But I also kind of like an idea that I came across where, instead of using savage progressions (or for characters where a savage progression is inappropriate), you can start out as a monster with all the relevant abilities and powers, but you have enough negative level adjustments (similar to, but not actually, negative levels) to bring you down to effective level 1. Every time you level up, instead of leveling, you lose a negative level adjustment, until you don't have any more negative level adjustments.
First, let's analyze the idea of using negative level adjustments, or even just negative levels, instead of savage progressions to see to what extent it has merit.
A normal negative level gives:
- -1 on all skill checks, ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws
- -5 hit points
- -1 effective level
- -1 highest level available spell slot
The suggested negative LA drops the -5 hp, the lost spell slots, and the reduced effective level, but adds the following:
- -1 DC for all abilities which call for a saving throw
- -1 to any constant Armor Class bonus granted by race
- Level adjustment is reduced by 1
I kind of want to test each. And I kind of want to see if it could work at all for creatures that do have racial hit dice, which would normally be the domain of savage progressions. (You see, I'd be okay with doing away with savage progressions altogether, if there's a simpler replacement system available. (I actually very much doubt that this will work out so nicely, but let's give it a try.)) So we'll test traditional negative levels and fancy negative levels on, oh, let's say a drow and a drider.
A drow with 2 traditional levels, enough to bring it down to ECL1, gets:
- +2 Dexterity, -2 Constitution, +2 Intelligence, +2 Charisma
- Land speed 30 feet.
- Darkvision 120 feet.
- Spell resistance 11.
- +2 racial bonus on Will saves against spells and spell-like abilities.
- Dancing Lights, Darkness, Faerie Fire 1/day, CL1.
- Weapon Proficiency: hand crossbow, rapier, short sword.
- Light blindness
- Miscellaneous elf traits
- -2 to all skill checks, ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws
- -10 hp
- -1 highest level available spell slot
- ECL 1
That's, um... A barbarian (or knight or warblade) will have 2+con HP. A fighter needs to have at least 16 constitution before racial modifier to have more than 1 HP. Any class with a d8, d6, or d4 hit die will always have 1 HP. Super-fragile.
Aside from that, not too awful, could be balanced.
The variant negative LA leaves the character with their full normal hp, but otherwise the same. Again, could be balanced.
Let's see a drider with 9 traditional negative levels:
- Large (Space/Reach 10'/5')
- 6 Aberration hit dice, but loses 45 HP, leaving him probably close to 1 HP
- +4 Strength, +4 Dexterity, +6 Constitution, +4 Intelligence, +6 Wisdom, +6 Charisma
- Land speed 30 feet, climb speed 15 feet
- Darkvision 60
- +6 natural armor
- Poison DC 10 + con
- Spell Resistance 17
- Casts as a 6th-level cleric, wizard, or sorcerer, but loses 9 spell slots.
- 1/day: dancing lights (DC 10+cha), clairaudience/clairvoyance, darkness, detect good, detect law, detect magic, dispel magic, faerie fire, levitate, suggestion (DC 13+cha)
- +4 Hide and Move Silently. +8 Climb, can always take 10 on Climb checks.
- -9 on all skill checks, ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws
- -9 effective levels
As a sorcerer, he could cast 6 cantrips and 5 1st-level spells/day, but he only knows 5 cantrips. As a cleric, he can cast 5 orisons and 2 1st-level spells/day. As a wizard, he can cast 3 cantrips/day.
Contrariwise, the negative LA system would let him keep all his spells and spell slots (and all his HP), but the DC of any spell that has a save (and the two such SLAs) is reduced by 9, and he loses his natural armor. He regains the 1/2 his racial HD to his poison's save DC, but then loses 9, for a total DC of 4 + con.
In conclusion, this system was, for very good reason, not intended for use with creatures that have racial hit dice and high LAs, and cannot reasonably be adapted to their use.
But even when applied properly, to creatures with 1 class level and a level adjustment, both versions of the system are only so-so. I don't anticipate incorporating either into my game.