[RPG] What does a negative level feel like to the character


When a character gains a negative level from any source, what is the narrative effect of that negative level? How does the character (re)act, how do they feel? Does that differ for various ways of getting negative levels?

From the rules as written, the in-game effects of negative levels are as follows:

For each negative level a creature has, it takes a cumulative –1 penalty on all ability checks, attack rolls, combat maneuver checks, Combat Maneuver Defense, saving throws, and skill checks. In addition, the creature reduces its current and total hit points by 5 for each negative level it possesses. The creature is also treated as one level lower for the purpose of level-dependent variables (such as spellcasting) for each negative level possessed. Spellcasters do not lose any prepared spells or slots as a result of negative levels. If a creature’s negative levels equal or exceed its total Hit Dice, it dies.

It seems like these effects are pretty severe, especially when you take into effect the spell needed to remove the effects: Restoration, which has some considerable casting requirements, and notably removes all exhaustion, fatigue, and ability damage to one ability for lesser casting requirements. With the various effects that Restoration can remove, it seems to reason that level drain is simply a more extreme version of the other effects.

I imagine negative levels could potentially be different if granted by different sources. In a recent game a character returned to life via Raise Dead, which grants two negative levels. One of those negative levels can be removed by Restoration, but Restoration says a second casting needs to wait a week for the other negative level. In that week between, how should that character react? Are they too exhausted to adventure, or provide labor for various downtime activities?

Should characters who gain negative levels through other means than being brought back to life act in different ways? My experience with negative levels states they mainly come from death effects – either the touch of a dangerous monster with ties to death, or from dying and coming back. These all seem to have a common flavor origin – the touch of death lingering on a character.

I'm interested in mainly official answers that I could point out to a DM who may not let characters take specific actions during this week period. Barring official answers, any well-supported answer is appreciated.

Best Answer

It feels like your soul is getting wrenched out of your body (?).

This is how its described on a high-level haunt, the Soul Vortex (Horror Adventures):

The soul vortex is a gaping wound in the fabric of reality connected to the Negative Energy Plane. One may form at the site of a massive tragedy that claims hundreds of thousands of lives. The soul vortex annihilates the souls of anyone unfortunate enough to encounter it, and rips through the protections that even the most experienced adventurers consider unassailable.

A black vortex appears in the center of the haunt’s radius, and tugs inexorably on the souls of all creatures within its reach. Each round, before it targets their souls, the vortex first targets the magic protecting them, affecting each creature with a greater dispel magic effect that targets death ward or any other spells that would prevent level drain first. After the dispelling effect, the creature must succeed at a DC 23 Will save to partially resist the vortex’s pull. On a success, the creature takes 1d4 negative levels. On a failure, that creature’s soul is wrenched out of its body and destroyed. Only miracle or wish can reconstitute a soul that the vortex devours. The vortex gains 5 temporary hit points for each level it drains— treat devouring a soul as draining as many negative levels as it would normally take to kill the creature.

This is a very specific description of how the loss of those negative levels are affecting your character, and it doesn't exactly clarify how does a character feel like. But it's the closest that a character will get to the negative energy plane without actually going there and suffering the consequences.

Only creatures immune to its life-draining energies can survive there.

Devourers have a different description in Undead Revisited (p. 11):

Devourers can cause devastating damage with a touch, and those foes killed in this fashion find their souls forcibly drawn out and trapped inside the devourer’s body, where their essence is leeched away and used for spellcasting.

Devourers can only consume a single soul at a time, absorbing it piece by piece as they utilize their magical abilities, and must finish off or relinquish one soul in order to consume and utilize another. For a trapped soul, the only real hope is that someone will target its captor with one of the eclectic collection of spells that can cause a devourer to momentarily lose control of the spirit, allowing the imprisoned soul to escape. Upon occasion, those wishing to obtain the release of a captive soul have attempted to bargain with the devourer, offering it a more powerful soul in exchange, but in these situations a devourer often simply burns up the last of its current soul energy in capturing the new morsel.

Those souls that are successfully released and resurrected come back weaker and drained—and those destroyed completely by the devourer’s consumption cannot be brought back by anything less than the most powerful mortal magic.

This makes be believe that each draining source feels different to their victims, though the result is similar: You feel weaker, drained out, tired, soul-wrenched, and possibly sad and/or depressed too. The effects will vary because the sources will vary too.

If Paizo was to describe how energy drain feels like as a whole, they would be limiting their own creativity on new energy draining effects and they would have to create new mechanics to represent the flavor they need for that effect.

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