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Poison is one of the most annoying hazards of the early game for any player who has not yet gained immunity to it.

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 be enough to kill a player with low health.

Poisoning from eating a poisonous corpse is different from food poisoning, which is a type of sickness.


The effects of poison are:


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 30 successful attacks with a poisoned thrown weapon[3] 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 container trap depends on luck 1 in 15 chance 1 in 3 chance of damaging strength
Poisoned needle container 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


Poison resistance

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. Tinning the corpse is another option; the tinned meat will no longer be poisonous but will still convey the intrinsic.

Several roles start with poison resistance or gain it at an early level. Barbarians and Healers have starting poison immunity, as do orcs. Monks gain it at level 3.

Avoiding poison

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 non-blessed 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.
  • Learn what corpses are poisonous, and don't eat them until you have poison resistance.

Treating attribute loss

Repeated exposure to poison at the beginning of the game is likely to reduce your strength and carrying capacity, thus limiting the weight of your inventory. You want to find a unicorn horn (not cursed!) and apply it repeatedly to regain strength. You will get the message "This makes you feel great!" when all of your stats are back at their maximum.

A potion of restore ability can also restore lost attributes, as will the spell, if you know it, but a unicorn horn is probably the best solution.

Poisoning weapons

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 for lawfuls who use poisoned weapons.

The following weapons can be poisoned:[4]

In SLASH'EM, you can also poison weapons by dipping them in a toilet.

Food poisoning versus poisonous corpses

Differences between food poisoning and poisoning from poisonous corpses:

  • Food poisoning comes from corpses that have become "tainted" from age (this includes the corpses of zombies and mummies), while poisonous corpses are toxic from the moment they hit the ground.
  • Eating a poisonous corpse has an immediate, not necessarily lethal effect, while food poisoning causes sickness that will kill you after a few turns, unless you are able to cure it in time.
  • 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."
  • Poison resistance protects against the effects of eating poisonous corpses. Only sickness resistance protects against food poisoning.

Food poisoning can be avoided by eating only fresh corpses. The other type of poisoning can be avoided by learning which corpses are inherently poisonous.

It is possible for a corpse to be both poisonous and tainted. A rotting kobold corpse fits both criteria, as does the corpse left by a kobold zombie or mummy.


In UnNetHack, the chance of an instadeath from poison is replaced with a "very toxic" poison that damages max HP and does strength damage, reducing the frustrating YASD (though it is still nearly always fatal to low level characters). Other detriments of being poisoned remain the same.


  1. poisoned in Attrib.c
  2. src/eat.c in NetHack 3.6.0, line 1583
  3. src/attrib.c in NetHack 3.6.0, line 258
  4. include/obj.h in NetHack 3.6.0, line 200
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