Friday, July 23, 2010

Open Friday: No Save

Simple question this week: does the lack of a saving throw for many effects in D&D support or contradict the very idea of a saving throw?

See you tomorrow.


  1. If this is in regard to the "Energy Drain Crisis", I'd have to say that there already is a Saving throw (of a sort). It's my understanding that an undead has to score a hit on a target in combat in order to drain the energy, thus, there IS a chance to avoid the attack (and its results). That having been said, I've never been a fan of the level drain attack, from a player or GM viewpoint.

  2. "Energy Drain Crisis" sounds like a headline from a "news" program.

  3. Interesting question, the lack of a saving throw for many effects in D&D doesn't contradict the very idea of a saving throw. I'm not a fan of "no save" situations as a DM who enjoys D&D and other level based games. However, one could argue it makes the saving throw even more special as it applies to a tighter range of situations if there are situations where no save is allowed.

  4. I'm going to reiterate the above comment and say that the saving throw is the to hit roll. The way to deal with undead is to not get hit.

  5. I don't think it either supports or contradicts it. Bear in mind what a saving throw actually represents; hurling onesself out of the way of the dragon's fiery breath, the blood flowing freely after a giant scorpion's sting has struck, thus flushing out the venom, managing to shield one's eyes and thus avoid the medusa's gaze, etc.

    Sometimes, though, there simply isn't any way "out" of an effect, short of not getting in the way of it in the first place. If that spectre hits you, it hits you, with all that that implies.

  6. I agree that a energy drain attack is a saving throw in of it self.

    I am not a fan thou of Oh your just did things. I like to have my players a way out, one last toss of a dice before it is all down with. I love saving throws for that reason. The massive green dragon opens it mouth filled with yellowed fangs spews out a cloud of foul vapor. Save, or take a huge amount of damage.

    I cast the fabled rite The Doom Haridon

  7. I agree with Joseph and others regarding what a saving throw is. And with the conclusion that there are situations where no save is appropriate. E.g. energy drain. If you get thrown out of an airplane you don't get to save against gravity.

    On the subject of energy drain itself, there is something really cruel about it. It's like having the computer crash and losing all your work because you forgot to-- um, save.

  8. I'm not sure I completely buy the "the ro-hit roll is the saving throw" idea, at least not for those undead which do hp damage in addition to energy drain.

    Scorpion stings, spider bites, ghoul paralyzation, etc, all do hp damage when a hit is made PLUS deliver the special attack IF a save is failed. Level drains are automatic (no save) if a hit is made, which seems odd to me.

    But then a wight's drain is the only effect of a hit, I think.

    I've never like the no save allowed for the sleep spell, either, but I've never had a problem with it for magic missile.

  9. Hmm. I didn't answer the question.

    I do not think the existence of no-save situations "contradicts the very idea of a saving throw" but I am not really a fan of them.

    However, I've generally abided by the no-save situations and our game has not stopped functioning. So they aren't game breakers.

  10. I think that the "no saving throw" comes more from an aesthetic place than a mechanical one. Brian said above that getting thrown out of an airplane doesn't give you a save against gravity.

    I agree, but I think the lack of saving throw on an energy drain is more to create a sense of anticipation (terror?) when it comes to battling wights and such. These are supernatural horrors that even adventurers would do well to exercise caution when dealing with them.

  11. "I've never like the no save allowed for the sleep spell"

    I have to agree with that. I allow a saving throw for the victims of Sleep, for the simple reason that otherwise any reasonably sized low-level party (in contemporary play) would be wiped out the first time they run into a first level magic-user.

  12. To take this away from Energy Drain for a moment and to use another example...

    Sleep is one of the most potent spells a low level caster can learn due to the fact that it offers no saving throw.

    In a way, this spell is the one that best demonstrates a potential contradiction between an attack that offers no saving throw and the concept of saving throw qua saving throw (i.e. avoiding breathing the sleeping dust etc.).

  13. I say it supports it. Magic and effects that are too strong to save against are thematically great, and reinforce the idea that there are things you don't want to mess with. A first-level magic-user is pathetically weak, except the one time he gets to tap into arcane forces and lay out an enemy group cold, no saving throw. The greatest fighters avoid combat with high level undead at all costs, because level drain is a bitch. It's all good by me.

  14. I see saving throws as last chances against things that you could have avoided but didn't. Also, they should be for game enders.

    Save against an instantly killing poison or an attack that does so much damage that it will instantly kill is a fine example of what should have a saving throw.

    Level drain or attribute point loss, on the other hand, doesn't seem to cry out for one as much. Yet, if a character is 1st level or down to one point of CON it is deadly. Should it get a saving throw.

    Maybe. For the level drain here's a strange idea: give it a save with the character's level (or level minus one) as a negative modifier. My in game logic is that higher level characters are overflowing with life force and that makes it easier to steal. A first level character is down to his base life force which the body clings to much harder.

  15. "does the lack of a saving throw for many effects in D&D support or contradict the very idea of a saving throw?"

    No. :-)

    Longer answer: Neither, IMO. I don't believe every effect warrants a saving throw (the level drain where the monster must hit to have the effect is as good an example as any). Nor do I think savings throws should be eliminated. To my thinking, such situations co-exist in the game fairly independently.

    Saving throws are generally for something that probably should kill you, but just maybe Dame Fortune is smiling your way at that moment.

    If a PC plummets into the center of a pool of lava, there's no save or rolling damage. He dies. If the grand vizier slipped poison in the PC's wine, then there's a save to notice the taste and spit most of it out or something. One situation does not define or refute the other.

  16. Most saves or no saves I am cool with. It's having to make a system shock for a lot of mid-level spells that get my goat. Polymorph then Polymorph back? Make two rolls or die.

  17. What about people who fall out of an airplane and survive? Sure, there may be no save versus gravity, but there must be a save versus splattycakes. That anyone can survive such falls seems to prove the actual existence of saving throws in real life. :P

  18. As Wayne Rossi said, some effects are too powerful for a saving throw. In the Greyhawk section header for 7th level spells, it says "7th Level: (Spells with no saving throw unless otherwise indicated!)" I'm assuming that's due to the awesome power of those spells (and that it also applies to 8th and 9th level spells).

    Luck and resourcefulness only go so far in the face of the SUPERNATURAL! (Cue spooky theremin music.)

  19. Luck and resourcefulness only go so far in the face of the SUPERNATURAL! (Cue spooky theremin music<

    Unless you're Ash fighting the evil dead! Little luck and and a good left hook is all you need sometimes...

  20. That anyone can survive such falls seems to prove the actual existence of saving throws in real life. :P

    No-- it shows that *everything* does d6 damage!

  21. But a guy wearing armor and falling out of plane pretty much vindicates "descending armor class."

  22. However, one could argue it makes the saving throw even more special as it applies to a tighter range of situations if there are situations where no save is allowed.

    seems reasonable to me.

    That anyone can survive such falls seems to prove the actual existence of saving throws in real life.

    or maybe they spent a fate point. "falling off a cliff" is one of the examples in the wfrp-rulebook given for something only fatepoints can save you from. :)

  23. Supports. It's the living dead we are talking about after all. -You mess with the bull, you get the horns.

  24. The problem is that saving throws work in reverse. Which makes perfect sense when you realise where they come from.

    You want a mechanism to see if that minature gets affected by that attack. Since the dominant characteristic in this paradigm is the nature of the minature itself, it makes sense to assign a value based on the nature of that minature. It becomes a case of a defensive throw of save or die (remove the figure).

    In the shift to a more general paradigm of role-playing, the emphasis broadens. Characters are no longer individual minatures on the battlefield. They can be injured. The idea of a "save against effect" starts becoming the wrong way of looking at the problem. Instead one should shift the emphasis to the nature of the effect.

    There is no one type of saving throw. The saving throw may represent different actions against different effects. For example, a man is bitten by a snake. The saving throw is not a measure of the ability of the man to get out of the way of the poison, but rather their innate resistance to poison.

    How does this compare to the saving throw against a fireball? Is it getting out of the way? Is it resistance to magic? Is it being flame-resistant? Is it the vagaries of high explosives (and having some friends survive an explosion whilst others didn't I can testify that the weirdest things happen with explosions). If it is in fact dodging (as the thief's enhanced dodge protection in later editions points out, then why don't the characters actually need to dive out of the way of the fireball or lightning bolt? Wouldn't it make more sense for them to actually take cover?

    Or perhaps, the saving throw is actually the reverse. It's not the ability of the characters to resist the fireball damage but the accuracy of the spellcaster to place the fireball where it needs to go.

    The problem with D&D is that it assumes a generic effect with a fixed strength which acts against a variable resistance. It is an artifact from the miniature roots of the hobby, which accounts for the presumption of "all or nothing" effects. It does not take in effect the strength of the effect (beyond possibly assigning a bonus or penalty to the saving throw), and does not allow for partial effects.

    A saving throw does not mean that the characters are "saving themselves." It just means they are resisting the effect.

  25. Saving throws contradict hit points in many cases, particularly poison, but not in others like petrification.

    "Have for half damage" likewise looks out of place with abstract hit points.

  26. Hit points and saving throws go together well. Hit points are an abstract representation of how much damage a character can take and saving throws represent how much of an effect a given attack has over the target. The reason why there's an difference of effect can vary from event to event. Maybe you weren't fully in the cloud, or you have incredible stanima/will power, or just lucky.

    However, the lack of a saving throw can make sense as well. Some things can't be lessened by luck, stamina, ect. ect. If you get hit by a meteor a saving throw makes little sense. Other times the lack of a saving throw makes dramatic sense. I believe in either case it's not so much the rules but the finese of the game master. As the over all narrator a game master can make almost any rule fit into the play of things without having it stick out like a sore thumb.

    Lazarus lupin
    Art and Review

  27. saving throws encourage role-playing and descriptive effort by the GM. The examples given here are unimaginative. For example, when you fall out of a plane you don't get a save vs. gravity, but you may have managed to grab a parachute with one flailing hand when you were shoved, and though you don't get it on fully in time to land gently, you don't die.

    The undead one is obvious - undead hits PC, GM describes rising tide of darkness, gibbering madness crawling from the shadows, PC makes a saving throw - if he fails the madness takes his level, if he succeeds then he has called on some part of his history and personality to fend it off. Maybe he chants a prayer, invokes some folkoric ward his mother (herself killed by a zombie horde) taught him...

    Of course the overbearing presence of mechanics and the rules-lawyerish focus on mechanics in D&D makes people think that the roll is the end of it. But in reality Saving Throws are an early introduction of the phenomenon of "stunting" an action and give a lot of control over the atmosphere of the game back to players and the GM rather than the random tables and second rate monster drawings.

    I suppose your view on this depends on whether you see the mechanics as an imaginative prop, or an end in and of themselves.

  28. To be brief, every player I have played with wants their character to have a chance to avoid/survive/escape whatever fate awaits, or they cry unfair. This includes level drain.

    Over the years I have softened to the point where I tend to agree with that idea.

  29. I think I have to go with neither.

    What is the very idea of saving throws? Are saves merely a generic “there’s always a chance” mechanic to soften the edge of a strong effect? Or do they represent a PC’s ability to dodge or resist an effect? Or do they represent a chance of an effect failing?

    I’m not sure they were intended to be any of those. Or perhaps they were intended to be all. I don’t think there’s enough consistency in their use to say. It doesn’t seem as if there were any consistent principles applied. Rather, it seems that saves were called for simply whenever it subjectively seemed like they should to whoever was writing at the time.

    One thing I’ve learned is that a lot of things that I used to think were a sure thing aren’t. e.g. Bites from poisonous animals are sometimes dry. These things probably would be better represented by something other than a saving throw, but in the absence of that, I see saves as covering that.

    Another thing that I’ve learned is playing a wizard whose magic regularly fails is frustrating and doesn’t feel anything like magic in myth, legend, and (pre-D&D) literature.

  30. That's why I think they should be seen as a descriptive opportunity for the GM. I think the original mechanism of laying them out in terms of the attack type (poison, or wands) makes this easier than in subsequent systems where they were represented in terms of the associated ability score. So in D&D you could claim that the thief avoids the death ray by dodging, the wizard makes an anti-magic shell, the fighter resists it with his strength of will, etc.

    They are a great opportunity for the GM and players to add flavour to encounters.