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Friday, August 9, 2019

I Hate Will Saves

On the previous post, Andreas Davour asked what my problem with Will saves is. I’ve answered bits and pieces of this question before, but maybe it’s time to address it directly in a single post.

Let’s start with my broadest objection: I like the old categories better. Part of that is because the old system names warn players about unexpected dangers in the game. They specifically do not include mundane dangers, like falling. The new system names are general actions and provide no special clues. Players should already know that their characters can dodge or resist urges, so a Reflex or Will save tells them nothing.

A more specific objection: having a Will save tells players they can resist magic by being strong-willed, instead of avoiding magic through luck, destiny, divine favor, or even a bit of magic of your own. My first rule of saving throws is: You escape supernatural dangers by supernatural means. If there are mundane means to avoid magical effects, such as diving into a river to escape a fireball, the mundane effect almost always works in marginal cases. Saving throws are meant for exceptions, not ordinary consequences of actions.

My second rule of saving throws is even more relevant: You play your character. The GM doesn’t play your character. Your character behaves the way you say your character behaves. Having a Will save tells players (and some bad GMs) the opposite: that you can lose control of your character if you fail a save. “You said your character is abrasive. Make a Will save or your character starts insulting the baron.”

In broader cases, like falling asleep because you are tired, I don’t allow a save if there is a mundane action that can solve the problem. If you are tired, sleeping will fix that. If you, the player, choose to have your character skip sleep, then your character is tired and suffers the ill effects until your character sleeps. There is no save to avoid the consequences of your actions.

For a Sleep spell, arguably a save vs. Magic might be appropriate, although notably there is no save for Sleep in the original description of the spell. Nor is there a save vs. Detect Evil, or vs. illusions like Phantasmal Forces. The way to avoid Detect Evil is to not be evil. The way to dispel an illusion is to announce “I don’t believe this is real. I try to touch it to prove it.” This automatically works. Allowing a Will save to “disbelieve” actually takes that benefit away and makes D&D more of a numbers game instead of allowing strategy and critical thinking.

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  1. Thanks for providing such a detailed reply to my question!

    While I personally detest the "classical" system, I like your point about specific dangers versus general actions.

  2. A saving throw doesn’t (shouldn’t) depend on any particular statistic. It should only represent that which a character can only learn through experience. Hence better saves at higher levels.

    When a character attempts to influence the world, it is appropriate to depend on ability scores.

    When the world attempts to affect the character (aside from specific common things like falling and attack rolls), then the save comes into play.

  3. Well reasoned post as usual. This time I think you've convinced me. I might move to a single saving throw in my upcoming game. Generally representative of luck, experience & last resorts (although characters can interpret it as their divine favour, iron will etc). More about play & strategy & consequences & less about being hung up on stats is persuasive.

  4. If saves is a "hail mary" trying to duck hazards through pure luck, then a single save makes most sense, indeed.

    1. Don't see the reasoning behind that, even if it were luck alone and not any of the other things I mentioned. There are certainly people in the real world who are lucky in only one or two areas.

    2. Yes, but then you need to define all those areas, as they will be all the possibilities in the fiction. As game design a single Luck makes more sense. But, maybe it should then be a Talent or Trait and not a Save, which would lead into a very different design than D&D, though.

  5. The dm telling the players to make a will save or they will insult the baron is poor form. 1~ It disregards the charisma score, 2~ Telling the character what they do, not making a save vs attack/influence. Any DM doing either is bogus.

  6. Ah yes, the curse of GURPS. I don't particularly agree with your points. You should be able to escape magical effects by any means that suits the fiction. Saving throws in D&D derived rules have no fiction associated with them so that is a bad thing thing having a get out of jail free action with nothing to say about it. I like the Defy Danger move in Dungeon World as you can describe how the character saves from the danger.
    In many sets of rules picking a disadvantage gives the GM licence to play your character in a pre-defined scope in return for some advantage. This is not of itself a bad thing especially in FATE where there is an explicit "do this thing which is bad for you and get this reward" mechanism.
    If your game is a straight unmodified D&D clone then you may well be right but I don't think it needs to be that way.

    1. Saving throws in D&D derived rules have no fiction associated with them
      I disagree. Save versus Poison/Death comes right out of Tolkien and the Frodo's resistance to the Morgul-blade. You can easily intuit other types of saves from the same fictional logic found in the Hobbit and LotR.

    2. ...and there lies the problem with those kind of saves. If you reason like that, there's no end to them, and having an unlimited number of saves just will not work.

      Either a lucky break save, or another basis like the general actions mentioned above is a natural conclusion as an alternative.

      Personally I love the phrase "Save against Death!", but a Luck save ticks the boxes as game design, for me personally.

    3. If you reason like that, there's no end to them

      Exactly. That is what freedom looks like: its chaotic, its messy, but can be a great ride. I will grant that too much can be a problem, but if I want a Save vs. Mutation because it fits my campaign world and sounds fun, I'll use it. Yes, one Saving Throw or Luck Throw is elegant and arguably simpler; however, I don't like it practice. The reactions to "Save vs Death!" are so worth the effort and the mess.

  7. I've yet to see that happen that people embrace it fully and do that, which I claim probably is how it worked before Gray codified it. But, if you do I'm all for it! :)