Sunday, October 28, 2012

Energy draining in Holmes D&D

This post on energy draining over at Untimately got me thinking about how to apply the process in a pure blue-book D&D game.  Setting aside the question of whether you should even give foes level-draining ability, I want to explore how it works in the Holmes basic rules.  From the monsters descriptions:
  • Spectres "drain two life energy levels each time they score a hit."
  • Vampires "drain two life energy levels, as do spectres, when they hit an opponent in combat."
  • Wights "drain away life energy levels when they score a hit in melee, one level per it."
  • Wraiths "drain life energy, 1 level per hit."
The only elaboration on the process is in the description of the wight: "An opponent totally drained of life energy by a wight becomes a wight under the control of the draining creature."  Likewise, the rules say "men-types" killed by spectres and vampires become lesser versions of those creatures under the control of their killers.  Since wraiths "are like wights, but have more hit dice and are harder to hit," I'd say this applies to wraiths as well.

Now conventional wisdom has it that, like with hit points, once your character's level falls to zero, he's dead. However, what about "normal men"--also known as zero-level characters?  Obviously one hit from a level-draining undead is going to take out your man-at-arms.  But should that apply to a first-level character who is drained of a single life energy level?  Or is he not quite "totally" drained of vitality?

I say no, and there's precedent in the rules to support me: the "normal man" that appears in the combat and saving throw tables.  A first-level character who has one level drained away, or a second-level character who loses two levels, becomes a 0-level "normal man" (whatever the PC's original race and class) for game purposes.  Any hit that takes a character below zero-level, of course, slays that individual and turns him or her into the same type of undead that slew the character.

This means using the appropriate line on the to-hit and save charts, and not being able to use class-specific abilities like spells or thief skills.  Why do this?  First of all, it keeps your brand-new first-level character alive after a hit from a wight, even if at very reduced capability, and therefore gives the entire party a greater chance of surviving the encounter.  Second, it provides new opportunities for adventure in search of a cure, as you can let the players know that there's a certain temple which can restore the lost vitality (for a price, or in return for a quest), or have them meet a ranger who knows how to make a potion which can heal their affliction.  You could even be merciful and allow that several weeks of rest, plus a certain amount of experience points (say, one-fourth of what it takes to reach second level), gets them back up to first level.

Whatever method you choose, these ideas allow low-level characters to survive encounters with level-draining undead.  When they recover, they'll be ready to hit the dungeon again, and hopefully be a little more careful this time.


John said...

Gary gives the same interpretation/explanation in the DMG, if I recall.

jbeltman said...

They could even pursue a different class next time.

Gonsalvo said...

Like Cleric! :-)