Saturday, February 1, 2014

Let's Talk of Saves and Rolling Low

A caveat as I begin a series on game design decisions: I have NOT read very much that's come out in support of D+D and its variations in the last decade; this means that I may unintentionally re-tread ground that someone else has already trod or make 'discoveries' that were a big deal five years ago, but I never heard about it. I'm going to read what people have written online about these things, but I'm not going out to buy 50 books to see how every designer has attacked these problems. It may be that I discover something that you've been doing for ten years, and it may be that I stumble across a new mousetrap. I'll take it for what it is.

(/disclaimer off)

I REALLY like the idea of one save to rule them all as introduced in Swords and Wizardry. I just think that idea is the bee's knees... however, there are a few other things that I have thought about regarding saves:

- B/X often has roll low as a way to find success. The rules don't specifically have ability checks anywhere in the game, but I think a lot of people house rule this, and it seems like a very intuitive way to go for the core rules. You don't need a specific way to resolve forcing open doors; forcing open doors requires a strength check (roll equal to or less than your strength). That modifier of up to +4/-4 really gives you a ton of variety. If it's a strong door, take -4 to your strength for this door; if it's particularly easy, take +4 to your strength. (1 always succeeds, 20 always fails). Simple enough. I want to keep roll low for success wherever and whenever possible to keep this as a unifying mechanic.

Saving throws then work the same way. Your save is based on your class and level, and you want to roll below your save rating. Easy peasy.

However, I like some variety in saves, and one of my favorite changes from 3E (other than ascending AC, which I'm definitely using) is three saves. These were more intuitive than the 5 saves from classic D+D, but kept some variety. However, you can keep the same variety without adding any mechanical bloat (and without creating the wide variations in saves that you would see in high-level 3E). If you tie saves to three different abilities (Wisdom, Dexterity and Constitution), you can port over the 3E saves and tie the base bonus to your ability modifier. For example, as a level 7 cleric (giving you a base Save of 9) with WIS 18 (+3 modifier), DEX 7 (-1 modifier), and CON 13 (+1 modifier), you would make a WIS Save with a roll of 1-12 on d20, a DEX Save with a roll of 1-8 on d20, and a CON Save with a roll of 1-10 on d20. This creates some variety (potentially, unless you have the same bonus/penalty in all three abilities) while keeping the math simple (you still have only one save number to write down). This keeps the Armor Class concept of 'a higher rating is better', because it never made sense to me that a lower saving throw number was better. Since you already have to accept that rolling low for ability checks is good, you can accept that rolling low for a saving throw is good. Poison and Death Ray become CON saves, Dragon Breath becomes a DEX save, and Magic/ Rods/Staffs/Wands become WIS saves. A monster from 1982 that forces a save vs. Death Ray now forces a CON save. Conversion is done.

This is the kind of thing I'm aiming for - a simple, intuitive fix that maintains variety and flavor, and which maintains ties to classic editions of the game.