Monday, October 15, 2012

Of Vampires and Energy Draining

I've been watching some vampire-themed movies lately (The Lost Boys and Salem's Lot in particular).  So I've got vamps on the brain.  Which of course leads me to think of energy draining.

I've heard folks complain about the D&D vampire for doing a double energy drain in combat.  Some folks complain that vampires in legends, folklore and modern literature and cinema are blood-suckers.  Shouldn't they have a blood draining attack?  Others just complain about the energy drain mechanic in general, and the fact that vampires (and specters) have a double energy drain.

Well, I was thinking about the vampire's attack.  In the literature, vampires tend to suck blood from sleeping or charmed and therefor "willing" victims.  When Van Helsing and Harker come after Drac, he doesn't try to "suck your blood" [please read that in a cheesy Bela Lugosi accent].  Nothing in the D&D write-up of the vampire prevents them from feeding on blood.  But when adventurers attack, no vampire is gonna try and sink their teeth through steel gorgets, and even if they managed that, they wouldn't be able to suck enough blood to cause much damage before they get pummeled with magical weapons and such. 

No, vampires save blood sucking for feeding.  When they're in danger, they use a much more insidious attack, the energy drain.

And of course, we're always tinkering with energy drain, aren't we?  I had been thinking to modify it so that instead of losing levels, a PC just lost the XP.  They would still function as whatever level they were before the attack, they'd just need to earn a lot more XP to get up to the next level.  So, for example, a 5th level Fighter hit by a wight or wraith's energy drain attack would drop down to 12,000 XP (halfway between 4th and 5th), and if hit by a specter or vampire's double energy drain would drop to 6,000 XP (halfway between 3rd and 4th), but in either case would still function as a 5th level Fighter until earning 32,000 XP and making 6th level.

This would save lots of book-keeping.  No need to refigure hit points, attack values, saving throws, spells, Thief skills or undead Turning. 

Another idea I just had this morning would be the opposite.  The PC effectively drops down to whatever level the energy drain attack would drop them to, but the PC keeps their current XP total.  As soon as they make enough XP to gain whatever the next level would be, they get all lost levels back and gain the new level as well.  So, our 5th level Fighter above would function as a 4th level Fighter after a wight/wraith drain, or as a 3rd level Fighter after a specter/vampire drain, as normal.  But would keep his, let's say, 20,850 XP.  When the Fighter earns 32,000 XP, he would become a 6th level Fighter.

I'm not sure which I like better.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages.


  1. You're not the only one immersed in horror movies- my wife's been getting in the Halloween spirit and so it's been one horror movie after the other. I love it!

    I also love both of your ideas. The first one is a little more forgiving, and is probably the one I'd use. Painful, aggravating, and sure to make people wish they'd avoided the heck out of vampires, but not something that's entirely crippling.

    The second is a cool idea, too, but it's a whole lot harsher. You do get to keep your hard-earned experience, but you're essentially lower level for longer, what with the way the XP required for leveling increases exponentially.

    Sorry if I went on a bit.

    1. Idea number 2 would be very relative. If you were near leveling up when hit by an energy drain, it would be much nicer. You'd only need a couple hundred to a couple thousand XP, and then you get all the lost levels back, plus your new level. If you'd just started in on your new level, then it would suck as you'd have a long way to go.

      But normal, by the book level drain actually punishes you more the closer you are to leveling up. This idea would be the opposite.

      Still, like you say, option 1 is less punishing. The PC can still adventure with the rest of the crew without "letting the team down" or having to cower in the back. And as I noted, makes for less bookwork (the part of energy drain that I dislike the most is rejiggering all the PC details).


  2. The level drain is a bad idea. It immediately puts the mechanics of the game system front and forward. A constitution drain does the job nicely and keeps the players involved in the game without pulling aside the curtain and having them twiddle with the nuts and bolts.

  3. I am more about the Ability score drain myself.

    Here is what I said on that a bit ago,

    Everything you talked about though would work nicely as well.

  4. Ive never considered lv drain permanent - whats the problem? a cleric will fix it - vampires have so many weaknesses - like sleeping in a box poor bastards - they need any help they can get. I had a cleric stat drained to death recently and it was no comfort.

    1. In BX, there is no Restoration spell. In BECMI, it's 7th level IIRC. You need a pretty high level Cleric to get it. Most PCs that get level drained get over it the hard way, by going out to adventure more and re-earn the level.

      With the exponential increase in XP needed to earn new levels, a level drain effectively removes 1/2 of your XP. Double energy drain removes 3/4 of your XP. I understand why a lot of people don't like it. It's pretty harsh. You're right that it's not permanent, but it definitely takes a lot of time to recover from.

      For some DMs, though, this can be a good thing. It can be a way to keep PCs in the "sweet spot" of gaming for longer. Either of my suggestions above will blunt some of the player complaints (but not all, of course), while keeping energy drain scary and useful to the DM.

  5. @Jason, @Tim,

    Ability drain works, sure. It's also fairly level independent. If a vampire drains Constitution, you're just as resilient against one at 1st level as you are at 20th. And characters can recover from it in a matter of days without magic.

    Also a good way to run energy drain.

  6. Unless the rewards are worth multiple levels and months or years of in (and out) of game time any "smart" character would (and should) run far away from any level drainer.

    Rewards commensurate with that much effort would be so vast as to ruin most campaigns.

    OTOH if players have no choice but to face level drainer then the DM is ramming a F'you monster down their throats.

    All in all, outside of storybased games, I can't see any fun or good from level drainers.

  7. After seeing the vampires of Trueblood killing muggles in hand-to-hand comabt and in (very) messy ways, I have finally come to admit the idea that the energy drain of a vampire could be inflicted in combat via biting...

  8. I've been having this same conversation in my head but without any solutions to add. Your post has inspired me to seek a level drain answer. I think I'm leaning towards Con drain and/or HD drain.

  9. Very late to the party here. Haven't been bloggity as of the past few months.

    I agree that they couldn't possibly have the time to put the bite on somebody. And, I would suggest, that the level drains simply be temporary.

    Perhaps, they could represent getting grabbed by the throat by the vamp and then staring into the hell pits of the fiend's eyes and seeing how frail and mortal a PC is. But, if they manage to defeat that particular vampire, hopefully after several quests... their confidence is restored and the PCs who fell victim to the dreaded 'double energy drain' are now restored.

    This also provides the PCs with a nemesis and a grudge. Two very useful things for writing future adventures.

  10. Good point, and that makes me consider the following - if an undead creature successfully energy drains a character, wouldn't it be satisfied or sated for the moment, and retreat? Sure, occasionally there might be a glutton. But energy drain TPK events should be rare, IMO.

    Ghouls would want to stick around to chew on thigh bones or whatever, but a wight, wraith, specter or vampire that successfully drains an opponent should then retreat to savor its meal, leaving the victim weakened but able to come back for revenge at a later time.