“Save or Die” used to suck
In all the previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons “Save or Die” was this thing that many DMs avoided. That is, unless they were just tired of the characters at the table. It just felt overly brutal to make a player roll one dice and go from 100% to absolutely done!
That’s what it was back in the day, literally save or die. Along came resurrection and that softened the blow, but you had to rely on the rest of your party to carry your corpse back to a temple, spend all your money, come back with less con (It was just an ordeal). A phase spider could really interrupt the entire night’s game.
Along came 5E
I’m not living in the 5E world and I still prefer older versions of Dungeons & Dragons. I recently came across a really nice feature of 5E for DMs. Save or Die!
My latest bit of writing involved a giant Black Widow Spider (2ft. across) hiding in an privy pit. Her venom needed to be deadly, and I could just pop in “Save VS CON DC16 or DIE”. Now I am able to take the thing I didn’t like about 5E (Death saving throws) and make them work to my advantage.
Now we can say save or die, but what we mean is save or “Go to zero HP and start your death saving throws.” I understand this is the kind DM version. Save or die can still mean save or die! This kinder version does continue to make deadly things quite deadly, but doesn’t let the life of your character rest on one roll that might only have a 30% chance of success.
I would like to put my brain to this to find a good way to do a similar house rule in 1E or 2E for Save or Die creatures. What have you done in your games to avoid the cold “Save or Die” phrase?