An Energy Drain Alternative

While sketching out ideas for a “gothic horror” campaign setting for ACKS, I came up with the following idea:
Replace each level of energy drain with 5 years of aging (10 years for dwarves, 20 years for elves). Creatures that drain 2 levels inflict 10/20/40 years of aging. If the aging is enough to push the character into a new age bracket, the sudden shock of aging requires a saving throw versus Death. Such a death will result in a character rising as an undead.
Given ACKS’ punitive penalties for aging (-2 to all physical stats by age 36!), aging could serve a function quite akin to sanity in Call of Cthulhu - a slow, remorseless meter of the ongoing ruin of your character. True, your 18-year old 1st level fighter won’t fear a few blows from a wight at first. But when he realizes that the grizzled ghost-hunter in the tavern that he thought was sixty years old is actually 30 - well, that’s scary.
The prospect of aging will make undeath seem like a better option, doubling the terror, too.

I had once toyed with a similar idea for other OSR games. I think rapid aging better represents the idea of an undead draining your life force than losing XP, because to me XP and levels represent the character’s training and competence. If undead can drain your level, does that mean that they are taking away your training as an adventurer? I also felt level drain was too much of a GM tool to nerf the PCs.
That’s my 2 cents anyway.

I quite like this as well. Feels right, still scary, still permanent, but doesn’t cheat you of your hard-earned XP.

Ooh, I like this!
…now I want to tinker with the aging table, to spread the penalties around a bit, so they don’t all hit on a single year.

So you would have energy drain push PCs closer to the end of their career rather than drag them back towards the begining? I’m skeptical. As much as everyone hates being level drained, at least you don’t have to do anything special to get over it. Just keep adventuring and eventually you will get those XP back. As a DM, I already have more than enough ways to kill PCs off. I like having in my toolbox a negative consequence that players hate and fear, but which doesn’t stop the character from continuing.

Merely finding the treasure pile of the wight who drained you will put you very close to being back to where you were (killing the wiggt and taking it’s treasure literally takes the sting out of some of the draining). There is no such mechanic in aging.

I’d rather have an effect that makes more “in game” sense, and to me, aging the character feels more appropriate that draining levels of experience. Permanent loss of stats (hit points, ability scores) sound like they would emulate energy drain too. I’d like to see a few ways that undead can slay characters… makes it more interesting, unpredictable, and scary for PCs.

I was first going to say that aging is horrible, because it is pretty much irreversible, setting a limit on the total number a character can be level drained over their career without dying of old age.
…then I realized that a human at the top of the Adult age bracket could be drained 5 times before hitting Old. I would count myself well and truly damned if I lost a total of five levels to wights over my career. Lucky to be alive too, but talk about suckage…
(A Wight and its hoard averages 645XP/character with four players. If we make the conservative assumption of one successful drain per four wights vanquished, then anyone losing a level higher than 4th isn’t really compensated by the treasure – but losing earlier levels isn’t that bad.)
…besides, this gives characters a motivation to quest for the Fountain of Youth. :wink:

I think aging makes the most sense too both thematically and mechanically.

I have hated level drain sooooo much for so many years. I can not now in good conscience inflict it on anybody I actually like who is playing a character they like. I usually go Ability score drain, and offer some not too egregious out (usually making it an adventure hook). Old school fidelity be damned.
That said, what about a twist with setting impact - wights drain levels, but in doing so, they also make the victim more youthful. Completely drained of age and experience, they are reduced to squalling infants who’re probably bargained to some hideous dark underlord to use in breeding ghoul-men. But, they can preserve youth and vigor at the expense of draining the mind of experience and insight. Imagine the decadent kingdom in which the vain courtiers keep wights chained with silver collars so they can preserve their youth at the expense of their wisdom…

i’m not sure about the aging idea. although there are rules for aging characters, age never really comes into play. if age were more prominent in the game, then why not. perhaps one should age make play a more important note on the whole?
as a side note, i poseted about wraiths a proposal (taken from there):
“Coming back to Energy Drain…i’m strongly considering houseruling this (again):
instead of xp loss and level reduction use: -1 cumulative penalty per lost level instead of actual level loss. This penalty applies to all throw values (perhaps to damage rolls too. not sure). If penalty equals class level you are dead. This penalty cannot be reduced by natural healing, only a restore/wish spell removes one point from the penalty per casting…any other suggesstions?”
another thought: perhaps another option is reserve XP that can be used to mitigate the level loss (or for above option reduce penalty by 1 point)