Friday, August 26, 2011


I had my first Pathfinder DnD session last night.  I am pretty familiar with the system since I would call myself an expert on DnD 3.5 but there are definitely things that surprise me yet.  The new group is great and I had a fantastic time so I fully expect to be jonesing for more games than I am going to get.  I seem to have replaced WOW with DnD for the moment but it is much harder to manage to play DnD for 4 nights a week!  One of the other players is very new to DnD and is playing a bard with the intention of using poison with a blowgun to wreck people and initially I had absolutely no idea how good this might be.  I recall in 3.5 PvP matches that poison was absolutely laughable because everybody had high enough saves that they would make their saves on any roll greater than 1 but I wasn't sure if it would be viable in Pathfinder or not.

It turns out that the poison rules have changed drastically and the new system seems to be a grotesque hybrid of bad and broken.  Normally you don't have attack forms that are both bad to the point of uselessness and also overpowered at the same time but poison manages to be both in Pathfinder, a rare "achievement".  Here are the basics:  When you get poisoned you make an initial save to see if you are afflicted and then make new saves each round to try to get rid of it.  Every time you fail you lose stat points.  The saving throw DCs are quite low though and the cost of the poison is absolutely heinous so generally poisoning your enemies is completely awful as you would be better off buying scrolls with attack spells on them.  Even more so you would be better off buying *anything* that makes you better without resorting to poison.

That sounds just bad though.  What about the broken part?

So when you get poisoned multiple times instead of simply having multiple poisons recorded separately you have a single poison that gets +2 to the difficulty of the check to get rid of it with every application and which has an absolutely monstrous duration.  Once you have a couple stacks on somebody it becomes extremely difficult for them to resist subsequent applications and very quickly it becomes impossible.  This leads to the situation that you really either want absolutely nobody in the party using poison or everybody using it and setting up their characters to land many small hits.  Doing this means your enemies very quickly get poison stacks that last forever which they can never remove and new applications will never be resisted so they lose stats even faster.  I haven't figured out if the whole party should just be using Con poison to demolish the enemies hitpoints and Fort saves against further poisoning! or Dex poison to lower their AC so the rest of your attacks always hit.  Either way when the stat gets to zero they are defeated.

When a game has a system that has a very immersive, cool method to model something but which is really unbalanced I generally don't like it but I can't entirely fault it.  I know that I am way more focused on numbers than most people and I have to make myself grudgingly accept the necessity of flavour.  However, in this case the system basically works such that the only reasonable way to use poison is to use a truckload of it and have everyone in the group use the same poison - otherwise it is hopeless.  That isn't how poison 'feels' to me.  Poison feels to me like something that should kill people good, but do so slowly.  If you really want to kill somebody in the middle of a swordfight then poison is pretty much garbage, you should just stab them more.  If you want to kill somebody secretly or without a fight then poison should take them out over time, and how much time depends greatly on the power of the poison in question.

I think that poison is just something I would prefer to not be a particularly useful combat option for the average player.  If it is a significant advantage to use it then every physical attacker will feel obligated to use it and that seems both annoying and very much against the flavour norm.  My preference would be to design a poison system that has poison do varying kinds of damage over varying time periods and any class that is supposed to use poisons should have special powers to make poisons good for them.  For example, if a fairly nasty poison did 1d8 damage every minute after infection and stopped working after 5 instances of damage then it would be useless to a Fighter but an Assassin could have a special ability that makes their poison do its damage once right away.  This would also mean that if a poisoner did manage to poison someone then it would actually be very deadly, unlike the current system where any random peasant can survive the great majority of poisons with no difficulty.

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