I feel like “rot grub check” is the D&D equivalent of a “cup check.”

Shall we talk about save-or-die abilities? Let’s shall, because the old school rot grub is the poster boy for “oops you’re dead.”

This stuff is on my mind because of my megadungeon campaign. My PCs recently walked into a dungeon level dominated by a medusa cult, and there is A LOT of of save-or-die going on. If I’m mathing properly, the party have encountered no less than 18 medusae and one fiendish basilisk over the course of the past two sessions. They’re at that stage of the campaign where most of them have to roll a natural 1 to fail the save, but in the face of multiple saves per round… Well you guys remember Clown Shoes the monk, right? The same math applies. A total of four party members have been petrified so far.

It sounds like a miserable experience on paper, but in practice it’s been a lot of fun. Session one involved a narrow escape for a three-man party. The last unstoned PC managed to beat up on three medusa blackguards before teleporting his stoned companions back to town. They regrouped, made a butt-load of break enchantment scrolls, and then headed back down with greater numbers. My sense is that they’re enjoying the challenge and the risk, and that negotiating with save-or-die situations is adding fun rather than frustration to the campaign.

Of course, you may have noticed that I’m cheating a bit. Getting turned to stone is not the same thing as death, and a break enchantment scroll is far less expensive than raise dead. This is a “soft save-or-die,” and so far the concept has fit perfectly into my game. My players got plenty of warning about the situation, took the time to prepare, and are able to bounce back from a bad save with relative ease. So for me, the lesson is clear: If you’re going to turn up the dials on save-or-die situations, it pays to turn down the dials on consequences for death.

How about the rest of you guys? What has your experience been like with save-or-die effects? Do you like ’em or hate ’em? Let’s hear it in the comments!