What's your opinion on "Save or Die" effects?

Fauchard1520

Explorer
Speaking as a DM, I find that I'm a bit torn on the subject of save-or-die effects.

You see, I've been running my guys through a medusa cult, and the risk of oops-I'm-a-rock has added a solid sense of danger to the proceedings. Like I said though, it's an entire medusa-themed level, meaning that I'm running the risk of going overboard, becoming annoying rather than challenging.

So help me out here. How often do you use save-or-die effects in your games? And if you do use 'em, how easy should it be to bounce back with a resurrection (or in my case a de-stoning potion)?

Comic for illustrative purposes.
 

Iry

Explorer
Save or Suck is fair game in my book.
Save or Die is exceptionally boring. Death ends a narrative thread, and creates a new ones with less emotional and sentimental weight (the new character). There are so many more interesting things that can happen to a character and keep the story moving than Death.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I use save-or-die quite rarely especially because coming back from the dead unless it's Spare the Dying is not simple. I suppose a raise dead could also work, but only if cast almost immediately after dying. There simply isn't much time before the soul departs and starts to travel on to their final destination. Once at their final destination, coming back is basically unheard of.

Being turned to stone is a little different because they aren't really dead until the statue is destroyed. Until then they're just in stasis.
 

Autumn Bask

Villager
Unless you are perfectly ready to kill your characters or resurrection is an option, I recommend against using Save-or-Dies, no matter how unlikely they are to proc. Although, that also would depend on the vibe and lethality you're going for in your campaign.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Before I answer, I have to ask what specifically are considered "save or die" effects in D&D 5e?
 

DM Dave1

Adventurer
You see, I've been running my guys through a medusa cult, and the risk of oops-I'm-a-rock has added a solid sense of danger to the proceedings.
I see what you did there.

Being turned to stone is a little different because they aren't really dead until the statue is destroyed. Until then they're just in stasis.
True dat. These types of Save-or-Suck rolls are great for most levels. Now a low level party has to figure out how to get their statue friend to a temple for some Stone-to-Flesh help. Or convince the priest to go into the cultist den to the scene of the failed save.

At the highest tier of play, all bets are off and Save-or-Die is on the table. Otherwise, the baddies can't have things like Finger of Death or Power Word Kill. Of course, that latter one is actually No Save-and-Die, so, yeah.
 

Gadget

Explorer
Hmmm...there are a lot of "Save or Suck" effects that can basically be a "Save or Die" as, when employed in combat, they could easily lead to character death due to the debilitating effects. That said, 5e has gone to great lengths to reduce the "Save or Die/Suck" by making it more of a Save, Save, Save or Suck/Die. This helps mitigate the more arbitrary effect of the event, one of the problems I had with it in earlier additions, particularly AD&D.

To take the example in the OP, I would probably not run a heavy Medusa adventure without telegraphing the danger to the PCs beforehand, so they could perhaps prepare contingencies and counter measures (potion of Restoration or such). I find the spell in 5e that causes the effect to be somewhat lackluster, mostly due to the unnecessary concentration requirement that I can only surmise is there to give the Party a fighting chance to remove the effect on an unfortunate PC that fails 3 (or is that 4?) saves and is petrified. They don't get the same opportunity when encountering a Medusa or Gorgon, so I'm not sure why this is added to the spell requirements.
 
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Luz

Explorer
I have absolutely no problem with save-or-die provided I've done my part to provide enough clues/warnings/foreshadow to the players so they can make an informed decision on their own. In other words, I wouldn't just spring it on them out of nowhere. It takes a lot of time and brain-wracking to telegraph deadly encounters, especially without making it a dead giveaway, but as long as the DM knows the players have enough information beforehand then it's fair game.
 

Giltonio_Santos

Adventurer
I've used save or die effects in the past, but I don't think the themes you'll generally see in a D&D campaign are well-aligned with that kind of power. To me, the ability to outright kill or promptly resurrect people work better in a "magic has its consequences" frame that D&D avoids even more with every new edition.
 

Satyrn

Villager
Unless you are perfectly ready to kill your characters or resurrection is an option, I recommend against using Save-or-Dies, no matter how unlikely they are to proc. Although, that also would depend on the vibe and lethality you're going for in your campaign.
Yeah, this. If the DM isn't committed to PCs dying, then save-or-dies should be of the table.

But even then . . . in my megadungeon campaign* where I am totally committed to PCs dying, I still tend to avoid save-or-dies. The latest trap I wrote up involves a collapsing ceiling, which I think was the sort of thing that would be automatic death in the earliest editions. I pulled back a bit on that instinct , however. Instead I have the trap severe lethal damage (20d6) and a save, but the survivors remaim buried alive under the rubble - if they can't be rescued or free themselves they will still die.

I kind of find save-or-dies boring.

I have a suggestion for the OP: instead of making the petrification instantaneous . . . er, instantaneously permanent, have it work someone like this: on a failed save the target is petrified and begins turning to stone. At the end of the target's following turns, he must make a Constitution save. If successful, the effect ends. On a failure he suffers 1d10 damage (or whatever value makes sense). If the target is reduced to 0 hit points, the petrification becomes permanent.



*Hey, is there a forum macro I could use to automate this, instead of typing it out everytime?
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I’m alright with them as long as they are avoidable and properly telegraphed. I think save or die effects are at their best when you never actually make them. The foreknowledge that you might have to make them forces you to change your tactics so you can avoid making them - fighting blindfolded against a Medusa, for example. In this way, I think of save or die effects kind of like puzzles. The challenge shouldn’t be in rolling high enough to make the save, it should be in coming up with a strategy that will insure you never need to make the save.
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
“I hate rot grub check.” :lol:

My preference is to not run with that level of lethality. Even when I was running 1e back in the day, I preferred to avoid save or die monsters and effects (as best as I could, considering how many there were).

Hit most PCs with too many save or die checks that end in failure, and the players stop caring about their characters. It becomes about beating the dang game, not playing it, with the PCs reduced to tokens on a game board. I’d much rather see the players with well-developed characters that they’re attached to, and that I care about, rather than Rolf VI, preceded by Rolfs I – V, and no doubt to be followed by Rolf VII.
 

CydKnight

Explorer
I think a true "save or die" is better-suited for an end game encounter which the party knows is the end of the campaign or, perhaps the end of a campaign chapter. In that case they should realize this is a possibility going into the encounter and will likely come up with a strategy to counter it as @Charlaquin mentioned above.
 

LordEntrails

Adventurer
Arbitrary save or dies are no good. i.e. "you are walking down the corridor, suddenly the hallway fills with a searing light, Con save or be incinerated!"

Telegraphed and as an obvious consequence save or die are fine (assuming their is an option not to attempt the 'thing'). i.e. "Before you is a moat filled with swirling mixtures of necrotic energy. To jump across is an athletics check, failure means you are going to fall into that morass that your investigate indicates will disintegrate you."

Save or suck? Well as long as it take multiple failures for it to really be a "game over" situation, that fine.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Save-or-die is fine if your players know that you intend to be working with that kind of arbitrary lethality, and are on board with it.

I generally keep such things to very special occasions, and telegraph that it is a distinct possibility, if I use them at all for a given campaign.

One GM I know would make a special statement of session threat level, and presence of save-or-die effects was one of the things that got him to state a session was apt to be "extreme danger".
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
Save-or-die is fine, as long as it's in addition to normal precautions, and not in place of them.

If you can interact with a medusa and never be forced to roll, because you never take the risk of looking at her, then that's great. If she can force you to roll, by choosing to look at you, then that's not great.
 
It's part of the game, and applies to both sides.
So, I love it and hate it.

In 2e I played a high level bard who almost single-handedly ruined the DM's plans by disintegrating 3 of 7 liches...

Even worse are the "simply die - no save" spells... power words.
 
I haven’t used them outside of ToA, and even then I wasn’t a big fan. The players knew going into that dungeon there was a high possibility of instant death, so like others have said, it was telegraphed. Informing the players about the danger is good practice so they can make informed decisions.

If I am going to use a save or die mechanic, the payoff for the players has to be big. I always like giving the players a risk vs reward scenario.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Save or die?

Only wimps use the disjunctive.

Save AND die is where it's at.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
In my game, I have up front stated that PCs will not die (or de facto killed) by dice alone. Part of that includes turning *all* save-or-ko and save-or-die or no-save-just-die into trios saves (like death saves - race to three) using contagion and petrification as the model.

So most of these inflict poisoned or restrained automatically and a race to three saves is begun.

So, you get a solid and impactful effect and then a drama "what can we do to shift things" instead of a die roll for all or nothing.

Much like how deaths saves vs dead at zero turn it into an immediate red alert, this turns a dice-and-done into tension-and-fun.

I had actually done this with DnD as far back as my last 3.5 game in like the mid-late-oughts, where zero meant down and down became dead from neglect or more damage. Loved the results then.
 

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