Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Point of Dissatisfaction with S&W

I'd mentioned in a previous post some changes I was thinking to Swords & Wizardry to accommodate my growing sense that the core rules, as written, don't quite jibe with my desires of a referee. As I pondered these changes further, I realized there was another set of mechanics I wanted to change: saving throws.

For reasons I don't quite understand, S&W uses a single saving throw rather than several, as did OD&D and AD&D (and as do OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord). At first, this didn't bother me very much. Indeed, I was starting to feel that the reduction of saves to a single number for each class was actually an improvement over the original mechanics. Having been immersed in Tunnels & Trolls recently, I pondered some interested possibilities that a single saving throw afforded me.

But something about it still nagged at the back of my brain and I fond myself wondering more and more about the advisability of reducing all possible saving throws to a single number. Efficient though it may be, it also eliminated one of the more eccentric mechanical elements of D&D, something that gave each class a lot of distinctiveness. In S&W, as written, clerics are hands-down better than all the other classes when it comes to saves and that just feels wrong. I particularly miss the way that old school fighters had the best saving throws versus breath attacks, which always felt right to me given all the tales of dragon slaying.

So, I'm thinking of re-instituting saving throw categories into my game. As Jeff Rients has nicely shown, however, D&D's saving throw categories have never been exactly consistent. That means, if I want to use categories, I'll have to decide which ones I'll go with and then build the tables for myself. I don't mind this, especially since Jeff has come up with a bunch of unified categories that might work nicely with Dwimmermount's swords-and-sorcery with a dash of science fantasy. I still haven't completely made up my mind yet on the specific categories, but I am rather strongly committed to ditching S&W's single saving throw, which no longer sits well with me. I admit it's purely a question of "feel," but I realize now that I prefer having more than one type of saving throw.


  1. I could see this potentially becoming a nagging issue in my S&W game as well if I hadn't adopted Dave Arneson's rules for saves. Have you given any thought to that approach, James?

  2. You know, I don't actually recall Dave's rules for saves. Is this something mentioned in FFC?

  3. Yes, as Jeff noticed, the Mutant Future saving throws were designed to plug right into the Labyrinth Lord saves, so you can run cross compatible games easily or use them for other science fantasy elements. I don't like the idea of single saves either, and the reason is that if you just have one kind of roll for any of these situations it seems like it just becomes a sort of generic luck roll. Even though to some extent the numbers for each save are arbitrary, though there is some reasoning for different classes, if you just have one roll it seems even more arbitrary and a bit pointless. I was actually thinking about it a while back, and I think the way to fix a single save system would be to come up with a chart of modifiers based on class, level and situation....but if you do that you essentially have multiple saves executed in a more convoluted way, so you might as well stick with something like the old system. IMHO of course.

  4. Dan,

    I pretty much agree with your reasoning here. In fact, I'm starting to look at lot more seriously at many rules implementations that I think you got dead-on in LL, hence my renewed interest in Original Edition Characters.

  5. James, the only place I can say Dave's rules are noted for certain is Fight On! issue 2. Essentially, instead of rolling for saves, the player has to come up with a story that provides the rationale for the character avoiding whatever is threatening him. Everyone else at the table then casts a vote as to whether they think the tale was amusing and/or convincing enough to merit a successful save.

    I find these rules to promote character development in an exciting, wild, organic way. The vibe I get in using Dave's rules for saves is very close to that of reading Vance's tales of Cugel the Clever. At any rate, it's a lot of fun and I don't see myself going back to just rolling for saves anytime soon. :)

  6. i find it easier to base saves on ability scores then arbitrary categories such as wand or breath weapon
    adding a set bonus based upon character class;

    1/2 per level for fighters, rangers, clerics and sorcerors and
    2/3 per level for mages & thieves;

    this was already detailed in my post on Jeff's Game Blog that you referenced . . .

    what I didnt mention was. . .
    in my campaign when players fail to advance in level, but role-played well,
    the dungeon master will award a random (player rolls d6)ability increase as a concillation:

    1 = +1 STR (or Int iff magic-user)
    2 = +1 DEX (or Wis iff cleric)
    3 = +1 CON (or Cha iff sorceror)
    4 = +1 INT (or Str iff fighter)
    5 = +1 WIS (or Dex iff thief)
    6 = +1 Cha (or Con iff ranger)

    'iff' is an short hand for
    'if and only if'
    therefore, with game play

    fighters become stronger, but not very smart,
    mages become smarter, but remain puny,
    thieves become quicker, but not discerning ,
    and so on . . .

    this tends to balance out the saving throws without alot of rules crunching ; - )

  7. While I do enjoy S&W and OD&D, I still find I like Spellcraft & Swordplay more. It just seems to give with my feelings as a DM and a player more. Obviously, since I begged Jason to let me write stuff for it now. ;)

    Give that a try for a session.

  8. Eccentric does not mean better. I still ponder Thac0 and think, "Man, we used that for how long."

  9. How about do it by attribute?

    Target number =(Base Number, eg 18) - (attribute modifier + Level)?

    This is basically the C&C approach, minus Primes. You could make it minus half level, too. And you could leave out attribute modifiers if you don't want to emphasise stats.

    How about this:

    Level Number to Save
    1-2 16
    3-4 15
    5-6 14
    7-8 13
    9-10 12
    11-12 11
    13-14 10
    15-16 9
    17-18 8
    19-20 7
    21+ 6

    That said, I run Labyrinth Lord and find the old school saves-as-written work just great, in a mysterious sort of way. There's something _authoritative_ about a saving throw table that you just don't get with formulae.

  10. Joe:
    "Eccentric does not mean better. I still ponder Thac0 and think, "Man, we used that for how long."

    I had an epiphany when I read through an introductory D&D adventure game for 2e - Dragonquest?

    In it, characters have a stat called Fighting.

    Deduct enemy AC from Fighting to find the number you need to roll... simple.

    Sound familiar? :-) You could give it a try. Maybe call it "Attack" instead. >:)

  11. Eccentric does not mean better.

    I never claimed it did. However, I think eccentricity is a key component of what I like about old school games, D&D in particular, so its loss in S&W represents a negative rather than a positive.

  12. The easiest solution for me is to have a single base save for all classes (simple, easy to remember) and add in the class distinctions via archetype specific bonuses (less arbitrary, still easy to remember). I don't think I need to differentiate between spell, wand, staff, or innate ability, if, in my campaign, those are all "magic" and wizards are more likely to be resistant, then wizards get +2 to save versus magic.

    One advantage of this approach is you can decide what bonuses fit archetypes in your campaign-- maybe dwarves get +4 versus magic, maybe they get +2 versus only poison.

    Another advantage for me is if I want to add modifiers based on situation I still can but based on the easy to remember base system.

  13. I recommend taking a look at this thread: Saving Throws if you haven't already. Saving throws in AD&D are related to one another in very interesting ways, and a single saving throw is not very far off at all.

  14. Hmm.

    OD&D, Holmes, and Moldvay agree with each other on categories, with Moldvay expanding three of the categories but not contradicting OD&D or Holmes. AD&D really is the odd man out.

    After normalizing AD&D to conform to the categories of the other four, we are then left with three orders. The OD&D and Moldvay are in the same order. AD&D switches the wands and petrification from the OD&D order. Holmes is in a completely different order than any of the others . . except it agrees with OD&D and Moldvay that wands comes second and that turn to stone comes after wands.

    So, the averaging analysis works out to the OD&D categories and order - Death/Wands/Stone/Breath/Spell.

    And it comes to the same conclusion if you don't include OD&D's "vote", too. Holmes and Moldvay outvote AD&D on the categories, Moldvay and AD&D establish an order of Death/?/?/Breath/Spell, Holmes and Moldvay establish Wands in the second position, Stone slots in in the only place remaining.

  15. I think there are really two "paradigms" if that's not too lofty a word, for rationalizing saving throws. The classic way is to set an arbitrary ability to save that is based on class and class progression. Another way would be to base it on ability scores, as I think they do in 3rd edition. Honestly I think if one is going to just use one arbitrary number and attach various modifiers, you might as well use the classic system or some variation of it. Otherwise, saves derived from abilities work, but class and level are such important components of the game that IMHO purely attribute based ones serve classless systems like BRP better.

  16. In a lot of ways though, the saving throw mechanic itself is... an odd bird out. This is especially true when you consider the wide nature of some spells in that the caster has to roll to attack and in others where the caster indicates where the spell itself hits and then people make their saving throws. It's one of the things I like about 4e in that a lot of the saving throws simply became how to hit the target. In several other game systems, that's generally how it works. In Hero/Rolemaster/GURPS, you don't have a 'saving' throw for something like a fireball in most cases.

  17. I'm enamored with Troll Lords C&C system. Ties into their SIEGE engine of prime non-prime attributes.

    Each stat is the save vs particular kinds of attacks.

    STRENGTH Paralysis, Constriction

    INTELLIGENCE Arcane Magic, Illusion

    WISDOM Divine Magic, Confusion, Gaze Attack, Polymorph, Petrification

    DEXTERITY Breath Weapon, Traps

    CONSTITUTION Disease, Energy Drain, Poison

    CHARISMA Death Attack, Charm, Fear

    VARIABLE: Spells (based off of spell effects, CN for poison spell, CH for charm)

  18. Brannon: I fully agree with the Spellcraft Swordplay endorcement for it's save rules. If Sp & Sw were presented as well as S&W it would be one of my favorite games.

  19. The single Save was actually one of the things that put me off S&W right from the start.

    I'll third Spellcraft & Swordplay in this category because I think it nicely steers clear of the opaque arbitrariness of TD&D and the incoherent abandonment of class/level in WD&D. Saves are attribute-based BUT each class gets bonuses to appropriate Saves, with an across the board bonus of +1/3 levels. Thus, Fighters will be better at CON Saves, while Thieves will be better at DEX saves. To me, that keeps the power of Class, while having the advangage of being comprehensible.

    Now, having said that, I have fiddled with the S&S Saves a bit. With 6 attributes and 4 classes, I just couldn't resist adding a bit more symetry to the thing. I have that up at my House Rules section of my site []. Although that will likely change once I get rid of the Champion aka Cleric.

  20. The single saving throw in S&W was something I knew I was not comfortable with right out of the gate, for two reasons. One was the elimination of certain bits of class distinction, and the other was that it made certain hazards (particularly poison) more hazardous to low level characters, a concern when save or die is on the table.

    My solution has been to use the unified number as a base, but provide class specific bonuses. I originally developed my bonuses from a quick analysis of the OD&D save charts, but then customized further based on my own vision if class flavor, such as giving clerics a bonus to resist Charm effects.

    One interesting aside from my analysis of the saving throw table is the idea that magic projected through wands is inherently weaker than other forms. Just an interesting tidbit on the "logic" of magic in the D&D cosmology...

  21. Hmm. Taking a closer look . . .

    Although AD&D 1st Edition places "Petrification or Polymorph" before "Rod, Staff, or Wand" on the list, the footnotes on the table (p.79 of the DMG) indicate that polymoprh wand attacks do not use the Petrification or Polymorph column (and thus implicitly that they use the Rod/Staff/Wand column).

    So, original AD&D had the same precedence as given by using the OD&D, Moldvay, or Rules Cyclopedia lists in order.

    AD&D 2nd Edition moves the columns so that "Rod, Staff, or Wand" appears before "Petrification or Polymorph", giving the same order as OD&D/Moldvay/Rules Cyclopedia, and reprints the 1st Edition footnotes.

  22. The single saving throw is probably my favorite thing about S&W, the second being the inclusion of ascending armor class.

  23. I think you're probably going to be happiest reinstituting one of the old systems more or less "straight" a la Labyrinth Lord.

    I'm not sure if I should be surprised that two people in here thought Class & Level aren't part of the 3rd & 4th edition systems, when in fact they're still the primary basis, with ability scores only as a modifier. Those are very clean systems, though the 3rd ed one tends toward an excessive disparity between strong & weak saves at high level. A Will save that's easy for a high level Cleric is often near-impossible for a high level Fighter. Which is a weakness in that system.

  24. I use (and like) the single save in S&W White Box. Simple simple simple. Above, Dan writes "if you just have one kind of roll for any of these situations it seems like it just becomes a sort of generic luck roll", but that is exactly how I see it in the simple, un-supplemented game.

    In Labyrinth Lord we use saves as written.

  25. Like Norman I favor the Castles and Crusades approach, or a hybrid of 3e's and 4e's (Namely, that one still rolls saving throws instead of static defenses (which works for 4e but not other games) but that there are only three based around physical resiliency (highest of Str or Con), agile reaction (Higher of Dex or Int), and strength of will(hightest of Wis or Cha).)

  26. There's been a lot of discussion of the S&W saving throws recently, and I've decided to toggle it slightly for the final edition that goes to real print.

    Basically, the single number remains, but we'll be adding a class bonus to certain saving throw types. These types are much more general than the set of firm categories, but they distinguish the different classes.

    Fighters will have a better saving throw progression (by one point) but no bonuses. Magic-users have a +2 bonus against spells, wands and staffs. Clerics have a +2 bonus against paralysis and poison.

    I think the original rules cut slightly too deeply into the "wonk" factor. In this way, the single saving throw remains, but the individual character of the classes is brought in.

  27. I like the simple S&W mechanic with attribute (not class) modifiers for a quick game, it is extremely easy to teach people. I am also a fan of Labyrinth Lord and I do use those Rules As Written when running Labyrinth Lord. Switching isn't terribly difficult from one game to the other, especially with Random's reference sheets for Labyrinth Lord and the S&W reference charts by Chgowiz.

  28. I like the S&W system. It's simple and fast. Modifiers based on attributes and/or classes seem like a good way to go if one wants more 'nuance' or class differentiation.

    I find that the saving throw number provides a convenient 'target number' to resolve all kinds of tasks in S&W, not simply the traditional 'saving throw' effects. This is one of the strengths of the S&W system, at least for my games. (Of course, I could just use a TN of 15, and allow characters to add their level up to a maximum of 10, and have the same system -- but the fewer numbers on a character sheet the better IMO.)

    Little tweaks like the unified saving throw system and the optional ascending AC system are things that prompted me to use S&W over Basic/Expert D&D or Labyrinth Lord, despite the fact that I started with the Basic/Expert D&D, and consider it to be my favourite TSR version of the game. (The other main reason is that I've always very much disliked the version of the 'thief' class in B/X D&D.)

  29. I'm late to this party, but -- I was also not able to swallow the single-save in S&W when I read it either.

    My analysis for OED is that (looking at OD&D as a basis) the improvement progression is pretty darned similar across all the classes. Therefore I abstracted out a basic rule of: roll d20 + level, success on 20+.

    But the important thing is that in OD&D more dangerous stuff gets easier saves. It basically looks like this (bonus to above roll): spells +0, breath +1, stone +2, wand +3, death +4. This is what I would really not want to lose with a single-save mechanic.

    (In addition, thieves and wizards suffer −2 to all except stone and spells. I go back and forth about ignoring that.)

    Now, the final thing is that the above d20+level roll is a bit bent from the actual OD&D basis. Statistically to get as close as possible you should do: d20 + level/2 + 4 (+ type bonus). But that's so complicated I didn't dare try to remember in action at the table (as noted in the OED sidebar notes).