
Still, this is a cute way for a party to pull together some emergency funds in a pinch, and in a homebrew campaign, might just lead to a story arc.
Final Thoughts on Poisoner
The Poisoner feat is a tough one to judge because so much of its power is situational. In certain situations, with a permissive GM, this feat can break a world wide open.
But in general, Poisoner as a feat choice is only okay. The bonus damage is great early but doesn’t scale at all, and unlike basically every other feat in 5e, Poisoner requires money in order to function. The best thing about the feat, by far, is how cool it is, and how much it can fit into certain character archetypes.
Long story short, talk to your GM about the limits of this feat in their campaign, but you should also never feel bad about taking it, especially if it’s something you’ve built your concept around.