Monday, 10 August 2009

The first level drainer encountered

I used to DM for a group of friends, as a teenager. During that time, we played a homebrew campaign and threw in a few modules for good measure. We had a blast and from time to time we still talk about those times even now. It created some good memories (like the time the party's thief split from the party, was ambushed by goblins in a forest and left tied to a tree naked!) but during all of that time, I never deployed level draining undead. I always operated under the assumption that they were overpowered and that players hated them. I would never put them into any encounter, assuming that they were completely unbalanced.

I was wrong.

I picked D&D back up last year after reading a little about the retro clones, and with a different group of people, I now DM a Labyrinth Lord campaign (I actually started with only one player and have picked up some more along the way). I run another (completely different) homebrew campaign with modules dropped in at various points to add some variety. Anyhow, I decided to make an encounter deck for night time encounters that included a lot of undead. The best time to encounter the undead is at night, right? ;-)

When selecting what should go into this deck I had to make a choice: use level draining undead in there, or not? I deliberated over it for a bit and then figured, what the heck, let's give it a try and test my assumptions. What a test, I know. Going from one extreme to the other... never using them, to adding them to the random encounters sure is one hellova way to test my assumptions!

Last night was our weekly game session and guess what, we had a random encounter occur at night. The party member that was on watch, Boris Blood, noticed an incorporeal figure advancing on the camp, wearing a suit of armour. It's face was frozen in a contorted look of horror. He roused the group, who tried to hail the apparition, but it ignored their attempt to parlay and continued to advance on them. They readied their weapons and fought the thing.

The party is mostly made up of 4th level characters and aside from one of their henchmen panicking and almost fleeing the battle field, the fight went very well. The wraith was defeated, although the group panicked when they found it could fly and it was going straight towards the party wizard (it was a funny moment to see him sprint away as fast as he could!), but overall, nothing unbalancing happened at all.

So now I've realised, level draining undead aren't so bad after all.. but perhaps best not to deploy them against really low level characters (say, levels one to three).


Noumenon said...

How many levels were drained, and are they permanently gone?

The Recursion King said...

Would you believe it, no one got level drained at all because one of the henchmen (a wizard) created an illusion of the wraith, which it attacked instead.. so the one attack it did get was actually against an illusion while the fighters slashed into it with their magic swords and the thief sneaked behind it with a backstab... finishing it off!

Dyson Logos said...

With that "no levels lost" caveat, I posit that you haven't actually tested to see how the players react to actual level-draining.

I've generally avoided level-draining undead in the games I run, but in the B/X game I'm playing in we got hit by a level-drainer and it hurt. And who lost a level? The character who takes the most XP to level up, the elf.

In AD&D I hated the level drainers. But now that we've been playing a "hardcore" B/X campaign (we went through a TPK and then ... four fighters I think ... before we got one fighter to successfully level up), we've had the classic "grin and bear it" response when we deal with scary as hell undead like that.

The Recursion King said...

Good point.

I'll be sure to blog about when one of the characters loses a level to a level drainer in future now that I've realised that they aren't so bad after all!

An elf losing a level sure would sting a bit.. but if your DM lets priests restore the lost level for gold [i'd recommend perhaps a thousand for the price] than all is not lost. My players asked about this after the encounter and now know the service is there.

Dyson Logos said...

Good point.

I play B/X usually, not LL, and B/X doesn't have level 7 spells, so I've never had access to "restoration" in my regular games.