Sunday, 22 May 2011

Saving the Saving Throw: B2, B3 & B4

I hate d20 ability score checks. I have no real justification for this, I just do. Perhaps I recoil from their viral like growth as the game developed. What ever happened to the humble saving?

Perhaps an ability score is used when the DM expects the player to survive (eg roll with d20 under 15 strength), whereas, at low levels anyway, saving throws are like ward spells, protecting you when the badness has already occurred and giving you one last, but low probability, chance to live. The dragon has breathed, you have looked at the medusa, the snake has bitten.

I wonder however if the problem with saving throws is we DMs aren't imaginative enough with how we use them. Well this DM isn't, you can answer as you wish.

So as part of my Research for the Old School Adventure Guide I'm going to go through the rules and modules I own and pick out where and when saving throws are used. Building a bank that hopefully will prove inspiring and informative. Luckily I purchased many modules in the days when the pdf's were for sale, so a Find 'sav' will certainly speed the process. Else it will be the index or the foibles of my own sight.

Ready, steady, save or die.

[Warning: potential spoilers ahead]

(Sadly I don't own B1)

  1. Save vs Poison at +1 or die: Compartments in a Loan Bank
  2. Save vs Poison or sleep for 3 turns (no save <4th level): Compartment in a Loan Bank
  3. Save vs Poison or disease (25% chance the character will die in 1-6 days. Otherwise the character will be too sick to adventure for one game month): Giant Rat (monster)
  4. Unspecified save for the mapping character, requiring a 19 or 20 secret roll by the DM, to throw off a direction confusion spell in a labyrinth.
  5. Save vs Magic at -2 when picking up an evil object or fall under the influence of a demonic spell. [Save vs Magic isn't a category in OD&D, Holmes, B/X, Mentzer or AD&D - yep that's Gygaxian consistency for you]
  6. Save vs Spells or flee for 1 turn: Cause Fear (spell)
  7. Save vs Spells or be mesmerized into chanting a hymn to chaotic evil.
  8. Save vs Poison or Die: Medusa asp-hair
  9. Save vs Turn to Stone or turn to stone: looking at Medusa
  1. Save vs Spells to avoid being affected by the sleep gas.
  2. Save vs Paralysis at +2 or fall into the liquid-like body of the diger and drown in 1 turn: Diger (monster)
  3. Save vs Death Ray or fall into fits of uncontrollable laughter for 3 rounds, after which lose 2 points of strength and 1 point of constitution for 2-8 turns.
  4. Save vs Death Ray at +3 to avoid being hit by the falling stone slab, else 2-12 points of damage.
  5. Save vs Death Ray for half damage of 1d6, from falling into a pit trap (no save for falling)
  6. Save vs Spells for beast to avoid being calmed and relaxed by the magical harp being played by a skilled harpist (a skill the player characters may lack)
  7. Save vs Poison at +2 due to age of poison to avoid death: poisoned needle on handle of a false doorway
  8. Save vs Paralyzation at +3 to avoid paralysis: breaking a strange looking egg (take 1-4 damage no save in addition)
  9. Save vs Death ray to avoid coughing uncontrollably for 1-4 rounds by dust from a whirlwind: Poltergeist (monster)
  10. Save vs Spells or be charmed by the whistling sound: Giant Marble Snake (monster)
  11. Save vs Spells at -3 to avoid heavy sweet smell that has the same effect as a sleep spell: Purple Moss (monster)
  12. Save vs Paralysis or slip and fall down: Oil Spray Trap
  13. Save vs Spells to avoid shattering of all the characters flasks and vials when touching a glowing gem that starts shrieking when touched (additionally causes a wandering monster check): Glowing Gem Trap
  14. Save vs Spells to avoid fear (character runs away for 2 game turns): Statue Trap - causes fear when touched.
  15. Save vs Poison or shrink to 6" tall for one hour: Shrink Gas Trap
  16. Save vs Spells or be blinded 2-12 turns: Flash Trap

  1. Save vs Poison or be too sick to do anything for 1 turn: goo spit from the Cave Locust (monster)
  2. Save vs Poison or die: Killer Bee (monster)
  3. Save vs Paralysis or fall unconscious for 1-10 rounds: bite of a Vampire Bat (monster)
  4. Save vs Spells or become an undead creature 24 hours after death, DM choice of undead: Vampire Bat (monster)
  5. Save vs Poison or be blinded: spit from a Spitting Cobra (monster)
  6. Save vs Poison or die: bite from a Spitting Cobra (monster)
  7. Save vs Poison or die: poison needle trap
  8. Save vs Death Ray or choke to death within 6 rounds (additional 1-6 damage no save): spore from Yellow Mold (monster)
  9. Save vs Spells or run away in fear for 1-4 turns: Haunt (monster)
  10. Save vs Death Ray or run away in fear (3rd level or less only): Giant Shrew (monster)
  11. Save vs Paralyzation or be paralysed (elves immune): Ghoul (monster)
  12. Save vs Poison or disease (25% chance the character will die in 1-6 days. Otherwise the character will be too sick to adventure for one game month): Giant Rat (monster)
  13. Save vs Paralysis or be paralysed for 2-8 turns: Carrion Crawler (monster)
  14. Save vs Paralyzation or be paralysed (elves immune): Thoul (monster)
  15. Save vs Dragon Breath or be taken over by the spirit of a dead 6th level cleric: touching the clerics white robe
  16. Save vs Spells or weapon sticks to the body of the iron statue: Iron Statue (monster)
  17. Save vs Paralysis or be paralysed for 2-8 turns: Gelatinous Cube (monster)
  18. Save vs Fire based spells at -2: Wood Golem (monster)
  19. Save vs Turn to Stone or turn to stone: looking at Medusa
  20. Save vs Paralysis or be paralysed until Mummy attacks: Mummy (monster)
  21. Save at +2: Displacer Beast (monster)
  22. Save vs Dragon Breath for half damage (5-30): Hellhound (monster)
  23. Save vs Turn to Stone or turn to stone: gaze of the basilisk (monster)
  24. Save vs Spells or become 1' tall: reading a cursed scroll
  25. Save vs Spells or lose half Strength and Dexterity (-20% on all thiefly ability rolls) for 24 turns: Gas trap on treasure chest
  26. Save vs Spells at -2 or be charmed: Devil Swine (monster)
  27. Save vs Spells at -2 or be charmed :gaze of a vampire (monster)
  28. Save vs Dragon Breath for half damage (3-18): Chimera (monster)
  29. Save vs Dragon Breath for half damage: Blue Dragon (monster)
  30. Save vs Spells or be charmed for one day (effects opposite sex only): Werefox (monster)

1. Gygax doesn't seem to like the saving throw
2. Save vs death ray, paralysis or spells: if there is a logical choice for each circumstance, I can't see it in the above examples. Sadly, this was my fear. 

I Will have the Fortitude not to Reflexly do something I will later regret. 


  1. Are you familiar with how T&T utilizes the SR (Saving Roll)? It is kind of a hybrid between D&D saving throws & ability checks.

    The problem with the old D&D saving throw system is that the names and the values come across as arbitrary, to me anyway, whereas I find T&T's saves much more intuitive.

    Since T&T and D&D use the same ability score range, 3-18, there is no reason why you couldn't port T&T's SRs into D&D.

  2. This is kind of why I always liked the unified saving throw of Swords and Wizardry. It gives you the "one last chance" of regular saving throws without having to pretend to justify why you rolled to vs Spells for that one fear, and then against Death Ray for the next one. Cuts down on a lot of charts, too.

    And regarding ability checks: I think a lot of the problem is that ability checks aren't quite "right." In my opinion, rolls are for things that require an element of chance, but attributes are pretty steady. When you go to lift weights, for example, a guy who benches 120 lbs doesn't bench 170 one day (lucky roll) and then bench 90 the next (unlucky roll.) But that's a thought for, perhaps, another day.

    Interesting post, btw.

  3. @ Bree Yark! & N. Wright
    This series in posts (will be a series if I stay motivated to make a 2nd) is, an attempt to save the saving throw for me, my fear is that this won't be possible.
    What's the T&T system, I have no experience.
    S&W makes sense.
    As does 3e
    Alternatively, I like the minor modification to the system by creating categories of Magical Devices, Spells, Poison/Death, Restrictions to Movement and Dragons.

  4. Ahoy Priest (and yes I will repost the horse post soon!). To your first comment, that Gygax didn't like the saving throw, since so many of the saves on B4, for example, are from the effects of creature attacks/abilities maybe it has more to do with the flavor of the settings and how it was stocked than with a feeling about saving throws. Most of the stuff in B2 isn't really poisonous or magical.

    On the rhyme or reason part, you are probably on to something. I'm not sure if it's helpful or not in your analysis, but Raggi's LotFP has this take on it (Grindhouse Rules and Magic, p. 21):

    "These saving throws cover all possible save
    situations. When there is a doubt as to which
    save category to use, start at the left column on
    the Saving Throw chart and move to the right,
    using the first category which matches the
    particular effect. [SoE: The following list is in left to right order.]

    Paralyze will cover any effect in which the
    victim is unable to move (such as petrification,
    being the subject of a Hold Person or Web spell,

    Poison will be used for any situation where hit
    points are irrelevant and the result is unconsciousness or death.

    Breath Weapon is used for area effects.

    Magical Device includes situations with all
    magic items that have spell-like
    effects, be they wands, staves, rings, etc.

    Magic includes any magical effect from a cast
    spell or innate ability."

    I'd assume this is the result of Jim coming to terms with some of the same inconsistencies as you are. I've found this a useful rationale, anyway.

  5. The issue of whether hit points should count is an interesting one, and deliberately elided in save situations: if in fact hit points model confirmation bias/empirically tested hard-to-kill-ness then saves should probably be against them, somehow. Or you could just save vs level, or roll vs a save target attached to the specific threat and get your level as a bonus.

    But I like rolling against attributes. You've been poisoned - you could save vs con or int/wis (to induce vomiting quickly). I would relish opportunities to say "save vs charisma."

    ...but then I know nothing of these later edition ability check woes you speak of.

    As for having some arbitrary list of different saves, for wands vs death rays vs dragon breath etc, I kinda like how it takes the piss out of the rules system from within, but if you're trying to take it seriously I think it actively gets in the way: the possible list of threats is big: save vs turn to stone is illustrative. I say either go with one universal save or come up with some Pokemon/Galenic system of n elements that accounts for all things in the world. Save vs. yang.