Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Jesus saves - the rest of you take full damage

Saving throws have always been quirky in D&D - The original categories were.... eccentric to say the least. Why is save vs wand different from save vs staff? Is petrification really widespread enough to get an explicit mention? And what is a death ray anyway? Finger of death? What else? That said, it was charming and that has its own sort of saving grace. It is a lot more menacing when the DM exclaims "save vs DEATH RAY" than "make a fortitude save".

3e did an admirable job of simplifying and clarifying saves. 3 instead of 5, keying it to dexterity, constitution and wisdom gives you an idea of how you are trying to save yourself, making saving throws a lot less disassociated. Good job allround.

The only recurring complaint against 3e saves were lacking the charm of older editions. Which, as complaints go, fall somewhere between obstinate and petulant.

For me, it is mildly aesthetically displeasing that there are 2 physical saves and only 1 mental save. But it works fine enough.

The biggest change, besides the simplification, is that saves now go from being a purely class+level based number to a class+level+ability modifier (lets ignore the manifold multiclass shenanigans).

This change has rarely been scrutinised (whether that idea ended up working or not in 3e sort of drowns in allround modifiers bloat), but it's a point I think is worth considering. What does it actually add to the game to also key saves to ability modifiers? It makes saves a lot more variable, making it harder for DMs to gauge what DCs to set. And in return we get... ?!?

A minor element of verisimilitude for an already largely disassociated mechanic. It seems to me something that got added because it seemed to make some sort of sense, but no one really considered whether it actually improved the game.

4e, ever the red-headed stepchild of the D&D family, made saves something totally different: Are you currently suffering a condition where "save ends"? roll 11 or higher to end it. That's all. Saves is basically just a static duration tracker. Interesting in its own sort of way, but too different for my considerations in this post.



Which is saves in 5e, and by extension Into the Unknown.

5e saves are most similar to 3e, but with the abstraction of "reflex, fortitude, will" shaved off, making it basically similar to an ability check. Proficiency bonus+ability modifier. Nice and simple. It's more of a level+ability than a class/level+ability thing now really, though class does determine which saves get proficiency bonus.

There are six saves now instead of three, one for each ability, which on the surface is fine, since the model is so simple it doesn't really add much complexity. The spells that target the three new saves (cha, str, int) are very few in number and have longer casting times or very survivable and shortlived effects. Re-tooling it to just have three saves would be very easy (STR/CON float to Fortitude, DEX/INT float to Reflex, WIS/CHA float to Will - This also gives a fairly even distribution, based on saves in the PHB and MM).

The tricky part about 5e saves is that 4 out of 6 saves aren't even level+ ability based. They are just your ability modifier and shall forever remain so. Bragbar the 20th level barbarian who dump-statted charisma is as susceptible to a magic jar spell as he was at 1st level. A 9th level spellcaster throws spells with a save DC of 17. Woe betide the fool with dumb stat and no proficiency in that save. Bragbar our 20th level barbarian with CHA 8 gets sucked into that gem 85% of the time that 9th level caster gets his spell off.

Spellcasters now have a plethora of dumb saves to target that their victims will almost always fail. This basically makes group buffs mandatory at higher levels.

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So for Into the Unknown, I've been thinking to address this. I've got a couple of solutions.

A/ One is to give half proficiency bonus to all saves as standard. Bragbar now saves 25% of the time against the magic jar instead of 15%. It's a help and it's simple, but feels more like a band-aid on the issue. But maybe that is all that it needs.

B/ Another is, in vein of 2e and lower, to once again de-couple saves from ability scores. You add proficiency bonus to all your saves. If proficient, you double it. Bragbar saves against the magic jar 50% of the time. and 80% if he is proficient. Against a 20th level caster (DC 19), it's 40%/70% for Bragbar. Seems sound.
Aesthetically, it's a bit weird though to have six "ability saves", but ability modifiers don't add to it. This might have flown better with 3e's three, slightly more decoupled, saves.

C/ A third option is to give full proficiency to all saves, but only "proficient" saves can add ability modifiers (or cancel negative modifiers). It does make saves work a bit different from other combos of ability+proficiency,  but not terribly so. It makes saves a lot closer to Sword&Wizardry's singular save mechanic, but with some opportunity to differentiate.
Wizards and cleric get to add their CHA to the magic jar (it's a circle of necromancers now - Bragbar is just one target) if they have it. The majority save 50% of the time against it, bragbar dumbstatted cha though, so it's 45% for him. Aleena the cleric is gorgeous (CHA 14), so her chances are 60%. Sound.

D/ Same as above, but forgetting all about having proficiency in saves. When making a save, you just add proficiency bonus+ ability modifier. the end.

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Right now I am leaning towards B/ + reducing number of saves to 3, 3e style, folding STR and CON saves into a Fortitude save, DEX/INT saves into a Reflex save and WIS/CHA saves into a Will save. Fighters double proficiency bonus for Fortitude saves, rogues for Reflex and wizards and clerics for Will saves. Low saves is still at proficiency bonus.

It makes saves even easier to keep track of than in B/X - For players sure, but most especially for DMs when estimating threat levels. The numbers seem to make sense and the right classes get the right saves.

The only downside is a small amount of conversion needed for using existing 5e material. But it's a pretty easy conversion to make. If not this, I am leaning towards D/, maybe float it to 3 saves, to avoid vastly favouring rogues, clerics and DEX-based fighters who have their primary stat in one of the most frequent category.

Input welcome.