Something I mentioned in passing last week when looking at our lineup of healing spells is the fact that some energy drain attacks sap STR or CON rather than levels.
Since James at Grognardia has posted on the subject, I’ll put up a few of my own thoughts.
In fact, energy drain could drain nearly anything, from ability points to hit points to armor class to attack bonus (to-hit roll). I see these attacks as, well, draining various sorts of energy from the victim. It could be something as simple as weakening the victim (STR, CON, or hit point drain), depleting mental capability (INT or WIS), permanently fatiguing the character (DEX, AC, or to-hit rolls), or even drawing off the character’s ability to interact with others (CHA).
Level drains are terrible, but they can be regained easily enough. Other losses can’t be restored without magic, though the spells required aren’t quite as high level as restoration.
Here is the rule as we’ve currently got it written up in the alpha version of our homebrew game:
Energy Drain attacks can drain either ability scores or levels of experience from characters. There is usually no saving throw. These losses can possibly be restored by powerful magic. Levels lost this way can also be re-gained by further adventuring.
Characters who lose points or levels are immediately altered to use the new modifiers for the new abilities, and a character who loses a level or a CON bonus to hit points must immediately roll new hit points. The lower between the previous total and the new is kept. Existing damage is deducted from the new hit point level.
Characters who have an ability score or their level reduced to 0 die immediately and get no saving throw.
We also have a rule that any ability below 3 renders a character unconscious. In the case of energy drain, this could be a permanent condition, leaving the character comatose unless healed.
The write-ups of most monsters with an energy drain attack have been altered to affect ability scores rather than levels, though the potential for non-standard monsters exists. For instance, a vampire drains 2 to 4 points of CON depending on the number of HD it has, but there’s nothing preventing a vampire from being created which drains STR or levels or WIS or whatever. Maybe one particular 9 HD vampire drains 2 STR and 2 CON, while another drains 2 DEX and 1 level.
James wonders about allowing a saving throw vs. energy drain, but I’m not inclined to do so in the case of attacks. A vampire needs to roll a to-hit to strike already and I don’t think allowing a save vs. the damage makes sense. In the case of non-attack energy drains, though, I’d be much more inclined to allow a save vs. death to avoid or half the drain.