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Basic Information

Theriac … also known as mithridate was a legendary universal poison antidote much sought after in previous ages and sometimes conflated with the panacea of alchemical fame. The name derives from the Greek theriake (pertaining to beasts) and refers to its considered use against animal venoms … and mithridate relates to the classical King Mithridates - well know for his fear of poisoning and his experiments with acquired immunity and antidotes.

As to the actual identity of this miraculous substance … opinions varied. Generally they involved rare and expensive ingredients, as might be expected from such a thing. When sugar was a rare luxury import treacle and theriac were sometimes conflated to a degree that the term "treacle" was used as a shorthand for any kind of healing property1. The Romans peddled a theriac containing a variety of spices - and opium - mixed with the prepared flesh of vipers and other things … a recipe said to derive from Mithridates' own research (which in turn was said to be based on the Egyptian kyphi). Theriac in China was observed to be reddish in colour and contain pig bile. Mummia was said to be included in later formulations. Whatever the ingredients, they were traditionally prepared with great ceremony, usually over months with efficacy increasing over time. The resulting concoction was sometimes taken internally, sometimes topically … presumably depending on the route of administration of the poison - prophylactic use, or protection against ingested poisons, would logically involve eating the theriac (or possibly receiving it in an enema), whilst a poison arrow wound or snake bite would be dressed topically2. Given some of the ingredients, side effects are almost inevitable.

Some authorities also saw a spiritual element to the Theriac - a metaphorical (or actual) purging of the "poison" of sin from the soul.


"The Other wiki" on Theriac

1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Much less use in high fantasy settings where a cleric can simply zap poison away … it might prove quite useful on poisons that somehow resist clerical magic however. Which would probably be a source of significant panic in that sort of setting.
  • The theriac does provide some mythological justification for the super-antidotes that appear in most fRPGs, albeit at a greater expense than is usually depicted.
    • At this level, do players keep any they find in case they are poisoned, or sell it for better armour and weapons?
  • Hunting rare ingredients for theriac is an obvious adventure hook.
  • As is seeking a recipe where one is not already known (or a "better" recipe as an upgrade for the current one).
    • Developing or improving upon a theriac could be an alchemists' life's work.
  • If this stuff improves with age, what might be said of the stuff that is pulled out of a millennia old tomb?
  • The spiritual theriac might also be useful stuff if it existed as more than an allegory, especially in a setting that involves corrupting magic or similar mechanics. It probably shouldn't be the same stuff as regular theriac, and should be trickier to find and operate to avoid cheapening the effects of corruption.
    • Expect such stuff to be either very good (representing repentance and purification) or very evil (essentially karmic buck-passing) - and not necessarily based on their ingredients (essence of angel might sound like type #1 … until you reflect on how that essence is extracted).
  • The "months to prepare" should probably prevent the traditional murderhobo PC from knocking the stuff out but more rounded designs might well brew their own, especially if adventuring is not their only occupation.
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