D&D 5E What do you think of the 5e Energy Drain mechanic?

the Jester

So I ran a playtest game last night, and one of the monsters the pcs fought was a wraith.

The current version of the energy drain mechanic (found in the wraith, wight, vampire and a few others) involves reducing your maximum hps for a set duration. This absolutely terrified the pcs last night. Before I used it, I thought, "Hmm, this looks kind of lame." I really didn't appreciate how nasty it would be!

After using it, I thought, "That certainly plays better than it reads!" Has anyone else tried out an energy drainer in their playtest games? If so, how did it go? It ended up producing an extra day's rest for the pcs in my game- they simply holed up until 24 hours had passed and the drained pc could recover (almost half!! of) her hit point total. I really like the level of scary it brought to the table- in the old days, energy draining monsters almost universally led to screaming, "RUN!!" and headlong flight; losing a level was a brutal result, and back in the day, you couldn't fix it without a 7th level cleric spell, and there simply weren't many clerics of high enough level to do anything about it in most games that I played in or ran (and I'm including both pc and npc clerics in this assessment). I feel like this mechanic, while not half as brutal as the old 1e way, captures that same "OH CRAP!!" feeling quite well.

Anyone else got any feedback on it?

log in or register to remove this ad


Haven't played with it, but it looks really lame to me as well. My players will find the wraith in the Caves of Chaos soon enough, so we'll see. :)

I've got no feedback on that, but in a 4e encounter, I had an NPC who did "Con damage", which was basically ongoing damage, and you couldn't heal until someone spent a standard action performing a Heal check (at a DC based on the NPC's level). No, it didn't actually damage their Con, it was based on a 3rd Edition ability that did Con damage though.

Cue panic, especially since one PC got filled with arrows and then stabbed with that attack, dropping to below 0. The assassin who did this turned invisible, and the cleric ended up provoking an opportunity attack to get to the dropped PC to make the Heal check. (And got hit, for lots of damage.) And then heal them with Healing Word.

Making PCs give up standard actions that way may not have been the most fun way of handling that. Perhaps cutting the ongoing damage to a smaller amount and requiring a fast version of the Remove Affliction ritual afterward would have been better...

It ended up producing an extra day's rest for the pcs in my game- they simply holed up until 24 hours had passed and the drained pc could recover (almost half!! of) her hit point total. I really like the level of scary it brought to the table

IMO, if the PCs are so scared they're holed up, it's messed up. I like challenging battles, both as a PC and a DM, but I don't like putting barriers in the way of adventuring, and having PCs suffering massive long-term penalties is exactly such a barrier. So I guess I'm saying if the lack of hit points only lasted until you took a 10 minute rest, I wouldn't have a problem with it. Fighting a battle with lowered max hit points is the kind of challenge I would really dig.


I read somewhere, many years ago, that the reason undead could drain levels was to make them scary, not to the characters, but to the players. I definitely like scaring them now and then. It certainly doesn't sound scary on paper, but I'll have to see how it plays at the table.

Greg K

I prefer Strength or Con drain until either a) it is magically, healed or b) an extended period time passes (weeks or months) with a chance of permanent reduction (that can be magically restored).

Crazy Jerome

First Post
I've used the wights once. No one missed their saves the first few times, so I deliberately let it it drop what would have happened. Instant terror. In fact, we went through the entire fight with no one missing a single save, but it was still a very effective scare. I think part of it was the party knowing that the wights weren't the only thing around, and that they might have to continue in a weakened condition.

Anyway, I like this mechanic a lot. It's a bit subtle, which means that it is going to be scary initially only to players who pay attention and consider what it could mean, but then has the prospect for sneaking up on those that do not.


First Post
My players ran across a singular wight and though they easily defeated it the energy drain ability definitely scared them.


First Post
Havent played it. I do like the sound of it though. I appreciate that they want monster to be scary, in fact I agree with sometimes putting something in there to break players from complacency and really spooking em hard! However...old school level drain was (to me) a disaster

I will cast my mind back to 2e days and one particular, undead laden dungeon. Players werent "getting scared yet enjoying it", they were just getting pissed off, and in hindsight, who could blame them. All of their gain being pissed out the window and (with 2e's rather odd xp rules around it) even with a restoration still some loss. Scary : yes, rewarding : no.

I have even had situations where players (even fighters!) have stood back waiting for others to engage first. This is just not a good result.

But this idea of perm hp loss sounds reasonable, not TOO painful, and as long as HP are fully restored when they can get to a healer, I cant see a big issue.

They just need to walk a fine line and make the monsters scary whilst avoiding making them frustrating. Like the sound of it.


Haven't played it yet, but I like the look of it. It's always a challenge coming up with mechanics to really shake and scare the players, without crossing the line into wanton abuse. I do think it ought to be a little more consistent across monsters, though. The wight, the wraith, and the vampire all have slightly different versions:

  • The wraith's attack deals necrotic damage and requires a Con save. Failure means the victim's max hit points are reduced by the amount of damage dealt. The reduction can be fixed with remove curse.
  • The wight's attack deals necrotic damage and automatically reduces the victim's max hit points by 5, regardless of how much damage is dealt. The reduction can be fixed with remove curse.
  • The vampire's bite attack deals a small amount of physical damage plus a larger amount of necrotic. The necrotic damage automatically reduces the victim's max hit points and heals the vampire for the same amount. Remove curse offers no benefit.
I suspect the designers are trying out variants on the mechanic to see which works best. Personally, I like having no saving throw and automatic reduction by the amount of damage dealt, and I don't see why remove curse should do anything. Healing the undead is a nice idea but might be too powerful if it works on every attack--the vampire has to make three attack rolls and hit with all of them in order to bite successfully, whereas the wight and wraith only have to touch you.
Last edited:

Remove ads


Remove ads

Upcoming Releases