Sunday, January 8, 2012

Level Draining - Are You F'ing Kidding Me on the XP Drain?

I was discussing level draining the other day with my D&D group.  My players are adamantly opposed to the concept of level draining undead.  I never used to be.  In fact, I was thinking "come on, pansies!  This is part of the game.  Deal with it!"  After all, it can't be THAT bad.  It's a hallmark of old school gaming.  Watch out for that Wight!
Good Day Sir!  You're Fucked!

But then I started thinking about how leveling works in D&D.  Typically, you have to roughly double your XP to gain a level.  For example, a fighter in AD&D takes 35,001 XP to hit 6th and then 70,001 XP to hit 7th.  Yup - double.  Now let's take the explanation from the DMG (page 119) of how level draining works.  It states, among other things, that XP will be drained "sufficient to bring the total possessed to the mid-point of the next lower level."

Now that is very significant!  Here's why:

Let's say you are an average 6th level fighter who runs into a Wight and *oh shit* gets hit and energy drained (no save allowed of course).  On average, a 6th level fighter will have 52,500 XP (the mid-point between 6th and 7th level).  When he gets drained, his XP will drop to the mid-point between 5th and 6th level - which means he drops to 26,500 XP.  That means he loses HALF HIS XP GAINED - EVER!  EVER!

Now this may be obvious to most but it hit my dumb ass like a ton of bricks.  When you get energy drained, you lose (on average) HALF YOUR XP.  HALF.  OK, I'm done with CAPS LOCK.  But still, that sucks.  And nobody is exempt from it.  Even high level PC's who have been in multi-year campaigns on average will lose half their XP.

Granted, it could be a little less than half.  But it could also be more than half.  What if that same 6th level fighter was almost to 7th level when he got zapped.  So instead of 52,500 XP he had 69,000 XP.  He would then still get zapped down to 26,500 XP.  Meaning you can even lose TWO THIRDS of your XP if you're not careful (OK, I used caps lock again).

And don't even get me started on the Vampire, who drains 2 energy levels in D&D with one successful hit!

Sorry, level draining is just too frustrating.  Too much blood, sweat, and tears go into gaining that XP.  I won't be using level-draining going forward.  Or if I do, I'll be house-ruling it somehow.  If that makes me a wuss, so be it.


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  2. My understand for the justification of level draining is that the creature is "sucking away your life-force" - so why not convert it to a straight-forward drain on Constitution (or all the physical stats - CON, STR and DEX)?

    1. This is the way I would rather see it done - besides I would rather keep the idea of XP out of the in-game mind as much as possible. And maybe various methods are available to recoup those lost stat points - but perhaps never back to the original level.

  3. Tim - I totally agree! In fact, that is the direction my house rules go on that. In fact, I prefer saying roll a d6 and you lose a random stat - why just physical? Why not mental? You are truly becoming a shell of the person you used to be. I could easily see a CHA reduction, since you have now become more introspective, perhaps more reserved and serious due to your brush with evil.

    As a player, I'd be less traumatized losing one point off a random ability score than half - did I say half! - of my XP. But it could still carry a heavy price.

  4. Just to be clear, I mean you roll a d6 and lose one point off one random ability score (STR, INT, WIS, CON, DEX, CHA).

  5. Yes, I can see a justification for opening up all the stats for a possible loss.

  6. I used to feel this way, but I've since come around (somewhat) to the idea of level draining. This mostly came from reading somewhere that level-draining monsters are not creatures to be fought, they are obstacles to be avoided (if used correctly). There is little you can do in D&D to viscerally terrify players, but for whatever reason level draining does it. And undead are supposed to be terrifying.

    Further, I would point out that a by-the-book game will probably have ways to recover those lost levels (restoration spells, limited wishes, etc) depending on the rule set you are using.

    One tweak that I might apply to slightly lessen the danger is to drain XP rather than levels. Perhaps 100 XP per point of damage or something. That is not quite as devastating as half of your XP. This also makes the danger progressively less as levels increase.

    Also, what about save-or-die traps? They more or less drain all XP at once. Do you not use those as well?

  7. The issues I have with level draining and "save or die" is purely down to the make up of our group. We only get to play for a few hours every month and therefore I need the players to be as committed as possible for that limited time.

    If we were all 14, 15, 16 again and had the time to game every week for hours on end, I'd be throwing wights, vampires and death traps at them left, right and centre, but I just can't afford to these days.

  8. Brendan, I have gone back and forth in this matter. :) Right now I'm leaning towards "level drain sucks as written."

    For one thing, all versions of D&D have some form of raise dead. But not all versions have restoration. And to many players, they would rather die than lose 50% of their XP. Maybe that is a more emotional than sensible reaction, but many players feel that way. Especially if you can get raised. In that case, death is much preferable to drainage. And even things like poison are usually mitigated by mid-levels with Neutralize Poison and the like.

    But I totally hear what you're saying and there's merit to it.

    Like Tim, I only game on occasion (every Tuesday night for 3 hours). So I try to make things fun and not frustrate the players TOO much.

    Brendan, I also really like your XP idea. I've thought about that too. But I thought more in terms of % (like, the touch of a Wight drains 10% of a player's XP).

  9. I'm also on a weekly 3-hour-session schedule.

    I like the percent idea too, but a flat 10% doesn't let you roll dice, and I like rolling dice. :-)

    Maybe 2d6 or 2d10 percent? Adds some uncertainly, but costs some math.

  10. I've never liked the level-draining mechanic and so switched to Constitution drain a couple of years back. I now play it so that each hit drains half the current Constitution (whether by wight, vampire or whatever) and going below a Constitution of 3 results in undeath.

    My players have been much happier with this house rule and it's vastly simpler than working out the loss of levels and all the bookwork that entails. It also remains quite a severe penalty like the original mechanic.

    Finally, it seems to make logical sense to me having Constitution represent a character's life force.

  11. Lately I've been having one touch do a temporary 24 hour level drain, and the second touch causing a permenant one. This way fighters who don't flinch fighting dragons and demons won't automatically run like hell from combat with undead. For vampires, I prefer good old blood sucking drain including a temp loss of con.

  12. How about making whatever the experience loss is more of a debt pool. Nothing is lost, but the pool has to be paid off before new expo can be added to the total.

    Keeps trying to re-figure a possible level loss due to expo loss, but still has the same effect of removing expo from play.

  13. I've been experimenting with permanent HP loss in my B/X campaign, which my players prefer even tho those are hit points they'll never get back short of the most powerful magics. Even with classic level drain there's the possibility of ending up with more hit points than you had last time.

  14. @ Brendan - good idea. I love my dice rolling too!

    @ David - that is very cool. But scary as Hell!

    @ Brunomac - are you talking about the 2nd touch "ever" or the 2nd touch in one encounter?

    @ Erik - that is also a very cool idea. It would penalize the players, still have something to do with XP, but not erase all the prior work.

    @ Jayson - I like that. Sort of mimics a CON drain, but a little different.

    Wow. A lot of good ideas on level drain! That's what's so cool about houseruling these old school games. You can get 5-6 different ideas that all sound fun.

  15. Import Restoration from OSRIC into your game and have temples sell the spell?

  16. Hey Blair - that's definitely an option too. And then it would still suck being level drained but not nearly as bad.

    By the way, your sites look very cool! But there is so much content that I don't know where to begin. Which documents or links will be the best things to look at to get a good starting point for the rules and setting of Planet Algol?

  17. Or use a table, EVERYTIME you got level drained:
    1 Roll a d6 and loose one point in stat
    2 100XP per point of damage
    3 loose 2d10% XP
    4 24 hour level drain, second hit drains permanent
    5 Constitution drain (half the current, under 3 = undead)
    6 dept pool - you loose all that xp, but no actual levels.
    7 permanent HP loss
    8 level loss, Restoration can be purchased at major temples

    A little bit gonzo...

    You could make the restoration spell into a "ritual of cleansing" that can only performed at the temple of a certain god/godess. Maybe even the evil ones, they use that sucked out negative energy (and the money taken) for their own nefarious goals...

  18. Better use that table for every level draining monster... so one of the wights drains 100 XP per hitpoint of damage and the other 1 point of Charisma... does make them all unique snowflakes, in a way...

  19. That's a fine idea! A little bit gonzo is just fine with me. :) I love randomness. I think my players do too.

    For example, they can't ever pass up a nice drinking pool in a dungeon!

  20. I never use the xp drain, myself, only the level drain part. When drained characters gain at least 1 xp from an adventure, they can restore one level; only one level can be restored per adventure. So, level drain is still Serious Business, but it doesn't seem like forever.

    Options I have toyed with is making all level drain as aging instead or using some kind of "soul wounds" system.

  21. That's a great idea. That way they feel the pinch but a player doesn't feel like his last few months of game sessions have been wiped away.

    "Soul Wounds." I like the sound of that. What are the mechanics of it?

  22. It's tied to my wound system. If an attack is aimed specifically at someone's head or limb, that body part can be wounded; if struck again, it can become very wounded and finally lost. Soul-draining undead can "aim" for someone's soul.

    I had some old mechanics for this, but I'm changing them a bit, so I should do a new post.

  23. Sounds like people need to man up. There's too much GD "my tummy hurts" over level draining. If you don't like away! Use some hirelings! Be creative.

  24. While it is a pain in the ass, because yes, as you've pointed out, that is a lot of XP gone! Especially considering how much IRL time/campaign progress can be lost with one good hit. But what I've always liked about the level drain is just how personal that loss can be; as if part of the character's life truly was just ripped away forever, lessening them for it.

    At the same time however, I feel level-draining should only be available to some of the beasties that can employ it. Wights? Sure. Vampires? Nay! Otherwise, it's just like the giant leeches in Blackmoor. Blood and life, while related, are different things. One is what makes living continue, and the other what gives living reason to continue. So some should only drain blood (leeches, vampires, etc.), and others, where it's really all about life-force/soul/chi stuff should drain levels.

    1. Joshua - that's a good idea. I think if you're going to go with level-draining undead, that's a very reasonable way to look at it.

      So for a vampire, maybe a severe CON drain would fit things a lot better than a level drain.

  25. I'm really interested in trying out this tip on Drain Cleaning in Baltimore. I'm constantly getting hair clogged in the drain, and it would be nice to have an easy way to get it out.

  26. I feel your argument is missing one thing. Yes it may drain half, but the half that it drains did not take half your gaming time to earn. XP is earned on a curve. The higher level you are, the more you tend to earn. So while that XP may be half of what you have earned to date, that half may have been earned in the last 2-3 games. It is hardly as dramatic as you make it out to be. Sure it sucks, but it's not like 6 months of gaming just went down the toilet.

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  28. Minor rule tweak-- I drain XP to the point where they just barely lose a level, meaning that they will regain the level at the end of the adventure.
    Let's also remember that clerics are very effective in holding undead at bay. Don't nerf the turning ability and you won't have to nerf energy drain.

  29. Time wasting? Is drain level erasing real life experience in play the game?