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D&D General Saves as Target Numbers


Did anyone else like in 4e where instead of being saves Ref, Fort and Will were used like AC as target numbers for attacks and abilities so many spell the caster rolled an attack rather than the target saving? Would anyone like to see this return in the future? I liked it myself, it made more spells and abilities feel like an attack and it was easier design space.

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I do something like this in my games. I tell the player the save + of the monster and have him roll the save. I like the old way better where you try 'to-hit' instead of trying to roll low and fail the save, but at least the player is rolling dice instead of the DM doing it all. I seen before where it is easy enough to convert, but then I would need to change all the books and rules.


Goblin Queen (She/They)
I think it was brilliant. You can reproduce it in 5e without changing the probabilities by making ability defenses = 14 + ability mod (+ proficiency bonus if you would be proficient in saves with that ability). Then any effect that would cause you to make a save with that ability is just an attack against that ability’s defense.


Saves are a bit of a hold over. It does seem odd now as there are some cases where you roll during and action, some cases where they roll for your action. It's so ingrained though, I'm not sure people think about it anymore. The system could be normalized to the point of players making all rolls (attack or defense roll depending on the action).


In a theoretical 6e would it be a worthwhile change?
To me it's an oddity but I don't see any particular value of it for 6e. If there's some broad move to more consistency for rolls or something then sure, but as a stand alone item, it's not my priority for a 6e.


If a pit trap opens up beneath your character's feet, and someone needs to roll a die to see if they fall in. Should that be the player rolling a saving throw, or the DM rolling an attack against Reflex/Dexterity? In that case, in-world the saving throw makes the most sense (to my mind) - the trap isn't acting with intent.

On the other hand, if your character casts charm person on someone, maybe you should be rolling against their Will/Wisdom defence.

Things can get gummed up, in terms of translating what is happening in the game into mechanics, with things like fireball or a dragon's breath weapon, because attack rolls vs a (mostly) Dexterity-based defence is already a thing (attacks vs AC). But is that really the best mechanical representation of what is going on? There's a certain expectation of specificity to an attack roll, to my mind, that most area effects lack. When you launch a fireball into a room, you're not targeting anyone in particular - you're filling the room with magical flames, and it's on everyone in it to take the brunt of it or somehow avoid doing so. That again speaks to a saving throw.

So I think the most accurate way of representing such effects in the game is to have both non-AC defences and saving throws. But that certainly does not, to my mind, seem to fid the design aesthetic of 5e, and would probably be too fiddly and annoying in other games. Best to use one or the other - personally, I think saving throws works better overall for that purpose than attacks vs non-AC defences.


Unserious gamer
I like it. I prefer methods that are either "attacker rolls all the dice" or "the player rolls all the dice". I'm not a big fan of breaking up the resolution system between "attacks and some spells" and "a different group of spells".


Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
I wasn't in favor of it when they introduced it in SWSE, nor in 4e. Part of the problem I had with it was it torpedoed the hero point system that D&D was evolving/borrowing from d20 Star Wars in which you could roll one or more 1d6 to get a value to add to a d20 roll to use in a clutch. You could use it to boost an important attack, skill check, or saving throw. I also didn't like the idea of scoring a critical hit with an area attack.
And I still prefer saves now. I think it works well with abilities, whether racial or class-based, that allow a player to control their own die rolls on the defensive rather than just on the offense.


It was a worthwhile exercise to explore in 4E, but it was reverted in 5E for a reason: Holy Hamburgers (Sacred Cows). The Saving Throw mechanic is part of the history of the game. Although it has evolved, the 4E method was a divergence from the prior method that took away the 'feel' of D&D that long time players liked. When other games respected that design and D&D did not, D&D lost players to those other systems. When they resumed those sacred cows with 5E, even though evolved versions of what was known in the 3E era, they earned back a number of those players.

They are unlikely to risk player losses like that again. That being said, they could keep the Saving Throw mechanic as is and add ability score based attacks to the game to be used in situations that feel more like an attack, such as the disintegration spell, sacred flame, etc... It would faciliate attacks versus dexterity (touch attacks in prior editions), strength attacks (which could be used in revised grappling/wrestling rules - one of the areas we're all pretty sure will be revised), intelligence attacks (for use in psionics), etc...


Did anyone else like in 4e where instead of being saves Ref, Fort and Will were used like AC as target numbers for attacks and abilities so many spell the caster rolled an attack rather than the target saving? Would anyone like to see this return in the future? I liked it myself, it made more spells and abilities feel like an attack and it was easier design space.
I liked more them being attached to the largest of 2 atributes. But I like saves as rolls because it puts more dice rolling in the hads of the players. It's fun for them to try to avoid the fireball instead of just waiting for the hit


I really liked the 4e defenses. They did some good things for the design space. You could make an attack against Fortitude defense, which as a result felt more like an attack that had to be absorbed rather than dodged. While you could simply have an attack force a Constitution save, it just doesn't feel the same.

That said, I felt where they didn't work as well was when attacking multiple creatures at once (especially multiple creatures of different types). That tended to be a bit slow, as I can roll a bunch of saves for various creatures much faster than my players can roll attacks against them. I just group them up, figure out the TN, and roll. I've found many players tend to roll, calculate the result, and declare the result (even when I give them the TN). So I somewhat prefer saving throws in regard to abilities with multiple targets.


It is definitely more satisfying as a player to be able to roll a spell attack than to watch the DM make the save. On the other hand, players like making the roll when their characters are in danger.

But as @Charlaquin points out, it is trivially easy to flip a save bonus to a "spell attack DC" on the fly once you understand the math. Because it doesn't change the probability of success at all there is no reason you can't do it for some situations (e.g. PC spellcasting) and not in others.

Ultimately, I wouldn't change the rule, but I think adding in the option for DM's to convert NPC saves into PC spell attack rolls could make the game more satisfying for casters.


Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
I liked more them being attached to the largest of 2 atributes.
I wasn't a fan of that either. While it sounded kind of cool, and it made it relatively easy for a player to understand their first moves into optimization, I thought there were too many sloppy elements of the design. Using the better of 2 stats for defenses dovetailed really well with certain class options like the Trickster Rogue. Put your highest stats in Dex, Con, and Cha and you had fully optimized your defenses, hit points/surges, and class powers. But pick the Brawny Rogue and now you can't squeeze the same degree of optimization out of the combo because you ideally want both Str and Con to optimize hit points/surges and powers. There were other classes that had this problem too. So the whole idea of being able to just focus on 3 stats was already undermined once again by the issue of some classes being dependent on more stats than others while trying to sell the illusion that you only need 3.
It did give me the idea of taking the same pairings and using 1 half for defense only (Con, Dex, Wis) and the other half of the pairing for offense only (Str, Int, Cha).


Shaper of Worlds
Personally I prefer to keep Saves in the hands of the victim, not the attacker.

I know it doesn't make a whole ton of sense to have the DM roll versus having the Player Roll and ultimately there's no mechanical difference in making Saves into a separate form of Armor Class...

It just adds a different -feeling- to how things work out. The tension of the DM rolling behind a screen for several seconds, checking papers and stats, and then delivering the verdict holds a different weight than "I'm basically gonna roll 15 different attacks targeting their Dexterity AC." or "I'll roll one attack and miss the entire crowd I'm aiming at"

I agree that it was a fine piece of design, but that letting the players roll has a more fun psychological effect.

"My character's fate is in my hands!"

In the 5 Torches Deep variant I'm running right now, spells are basically all player rolls. They roll to cast on an enemy- the enemy doesn't get a save, although I may increase the DC to affect them if they're resistant. When an enemy uses magic on them, the players roll to save.

I still roll other attacks for monsters, but I've definitely considered switching that to players making defense rolls, and I may experiment with that in the future.


In my 5e Fantasy Grounds game it came up as a tripping point.

One of my players has an artificer character with both saving throw and attack roll spells. In FG you drag the spell to the target and it rolls for you and displays the roll and whether it was a success or failure. The player then drags the effect onto the target if appropriate.

The player has been playing since AD&D era and in the moment has been tripped up on whether the die roll showing success on his lesser used spells means drag the damage onto the target or not. He has occassionally thrown damage onto a target because his attack spell result display is success, but that actually means a successful save against his spell instead of a successful spell attack as in his at will attack cantrip.

It is an inconsistency on a player initiated action process that can lead to mistakes or speed bumps as you figure it out in the moment or fix a mistake.


Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I like 4e (and 13th Age) with saves like AC instead of something separate. The active person always rolls the die, a nice unified mechanic.

I have a lot of issues with 5e saves, especially with there being so many of them and so many bad ones that casters can almost always find non-scaling ones to go against.

Personally, I'd prefer saves as target DCs, just like AC. I'd also prefer either only 2-3 of them, or if they default to scaling like attacks and people have some better ones and a weakness - in other words few places to makes spells with save much more powerful at high levels.

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