[RPG] Realism of Poisoned Weapons


Many games have classes that make extensive use of poisons. Poisons of course have been used in murder and poisonous gases have been used in war. But how realistic are the poisoned weapons so common in many rpgs? By that I mean: Is there some poison which can realistically (or at least plausiblely) be applied to a weapon in a way that will actually affect the outcome of a battle?

An answer showing how poisoned weapons have been used in history would certain answer this, but its not necessary. I am more concerned about verisimilitude and whether it is believable to have non-magical poisons applied to weapons in an effective way. Is it realistic to poison a weapon in the sense that it would actually work? And is it realistic to have a reason to do that even if it would work?

This question is obviously related: Creating Poison Cheaply – Potato Tea? but asks something different and is more focused on game balance if you allow real world ways of making poisons.

Best Answer

This archived forum from rpg.net discusses the same question, it might be worth taking a look at.

The general points seem to be the following:

  • Poisoned arrows have been used by certain tribes, mainly to hunt smaller animals, though people used them to battle other people as well (Native American tribes, Chinese armies are brought up as examples.)
  • The primary aim of poisoning in melee seems to be to make sure an otherwise not lethally wounded (and retreating) enemy doesn't return to the field soon, if at all: more a strategic move than a tactical one (used both in open battles and in guerilla warfare)
  • A secondary use of poisoned weapons is psychological warfare: it scares the enemy
  • Smaller blades with poison were used for assassinations as well, again probably to maximize the chance of taking down a well protected, hard to reach enemy leader (so, if the stabbing fails, the poison will finish the work.)

I think that's the gist of both that rather thorough-appearing discussion and what little I remember from the history books on the topic.