Friday, June 24, 2011

Saving Throws: An End to the Madness

As better explained by The Man in the Funny Hat, the AD&D saving throw system may be quirky and the categories poorly explained, it is not without logic. It does the opposite of the 3rd Edition D&D system, which while elegant in organization loses something in the change-over. Should not a Magic-User, Mage, or Wizard be more resistant to magic than others? How do your reflexes help you dodge out of the center of a 30' diameter ball of flame? Still there must be something simpler than the big chart. And why are paralyzation and poison lumped together?

Much like Dave Arneson and Swords & Wizardry, I have become a fan of the single saving throw progression. People have charted the AD&D saves and there's a pattern to them that roughly goes from 15 to 7. Some classes are better, some are worse. When someone pointed out that the Rod/Staves/Wands saves for all classes is 1 better than their spells saves, it clicked. We might as well remove the column from the chart and convert it to a bonus. Why not do that with all of the saves?

Let's start at 15 for everyone at 1st level, and drop by one each level until the target is 5. I suppose there's math to make this work as an ascending bonus, but let's get the math right first. Next up, modifiers:

  • Poison: Dwarves get a bonus, perhaps based on Constitution like in AD&D. For now let's make it +3.
  • Death Magic: This includes negative energy attacks. Clerics get +3 due to their link with the higher and lower planes.
  • Petrification, Polymorph: This is pretty much the same for everyone in AD&D, so no class bonus. Perhaps Constitution as a tip of the hat to System Shock checks.
  • Rod, Staff, Wand: We'll say all magical items effects give you +1 to the save. Maybe we note this with some of the items (Wand of Fireballs), but not others (a bonus to saves versus the Staff of the Magi - I think not!)
  • Breath Weapons: Breath Weapons are nasty. In AD&D, this is the hardest save at 1st level and the hardest at 17+ for most classes. We'll include this as necessary on the specific monster. Is a hell hound attack as hard to avoid as an ancient red dragon?
  • Spells: +3 for Magic-Users, +3 for Dwarves, +2 for Hobbits... err Halflings.

Modifiers for Special Cases:
  • Charm and Illusion effects: Give the Wisdom attribute bonus (for TSR, I've standardized this like BEX D&D)
  • Dodge-able effects: This is a DM's call as to when it applies. Perhaps give Thieves a +2 on save for dodge-able effects (lightning bolts, wands, etc). Perhaps give everyone their Dexterity Adjustment. Like the Defensive Adjustment in AD&D, this works better when it's not applied across the board.

What else should be included?


  1. That would work for AD&D, but not really for OD&D. Aside from the way fighters save vs. spells, breath, and polymorph, there's not really a linear relationship between the categories in OD&D.

    If I were going to go with a one-save system with modifiers, I'd probably go with Target 20.

  2. Depends on what elves are, but they might be candidates for bonuses against Enchantment/Charm and potentially Paralyzation (has anyone figured out why elves are immune to ghoul paralysis in some versions of the rules?).

    How is a fireball produced from a wand fundamentally different from one cast by a wizard such that the saving throw is different?

    I'd almost be in favor of having saves be against the type of magic instead of the source. Not sure its the best basis, but you could take 2E schools or 3E categories and those become your saving throws. Dwarves would get a bonus against any spell with the keyword "Earth". Heck, dwarves themselves could have the keyword earth which might also convey bonuses when using items with the same keyword (ex. +2 Plate mail of the Earth Mother becomes +3 when worn by a creature with the keyword "earth").

  3. @Nathaniel - Elf immunity to ghoul paralysis goes back to Chainmail. I think it was a balancing factor so that expensive units (elves) didn't get wiped out easily by cheap ones (ghouls). For TSR, I would keep their immunities as-is.

    No fundamental difference, but rod/staff/wand saves are traditional easier to make than from an actual caster. Whether it's worth having the modifier there at all is debatable, but it definitely doesn't warrant another column of it's own.

    1st Edition AD&D schools of magic? That's another post :)