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Author Topic: Under the Hood 4: Old Schooling The Saving Throws  (Read 3907 times)


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Under the Hood 4: Old Schooling The Saving Throws
« on: September 03, 2015, 11:28:44 PM »

While many gamers feel that there is a general “power creep” as D&D evolved from the 70s, with characters generally getting more powerful in each edition, there’s one important place where characters were distinctly weaker: saving throws.
In old D&D, character saving throws improved dramatically as a character gained levels. As always, fighters got the shaft as the game evolved: in AD&D, a level 5 fighter basically had +3 or +4 to all saving throws compared to a 1st level fighter, while a 5th level wizard had identical saving throws to a 1st level wizard.
By the time a fighter hit 9th level, he had a 50% or better chance of saving against everything from wizard spells to dragon breath to poison, and that was before bonuses from items like the ubiquitous “ring of protection” tilted the odds even more in the fighter’s favor.
Monsters in old D&D saved based on their general hit dice. A slow, stupid hill giant was far more likely to make a save against fireball or fear than an aggressive and agile orc, simply because the former has more hit dice.
Newer versions of D&D took away the fighter’s advantage in saving throws by giving all classes comparable throws, and tossed in harder saving throws against wizard spells to boot.
5e D&D continues the trend of making saving throws tough, both by giving low bonuses to saves (proficiency bonuses only based on two ability scores, for the most part), and by making the DCs of the saves higher, based on the caster/enemy. Thus, even high level characters now have fairly low chances of making saves, even against “level appropriate monsters” (not exactly an old school concept). The DC 19 saving throw from a typical adult dragon, for example, is really tough unless the character happens to get add his proficiency bonus to the save AND it’s against his highest ability score: most characters will have a 70% or better chance of failing regardless of level, problematic since a failed save against an adult dragon breath weapon can be fatal.
So, to make things more in line with old school games, there’s a simple enough fix: all characters get to add their proficiency bonus to all saving throws, in addition to any other bonuses. Monsters already get this bonus (although this fact is sort of hidden in the Monster Manual), but characters should as well.
Now, the designers of 5e realized that making a save was harder than before, and compensated by having saving throws against most of the worst effects be repeated every round until the character makes a save. Yes, this addresses the harder saves a little, but not against damaging effects (like dragon breath) while simultaneously making many monster and spell effects go from “dangerous” to “almost irrelevant.”
For example, hold person or a ghoul’s paralyzing attack used to be a real issue when a character failed a save in older games, as a failed save would put the character out of combat and vulnerable.
In 5e, these effects, and quite a few others, allow a saving throw every single round.  In theory, these effects have a duration of 1 minute, but the odds are very slim that it’ll take 10 saving throws before the character finally makes a save. What used to be dangerous is now just a minor inconvenience, where the character might lose a turn or two. Much like with spider webs where characters get a chance to rip free very round, it’s not at all clear how monsters with abilities like this ever manage to catch and hold prey—even with only a 30% chance of making a save, a victim has a better than even chance of breaking free in 2 rounds.
It’s tough to be afraid of effects that are unlikely to last longer than 12 seconds (that’s what 2 rounds represented in old school games), at least when you have friends around willing to protect you for that minimal amount of time. Why not change the rules so that scary effects can actually affect combat?
So, instead of just repeating a saving throw or skill checks every round, effects that normally cause for repeated rolls are treated differently:
On a failed save, the effect lasts for at least as many rounds as the save was failed by. Now rolling a 1 on a saving throw is actually bad news, instead of just a single round inconvenience. At the end of this period of time, the character gets to roll a save again, with again a possible long effect, and so on.
For example, if a character needs to make a DC 15 skill check to wrestle out of webs, or a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw to resist a paralysis effect, and rolls a 13 (total, and using these rules should include the adding proficiency bonus rule above), then the character is restrained/paralyzed for 2 rounds. After he misses those two turns, he can roll again.
Naturally, other players might be able to intervene with spells and effects, but overall this can add more intensity to combat. The 5e game world also becomes more believable: It becomes at least a little credible that someone got caught in a spider’s web long enough to get killed, or paralyzed by a ghoul long enough to be eaten alive…instead of these latter effects to merely be pale remnants of what they were in old D&D.