View Full Version : Killing "Save or Die"

2008-06-25, 05:07 AM
I really don't like "Save or Die" spells/abilities, for PCs or enemies: The former makes for a seriously anticlimactic encounter, and the latter makes a character death feel so cheap. For these purposes, I include shape-changing spells such as Flesh to stone, Glass-strike and I suppose Polymorph though that's not necessarily so bad. I discussed something like this a while ago, specifically about the catoblepas' death-rays, but I think I'd like to make some more general houserules about them. Any ideas? Some possibilities include:
Stretching it out over an extended period of time, lending a sense of urgency to the victim's efforts and allowing for the effect's removal before completion. For example, Flesh to stone might cause a person to slow down increasingly each round, until they're finally still and solid. Many/most of the others will also be part of this.
Translate it to ability damage, possibly accumulating over several rounds. For example, Flesh to stone may take 1 or 1dX Dex every round (with or without further saves?). When they reach 0 Dex, they turn to stone. In this case, one possibility might be that the damage can only be removed by Stone to flesh or any other spell that normally counters Flesh to stone.
Reduce the duration of shape-changers, possibly unless greater time is taken casting the spell. This has potential to spoil some interesting plots, though - the wizard-turned-cat, for example, or the party that takes on a Medusa too soon and suddenly find themselves several hundred years in the future with a very surprised-looking cleric in front of them.
Give shape-changed victims some sort of protection, for example making a human turned to stone harder to break than normal stone.

Um... That's all I've got.

2008-06-25, 05:48 AM
Time Regression (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/psionic/powers/timeRegression.htm) FTW.

...yes, I know you can't have every single villain / PC armed with a 9th level Nomad power that costs 1000 xp a shot anyway. But still, the whole "Yeah... that didn't happen" bit is a great way to avoid things going totally wrong over one die roll, and I wish they had more ways to get the same effect.

Anyway, for a more general homebrew/houserulish-thing, Disintegrate might be a good guideline -- convert them to "save or take massive damage", and any special instadeath effects (like being turned to stone) only hit if that damage kills you (maybe with other effects if it fails -- say, flesh to stone makes your body stiffen in painful agony as parts of it are petrified, heavily damaging you; if you survive the damage, you suffer a dex penalty until it's cured, while if you're dropped to 0, you're turned to stone per usual.)

If a spell wouldn't normally be genuinely 'fatal' or would have a special reversal condition (like flesh to stone), then it can't reduce you below 0, and when you're cured you come back at 0 hp -- or wherever you were if you were below 0 when it hit you (if it hits you and you fail the save when you're below 0, of course, you take no damage but get turned to stone or whatever automatically.)

2008-06-25, 06:59 AM
One idea I had once, but didn't get to work on it, is to offer an extra Fort save. If the target passes this 2nd Fort save, he gets only part of the full effect.
For example, death effects could instead deal massive damage, reducing the target to 1 or 0 HP. Petrification turns only part of the body into stone, giving different effects (a leg will reduce your speed, an arm keeps you from using some weapons, etc). Polymorphs adds penalties along some modified body parts (an arm turned into a wing, for example, or shortened legs). Mind controls would make effects similar to slow, representing the character's internal battle to escape the mind control.
Ideally, you cut the danger in half, but still making it dangerous, and gives the players that feel of "almost, but not quite", giving them a chance to survive (as does villains too)
The only downside is that you need to make up effects for all these spells.

Edit: Yeah, kinda like what Aquillion said too.

2008-06-25, 08:55 AM
Well, I had a whole post but the lame "server is busy" ate it. Grrr.

In a nutshell, 4th edition has a watered-down medusa who slows her opponents, then if they fail their save they are immobilizes them and then if they fail another save, they become petrified.

That's assuming that your PCs were in range of the gaze in the first place. Even without spells like stone to flesh or break enchantment there are things that can help. Stone salve should be available somewhere.

Since the party should be around 7th level, the sorcerer or wizard can do things like cast magic missile and blindness from a safe distance. Blinding the medusa won't stop her gaze, but it gives the party full coverage. The benefit is 50% of the time the gaze will fail. Plus, she can only move at half speed. That is on top of the 50% chance that a PC is actively averting his or her gaze. So instead of checking every round you check every other and then half of that.

Odds of a fighter surviving the gaze is fairly good (DC 15 Fort negates). A fighter with good Con and the Great Fortitude feat is better off. A 7th level fighter with a Con of 12 and Great Fortitudes has a +8 to his save before he rolls the dice. The odds are in his favor.

As for other save or die situations, there are ways around them (luck domain for re-rolling), death ward, boosting saves through feats like Great Fortitude or Iron Will. At worst, this is where raise dead, resurrection and so forth come into play. If the player's have access to such spells as Power Word: Kill, then it makes sense for the creatures they combat to have such power as well.

As a DM, you can choose when to use the "save or die." Just because it is available, doesn't mean that you always have to use it. Temper it with balance and you should be fine. If it is good drama, moves the story along or is appropriate use it. If not, there's always an alternative. I remember years ago, playing Chill. The reasons monsters show themselves to the PCs is because they are playing with their food -- like a cat plays with a mouse. If the cat actually kills the mouse, the game is over. Until then, the idea is to keep the game going....


2008-06-25, 01:28 PM
I very much like the idea of turning save-or-dies, especially transmutations, into progressive effects. Like the aforementioned Disintegrate; it doesn't necessarily kill you, but if it does then you are disintegrated. I personally do not believe that multiple saves should usually be allowed, though... Hold Person/Monster already does the 'immobilized until you make a save' thing. But if Stone to Flesh (or similar spells that transform the victim into something immobile) dealt 1 unpreventable Dex damage that represented the victim slowly petrifying until they finally turn to stone once they hit 0, you'd have all the flavor and what was still a fairly effective spell, and not have to deal with the whole save-or-die dynamic (or lack thereof). A Medusa's gaze could inflict 1d6 Dex damage every round (possibly with a higher save, or even no save at all, though the latter might be a bit too much...), again petrifying the victim once they hit 0.

Baleful Polymorph and similar effects could allow multiple saves to determine the length of the effect. One save to avoid being transformed at all, another after a few rounds to attempt to turn back, and if you fail that one, one last save a few hours later. Fail all three, and you not only mentally become that animal, but the change is permanent unless someone breaks it.

The thing I'm not sure about is enchantments like Charm and Dominate. A multiple-save system like Baleful Polymorph might work... Even if you get Dominated, you can attempt a save to 'shut down' and be stunned for a few rounds instead of attacking your allies.

2008-06-25, 03:34 PM
When you fail a saving throw, your character can choose to be dazed for a round and suffer the effects of a successful save. (If you are immune to daze, then you cannot take this option).

On their next round, they may make another save, and suffer the consequences.

If you provide a suitably bad "made the safe" effect (ie, you take 2d4 dex damage that heals at the rate of 1 per round when you make a save against the Medusa's gaze), this generates a "soft" save or die, and allows party members to pull out defensive magic.

2008-06-25, 09:06 PM
Having saveorX effects deal stat damage seems the best to me. Going 4E makes them too insignificant and worthless, while time spent modifying every such spell'd be enough to design a whole new magic system.

But flat xdy damages that'd work for those with massive scores would be instantly fatal with those that are not. So division is the way to go. Get spells to halve the relevant stat when cast, then again each round until 0. The average guy then has 4 rounds until death/suck. Something with a huge score like 36 will have 6 rounds.

To prevent undue suffering, don't change stat mods until spell's finished/dispelled.

2008-06-25, 09:51 PM
Here are some good suggestions:

Death effects should just do a boat-load of Constitution damage.

Disintegration should just do a lot of fire and sonic damage.

Flesh to Stone should recreate the effects of the Slow spell except double the penalties and the effects stack accumulatively every round (a Fort save to resist every round is given) and if the total penalty goes up to -8 the character turns completely to stone. In addition, for every -1 penalty the character takes they also gain a +25% fortification and +2 damage reduction/adamantine as they slowly turn to stone. A natural 1 save turns the character to stone instantly. The slowing effect of this spell is automatically cured if the stone effect is cured, but otherwise remains until the spell's duration ends.

Baleful Polymorph should recreate the effects of the Enervation spell except the duration is 1 round/level and the effects stack accumulatively every round (a Fort save to resist every round is given) and if the level loss ever reduces the target to 1 hit dice or less they transform into a harmless animal just as the normal Baleful Polymorph spell instead of dying. A natural 1 save turns the character to a harmless animal instantly. Levels lost by this spell are automatically returned if the polymorphing effect is cured, but otherwise must be regained normally.

2008-06-25, 10:54 PM
Disintegration should just do a lot of fire and sonic damage.Um, it already just does damage (and has a special effect if that damage kills, I guess, but that has less to do with save-or-dieness).

Are you suggesting that the saving throw be removed and the damage reduced to d6/level, or that it just needs to have its damage given an element or something? Because that seems absolutely dull.

2008-07-05, 03:40 AM
Giving this a bump because there's some great stuff here so far, and I intend to try to get a full list of save-or-die spells and go through them all properly and collate them.

2008-07-05, 12:26 PM
The ability damage for a spell like Flesh to Stone is a good idea. Another thought that has been going around inside my head for a little while is to make the casting of save or die spells dangerous to the caster as well as to the target. This would be represented by the spellcaster being forced to pass a Will save vs the spell DC or suffer some sort of negative effect. For example, a 14th level necromancer with a 18 Int and Spell Focus: Necromancy casts Finger of Death at his opponent. The opponent must make a Fort save (DC 21) or die, if he save he takes 3d6+14 damage. The necromancer must then make a Will save (DC 21) or take 3d6+14 damage, if he succeeds he takes nothing.

Anyway, I think its a way to both add some extra tension to save or die spells and to make the spell caster think twice before using them.

2008-07-05, 01:30 PM
3E magic is sorely in need of drawbacks. That way, magic is not the pwn button. SaveorXes as they are a good place to apply this. But changing them into ability damage and then making them backfireable might nerf them too much.

Which might be what's being aimed here.

2008-07-05, 01:50 PM
3E magic is sorely in need of drawbacks. That way, magic is not the pwn button. SaveorXes as they are a good place to apply this. But changing them into ability damage and then making them backfireable might nerf them too much.

Which might be what's being aimed here.

I am not sure if this response is aimed at me, but I am looking at keeping the spell effect the same (at least for most spells) and adding a draw back or at least a potential drawback to casting the spell.

2008-07-06, 06:05 AM
Hmmm... I've started looking through the spells (haven't gotten very far yet, though <.<) and there are some where you can see what they were going for, and solutions such as, say, stretching out their effects would ruin the effect (generally "that was so cool!"). Adding a risk could be good for those ones...