Poison is one of the most annoying hazards of the early game unless you are playing a Barbarian, Healer, or orc, who all start with poison resistance, or a Monk, who gets it at level 3. There are many ways in which a NetHack character will come into contact with poison. Some monsters wield poisoned weapons or fire poisoned arrows, while others such as killer bees have a poisonous sting or bite.[1] Poison is also used in many of the traps in the dungeons. Finally, certain kinds of corpses are poisonous, and cause 1 to 15 HP and 1 to 4 Strength loss when eaten[2], but never instadeath. (Though the HP loss may still be fatal instantly)

(Note that poison and food poisoning are not the same thing. A poisonous corpse will give the message "Ecch - that must have been poisonous!", while food poisoning is indicated by "Ulch - that meat was tainted! You feel deathly sick." Food poisoning can be avoided by eating only fresh corpses and cured by a unicorn horn.)

The effects of poison are:

The best way to protect yourself from poison is to obtain poison resistance as soon as possible. Intrinsic poison resistance is granted by eating any of a large variety of corpses (listed in Dylan's Dragon Resistances spoiler). Most, but not all, of these corpses are poisonous themselves, so it is not advisable to eat them without some way of avoiding or curing the strength loss. It can be avoided by wearing an external source of poison resistance (e.g. an amulet versus poison) or a ring of sustain ability, and it can be cured by applying a unicorn horn.

There are other precautions you can take to protect against specific encounters with poison:

  • High magic cancellation protects against poisonous bites and stings but not poisoned weapons.
  • Unless you know that you can fix the stat loss, don't drink unidentified potions that could be a nonblessed potion of sickness.
  • Don't try to untrap dart traps until you have poison resistance.
  • If a random scroll you read turns out to be stinking cloud, discharge it harmlessly by choosing to center the cloud a long way away from you.

Routine contact with poison at the beginning of the game is likely to reduce your strength, thus limiting the weight of your inventory. You want to find a unicorn horn (not cursed!) and apply it repeatedly.

You can shoot poisonous missiles yourself, with the exception of daggers (poison a missile by dipping it in a potion of sickness), but lawful gods do not approve of this and will exact a small alignment penalty. In SLASH'EM, you can also poison weapons by dipping them in a toilet.


Source Chance of Poison Chance of Deadly Chance of Stat damage
Monster melee attack 1 in 8 successful attacks that pass your magic cancellation 1 in 30 poison attacks 1 in 6 poison attacks will damage either strength, dexterity or constitution depending on the monster.
Monster ranged attack ? 1 in 10 successful attacks with a poisoned thrown weapon 1 in 2 chance of damaging strength
Poisoned dart trap 1 in 6 1 in 10 hits 1 in 2 chance of damaging constitution
Poisoned spiked pit 1 in 6 1 in 8 falls 5 in 8 chance of damaging strength
Noxious gas chest trap depends on luck 1 in 15 chance 1 in 3 chance of damaging strength
Poisoned needle chest trap depends on luck 1 in 10 chance 1 in 2 chance of damaging constitution
Poison blast attack from an iron golem or green dragon ? 1 in 15 chance 1 in 3 chance of damaging dexterity


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