Level Drain is one of those abilities in D&D that cause a lot of whining and gnashing of teeth when a creature that has this ability appears, and rightly so. As a player I have been the victim of such creatures simply because our DM wanted to run a 9th level module, and all of the characters were 12th level. So que the Level Drain monster. Levels are hard earned and getting set back a few levels is just annoying, to say the least.
The question though, as a DM; is how do you alter those creatures so they don’t suck and make you look like a total tool for having them show up in your games, while at the same time maintaining the utterly delightful terror they cause players?
I have seen several house-rules where these creatures instead cause permanent CON damage when they hit a victim. These rules, while they offset the mental carnage and player rage caused by level draining, have always seem too lenient on the
victims…err I mean PC’s. There is no fear of
death, which is probably true of a lot of other creatures as well, but I would
like to keep players wary of such creatures and maintain their reputation as
nasty creatures. Also, the CON drain approach has always seemed to be a bit off
thematically as well. These creatures are trying to drain your life-force, your
soul brother! As such, they should be draining you WIS stat. You know, the one
clerics are supposed to have good scores in, and is all vaguely tied to
decision making skills, piety and all that goodness.
So if you managed to hack your way through that rambling poorly thought out tangle of brambles and are still with me, here is how I would change it all.
All creatures that are capable of level draining make an attack as normal. On a hit the creatures drains 1d6 points from the targets Wisdom score. If the characters Wisdom score reaches 0 the character is drained of all of the life-force and dies. In addition the player rolls a d6 to randomly determine a character stat and permanently subtracts 1 point from the rolled stat.
Regaining drained Wisdom works just as it would for HP. So after x number of days your character should be back to normal, well almost. Whether healing potions, magic heal level drain is up the DM.
This gets rid of the level drain, but should make these creatures a threat regardless of level. Using a HP alternative method for damage is a good way to make creatures or specific types of attacks dangerous, and keep them that way. As the PC’s don’t have a pile of HP to hide behind even if they are high levels. I also like to have poison work in this same manner, but against Con, but without the permanent side effects. On the other hand, given the creatures HD and the characters level they may not pose that much of a threat after all.
Why random stat draining? So my thought on this is that the draining of your life-force is pretty random in what it will impact, but there should always be some sort of impact. Each person is different so the
life-force draining will affect them differently. Of course if it makes
thematic sense based on the creatures to drain one or two stats only, I would go