Comments on 2019-05-21 Level Drain!

I have a 9-years-running 3.5 game, and for a short while death (which causes loss of level for all but the most powerful raise dead effects) and level drain were an effective means of keeping the party from growing in power too quickly.

Eventually, though, the party becomes largely immune to both. Much of this immunity started with access to restoration spells, but full resurrection at level 17 (level 9 spells) cinched it. Death is now a minor annoyance (and a side quest to find diamonds for resurrection, since they’ve depleted them from towns and cities) and level drain is barely that (thanks to restoration).

It’s a conundrum, though; I’d like combats to resolve more quickly, too, but most tricks to doing this also drastically ramp up the peril for the PCs. I’m not against peril on principle, but it does change the flavor of the game when a single round of bad dice rolls is likely to result in ignoble deaths of supposedly powerful characters.

There is a system I like for that effect – Rolemaster. Playing RM tactically rather than strategically almost certainly means frequent PC deaths regardless of level, but everybody going into that is already aware, given the crit tables...

George Dorn 2019-05-22 06:04 UTC

Yeah, all points are well made. The D&D 3.5 games I was in usually started bogging down after around level 10 because combat got tricky with tons of buff spells being cast, everybody updating their numbers, rolling a handful of attacks, and all that. And with access to more and better spells eventually that, too, was just sidestepped. At that time I stopped running D&D 3.5 but if I were to do it again, and if I were to run it up into the high levels, I think what I’d do is reconsider what I’m attacking. Two things come to mind:

  1. Treat it as a game of Norse gods: it’s all about being polymorphed, kidnapped, memories wiped, imprisoned in strange dimensions. I’m still going to threaten the character, but with new threats that don’t have spells to counter them immediately. More adventuring is required.
  2. Treat it as a political game: it’s all about their followers, their kingdoms, their allies.

I’m sure the second option is not easy to pull off, though. It’s about as easy as switching from D&D to Rolemaster, I guess. 🙂

I’ve also had a long-running classic D&D campaign where people reached levels 8–9 and I started to see a lot of game nights where all I ever rolled was a reaction roll (see No Dice). So that was the beginning of a political game, I guess? Except there is little guidance in the rules on how to make a political game.

If we don’t want to go around the table just improvising the story as it goes, then we need rules to provide consequences, and dice to provide random changes to the stories we we want to tell.

All of that is to say that I don’t have a good answer to the problem and the mediocre answer I’ve settled on is to keep the game in the level range of 1–10, including level draining and raising the dead.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-05-22 06:23 UTC

PS: Hah, your blog post is strangely appropriate: How to die in D&D. Perfect!

PPS: I love the idea of frequent resurrections having depleted the supply of diamonds! 😀

I ran a poll on the OSR group on g+ a while back about what was worse: Death or level drain?

The clear majority voted level drain. While your reasoning may make logical sense, the “fun” aspect of the game isn’t always logical – And I think most players would say that level drain is not a very fun aspect of the game.

If the answer to high level play not working is “level drain” I think I’d rather just play with a hard cap on levels.

Anders H 2019-05-22 10:32 UTC

Hm. Possibly. I’m happy to have some powerful undead doing save or die attacks instead. 😀

To backtrack a bit, though: I really liked how Solar System or The Shadow of Yesterday did high-level play. One way to spend your XP was to increase your skill level. If you had the highest skill level available, and rolled the highest number with your dice, thus getting the highest possible result, your success changed the world in a significant way and your character is retired from play. Thus players get to decide for themselves whether their character is ready for the end game by finally deciding to increase their skill level to the max. It was beautiful and elegant, and took care of retirement, too.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-05-22 11:16 UTC

For keeping the game to levels 1-10, a well-established fix is E6. Characters level up to 6, after which they can buy some additional perks with XP, but not gain any more levels.

George Dorn 2019-05-22 18:39 UTC

At the time I first heard about it back on EN World, I got the impression that it was a way to keep the game the level 6 tier. These days, however, I’d be more interested in a game that either provided ever changing gameplay over time like D&D with its spell levels, or a game that provided for a very different experience without significant advancement like Traveller (or maybe Fate).

– Alex Schroeder 2019-05-22 20:49 UTC

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