While I am working over monsters to use variable Hit Dice types and looking at higher level spells I keep bumping into two issues that I want to put more thought into, level drain and 'instant' death spells. After mulling these things over in the back of my mind for a while now I thought it might help me to write a post about them.
First let me say that I like the idea of level drain. I also think that it is a horrible game mechanic and I always used to try to avoid using because it brought the game to a screeching halt. Level drain is awesome because it is a game mechanic that manages to capture the feeling of the in game effect. Players are terrified of loosing levels almost as much as their characters would be terrified of loosing life-force. This makes those monsters that drain levels a very good monster class to trot out because it ups the game. However once a character actually undergoes level drain then all that excellent is thrown away as you immediately get into the mechanics of character generation and those are some of the least immersive and most tedious game mechanics. Level drain works well only in very simple games like OD&D. Even in AD&D it was a massive pain to drop levels and almost impossible to do without bringing the game to a stop*. However the anticipation of a level drain is such a great mechanic that it deserves some leeway and some attempt at saving.
One thing I have been thinking of is substituting stat loss for level, this has a few things to recommend it, one being that stats are more dear than hit points and so some of that sense of dread is retained. I immediately thought of Strength loss but then I started thinking how cool it would be to have it be Charisma instead. This kind of tied in with my idea that Charisma is a will power analogue. Charisma could be a good indicator of your vitality and a case could be made to say that as it dropped a character became less and less animated and more suggestible until they were a walking husk. As cool as that might be on paper, I don't know if it would strike that same level of fear into the hearts of the players.
The other issue I've been dwelling on is the spells that cause instant death. Well instant death if you fail a saving throw. There is a good discussion of dealing with save or die mechanics over at the Alexandrian so I'm not going to go into the whys of it here. Funny thing is that he proposes using stat loss for this as well. I'm not one to shy away from using stat loss as a mechanic - just look at the rules for damage or the critical hit table in Beacon. I think that I will probably be including more stat loss effects in spells and creature abilities to represent more drastic damage than HP damage (I probably already have). However the problem with this is that it is hard to translate those type of mechanics to when characters are targeting monsters - even if you use simple HD derived stats for the monsters it's more to keep track of. I guess you can expect to see some of those save vs death spells to remain and some to be converted to stat busters.
*update note: apparently the concept of negative levels was developed in 3rd edition D&D to deal with this, it seems like a reasonable compromise and once again shows me that you can't ever keep up with all this RPG crap.