Temporal Salvation

Reading the recent Alexandrian post on saving throws and following -C's comment link to a previous Hack & Slash post, has me thinking about saving throws again.

(For further related reading Hack & Slash: On New Old School saves is also of interest.)

I have to admit I'm a big fan of the 3E breakdown of saving throws.  I played a year or so under 2E and the abstraction -C finds so useful, I viewed as an incomprehensible mess with little rhyme or reason.

The applications of these saves aren't intuitively obvious to everyone.  I remember looking at the save tables in 2E baffled as to why characters got the saves they did.  And even in cases where it was easy to intuitively grasp why a character might have one given save better than another, I was still puzzled as to which save would best cover any given effect if it fell under the aegis of multiple categories.

When Fortitude/Reflex/Will came along in 3E it seemed like a breath of fresh air.
It may be that the level of literality ushered in with 3E (and which 4E later followed) stands in jarring contrast to the abstractness of other aspects of the game (e.g. hit points and non-gradual succumbing to conditions).  But I'd argue that there are already certain elements that have had a weird abstract/literal contrast for awhile:

Hit points inflate in an abstract manner, suggesting a nebulous sort of PC physical survivability, contrasting with weapon and attribute based damage bonuses which have very narrow and specifically defined ranges.  I've always found this contrast jarring, but few others seem to give it much notice.

And if 3E saving throws' more literal categorization contrasts against the abstractness of the save outcome in a way that isn't ideal, at least I enjoy being able to easily categorize how an effect is treated on the fly with greater ease and certainty.

In reference to Justin's post:  I am still a fan of the potential victim making a saving throw, rather than having a static save score that the inflicter tries to beat.  In my mind it makes the victim feel like they are doing something to preserve themselves, rather than just waiting passively to see how their attacker does.

But, all that said, I'm not sure that Fortitude/Reflex/Will is the one, ultimate method of treating saves.  Looking over the way saving throws are treated by Swords & Wizardry and Dangers and Dweomers has given me a couple ideas:

Freeform Saves
There are only two "types" of saves:  Good saves (which progress quickly) and bad saves (which progress more slowly).  Each character will have to attempt some good saves and some bad saves.  However there are no hard and fast categories which define which of your saves are good and bad.  Basically if you can think of a reason the good save would apply to your character and the DM will buy the idea, then the save does apply along with whatever ability modifier is related.

Some examples of character details which might make a save "good" include:
  • Fighter saving against weapon effect or cause of massive injury.
  • Rogue saving against any tricks, traps or attempt to get the hell out of Dodge.
  • Magician saving against magic or arcane effect.
  • Cleric saving against any effect caused by a creature of opposing alignment, or by creatures anathema to her tradition (e.g. undead or demons).
  • Dwarf saving against something related to stonework, earth, architecture, mining or giants.
  • Wild elf saving against anything naturey.
  • Orc saving against any attempt to subdue or calm.
  • Human:  Pick one category of specialization.
  • Gnome saving against illusions or anything that can be smelled.
  • Save against any effect related to a non-weapon proficiency or secondary skill (e.g. a jeweler attacked with a magic jar spell may get a good save as their consciousness can better seek a flaw in the gem to escape through).

Bug Out 
The idea of treating certain elements of D&D in a more literal manner does have an appeal when the madness is upon me.  And although I'm not inclined to pursue this line of thinking to every logical extreme, I have given it some thought when it comes to Reflex saves.  Bugging out could be somewhat abstracted, but becomes more specific in any version of play where movement rate and actions per round are accurately tracked.

Under bug out rules a character can only attempt a reflex save if he has sufficient movement rate and actions remaining (standard actions, movement actions or 5ft step) to get out of the range of the effect (Hiding behind cover within a blast radius may be fine in some cases.).  If the character has used all his ability to move for the round then no reflex save is possible.

If sufficient capacity for movement still remains (even prior to character initiative) then the character can choose to make the reflex save.  On a success the character is able to move anywhere within their movement area outside the blast radius.  On a failure the character is still able to move anywhere within their movement area as long as it remains within the blast radius.  If the character fails and is unable to move at all due to a small blast radius, then the movement-related action still counts as expended.