Tag Archives: Undead

OSR Level Drain Alternative

Disclaimer: This post and the mechanics within are based around the rules for aging that appear in LotFP, I’ve not tested it with other OSR systems, but I believe it would work with some minor tweaking.

This post talks about an alternative I’ve started using for level-draining creatures in my game and why I chose to do so.

What’s the problem with level-drain?

So you might ask me why I don’t just use level-draining creature as is, there are a number of potential issues with it IMO:

  • All the hard work of attaining levels can be removed with a few unlucky dice rolls.
  • Depending on the creature it can slay even very touch PCs extremely quickly.
  • It can create a party imbalance if only a few of the characters get level-drained.

You could say that these things are what make level-draining creatures so scary, and that threatening the player’s precious XP and levels is sure to put the fear of God into them, and there is certainly an argument to be made in that regard, however for me I think that there’s already a threat to players XP and levels, it’s called death and occurs with enough regularity in a lot of OSR games that you don’t need a quick-acting, super death in the form of level-drainers.

An Alternate Suggestion

Noah Stevens got in touch with me on Facebook (thanks Noah) to say “I don’t know. The argument that SuperDeath is too harsh seems to me to be sort of flat when Resurrection and Reincarnation abound” and that “a couple of years here n there are nothing.”

Certainly a valid viewpoint and I can understand how the easy available of resurrection would lessen the impact of level-drain, however to the best of my knowledge such magic is not commonly availabe in LotFP (although I understand that the commonality of it varies depending on the OSR system in question), regardless I tend not to allow it at all in my own games. Without delving into the subject–which could be a series of blog articles on it’s own–I believe it lessens risk and therefore sense of achievement when the PCs triumph.

The exact amount of ‘aging’ that a PC gets from being hit by this version of Level Drain is a very good point, and i’ll admit that I’ve erred on the side of caution starting with 2D6 years, I am considering upping this to 5+2D10 years in future.

So what can we replace it with?

Well before we can replace it, I think we need to ask ourselves a couple of very important questons:

What does Level Drain represent?

The D&D3.5 SRD describes level drain attacks as “sapping a living opponent’s vital energy”, the very name of the ability (sometimes also known as Energy Drain) paints a picture of a foul monster literally drained the vitality and life out of an opponent, reducing them to a withered lifeless husk.

What is the purpose of Level Drain in game?

I think Level Drain serves a few useful purposes in OSR-style games (and probably modern D&D as well):

1. It frightens the players and places their characters in peril.

2. It ramps up the threat, circumventing the often lengthy process of whittling down HP.

3. It creates a vampiric feel to the creature they are attacking (especially since it’s often undead possessing this ability).

My replacement version

This was a problem I faced recently when prepping for my Rose of Westhaven campaign (which is run using LotFP in the Midderlands setting), my PCs are exploring a large underground cavern system with a river flowing through it, attempting to locate the source of water pollution causing trouble for the Town of Blymouth (for those not in the know, the Middlerlands is a twisted, green-tinged version of the United Kingdom, I highly recommend you check it out here). As I was creating the dungeon I placed the undead remnants of an ancient Goman (the Midderlands thinly veiled version of Romans) battalion in there, lead by Caius Veridius a Wight.

I’ve built up a small stock of OSR books now, so finding Wight stats wasn’t difficult, but they all seemed to involve Energy/Level Drain and–like I said earlier–I have a few issues with it, apart from that though I really like the creature and the concept of it. As I was leafing through my LotFP corebook looking for some inspiration, I stumbled across the aging system in Lamentations.

The way aging works in Lamentations is that when your character reaches a certain age you have to make a Saving Throw verses Poison at regular intervals (determined by your species), if the roll is failed then you lose a point off a random stat:

SpeciesNo Modifier-2-4Interval
Dwarf2002503005
ElfElves don’t ageElves don’t ageElves don’t ageElves don’t age
Halfling70801001
Human4050601

The rules also specify that anyone aged by magical means has to make all Saving Throws that would have need to be made if the aging had occurred naturally immediately, with any ability score penalties also being applied immediately.

This seems like a great way of representing Energy Drain to meet, what better way to represent the life-force being leeched out of you than by reducing a strong, burly warrior to a decrepit, aging husk in the space of a few moments. Not really having clear guidelines on how to pitch this I decided to have the Wight age a character by 2D6 years when they hit, in addition to the normal damage, although–in hindsight–since most characters tend to start in their prime and humans don’t even start making rolls until they hit 40, I may up this a little in the future.

Another cool thing that came out of this during the session was that the players tried to bar a door against the Wight, and I decided that–since the Wight could age things–that it would use it’s abilities to rot the wooden door and pursue them, it also gave me some cool visuals for the lair with everything rusting and in a state of decay.

Maximum Age

One thing that a player brought up–and that I hadn’t considered–is what is the maxium age of the various species in the game, I couldn’t find any real guidelines for this in LotFP (save that Elves are immortal) so I searched around the internet and found maxium age figures on the 3.5SRD), which suggested the following.

SpeciesMaximum Age (in years)
Dwarf450
ElvesDo not age and are effectively immortal.
Halfling200
Human90

Caradoc ap Segovax: An old tale ends and a new one begins (Age of Arthur, Session 4)

When my eyes opened, the shape of the mighty wyrms lightning still clinging to my vision, I could see Scotia battling against a crowd of the deathless cursed, aided by the fey knights of our Kindly One escort; falling to my knees I sunk my fingers into the soil in the hope that our outsurge of power had contained the curse. Again I was assailed by the vision of the woman, being burnt alive by followers of the false risen God, I blinked away tears as she cried out in agony, calling on the dark forces of the Morrigan to avenge her death and punished the false believers; then, in the darkness beneath the worl, I felt the Morrigan answer. Rising shakily to me feet I groaned, the curse was empowered by the goddess of death and battle, it could not be contained or stopped until she was appeased, I shouted for Scotia to lead the deathless over to where I stood, perhaps if we sacrificed the bodies of these non-believers to true death then the goddess would be satisfied.
Scotia shouted over, the cursed seemed unable to move beyond the gateway from the village as though something held them inside, she also told me that she had seen a brown robed man in the town who appeared to be fending off the creatures; I should have known, the deathless were not the ones being punished, they were Morrigans punishment on another, this figure wearing the drab joyless robes of the new religion. Pulling my raven’s mantle around me I took flight and flew in the direction indicated by Scotia and felt anger flare within me as I saw the man attempting to repel the will of Morrigan with his puling faith; landing behind the man and assuming my human form I swung my staff into his head screaming “Your greed and your murderous nature have bought this doom on is all, and now you will pay for your crimes!”
The man stagger briefly and, seizing my opening, I let my hatred and loathing for his faith flow fourth from me like a black cloud which surged into his mind; the man’s eyes rolled back and I felt the spark of his life in my hands, it would have required just one small effort to extinguish, but no, the man had shown no mercy when he burnt that poor woman alive and neither would I. Pouring the power of this place and of my fury, enhanced by thatr of the Morrigan into the writhing man I severed his connection to whatever powers of faith he possessed, forever after he would know that the god made by man was no match for the ancient gods of the world.
A black shape began to gather like a storm cloud as the deathless were released and began to collapse, reognising it for what it was I dropped to my knees and bowed my head as the Morrigan made herself known, Siann who had been proteting me from the deathless did likewise; from the corner of my eye I saw the fey priestess round the corner, obviously having sensed the goddess, she immediately bowed her respects.
“You have not suffered enough” said the Morrigan is a voice like rotting flesh draped in velvet, with a gesture of her hand the limp form of the monk hurtled into a nearby pile of masonry.
Seeming to calm slightly the Morrigan bid me to stand and continued, “It is good, you have found a way to exact suitable vengeance, I will remove the curse.” She reached out a hand and produced a feather made from twisting smoke and shadows that I reverently accepted, explaining that I could not have carried out the vengeance without the support of our Huntsmaster Siann, our warrior Scotia, the support of the great wyrm and our Kindly One hosts.
Nodding the Morrigan lighting touched Siann’s sword and the blade turned a deep black, from within the folds of her robe she produced a similarly coloured hammer and handed it to Scotia saying “You will need this for your great task metal-worker.”
After the goddess had conversed with the fey in their own ancient tongue she turned to us and asked “What is it that you seek?”
“We are searching for a way to unite the people and return them to the old way” spoke Siann our Huntmaster
“Then leave this fool to live,” she said gesturing to the monk “his life will be long and painful; but go you into the forest to the place where the egg of the great wyrm lies, the Fair Ones will not trouble you whilst you are about this task, build a weapon that is worthy of a new king and thrust it into the stone. When he who an draw the sword is found then you will have your king.”
There was a loud cawing and the Morrigan dispersed, bursting apart into a cloud of ravens that fluttered into the sky.
With a loud thumping of wings the ancient wyrm landed nearby and beyond it in the sky was a burning burnished eye that seemed to stare down at the magnificent creature, I bowed low and said “Great one you have honoured us with your presence, if there is any way that we can repay your kindness all you need do is ask.”
“Your belief in my kind will be sufficient young one,” replied the great wyrm Bes “sufficient for me and my own god, thank you for the learning experience, it has been enlightening” and with mighty beats of its wings the wyrm was gone.
“How are we going to move the shell?” asked Scotia, a quick search of the town revealed a salvageable cart and some working animals, we quickly had them hitched up and ready to move, I also managed to take some useful powders and uguents from what must have been the town herballist’s before the curse. Scotia was excited that she had discovered a roman forge and immediately set about unlocking its secrets and working out how to transport it with us.
The excited voice of the Kindly One Slip caught our ears as he ran back into the town, reporting that, with the curse gone, the black fungus had begun to transform into the normal red and white spotted toadstools of the woodland. The elfish priestess approached saying that they would open a fey doorway to the forest where the egg lay in return for being allowed to contribute to the swords construction, gratefully we agreed and soon found ourselves in the forest by the egg where Scotia busied herself erecting the forge and Siann pumped the bellows.
A single shaft of sunlight shone through the canopy and illuminated a mossy patch of grass that seemed almost a perfect circle, it would appear that we had found the place where our sword would rest.
Days seemed to blur by as the sword was forged, and what a sword, made of cold iron heating so as to no longer prove anathema to the Kindly Ones, blessed by the elfish priestess and my own magics, in the moonlight it shone with twin inscriptions formed from my glamour:
FORGED FROM THE OLD WE MAKE THE FUTURE ANEW

WHAT IS ANCIENT ENDURES
Heated by strange flames from fey glass that they called dragonfire the warmth of the forge and sparks suffused the clearing until the endeavour was complete and, as the sword was held high, I produced the feather than Morrigan had gifted me and instructed Scotia to incorporate it into the blade; my gifts told me that it would make the blade proof against the passage of time and protect the wearer from harm.
Scotia plunged the sword into the stone and our work was done, biding us well the Fair Ones opened a door to our home village in the north, the snows had just begun to fall and the sound of feasting and merriment echoed forth from the celebration hall.
Bidding our hosts farewell we stepped through the door, I rapped on the hallway door with my staff three times and the Huntsmaster threw them open to reveal our kin revelling within, telling ancient stories and tales of our tribes history, a smile crossed the Huntsmaster’s face as she spoke:
“I have a story to tell you.”

Caradoc ap Segovax: A Darkling Village (Age of Arthur, Session 3)

With our escort of the Kindly Ones we made our way through the forest, guided with all speed past the natural hazards of this great place, heading southwestwards; my heart grew heavier as we neared the darkling village and I contemplated what doom the unbelievers and worshippers of the false god had bought down upon all of our heads. Whilst Soctia marvelled at the shining arms and armour of our guides we began to descend into a valley, the air growing soupy and quite unlike the pure clean vapours of our northern home. We stopped a days walk from our destination and built ourselves a small campfire, once more seeking to divine the will of the gods I stirred the ashes of the fire, peering into the swirling cauldron of red and black; I glimpsed a tall structure many leagues from us, some sort of building rising in a point into the sky as though foolish men had tried to reach the heavens. I sensed a great blackness that had experienced it’s birth within that strange place; but the gods showed me that the darkness did not extend to all places equally it seemed to have most affected those places who clung like drowning men to the false faiths, had it just affected them I might have been content to see it as divine punishment for their lack of true faith, but now it festered and threatened to corrupt the entire land, such evil could only lurk in the hearts of men.
Made cautious by my vision our fey guide pulled Sianns shadow over her to shield her from unfriendly eyes whilst I pulled natures mantle around my shoulders and, testing my new feathered wings, followed them towards the village. Siann quickly spotted a strange blood ref fungus with black stems that appeared to be blanketing the marshy land around the village, I examined it but it was like nothing I had seen before, our guide also seemed puzzled but said that he could sense that the spores were causing the land to rot and that it had grown by no natural means. As we left the trees a hazy black cloud of evil hung over the village and, believing danger to be close, we diverted back to collect Scotia from where she had remained with the rest of our guides; we appeared to arrive just as two of the more important Kindly Ones, a horned man and green woman, were having a heated arguement about how to deal with the village. The horned man told us to take ‘Slip’ a more human looking fey who bowed and wove a disguise around himself from glamour with us as his eyes to the village.
As we journeyed back to the cursed village my divinations revealed that the toadstools were park of some curse or pox on the new faith, but it was one that now threatened to spill outside its boundaries, one empowered by pain and loss terrible to comprehend; a mournful tolling sound accompanied our approach as a funeral bell rung from the top of the largest building in the village although it rose nowhere near as tall as the strange point that I had seen in my visions. Once more becoming one with the creatures of the air I soared up to where the bell tolled and could see how the haze seemed to carry the cursed spores from elsewhere, my ravens eyes spied the distant steeple that I had seen in my visions, leaping from the roof I flew towards the source of the evil infecting the land.
As I alighted and shook off my raven feather cloak the land around the spire was burnt and parched, I could feel in my bones that a follower of the old ways had been burnt here, and that in his death throes he had cried out for justice… no, not justice… vengeance, for that is the way of our gods to punish those who do us wrong; the death cries of the sufferer seemed to fill the clearing for a moment and I could sense the tremendous energies and agony that had infused their final curse. Pushing back with my own power I felt the strength of the curse bend but not break, here was more rage and pain than could be dealt with by any single man, druid or no.
Flying back to where I had left Siann and Scotia I heard an urgent knocking from the centre building; flinging the door open I saw a shambling horde of lost souls pursuing my companions, dead and yet kept suffering through the power of the curse, Siann slammed the door and, I gestured for torches to be made as we purified the building with cleansing fire.
Slip emerged from the shadows, seeming anxious to leave, I told him what I had seen and that the power of all of us, mortal and Kindly Ones, would be required to break the curse; gesturing at a shimmering in the air he lead us through a fey doorway back to his fellows, after some debate they agreed to accompany us. As we arrived near the birthplace of the curse, more of the cursed dead shambled from the darkness, as the fey warriors and Scotia held them back through force of arms, the remainder of the Fair Ones prepared their magics to batter at the resistance of the curse; I had one last gamble, with a need born of desperation, I screamed the name of the great wyrm Bes in my mind and was rewarded by the crash of thunder in the distance.
Above the roar of the thunder and the groaning of the dead I shouting for Siann to place her spear into the ground and call on the blessing of the Huntmaster to aid us, myself and the Fair Ones joined together forcing our power through Siann and into the spear, and through it into the ground, seeking to cleanse and purify it.
“Bes, we need you, the land needs you!”
A forked tongue of lightning struck the spear and I felt the power of the ancient wyrm rip through my body.
Then everything went black.