Enervation causes the target creature to gain negative levels. In the description of the negative levels where (emphasis mine):

The creature is also treated as one level lower for the purpose of level-dependent variables (such as spellcasting) for each negative level possessed.

What does this exactly mean?

  • by creatures (i.e., monsters) there is usually no level. Does this apply to hit-dice-dependent variables as well?

  • With variables it is meant:

    • things that are computed during an action (at the moment)

    • things that were computed using a level

    I ask since all the other effects as the ability checks and attack roll penalties are affecting values that are depending on the level but are not really variables (as the range of a spell computed with the level)

An example: casting enervation on a dragon does affect it's spell resistance value?

  • the SR value of the dragon is dependent on it's age/hit dices but is not based on its level

  • the SR is not really a variable


2 Answers 2


You are right: many attributes of monsters are unaffected by negative levels.

A negative level does not affect HD-dependent abilities, even if a creature suffering a number of negative levels equal to its Hit Dice immediately dies.

As you pointed out, the SR of a dragon is not based on its class level (but only on its Challenge Rating) and is unaffected by negative levels.

However, most dragon cast spells like a Sorcerer of a level dependent upon their age category. Even if the base CL is determined by its Age, such CL is a class-specific caster level, and so it is affected to negative levels.

Similarly, the CL for its spell-like abilities (even if equal to its HD) is considered to be a "level" (by definition) and so it is affected by negative levels too.

Also remember that a negative level bears additional drawbacks (emphasis mine):

[...] 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. [...]. If a creature's negative levels equal or exceed its total Hit Dice, it dies.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 just what I was going to say (after girding myself up post-comment) so saved me doing it. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Aug 24, 2012 at 11:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank, this is what I supposed but having a second opinion helps. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matteo
    Aug 24, 2012 at 13:10

Let's start with the definitions:

[Dragon rules:]

Spells: A dragon knows and casts arcane spells as a sorcerer of the level indicated in its specific description. Its caster level depends on its age, as shown for each type.

[Energy drain and negative levels:]

The creature is also treated as one level lower for the purpose of level-dependent variables (such as spellcasting) for each negative level possessed.

We have two possible interpretations:

  • literal: if "level-dependent variables" means contains the word "level" in the description of the variables. E.g. spell casting for dragons is not affected, since it literally depends on the age.

  • meaning: "level-dependent variables" means "variables depending on the progression of the monster/character". E.g. spell casting for dragons is affected, since it depends on the progression of the monster. Corollary: the dragon's SR (depending on CR) and the dragon's spell-like abilities (depending on HD) are affected.

The first interpretation would lead to very strange situations:

  • an animal companion for a druid (11th level) with 10 negative levels: it loses all its +6 natural armor bonus since level is mentioned in the table.

  • a mature adult dragon, with 10 negative levels: its natural armor, breath weapon, SR and DR all remain the same, since they depend respectively on age, age, CR and age.

  • \$\begingroup\$ It is not the level of the animal companion but the level of the druid. The second point is not so strange: the dragon will not shrink and the natural armor will unlikely change. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matteo
    Aug 24, 2012 at 14:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ That would be even more strange: this means that negative levels on an animal companion do not influence any of the level-dependent variables, since the level is the one of the druid? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 24, 2012 at 16:35

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