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5E Are 5e Saving Throws Boring?

Esker

Hero
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.
I agree. That wisdom save vs charm when you're fighting a vampire? Hugely tense. Even a DEX save to avoid a huge fall can be pretty dramatic, particularly if the consequences are more than just the damage: Just last weekend we were fighting a green dragon, who had dived into a lake. Cleric empties out the lake with control water. My rogue skis down the side of the lake onto the dragon's back, passing an Acrobatics check to hang on. Dragon flies 80' in the air taking me and the barbarian with it, and uses a legendary action to try to knock us prone. DEX saves to avoid falling 80' all the way to the bottom of the lake... We'd worked hard to get into that position! It was a dramatic moment. I failed, the barbarian succeeded (remembered later that I should have had advantage as I was Hasted... dang it... but neither here nor there).

It was a major setback that we nonetheless overcame that lent drama to the scene in a way that rolling a save to not instantly die would not have.

Same campaign about a year ago, we ran into a pair of banshees. When the first banshee used their wail, we didn't know what to expect (we didn't know what it was yet), and about half of us failed, going unconscious. Fortunately the cleric saved, and brought everyone up with a Mass Healing Word. The second banshee uses its wail: everyone make a CON save... Now that we knew what would happen, it was terrifying! This time, only the lore bard succeeds, but he'd failed the first time so was likely to go down if he got hit. He gets one chance to cast a spell before very likely going down too, resulting in a TPK. He brings up the cleric with Healing Word. Cleric heals the rest of us, and we defeat the banshee.

Tell me that second CON save wasn't more dramatic than an old-style save or die.
 

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For my part. I think if the challenges are appropriate to your party, Saves can still contribute to the fun. Some like the rogue with evasion have special things that happen on a success and some monsters have harsher consequences for multiple save failures. (which almost always work out for the player in in my experience). I DM'd a campaign in 5E to high level where the big bad was a half Dragon Empyrean. The monster made every save and the part members failed every save in the battle and still easily won. Just throwing that experience out there.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
A big aspect of whether saving throws, or attack rolls, etc. are exciting is whether failure is allowed.

In a game where the party are not allowed to fail their task then there isn't tension. "They know they will just heal up after the fight."

In a game where failure is looming then it matters. Yes, they can heal up after the fight, but they only have a limited number of hit dice and healing potions. Once they run out of those they're probably going to need to abandon their mission to rest up.

Maybe they can make another attempt after resting, but then, maybe things have gotten much harder too. Maybe they can't make another attempt at all.

TPKs or individual character deaths, while rare, also create tension when possible.
I think the key is defining fail. Healing up after a fight you lost is fine but if that loss cost you the mission, the objective and that is shown to matter - then it matters.

I think in too many cases it is a perception that there is no fail but dead is a problem.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I think in too many cases it is a perception that there is no fail but dead is a problem.
Well, there's the question of what the players would call a success. If you are playing the game mostly for the tactical stuff, with the goal of gaining treasure (a perfectly valid way to play the game) then you probably don't care all that much if you lose a battle. So, you failed to get the treasure. Easy come, easy go, and all that. If you live, there's always another treasure to try for. Very Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, if you will. Episodic stories, with no long-term concerns? Then death = fail.

If instead you have some more narrative-based goal you want to reach, then things other than death matter to you, and can have failures.
 

ad_hoc

Hero
For my part. I think if the challenges are appropriate to your party, Saves can still contribute to the fun. Some like the rogue with evasion have special things that happen on a success and some monsters have harsher consequences for multiple save failures. (which almost always work out for the player in in my experience). I DM'd a campaign in 5E to high level where the big bad was a half Dragon Empyrean. The monster made every save and the part members failed every save in the battle and still easily won. Just throwing that experience out there.
That sounds like a perfect example of what I would consider boring saves and encounter overall.

Where is the tension and excitement if nothing matters?
 

dave2008

Legend
If the only changes you made were to increase the stakes of saving throws and reduce the availability of healing, the game would be a bloodbath.
That is highly dependent on how you play the game. One of my groups has been to together since the 80's and started with D&D/ 1e AD&D. We play with much more restrictive healing than the DMG variants and we don't have a bloodbath. The PCs just adventure differently than my group that started with 4e and was used to healing surges. They both play 5e, but they go about it a bit differently.
 
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Arnwolf666

Adventurer
I always wonder about other people’s games. I am constantly using enemy spellcasters. Pc’s are being banished, polymorphed, dominated, suffering from contagion. My players really want to pass a save. And my spellcasters are tired of the fighter and barbarian being dominated to kick their ass and pretty much prepare for those contingencies because they are scared.
 

NaturalZero

Adventurer
There was a UA article providing guidelines for players rolling attacks instead of DMs rolling saves
I think the big issue this doesn't address for me is presence of unique effects on a crit. What happens when Flesh to Stone crits? Does Fireball get an extra effect? Does Chain Lightning hit more targets? I'd like the default assumption of the game to be attack rolls where special things can happen on a 20 beyond more damage or simple success.
 

Arnwolf666

Adventurer
I always wonder about other people’s games. I am constantly using enemy spellcasters. Pc’s are being banished, polymorphed, dominated, suffering from contagion. My players really want to pass a save. And my spellcasters are tired of the fighter and barbarian being dominated to kick their ass and pretty much prepare for those contingencies because they are scared.
I think the big issue this doesn't address for me is presence of unique effects on a crit. What happens when Flesh to Stone crits? Does Fireball get an extra effect? Does Chain Lightning hit more targets? I'd like the default assumption of the game to be attack rolls where special things can happen on a 20 beyond more damage or simple success.
not everything has to have a special rule for Crits. And a fireball Crit can be just rolling lots of 6s when you roll for damage. I definitely don’t want to be crit by a fireball or fire breathing dragon. For us non fighters failing the safe is bad enough
 
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dave2008

Legend
I think the big issue this doesn't address for me is presence of unique effects on a crit. What happens when Flesh to Stone crits? Does Fireball get an extra effect? Does Chain Lightning hit more targets? I'd like the default assumption of the game to be attack rolls where special things can happen on a 20 beyond more damage or simple success.
Sure, but the only way you're getting that is to do it on the fly, make up your own list of spell crits, look to see is some else as on DMsGuild or the internet has done it, or play a different game. Most of them are easy to do on the fly fortunately (any damage spell can follow the same rules for weapon attacks), it is the odd cases that would need some thought.

Please note that you can already crit spells with an attack roll.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Psst what is a record player? Is someone reading my high school records? Hey I took Latin because I got tired of looking up Latin Phrases that appeared in my fiction.
 


Coroc

Hero
Psst what is a record player? Is someone reading my high school records? Hey I took Latin because I got tired of looking up Latin Phrases that appeared in my fiction.
A record player is the device with which you did play those vinyl discs, and some DJs used them for scratching. The disc would be rotating and the mechanical arm attached on the corner of the device, with a tiny needle made out of a crystal, would touch into the spiral groove of the vinyl disc.
Cut into that groove is the music coded as tiny indents. This mechanical vibration of induced into the crystal needle is converted to electricity within the arm by using electromagnetic or piezoelectric effects and then amplified so it is audible in the speakers.
If you rip the arm of such a player it does two things, it makes a nasty noise (Like a DJ scratching but far worse) and it ruins the vinyl disc.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
A big aspect of whether saving throws, or attack rolls, etc. are exciting is whether failure is allowed.

In a game where the party are not allowed to fail their task then there isn't tension. "They know they will just heal up after the fight."

. . . TPKs or individual character deaths, while rare, also create tension when possible.
This. It's not the Saving Throws that are humdrum. It's the consequences. @Saelorn is right about the bounded accuracy - the game assumes you're going to get hit/spell affected, but that you'll live on because there are at least three different systems for preventing PC death.

For the OP though: treat Saves like reactions. They might be more interesting if a player considers them a limited resource (once per round, maybe?).
 

dave2008

Legend
Of possible interest to @NaturalZero , the OP, @Saelorn and others: a RPG kickstarter that @Egg Embry just linked to in his weekly article might just have what your looking for: The World's Greatest Role-Playing Game: The Zine It plans to include the following (among other things):
  • Investigation mechanics for 5e - Turn your dunegon crawl into an archaelogical mystery or adapt 5e for a modern detective story using an optional investigation system inspired by the GUMSHOE system by Robin Laws and published by Pelegrane Press.
  • Complications on failed rolls - What if you could take away the pass/fail aspect of attack rolls and make those failures add excitement and tension to your game? We're looking into an optional rule that would apply story-based complications onto those failures to keep players on their toes during a wicked battle.
  • Alternate death rules- Feel like living on the edge with your characters? Strip away those death saves and walk on the wild side with some alternate rules that could actually make you wish someone memorized a raise dead spell.
 

Egg Embry

Adventurer
Of possible interest to @NaturalZero , the OP, @Saelorn and others: a RPG kickstarter that @Egg Embry just linked to in his weekly article might just have what your looking for: The World's Greatest Role-Playing Game: The Zine It plans to include the following (among other things):
  • Investigation mechanics for 5e - Turn your dunegon crawl into an archaelogical mystery or adapt 5e for a modern detective story using an optional investigation system inspired by the GUMSHOE system by Robin Laws and published by Pelegrane Press.
  • Complications on failed rolls - What if you could take away the pass/fail aspect of attack rolls and make those failures add excitement and tension to your game? We're looking into an optional rule that would apply story-based complications onto those failures to keep players on their toes during a wicked battle.
  • Alternate death rules- Feel like living on the edge with your characters? Strip away those death saves and walk on the wild side with some alternate rules that could actually make you wish someone memorized a raise dead spell.
Thanks for the shout out, dave2008! :)
 

dave2008

Legend
For the OP though: treat Saves like reactions. They might be more interesting if a player considers them a limited resource (once per round, maybe?).
I like that idea and wanted to try it, but never did. The reason I didn't: I decided that some saves should require a reaction (Dex saves) but for some it probably didn't make sense. Once I came to that conclusion I lost interest in trying to decide which saves should require a reaction and which ones should not.
 

Laurefindel

Adventurer
Although this bugged me for a while; I'm at peace with 5e D&D save mechanics now. If anything it's the "successful save negates" that I find boring; but that has more to do with the spells themselves than save mechanics.
 

Ashrym

Hero
I find true save or die is only exciting when the characters are making the save. Up to that point they have tension and like having saved. That's not what happens when they fail the save. At that point they're no longer invested in playing until they can be returned to play and can get frustrated. If returning them to play is too trivial then the save or die is also trivial.

Saving throws that create in-combat timers work better, imo.

If a person really wants to make saving throws less boring, shout something corny and throw the dice REALLY REALLY hard. ;)
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
One of the big reasons why I liked the more deadly saving throw failure risks (like in TSR D&D) is not so much because it made death or sucking a lot more common, but because it added an element to the game that is missing now. That being, robust adventure planning.

When you're playing AD&D, when you're heading out for your adventure, you make sure you have antidotes, you make sure the casters have neutralize poison handy. You made sure your equipment was set up to handle as many situations as possible. If you expected undead or magic immune monsters, you planned for that and made sure you had other options. Load up on holy water, sliver weapons, etc.

In recent editions, it seems this is for the most part lost.

"Poison is just a little bit of extra damage, so no need to prepare neutralize poison when I can just cast another blaster spell."

"Undead? Meh. Just more bags of hit points and we'll fight them like every other encounter. Gee, this game is boring.."

"There's almost no way I am going to fail two saves in a row, so I won't even bother averting my gaze against the medusa and just fight her like everything else."

If modern saving throws suck as a mechanic, it's because the effects of failing have been neutered so much that they become an annoyance rather than something that has a big impact to your PC.
 

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