Wednesday, September 2, 2009

House Rule: Energy Drain

As a DM, I have never liked Energy Drain. Though I do understand the harshness inherent in the game, I thought that energy drain was a bit too harsh. Even instant death poison allows a saving throw, after all. Many players and gamers have expressed to me over the years that the loss of more than one level due to energy drain is almost a fate worse than death.

The mechanics of energy drain always seemed a little metagame for me. I don't like that they steal a level, because what does that really represent, especially in a game where the classes have very different experience tables? Does a thief have "less life energy per level" than a fighter? It just doesn't sit right with me.

I am presenting my house ruled version of energy drain. In some ways, it is actually more serious than the previous level loss, but at the same time, it fits better with my conception of what "draining life energy" means.

Revised Energy Drain--
When a character is stricken by a creature or spell that causes energy drain, they lose one hit die; the character rolls a hit die and permanently loses that many hit points. In addition, they are forever after considered as being one hit die less. (But not class level) The only ways to restore life energy thus drained is a restoration, wish or other, similarly powerful magic.

At the DM's option, a saving throw may be allowed for losing half the amount of hit points rolled on the die.

In addition, the ripping away of one's life energy is a traumatic process, and the individual is often no longer the same. If a character is drained, have the player roll 1d10 and consult the chart below:

Roll Effect
1 The character gains a random, permanent insanity
2 The character ages 1d4x10 years
3 The character loses 1 point from all attributes permanently
4 Roll a d6. 1-2 loses 1 point of Int, 3-4 1 point of Wis, 5-6 1 point Cha
5 Roll a d6. 1-2 loses 1 point of Str, 3-4 1 point Dex, 5-6 1 point of Con
6 The character is haunted by nightmares. Each night there is a 10%
chance that he does not benefit from the night's sleep.
7 The character develops a severe phobia of undead and will not fight them
8 The character always feels cold, no matter what the weather.
9 The character's hair turns stark white
10 The character gains a shock of white hair.

Note that these effects are permanent until the character life energy is restored. Generally, a DM should only impose one such roll on the player, unless they lose 25% or more of their levels in a given encounter, in which case a second roll is warranted.

If the DM uses saving throws as above, he may opt to spare the player a roll on this table in the event of a successful save.


  1. I like your house rule.

    In my opinion, we play in an era where players like their characters. They make efforts to breathe life into them. Insta-death and PC devouring beasties put a buzz kill on this.

    Your rule acknowledges the inherent savagery of old school gaming while allowing PCs a chance to keep their characters in play.

  2. Talk about harsh...
    --XP can be recovered, Ability Score points not so easily.

    I just assess a penalty to all rolls equal to the number of levels lost until they are recovered, as well as blocking-off access to that many levels-worth of HD at die-average points + Con bonus HP.

    The insanity is a cool touch, but how hard is it to cure that?

    How about this idea?

    Invert your table, and roll it on 1d6, adding the number of levels lost to the die roll.
    --That way the worst effects are far less likely, and only result from serious level-drainage?

    Think about it?

  3. I like the idea of losing permanent hit dice. I think that's sufficiently harsh to make energy drain something to be avoided (rather than a temporary setback) but not as meta-game-y as the "classical" approach. The extra table seems a bit much to me from a mechanical standpoint. I appreciate the rationale behind it, but I prefer simplicity and probably wouldn't use it.

  4. I like the idea of losing the hit points and agree with you always thought the idea of losing levels was harsh. To use an AD&D creature, having a wight, only a 4+3HD creature is quite a powerful effect.

    The only suggestion I would make is have the energy drain in hit points have some sort of level depending the HD of the creature. Such as a wight would drain 1d6. Maybe a wraith would drain 1d12. Or something along those lines.

    As for the secondary effect I would pass on that also. I think the result of the energy drain is more than enough.

  5. Thanks for the feedback, everyone! I agree, on second glance, that my table is a bit harsh when the permanent loss of hit die is already pretty nasty. However, I do like the idea of a mark or residual effect, so how about this optional table:

    Roll 1d6:
    1. Character feels chill all the time
    2. Character develops taste for raw meat
    3. Character gains "one hundred yard stare"
    4. Character gains a lock of white hair
    5. Character's hair turns stark white
    6. Character is tormented by nightmares

    These have no game effect, but are there for flavor only.

    I am also thinking that Energy Drain might drain a standard 1d6, modified by Con. (Minimum 1 point lost)

    Thanks for all the ideas!

  6. I like both your tables Ryan. I think I might add, Character becomes sensitive to the proximity of undead.
    In the future, the victim might have a chance of feeling the presence of undead within a certain range.

  7. Ryan: Cool. Fluff is always nice as fluff.

    E. G. Palmer: Right on!

  8. I like the revised table of cosmetic effects, plus Palmer's suggestion is right in line with old-style D&D - sometimes you can get a positive benefit even from something bad.

    I'd also suggest that you can use System Shock in this if you like. It certainly fits.

    Ability Score drain is harsh, but it does make more sense than level drain. Aging is also pretty harsh unless you're a dwarf or elf.

    I'd suggest having some simple-to-apply effect for the actual attack, but after the fight you roll on the cosmetic effects table. Include a lower bound of 6 in 20 where nothing happens, and every space above that has an effect. The beneficial effect is the uppermost one, on 20.
    Roll once per fight, adding 1 per two times the character was struck.
    These can be reinforced if you reroll them after multiple fights on the same character. So a character with three nightmare rolls after three fights would be pretty much unable to stay asleep.