Saturday, April 13, 2013
Wayne Rossi has a blog post up about saving throws, which got me thinking about the occasional complaint about the old-style saving throw categories (spells, wands, death-ray/poison, breath, polymorph): they aren't a "universal mechanic" and don't offer clues about what to use for walking a tightrope or dodging a spear launched from a trap. This is why the threefold Reflex/Fortitude/Will saves from the d20 system are so popular.
Except that there are other "saves" in the LBBs, like the 1 or 2 in 6 chance of falling into a pit trap, the chance to avoid damage from a fall from a ship's rigging, the chances of drowning, the vague reference to "avoiding adversity". Delving Deeper interpreted that as the rudiments of a skill system; I folded them into the concept of situation rolls instead.
The upshot of this is that there's a distinction between mundane "saves" and magical saves. All of the five categories (except for the "Poison" part of the Save vs. Death) deal with magical or unnatural effects. These are the saves that improve with level. Mundane stuff, like drowning, get a simpler save which doesn't improve with level, but might be adjusted by ability scores, armor worn, or other situational factors.
Gary Gygax himself undermined this simple distinction when he wrote later modules, inserting suggestions such as save vs. wands against a javelin trap. But I like the older distinction better, because it makes the scarier magical things easier to deal with at higher levels, but maintains the danger of ordinary hazards. You don't get better at avoiding drowning. You don't get better at avoiding a pit trap. You do, in a sense, get better at surviving a fall, because of the increase in hit points, but that's why some of us add extra complications to falling damage, so that there are always insurmountable dangers.
I agree with Wayne that making saving throws vs. spells dependent on casting level is a bad move, but I also think that using a universal "mundane saves" roll not tied to level is an important cap on a character's abilities. You may eventually be able to laugh at wizards, but you can't laugh at Mother Nature. It's better to avoid obvious physical dangers, and it should always be so.