Thursday, October 30, 2014

Save vs. Suck

I'm on about saving throws again tonight.  And why not?  Previous posts about saves seem to have been popular, or at least generated good discussions with people (links later).

Jeremy sent me a few links to potential products I might want to use when running a Gamma World game, and suggested I try Swords & Wizardry with a .pdf of random mutation tables.  And really, I didn't even consider it enough to look at the .pdf (which may be cool, if it has mutations beyond the GW/MF lists) because of how saving throws are handled in S&W. 

I really don't like the single save.  If you're going to have saving throws, IMO (and JB gives some good reasons why you might want to ditch them -- link to final post in series, with internal links to all the posts), I feel having different saves versus different types of situations is preferable. 

As I mentioned in this post which inspired JB's series, saves can be evocative and help focus players' imaginations on what's going on in the shared fiction of the game.  The categories are random and not necessarily well thought out.  They may not even make sense.
This is a Save vs. Wands.  There is a different Save vs. Spells. That does not make sense.
They do make for interesting moments in game play.  Where everyone sits up, puts down their smart phones or the Doritos, and takes notice as the DM says, "Alright, save vs. death ray."  Suddenly, everyone's paying attention because there's actually a death ray involved in the game!  And they could be next! 

S&W loses me because while I suppose you can say "Save vs. death ray" while playing, there's no need (unless one class has a bonus against death rays, but I don't remember seeing that).  You can just say, "Make a saving throw."

WotC's versions of the game also lose me with saves because (as I mentioned in the post linked above from last month) they focus on the PC and how you resist whatever effect it is, rather than on the effect.  I know a lot of gamers like that, and maybe it's because I'm not so egotistical, but I don't need the focus to be on me when I'm hit by a special attack. That makes it a not-so-special attack if it's all about me, right? 

Old school D&D sets the target number by my class/level, so I'm still in the equation although the focus is on the source of the attack, but newer D&D versions reverse that.  The special attack's source sets the target number (and can then be forgotten unless you fail the save), and then the focus is on me and how quick/tough/resilient I am as the dice are rolled.  This is not necessarily terrible, but the math screws it up
3E/5E D&D isn't so bad, when the saves aren't screwing it up., they don't really have saves.  Monsters get to attack different armor classes based on the 3E saves, with a generic "death save" that 5E retains and is sort of pointlessly bland.  So we'll just skip that.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying the old school five saves with arbitrary categories are the only way to do it, or that I'll only play a game with those types of saves.  But if I have a choice (say, between the Labyrinth Lord-based Mutant Future and Swords & Wizardry with mutations bolted on), I'll choose the variety of save types.  Because they may not make sense, they may be arbitrary, but they add flavor (and the math works).


  1. 4e technically had saves vs. ongoing effects. Which was basically the same roll as save vs death (10+ on a d20 roll, no mods without feats/race/class bonuses).

    It was basically a stopgap mechanic. I'll be sure to bring that up on my next podcast episode, as I'm already planning to discuss/dissect 4e.

  2. Well, regardless of whatever system you use, the Metamorphica is system-agnostic and quite awesome. Additionally, it's totally free. :^)

  3. Also, Fighters get a bonus to Saves vs. Poison and Death (at least in SnW Whitebox). And, you could certainly houserule in an Ability Score bonus to Saves vs. your general murderhobo job hazard.

  4. You know, in reading this post, I didn't really bother to go back and re-read my earlier stuff, I just considered the idea of "save or die." And I just don't get when it would ever really be applicable.

    I mean, what kind of special attack would automatically kill a PC? And what would the save actually represent? Maybe we need to look at some specific examples.

    I think saves (originally) were an easy/simple way to do a quick resistance roll for a battlefield effect in a war-game. It's safe to say the game may have evolved beyond the battlefield (well, maybe not in some editions...) and the "save" concept is a little too outdated to adapt.

    1. The Five-Point-Palm Exploding-Heart-Technique

      What does the save represent? Being just that badass! Or maybe they just performed it incorrectly

    2. Only if you want it to kill them now. You could have it kill them three days later.

  5. I quite like the D&D saves categories. In many cases, they are all that's needed to model some type of action. The D&D Master set gives some insights as to what saves might be used, by allowing modification by ability score modifiers. For example, saves vs. Wands are modified by Dexterity; so I use them as a special case of "aimed effect." Similarly for Dragon Breath, which is a special case of "area effect." Everything which might require strength uses the save vs. Paralyzation, whereas Poison covers effects which impact constitution.