5E On Saving Throws (a Monster Manual Analysis)
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    On Saving Throws (a Monster Manual Analysis)

    Ok. It's a common place to say that, in D&D 5th edition, Dexterity is king over Strength, partially due to the fact that the Dexterity is the "most common" Saving Throw. I want to discuss that and see how much truth there is in that statement. I searched through the Monster Manual and made a statistic about the Saving Throws.
    In this post I only have taken account of direct calls to specific saving throws, and I didn't listed any spellcasting skill (it is highly dependant on the particular spell list). Some of them change drastically the percentages of STs. For example, it isn't very known that the Aboleth calls for an Intelligence save (it has a lair action that allows it to cast Phantasmal Force at will)

    *Strength Saves: With a total of 65 Saving Throws, there are a few facts. Most of them inflict the prone and restrained conditions or push a target. A few of them prevent damage, and a few generate weird effects (like the kuo-toa sticky shield). There are a few more Strength checks to escape of certain effects, but they aren't counted as Saves.
    Of the Strength saves, 5 (aprox 8%) are from lair actions, 3 of them from dragons.
    4 are from Weakening Breath of the Gold Dragon (mostly an ally, an uncommon enemy at best), with an aprox value of 6%. Two of them of legendary dragons (3%).
    4 are from the Repulsion Breath of the Bronze Dragon, with an aprox value of 6%. Two of them of legendary dragons (3%)
    Total of dragon percentile: 16.92. Without dragons, the total Strength saves are 54, without only Legendary dragons, there are 58 saves.

    Most Strength saves are scattered around the book, with many in low-to-mid-level monsters, such as beasts and dinosaurs. Dire wolves, worgs -very common enemies- and horses -not so common enemy, but very common mounts- are specially prone to this. But also gladiators and other very common enemies.

    *Dexterity saves:
    They have a total of 100 Saving Throws, being the second most common save.
    They are concentrated on the first quarter of the book, and deal specially with escaping from AoE damage.
    One thing to notice is that most of them (58, almost the sheer number of strength saves) are linked directly to dragons:
    - 21 are saves against Wing Attack from Legendary dragons (ancient and adult).
    - 16 are from Fire Breath, 12 of them are from dragons (red, gold and brass dragons), and 6 directly from Legendary dragons of the same colours.
    - 10 to Lair Actions (7 from dragons)
    - 10 from Lightning Breath (9 are from dragons: blue dracolich, blue and bronze; 1 is from the Behir) and from them 5 are Legendary dragons
    - 8 from Acid Breath, all of them of dragons (black and copper), from them 4 are from legendary dragons.
    - 1 from Shadow Breath, a Shadow Dragon weapon.
    Without dragons, the number of Dex saves decreases dramatically to 42. Legendary dragons only concentrate 44 of the Dex saves (44% of the total, 76% of the Dragon saves)

    Of the other monsters, the most common Dex save is the Beholder, another legendary creature that concentrates a total of 9 saves (one of them from Lair actions, counted above). The rest of the saves are scattered between demons and stuff. They are nonexistant in the NPC or Beasts appendixes

    *Constitution saves:
    The single most common save, with 156 counts on the DMG. They are vastly scattered through the book, although many are linked to undead of various types, poisonous creatures and dragons. The Con saves deal with a vast array of conditions (petrified, paralyzed, poisoned) and damage sources (mostly poison, but many more too).
    Dragons: Total of 36 Constitution saves, a 23,06% of the saves. Without the dragons, Constitution would still be the most common save by far, with 120 saves.
    - 11 of the saves are linked to Lair Actions, 7 of them of dragons.
    - 1 from Steam Breath, of the Dragon Turtle
    - 24 from various dragon breaths, namely Poison (8), Cold (8), Sleep (4), Repulsion (4), Slowing (4) and Paralyzing (4) breaths.

    *Intelligence saves: By far the most uncommon save, with only 4 direct calls without counting spells. The only calls are around psionic creatures such as mind flayers (2), Intellect Devourers (1) and psychic gray oozes (1). The intelligence save protects against brain suplantation and devouring. Not much else to say, save that they have not dragon percentage. If psionics are unexistant, though, there is no single Intelligence save.

    *Wisdom Saves: Usually called one of the most common saves, it is actually the third save in consideration, and only for a minimum margin, with a total of 68 direct calls, barely 3 more saves than Strength. Wisdom saves concentrate around avoiding conditions such as fear, charm, stun and other mind-altering effects.

    The Dragon percentile
    - Frightful Presence is the single most common Wisdom save, is against fear, and there are 22 of them (21 are from Legendary dragons, 1 is from the Tarrasque), for about a 32,35% of the Wis saves.
    - There are only 2 Lair Actions that trigger Wisdom saves.
    Without Legendary Dragons, the Wisdom saves are about 44. Without Legendary dragons only, the Wisdom saves are far less common than Strength ones (14 less than Strength). Still common, though.

    They are also scattered through the book, but many of them are around frightful or mind-confusing monsters, such as dragons, aberrations and undead.

    *Charisma Saves: By far one of the lesser saves. It is almost as bad as Intelligence, as they are only 6 saves, 1 of them from Dragon lairs (golden dragon). They deal mostly with charms and posession.

    Analysis
    The common appreciation of Dexterity being the most common save is false. The most common save is Constitution by far, and it is scattered enough to catch several beasts and monsters of distinctive types. They are plenty of saves of many types, and it is usually a well-recognized second or third stat, as it deals directly with survival of the game, although it hasn't any direct link with a skill. Dexterity, also, although somewhat common, is heavily concentrated on dragons, as almost a 60% of the Dex saves are triggered by dragons, 43% of the total saves are only from Legendary dragons and 9% of the saves are from another single Legendary creature (beholder). Without legendary creatures (that is, very uncommon encounters, more bosses than anything else), the amount of Dex saves decreases amazingly, and becomes less than Strength and Wisdom. Also, there is very little amount of low-end creatures that trigger Dex saves: most of them are top-notch, with a CR greater than 10. That is, they are uncommon until late levels.

    *Strength, often perceived as a low-key save, is barely on par with Wisdom (with a difference of 3 saves), another perceived High-end save, with a minimal difference. Strength is also very scattered around the book, with somewhat more presence on the Beast appendix, but many of the creatures that trigger an early Save trigger a Strength one. Many see this as a weakness nevertheless, as the condition that mostly applies with Strength saves is Prone, and only a handful of saves actually deal with direct damage. Nevertheless this is a mistake, as most of the creatures that trigger this type of save (like wolves and beasts) act in groups, so many benefit from a prone enemy and it is potentially the death of many characters. Moreso, dire wolves, warhorses and worgs are also common mounts of intelligent creatures, that could potentially benefit more from that condition, readying actions to attack when an opponent falls down. This is much more dangerous that it may seem (suddenly, the character receives a lot of damage from attacks that would otherwise fail, and many more critics).

    *Wisdom, the other "great save", as i've said, is mostly on par with Strength, and it also imposes dangerous conditions, such as Paralyzation and Petrification. But also, many saves (almost a third) are linked to a particular branch of monsters: legendary dragons and Frightful Presence, which comes somewhat late (after 13th level- the adult white dragon has this CR and it's the softest of the Legendary dragons). In fact, the only other creature with FP is the Tarrasque which is of higher CR than anything else. In the early game is also way below Strength in use, although somewhat more common than Dexterity, as it is more scattered.

    * As it is the common perception, Intelligence saves are almost nonexistant, unless we count a handful of spells. Direct calls to IS are psychic only. There are a few Int checks, but scattered and far to corner-edge to be considered "useful".

    *Charisma, the somewhat perceived as somewhat "weak" save is actually an awful one, on par with Intelligence. At least, many caster classes are Charisma-based (bard, sorcerer, warlock, Paladin), and it is the paramount of social skills, so it is essential to at least have 1 character with high charisma to negotiate.

    Saves per Class
    If we take account of the saves imposed by monsters, the absolute winners are Fighters and Barbarians, as they have the most common save (constitution) and another very common save (Strength). They have a total of 221 saves available. They are also the classes with the most durability, as they have strong Hit Points and armor, and Figthers have the best stats/ASI, so they can invest on other saves if they need them. And also, fighters gain Indomitable at 9th level, so they could be quite resistant.
    They are followed by the Monks and Rangers (dex and strength), with a total of 165 saves. Both have also great Wisdom scores, so they can be quite tough against mind-controlling effects.
    Sorcerers, otherwise, compensate their awful Charisma save with the strongest one (constitution), for a total of 162 saves.
    Bards have little more than rogues, but still suck with 106 saves.
    Rogues have sucky saves, as they have less than half the fighter and barbarian saves, with a total of 104 saves available.
    Clerics, druids, warlocks and paladins are almost the suckiest saves, with a total of 74 saves available, many of them after 13th level (frigthful presence). Paladins at least have good Hit Dice and Lay on Hands.
    Wizards win the Suckiest Saves Award, with 72 saves available. They also have the weakest HP (along with the sorcerers). You better save for a Resilient feat and take Constitution ASAP (+1 to the stat, proficiency on the saves). Ouch, you haven't as many ASI to waste.

    I hope that you will comment and discuss about it. There are a few myths, and this is an incomplete analysis, as spells weren't taken account of, nor Volo's. Nevertheless, spells vary widely, so as their application and not many monsters have access to spellcasting.

    Edit: Volo's Guide To Monsters
    Volo's guide to monsters includ several new Saving throws, altering slightly the proportions of saves (but not by much). The new saves are:
    Strength: 19, mostly remaining the same scatteredness. It's the third most common save in the book
    Dexterity: the least favoured, with 17 saves. This may be because there is no dragons here. It's the fourth more common save.
    Constitution: is still the boss, with 41 saves.
    Intelligence: It increases its importance, with 7 new saves. It is noticeable that in Volo's are more IST than in the MM. Still, it's still the less common save, and is still linked to Mind Flayers.
    Wisdom: The other big winner. It increases its difference with Strength with 28 new saves. Now the difference is 12 saves. It's here the second most common save.
    Charisma: Another big favoured, with 10 saves. It almost triplicates its total amount of saves. There is also another save not counted as it isn't from a monster, but from a character race (aasimar)

    Totals between MM and VGTM
    Strength saves:
    84
    Dexterity saves: 117
    Constitution saves: 197
    Intelligence saves: 11
    Wisdom saves: 96
    Charisma saves: 16 /17 if we count the aasimar (if we apply the race traits to the NPCs, it greatly increases its influence)
    Last edited by Erechel; Thursday, 11th May, 2017 at 04:42 PM.
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  2. #2
    Great analysis. I wonder how it changes with spells included?

  3. #3
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    Interesting. You totally had me thinking you were going to discuss Monster's Saving Throws, i.e. what saving throws monsters are good at, and what saves monsters suck on (hint: most).

    I'd suggest you edit your intro, to make it clear you're talking about what saving throws a PC might want to be good at, based on what the most common saving throws monsters might target. Or words to that effect, which are clearer

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    Very nice analysis there!

    I remember that during the 5e playtest there were many discussions about saving throws. WotC first idea was IIRC that they should all be mostly equally common, but eventually it proved too difficult to do and they effectively divided them between the better Dex-Con-Wis and less useful Str-Int-Cha. I would have preferred if they had defaulted to Strength ST also for paralysis-type effects, and to Intelligence ST for illusions.

    It's out of scope here, but I also wonder if it would have been even better to just not have saving throw proficiencies at all. Proficiency is the only thing that really differentiates between an ability check and a saving throw, so if we didn't have ST proficiencies, then we would have less problems on which ST are better, and we wouldn't have to worry about whether a spell forces an Intelligence check or ST, because the two would be really the same.

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    Great analysis!

    It really brings the folly of 6 saves that we all knew into hard facts and number.

    If you combine dex and str saves to old ref save, and int, wis and cha to old will save it would get to somewhat better balance.

    fort: 156 saves
    ref: 165
    will: 78

    will is still the rarest, but it goes with most damaging results if failed. reflex is usually just HP damage with some "light" conditions. Fort will be most sought for again.

    Then all classes would have 1 save throw proficiency

    Fort: barbarian,fighter,sorcerer,
    Ref: bard,monk,ranger,rogue,
    Will;cleric, druid,paladin,wizard,warlock,

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    Quote Originally Posted by Horwath View Post
    Great analysis!

    It really brings the folly of 6 saves that we all knew into hard facts and number.

    If you combine dex and str saves to old ref save, and int, wis and cha to old will save it would get to somewhat better balance.

    fort: 156 saves
    ref: 165
    will: 78

    will is still the rarest, but it goes with most damaging results if failed. reflex is usually just HP damage with some "light" conditions. Fort will be most sought for again.

    Then all classes would have 1 save throw proficiency

    Fort: barbarian,fighter,sorcerer,
    Ref: bard,monk,ranger,rogue,
    Will;cleric, druid,paladin,wizard,warlock,
    I don't really like to go back to 3.5, in my understanding the worst of the D&D iterations. Also, if we "colapse" saves, I see more connection between Strength and Constitution saves than Strength and Dex ones. I really like the saves linked to stats, and I don't really need perfect balance. When you are talking about 399 saves, a difference of 20 is acceptable (playstyle will define). Not so much with a difference of over 150. But I wouldn't mind Constitution being the most common save if there were at least 20-30 Intelligence and Charisma saves. Right now, it hardly makes a difference to have Int or Cha saves proficiency or not. As many said, Illusions and illusory monsters should have Int saves (also I would like to make Int saves for martial things, like feints and deception). And Charisma should have also more importance against charms, and even fear.

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    This analysis is interesting but it's really in a vacuum. Unless I misread the OP, it doesn't consider how often a particular save may come up or what types of monsters may be heavy in a particular campaign which would effect how often certain saves occur.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CydKnight View Post
    This analysis is interesting but it's really in a vacuum. Unless I misread the OP, it doesn't consider how often a particular save may come up or what types of monsters may be heavy in a particular campaign which would effect how often certain saves occur.
    Not so much. I have not provided only numbers, but a small analysis as well. That's the Dragon Percentile for you, and the scattered/concentred value. Dex saves are concentred around dragons, mostly legendary dragons; and dragons won't be direct enemies until the late game. Same with Wisdom.
    Of course, particular campaigns will have more common saves (an illithid campaign will increase a lot the amount of Int saves, but not any other campaign type).
    Also, I brought the relevance of Strength saves saying that most of the common monsters that call for a save call for strength, and also that these types of monsters tend to act in large and mixed groups (worgs and goblins, dire wolves, etc.). Most mounts have strength saves (the above mentioned, elephants, and horses). Are you fighting knights? Better have a high strength save, or you will be trampled and attacked with advantage. Are you fighting goblins? the same.
    In fact, there aren't in a vacuum. I would dare to say that Strength saves are the most common below Constitution, at least in the first 10 levels.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Erechel View Post
    Not so much. I have not provided only numbers, but a small analysis as well. That's the Dragon Percentile for you, and the scattered/concentred value. Dex saves are concentred around dragons, mostly legendary dragons; and dragons won't be direct enemies until the late game. Same with Wisdom.
    Of course, particular campaigns will have more common saves (an illithid campaign will increase a lot the amount of Int saves, but not any other campaign type).
    Also, I brought the relevance of Strength saves saying that most of the common monsters that call for a save call for strength, and also that these types of monsters tend to act in large and mixed groups (worgs and goblins, dire wolves, etc.). Most mounts have strength saves (the above mentioned, elephants, and horses). Are you fighting knights? Better have a high strength save, or you will be trampled and attacked with advantage. Are you fighting goblins? the same.
    In fact, there aren't in a vacuum. I would dare to say that Strength saves are the most common below Constitution, at least in the first 10 levels.
    Your analysis has merit and should be applauded. I am not saying the conclusions are wrong. However, it still only analyzes by comparing an all encompassing generalized view of all save types isolated to individual text book hypotheticals. It is not measuring results from actual play of a game or games and doesn't consider play style of the individual. While your analysis can be a good measuring stick, actual results will vary, and perhaps widely.
    Last edited by CydKnight; Thursday, 11th May, 2017 at 06:06 PM. Reason: typos
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    Thanks for doing the work on that, Erechel, even if it does 'just' match the impression you might get from flipping through the MM, or, for that matter, playing D&D for a long time.

    The 'important' saves are clearly important. There are lots of WIS saves, more DEX saves, and even more CON saves. CON saves are often for pretty awful stuff such that failing even one save could be bad, WIS saves are frequently so and tend to take control of the character away in some sense (your brave fighter is now 'frightened'), while DEX saves are often 'just' for half damage.
    CON is clearly the most important save, which, along with adding hps to every HD, makes it a stat no one should skimp on - which is just how it's always been throughout the game's history.

    The 'lesser' saves also deserve their status. There are lots of STR saves, but they're virtually never vs anything too terrible. There are vanishingly few INT and CHA saves, but they can really mess you up. They're all 'nice to have' in theory, but STR is nice to have in practice fairly often, while INT and CHA saves are just disastrous to not have but only rarely.

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