L&L 3/05 - Save or Die!


First Post
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.

Banish + Doom worked in most bosses in FF6.

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I'm A Banana

HERE is the thread we had just last week or so talking about this.

I'm not on board with this new proposal, because it violates one of the real reasons for save-or-die IMO in the first place: escalating tension

If a Medusa has to pepper you with arrows before she can try to kill you, that removes a HUGE chunk of the tension involved in fighting, and reduces it to the same axis that everything else exists on: a process of whittling down your enemies until they die.

This is not what is fun about save-or-die. What is fun about save-or-die is that YOU KILL THINGS INSTANTLY.

Now, this doesn't mean that we should bypass the HP system entirely -- like I came around to in the linked thread, I like the idea of "megadamage," and actually balancing that in the game.

Look, especially against PC's, there's lots of different ways to survive after "death" (or 0 hp), or come back from the "dead" (healing magic), or to otherwise overcome this problem. You don't need to turn every combat into the same process of "10 attack rolls 'till you win!" Sometimes, especially at higher levels, it's okay to have it be "every round, there's a chance of someone loosing."


One issue I can see with a Save or Die threshold system is that, depending on how healing and the threshold system work, it could make in-combat healing the best defence against such attacks, making healers more needed.

It tends to encourage two combat styles - a defensive low-death-rate 4e type grind, healing up anyone close to the threshold or an ultra agressive, swingy, higher death rate 3e-type "kill the monsters before they kill you" style. I prefer the low death rate of the former but not the grind, and don't really like the all-or-nothing gamble of the latter.


First Post
Not a fan. I can see this mechanic eliminating save or die spells altogether, at least for players. No spellcaster is going to waste a slot on a "finish him" spell -- they'll just tell the fighter "just whack it one more time".

What might work is some kind of mechanic when players and creatures get a bonus or penalty to the save based on how many HP they have left. That could be fiddly, however. Ultimately, I'm not sure what the best solution is, but this isn't it.


I posted a comment to the article itself that sums up my thoughts:

"To address the general question, though, this is one area I think could be very hard to get right for every taste. I actually think the appropriateness of Save or Die links back to the character generation system; it's a spectrum that D&D over the editions has travelled along:

At one end is essentially random character generation; in AD&D magic users even rolled for what spells they knew (if you went by RAW), all characteristics were rolled and magic items and spells learned were in the DM's gift. There was no character design aspect of play - the challenge was to play whatever the dice gave you to the best of your ability. In such a set-up, random death fits. In early editions, you could play extremely well and still die; that was part of the charm, in a way. As a game, it was like soccer: skill in play was certainly possible, even desirable, but even the best teams lost sometimes because Lady Luck was always in the driving seat.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have character design or "build" systems where the player is to a large extent in control of their character. Character design is part of the strategy of the game. I think random death works poorly for this style of play, not just because the players put so much time into character building, but because the more extreme builds tend to have "blank spots" - levels where they work poorly - and being able to skip these makes extreme builds more useful than they ought to be.

The system suggested would work well, I think, with the first type of game - it allows random death but after a tense bit of "preliminary". For the latter type, though, I would much prefer the 4E medusa approach: multiple saves with a chance for allies to intervene."

Noir le Lotus

First Post
I really don't like the kind of Save-or-die as explained in this article.

I'm not a big fan of SoD but I think that if they are well used, they are something that make players more careful on how they play. There is nothing worse that a high level party who just charges stupidely any mobs they encounter just because they have 200 hp and can't be killed in one round.

Save-or-Die are here to remind your players than their PCs are not immortal and can die.


I don't think it sounds like "-25 hp 15ft radius". I do think it plays into the idea that HP are not physical damage. That is, normally your high HP fighter is plenty on top of things to avoid the medusa's gaze. Until he's under 25 hp, then the energy, luck, skill, etc. that he has left aren't enough. (Although I think I would prefer that a "trap" save like that start causing rolls rather than just work.)

I voted for it. I think it gives lots of ways to dial lethality up or down without eliminating stacks of critters from the MM (which I did in 3e). Its also easily replaced with another system if you don't like this one, with the added bonus of giving you a guideline for the severity/difficulty of whatever save mechanic you want to use instead.


Demon Lord
Not a huge fan of what's in the article. Maybe for some spells and some monsters perhaps, but not across the board. The medusa, for example, your character looks at it, save or turn to stone. Done. Not 'save or you're slowed. Save again or you're slowed even more. Save for the tenth time and you're stone."


First Post
I like save or die in boss or mini boss encounters, or even in traps guarding ultra rare treasure. I also like more expensive resurrections. I don't think the character should be reduced in effectiveness, but rather think the cost up front should be much higher. The problem in old D&D, in my opinion, was the frequency of such situations. Save or die ettercaps or level draining wrights lounging around town in a 2nd level adventure is a little much. This style of play can quickly turn into vicious circles of cheap milieus. That said, I like high stakes and fantastic rewards, and that's an area i think D&D lost me on lately.


The only thing this sort of mechanic (which I really dislike the sound of) will do is ensure that SOMEONE in the party will play a cleric who keeps a ready source of healing during combat at hand. Thus forcing the cleric back into the role of buff-before, heal-during combat - BORING!

No. Adventuring means risk. Risk of death. I play a very low-death campaign, generally. But if I include a death-effect, I want it to be sudden, dramatic, and truly fatal. Not - the monster dinks you down to nearly dead, and then before it can use it's cool death ray, the cleric heals you up... blah blah blah.


I think it could work. And with some modifications, it could even work for people who do not like it at first blush.

For instance, for gaze attacks, if you are flat-footed, maybe it should be save or die period, because that is the instant it which you are not prepared to not look at the medusa. If you are prepared, that is when the medusa has to wear you down until you make a mistake and then die.

For spells, I think the simple solution would be to have spells like flesh to stone have a duration of two or three rounds. Flavour it as the magic " clinging " to the target.

( Tangentially, this gave me what I think is an interesting idea for an entirely different kind of game: all spells are essentially " living spells " which die when they take sufficient dispelling damage or when they go off. Durations are represented by losing a set number of hit points per unit of time. )


I don't mind save or die as a rare element that the players are aware of and can make some effort to counter, mitigate or avoid altogether, but if it's just randomly popped into encounters, or if it's used too often, it just makes games frustrating and annoying.

Maybe that's the answer? A save or die mechanic that only comes into play rarely and with warning? Elite or Solo creatures only and even then, only on named creatures like The Medusa of Smelly Swamp who legend tells can kill a man with a single gaze. Plenty of warning there and nice and rare.


First Post
I'm not a huge save or die fan. People talk about them serving some sort of purpose about teaching people some random lesson or what not, but I've hardly ever seen it. The vast majority of times what I've seen is it teaching people that not saving sucks, or that the DM is an A-Hole. :p

That said- I'm not totally against the IDEA of save or die, just the implementation.

The majority of DMs I've seen who use them, use them inappropriately. They basically set the PCs up just for what seems like a cheap gotcha moment. It's not actually something that "smart play" can protect them from. Instead it just feels like a cheap trick. At worst it ends up making it feel like the DM is that bad guy in a movie who walks in and slaughters a bunch of people to "prove he's serious" basically a power trip.

It's not always the DMs fault. The way it's implemented kind of makes it too easy to use it inappropriately. Especially when you're tired or just so busy you forget to give the PCs the various hints you planned to dole out that something save or die like might be ahead.

I've also seen it in the hands of a PC turn every encounter into a cheap boring everyone sit there while the mage casts save or die spells over and over. Instead of smart play they just spam save or die. Gee that's fun. (Even if they put it back into the game for monsters, I don't ever want to see them appear as random spells PCs can just learn whenever they want.)

Like I said above, I like the IDEA of save or die, I just don't like the way it's worked in the past. I think Save or Die should be reserved for DMs to basically house rule in. If the players trust the DM enough to allow him to house rule in something like that when he feels appropriate he's more then likely a good DM who isn't abusing it. And if it's something the DM specifically house ruled in for the purposes of this certain quest or whatever he's also more likely to remember to leave room for "smart play."


Not a huge fan of what's in the article. Maybe for some spells and some monsters perhaps, but not across the board. The medusa, for example, your character looks at it, save or turn to stone. Done. Not 'save or you're slowed. Save again or you're slowed even more. Save for the tenth time and you're stone."

"You must spread experience ... "


First Post
Not a huge fan of what's in the article. Maybe for some spells and some monsters perhaps, but not across the board. The medusa, for example, your character looks at it, save or turn to stone. Done. Not 'save or you're slowed. Save again or you're slowed even more. Save for the tenth time and you're stone."

Agreed. Medusa should petrify on sight.

But that should be a rare effect, packs of ghouls paralizing and killing is bad for the game...

Whatever it turns out, should be modular. Save or Die for those who like, Save or some consequence for those who don't.

Except for Medusa, she always kills.

Many people on this thread are complaining that this proposed system means that save-or-die effects won't work on anyone unless they're already nearly dead. But I think that's a misreading of the article.

Taking a Medusa for example. Her save-or-be-petrified threshold would be X hit points.

1) Low level characters would have fewer than X hit points even when fully healed. For them, a Medusa is a terrifying "you might be turned to stone by failing a save in a surprise round with nothing you can do to stop it" monster.

2) Mid level characters would have a bit more than X hit points when fully healed. For them, a Medusa is still scary. Sure, they can't be turned to stone in a surprise round if they're fully healed; but if they are surprised while weakend from previous fights or if the medusa (or her allies) hit them a couple of times they're rapidly into save-or-die territory. They're unlikely to be able to fight a medusa without someone dipping into that territory.

3) High level characters would have a lot more than X hit points when fully healed. For them, a Medusa is a simple fight. As experienced adventurers they're unlikely to be turned to stone unless they're very weakened from previous fights. If that's not the case, the medusa is unlikely to be able to weaken them into save-or-die territory unless she's allied with other harder monsters - in which case they're the ones that are scary; not her.

To me, that sounds ideal. Low level characters need to avoid encounters with medusae; mid level characters still need to be wary and scared; and high level characters aren't going to roll a 1 on the first round and be killed by a creature so much weaker than them.

And the beauty is that each type of monsteer with a save-or-die attack will have a different value for "X"; meaning that "low level", "mid level" and "high level" is relative to the monster, not absolute.

It's only characters who are high level compared to the monster who won't get hit by the save-or-dies unless they're nearly dead. Low to mid level characters (again, compared to the monster) will still be in danger from them most or even all of the time.


First Post
Thinking about it more- even though "make it a module" seems to be turning into D&D's version of "We'll fix it in post!" I think this might actually be something that would benefit from being a "module."

I think anyone can admit that SoD have a definite effect on the tone/experience of a campaign.

It would be nice to see a section of SoD that could be added to a campaign, with advice about what exactly they do.

Bobbum Man

Will the limit placed on wizard spells ability to instant kill lead to a lot of metagaming so as to calculate the amount of HPs a monster has left or will there be a gamey mechanic introduced/put in place like 'bloodied' that the DM declares and so the players know this.

Which if the latter was the case, many people (not myself) who dislike the strong game mechanics involved in 4e will surely dislike something like this also. As I am someone who likes good game mechanics, as I like to think of D&D as a game that I play, this wouldn't be an issue for me. But I sense it would be for many who prefer the game mechanics to intrude as little as possible.

Or am I off base?

I think you're offbase on this last point.

It would be a fairly easy thing to include values on the character sheet for "bloodied" (= 1/2 total HP value) and perhaps "wounded" (= 1/4 total HP value). These aren't really mechanics per se, more like descriptors.

I don't think that old schoolers will have aproblem with something that describes a relavent detail of the world/situation.


One problem with the HP threshold that I can see, is that I tend to track my hp by points of damage taken. I'm sure there are others who do it that way too. The power word spells had something that worked in previous editions with such things, except that it was with no save.

It's easy enough to keep track of if the thresholds are always multiples of ten.

If not, then it becomes harder for most people.

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