In a book I am writing, I want there to be an mage who magically propels a dagger with a fast-acting, potent poison/venom, which kills one of the main characters. What poison that could be obtained in the mid 17th century that is fast acting should I use?

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    $\begingroup$ You don't need to specify this, you know. Even the character may not know what's in it if they are simply buying it rather than tracking down the raw materials and preparing it themselves. "The alchemists call it dragon's blood. Whatever it really is, it's deadly. And surprisingly cheap. And extremely illegal to use this way." $\endgroup$ – keshlam Feb 8 '17 at 20:01
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    $\begingroup$ This is not worldbuilding in the slightest. If this was, i dunno, “What would be the best poison for my guild of mage–assassins if they operated in 17th century Lemuria …” — then maybe. Pardon the caustic tone. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Feb 8 '17 at 21:00
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    $\begingroup$ You don't want a poison, you want a venom. Very few poisons are "fast-acting", unless in huge quantities. $\endgroup$ – Aron Feb 9 '17 at 0:57
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    $\begingroup$ @can-ned_food If this isn't worldbuilding then I have no clue what it should be classed as and what site it belongs on. I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and say it belongs on worldbuilding, but feel free to make some suggestions about what site this question does belong on. $\endgroup$ – Pharap Feb 9 '17 at 10:43
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    $\begingroup$ Iocane powder. Surviving even a small dose is inconceivable. $\endgroup$ – Grimm The Opiner Feb 9 '17 at 16:08

Poison Dart Frog's "Lipophilic alkaloid toxins"

... is, according to some sources, the group that includes the toxins used by poison dart frogs. They may be able to kill in less than three minutes; you may not be able to achieve any faster.

It's unclear when these frogs were first identified, but Europe touched base in the Americas a hundred years prior to your setting. Knowing that some native peoples employed these toxins in, well, poison darts, it's not unreasonable to believe that some supplies could cross the sea.

  • $\begingroup$ Good one. If more good ones don't come, this will be accepted for sure. $\endgroup$ – KingraHoundoomJazz Feb 8 '17 at 3:49

Wolf's Bane

Apparently used to tip poisoned arrows in China during your time period, fluid from the Aconitum plant, or Wolf's bane, could be nearly instantaneously deadly if used liberally. The symptoms are not pleasant, and the poison can be used without an arrow and put in food to create the appearance of (accidental) suffocation.

  • $\begingroup$ I have heard of that plant before, and the suffocation part seems cool and hard to identify. However, 2 answers from the same person? Make it into 1 question next time. $\endgroup$ – KingraHoundoomJazz Feb 8 '17 at 3:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Bubbles_as_Jazz Of course, the puncture wound from the arrow may break the illusion of suffocation :) $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Feb 8 '17 at 3:56
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    $\begingroup$ True. :-) But if I make one of the other 2 main characters an idiot, then they won't notice. $\endgroup$ – KingraHoundoomJazz Feb 8 '17 at 3:58
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    $\begingroup$ This is better as a separate answer. It allows the up/down voting on two very different poisons. It also avoids commentary on one getting confused with the other. $\endgroup$ – SRM - Reinstate Monica Feb 8 '17 at 6:49
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with SRM. @Bubbles_as_Jazz, this is a different answer and thus makes sense to post as a different answer. The very different vote counts on the two also indicates that the community feels the two are not equally applicable to the problem at hand. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 8 '17 at 12:23

Curare was used by indigenous South American tribes to tips the darts of their blowguns. The active ingredient can take up to 25 minutes to kill a larger animal from respiratory failure, but the tribes added additional ingredients that apparently increased the effectiveness. I read once that the strength of the mixture was determined by the number of seconds it took for a darted monkey to fall out of a tree. 5 second curare was common, but mixtures as strong as 1 second were made.

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    $\begingroup$ The label warns against using Curare blowdarts while you have the hiccups. $\endgroup$ – T.E.D. Feb 9 '17 at 16:20

Don't forget about Tetrodotoxin. This is a naturally occuring poison, found in several sea creatures and was popluar around the far East.

The poison, at a fatal dose, can kill within 15 minutes, causing shortness of breath, paralysis and eventually total respiratory failure. While more of a dose is needed compared to dart frog poison, it has been readily available throught history.


Try strychnine. It was used a couple hundred years ago and can be derived from a plant. It isn't an ingested poison and can cause death very quickly. It is a type of poison known as a neurotoxin, meaning that it attacks the nervous system causing seizures and rapid organ failure. There is no known antidote.

  • $\begingroup$ " It is a type of poison known as a neurotoxin" which is to say it is NOT a poison. $\endgroup$ – Aron Feb 9 '17 at 0:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Aron "Poison: A substance that is harmful or lethal to a living organism." "Toxin: A toxic or poisonous substance produced by the biological processes of biological organisms." Care to explain why you believe toxins are not to be classed as poisons? $\endgroup$ – Pharap Feb 9 '17 at 10:13
  • $\begingroup$ “Poison” is also used to describe substances which affect non-biological systems. E.g. one can poison a catalytic converter in an automobile exhaust by using fuel containing lead (Pb) as its knock reducer. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Feb 19 '17 at 5:18

The Bushman Poison Adenium boehmianum from a flower near the Cunene River, Namibia

To quote Wikipedia:

The Bushman Poison is a poisonous succulent endemic to the mostly dry regions of northern Namibia and southern Angola. The San people boil the root sap and latex to prepare arrow poison, which is sufficient for hunting large mammals, as it contains strong cardiotoxic effects. The leaves, borne only for three months a year, are arranged spirally and are clustered near the branch tips. A plant will flower for only a few weeks in winter. The oblong fruit releases many seeds through a longitudinal slit, which due to their lateral tufts, can be dispersed by wind.


The fastest I would know of. Is to remove the jaws of 1,000 long leg spiders. Boil them down to about a baby spoon full. Put on the arrow. There jaws are to small to bite threw human skin. Only thing that saves us. Sea snake would be next, Philippine Cobra after that. You would probably want a paste mix. Adder might also work. Philippine Cobra we do not keep anti venom for. Never been a survivor.

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    $\begingroup$ "Daddy long legs" being poisonous but unable to get through skin is a long-propagated urban myth. They don't even have venom glands. $\endgroup$ – JBC Feb 9 '17 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ It's a great world building answer if the world of the story was the same as this one except that in the fictional world daddy long legs are poisonous. $\endgroup$ – GSP Feb 9 '17 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ Not bad, though sake venom would be hard to get. However, this world has magic... $\endgroup$ – KingraHoundoomJazz Feb 10 '17 at 1:50
  • $\begingroup$ @JBC As to whether they possess venom depends on whether you are referring to Pholcidae or to Opiliones. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Feb 19 '17 at 5:15

There is nothing more qualified for your novel scenario than the nerve agent, VX. 10 milligrams will kill an adult. It was unknown in the 17th century, but might be used in a story by a Merlin-type character with specialized secret knowledge.

  • $\begingroup$ In the 17th century? $\endgroup$ – Vincent Feb 8 '17 at 21:01

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