Sunday, May 10, 2009

Saving Throws, part 1

So I've decided it's time for some more cross-edition analysis like I did with starting gold & equipment or bigass monsters. This time I'm looking at saving throws. I've been thinking about doing one or more posts on saves for a while, but it was comparing 1st edition Oriental Adventures to Mike Davison's Ruins & Ronin that finally got me to set to work on it. One of my minor nitpicks with Ruins & Ronin and the Swords & Wizardry rules that it supplements is the single saving throw they employ. You could easily construct an argument that the D&D saving throw system makes no sense whatsoever, but that doesn't mean I'm prepared to reject it without looking at what the present system actually does. Today I'm going to start this analysis with simply listing the categories of save for each edition that I have within reach as I type this.

Death Ray or Poison
All Wands -- Including Polymorph or Paralization [sic]
Dragon Breath
Staves & Spells

Paralyzation, Poison or Death Magic
Petrification or Polymorph
Rod, Staff or Wand
Breath Weapon

Holmes Basic
Spell or Magic Staff
Magic Wand
Death Ray or Poison
Turned to Stone
Dragon Breath

Moldvay Basic & Cook/Marsh Expert
Death Ray or Poison
Magic Wands
Paralysis or Turn to Stone
Dragon Breath
Rods, Staves or Spells

Rules Cyclopedia
Death Ray/Poison
Magic Wands
Paralysis/Turn to Stone
Breath Attack

HackMaster 4th
Paralyzation, Poison, Death Magic
Rod, Staff, or Wand
Petrification, HackFrenzy, HackLust, Polymorph
Breath Weapon

Labyrinth Lord
Breath Attacks
Poison or Death
Petrify or Paralyze
Spells or Spell-like Devices

Basic Fantasy
Death Ray or Poison
Magic Wands
Paralysis of Poison
Dragon Breath

  • One of the interesting things I see here is how the various categories evolve, couple, and de-couple. Poison and Death/Death Magic/Death Ray are always the same category of save, but Wands may or not have anything to do with Staff.
  • I could totally see an OD&D referee using the Stone category for non-petrification attacks. "You hit a tripwire and several blocks of granite fall from the ceiling, save versus Stone or take 3d6 damage." And you could use the ODD Staves category for Robin Hood-style quarterstaff throwdowns, maybe a save versus Staves to avoid tripping or being knocked out.
  • Death Magic is okay, save verus just plain Death is widely applicable (a fact I exploit in my Labyrinth Lord house rules), but nothing beats making people save versus Death Rays.
  • A saving category called Dragon Breath implies that non-draconic breath weapons don't allow a save unless specifically indicated. This is a special case of the broader principal that may or may not inform your own game. I tend to assume that the category names Mean Something, in that if an attack form doesn't obviously fall under one or more category on the chart then the implication is that a save isn't allowed.
  • In most editions Wands are the second save listed, but AD&D they're third. This matters when I run because of a rule of thumb I use. Some attacks fall under mutliple possible saves. Like a dragon breath attack that is poison gas or a wand of paralyzation. Sometimes the monster/item/whatever description tells you what to save against, but sometimes it doesn't. In the latter case I give precendence to saves listed earlier on the chart. So a Staff of the Gorgon (which I just made up) would use the Petrification column. I'm pretty sure I read this rule somewhere years ago, maybe an old Sage Advice? I dunno.
  • Man, HackMaster is weird.