Monday, December 19, 2016

Playing with Saving Throws (5e and BX)

Now that Jeff Rients has officially released Broodmother Skyfortress under the Lamentations of the Flame Princess ruleset, he is going through and comparing what he (somewhat jokingly) calls the Objectively Best Rules published by TSR (BX) and LotFP. The comparison that really interests me is that on Saving Throws. Like Jeff, I really like the 3e saving throw structure of Fortitude/Reflex/Will, at least on paper. Unfortunately, when applied to actual play it lacks that palpable joy/fear of hearing those wonderful words: “Make a save versus Death Ray!

Now that I have run a 5e campaign for quite a few sessions, I have been meditating on the various aspects of that system I would like to hack back onto the Objectively Best Rules published by TSR. One of the things that I like quite bigly about 5e is the expansion of the Fortitude/Reflex/Will saves to every ability score and the idea that characters get to apply a proficiency bonus to two of these saves. On paper, it takes the simplistic beauty of the 3e save system and makes it more glorious.

Of course, the 5e save system still has the same glaring weakness that the 3e version had: no Death Rays. Unlike 3e, however, there might very well be a fun way to alleviate the problem. Traditionally, D&D has five different categories of saving throws. That is one less than the number of ability scores. Thus, if we can separate out one category to two there will be six different categories of saves that can then be married to the six ability scores so that Death Rays can still wreck havoc at the gaming table.

This is why I find Jeff’s comparison of BX and LotFP saving throws so interesting. I decided to pull out all of the various older versions of D&D and their retro-clones to get a fuller picture of all the glorious ways players have had to make saving throws through the years:

  • 0e: Death Ray & Poison; All Wands including Polymorph and Paralyzation; Stone; Dragon Breath; Staves& Spells
  • Holmes: Spell or Magic Staff; Magic Wand; Death Ray or Poison; Turned to Stone; Dragon Breath
  • BX: Death Ray & Poison; Magic Wands; Paralysis or Turn to Stone; Dragon Breath; Rods, Staves or Spells
  • 1e AD&D: Paralysis, Poison or Death Magic; Petrification or Polymorph; Rod, Staff or Wand; Breath Weapon; Spell
  • LL: Breath Attacks; Poison or Death; Petrify or Paralyze; Wands; Spells or Spell-like Devices
  • ACKS: Petrification & Paralysis; Poison & Death; Blast & Breath; Staffs & Wands; Spells
  • Delving Deeper: Poison; Paralysis or Petrification; Wands or Rays; Breath Weapon; Spells
  • LotFP: Paralyze; Poison; Breath; Device; Magic
  • S&W: Paralysis; Poison; Fire; Spells; Wands; Staffs; Magic

I realize S&W systemically only has one Save, the categories listed are implied by the bonuses various classes and races get to that one saving throw for certain situations.

This is surprisingly diverse (even among the original TSR stuff!). Some of my favorites: Death Ray, Death Magic (as opposed to Spells or just pain Magic), Devices (as opposed to Staff, Wand, etc.), Blast (as a companion to Dragon Breath), Fire and Stone (which has a lot more flexibility than Petrification). It also seems that Polymorph was a whole lot more important in the Gygax editions than other ones. I also have to say that Dragon Breath just sounds cooler than Breath Weapon. I realize that the game has a lot of non-dragon creatures that breath nastiness, but “Breath Weapon” does conjure up visions of a Listerine ad.

So, onto the business at hand — assigning categories to ability scores:

  • Strength: Stone & Paralysis (because it just feels right to muscle through a ghoul’s touch)
  • Dexterity: Blast & Dragon Breath (because this is something that has to be dodged)
  • Constitution: Poison (because endurance seems to be the most appropriate way to tough through a spider bite)
  • Intelligence: Devices (because these things can be figured out logically, yes?)
  • Wisdom: Spells (because this is the traditional ability score for saves vs. spells as in BX)
  • Charisma: Death Magic, Death Ray & Death (because the root of the word charisma means gift, as in the gift of life given by God)

There you have it. Death Rays are back in business!


Jeff Rients said...

"[W]hen applied to actual play it lacks that palpable joy/fear of hearing those wonderful words: “Make a save versus Death Ray!"

This is a completely legit point I overlooked in my analysis.

edi said...

charisma for save vs death seems like a good idea, making charisma a bit more useful.