Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Save or Die Slowly...The Drum Beat of Death

Lot's of folks aren't big fans of the good old "Save or Die" method of RPG threats. I'm generally in agreement that it's usually no fun. I am however in favor of Save or Die Slowly which I also fiendishly cheer as The Drum Beat of Death.

Scenario 1a:
DM: "oh no, the sargath worm has bitten Normo for 1 point of damage, it's wicked fangs drip with yellow ichor, make save versus posion"

Dave (playing Normo): "I get a 7, oh crud that doesn't make it does it"

DM: "No, you shake in horrible spasm spitting up yellow humours and die."

The rest of the party, following the death of Normo and the sargath worm: we split up Normo's gold and everyone can pick an item from his gear and we move one.

Scenario 1b:
DM: "oh no, the sargath worm has bitten Normo for 1 point of damage, it's wicked fangs drip with yellow ichor, make save versus posion"

Dave (playing Normo): "I get a 7, oh crud that doesn't make it does it"

DM: You start shaking violently...

Round #1 following the poisoning

Fred : I slay the sargath worm...

Dave: Am I okay?

DM: just a moment let's resolve Fred's attack on the worm

Fred: A 17, for 7 points of damage...wooo hoo.

DM: your blow splits the worm is half, both halves writhe briefly dripping foul ichor on the floor as it's spams dwindle.

Dave : okay i search for treasue.

DM: you are starti to feel nausea and shaking too fiercely to do that, Normo suffers 2 damage.

Dave : oh no...quick someone heal me.

Ann: I only have 2 cure light wounds spells left.

Dave: Well, give me one.

Ann: I'm not sure it will work.

Dave: Please!

Ann: first I'm going to make sure nothing is coming up behind us.

Round #2 following the poisoning.

Fred: I clean my sword off I don't want to end up like Normo.

Dave: hey!

DM: Normo starts spitting up yellow bile, that's another (rolls a die) 4 pts of damage.

Dave : oh no...heal me now !!!

Ann: okay, okay...that's 6 points back to you.

Dave: great I'm also back to full. How do I feel?

Round #3

DM: you still feel awful, it's like your intestines are being tied in knots until they burst within you... that's another 4 pts of damage.

Dave : What ! oh no !! Quick heal me again.

Ann: It will not work. I'll start last right on you now if you want.

Fred: I search for treasure while Ann gives Normo last rights.

Dave : what ? No.

round #4 following the poisoning:

Dave: can't someone suck the poison out or something.

Ann: I'm not doing that.

Fred: do I find anything, I'll put Normo out of his misery for you Dave.

Dave : No , wait...can't I do anything?

DM: sure, you shake in horrible spasms. 3pts damage. Fred you found an old silver dagegr among the skeletal remains.

Dave:I drink some wine maybe that'll slow it down.

Ann: I don't think you should drink wine while I administer last rites.

Rounds #5 following the poisoning

Fred: I put the dagger in my belt, let's move on.

Dave: No.. wait, can I walk?

Dm: with effort you may move, you take 6 more points of damage.

Ann: well that screws up the last rites.

Dave: I rush for the main staircase maybe I can get to camp and the stash of healing potions before I die.

Fred: oh no you don't.

Ann: I try to comfort Normo.

Round #6
DM: Normo staggers towards the door and Ann blocks him (right?).

Ann: yes I do, I kindly but firmly put my hand n his shoulder.

Dave: Normo slips away.

DM: Normos staggers away from Ann and suffers 5 more points of damage...

Let's close the door on that scene.

As you can see a lot more play action comes out of "Save or Die Slowly" then comes out of "Save or Die".

How do I do it?
Well normal saves and then damage each round until the # of dice the poison should do is accumulated. If its normally save or die I'm a kind soul and cap the damage at 2 or 3 dice per HD of monster/module level. Sometimes if the save would mean 1/2 damage the character suffers 1/2 the total number of dice.
Really noxious poisons and fearsome obvious effects (boulders crushing you) do a fair amount of damage up front (maybe 1/2 total) and the drumbeat follows.

This system tends to be in the "gritty" end of the adventuring spectrum and requires a tiny bit of extra record keeping and it certainly makes the death of a fellow adventurer noticeable and more active part of play, not just an "oh shucks he's dead, let's move on" sort of situation.

I can certainly see some groups not enjoying this situation so a DM may want to avoid it or use it as a tool so the players have their characters really avoid being poisoned. There is the freak chance the character can be saved in such a situation or possibly die a heroic death fighting on knowing death is certain regardless of the outcome fo the next fight.

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