Are 5e Saving Throws Boring?

Todd Roybark

Explorer
The distinction between ability check and Saving Throw is so blurred as to be nearly meaningless.
Announce someone is making a Saving Throw at the gaming table, and nobody pays much attention...too hum drum, too common.
Announce that someone is Death Save, and the arm is being yanked off the proverbial record player and the whole table is watching with rapt attention.

I love Death Saves, simple yet, evocative and thrilling mechanics.

Saving Throws used to be more like this.

How do people feel about trying to make the mechanic more flavorful?
 
I don't much care making a mechanic 'more flavorfull' by making the consequences of failure more dire.
It's like making a new spell, item, or class feature 'more interesting' by just making it flatly better than prior alternatives.

To make a save more flavorful, go all G&A on it - let the player describe how they resist or avoid the effect. What deep convictions they call upon to overcome fear or break free of domination? What dazzling move saves them from the dragons lethal breath? Heck, you could even flash back to the special preparations they made, or secret taught by an old mentor that helps them survive a deadly poison or horrid curse....
 
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happyhermit

Explorer
It's not the mechanic that makes the difference between death and saving throws, it's the consequences. People wanted less save or die/really really suck, so it's the default now. If you increase the consequences it has a higher chance of producing a record scratch moment, but then you would have to adjust how many times saving throws are called for. One record scratch is cool, but if it keeps happening every few minutes it can get really old really quick for a lot of people.
 

Salthorae

Imperial Mountain Dew Taster
The distinction between ability check and Saving Throw is so blurred as to be nearly meaningless.
Announce someone is making a Saving Throw at the gaming table, and nobody pays much attention...too hum drum, too common.
Announce that someone is Death Save, and the arm is being yanked off the proverbial record player and the whole table is watching with rapt attention.

I love Death Saves, simple yet, evocative and thrilling mechanics.

Saving Throws used to be more like this.

How do people feel about trying to make the mechanic more flavorful?
It's just the erosion of the consequences from Save/Die/Super Suck spells mostly going away. The stakes on saves are lower, but not altogether gone.

I would say that saves can still be narratively compelling if the scenario has set them up right.
 

Coroc

Adventurer
The fact that most characters now only have one strong save in the meaning of it is of the big three (Co, Wis, Dex) which get challenged most often maybe contributes to the whole thing:

If you are proficient in a save then you are pretty likely to make it, whereas if you are not and got a weak attribute then you need much luck. Since otoh you do not get many save or die effects anymore, the whole saving throw mechanic becomes routine. Not necessarily boring, but unlike in previous editions (not 4e)
it is less meaningful, it is rather like a hit or miss not like back then life or death.
 

Sadras

Adventurer
How do people feel about trying to make the mechanic more flavorful?
1. Colour
2. Up the Stakes, one option would be to use Degrees of Success, fail by 5 or more and the effects are doubled or something cool.
3. Introduce Sanity to assist perhaps in a flatter bonus all around as they use some of their ASI to pump that stat up. Also Sanity leads to Madness ;)
 

Coroc

Adventurer
I honestly preferred the 4e version where every spell was an attack roll. Rolling critical hits on your spells is a lot more satisfying than watching the DM roll dice behind a screen and declare that the spell effect fails.
Ask your dm for open rolling. I love it, I used to use a screen to be able to fudge things in emergencies, but I do not do that anymore. So much more fun and tension for the players and for me also.
 

NaturalZero

Explorer
Ask your dm for open rolling. I love it, I used to use a screen to be able to fudge things in emergencies, but I do not do that anymore. So much more fun and tension for the players and for me also.
It still completely eliminates the ability to crit with spells. Having choices that allow me to roll a 20 for special effects is much more satisfying, IMO, than the DM just telling me something succeeds or fails. Not to mention that there's a ton of design space for bonus effects like wild magic or meta magic upon critical success of magic casting. Just the idea of having special riders and additional effects that proc on a spell crit is much more juicy than the saving throws we have now.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Going from being unscratched to taken out of an encounter (or the game) because of one poor roll is not something I found fun in previous editions. I also found that the DM making all the rolls made the game less engaging for characters. We already have some spells that use attack rolls, we don't need all of them to do so.

So I try to spice things up now and then by throwing different types of saves for different reasons. My world is full of magic and danger, I try to come up with things that challenge PCs in a variety of ways using a variety of saving throws. Not all magical effects need to come from the book, I use whatever makes sense at the moment. Whether that's an intelligence save to realize the writing of a cursed book is not quite what it seems, or a wisdom save to resist the tempting words of a demon mirror, there are many ways to use saves. I just don't want to have save or suck be one of them.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
To me, I have the opposite view.

Save or die is boring. Fail and done is not tense, not dramatic- it just leads to someone out.

Save or held, save or fear, save or - insert significant impact that drives action - is an event where fsilure leadsvto events and needs right there in combat.

The death save is perfect for this - they are impacted and at risk of severe effects but actions are really needed in quite a few cases. It creates a short risk clock, spawns immediate choices.

Another would be things like the petrifications ehere first fsil is like restrained-sdcond is stoned. What can you do to help that second save? Tik tok.
 

Coroc

Adventurer
It still completely eliminates the ability to crit with spells. Having choices that allow me to roll a 20 for special effects is much more satisfying, IMO, than the DM just telling me something succeeds or fails. Not to mention that there's a ton of design space for bonus effects like wild magic or meta magic upon critical success of magic casting. Just the idea of having special riders and additional effects that proc on a spell crit is much more juicy than the saving throws we have now.
If someone rolls a nat. 1 for his save then I houserule this to be critical on the go. So that one is easily resolved
 

mortwatcher

Explorer
to me, it depends on what save is rolled
death - yeah that's interesting, since there are no modifiers to it it's 45/55 and the consequences can be dire
Dex - the most boring one, from memory, it just allows you to reduce damage you are going to take
Con - middle of the road, damage reduction mostly with sometimes neat side effects like paralysis/poisosned
Wis - now this one is about as interesting as death saves, because stuff targeting wis usually screws you or your party pretty badly

so to me, it really depends on what the saving throw is
 

Todd Roybark

Explorer
I’m not arguing for Skate or Die, sorry Save or Die, but more like a relaxing the 3e mantra of all game actions are to be resolved under a single system.

1e Saving Throws were a way to model effects outside of the HP mechanic which is why they were so scary.

5e Exhaustion and Conditions model some of this, but still use the ability check model in some instances, or the Condition or Exhaustion is just applied no roll.

The Conditions are a good starting place for the categories of Saving Throws, with Madness added in, frankly a Mad Condition ( as in not in right mind) would be fun to formalize.
Curse type spells (Hex, Bestow Curse) should use the separate Saving Throw system for flavor.

I would keep the spells as is for the most part, retool what are now called Saving Throws to what they are which is ability checks....thus no Save or Suck. This gives a small boost in power to the PCs as Bardic Inspiration and it’s ilk will have a broader use.

This allows the separate Saving Throw/ Condition to model something like the pervasive effect of magic, where the character escapes the majority of the ill effects from making their ability check, but might suffer some limited Condition for failing the Saving Throw.

This also has the added benefit of having an increased chance of some effect happening when a character casts a spell or uses some other power or ability.

5e has a Save and Suck problem, where the character uses a power, the opponent makes the Save, and the player feels like they suck!
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I love Death Saves, simple yet, evocative and thrilling mechanics.

Saving Throws used to be more like this.
Saving throws have always been, "roll a d20, add some modifiers, see if you hit the target number." The mechanic has not fundamentally changed. The mechanic has never been what made the roll evocative or thrilling... the possible result was what did the trick.

When, in the past, you were making a save vs Petrification/Polymorph, if you failed... you were probably a hunk of granite or a toad, quite possibly permanently. Save-or-Die is thrilling for that one moment, sure. But, it also has some unfortunate results on gameplay, so such things have been minimized.

I think you'll find the same is true for death saves - the real tension driver there is that failure means death. Havng three rolls strings that out for a while. That's it. Again, it is the specter of Death that makes it thrilling.
 

jgsugden

Adventurer
Saving throws - which are major turning points in many battles - are very simple for a reason. They are not intended to make the game more interesting mechanically - but rather to be as invisible as possible.

D&D is an RPG, a role playing game. Characters play a role in a story.

If you're telling a good story, you want the mechanics of the game to be as simple as possible so that they do not get in the way of the story. You want the precious moments where the player grabs a die, rolls it and calculates wheher they succeeded or failed to go quickly enough that the environment of suspense and urgency that you've crafted together is not harmed. You don't want the mechanics to steal your inertia.

If you craft an intriguing and thoughtful mechanic with several interwoven elements, you're going to disrupt the story's momentum. Those types of mechanics are best used to stretch out a moment in the game that is highly impactful, but stands on its own, such as a moment when a spell is used outside combat to do something dramatic (raise the dead, divinate, etc...) There, you want to take a single moment and turn it into a series of dramatic elements that weave together to make it longer and greate than the moment it represents. However, if you try to do that with every saving throw, every attack roll, every damage roll, etc.... Well, the game drags on and stalls out.
 

tetrasodium

Explorer
kind of, but part of the problem is that so much of it comes down to how goo or bad the die roll is. Roll a 2 & it probably doesn't matter that you are proficient and have 20 in the relevant stat, roll an 18 & it probably doesn't matter that you aren't proficient & have an 8 in the stat... roll a 8-10 & the first guy still has a good chance of failing
 

Arnwolf666

Adventurer
I’ve been experimenting with calling certain saves a system shock. Instead of make a con save. I been telling players to make a system shock. Instead of will save I been telling players to make. Sanity check. Instead of a dex save I been telling players to dodge.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I think that degrees of success and needing multiple saves are underused in the game.

Degrees of success--the greater your failure, the more dire the consequences--not only give some variety and flavor, they also make specializing on certain attributes/skills/feats more meaningful.

I also think that when exposed to particularly virulent diseases and magical effects, needing to make three saves over a period of time gives the effects more oomph without having to go to save or die. Perhaps the first save has a very high DC so that unless you have a high attribute or something else that helps, you are very likely to be effected but the subsequent saves can require a lower DC so it doesn't feel like save or suck. This is used with quite a few spells and some poisons, but the mechanics tend to still be binary. Instead of "you made the save, you are okay", perhaps you made the save and things are better, when you make the next save things are still better, and after you make the third save you are back to normal.

Also, degrees of success and multiple saves for progressive improvement need not be used only for magic and poison. You can use it for athletic and dexterity checks. It makes game play more cinematic. For example, you made your dex save, but just barely...so you are hanging from the edge of the trap. Maybe next round you have to make another save to keep your grip and pull yourself out. You don't want to overdo this or play will grind to a slow slog of d20 rolls. It should be saved for special challenges.

I think that that there a many ways we can use the existing mechanic more creatively.
 

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