Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Whats the Big Deal About Save or Die Anyway?

Mike Mearl's Column from yesterday (which I commented on - but I'm using an iPad, so no links - just look at yesterday's posts) was about the good old Save or Die! effects.

While Mike seems to like them, as they add spices, stress and drama to The Game, he also stresses that the fighter dropping to a Save or Die effect can open the party to a TPK.

So what?

How is that different than the fighter dropping due to loss of Hit Points? Same TPK risk (unless you are playing 4e, in which case there is little if any risk of the fighter, or anyone else, dropping).

Hmm, actually, when you drop due to HP loss, there is still a chance to save you until -10 hp, or neg con hp, or whatever 4e uses.

Maybe that's the change that could be made. Not so much Save or Die but Save or Drop. The poison doesn't kill outright, but it drops the fighter (or whoever) out of the fight and without prompt attention he will die. The petrification doesn't happen right away, but when the save is failed the body is motionless and in a few rounds will turn to stone. Time for dispel magic, or rock to flesh.

See, I think the issue isn't taking someone out of the encounter prematurely, its the idea of taking a character out of the campaign prematurely.

Obviously, a party will not have a counter effect for all Save or Down effects - which would progress to Die in a few rounds.

Eh, or maybe I'm just talking outta my ass.

I have no real issue with Save or Die! as long as it isn't overused. Once every 2 to 4 sessions, maybe. It is the great equalizer, but all things do not have to be equal.


  1. I agree that the problem with Save or Die is not the effects on that combat, but the effects on the whole campaign. A stoning effect is basically a reversible save or die that can lead to some great adventures as the players try to un-stone their compatriot. A poison save or die doesn't lead to any new fun.

  2. Save or die only becomes an issue when you begin with the presumption that your character is EXPECTED to live.

    Whether my character lives or dies, my participation as a player continues, so the idea of a campaign ending because of characters dying seems like a waste of a good game-world to me.

    That doesn't mean I treat my characters as expendable - far from it. I want my characters to succeed, and I play hard to make it so, but I don't demand it as a condition of participating in the game.

  3. I play Call of Cthulhu, and don't understand how combat can be anything other than 'dodge or die'? :P

    On a more serious note, striking a balance is key, if the players know they're gonna get a chance to claw back from every effect they'll be much more laissez-faire in their approach to, well everything. Save or Die! keeps them on their toes.

  4. For some people save or die is an imposition and they don't want to be imposed upon.

  5. "A poison save or die doesn't lead to any new fun."

    Rolling up a new character is always fun! ;-)

    But seriously, by that measure, does PC death lead to new fun? Perhaps not - but the constant threat of PC death heightens all the fun that comes before.

  6. I think one of the reasons so many people hate save-or-die effects (particularly poison!) disproportionately is the suddenness of them.

    You're bitten by a giant centipede of the wrong sort, and BOOM, you're dead.

    The player doesn't even have time to panic or time to realize "Oh shit, this is it!"

    So maybe making them "Save or lie on the floor convulsing, about to die any second" might help a bit.

  7. It doesn't hurt my feelings at all to have 'save or die' become 'save or be helpless and dying'.

    Especially if we combine it with the idea from another recent post.

    The poison does straight-up hit point damage, and if your hit points go below 0 you are on the floor convulsing and foaming at the mouth. You might be savable, if they're quick.

    If you fail your save against the medusa (replaces attack roll) you take damage, and if it takes you below 0 you are frozen in place and calcifying... prompt action might stop or reverse it.

    Disintegrate does some horrific physical trauma, weakening your entire body. If your hit points go below 0 your body continues to weaken until you reach the 'dead' hit point total, at which point you crumble to dust.

    In all cases you were taken out of the fight by damage, but there is probably some relatively straightforward or known mechanism for reversing it if it can be applied in time.

    I like how this feels.


Tenkar's Tavern is supported by various affiliate programs, including Amazon, RPGNow,
and Humble Bundle as well as Patreon. Your patronage is appreciated and helps keep the
lights on and the taps flowing. Your Humble Bartender, Tenkar

Blogs of Inspiration & Erudition