Damn Nature! - Oleander

Nerium Oleander. So pretty. So deadly.
Picture from the Online plant guide an excellent visually browse-able guide.

Oleanders are exceptionally aesthetically pleasing bushes. They have a good shape. Grow at a decent speed. Get very large (making them excellent dividers between highways). Have attractive flowers in a variety of colors (deep to pale pink, lilac, carmine, purple, salmon, apricot, copper, orange and white). They can grow all over the world, and are pretty dang drought resistant.

They also happen to be filled with virulent poison. In a vein similar to the Manchineel Tree, the whole damn bush is poisonous. The leaves are toxic, the sap is toxic, the flowers are toxic, if you burn the damn thing the smoke is toxic. A woman I once worked with had one growing in her back yard and got rid of it because it almost killed her dog. The dog slept under it every day, but unlike the Manchineel's white goo and vapors of doom, it seems like you've got to ingest oleander for it to really work its magic.

It has been reported that thoroughly chewing a single leaf of oleander can cause death, particularly in small children/creatures, and because they are a common sight where I grew up, I got plenty of lectures about being careful around them from my father.

So ok... oleanders are pretty and poisonous, whoopty crap, so was Alexander the Great's girlfriend and it seems more exciting to work a poisonous woman into a table top game than a damn flowery bush with glossy leaves. Why make a post on it? I blame Tenkar.

I've come to realize that being lectured about this bush, and learning about its effects on a person really shaped my personal concepts of poison. I've *never* thought of poison as a save or die type scenario because when I hear poison, I think plants, I don't think "snake bite".

To me, poison is a wasting thing. If you become exposed to it, you're probably going to die, but you've got time. It may be hours. It may be days. It may be weeks. Who knows?! Pure damage is just too limited and boring a concept to apply to something as awesome and varied as poison. Since jack-in-the-box "poison needle save or die" scenarios suck and seem to lead to all manner of blog posts and forum threads about making damage more... exciting? full of agency? let's look at oleanders and see what can be plucked from Mother Nature's thorny bosom and dropped straight into your game.

*Typically* oleander is going to be ingested. This will trigger your bodies gastrointestinal defense mechanisms of "get it the fuck out" (vomiting and diarrhea), but those probably aren't going to work, and after a while, they'll stop, but you won't be dead yet. You'll feel tired, you'll feel exhausted, and after going to sleep your heart will probably stop and that'll be that. See that time/wasting element? But this is only one possibility.

A quick list of oleander symptoms can be found here on MedicinePlus (from the US National Library of Medicine). Let's take the symptom list, remix Mother Nature just a little bit, and pair it with the following scenario:

DM: It's a heavy oaken door reinforced with iron bars and an iron lock cast to look like it's covered in berries or grapes.
Warrior: Thief!
Thief: Oooooo! I pick it!
DM: Ok, roll success.
Thief: *clatter clatter*
DM: Ok. Roll again.
Thief: FML
DM: The lock clicks open. Warrior, you notice that the thief's left hand is bleeding.
Thief: FML
... *10 real world minutes later* ...
DM: Thief. Your stomach doesn't feel very good.
... *10 real world minutes later* ... (in combat with some goblins)
DM: Thief. Roll 3d6 please
Thief: *clatter clatter* FML


3:You fall unconscious. 0 hp.
4: Diarrhea. It's bad. Very bad. You try and step back but slip in it and fall to the ground. (if in combat) next melee attack misses you. (henchman loyalty check time).
5: You drop your weapon and injure yourself (1/2 weapon damage)
6: Your [bodily appendage] begins itching and burning as if it is on fire. Large blisters appear over the next 10 minutes. (Effect on combat determined by appendage affected.)
7: You are exceptionally dizzy and misstep as you attack. (+ for enemies to hit you)
8: You begin shivering and shaking uncontrollably causing the contents of your pack to spill about all over the ground. (Environmental hazards dependent upon pack contents)
9: You blink and shake your head. Everything is blurry and duplicated (- to hit)
10: You begin projectile vomiting (stunned 1 minute, - to hit)
11: Diarrhea. It's bad. Very bad. (henchman loyalty check time)
12: Your tongue swells up to three times its normal size and turns a lurid color of puce. (cannot speak)
13: You feel woozy and fall down.
14: You drop your weapon.
15: Large purple blotches begin to appear on your skin. They itch like mad. (distracted, cannot attack, + to be hit, half movement speed)
16: You become despondent. Nothing matters any more. You're chilled and your stomach really hurts. (morale check, may drop weapon and attempt to leave the field of battle)
17: You begin projectile vomiting, but manage to maintain your focus and weaponize it (if in combat). Additionally, you've consumed nothing but red wine today. Morale checks for creatures with less HD than you.
18: You blink and shake your head. You see halos of light around *something*. (Can function as a plot device or reward (lead to treasure), or act as detect good/evil, detect alignment, detect magic, etc)

Save or Die? psh. Give me "Save or Suffer".

Finally, as detailed on The Poison Garden, even if you're in excellent medical care, and pumped full of anti-venom, the effects of an oleander can still linger. A dwarf cow that had eaten oleander had to have its heart started TWELVE times over the course of SEVEN days. Seems like Mother Nature is cool with multiple saving throws.

Jacob Hurst

I design powder kegs.