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A Chilling Touch: Level Drain

Posted By Scott Martin On July 27, 2009 @ 2:54 am In GMing Advice | 26 Comments

In many ways, level drain is one of the most devastating attacks in D&D and has been from the very beginning. Fighting an Orc and dying can be a chance to try out a new character, being raised from the dead has few consequences in recent editions (if you pay enough), but level drain is still terrifying. A bad saving throw or two can undo months of adventuring.

I’m writing about level drain in response to brcarl’s suggestion pot question from last year.

I’d like an article discussing level drain: pros, cons, how to handle it so it’s effective (scary!) but not debilitating/frustrating, etc.

FYI, the DM in one of my 3.5e D&D tabletop games is running an on-going campaign where level-drain seems to always come up as the focal plot device, and it’s starting to tick off some of the players (me included). The reason is that we have no cleric in the party, and the game world (home-brew version of Ravenloft) doesn’t provide many sufficiently-powered clerics and/or magic items to help us rid ourselves of the accursed affliction. What’s a poor, repressed PC to do?

Level Drain in Novels

Let’s begin by looking at what level drain is meant to model. It’s a little strange at first thought– why does getting bitten (or punched) by a vampire involve forgetting spells? And why do the effects of level drain last so long? A character can be healed from death’s door to almost full health with one quick spell or only a few days rest. Why can’t you overcome level drain (in older editions of D&D), and why isn’t it just part of healing (in new editions)?

I suspect an early source of inspiration for level drain was Ursula LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, which was a popular book released in 1968– shortly before D&D came together. In the book, Ged accidentally summons a gebbeth [a shadowy wraith like creature], whose touch paralyzes Ged and weakens him. When he awakens from a coma months after the attack, his spell making is halting and has to return to classes he’d previously breezed past, where he struggles for months. This is very similar to the effect of level drain in D&D; hard won knowledge (like spells, feats, and attack bonuses) are stripped away, and don’t return easily.

Other novels have similar lingering results from undead; chills that wrack the victim to the bone, the weakness of blood loss from a vampire’s feeding, and the stupor inflicted by the poisoned tails of the Dark. In books, wracking the one hero for months can be fascinating, but it doesn’t always translate well into group play.

Level Drain in Play

Throughout the editions of D&D prior to 4e, level drain was a constant feature of powerful undead. As D&D evolved through its editions, level drain maintained similar core features. In the beginning, you immediately subtracted experience from the character sheet, but this evolved into adding “negative levels” to make it quicker to approximate losing levels. This was probably tied to the increased complexity of leveling characters, which made it harder to roll them back simply.

Level drain is just about as difficult to cure as death even in 3.5. (In older editions, I remember it being even harder to cure– or at least, the cure was a lot less commonly available.)

Level drain remains an effective threat throughout a character’s life. It requires a costly, unusual spell to counter its effects– and the threat of losing months of experience does a good job of scaring the player. In low magic or restricted cure campaigns, level drain can be a terrifying effect– one that questions the character’s willingness to risk the loss of so much effectiveness in this one fight.

Level drain models one aspect of fights that general D&D doesn’t normally address: Pyrrhic victories. You can win fights against level draining monsters, and still come out well behind where you started. (The death or petrification of allies is a similar but more extreme form of the same thing.)

Mitigating Level Drain

In high magic campaigns, there’s not much need to mitigate level drain in later editions of D&D. Much like death, purchasing the proper scrolls in advance lets characters deal with the debilitating effects of level drain immediately, greatly reducing its impact. (It becomes a slightly less disrupting alternative to character death.)

In low magic campaigns, level drain can be messy and drastically influence the game. Much like the spiral of death (characters dying and being raised results in coming back at lower level, making them less able to handle the next fight, making it likely that they’ll die again and be even further behind the expected power of the adventure), level drain is cumulative and deadly. Unlucky level drains can swing battles; the wizard loses the spell that would have blasted through the battle, or the fighter begins missing by one or two instead of hitting by the same margin.

Many of the solutions that take some of the sting out of death work equally well for level drain. Here are some ways of handling level drain that might feel less punitive.

Permanent Negative Levels As currently written, if you don’t get restoration cast on your character within 24 hours and fail the saving throw, you eliminate the negative level but roll the character back one level. (So the temporary negative level is replaced by you actually doing the work of rolling your character back.) With this solution, your character is still weakened like normal, but you save the work of rolling your character back.

Negative Levels Vanish on Level Gain Borrowing from Andy Collin’s The High Cost of Dying article, energy drained levels could be treated similarly to death inflicted special negative levels. When the character advances in level normally, they also get to remove one negative level. This means negative levels stick around for a while, but they don’t permanently cripple the character.

Chills and Other Effects Depending on the way you want level draining to look, as the GM, you might want to consider using a different mechanic. Ability Drain and Damage are common among the undead, and disease like effects might better match what you imagine the touch of the undead inflicting. Similarly, the Bestow Curse options make a great shopping list of substitutions for level drain. Other spells (particularly from the necromancy school) can make great alternatives.

Level Drain and You

As a player, I know that level drain is one of the effects that I hate more than anything. It can be particularly annoying, in that it widens the level gap between the characters in a group, and makes weak characters even less useful and more likely to die. It sucks to be the fighter keeping the creatures away from the wizard– and losing levels, not just hit points, while doing your job.

As a GM, I have seen level drain be a great motivator. The players’ fear can make for a battle that feels momentous even if the creature has no chance of winning. The chance of landing a blow or two during the battle makes it tense– that’s a lot of adventuring experience on the line!

How does level drain work in your games? Have any of you faced frequent level drain, as brcarl has? Does it feel like cheating, and do you resent a mechanic that undoes months of play in a couple of hits? Are you old school and laugh at allowing fortitude saves to avoid the effect? Does level drain have a positive role in the game, or is it just an unthinking hangover from an earlier era?

About  Scott Martin

Scott is an engineer turned gnome and game store owner. He lies awake at night building intriguing worlds and plotting your character's demise.




26 Comments (Open | Close)

26 Comments To "A Chilling Touch: Level Drain"

#1 Comment By Rhamphoryncus On July 27, 2009 @ 4:32 am

We play pathfinder beta. Most level drains are temporary, meaning you get a new save every day. Some (such as from Raise Dead) are “permanent”, meaning only a rather expensive Restoration will remove them.

It still sucks a great deal. Nearly everything you do gets penalized. It doesn’t mess with party balance though, and you don’t feel like you’ve wasted the last 6 months of play.

#2 Comment By Noumenon On July 27, 2009 @ 6:14 am

When the character advances in level normally, they also get to remove one negative level

That rule is not good as stated because characters in my game are usually going to level up at the end of the session or the next session. Making it no penalty at all. So I do what Piratecat does on EnWorld:

“Instead of level loss, I use a negative level that can be removed through an active quest for the God that raised them. That lets the DM get rid of it as slowly or quickly as you like. People who have this negative level are half in and half out of the living world… they look sickly, animals don’t like them, and shadows fall on them more heavily. It’s all special effects, of course, but gives some neat role playing hooks when they run across superstitious villagers.”

#3 Comment By deadlytoque On July 27, 2009 @ 7:29 am

I hate level drain in all its forms for the same reason I hate save-or-die effects: either they are so overwhelming as to be near-crippling for a party, or the characters are powerful enough that the cure is in easy reach.

It also just feels like GM dickishness. Using level drain to neutralize your PCs’ abilities is, in my eyes, on the same level as always stocking your dungeons with crit-immune monsters and NPCs so that your rogue never does sneak attack damage. It’s an ability that does nothing but make your players feel assaulted.

That said, if that’s the feeling you are going for (such as in a semi-adversarial “old-skool” game), then more power to you! That’s just not how I butter my gaming toast.

#4 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On July 27, 2009 @ 7:54 am

@Noumenon – I like that!

As a GM, I appreciate Level Drain as something that actually has some long-term consequences. That said, I’m hesitant to use it just as a side-effect of getting struck by an undead critter. I think it should be ‘earned’ by a narrative cause, such as something you get from desecrating an evil altar, getting cursed by a demon, etc.

(Spoiler Alert!)

An extreme literary example of ‘level drain from a narrative cause’ is from The Deed of Paksenarrion, when Paks loses everything she has gained as a warrior, and is terrified of any kind of confrontation.

Excellent trilogy, by the way… Some of the best fantasy I’ve ever read.

#5 Comment By Robert On July 27, 2009 @ 8:33 am

Back in my AD&D days, I hated level drain until someone pointed out to me the way it creates fear in players. Sure, it’s metagamey, but I think it simulates fear in D&D better than anything else can.

This was reinforced for me more recently, when Gygax was relating a story of a game a few years back. In it, his PC immediately fled at the sight of a level-draining creature. You shouldn’t stick around to get level-drained. At most, you should lose one level due to surprise. (Unless you’re really doing something heroic like giving others time to escape.)

Then, you have to plan a way to overcome the monster without exposing yourself to being drained again. That’s the real magic of level drain. It creates a puzzle.

All that said, I’m not crazy about the bookkeeping of either old school level drain or even negative levels. I prefer to just do XP drain and ruling that it doesn’t actually change your level. It just means you have to earn-back the lost XP before advancing further.

#6 Comment By HappyFunNorm On July 27, 2009 @ 9:10 am

I’m probably in the minority, but I love level drain. It’s a fantastic role playing concept, especially if you model XP loss the way we do, in that it’s not just levels, but experience and memories. That mighty fighter might have lost a few levels, but that pales in comparison to the fact that he no longer remembers his wife or daughter.

Level Drain also provides a way to greatly color your character’s personality. It’s traumatic enough to actually change their personality, or engender new phobias or even mental illness.

It’s not something that should be thrown around at every encounter, but when it’s used properly it’s game changing and (in my experience) always fun and interesting.

I hate having my characters petrified, since they can no longer do anything at all, but I actually enjoy level drain. Except for death, there’s no more traumatic experience for your character to live through, and provides no end of narrative possiblities!

#7 Comment By drow On July 27, 2009 @ 9:17 am

my players used to grudgingly accept the reality of level drain,
until the ‘captain ahab and the wight whale’ incident.

after that, i’ve stayed clear of it for the sake of my own well-being.

#8 Comment By TwoShedsJackson On July 27, 2009 @ 9:18 am

I’m fine with level-draining, with three caveats:

1. It should be very, very rare — not something that can roll up in the form of a wandering monster.

2. It should relate to the big plot and ideally the BBEG. If a victory is to be Pyrrhic, the victory itself better be pretty damned important.

3. There should be a way to resist it, just as there is to resist fire, poison, etc. I’m playing 4e now, so I’ve kind of lost track — was there a “Resist Negative Energy” spell or potion or something in 3e or 3.5e?

#9 Comment By Zig On July 27, 2009 @ 9:19 am

I use level drain very, very rarely. When I do, however, it scares the hell out of my players. Nothing more unnerves them like the possibility of losing a level.

In my last 2nd edition campaign I used level drain once. The player who had the bad luck to be level drained was visibly shaken and I believe angry at me over it. At that point of the adventure there was only one encounter left, so the player was at a disadvantage in it and he felt the loss of level deeply.

As my campaign was relatively high magic (and the player was upset) he had little trouble using a cleric contact in the city to get the level restored. It cost the party a good deal of gold (they all pitched in good comrades that they are) which had the advantage of siphoning off the large amount of treasure the party had acquired (I had gone a bit too far into the ‘monty haul’ direction.

In the future, I think I’ll stay away from level drain, or make it known to the players that they are facing something that can level drain so they use appropriate tactics to avoid melee contact with the baddie.

#10 Comment By Razjah On July 27, 2009 @ 9:35 am

I think draining levels isn’t worth the problems that it causes a player. The player feels upset and useless and really gets nothing to work with. Death and being brought back can have plot importance and add a lot of role playing, should it be chose to. But a level drain makes a character seem useless. Yes losing a few spells and hit points might not really matter that much as the party can compensate, but the player feels like they suddenly have no use in the party,. I think the player feeling useless is the worst effect of the level drain.

#11 Comment By GiacomoArt On July 27, 2009 @ 10:09 am

@deadlytoque: I agree 100%. And I find myself pointing this out way too often, but I was deep into D&D before most people who cling to the term “old school” had ever seen a d20. Early versions of D&D were the direct offspring of war games, and even though the game remains among the most heavily combat- and miniatures-biased of RPGs, most of what’s fallen by the wayside in later versions is the “war game” stuff.

Ironically, each new edition of D&D has still provided a better set of tactical combat rules, and 4E is the most effectively designed tactical-combat RPG I’ve ever seen. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with playing out a war-game flavored campaign with D&D rules, but the undeniable fact of the matter is that the vast majority players (even combat-addicts) sit down at the table wanting something more than just a war game, or they’d be playing some game that doesn’t need a GM. D&D players show up for the shared narrative, to become the heroes of a larger-than-life story, and no matter where level drain’s inspiration came from, like so many other things Gygax thought were good ideas, it’s always been about the war-game at the expense of the narrative.

Players do want drama, tension, excitement… They want to know that they CAN lose. But just as no veteran DM would think it’s a good idea to stock his dungeons with “experience boost gems” that could each ratchet PCs up levels at a time with a few lucky rolls, no player should be asked to endure the reverse by confronting level-draining monsters during anything short of an epic confrontation.

Character experience is the true coin of the realm in RPGs. It’s what makes the campaign a campaign, and preserves the feeling of narrative progression for all involved. Cool equipment can be lost or broken. Magic items can be stolen or used up. Gold and jewels can be spent until you find yourself right back in the gutter. But at the end of the night, your PC’s experience and capabilities are his and his alone, his inalienable right, earned through countless real hours invested in imagined larger-than-life exploits. They’re his memory and his identity rolled up into one — and any DM who can’t create dramatic tension without the cheap gimmick of rolling one die and saying, “Zap! Your memory just went bye-bye,” might want to consider being a player for a while to see if he can learn the tricks of the trade from someone else.

Not that I’m opinionated or anything…

#12 Comment By HappyFunNorm On July 27, 2009 @ 11:04 am

@GiacomoArt – See, I tend to think you’re stuck in a combat oriented game. There’s so much that’s interesting about level drain, and I think it plays a an interesting role in games. It doesn’t make your character any less themselves, in fact, it creates a fascinating juxtaposition between the ideas that they are now both more and less experienced than before! It can also create a character that is both more and less powerful (if you include gains in prestige, honor and contacts and perhaps even comissions that defeating a level draining undead are sure to get you).

I find a 5th level PC that was drained down from 15th to be a much more interesting character to play and to interact with than a normal 15th level PC.

Ultimately, level drain is only really a concern if you continuously throw your PCs into high level combat. Even combat is fine if you adjust it down for the new player level.

#13 Comment By Scott Martin On July 27, 2009 @ 11:06 am

Thanks for the great comments– it sounds like level drain inspires passion (and fear), and that responses range from liking it as an important story opportunity to hating it and trying to avoid using it altogether and many points in between. Thanks for the great discussion so far.

Kurt: I know what you’re talking about in Deed; it’s a series I really enjoy.

@Noumenon – That’s an interesting way of handling it, turning it into a plot hook. I hope the other PCs go along with the refocusing of plot on the one character, but hopefully that’s a big part of how they already play.

#14 Comment By BryanB On July 28, 2009 @ 9:38 am

No doubt about it, the Level Drain was the terror of D&D ever since I started playing it. And that’s 1981 for you youngins.

Who can forget one’s first encounter with Wraiths. One PC made it back to town and he spent weeks recovering from the ordeal. Terror doesn’t begin to describe that experience.

Level Drain is a good scare and roleplaying motivator for PCs, but like all powerful tools in the hands of a GM, it is one that should not be overused or it will quickly become tiresome for the players and lose its value as a roleplaying(terror)element.

Also, for higher level games, it is appropriate for PCs to have access to knowledge about critters with Level Drain, as well as the means of countering or perhaps minimizing its effects.

#15 Comment By Airk On July 28, 2009 @ 2:22 pm

@HappyFunNorm – The trouble is that level drain is never evenly distributed. Is a level 5 character who was level drained from 15th more interesting than a “generic” level 15? Maybe, but is he any fun to play when surrounded by 4 other level 15s? No.

If you were running a solo adventure, I think there are very interesting narrative things that could be done with level drain. But in a party based adventure, making one or two characters suddenly much weaker than the rest of the group really isn’t much fun for any but the most acting-oriented roleplayers, and frankly, those players probably aren’t playing a game with level drain mechanics in the first place.

It’s really not good fun for your character to be reduced in his ability to contribute to the group.

And as reference, I’ve been playing D&D off and on for more than two decades, and even bad in the ooold days, we really didn’t like level drain. Everyone looked at it, winced, and then generally didn’t use those monsters in the adventures they ran.

#16 Comment By Rhamphoryncus On July 28, 2009 @ 4:35 pm

Pathfinder seems to be trying to converge level drain and poisons/curses: an injury that lasts not just through the current encounter, but through several after as well. Enough to make the player genuinely afraid, but without making them completely useless or interrupting longterm advancement.

http://paizo.com/paizo/blog/v5748dyo5lael

Okay, so paralysis would still really suck, but it only lasts 1 encounter, and in moderation that’s okay.

#17 Comment By Robert On July 28, 2009 @ 4:45 pm

I’ve still yet to see this case where character abilities consistently trump player contribution. I never seen mixed level parties be a problem.

Although that’s another issue. If you lost 10 levels, doesn’t that mean that either you should’ve beat feet after losing 1, there was a reason that you thought was worth that cost, or you had a jerk DM? (And in the last case, either you help him understand that was a jerky thing to do or you stop playing with him. Right?)

As a reference, I’ve been playing D&D and other role-playing games on and off for more than two decades. Back in the old days there were a lot of things I really didn’t like and ignored. In fact, I left D&D for other systems because of those things. Things that I now have a different perspective on and that have made the game more enjoyable for me than it has ever been.

#18 Comment By drow On July 28, 2009 @ 8:54 pm

the lesson i’m taking away from all this is “massive level drain is fine and does not substantially affect party balance if none of the other characters survives the encounter.” >:D

#19 Comment By Airk On July 29, 2009 @ 8:46 am

@Robert – I’m going to have to argue with your first assertion. Character abilities don’t “trump” player contribution. But they certainly walk right alongside it. Generally, unless there’s something strange with your group, player contribution is more or less equal. Everyone talks out the plan and contributes in that regard. But there’s a reason we have character sheets and dice. It’s so people can contribute even if they aren’t great planners. So people can the stout but not too clever dwarf.

What happens when you level drain one of your quieter player’s characters? Or when you level drain the character with the Int of 6 who doesn’t want to metagame by going “Hey guys, your plan is going to muck up because you haven’t properly figured out the…” etc. It’s all fine and good to level drain someone who happens to be Captain America and can pull brilliant tactics out of nowhere to contribute to the group in spite of the fact that you’ve just handed them a big ol’ handicap, but that is the exception and not the rule.

And yeah, ten levels is exageration. Four isn’t, considering there at least used to be plenty of monsters that could swipe two levels at a pop. And that’s plenty to serious imbalance people’s ability to contribute.

#20 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On July 29, 2009 @ 9:12 am

Before we flog this deceased equine any further, it really depends on the game you’re running.

A low-magic-item, high-combat D&D 3.5 game is probably not the proper place to halve a character’s level. Unless you want to ditch the player, the character, or both.

But an RP-heavy White Wolf, Savage Worlds, or indie game could probably handle it pretty well. (Savage Worlds encourages mixed levels; one high-level Edge allows players to create entry-level sidekicks.)

The critical point is, none of these games are necessarily ‘better’ or ‘more mature’ than the other. You may prefer one style over the other, but that’s purely personal taste.

By all means, keep sharing your opinions and ideas, but please remember that there are many more approaches to gaming than yours.

#21 Comment By Airk On July 29, 2009 @ 9:29 am

Yeah, it’s fine to run mixed “level” parties in White Wolf or Indiegame_03, but when one is having a discussion of “Level Drain”, I think it’s fair to assume one is talking about D&D in some edition or other, none of which have been particularly mixed-level friendly.

#22 Comment By brcarl On July 29, 2009 @ 2:37 pm

First, a big thanks to Scott for picking my post suggestion! A year is a long time to wait, but it’s still a fairly salient point, believe it or not.

I think the commentary so far is, as usual here at GS, excellent. I feel fairly vindicated in my sneering at this game mechanic called “level drain.”

As it turns out, we players did confront the DM in the campaign I originally described, and thus agreed to change the rules. The DC for the follow-up (24 hours later) save is now much lower than the rules indicate, so there is a painful SHORT TERM impact but not a semi-permanent devaluing of the poor saps who got… um, sapped.

The DM also jettisoned us from the adventure that was full of level-drainers and pointed us elsewhere. As it turns out, we’ve returned to that piece of the story just a few weeks ago. It should be interesting to see how our higher-level heroes deal with these nasty level-draining-dagger-wielders now.

#23 Comment By Martin Ralya On July 29, 2009 @ 10:18 pm

@brcarl – I want to apologize for the delay — I haven’t been as diligent about making sure we respond to Suggestion Pot requests as I should have been. I’m sorry you had to wait this long!

We’ve now just about closed out 2008 (!), and are working on 2009 suggestions. The downsides of being chaotic neutral… ;-)

#24 Comment By Scott Martin On July 29, 2009 @ 10:40 pm

@brcarl – I’m glad it proved useful to you. It sounds like you did the very best thing: talked it over honestly with your GM. It’s amazing how many problems that solves.

#25 Comment By pseudodragon On August 8, 2009 @ 4:46 am

Hey everyone,

I don’t know if anyone is still looking at this thread, seeing as it has aged some, but I was inspired by the content to come up with my own list of optional effects for level drain. Some of these ideas I shamelessly helped myself to from suggestions in this thread. Others I gleaned from curses and other nastiness in a couple of the D&D sourcebooks and, finally, many I made up myself based on what would be debilitating and distasteful for the players, but not necessarily permanent or destructive in terms of XP, and what made sense for the monsters. Personally, I would select an effect based on the specific undead creature involved and his history, but I included numbers in case you just want to roll for it when the creature is first encountered. Enjoy!

Variant: Alternatives to Level Drain

Instead of automatically draining levels, higher level undead will afflict characters in other ways that are more related to their natures or past lives or that affect the characters in ways that are more meaningful to them. A table may be consulted to determine a particular undead creatures effect or a specific effect may be crafted if the undead has a particular history or unique nature. Single level drains will likely have minor effects while multiple level drains may bring about more severe consequences. The effects may wear off slowly over time (or more quickly if the undead carrier is slain) or may require a restoration or other similarly potent magic (remove curse, limited wish, etc) to remove.

Roll on the following table for minor effects (single and double level drains):

1. Hair turns white. Colors run from his eyes, leaving a filmy, white pupil. (-2 on all charisma checks)
2. Complexion pales and becomes clammy and cool to the touch. (–2 on all charisma checks)
3. Character develops a strong body odor that smells like rotting meat. Hair and nails grow at twice the normal rate. The character loses interest in personal hygiene. (-2 on all charisma checks)
4. Character’s teeth become sharper, fangs form, and his appetite doubles. He develops a taste for fresh, bloody meat. If he doesn’t get fresh meat at least every other day (or doesn’t get enough to eat in general) the character suffers –2 on all strength checks, attacks, and damage.
5. Character’s voice becomes hollow, thin, and raspy, unsettling and unnatural to those who hear it. Bards suffer –5 on all bardic, vocal abilities. (-2 on all charisma rolls, -5 on performance: singing checks)
6. Character develops palsy. His hands shake and his face twitches. (-2 on all dexterity based rolls, -2 on all attacks)
7. The character develops arthritic, achy, sore joints. (-2” movement for humans, elves, half-elves, and half-orcs, -1” movement for dwarves, halflings and gnomes; -2 to all dexterity rolls and ranged combat)
8. The character suffers penalties as though affected by a Doom spell.
9. The character hears disembodied voices urging him to do evil acts. Casting spells becomes difficult. (Make a concentration check DC 10, -1 per spell level attempted in order to successfully cast a spell. –2 on listen, sense motive, and other concentration checks.)
10. Character suffers extreme nightmares and gains no benefits from sleeping or rest. Spellcasters must make a concentration check DC 15 for each spell they attempt to memorize or petition for. If failed, that spell slot is lost for the day.
11. Character’s breathing becomes shallow and rapid. He develops an intermittent, phlegmy, wracking cough. Anytime the character attempts strenuous physical activity (fighting, climbing, etc) he must make a constitution check DC 15 or become fatigued. If already fatigued, he becomes exhausted. The check is made once every five rounds of continued activity.
12. Animals refuse to be within 5 feet of the character and do not respond to the character’s commands or requests.
13. The character’s touch kills green plants.
14. Even after healing, the scars from the undead’s attack on the character continue to throb with pain. Every time the character suffers damage, the scars throb for an additional hit point of damage.
15. Character suffers uncontrollable seizures for 1d4 rounds anytime he rolls a 1 in combat.
16. At the first sign of blood, character must make a will save DC 15 or wretch and vomit for 1d4 rounds. Check once per encounter or event.
17. Vermin are attracted to the character. Each day 5d12 flies, spiders, centipedes, cockroaches, or other pests will accompany the character. Any insects killed are soon replaced. (-2 on charisma checks)
18. The undead creature’s attacks are treated as wounding attacks.
19. The character is subject to uncontrollable fits of maniacal laughter or great jags of moaning and weeping (50% chance of either) lasting 1d3 rounds. (4-6 times per day)
20. The character suffers extreme fright and must make a will save DC 20 or flee for 2d4 rounds. Thereafter, the character suffers a –4 penalty on any saving throws vs fear.

Roll on the following table for major effects (double level drains):
1. The character ages into the next age category.
2. Character’s senses are destroyed, roll 1d6 twice (1-blinded, 2-deafened, 3-loss of smell and taste, 4-loss of touch, 5-muted, 6-DM’s choice based on nature of creature) inflicted the damage. The points then return 1/day. Restoration spells can return all but one of the drained points. The final point only returns once the creature is slain.)
3. Character is marked. Other undead must make a DC 15 will save to attack anyone but the character. Mindless undead do not get a saving throw.
4. Character is afflicted with (and is a carrier of) a disease (requiring a cure disease and either a successful remove curse or the death of the undead creature to cure.)
5. Attack deals double damage with the hit points transferring to the attacking undead creature. The undead loses 1 transferred hit point per hour. Lost hit points in the possession of the undead cannot be healed with magic, but can be recovered with rest. All hit points can be healed by magic or recovered with rest once the inflicting undead creature is slain.
6. One of the character’s limbs (roll 1d4, 1- right arm, 2-left arm, 3-right leg, 4-left leg) withers and is unusable until a regenerate spell is applied. If the affected limb is an arm, spells with somatic components cannot be cast.
7. Character seems to be suffer level drain, but is actually infected with a bit of the undead creature’s spirit. If the undead creature survives the encounter with the characters, the affected character can attempt a DC 25 fortitude saving throw each day to regain the lost level. If the characters slay the undead creature, then the same daily fortitude saving throw is attempted each day, but a failure indicates that the creature’s spirit has possessed the character. The character now becomes an NPC until he is slain or the possessing spirit is exorcised. If the character makes his saving throw by five or more, the creature’s spirit is defeated, the level restored, and no more saves are necessary. Otherwise, the character may regain the lost level and feel fine, but the DM should still make daily saving throws to see if the creature takes control.
8. 3d2 Characteristic drain. The undead gains 1 characteristic point for each successful attack. The point gained fades after 1 hour. (Points lost can be regained by slaying the undead that drained the character. They then return at a rate of 1 point per day.)
9. The character takes on an unhealthy appearance (-6 charisma). Hair falls out in clumps; eyes become sunken and reddened; flesh takes on a flaccid, damp, pale greenish pallor; nails and teeth grow longer and yellow; and his body develops a foul, decomposing odor that spooks animals. The character’s voice becomes raspy and hollow and his movements become shaky.
10. Character is affected by level drain normally.

#26 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On September 1, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

Keep in mind that Level drain was introduced in early edditions of DnD and, despite what people seem to think, in 1st and 2nd edition being level drained is no big deal. It FEELS like a big deal, but keep in mind the 2xXP rule of thumb. For the same reason that starting a new PC at level 1, no matter the level of the rest of the party, was no big deal (by the time the rest of the party gained enough xp to level, the lvl 1 character had gained enough xp to reach the level below them) no ammount of level drain was really significant. It was a temporary slap on the wrist, and big slice of humble pie for a few sessions.

In 3e+, the xp requirements are much closer to a linear progression, so it’s much more significant. Hence, the much easier methods of dealing with it.


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