Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Level Limits and Level Draining

I've been reading a lot of BS lately, both in posts and comments, about level limits and level draining in D&D. Most of the comments are directed toward Old School games but some are also directed to Monte's shameful 5e post where he threw out the baby with the bathwater:

For example, it would be difficult to imagine that THAC0 would make a comeback. Armor Class values going down to represent them getting better. System shock rolls. Racial level limits...

For the record, I have zero problem with level limits. I prefer to play dwarves if the rolls go that way. I've played dwarves (and other demi-humans) for a long time. They have all had level limits. There's no crying, moaning, or god-damn belly-aching. I've yet to have a demi-human actually reach a level limit. Our games are too lethal.

I also have no problem with level draining (as those of you who have read Barrowmaze already know). Guess what? If you don't want to be drained a level - lift tail and run the fuck away. I am cowardly enough to know there's a time to get the F outta dodge. Hell, stab a hireling or fellow PC to slow him down to make good your escape (you want to play with me now, don't you? lol). Do what you gotta do. I'm looking forward to the day I get level drained to zero and rise as a unholy member of the undead! Huzzah!

Moral of the story. I think some folks need to stop the "my tummy hurts" nonsense and just play the damn game.


  1. I was not a fan of level draining because it made no sense in terms horror tropes.
    Why would a vampire or a succubus attack a normal human when it can have a nice fat (in terms of levels) adventurer. I guess my point of view is the Normal Human is norm and the world is built around them.
    EX: Jonathan, Mina and Lucy were not "high level" in Dracula yet they were all attacked (drained) multiple times.
    For the same reason I also don't like "negative levels", even if they mechanically make more sense.

    I prefer CON and STR drains myself.

    A high level fighter is not going to worry about loosing a level, but loosing STR is much scary a concept.
    Plus a normal (0-level) human can still loose STR or CON and allow for multiple attacks.

    1. I actually agree with regard to the vampire. I've never really felt that the D&D vampire was a good match for the Dracula archetype.

      However the energy drain monster par excellence is the wraith. (Though don't forget about wights and spectres also.) And the thing about level drain is that it produces a visceral fear in players like pretty much nothing else. Which is exactly what an undead like the wraith should feel like. So count me as a fan.

      Level draining undead are really obstacles, not foes. The risk/reward ratio is rarely worth confronting them, even for relatively high-level characters.

    2. A high level fighter is not going to worry about loosing a level, but loosing STR is much scary a concept.

      Did you really mean to say that a high-level character is not going to worry about losing a level? How many hundreds of thousands of XP is that one level worth? If by high level you mean 8 or 9, the XP lost from one level is likely to be half the entire XP total, due to the pseudo-exponential nature of the XP progression. Depending on the edition you are playing, there may be no restoration spells for sale either (I don't think there is any way to undo level drain in B/X, for example).

    3. And never mind fighters, but magic-users especially. Suddenly weakened and deprived of the power to muster forth powerful wards and attacks? Ghastly stuff...

  2. If you've never actually had a character hit the level limit, then you really haven't ever actually played with level limits. And that's one of the problem with level limits. For most people, for most games, the limit never comes into play, and so it isn't really a limit at all.

    1. All I got to say is multi classing solves the problems of Levle Limits, Demi Humnas have it Humans don't.


  3. @Tim, I think ability draining blows because it's just another thing the DM has to track - no thanks.

    @Steven, bullshit. I accepted the level limitations when I selected the character. Just because he didn't get there is moot. There are so many other factors that influence how high a group can advance that I don't understand your statement at all. The point is that I've accepted I'm not going to become a whiny bitch if the other characters want to continue past my level limitations.

    1. Actually, if you have enough level draining monsters, then nobody has to worry about level caps! It's a win/win and everybody should be happy about it. (sarcastic grin)

      @Kiltedyaksman, It's easy to be satisifed with something that works out in your favor most of the time. You get the benefits of being a dwarf until then. It's like making a bet that you get $5 now, and you have to pay out $100 if something really unlikely happens. The Cubs or Clippers winning the championship, a third party candidate winning the US Presidency, that sort of thing. I'd make that bet any day of the week, and I wouldn't be a whiny bitch if I lost, either.

      But if you want to see how others feel about level caps, for your next game set the level caps down to about half of the average level acheived. See how that affects your enjoyment of the game.

  4. Also, for those that dislike level limits, this post by Jeff is a must-read:


    It might not change your mind, but at least you will have another perspective.

  5. Level draining in concept works fine, a calamitous brush with undeath causes there to be less of you.

    The problem with level draining comes in when there are a host of level dependent features that must be recalculated and the math isn't as simple as -1 per level lost.

  6. Level draining is a wake up call. Vampires, you say? Time to quickly re-evaluate priorities. Is a fight against level-drainers advisable at this time? If not, run like the devil is behind you. Come back better prepared and kick undead ass. You want a formula for epic gaming? There it is.

  7. Hell, stab a hireling or fellow PC to slow him down to make good your escape

    After the first half of season 2 of The Walking Dead, I now call this tactic, "pulling a Shane."

    I'm totally with you on level-drain. It puts the scary into undead creatures, and I'm all for it; otherwise they're just orcs with pale complexions.

    One of my players, of the new-school generation, recently made the mistake of tackling and attempting to grapple a wight. He got to join the 'undead intern program.'

  8. Moral of the story. I think some folks need to stop the "my tummy hurts" nonsense and just play the damn game.

    No guts. No glory. No riot.

  9. Magic aside, a level drained character can always level up again.

    A character that has lost 2 Con or 2 Str has no recourse, they are stuck.

    That's what I prefer and tend to use in my horror-themed D&D games.

  10. Re: level drain, it's a playstyle question more than a mechanics question.

    If you're playing Yaksman style, you're playing "hardcore", to use a video game term. No save points/reset button, no expectation of a long career with one character, etc. Removing level drains means you're not playing hardcore.

    Not everyone plays that way. The guys in my office play RPGs for a good story. They want to spend a lot of time in a fictional world playing fictional characters over the course of their fictional lives. To them, sudden death or character-ending penalties like level drain are as counter to their play-style as a save point is for Yaksman.

    Saying this is wimping out is missing the point. The guys who want to spend a lot of time with their PCs might say that a super-grim game where you're encouraged to murder your companions is "wimping out", since you don't have to make tough choices the way you might in a game where such actions would have lasting consequences.