D&D 5E A Brief History of Saving Throws, the Original Plot Armor

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I think saves were originally more akin to hp than AC. Hit points scaled with level and stood between a character and death; saving throws scaled with level and stood between a character and death, paralysis, petrification, poison, and a bunch of other effects.

This is exactly correct.

In wargames (such as Chainmail) it used to be that one hit would kill. In fact, that's exactly how Chainmail worked- you get hit, you get killed. So a saving throw was used to avoid that result.

Assumedly, when Chainmail was adapted to Arneson's early attempts to create an RPG, he would allow the characters to survive hits by rolling to "save" (saving throw) their characters.

But you can see how that would still be ... kinda sucky. That's where we get armor class (making it harder to hit) and hit points (survivability to hits).

So by the time Arneson collaborated with Gygax, there were three methods (the alternative combat system) that allowed characters to survive longer than the old wargaming 'one hit and you're dead'- hit points, armor class, and saving throws.
 

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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
So by the time Arneson collaborated with Gygax, there were three methods (the alternative combat system) that allowed characters to survive longer than the old wargaming 'one hit and you're dead'- hit points, armor class, and saving throws.
In fact, there was a fourth one, but it wasn't meant for characters, and only appeared once in the entirety of the original 1974 Dungeons & Dragons boxed set: magic resistance.

Specifically, the balrog had 75% magic resistance, which necessarily included text explaining how that worked.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
In fact, there was a fourth one, but it wasn't meant for characters, and only appeared once in the entirety of the original 1974 Dungeons & Dragons boxed set: magic resistance.

Specifically, the balrog had 75% magic resistance, which necessarily included text explaining how that worked.

The one thing almost everyone forgets about magic resistance is that it wasn't static, and varied depending on caster level. Unlike saving throws, which did depend on the target level, but were just as effective against a 20th level MU as against a 5th level MU.

It's almost (kinda sorta) a precursor to more modern ways to reconcile spellcasting and power.
 

Staffan

Legend
The original idea seems to have been that defenders also make an armor throw against the attackers attack score. Since you have to add AC to the die roll and the attackers attack value is the target number.

Sorry, what?
That's mathematically how THAC0 works. If your modified roll + target AC is higher than or equal to your THAC0, you hit. It's usually expressed in reverse: your modified roll has to be higher or equal to THAC0-AC, but the math is the same. Or the way we did it, your modified THAC0 - roll is the lowest AC you hit. Mathematically, they all work out the same.

The one thing almost everyone forgets about magic resistance is that it wasn't static, and varied depending on caster level. Unlike saving throws, which did depend on the target level, but were just as effective against a 20th level MU as against a 5th level MU.

It's almost (kinda sorta) a precursor to more modern ways to reconcile spellcasting and power.
Magic resistance was relative in 1e, but not in 2e. I don't know how it worked in pre-advanced D&D, and I can't be hedgehogged to look up if BECMI Anti-magic included the caster's level as a factor.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Magic resistance was relative in 1e, but not in 2e. I don't know how it worked in pre-advanced D&D, and I can't be hedgehogged to look up if ...

In OD&D it works the same as AD&D- there's a link in the comment I was responding to. Click on the blue part about "explaining how it works."
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
That's mathematically how THAC0 works. If your modified roll + target AC is higher than or equal to your THAC0, you hit. It's usually expressed in reverse: your modified roll has to be higher or equal to THAC0-AC, but the math is the same. Or the way we did it, your modified THAC0 - roll is the lowest AC you hit. Mathematically, they all work out the same.
I know how THAC0 works. I explained that in the same post you're quoting. :ROFLMAO:

But how is that the defender making an armor saving throw? In D&D the attacker rolls for weapon attacks; not the defender.
 
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I always --started in '83 with a BX/BE(of BECMI)/AD&D hybrid -- wondered about the makeup of the saving throw chart. Clearly it had some legacy reason for being as it was. One thing I always found interesting is that there wasn't a save vs. pit traps or other falls -- it either module specific ('PCs have a 2-in-6 chance of falling into the pit if...') or the assumption was that you simply did fall into the pit if and only if you walked into it (it being assumed that you were supposed to have detected the trap before lumbering into it as your resistance mechanism). That, coupled with a lot of deadly cursed magic items which also didn't include a saving throw mechanism (again, the resistance gating being more 'were you foolish enough to try to use it before know what it was?' and 'do you have a nearby ally with the right spell prepared?') lead me to realize that the focus was on resisting special attacks (usually magical ones, although natural poison as well). So I guess I kinda got the 'these are last-ditch attempts to save a character, which should supplement being cautious in general,' but kinda got the reasoning a little different.
 

As an aside, this might seem pretty strange to people who did not grow up with it; but the idea of these separate categories persisted from 1974 - 2000, so they were very well ingrained by the time that 3e changed them to the ability-based saves we have now.
My experience was a bit different, starting in 1989, I think there were two elements to Saving Throws:

1) The basic concept - this was never questioned - perhaps because pre-AD&D we'd played wargames which had "saves" which operated similarly (i.e. roll X to avoid Y happening).

2) The weirdly-specific five different saves. This was questioned a lot. Like, why these five things? It didn't seem to make sense. Why did the classes have different values? It wasn't immediately obvious.

So it's like, the concept didn't seem strange, but the specifics seemed extremely strange.

Really good piece though, and you're right re: early plot armour.
 

Nikosandros

Golden Procrastinator
One thing I always found interesting is that there wasn't a save vs. pit traps or other falls -- it either module specific ('PCs have a 2-in-6 chance of falling into the pit if...') or the assumption was that you simply did fall into the pit if and only if you walked into it (it being assumed that you were supposed to have detected the trap before lumbering into it as your resistance mechanism).
This always perplexed me and it lead me to add a sixth save category: Traps or Mishaps.
 

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