L&L 3/05 - Save or Die!


I like save-or-die effects against PC and dislike it in the hands of PC both as a DM and as a player.

As a player I dislike it because it makes spell casters too powerfull compared to other classes while having some save or die effects thrown once in a while makes for an extremely exciting game.

I like the basic idea in the L&L article (which I think is written by mike mearls IMO) it got potential, especially the thing about fixed HP rates instead of percentile rates like bloodied values but I also share the concern that looking at it from a player POV it can problematic for several reasons: by tying it to fixed HP rates the player will need to know the HP rate of the enemy which, IMO, break immersion. It shouldn't be a problem for a skilled DM with player who know how to ask him the right questions but for new players and DM who don't have some body to teach them the arcane methods of successfully DMing it could boil to boring excel spreadsheets experience. Another potential problem is power creep where with the right combination of feats and skills a PC could make the spell an automatic hit, it's not a problem when it happens once in a blue moon after a lot of preparations but if it become routine it will become boring and might encourage the ten minute work day problem.

In the end, I think that just like a lot of other things this could be solve with enough of solid DMing advice rather than more rules, considering that SoD effect were disliked because they were prone to get abused by both players and DMs, if they make it into 5e the best method to stop that would be some solid advices in the DMG.


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Save or Die for Bloodied Characters.


Tested it out on my group yesterday in 4E. Fun times. Fun Times.


I'm interested in this idea. eHaving used a few save or die rolls in the past I've never been enthusiastic, but I like this idea and I think it could lead to some interesting play.

Although, I could be eating my words in a couple of years with a blog entry: "Save or Die/HP Threshold SUCKS, I HATE YOU MEARLS".

I want 5e to be its own thing. Bring some interesting new mechanics to the table, so yeah, bring them back if you can put a neat spin on them. I'm game. I'll give them a go.


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

You have misread it.

The medusa's gaze forces creatures currently at 25 or fewer hit points to make a save or be turned to stone.

It's an IF ... THEN statement.

It doesn't say that the gaze will reduce you to 25 HP.


I wonder how tying near death (being at 0 HP or less) to those effects would work. Normally being reduced to 0 HP means you’re unconscious, but easily revived by any kind of healing, so it’s frequently not a big deal depending on edition. But if some special effect triggers on being at 0 HP from certain attacks, this may make those effects very threatening if PCs are expected to lose and recover HPs easily like in 4e. Being turned to stone in the middle of the fight or suffering from a nasty long term condition from poison is a much bigger deal than just being unconscious.


wanted to see how the "hit points are meat" crowd explain this away if it becomes an official rule. :p

It's an interesting journey that D&D is on - but some roads have been travelled before.

IIRC there was an extended letters' page debate in White Dwarf (in the late 70s) between Gygax and Don Turnbull on the meaning of HP. A system suggested in WD was that it's only real ouch-bleeding damage when you're down to your last CON-worth of HP. However, then the helpless fighter tied to a rock in front of the dragon would take damage to those core HP immediately. I think this led to the lengthy rejoinder to this by EGG in the DMG.

Much later, /4e gives us bloodied.

Meanwhile, Trail of Cthulhu (being played by some of the designers) gives you a health ability that explicitly says that it's only real hurt-damage when you get to negative health. When you are burning through positive health values you are using up your narrative clout as a hero-not-victim in the game (That is a rather broad summary of the idea.)

So, save-or-die when you're down to a low HP value (why not your last CON or 2*CON worth of HP?) as then you are really vulnerable. Sounds like a road now fully travelled to me.

My initial thought when reading the column was to say that I was torn between the classic save-or-die mechanic and this proposed new one.

However, when I started to write a post giving the pro-s and con-s of each one I realised that I can't actually think of any pro-s of the classic save-or-die system that aren't equally valid in this system if it is done right.

So I think that providing the numbers are set right, this new system is now my favourite - particularly with the way it emphasises hit-points-as-fighting-ability rather than hit-points-as-physical-damage.

However, the bit about making sure the numbers are set right is important. I think there's little danger of setting the numbers too high (so more characters might die) because even at its worst it is no worse than a classic save-or-die situation. However, there is a danger of setting the numbers too low; which would result in traditionally scary monsters losing their scariness because their defining feature only works on minions or characters who are so low level they should already be running from the monster at top speed.

The thresholds need to be high enough to be scary for "level appropriate" characters (despite how much I normally hate that concept).

Using the example of a medusa: if we have a medusa that is hypothetically designed to be a challenge (either alone or with allies) for a 5th level party, the threshold for its petrification gaze and/or poisonous snakes should be at least 50% of an average 5th level character's hit points.

Sure, lower level characters can fight a medusa - but they'll be in danger of being turned to stone even when coming into the fight fresh; and only when characters are significantly higher level than the medusa would they be able to confidently attack without worrying about its gaze unless they're already tired and hurt from previous encounters.

Li Shenron

I have to say that this is my favourite idea from this column series, I really like it!!

It does preserve the scaryness of save-or-die effects, but also eliminates the case of players losing their high-level PC because on one failed roll since you need to have lost a portion of HP first. Most of the time, high-level PCs should have enough time to play well and take precautions to avoid the worst (or just run away...).

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