L&L 3/05 - Save or Die!


I agree that it's nice that the article is cohesive and makes sense (though it's unfortunate that this is special). I do like the idea of abilities that function based on other status conditions (bloodied or whatever), but the instant death thing is still grating, boring, and anti-climactic. It also prevents the use of "dying" mechanics, like negative HP.

That Medusa effect Mearls mentioned? Apply that to someone with 100 HP in 4E and it's basically an instant +75 damage.

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Jack Daniel

Sketchy though it is, I see this as the seed of a pretty good idea. Hit points are already an abstract measure of a character's or monster's ability to stay alive under pressure, so why not use them as the threshold for instant death effects anyway? The medusa example that MM cites is a perfect illustration: the town guards are vulnerable to the petrifaction attack immediately, but the fighter along with them is like Perseus in CotT: he's skilled enough to keep dodging the gorgon's gaze for the entire fight, and so he doesn't even need to save until he gets whittled down to 25 hp remaining -- and his initial, presumably higher hit point total models this better than just luckily continuing to make saving throws.

As for players throwing instant death spells at monsters... think of it this way, when was the last time you were playing Final Fantasy, and the black mage's "Death" spell worked on a boss? But toss it at random baddies on a throwaway encounter, and it works just fine. I'm pretty much okay with that.
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First Post
I prefer the save or die mechanic. I'm sure there will be other ways of making these lethal attacks continue to be dangerous while taking away their sting for those who can't abide by the idea of instant death attacks.

As long as there's an option to use save or die situations I don't really care how else they address this issue.


As for players throwing instant death spells at monsters... think of it this way, when was the last time you were playing Final Fantasy, and the black mage's "Death" spell worked on a boss?
Well, in Final Fantasy XIII (IIRC), Death actually worked on a few optional bosses and did a lot of damage even if it didn't kill the target outright. So even when bosses were immune to the instant death part, it still carried its weight as a damage dealer.


As Mr. Mearls admits in a slightly roundabout way, it works a lot better for monster attacks against PCs than PC attacks against monsters.


I guess more instant death effects can be primarily non-death effects with a possibility of defeating a weakened foe early.
4e already has quite a bit of this these days - executioner assassins have the ability to kill if they reduce a target below a certain hp threshold, there is the Energy Drain spell, and I think some similar stuff in Heroes of the Elemental Chaos.

I voted for the system described in the article, mostly because I was feeling nasty and wanted to see how the "hit points are meat" crowd explain this away if it becomes an official rule.
I voted for it because I quite like it. But your rationale is a sound one too! (I assume you've noticed some hp-as-meat people upthread arguing against it.)


First Post
Modularity is the word of the day IMHO, to that end here was my suggestion (cribbed from earlier postings).

Give certain spells/abilities keywords, like Death, Petrification, etc, those keywords would dictate things like how they interact with certain defenses or how they are recovered from.

Next based on the style of play you want, you can opt to go with Saving Throw Module A, in which it's one save between you and whatever ill effect you're trying avoid. Or you go with Saving Throw Module B, in which powers and spells that have certain keywords, such as Death/Petrification/etc allow three saving throws, the first fail is dazed, second is stunned, third is the full effect (or some three cascading effects, they should at least be efficacious enough so that using this module wouldn't render such powers not worth using in place of other powers). Lethality could be adjusted by lengthening or shortening the track. Now depending on the average chance of a successful saving throw some penalty after first failed save may be necessary to keep the effect having some teeth, but that sort of thing is a bit hard to say without knowing exactly what the final saving throw mechanic and the numbers surrounding it are.

There are other ways you could further tweak something like the Saving Throw Module B above. You could make magical effects, poison effect, et c. dispellable by an appropriate spell or power if they are used before the duration is complete (incidentally I think this is a more interesting way of using dispel than to get rid of buffs). In the case of magic perhaps killing the caster before the effect takes hold dispels it as well, that would have some interesting tactical implications for combat. A successful save could end the effect, or three saves no matter what so the power is like to have some effect even if it's not ultimately lethal, you could have successful saves move you one step up the track rather than ending the effect until they either get back to step zero or succumb. There are a lot of variations you could do.

For effects that are more about sudden trauma, like a knife in the dark, you could turn to the death by massive damage rule in 3e for inspiration. Since HP don't actually represent physically damage we can tweak this mechanic to mean something else, or a few different things really. You could give run of the mill grunts lower thresholds and more elite creatures like dragons (size) and arch-wizards (wards) and cranky anti-paladins (sheer skill and orneriness) higher ones. You could give them different thresholds based on whether they are aware or not or even other circumstances (maybe a regular threshold and a disadvantaged one).

You could then do things like give Thieves an out of combat damage bonus, Assassins an out of combat bonus and maybe a circumstantial in combat bonus (assuming an assassin is basically a rogue that has given up some of the exploration/social ability for more combat ability), or maybe the ability to combo his smaller damage attacks to count as one for breaching the threshold (assuming multiple attacks are possible). Maybe fighters can attack the lower threshold in combat rather out and vice versa for classes with a Death/Sneak attack.

Upshot of all of this would be that it would make the sneaking into a camp and quietly shanking the sentries a possibility without having to make them low level creatures. It would allow everyone the chance to be able to do it, even wizards, but classes that are better at dealing damage (fighter/barbarians/et c.) would be better at it, and classes designed for such things (thieves/rogues/assassins) would be better still, but on the flip side once the melee starts the combat classes would be able to shine more then it came to reaping through all those grunts and cannon fodder and such.

PC's, being awesome like they are, simply get better thresholds. Thresholds would be a dial that can be adjusted up or down for deadliness.

Yeah I like it a lot, I also like that they are trying to keep this iconic DnD-ism in without to much TPKness.

When is the BETA out!?!??! [/lackofpatience]

I like this idea. Though I agree, that spells should have an effect besides the save or die effect when the hp are too high.

And this idea is not new either. As mentioned above, energy drain exactly does that. Damage, and if it reduces you to 20 or less hp: dead!
And there have always been power words. Those were always good spells in my opinion.

In older editions there were also spells that were just tied to the number of hit dice (levels in 4e) the monsters have. So in the end, it only takes the total hp int account.

When i have to chose between those two mechanics, i prefer the former.

Then there is the third mechanic: kill if you are bloodied/reduced to one quarter of your hp.
The problem here is, that this approach does not discriminate between high and low level targets. Only if you deal damage with the attack. And we don´t want illusion spells deal damage anymore...

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