In a Class and Level System, a character's new levels are generally considered permanent: A character only ever levels up, only ever increases in power. But in many games, some enemies have the ability to take these levels away from a character to weaken them, usually attributed to draining the character's Life Energy. Due to undertones of necromancy, this ability generally only manifests in the undead, or in characters who've trained on the "evil" or "grey" ends of the Character Alignment spectrum. While a level drain has the overall effect of universally weakening the character, side effects vary; for example, a character might lose the skills or abilities they received during the initial level-up. If there is no way to easily gain these levels back (like, say, defeating the opponent), enemies that can do this often take on the status of Demonic Spiders, especially if they appear in groups and can drain more than one level per shot. Characters who lose all their levels this way typically die (and may come back as the same creature that killed them, or a subordinate creature under the control of their killer), particularly if the creature was undead, as undeath has a common tendency to do that. Compare Class Change Level Reset, where changing classes makes your level drop, and Maximum HP Reduction, where this applies only to life points. Do not confuse with a Drain Level, which is about the design of a level or stage.
- This is a major game mechanic in Cave Story. You level up your weapons by collecting powerups that enemies drop, and getting injured by anything will lower your weapon level: this also serves as an unique weapon balance factor since different weapons have varying amounts of "spare" experience that you can lose without weakening your weapon once you reach the max level.
- On the path to 100% Completion, a full reset happens twice: "You feel a black wind blow through you. All weapons dropped to Level 1!" Though you're almost guaranteed to have at least one weapon — the Spur, the Nemesis, or the Blade — that still deals out good damage at Level 1. Arguably, the de-leveling in Sacred Grounds is an equalizer, so that your chance of success isn't affected by how well you fared in the preceding boss fight.
- It should be mentioned that one of these guns (Nemesis) is much BETTER when it's unleveled, so anyone wielding it has to either actively dodge experience drops or invoke this trope.
- The original PC-88/MSX version of Valis: The Phantasm Soldier uses the same mechanic as Cave Story, where getting injured by anything will lower your weapon level.
- In Blaster Master, the human pilot loses his gun level when he gets damaged.
- Zelda II The Adventure Of Link: While not as far as stealing levels, there are enemies who can steal your XP with each hit (as well as doing traditional damage.)
- Runescape has many monsters, especially quest monsters, who do the temporary sort of draining, and there's even 'disease' from special undead, which hits a random stat for 10 to 1 levels, and there are potions to restore levels and cure disease, as well as jewelery that takes the disease for you.
- Kingdom of Loathing features items, equipment, and familiars that can do this to monsters. On the other side, there are also items and equipment that can add levels to the enemy, in order to boost their power (and the Experience Points paid out for defeating them). A few rare items can do this to your own statistics, too.
- In the early days of EverQuest, you could fall into a "death loop"—If your spawn point was near a group of monsters, they'd keep killing you repeatedly. What made it even worse was that you'd spawn without your equipment, making you even easier to kill. You could easily lose a level or more this way. As you can guess, this was a Scrappy Mechanic.
- Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne has Arthas losing levels over the course of the campaign, though this isn't due to actions by enemies but rather just part of the plot.
- Many Roguelikes, such as NetHack, have this as just one of the many dangers that your character can face. Yes, they're Nintendo Hard.
- The original Rogue had one of these too, the Wraith. It drained a level but left you at the maximum experience of the previous level, so the experience from killing the wraith would make you go up a level again (though with minimal experience for it). Too bad if you got drained twice before killing one, though.
- Angband has not only various levels of EXP drains, but also melee attacks that lower any or all of your stats.
- Ragnarok has monsters that can drain your levels, as well as reduce other stats.
- The original Diablo had yellow zombies, which permanently reduced your max HP every time they landed a successful hit.
- Pokemon Mystery Dungeon has Doom Seeds, which lower your level by one if you're hit by one... or eat it. Explorers of Sky also added a Lookalike Item called the Dough Seed, with a very good effect (it causes tons of cash to spawn on the next floor when eaten)... Apparently to try to lure players into accidentally eating one of the Doom Seeds.
- Chocobo's Dungeon 2 not only has level down seeds your big yellow bird can eat, but level down traps and a whole family of monsters (Vampire/Lich/Demi-Lich) that can drain levels as an attack. For some strange reason, this is partly balanced out by having level up seeds and traps.
- In Azure Dreams, there's a somewhat Grim Reaper-esque monster called Clown on the lower levels of the tower. Its special ability is a spell that drains a level from your PC or one of your familiars. Killing it brings the level back. However, this is treated as a new level-up, so all the EXP you collected mid-level are gone.
- Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja features an enemy that can drain one level from you. When you defeat it, you level up, bringing you back to your original level.
- There were two kinds of Death monsters in Gauntlet Dark Legacy: a Red Death which drained 1000 hit points, or a Black Death that would drain one level. Thankfully, the halo accessory meant you could drain from these Deaths, and draining from the Black Death would make your character gain a level, no matter how much XP they needed. This made Level Grinding very quick.
- Final Fantasy V had several enemies and powers that cause level drain, though thankfully it's all temporary.
- Not to mention; you can actually do it on the enemies, too. Often you can use abilities such as Darkshock (Which halves the target's level and rounds if necessary) or Level 2 old (Which gradually delevels them). This makes abilities that attack the opponents via levels (Level 5 Death, Level 3 Flare) much more feasible.
- Final Fantasy VII had this as a handicap in the arena fights in the Golden Saucer. It reduced your level by five for the remainder of the duel. This was actually one of the less nasty penalties, at least it didn't shrink you or worse, turn you into a frog.
- Final Fantasy VIII enabled one GF to learn a LV Down ability for the player to use, which could be used repeatedly to make any non-boss enemy stupidly easy. It had a LV Up ability, too, for those who think scaled leveling of enemies just isn't hardcore enough.
- Persona 2 has the "Prophecy" spell, which resets a Persona's rank to 1. Given that a Persona's spells and stats come mostly from gaining ranks, and going from rank 1 to rank 8 often takes several hours of Level Grinding, this can be aggravating.
- In Demon's Souls, there is the Soulsucker spell, which is used by one of the bosses in the game and can also be learned by the player. It has an incredibly slow casting time and very short range, but a hit from this will drain a player's Soul Level.
- In the .hack// series, the power of Data Drain can result in an NPC character losing character levels and distorting into a very weak monster. Player characters hit with Data Drain can have their human player be digitized, imprisoning their mind in the game and placing their body into a coma.
- In Dot Hack GU and .hack//ROOTS, the entity Azure Kite Tri-Edge Data Drains the characters Shino and Haseo, sending the former into a coma and transforming the latter from an artificially high level character to first level with no inventory or member address list.
- There's at least one already difficult boss in The Legend of Dragoon (The Grand Jewel) that can take away levels from your current attack, and they will stay that way until you gain them back the hard way. In a part of the game with several boss fights in a short period of time, no less. There are also several bosses (including, again, the Grand Jewel) that make your dragoon abilities useless, which can be seen as leveling them down for the battle.
- In Wild ARMS 3, there's an enemy in The Abyss called the Vampire. While it doesn't lower levels, their Kirlian Buster attack lowers MAX HP. This can be very bad, considering they appear around the middle floors and can hit with it often. On the other hand, they only use it as a counter to Arcana, but they counter physically attacks with nastily high-powered hits...
- The Kirlian Buster returns in Wild ARMSXF as one of the earliest enemy Arts one can encounter. However, since the game is an SRPG and the spell's effect isn't permanent, the Kirlian Buster hardly poses any threat to the player. And the pathetic success rate of the spell itself doesn't really help.
- While they don't affect the characters' levels, several endgame bosses in Golden Sun: The Lost Age and Dark Dawn have moves that shut down a character's Djinni, and a couple of them can shut down all of the Djinni in the active party. Doing so reverts the characters into their significantly weaker base classes. Fortunately, Djinni do return in battle, but only one of each character's 9 Djinni comes back each turn - especially problematic because most Revive spells and all group healing spells require classes with four or more Djinni of a particular element.
- In Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, one status ailment actually deleveled your character. It was only temporary, similar to Final Fantasy V.
- Games in The Elder Scrolls series will generally lower a random skill when you're put in prison. There are also various magical effects that temporarily drain the gains and means of increasing in level (health, magicka, fatigue and skills).
- Breath of Fire III has event-based max HP drains that can be reset:
- The first is simple: If a character gets knocked out and revived by camping, or using a certain item, or something of the sort, their max HP goes down some. Staying at an inn is the only way to reset it.
- The second is similar to the above, but as a plot-relevant part: You need to cross a desert, and you're allotted a particular amount of water to drink while you're doing so. Making sure you're heading in the right direction, using your time efficiently (setting out at nighttime, and not during the day, when the sun makes you thirsty faster), and consuming your water efficiently are all key in ensuring that you make the trek unscathed. Should you run out of water and go thirsty long enough, your max HP gradually begins dropping every few steps or so. It can also be reset by sleeping at an inn.
- Every single one of the early Moraff RPGs for DOS had enemies that could drain your levels if they hit you. Thankfully, this was usually not so horrible due to the fact that your stats increase over time due to finding items, and level draining doesn't drain these. In fact, it is actually advantageous to let yourself be drained back to a low level so that you can get much better max HP gains when leveling back up with your newly inflated stats. The worst enemies were the ones that could drain your stats.
- Gauntlet: Dark Legacy has a version of Death that, instead of sapping health, saps a whole level instead.
- All damage is like this in the flash game series Bubble Tanks. Then again, the game does provide an Anti-Frustration Feature where they provide you with experience-giving Pinata Enemies should you get hit too often.
- A certain monster in Disciples II did this and also brought the target down one Evolution Level.
- Final Fantasy Tactics has a "level down" trap that you can use to abuse the leveling system for ungodly powerful stats (though most players generally don't bother).
- In Makai Kingdom, any enemy with a hammer/mallet can steal a level with every hit. Sure it's easy to get back, but it's downright frustrating in the early levels. Also, you do not have such an ability, even if you have the best mallet in the game, putting this somewhere between My Rules Are Not Your Rules and Secret A.I. Moves.
- Disgaea Dimension 2 has an item called "Demon Buns" that take a level when consumed. They mostly come as vending machine trash and are worthless, but have a couple of uses. Since some Evilities come into effect when fighting enemies that are higher level than you, they offer a way to reduce your characters' levels on the fly. Using one on an ally also reduces your Relationship Values with that character, which can be beneficial when paired with a particular Innocent.
Non-video game examples:Tabletop Games
- Dungeons & Dragons, as you might expect, is the Trope Maker and Trope Namer. Under most circumstances, the only way to defend against level drain was by making a saving throw against it, or by using magic items or spells that protected you against the drain.
- In the older games (and the retroclones based on them), if you lost a level to level drain, it was gone for good, and the only way to gain it back was the hard way, since restoration magic was out of the reach of spell casters until the highest levels. The earlier games also operated by having every gp of treasure earned count towards XP, so you didn't have to slog through tons of monsters in order to get back into tip-top shape (in addition to being a better way to survive the low levels due to the low HP that first-level characters had).
- In Advanced Dungeons and Dragons there was no save. If an undead creature hit you, you got level drained and that was that. Worse, energy-draining touch attacks ignored armor, and the only real defensive spell against such attacks, Negative Plane Protection, only shielded one character against one level of drain. In practice, the only real defense against level draining undead basically boiled down to "don't let them get near you, ever."
- A First Edition spell called "Energy Drain" had the same Level Drain effect as being touched by an undead.
- Third Edition introduced the concept of "negative levels," which was basically temporary level loss that you then had to make a Fortitude save against at the end of the fight for every level that you "lost" this way. If you made it, you got the level back, but if you failed the save, it was gone for good and you had to gain it back the hard way.
- Fourth Edition did away with level drain entirely, instead having monsters that originally level-drained you (such as wights and wraiths) instead inflicting the Weakened condition on you (which simply halves the damage that you deal in combat until you make your saving throw to end it), immobilizing you (you can't move from your space unless you teleport until you make your save), taking away healing surges, and so on.
- Pathfinder finally eliminates the issue, by making almost all energy drain a temporary state. Failing the save to remove the negative level just meant you kept it for another day. There are some ways to get levels drained permanently (most notably from being rezzed by a Raise Dead spell) but even those can be removed by a (Greater) Restoration. Even then, those aren't really lost levels but more like a stacking penalty to hit points and all d20 rolls. Spell slots and class features are never lost.
- Another game by TSR, Gamma World (1st Edition), had the "De-Evolution" mutant ability. A "Sage Advice" article in Dragon Magazine confirmed that if a mutant with that ability showed up in a Dungeons And Dragons campaign, it would cause Level Drain like an undead monster.
- Tycho instructs Gabe on how to make his monsters more deadly.
"These hatchlings are a good start, but they should drink healing surges and eat five levels."
- This is Xykon's favorite form of attack in The Order of the Stick. He's used it on multiple occasions to take down other epic spellcasters.
- In 8-Bit Theater, near the end of the comic, Sarda drains the levels from the Light Warriors.
Sarda: The irony is that there's not much left for me to do to you that you haven't already done to yourselves.
Thief: Pff, what could he possibly do?
Black Mage: Oh... please don't say that out loud.
Thief: No, think about what he said. We're Light Warriors, dammit. I bet he can't hurt us any more than we hurt each other every day.
Red Mage: Thief kinda has a point. We're our own worst enemies. What can he do?!
(The Light Warriors are reduced in levels and class)
Red Mage: (turns to Sarda) What if I said it was a rhetorical question?