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

Jonathan Tweet

Explorer
Save or Die effects aren't great for monsters because there's too much riding on a single roll. They're not great for player-character powers because they invalidate the way most characters bring down enemies: hit point attrition. In 13th Age, we picked up a rule from Dave Hargrave's Arduin Adventure game. Save-or-die effects have a hit point cap. The death lord PC in our game uses the "Sever Spirit" power, which is an instant kill, but only against an opponent with 60 hit points or less. Likewise, my cleric's fear spell works only on enemies with 75 hit points or less. That way, other characters can contribute by knocking a monster's hit points down, and then one of us can finish it off with a power.
 
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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.
Why not reskin it dropping to 0 Hit Points. Don't Banshees already do that? You are petrified and start making death saves. If you fail, the petrification is permanent and if you succeed, you fight off the effects and are back to normal and normal hit points or, as [MENTION=6801204]Satyrn[/MENTION] suggests, give them damage.

I think that's what the '3 saves' are supposed to recreate with the spell version of petrfication. I dislike that you need concentration.

I always found level draining monsters to give a bigger sense of 'something to lose' than save or die. Dying meant starting a new character which was only fun if you were done with the character you playing. Getting level-drained and permanently losing your abilities was terrifying. But at least you could still play your character.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
My opinion on them is to use them sparingly as death is very hard to come back from in my game. When I do use a save or die effect, I have some way for the party to find out about it. That doesn't mean that they will find out about it, but only that there is a reasonable way or even multiple reasonable ways to come up with the information ahead of time. So long as I give them a reasonable way to find out about it, I don't feel bad about using the save or die effect.
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
Save or Death and I go way back. We are tight and nothing will change that. I like that a 1HD monster in my game can kill a 15th level fighter with a single failed save. Poison is feared greatly in the current game.
 

ParanoydStyle

Peace Among Worlds
That's a shame. Allowing players to one-shot your big bad is pretty important in my opinion. Sometimes even a boss can get unlucky on his crucial roll, and that can make for a very memorable moment. Like the time when my players successfully used a destroy-undead ability on my big bad ghost pirate captain. He was gone in an instant, much to the joy of my players. It is probably a moment they'll never forget, as an almost impossible battle suddenly swung in their favor due to their quick thinking.

And that is another thing I should probably stress: You should always be consistent in your rules. There are various mechanics that put the players at a big disadvantage, but which can also affect the bad guys just the same. I like the idea that everything basically obeys the same combat rules, even if some monsters have their own resistances. But cast a Banishment on an extra-planar creature no matter how tough, and you have a good chance of sending it back where it came from. Save-or-die is not a problem if it works both ways.
Because I actually agree in general with what you're saying about consistency, I want to clarify or maybe even amend my original post. A boss monster for a boss fight dying to a bad save is FINE and I would not fudge unless the players actually felt like they'd been cheated out of a good boss fight...which knowing every group of D&D players I've ever met basically means I just plain would not fudge.

THE BIG BAD(s) i.e. the antagonist or antagonist(s) that are driving the story with their actions as much as or more than the players... THOSE are the guys I would fudge for, if I had to (unlikely). But not just boss fights.
 

Roadkill101

Villager
With care. When using save or die or level drain and other "save or suck" effects, frequency is kept to a minimum, usually as an ability for a BBEG encounter.
 

Imaculata

Adventurer
THE BIG BAD(s) i.e. the antagonist or antagonist(s) that are driving the story with their actions as much as or more than the players... THOSE are the guys I would fudge for, if I had to (unlikely). But not just boss fights.
For this I use the rule: Don't introduce a villain, unless you are willing to have him die that very moment. I have two big bads in my campaign, neither of which have directly confronted the players yet. The trick to keeping those big bads alive, is to simply not have step them onto the stage until it is that time. But as soon as any bad guy steps forward, that means that he could die at the hands of the players. And that's fine.

They are villains after all; their purpose is to lose. I will not however force them to lose, or force them to win. That is up to the players. But if they lose, I will not share a tear over it, nor shield them from harm.
 

Fauchard1520

Explorer
Why not reskin it dropping to 0 Hit Points. Don't Banshees already do that?
Banshees are a good example. I made a "wail of the banshee" trap at the end of a Tomb of Horrors style crawl. It was a hard save or die though, and actually kicked off a pretty fun resurrection quest.

I guess that my opinion is that they're situationally appropriate, so long as they're crazy rare. Knowing that they're in the game, however, makes a big psychological difference.
 

Gadget

Explorer
Save or Die effects aren't great for monsters because there's too much riding on a single roll. They're not great for player-character powers because they invalidate the way most characters bring down enemies: hit point attrition. In 13th Age, we picked up a rule from Dave Hargrave's Arduin Adventure game. Save-or-die effects have a hit point cap. The death lord PC in our game uses the "Sever Spirit" power, which is an instant kill, but only against an opponent with 60 hit points or less. Likewise, my cleric's fear spell works only on enemies with 75 hit points or less. That way, other characters can contribute by knocking a monster's hit points down, and then one of us can finish it off with a power.
This is a very astute point, but I fear one that requires most of the game to be structured around it. With 5e and its "bounded accuracy," monsters tend to have much more hp than PCs, which can lead to "DM spells": spells that are only effective when used against the PC's by monsters & NPCs. 5e has a few of these type of spells, and the result is very mixed. Sleep, as the classic first example, is very effective at low levels, but fades once the monster hp rise enough to make it more risky, and--imho--is not really used much as a 'finisher' due to the ambiguity of current monster HP and the need to use that first level slot for another shield spell or utility.


At higher levels, the Power Word spells are even less useful, as monster hp rise very fast and players don't want to spend their one and only (9th or 8th) level slot on something that may have zero effect; or to take out a mook. Even if monsters have a hp counter appearing above their heads, you've probably already whittled their HP down quite a bit by the time they reach the threshold and at that point, you're probably better off doing 100 hp of damage to a monster and using your precious slots on something more effective.
 
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Laurefindel

Explorer
Generally, I tend to dislike all-or-nothing effects, unless they are so common that they average out (i.e. attack rolls)

I prefer spells and effects that affect you a little if you make your save, or more if you fail. Thrown in some resistance, immunity and vulnerabilities in there to shake things up in specific situations. In other words, I wish that poison, mental domination/charm, death etc were some kind of a mental fireball; it hits you bad or it hits you a little, but is unlikely to take you out of action in one roll.
 
I think, ultimately, they were a bad implementation of a good idea.

The idea is that if you're going to play the hero of some fantasy story, you're going to need the same perplexing 'plot armor' those heroes always seem to have.

Hit points were a better implementation of the same idea. Your hero doesn't just get stabbed and die like normal people do, he somehow escapes the deadly thrust each time (until his luck runs out). They're something you can manage as part of play, from both the player & DM perspectives. They still distort things if you take them too literally, rather than as plot armor, but whatever, I've yet to see an alternative work a lot better.

The idea of saves is that they can, well, save your character when he 'should have been killed' (or something equally final), so poison, magically turned to stone, that sort of thing, were given "saves." And beloved, long-time, high level characters had /much/ better saves.

The problem is that it was wrong-headed to make the distinction in the first place. Poison kills you, gorgons turn you to stone, etc - but a knife in the heart kills you just as certainly. Why does the dagger do 1-4/1-3, and the poison save-or-die?
Because Gygax goofed.
The poison should just do poison damage.
Because hps, for all their issues, are a better system for modeling plot armor.

JMHO
 
We are talking about attacks that instantly kill a character, right?

My rule is usually to be harsh but not unfair. All PCs can die, but they will only die if they mess up.

So I would probably telegraph a high risk of death ahead of time so they have a chance to react to it.

Additionally, I usually offer ways of resurrection, but it depends on how my players react to death. One of my players might say after failing a saving throw "Oh well, wanted to try a new class anyway" or I already know he is unhappy with his class choice. Then I just let him die in a climatic scene that gives a nice closure. Another player might say "Oh no, I really liked my character, I don't want him to die". In that cause, I react different. The enemies might actually stabilize him and take him prisoner, giving the other a chance to save him. Or he might die, but I also provide ways to revive him. In AL for example if you are below level 5, your faction would actually offer free resurrection if I recall correctly. After that it might still offer paid services. Or the party hears about a powerful cleric in the area and seeks him out. There might also be a potion nearby that can save the PC.

If I went for a petrification themed dungeons, before the party even goes there, I'd probably already hint on the existence of a potion that can heal petrification.
 

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