23 April 2013

S is for Save or Die!

Well, I had a horrible migraine yesterday and did not crawl out of bed until sometime after two in the afternoon and was worthless even after that. Whoever wrote up the migraine flaw for Hackmaster got it right, I must say! Therefore, I will do two posts today. So let's get started!
See? The Joker rolls old School!

There has been some discussion on some of the OSR Google+ communities lately about the "save or die" mechanic. It essentially boils down to the argument of "letting the dice fall as they will" vs. "coddling the players by fudging the rolls." Now, admittedly most of the discussion focuses on 0E and its clones, but the attitudes hold forth for 1E as well and some of its later iterations such as 2E or Hackmaster. It is interesting to note, as an aside, that there is blasted little dying in 3.5 from level drain, resurrection, poison, etc.; mostly it's ability loss. However, that keeps characters (and thus players) in the game. But, to quote Kelly Bundy, "I digest."
Random Hot Girl Pic of the Day
A close examination of AD&D, however, reveals that there is little in the way of save or die. "But what about poison?" I hear my gentle readers asking. Good point. However. an examination of the poison tables in the DMG (p. 20) shows that only the most expensive of the insinuative poisons (Type D, onset time of 1 segment, 1500 g.p. per dose!) is save or die. The type A poison allows a +4 save, has an onset time of 2-5 ROUNDS, does 15 damage, and costs 15 g.p. per does; this is the one that should most often be encountered at lower levels. (For comparison, a +1 sword "costs" 2000 g.p per DMG, p. 124.) While 15 h.p. will kill most first level players outright anyway, there are characters that could survive that at first level (it is possible for a barbarian and ranger to max out at 20 hp at 1st level). Even natural poisons are not that deadly. Per MM1, a giant spider's poison is save or die, but that creature has 4+4 HD and AC 4 making it as deadly as an ogre to a first level party just by way of fortitude!
What about polymorph? Even a character with a constitution score of 10 have almost a two-thirds chance (65%) to survive. Petrification? Stone to Flesh. Magic? Most magic does directed damage with a successful save allowing for half damage.
So, it would appear that save or die, as such, is actually more connected to 0E and stems from a wargaming mechanic "ported over" to original D&D.
And speaking of such, I must recommend the Save or Die! podcast if you have any interest in 0E, Holmes, B/X, BECMI, or any of their myriad clones. They're always entertaining and I say that even though DM Mike and DM Liz are friends that I have known about 25 years. Please check them out at the link below. Also, I have posted links to Roll for Initiative, a 1E Podcast and  THACO's Hammer, a 2E podcast.
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