Saturday, November 5, 2016

To Level Drain or Not to Level Drain

Just going to come right out and say it.  I think that perhaps the single stupidest mechanic in the entirety of AD&D is Level Drain.  The very premise is absurd as the attack and the consequence are completely and entirely un-related.

A vampire attack leaves you drained of life force within you and you lose experience levels?  I'm sorry, I don't think that one was really thought out all the way and just got chumped to get the book published on time or something.

To lose experience levels, I could see it if the attack or damage was cognitive in effect.  Something stole your memories or you got amnesia or dementia or something along those lines.  Then yes, drain those experience levels and rightly so.

To lose life force though?  Here's how I homebrew it anymore.  Instead of losing an experience level, I remove Hit Points and 1 point of CON instead.  I do use Hit Dice though.  so if say a 6th level fighter were to take a life force draining attack, I will subtract on full HD of HP.  Fighters roll a d10 for HP thus I remove 10 HP for each life force level drained.  Add to that losing 1 point off of their Constitution.  Life is going to be different for that PC forever after.

Sucks to be the victim in that attack but it makes WAY more sense than to lose XL  The PC retains the XP level they have though.  So, 6th level Fighter now has 10 less HP but is still 6th level because the attack didn't suck part of his brain out with the knowledge, learned skills and experience that makes him what he is.  Losing a point of CON starts to reduce their ability to be resurrected or have Raise Dead done for them.  It also kicks them in the HP bonus adjustment as well.

I want the life force drain to be scary.  I want Players to think twice, maybe three times before tangling with something that could very well end it all for them.  So if the 6th level fighter had a max potential of 60 HP but with some lousy dice rolls only had 48 HP to start with, losing one life force level automatically knocks them down to 38 HP.   Bang!  Just like that.  Get another life force level drained?  Lose another 10 HP.

It's an easy mechanic to keep track of, it's relevant to the attack and it makes those creatures causing it something to be carefully considered.  Which is the whole point of having level/life force draining creatures to begin with.

Having said that, I always leave the door open to having HP re-gained by magical or other means as well as finding ways to get CON points back too.  It won't be easy but it is possible.  Those things are already built into the game for exactly those reasons it would seem.

Plus, the endeavoring to regain those HP and CON points can make some really nifty solo and side adventuring for those PC's as well.


  1. i dont get why level drain is upsetting when a spell can fix it

  2. well, as I explained, drsining levels is irrelevent to the attack. That's like saying someone stabbed the PC and they got a burn wound somewhere else. Also, it's not supposed to be easy or inexpensive to recover xp to gain levels. It defies the point of having monsters that are supposed to make you think twice before engaging.

  3. I think that removing level drain is akin to removing eyeballs and attacks from beholders because it isn't fair. Level Drain is an attack, and when engaging those that use it, it isn't a surprise to the players. If they don't want to deal with that, then try to escape. There is no rule in the system that says that you have to attack.

    1. the same way that reducing experience level is irrelevent to life force attacks. XP levels have literally nothing to do with life or death except in that it affects the number of hit die used to determine HP. Otherwise, totally irrelevent. if you notice, I didn't remove the danger or the nuance only moved the effect vector to something more relevent. BUt, as is my post here, it's just how I roll. Every DM runs their game the way they see it working best for them.

  4. " Every DM runs their game the way they see it working best for them."

    That right there is the #1 rule, isn't it :)

    I've tried it the way that you've described, I think that we've all been there at one time or another, but now I just love some of those old-school mechanics, and Level drain is most definitely a mechanic. When I played, I got bit by this bug and it was a bummer, but it was easier to reearn the XP than it was to restore abilities. That is just me. I rarely use undead who have that attack, when I do use it I am typically trying to see if I can't get players back into that gaming sweet spot of 5th-8th level.

    1. There are a lot of the "old school" mechanics I really like. I've been playing this game for 30 years now and this approach to dealing with this issue is what has played out best for me. My players are good with it and I use a lot of undead. So this comes up a lot over here. LOL.