The illegal drug industry has fascinated me for years. As neither a contributor nor consumer, I’m (thankfully) on the outside of the industry looking in. Everything about the process is gripping and utterly illicit – growing, manufacturing, smuggling, buying, selling, and consumption. I’m not alone. Drugs have captured our imagination in critically acclaimed television shows like The Wire, Breaking Bad, Weeds, and many, many other ways. Movies, books, comics, and more have all sorts of stories related to the drug industry.

I’m lucky enough to work for the National Geographic Channels. One of our most-watched series is a program called Drugs, Inc. which goes inside the billion-dollar industry of illegal drugs. The series features in-depth interviews with dealers, kingpins, enforcers, users, and police with crazy access like I’ve never seen. I was part of a team assigned to promote the series in its fourth season and here’s the launch promo we produced:

(Note : If you want to learn more about how this promo was made check out this post from my boss Andy Baker on his killer site – The Client Blog.)

All this is to say that drugs have become a huge part of our everyday world. It is some people’s only source of income, it is some people’s family business, and it is some people’s complete and utter addiction.

Exploration Age’s Drug of Choice

Orange spice

When sorted, smoked, or ingested the vasiseing flower’s orange pollen causes great jubilation and energy within the user. The vasiseing pollen, more commonly called orange spice or simply orange, is highly addictive. Heavy users become dependent on the substance and can eventually lose their lives to the stuff.


Orange spice was first discovered growing wild in the Paxa Forest of Parian by soldiers in The Emperor’s Military. They found that after smelling the vasiseing flowers their mood was enhanced and their movements and reflexes were quicker. They harvested the flowers to share with their platoon and soon the entire nation became aware of the wonderful effects of orange spice. They figured the source of the effect was the flower’s pollen and so they began harvesting the substance. Farms were erected and Paraian’s merchants began selling orange spice over seas.

However, it soon became clear orange spice had some terrible side-effects. Many users developed a dangerous dependency which made them spend all their earnings on the drug. As these users ran out of money they began to live in squalor and turn to crime to get money to feed their addictions. Others would take too much of the drug and overdose, which has a variety of random effects including death.

As these effects became clear the drug was outlawed in Findalay. Initially, Parian was upset with these developments as the country was the main supplier of orange spice, but as its citizens’ eyes became open to the effects on their people, the emperor outlawed the drug as well.

In many ways this action was too little, too late. The trade was established and the addicts created. Soon an international black market for the stuff was created. Today this same illegal market exists today, bigger and more profitable than ever.

Orange Spice Cartels

The orange spice trade is now controlled by cartels, small and large. Each cartel is a competing corporation in a business with no ethics and ruthless tactics. They are at war with law enforcement and each other.

At the head of each cartel is a boss. Each boss has his lieutenants who are responsible for a territory. They supervise the growers, smugglers, hitmen, and falcons within a given region, which could be as big as an entire country for larger cartels or as little as a city neighborhood for the smaller cartels. Cartels also have assets, folks not on the full-time payroll and outside the organization, but who can be tapped for a specific task when the need arises.

  • Growers – These are the people who grow the vasiseing flowers and harvest the pollen. They often have to farm in secret fields deep in the forests, or magically enhanced greenhouses so their activities are kept private. They keep these areas well-guarded with soldiers, animals, and traps. Most growers are based in Parian, but there are a few grow operations in Findalay and now Verda.
  • Smugglers – The most creative and charismatic people of the orange spice trade are the smugglers. They have to keep coming up with original ways to hide the orange from law enforcement and they must be bold enough to lie, bribe, and murder (when necessary) to keep from getting caught.
  • Hitmen – Kidnaps, thefts, extortion, assassinations, and all-out wars are the specialties of the cartels’ hitmen. They deal with problems in the most violent ways possible. Publicly when the cartels want to send a message, quietly when they don’t.
  • Falcons – The lowest level operatives of the cartels are also some of the most important. The eyes and ears on the street, falcons monitor and report the activities of law enforcement and rival cartels while serving as street dealers. Falcons are the merchants selling the drug to individuals.
  • Assets – Anyone could be a cartel asset, a bribed city watch sergeant looking the other way when a huge shipment arrives, a merchant with a kidnapped daughter allowing a smuggler to use his ship, or a politician being blackmailed into pardoning a group of thugs. Assets are manipulated by the cartel because of their job or position within a society. Usually a bribe is the first way a cartel will try to manipulate a target, then intimidation, blackmail, kidnapping, and violence come into play. It can be difficult to not give into the cartels’ demands. Even the smaller organizations tend to have assets in law enforcement and government, so there are few people one can turn to for help if a cartel comes knocking.

One of the largest cartels is the Rainbow Dragons, led by boss Juong Meral and based in Parian, but operating everywhere. They are rivaled by Sunset’s Children, another large Parian cartel led by boss Kerta Fernnath. In Aeranore, a small cartel called No Trace has gained some infamy as they have begun expanding into Taliana.

The cartels have begun moving into Verda, where the lawless land allows them to easily sell and transport orange spice. They have had success addicting colonists and the folk of the tribes at first, but the people of Verda have begun to wise up and many are wary of those peddling the stuff.

Effects of Orange Spice

Orange spice is a stimulant. It makes users faster and full of life, but leaves them feeling immensely down. A user can snort the drug directly, absorb it through their tongue, or smoke it in a paper or pipe. The going price for a hit (or one dose) of orange spice is usually around 1gp.

One hit of orange spice grants users one extra action during their turn for the next hour. After the initial effect wears off, a secondary effect kicks in. Users must make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw. A failed save means the target is intoxicated for the next eight hours. A successful save means the target is intoxicated for only the next hour. The intoxicated condition cannot be removed in any way, but it can be delayed by taking a second hit of orange spice, however the target risks overdosing (see below).

Once the orange spice’s secondary effect wears off, targets must make a DC 10 Wisdom saving throw or become addicted. Each time a creature makes this saving throw within a month of the last time he or she made another Wisdom saving throw to avoid becoming addicted to orange spice, the DC increases by 1.

Addicted creatures have a difficult time functioning without orange spice. When they aren’t using, addicted creatures are considered intoxicated and need to use just to function normally. An addicted creature needs one hit to function without the intoxicated effect for an hour and two hits to feel the effects of the orange spice outlined above. A creature can detox to lose their addicted condition, but they must not use orange spice for a month.

A creature who takes orange spice twice in a day must make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw or overdose. For every use of orange spice after the second, the DC increases by 1. When a creature overdoses, roll on the chart below to see the effect of the overdose.

d20 Effect
1 Creature dies
2 – 4 Creature is unconscious for the next 8 hours
5 – 7 Creature is paralyzed for the next 8 hours
8 – 10 Creature is blinded for the next 8 hours
11 – 13 Creature is deafened for the next 8 hours
14 – 16 Creature becomes frightened of another creature of the DMs choosing for the next 8 hours
17 – 19 Creature cannot stand and is prone for the next 8 hours
20 Creature considers all other creatures it can see enemies and attacks for the next 8 hours


Let me know what you think. I know these rules are a little complicated, but I figure the mechanics make orange spice seem addictive and dangerous while also making them a little attractive. The complexities here are meant if PCs choose to take the drug, and many won’t. GMs are encouraged to have NPCs react to the drug however they like.

A Quick Note

So today Mike Mearls revealed in a Legends and Lore article on the Wizards of the Coast D&D site that they’re creating some form of Open Gaming License for the new edition of D&D. He said that it won’t be ready for launch until 2015, so all of Exploration Age will probably be available for a modest fee at that point as well. This gives me lots and lots of time to get the math right for things like new backgrounds, feats, monsters, magic items, and rules modules. In the meantime, take this survey to help me figure out what the price of an Exploration Age Campaign Guide pdf should be. Thanks!

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

  1. Rudy Basso says:

    I immediately thought this would be a great recreational drug for my bard to use on special occasions, but the possible penalties are frightening me off. Addiction sounds terrible (although I’m not sure what the rules for intoxicated are). Could there be “purer” form of the drug that lowers the Wis DC, but costs a lot more gold? Because I wouldn’t mind failing the Con roll, but addiction is really scaring me off. I want to be a pollenhead! Or maybe orange-tongue. You need a catchy slang term for addicts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s good that the addiction is scaring you, Rudy. Orange spice is meant to be a highly addictive drug, like some of the real world heavy hitters. I don’t think a higher cost would be a big enough deterrent, since the benefits of the drug are HUGE (an extra action each turn!). I feel like one would need to turn down the benefit as well.


      • qpop says:

        I was definitely thinking about it too. I don’t think addiction is THAT scary though. Just need that good Con mod and then you’re good to go 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • Rudy Basso says:

        The thought of role-playing a character addicted to a drug is the most off-putting thing to me, especially if it takes a month to detox.

        Also never trust the dice! Doesn’t matter what kind of con mod you have if you roll that one…

        Liked by 1 person

      • All of that is music to my ears, Rudy! It’s supposed to feel risky if you choose to use…


  2. kavalierkane says:

    I can’t wait for my grizzled DEA-agent like character who has made it his mission to wipe orange spice cartels off the face of Canus after his family was killed by a bunch of pollenhead (love it Rudy!) enforcers. I shall call this character…The Punisher!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yeah! But some of those guys are on the cartel payroll…..


  4. Interesting thing to add to a game, as much for what it adds in plot and setting as for the game mechanic benefits.

    I’m not a D&D player but I do like rich worldbuilding, and I would be more interested in an RPG supplement if it included this sort of unusual detail.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. LumberJack says:

    I would think there should be some type of physical marker for those using and then addicted to spice. Whether it be agitation, dilated pupils, orange tinge to their eyes or fingernails etc. Just so PCs can see if they are getting into it with a spicefiend, or if they are investigating a death they can tell if it’s spice related, or if they are on the right path when hunting down spicers.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. LumberJack says:

    Also the scientifically appropriate nickname should be “stamen” or some variation. ei “you seen Jerry?” “That Stamen?, he probably in a spice haze in the gutter.”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Its certainly an interesting idea but I don’t like the idea of instant character death as it seems to be an anti-climatic way to go; I would prefer a point of attribute damage inflicted upon the character instead. You could also spice things up by having the character experience visions if they overdose and also give them physical manifestations of the drug on their person; their fingers start to turn orange for example.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well there’s a small chance at instant PC death and one needs to take multiple doses to get there – that feels climactic to me and realistic in the experience with drugs. Attribute damage is another good way to go though. Physical changes are a great thing to add.


  8. Reese says:

    Just a ‘technical’ (for lack of a better term) note on the following:

    “After the initial effect wears off, a secondary effect kicks in. Users must make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw. A failed save means the target is intoxicated for the next eight hours.”

    From knowing and working with addicts for a very, very long time, the use of ‘intoxicated’ in the sense that you’re using it isn’t accurate. It’s closer to what addicts would be familiar with as a withdrawal state, albeit an early/acute one (much like with heroin, in particular, or meth) with the secondary effect and then once that wares off, what’s known in the recovery industry as Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. The ‘initial effect’ is more like the high itself, the desired effect of use, at least from what I’m reading here. That’s the true ‘intoxicated’ state as drug users *desire* the intoxication and its effects. Its the withdrawal – what happens when they’re coming down or run out – that addicts try to avoid, which – again, at least to me – seems like what you’re referring to as the secondary effects.

    Anyhow, if I were to change/add anything, I’d make the withdrawals more severe and the length of the high longer, though beyond the first hour you have no extra action despite feeling wired, highly focused, or the like – a law of diminishing returns kind of thing. If there’s not a significant enough perceived benefit to use, who’s going to willingly go for it? As its written, for an hour’s benefit – even if I really needed an extra action in a turn – I wouldn’t touch this willingly if I were in a hypothetical situation – someone else would have to drug me! And once the effects of it wear off, I’d never willingly go near it again. Of course that dynamic *does* make for some interesting options as well, too. 🙂

    Okay, I’ll shut up now. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good point. I struggled with the wording of intoxicated. Intoxicated is also a mechanical condition in D&D Next which makes your character worse at pretty much everything like attacking, spellcasting, and all ability checks and skill rolls, which seemed to make sense to me. I didn’t want to create a new term that is closely related to mean the same thing mechanically, but it is inaccurate which is why I struggled.


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