Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fast Blast Energy Drain

Some monsters have "energy drain." Traditionally, that means they drain experience levels.

That's... dumb. Lots of bookkeeping, Power disparities within a party Abilities lost and lots of time is spent just getting back to where a character was.

Better idea: Energy Drain drains XP off a character.

How much? HD x 1000 XP? HD x d1000 XP? Something along those lines.

Just subtract XP from the character's current total. It can go negative.

The character never actually loses any levels though. Your 10th level character could be reduced to -10,000XP by the vicious undead surprise attack and it's still going to be a 10th level character.

It's just going to take that much longer to ever advance to 11th level. Still a massive pain in the ass, still a huge consequence for PCs, but only the absolute minimum bookkeeping is needed and nobody's going to have their mid- or high-level character commit suicide just because it'll take longer to reach the next level. (low level characters are screwed, but who cares about the fate of a low level character?)

Characters die and become the sort of undead that drained them when they are actually killed by hp damage, not by the experience drain.


  1. Level drain is one of those rules that made a lot of sense in OD&D, where there really wasn't much book-keeping to be done when losing a level. But as the game got more complex, so did level drain become more unwieldy. I like your system a lot. When I want to simplify level drain I just apply it to hit points, attacks, and saving throws, and leave things like spells and proficiencies alone.

  2. Good idea. Book-keeping upon changing levels is one of the reasons that made me prefer RQ and T&T over (A)D&D.

  3. I would probably kill the character at 0 XP as if they died from hp damage.

  4. Nice solution, but losing XPs could let the character unaltered: slower progression, but he's always the same guy.

    Another solution could be subtracting a given amount - the level drained by the attack - of HD from the maximum HPs.

  5. Great idea!

    I remember this weird effect where player fear (of having to do the bookeeping of reducing a level) translated to character fear. "A dragon, let do this! A wraith, run away!

  6. What about monsters (like the Wights) who ONLY do level drain? I agree with Eric, if you go this route 0 XP means you not only die but are transformed into the undead that killed you.

  7. I like the XP drain. But I agree that getting to zero points should mean death and transformation. The consequence of a complete level drain should still be horrific.

  8. I do this thing in my game, except you lose your soul at zero XP. In the context of monsters draining XP this usually means death and turning into a monster yourself. Going to arbitrary negative XP isn't a very good solution, I think, as there's no definitive outcome to it. It's more exciting when the player has some clear line to avoid rather than just a bottomless well.

    I also do the same XP-losing trick with paladins falling from grace (lose half your XP as well as paladin powers) and whenever else I can get away with it. It's a brutal set-back for the character, and suitably esoteric from in-setting point of view.

  9. Eric, if you go this route 0 XP means you not only die but are transformed into the undead that killed you.

    Yes, exactly.

  10. I don't get the "extra book-keeping" complaint, unless you're interpreting level drain as reducing level AND xp. I just use reduction of level; xp stays the same, and earning any xp at all on a future adventure restores 1 level.

    I suppose there's also extra book-keeping involved if you have a lot of other class-based abilities, like skill increases, feats, or proficiencies. But I don't use that stuff, anyways. I hates it, hates it forever.

  11. Isn't the lore affect of an undead strike like this meant to feel like the person is drained?

    Removing xp is a good way to avoid the stat sheet adjustments, but has no affect mechanically on how weak or strong the character is.
    Perhaps apply a slight adjustment to rolls while the xp penalty applies, such as the character tires easily, or is slightly weaker. With the -1 Str/Con affect. Not enough to cripple them, but enough to have them desire to remove it, and also hate those creatures.

  12. The way I see it, Level/Energy Drain is supposed to represent a soul-sucking, life-withering ability, corrupting the person's very essence until they are transfigured into a shell of themselves, becoming undead and renewing the cycle.

    Think of the Ring Wraiths from LotR, or the classic Succubus.

    Perhaps a good way to represent it would be semi-permanent Con damage and penalties to all rolls until some action is taken by the player, such as seeing a Lawful Cleric, bathing in a holy spring, gaining a certain amount of XP per drain to remove the penalties, or even simply resting for a time.

    This method also allows scaling, with more powerful undead draining more con at once.

    Another option is to make the character artificially age a certain number of years per strike.