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5E Are 5e Saving Throws Boring?

The risks seen in actual gameplay in 5e are set by the GM and choices withinthat campaign, not 5e system itself.
While this is true in every edition, the mechanics presented by the system can have an effect on how deadly or risky it seems. Save-or-die effects were well-known to players back in the day, as were player-side counters to them. Very low-"level" (not that there was CR back then) monsters, often included in low-level modules, forced poison saves with death a consequence (though some noted that the DM might choose not to go through with that), and a 2nd level spell to stave off that effect was right in the PH.

Put together with a lot of other things in 1e presentation, that could create an aura of danger, and a player-side 'style' of paranoia - to the extent of partially inspiring the game of the same name - which could end up pretty far from the usual tropes of 'heroic' fantasy. While 5e can break plenty deadly at first level, there's nothing about the presentation & mechanics that encourage outright paranoia, a DM would have to work at achieving that same feel with wildly overpowered encounters (relative to the guidelines), very high-damage dangers, arbitrarily narrating not only failure but fatality, and the like. It's not that such is impossible nor even difficult under 5e, but players might not be so inclined to accept it, when the game, itself, isn't priming them to expect it, and the demonstrations they may have seen of play don't generally tend that way.
 

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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
While this is true in every edition, the mechanics presented by the system can have an effect on how deadly or risky it seems. Save-or-die effects were well-known to players back in the day, as were player-side counters to them. Very low-"level" (not that there was CR back then) monsters, often included in low-level modules, forced poison saves with death a consequence (though some noted that the DM might choose not to go through with that), and a 2nd level spell to stave off that effect was right in the PH.

Put together with a lot of other things in 1e presentation, that could create an aura of danger, and a player-side 'style' of paranoia - to the extent of partially inspiring the game of the same name - which could end up pretty far from the usual tropes of 'heroic' fantasy. While 5e can break plenty deadly at first level, there's nothing about the presentation & mechanics that encourage outright paranoia, a DM would have to work at achieving that same feel with wildly overpowered encounters (relative to the guidelines), very high-damage dangers, arbitrarily narrating not only failure but fatality, and the like. It's not that such is impossible nor even difficult under 5e, but players might not be so inclined to accept it, when the game, itself, isn't priming them to expect it, and the demonstrations they may have seen of play don't generally tend that way.

My players are plenty paranoid thank you very much. The fact that it is not the base assumption IMHO is a good thing. It's easy to add that layer of fear, it's a lot tougher to remove it if it's the base assumption.
 


5ekyu

Adventurer
"Yes, in fact you are, as per @Umbran "

In that post you link it explicitly states this - "We expect you to quietly use the Ignore feature first, and ask for this only when that's insufficient. "

So far, as i do not see any indication that i have been ignored by this user, who keeps q
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
"Yes, in fact you are, as per @Umbran "

In that post you link it explicitly states this - "We expect you to quietly use the Ignore feature first, and ask for this only when that's insufficient. "

So far, as i do not see any indication that i have been ignored by this user, who keeps quoting me, it seems that so far this has not met the expectations listed in that post.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Mod note:
@Sacrosanct and @5ekyu

Both of you should probably remember that the conflict here can be ended by booting one or the other, or both of you, out of the thread, and that doing so is very easy - just a click away.

Please comport yourselves as if continuing in the discussion is contingent on you not being a pain in the neck.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
Mod note:
@Sacrosanct and @5ekyu

Both of you should probably remember that the conflict here can be ended by booting one or the other, or both of you, out of the thread, and that doing so is very easy - just a click away.

Please comport yourselves as if continuing in the discussion is contingent on you not being a pain in the neck.
Thank you. Can you please tell me what I have done in this thread that I must stop doing if I want to not be booted? What transgressions have I done in your eyes to warrant this call out?

Thanks.
 

ad_hoc

Hero
This might be a tangent, but I have found 5e to be very deadly by following the encounter guidelines.

I find players really start to struggle after 4 or 5 encounters. If there is a "boss" encounter at the end of that then they're really in trouble.

5e is dangerous over the course of the adventuring day, not usually in any single battle or for any single saving throw. Those failed saving throws really do add up if you have an appropriately challenging game.
 

Ashrym

Hero
I actually do think 1e was deadlier, but that was due to the dead at 0hp and lack of hit points a lot more than status effects. The death's door rule made my day the first time I saw it.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
I actually do think 1e was deadlier, but that was due to the dead at 0hp and lack of hit points a lot more than status effects. The death's door rule made my day the first time I saw it.
Agree. 1e made hp far more vital to survival since dropping to zero was dead. Tho again, the vast majority of 1e and later 2e had so many house rules to plug this and that my recollects of those from 30+ years ago does not conjure any given singular "feel." Each table was its own island of patches and add-on and all that jazz.
 

I actually do think 1e was deadlier, but that was due to the dead at 0hp and lack of hit points a lot more than status effects. The death's door rule made my day the first time I saw it.
I never saw a DM not use it, and I saw a lot get it 'wrong' in minor variations that helped make it that much less deadly. Also, seemed like there was usually some way to boost 1st level hps, max HD at first level seemed very common, for instance.
 

Ashrym

Hero
Death's door rules were AD&D. It's been a while and I had to go look. I was remembering it from BECMI.

Although thinking back I remember have 17 hp as a 7th level wizard and a DM told me a kobold broke my leg after it hit me for 3 hp damage because "he plays a more realistic game" and somehow attacks and hit points weren't very abstract. I didn't take it well but it turned out he was fun to play with so I got over it quickly enough.

That anecdote came to mind with the hit points because it's a clear memory and 17 hp being average then would be pretty low in 5e.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
There's a lot of good food for thoughts in this thread...

IIRC, the OP's idea is that saving throws can be boring if they don't have enough dramatic consequences for failure.

The focus on the discussion is then maybe shifted towards mechanics but clearly it's also about the narrative.

Personally, I don't think it really made a difference when they replaced saving throws rolled by the target with spell checks rolled by the caster. It might feel better for a player to roll the dice for the spells she cast instead of having the DM roll for the target, but what about when the target is the PC? Does the player now feel better that instead of being told "roll a saving throw" the DM simply announces "you're paralyzed/petrified/dead, I just rolled it behind the screen"? Instead, if the players really always want to roll, then a variant rule that works differently in the two cases would be better (that is, use saving throws when the PC is the target, use spell checks when the PC is the caster).

Anyway, IMHO saving throws were defensive in nature since the early days of D&D exactly because from a narrative point of view it's more about how the target defends herself from the effect, than how the effect is delivered.

Let me try to elaborate...

With a weapon attack, there is some (small) room for narrating the attack action. I suppose in most cases players just say "I shoot an arrow/swing my sword". But if they want, they can slightly flourish their description e.g. "I lounge and stab my sword to the orc's chest" rather than "I swing widely at the orc" or even "I bang the orc's head". The default core game of D&D never had called shot, so it doesn't really matter to aim at the head or something else, but at least you can describe it if you want. The target can also describe how eventually manages not to get hit, even if AC is static and not rolled: you can describe it either as dodging the blow, the armor absorbing it, the shield intercepting it, the target's weapon deflecting it... I guess every gaming group has their preference on whether describing every attack or not (or maybe only the important ones), but my remark here is that there is room for description on either side. Note that there are games where the defender also rolls, but from a mathematical point of you one roll is enough.

With a spell attack IMHO the narrative room is a lot more on the target. Say that a spellcaster is casting a Fireball, how much room for narrative do you have on the caster's side beyond "I hurl the Fireball"? On the other hand, there is more room for description on how the target saves: "I hide behind by shield", "I crouch down", "I dodge the flames", "I just shrug it off, I don't care if it burns!". In theory spells should be complicated, but I can't really think of a way to vary the narrative of the casting itself. I can flourish the description of the gestures or even come up with verbal components, but these are not exactly what make the spell succeed or fail... it's what the target does!

That said, of course what happens after the casting can be boring depending also on the mechanics... but here things get complicated. Some gaming groups will be bored by having too frequent characters deaths/sucks, and other gaming groups will be bored by having too rare characters deaths/sucks! Very hard to find a setup that works for everyone... it even depends on how many encounters per day, and how often your monsters cast spells at all.

One small (old) tip that comes to my mind is... don't tell the players what they're rolling a save for :) Drop some fancy description such as "you suddenly feel an unearthly shiver through your spine, as if your life essence is drained away... make a Con save!". Not knowing in advance can make it scary, "please let it not be Finger of Death..." and when they fail they'll be relieved if it's only a minor effect.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
There's a lot of good food for thoughts in this thread...

IIRC, the OP's idea is that saving throws can be boring if they don't have enough dramatic consequences for failure.

The focus on the discussion is then maybe shifted towards mechanics but clearly it's also about the narrative.

Personally, I don't think it really made a difference when they replaced saving throws rolled by the target with spell checks rolled by the caster. It might feel better for a player to roll the dice for the spells she cast instead of having the DM roll for the target, but what about when the target is the PC? Does the player now feel better that instead of being told "roll a saving throw" the DM simply announces "you're paralyzed/petrified/dead, I just rolled it behind the screen"? Instead, if the players really always want to roll, then a variant rule that works differently in the two cases would be better (that is, use saving throws when the PC is the target, use spell checks when the PC is the caster).

Anyway, IMHO saving throws were defensive in nature since the early days of D&D exactly because from a narrative point of view it's more about how the target defends herself from the effect, than how the effect is delivered.

Let me try to elaborate...

With a weapon attack, there is some (small) room for narrating the attack action. I suppose in most cases players just say "I shoot an arrow/swing my sword". But if they want, they can slightly flourish their description e.g. "I lounge and stab my sword to the orc's chest" rather than "I swing widely at the orc" or even "I bang the orc's head". The default core game of D&D never had called shot, so it doesn't really matter to aim at the head or something else, but at least you can describe it if you want. The target can also describe how eventually manages not to get hit, even if AC is static and not rolled: you can describe it either as dodging the blow, the armor absorbing it, the shield intercepting it, the target's weapon deflecting it... I guess every gaming group has their preference on whether describing every attack or not (or maybe only the important ones), but my remark here is that there is room for description on either side. Note that there are games where the defender also rolls, but from a mathematical point of you one roll is enough.

With a spell attack IMHO the narrative room is a lot more on the target. Say that a spellcaster is casting a Fireball, how much room for narrative do you have on the caster's side beyond "I hurl the Fireball"? On the other hand, there is more room for description on how the target saves: "I hide behind by shield", "I crouch down", "I dodge the flames", "I just shrug it off, I don't care if it burns!". In theory spells should be complicated, but I can't really think of a way to vary the narrative of the casting itself. I can flourish the description of the gestures or even come up with verbal components, but these are not exactly what make the spell succeed or fail... it's what the target does!

That said, of course what happens after the casting can be boring depending also on the mechanics... but here things get complicated. Some gaming groups will be bored by having too frequent characters deaths/sucks, and other gaming groups will be bored by having too rare characters deaths/sucks! Very hard to find a setup that works for everyone... it even depends on how many encounters per day, and how often your monsters cast spells at all.

One small (old) tip that comes to my mind is... don't tell the players what they're rolling a save for :) Drop some fancy description such as "you suddenly feel an unearthly shiver through your spine, as if your life essence is drained away... make a Con save!". Not knowing in advance can make it scary, "please let it not be Finger of Death..." and when they fail they'll be relieved if it's only a minor effect.
"Instead, if the players really always want to roll, then a variant rule that works differently in the two cases would be better (that is, use saving throws when the PC is the target, use spell checks when the PC is the caster)."

My games use Players Always Roll (PAR) so I as GM never roll dice. Its always in the players hands when uncertainty is resolved. Game after game, its been a hit.
 

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?
True, but remember that it isn't intended that Saves are the determining factor every time. How good damage rolls are, how well the character's luck on an attack roll is also should have an effect. In this example the party's uck was such that even though they failed every save, between them, they were able to keep up an effective offense. I also played a game where the party was spanking a drow vampire. The villain was almost dead (as opposed to undead) and then got a crit on the rogue with blood drain. The drow got then did it again and healed some more. The rogue is now almost unconscious and the monster has healed almost all the way back. In contrast, he used dominate during the battle but everyone made their saves and it was totally ineffective.
 

Halloween Horror For 5E

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