D&D General Do Saving throws Change the Fiction?

Reynard

Legend
EDIT:
I know this OP is a little hard to parse. Truth be told I have been stuck home with covid and I don't think my brain was quite translating what I getting at correctly.

I think my actual question, now that I try and parse the mess I wrote, was more along the lines of: how do you use savings throw results to define the fiction and present the new game state. The reason i was focusing on saving throws is because they are a little different than skill checks or attack rolls. First, they are reactive. Second, they usually end up (at least partially) negating the impact of a thing happening in the fiction.
------OP follows

This is spinning out of the gloves thread.

When you are playing and/or running the game, do you use saving throws to change the fiction? That is to say, does the result of the saving throw retcon the outcome of a thing?

Note by the way that I AM NOT asking you what the rules say or what the right way to do it is, or asking for advice. I am asking YOU, at your table, how do you do it.

As a way to explain what i mean, here's an example:

A player character is moving down a hallway and fails to perceive a pit trap that suddenly opens up beneath their feet. As GM, you call for a Dex/Reflex/Wands saving throw. The PC succeeds and you say: just before you step on the tile you see a hint of a wide crack, darkness, below and as it gives way you are able to throw yourself backward to avoid falling in.

That seems like a simple example, and it is, but it still changes the fiction based on the result of the roll. Prior to the result of the roll, the PC had failed their check.

As an alternative, imagine the PC is banging there 10 foot pole on the ground in front of them and this is supposed to grant them advantage on the perception roll (or passive perception check, or whatever the mechanism is). They still fail to perceive it but succeed at their saving throw. "The floor suddenly gives way where you thought it was solid, but you are able to wedge your pole between the walls and keep from tumbling into the pit." That wedged pole is a new state that has no origin in the saving throw mechanism, but makes sense in the context of the fiction of what was happening right before the save was called for.

A more common but less interesting version of this is when the GM tells you what your horrible fate is, and then lets you make a save. "The dragons breathes on you, melting your bones to slag! Make a saving throw." I see it all the time, and in some cases it is more complex and requires back tracking to make sense of a successful save.

I guess what I am asking is, when you run D&D, do you a) treat saving throws as a retconning of the fiction that has been narrated, or b) do you (at least endeavor to) stop the narration at the point of calling for the saving throw.

Now that I have written this all out, I try to do b most of the times but it isn't uncommon for me to get over excited and say to much, then have to backpedal a little. At the same time, I do like to use the results of rolls to modify the game state in ways that aren't inherent in the mechanism itself (the wedged pole above) because I think it makes the process of saving throws (and skill checks etc) more interesting than the generally binary nature of them.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
A player character is moving down a hallway and fails to perceive a pit trap that suddenly opens up beneath their feet. As GM, you call for a Dex/Reflex/Wands saving throw. The PC succeeds and you say: just before you step on the tile you see a hint of a wide crack, darkness, below and as it gives way you are able to throw yourself backward to avoid falling in.

That seems like a simple example, and it is, but it still changes the fiction based on the result of the roll. Prior to the result of the roll, the PC had failed their check.
Not in my view. The check to find the trap failed, sure, and that part has already finished. The subsequent saving throw means the PC still managed to avoid the trap they didn't see coming.

If you like, success on the second roll in effect turns the first roll into a fail-forward situation. I don't think it retcons anything, however.
A more common but less interesting version of this is when the GM tells you what your horrible fate is, and then lets you make a save. "The dragons breathes on you, melting your bones to slag! Make a saving throw." I see it all the time, and in some cases it is more complex and requires back tracking to make sense of a successful save.
That's on the GM: narration should come after the mechanics determine the outcome, not before. Better would be: "The dragon breathes on you, hoping to melt your bones to slag. Roll me a save and let's see if your bones are still solid!"
I guess what I am asking is, when you run D&D, do you a) treat saving throws as a retconning of the fiction that has been narrated, or b) do you (at least endeavor to) stop the narration at the point of calling for the saving throw.
If I know a save is involved, I stop the narration until it's done.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
It's a huge bag of "it depends" on how the GM manages info dissemination, foreshadowing, traps, etc.

For me personally, the answer almost always is to let the consequences play out & find ways to make failure fun – when I'm doing that, I don't need to introduce special rolls to "save the PCs."

However.

I do think there is one place in the rules – Falling – where there should be more ways to save yourself after being pushed off a cliff or failing a check than are currently presented in the rules.

Things like grabbing onto a tree root or a vine, grappling a giant bat mid-air, etc. In this instance, I say should because many fantasy books/movies have these sorts of saving-yourself-when-falling-scenes, and for practical table-running reasons it helps minimize the party getting unintentionally divided by large distances in the middle of combat. I introduced some bespoke "falling reaction" house rules for a scene (the aarakocra cliffs in Tomb of Annihilation) where there were risks of a 500+ foot fall, and they worked nicely.
 

Kurotowa

Legend
I've seen both methods. One where the DM calls for blind saves with no build up, and then narrates events based on the success or failure. The other where the DM sets up what are basically mini-cliffhangers, and then adds retroactive embellishments to suit whatever the result is. And this isn't just for saves, but attacks as well. Some DMs encourage players to narrate their fancy attacks before the roll, others only give the green flag when the dice report a major success.

Of the two methods, I think I prefer the one where the dice results are translated into a narrative after they're rolled. But that has a major downside, which is that when players and the DM get fatigued they can start cutting corners on the narrative and the game spirals into a very bare bones "You hit for 14 damage, next turn" state.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
To me...The Saving throw chooses the fiction. It doesn't change the fiction. The Saving throw doesn't revert time unless it is given via time magic or time travelling powers


The Saving Throw determines what happens at the Rollers last moment of being able to alter their future.

The Reflex/Dex saving throw is rolled at the last moment the victim of the trap could dodge successfully.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
To me...The Saving throw chooses the fiction. It doesn't change the fiction. The Saving throw doesn't revert time unless it is given via time magic or time travelling powers


The Saving Throw determines what happens at the Rollers last moment of being able to alter their future.

The Reflex/Dex saving throw is rolled at the last moment the victim of the trap could dodge successfully.

That's certainly the way I look at it.

For ex. if baddie tries to dominate a PC, the PCs save result doesn't change the fiction - it determines what happens next.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
This is spinning out of the gloves thread.

When you are playing and/or running the game, do you use saving throws to change the fiction? That is to say, does the result of the saving throw retcon the outcome of a thing?

Well, I don't usually narrate the result before the die is rolled, so typically, the saving throw determines the fiction. In occasions where we realize there was an error, and the saving throw result should have been different, if it is very close to the event, I'll retcon it. If the saving throw was a couple rounds back, though, I probably let it stand.

That seems like a simple example, and it is, but it still changes the fiction based on the result of the roll. Prior to the result of the roll, the PC had failed their check.

But, there are two checks - one to perceive ahead of triggering it, one to evade if they do trigger it.

So, the resulting fiction is really two elements "You didn't see it before it opened, but you manage to hop away when it does open." That's not changing the fiction of the first test, it is adding to the fiction with the second.
 

I guess what I am asking is, when you run D&D, do you a) treat saving throws as a retconning of the fiction that has been narrated, or b) do you (at least endeavor to) stop the narration at the point of calling for the saving throw.

In the context of our 5e game, definitely b - we don't narrate the results until the Saving Throw has been made.

In other words, the PC is now aware of a dangerous situation and the saving throw represents their ability to mitigate the consequences.

As DM, IMO, it is on me to describe the situation in which a Save will be needed, call for said Save, and then narrate the results of the failed or successful Save. If the player wants to add color as to how their PC, with a successful save, avoided the consequences, I'd encourage them to do so to add to the story we're all creating together.


To use the OP example, the pit trap in the hallway that went undetected until too late:

"There is an ominous crack and the false floor in front of you gives way - make a DC 15 Dex Save to avoid falling into the revealed pit"

If they succeed on the Saving Throw: "A few pebbles fall down the now open pit in the hallway before you, clattering on a dark floor many 10s of feet below. That was a close call, what did your PC do to avoid falling?" If the player decides their PC wedged the pole into the wall to stop their fall, then I'll take that story prompt to set the scene going forward. But I'm not going to tell the player that's what their PC did. As DM, I've got enough on my plate without also describing how the PCs act/think/speak.

If they fail the Saving Throw: "You are falling into the pit... what do you do now?" This gives the player an opportunity to perhaps have their PC reach out to grab hold of the edge or try to use the pole in some creative way or go limp and hope for the best or whatever they see fit. Or for party wizard to cast featherfall as a reaction or for the PC marching just behind to try to reach out to help their falling comrade or...
 

jgsugden

Legend
I play fast and loose with the fiction around the die rolls. Success is success, and failure is failure, but we change the way that manifests all the time.

If you land the killing blow on a foe with your greatsword attack I am perfectly ok with the player saying they instead dealt tghe final blow by kicking the enemy off the tower. In that situation, there are ramifications of the change in fiction - the gear on the target is now at the base of the tower and fragile things they carried may have broken from the fall.

If they make a saving throw in response to a pit trap they did not detect, we roll the save and then I suggest a way it manifests. If they fail they may get halfway across before it trips and they plummet. If they succeed they may feel the trap start to give out and lean back just in time to catch themself on the edge.

We're telling a good story. Die rolls are there to take control of the story out of our hands, but they don't mean that we have to relegate ourselves to the simplest implementation of what the die roll tells us - just that we have to honor the spirit of it.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
I've always assumed the fiction isn't established until after the saving throw is rolled. I generally try to narrate just what's necessary to provoke the saving throw, what @Kurotowa nicely refers to as "mini-cliffhangers." If the situation is particularly interesting, I usually also try to involve players in that narration of the outcome of that roll to give them a say in how it resolves. (eg, "yes" versus "yes, but..." things like what side of the pit trap a PC ends up on a successful dex save).
 

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