Note to players in my 13th Age campaign: this is just flushing out an old draft I had lying around, nothing directly related to our campaign. Never fear. Much.
Here’s what I think about “Save or Die”.
I think Save or Die has both potential for extreme excitement, and extreme suckage.
It’s exciting while you try to stay safe from having to make the roll at all. It can even be exciting to make the roll.
It sucks when it comes from nowhere. It sucks if you see it coming, but there’s nothing you can do about it.
I think a lot of the suckage is down to the way the timing works. “Crap, I was bitten! Crap, I’m dead!” There’s no curve to it — the gradient is extremely steep, if not infinite. You don’t even have time to appreciate the inevitability of you doom.
This analysis, no matter how trite it is, suggests a couple of things that can be done without compromising on the excitement while reducing the suckage:
- Save Or Die should not be a surprise, mostly. An old-school dungeon crawl is largely about treating the dungeon itself as an extremely dangerous opponent: if you don’t know something is safe, you’re better off assuming it’s deadly; and having things which are Save Or Die is a great way to underline that, even if they don’t always carry clear warning labels…
- Save or Die doesn’t have to be instant. It can be “Save or Die in two days.” It can be “Save or Lose 1d6 hp / round until dead.” It can even include the possibility of treatment in that period, though I would be careful about that: it might easily turn into something the GM is then obliged to provide, in which case leaving Save or Die out of the game entirely is probably a better idea.
Anyways, this is what I thought about this almost two years ago. :)