Game: Poisoncraft: The Dark Art
Publisher: Blue Devil Games
Review Dated: 11th, November 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 10
Average Score: 5.00
Poisoncraft: The Dark Art is a d20 supplement on, yup, the dark art of poisons. Although we’re encouraged to look beyond the “dark art” and the role poison can play in nature as a defensive quality or hunting assist.
Poisoncraft is a thorough supplement and weighs in at 96-pages. Blue Devil Games like to use the word “complete” a lot. There’s even a note-cum-apology for the lack of psionics. At the time of release the expanded psionic rules – and edited SRD, the document Wizards release to guide third party publishers like Blue Devils Games – had not been released and it would have been impossible to cover them in sufficient detail. With 96 pages there is plenty of room for detail. You don’t actually need a degree in pharmacology to wade through Poisoncraft as much of the product is made up of prestige classes and new monsters. Poisoncraft is, after all, a d20 supplement.
This was the first product from Blue Devil Games and is (currently) one of their best. The PDF is professionally done, with bookmarks, a fantastic and clear layout, a separate PDF for the covers and printer friendly version. There’s no shortage of artwork either.
There’s no real need for any more prestige classes or monsters for fantasy d20 but there is a need, I think, to revisit poison. In vanilla/core rules D&D the role of poison is as a combat tactic. That’s a bit disappointing; what about long term effects of poisons, can’t important people be assassinated, why have a food taster when all you need is a cleric? Heck. You don’t even need a cleric. Any robust monarch, peoples’ champion, hero, villain, mayor or whoever would probably be alright after a quiet sit down if he had the misfortune of being poisoned. Being poisoned is an unfortunate state of affairs anyway given the wealth of poison defeating mages in the traditional D&D d20 setting.
Blue Devil Games takes the high fantasy challenge for poisons and wins the fight simply by channelling the high fantasy straight back into poisons. With this supplement you need not simply concoct a new poison, but you can create a magical one or one that’s imbued with a spell effect or even, get this, a deadly one.
Let’s look at that last choice first; a deadly poison. It is possible with these rules to create a poison that will kill someone dead. They’ll be lucky (natural d20 lucky) to survive or they’ll have a Wish or Miracle handy. Anyone killed by a Signature Poison will need a Wish, Miracle or True Resurrection handy within 24 hours (and good friends, of course) or stay dead. That said; none of this is very likely and even less likely than that as an actual weapon in the PCs arsenal. Creating a Signature Poison represents the very height of the poisoncrafter’s career and excellence. It can take d20 years and still go horribly wrong. It requires 25% of every week in those d20 years studying the would-be-target. It’s this target and only this target who will be effected by the one dose, and only one dose, of the Signature Poison which might, could, perhaps be created. No. This isn’t an option available for the players. This is an event that’ll happen to a key character in the game. This is plot device supported by a lot of mechanics. Which is nice. It would have been better still if we’d been given some justification as to why the Signature Poison was so special; why it’s so deadly and why standard cures and antidotes do not work. They just don’t work and I suppose we’ll have to deal. We deal with characters spontaneously developing new feats and therefore nigh on superhuman or magical abilities.
Poisoncraft isn’t just about dice. The supplement is a credit to your intelligence and begins with a suitably detailed (not too quick, not too painfully precise) study. We define proper poison terms; delivery, toxicity or fantasy twists like magically imbued poison and magically created poison.
Okay, that’s twice now I’ve talked about such things as magically imbued poisons. Poison is a harmful thing which enters the body; you could swallow it, breath it in or soak it in through the pores in your skin (if you have skin, that is). Wizards can create more fanciful and complex items (golems, for example) than a mere chemical compound so creating poisons, at least the basic stuff, should be possible. On the same note wizards and sorcerers can enhance complex items – such as their own body – with magical meddling (bark armour, etc) so why can’t they enhance something simpler like a poisonous liquid. These things could easily be possible in a high fantasy (or even low fantasy) world.
I like a humble healing potion is a good example. Think of a healing potion as a benign poison – it’s something you ingest so magic can work more easily (automatically, even) inside you. If the liquid had a dangerous magical effect then it would be a poison. So begins a whack of Poisoncraft: The Dark Art’s own particular craft; magical poisons, poisons to be scared off.
Holding the poison offerings together are rules on how to make your own. It’s no simple matter of popping into a merchant’s store and buying a super deadly poison. In fact, Blue Devil Games gave me the impression that it might be easier finding or buying a magic weapon that an effective poison (and at this stage I’m dismissing most D&D core poisons are dull and ineffective). It’s not easy making poisons (especially not the Signature Poison) but that actually works out. Having some skill in the Dark Art gives you a heck more chance than anyone else of coming up with something interesting, effective and dangerous. If you spend a lot of points towards this end then you’re fairly committed to the path but you’re able to produce really sinister poisons. The top level poisons – the ones which zap two dice of strength and constitution aaaand leave you under the effect of a spell – have production DCs in the half century region.
Towards the end of the PDF there’s a host of pre-made and sample poisons. This is a really handy resource for every busy DM. A busy DM? That’ll be every DM then.
All this is great. What we have here is the bulk of Poisoncraft and, I think, the reason to buy the PDF. You’ve what it takes to scare the players again (or let a player play a scary bugger). You’ve even got tables to help generate morbid sounding poison names.
We’ve just about accounted for half of 96 pages though. The rest of Poisoncraft: The Dark Art reverts to the more familiar d20 supplement model. We’ve magic armour and weapons, we’ve creatures, adventure shorts and prestige classes.
The Darkblade (evil, 10 levels) is an assassin style prestige class which specialises in poisonous death. The Ki Corrupted (non-good, 10 levels) is a monk (an ex-monk) with an unhealthy interest in toxins and poisons. Even at level 1 the Ki Corrupted can channel toxicity into their unarmed strikes. The Master Poisoncrafter (10 levels) does not have to be evil but the class is best suited to NPCs. Why? The Master Poisoncrafter is a better match for NPCs than PCs because characters tend to be out and about adventuring rather than collecting rare materials (no jokes about wizards, please) for their poisons. The Toxomancer (10 levels) is a great idea, a magic user with a chemical compound speciality too (or a specialised alchemist, if you want). The Tribal Huntsman (10 levels) is perhaps my favourite prestige class – it seems like a prestige class, important to the local tribe and noteworthy even to outsiders. The Venomous Changeling is effectively an advanced druid class with the emphasis on shape-changing into toxic beasties.
There are plenty of toxic and poison themed monsters; including two templates. I’ll happily skip over most of this as we don’t need more monsters. That said I do like the Darkblooded Creature Template. Here we have extra nasty zombies – zombies infused with dark, dangerous, icky and poisonous blood. This is the sort of tilt towards dark fantasy that I tend to appreciate.
There’s an unexpected but significant added extra in The Dark Arts. The appendix offers conversion rules to Monte Cook’s Arcana Unearthed. This is valuable extra. The PDF can easily put you in mind of better alternatives to vanilla D&D and so having the ease of an Arcana Unearthed rule set at hand is good use of Poisoncraft’s natural strengths.
Poisoncraft has a problem though. This is a supplement about d20 poisons. It’s unlikely that poisons are going to be a significant part of your campaign. You could be paying your $8 (or discounted $6.66) for one inspired encounter. If you want to use more of Poisoncraft then, in order to be fair to players who invest in the Dark Arts, you’ve got to keep poisons lurking around in the campaign from start to finish.
The overall summary is easy enough; Poisoncraft is good. The supplement does everything it sets out to do and does it very well. The PDF is easy to read and tempting to use. Will you use it? That’s the question. You’ll probably not use it much.