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D&D 5E What are the pitfalls of eliminating saving throws in 5e?

squibbles

Adventurer
I think the biggest issue is that this is only considering the question from the PC side of things.

Monster ability scores run the full gamut from 1 to 30. Essentially, this would either trivialize "saving throws", such that a 1 Int giant centipede always fails when targeted with the synaptic static spell, or a 29 Con ancient red dragon almost can't fail when targeted with stunning strike (sure they would otherwise use legendary resistance, but at least that's one less use of that ability). It somewhat subverts bounded accuracy in the game, by shifting the target numbers higher/lower than the game would normally allow.
[...] Saying that a monk should focus on using their Ki in other ways for a given combat is arguably fine. However, if it's actually that the monk may as well forget they have Stunning Strike after a certain tier, that's not okay in my book. My gut says we're more looking at the latter case with this house rule, though I admit that I haven't tried graphing the correlation and could be mistaken.
Yeah, there's a rock paper scissors element to this house rule. If you have the right spell or feature for the right enemy, then the effect goes through easily--but if not, too bad. It has a kinda witcher-y element to it, where identifying enemy weaknesses is important. That probably necessitates thinking about the way encounters happen, so that PCs have the opportunity to figure out what they should be doing. It also creates meta-game knowledge issues, advantaging players who know the MM.

For those PCs that don't have a lot of flexibility in what they target--it might be fine. If the balance of easy to hit targets and hard to hit targets is reasonable, it might just mean that gameplay is very feast or famine. I don't have a sense of how much fun it would actually be to play with this kind of setup--it might make being a monk just... miserable. Features that target constitution and strength suffer a lot more than others--since monsters usually have good scores--maybe the simple solution would be to have monks' stunning strike and other similarly restricted classes' features target something else.

Reading the title I got bait again, seriously making magic taking effect all the time,
sadly, it’s only a mechanic twist.
ha! I'd be interested in a system like that too but, man, the amount of work that'd have to go into changing all the affected spells would be immense.

I’d add the pitfall that inspiration could no longer be used for defense if saves become a static defense.
Yeah, good observation. I'm not sure I'm bothered by inspiration being exclusively proactive/offensive. I always liked the players claim inspiration house rule better than standard 5e rule, and I don't think changing saves would affect it much.

So, let’s assume for the sake of argument that you’re ok with the effects this rule has on accuracy math. What about the other potential issues?

[...]

I would say anything that would normally add a bonus to your saves with a certain ability instead applies a penalty to attacks that target that ability. So, for example, a paladin’s Protective Aura would change to “attacks targeting the abilities of allies within 10 feet of you have a penalty equal to your Charisma modifier.

I suppose you could apply the same approach to save proficiencies. “Attacks targeting your (proficient score) have a penalty equal to your proficiency bonus. But I dunno, for some reason that doesn’t feel as good to me.
That'd be totally functional, but both fixes feel a bit counterintuitive--apply a penalty to the caster's roll, but only apply the penalty when targets are within a radius unrelated to the position of the caster. Not that I have a better idea, but I feel like it's accounting for these kind of features that would most undermine the parsimony of the no saving throws change.
 

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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
Yeah, there's a rock paper scissors element to this house rule. If you have the right spell or feature for the right enemy, then the effect goes through easily--but if not, too bad. It has a kinda witcher-y element to it, where identifying enemy weaknesses is important. That probably necessitates thinking about the way encounters happen, so that PCs have the opportunity to figure out what they should be doing. It also creates meta-game knowledge issues, advantaging players who know the MM.

For those PCs that don't have a lot of flexibility in what they target--it might be fine. If the balance of easy to hit targets and hard to hit targets is reasonable, it might just mean that gameplay is very feast or famine. I don't have a sense of how much fun it would actually be to play with this kind of setup--it might make being a monk just... miserable. Features that target constitution and strength suffer a lot more than others--since monsters usually have good scores--maybe the simple solution would be to have monks' stunning strike and other similarly restricted classes' features target something else.
Stunning Strike is also an interesting case because with how it currently works you first have to hit the target’s AC with your attack, and then they make a save. With NADs (whether 14+Mod or straight ability score), you’d basically be making two attacks, which feels kinda weird. Maybe Stunning Strike and similar abilities that force a save after a successful attack roll now force a check? Or maybe you combine the rolls - if the attack beats AC, it hits, and if the attack would also beat the relevant NAD, it does the on-hit effect?
That'd be totally functional, but both fixes feel a bit counterintuitive--apply a penalty to the caster's roll, but only apply the penalty when targets are within a radius unrelated to the position of the caster. Not that I have a better idea, but I feel like it's accounting for these kind of features that would most undermine the parsimony of the no saving throws change.
Doesn’t seem any weirder than cover to me. Though, I guess cover technically adds to the target’s AC rather than penalizing the attacker’s roll.
 

Redwizard007

Explorer
As a modification to 5e, not a fan, although I did play in a game online with a similar rule (exclusively for spells) and it was an interesting change. As a core mechanic of a new system, maybe 6e, hell yes.
 

loverdrive

Makin' cool stuff (She/Her)
Using 14 + Mod (+Prof if you have it) as non-AC defenses would have no bugs whatsoever. The math is exactly the same. Using ability scores as non-AC defenses would change the math though, and that would definitely have side-effects, which some DMs may consider bugs or features.
Well, it's not only numbers. 5E is a complex game with a lot of moving parts. How would fighter's Indomitable work? Would Lore bard be able to use Cutting Words against a fireball? What about nat. 1s and 20s? There are probably more things that would need to be addressed, these are just from the top of my head.

It is certainly doable, but I don't see any reason to go through all that hassle for... for what?
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Good point! You should probably also add “impose disadvantage on an attack targeting one of your abilities” as a way to use Inspiration.
The mechanical vocabulary may become ambiguous. For example, cutting words is separated from unsettling words through saving throw being separated from attack. If it is all attacks, there might be a change in how designers think of these things. Dwarf poison resistance is one example I can think of: it becomes disadvantage to the 'attack' poison is making at the dwarf. I wonder how that shift in framing plays out in the long term?

What do you all see as a the pitfalls of making this change? Is the math functional? Is there a more elegant, better balanced, or otherwise more advantageous way to eliminate saving throws? Have any of you tried something like this?

And if you're attitude is "if it ain't broke don't fix it," well... fair enough, feel welcome to come and tell me off about it.
Earthdawn uses an all-attacks approach, with characters having physical, mystic and social defense levels that must be overcome by attacks (armor in ED reduces the damage.)
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Well, it's not only numbers. 5E is a complex game with a lot of moving parts. How would fighter's Indomitable work? Would Lore bard be able to use Cutting Words against a fireball? What about nat. 1s and 20s? There are probably more things that would need to be addressed, these are just from the top of my head.

It is certainly doable, but I don't see any reason to go through all that hassle for... for what?
This. It's almost as if they include complexity to prevent tinkering. Hmmm...

For what? is a good question too. The OP mentions house-rule, which is a little more rigid than a DM ruling, but not much. A ruling would allow rounding off the edge cases, and the DM would end up doing more rolling with NPCs needing to roll for their save-inducing attacks. If it's for a revision of 5th ed, removing saves requires rewriting... um... a lot.

The biggest change to me is that it removes the PC-oh-naughty word moment. As in, "you're about to get blown up by a fireball!" "Oh naughty word I'd better save (myself)!" This way, saving throws exist for a specific reason: to keep PCs engaged when defending isn't routine (assuming that armor class is supposed to be a routine defense).
 



Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
Well, it's not only numbers. 5E is a complex game with a lot of moving parts. How would fighter's Indomitable work?
Like it does now, only with the attacker rolling. When you get hit by an attack targeting one of your ability defenses, you can make the attacker re-roll and use the second result.
Would Lore bard be able to use Cutting Words against a fireball?
Of course not.
What about nat. 1s and 20s?
They don’t do anything on saving throws, so they don’t do anything on attacks against ability defenses.
There are probably more things that would need to be addressed, these are just from the top of my head.
Not really, just treat attacks against ability defenses exactly like saving throws, with the other party doing the rolling.
It is certainly doable, but I don't see any reason to go through all that hassle for... for what?
Unifying the core action resolution mechanic. Or, alternatively, switching to a players always roll system.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
The mechanical vocabulary may become ambiguous. For example, cutting words is separated from unsettling words through saving throw being separated from attack. If it is all attacks, there might be a change in how designers think of these things. Dwarf poison resistance is one example I can think of: it becomes disadvantage to the 'attack' poison is making at the dwarf. I wonder how that shift in framing plays out in the long term?
Like I said to Lovedrive, you can just treat attacks that target ability defenses the same way you treat saving throws. They’re a different category of thing than attacks against AC, and are affected only by things that affect saving throws.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
Also bless.
“You bless up to three creatures of your choice within range. Whenever a target makes an attack roll or becomes the target of an attack against one of their ability defenses before the spell ends, the target can roll a d4 and add the number rolled to the attack roll or their ability defense.

Problem solved. Is the wording a little clunky? Sure, and maybe we could clean it up by coming up with a name for “attacks against ability defenses.” Call it like a Damnation throw or something. But it’s really not that hard of a concept to grasp, you don’t actually need to re-write these things as long as everyone grasps that they work exactly like saving throws except the attacker rolls.
 
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TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
This is similar to how saves worked in 4E. I really liked it. If it works for AC, it works for these two.

Many of the issues raised can be easily fixed with a bit of design, they're not major problems.

But lately I've been more and more interested in player facing systems. So how about a mix where enemies have static defenses that the players try to beat with a roll, and the PCs have a more traditional saving throw where they get a chance to dodge enemy spells?
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Yeah, there's a rock paper scissors element to this house rule. If you have the right spell or feature for the right enemy, then the effect goes through easily--but if not, too bad. It has a kinda witcher-y element to it, where identifying enemy weaknesses is important. That probably necessitates thinking about the way encounters happen, so that PCs have the opportunity to figure out what they should be doing. It also creates meta-game knowledge issues, advantaging players who know the MM.

For those PCs that don't have a lot of flexibility in what they target--it might be fine. If the balance of easy to hit targets and hard to hit targets is reasonable, it might just mean that gameplay is very feast or famine. I don't have a sense of how much fun it would actually be to play with this kind of setup--it might make being a monk just... miserable. Features that target constitution and strength suffer a lot more than others--since monsters usually have good scores--maybe the simple solution would be to have monks' stunning strike and other similarly restricted classes' features target something else.
It's kind of like rock paper scissors, but only if many of the participants are restricted to only throwing one or two of the three, while the DM can throw anything they please (having the entirety of the MM to draw upon).

IMO, it's not usually that hard to figure out a rough estimation of a creature's stats. Big, bulky creature - high str and probably con. Quick on its feet - dex. These are readily observable. The mental stats can usually be inferred based on a quick conversation with the creature, assuming the DM RPs it remotely accurately. If it can't talk, odds are pretty good that it's at the lower end in terms of mental stats. Animals pretty much invariably have an intelligence in the low single digits.

Assuming that the DM isn't the type to obfuscate what ought to be obvious and observable, no meta gaming is required, IMO. Obviously, this does assume a reasonably experienced group of players; newbies might find it more challenging to translate descriptions into mechanics.

I think the biggest challenge is to determine a fair way to design encounters within this new paradigm.

For example, let's assume you have a caster who likes to cast Hypnotic Pattern. Based on a quick flip through of the MM, it seems like most creatures have between 6 and 13 Wisdom. That's child's play for a mage with an 18 casting stat and +3 Prof mod (+7 bonus) under your proposed system, as I understand it (a single attack roll at +7 against what is probably around a Wisdom of 10).

Under the RAW system, those 10 Wisdom creatures might not have a great chance to save vs a DC 15, but it's significantly better than your system (30% vs 10%), plus each creature gets an individual save meaning that odds are decent that at least some in the group will make it.

So do you pick creatures at random? If so, then the typical Wisdom will be 10 and Hypnotic Pattern will be VERY strong (significantly better than RAW).

Do you pick only creatures with a high Wisdom to challenge them? The players might perceive that as unfair (and there's an argument that they're right).

It's not as bad if you redesign the classes to have the flexibility to target multiple different saves, but even then you'd probably also want to redesign monsters to have a narrower range of stats.
 

squibbles

Adventurer
Well, it's not only numbers. 5E is a complex game with a lot of moving parts. How would fighter's Indomitable work? Would Lore bard be able to use Cutting Words against a fireball? What about nat. 1s and 20s? There are probably more things that would need to be addressed, these are just from the top of my head.

It is certainly doable, but I don't see any reason to go through all that hassle for... for what?
well... speed, parsimony, simplicity, and dark and deadly magic.

I'm not sold on making this change, it's an idea from another thread that looked elegant to me. There are indeed a lot of moving parts, big and small, that would need to be changed for it to work--thank you for pointing out a few.

Earthdawn uses an all-attacks approach, with characters having physical, mystic and social defense levels that must be overcome by attacks (armor in ED reduces the damage.)
I know there are lots of systems that resolve actions differently, though I haven't played them. Is Earthdawn similar enough that reasonable inferences about 5e can be drawn from it? Does the system work quicker and more smoothly or feel more intuitive with its all-attacks approach?

The biggest change to me is that it removes the PC-oh-naughty word moment. As in, "you're about to get blown up by a fireball!" "Oh naughty word I'd better save (myself)!" This way, saving throws exist for a specific reason: to keep PCs engaged when defending isn't routine (assuming that armor class is supposed to be a routine defense).
But lately I've been more and more interested in player facing systems. So how about a mix where enemies have static defenses that the players try to beat with a roll, and the PCs have a more traditional saving throw where they get a chance to dodge enemy spells?
If I recall correctly, having PCs roll for everything is one of the big features of the Cypher System (Numenara), with the idea that it keeps players engaged. Personally, that feels a little bit immersion breaking for me, like it calls attention to itself as a game rather than as a simulation of people and places with an independent existence. But keeping players engaged is a big upside of having them roll and, I suppose, letting players do the rolling when they cast spells wouldn't make it hugely more engaging, since they already exercise plenty of agency when doing so and, thus, would not offset the loss of saving throws.

It's kind of like rock paper scissors, but only if many of the participants are restricted to only throwing one or two of the three, while the DM can throw anything they please (having the entirety of the MM to draw upon).

IMO, it's not usually that hard to figure out a rough estimation of a creature's stats. Big, bulky creature - high str and probably con. Quick on its feet - dex. These are readily observable. The mental stats can usually be inferred based on a quick conversation with the creature, assuming the DM RPs it remotely accurately. If it can't talk, odds are pretty good that it's at the lower end in terms of mental stats. Animals pretty much invariably have an intelligence in the low single digits.

Assuming that the DM isn't the type to obfuscate what ought to be obvious and observable, no meta gaming is required, IMO. Obviously, this does assume a reasonably experienced group of players; newbies might find it more challenging to translate descriptions into mechanics.

I think the biggest challenge is to determine a fair way to design encounters within this new paradigm.

For example, let's assume you have a caster who likes to cast Hypnotic Pattern. Based on a quick flip through of the MM, it seems like most creatures have between 6 and 13 Wisdom. That's child's play for a mage with an 18 casting stat and +3 Prof mod (+7 bonus) under your proposed system, as I understand it (a single attack roll at +7 against what is probably around a Wisdom of 10).

Under the RAW system, those 10 Wisdom creatures might not have a great chance to save vs a DC 15, but it's significantly better than your system (30% vs 10%), plus each creature gets an individual save meaning that odds are decent that at least some in the group will make it.

So do you pick creatures at random? If so, then the typical Wisdom will be 10 and Hypnotic Pattern will be VERY strong (significantly better than RAW).

Do you pick only creatures with a high Wisdom to challenge them? The players might perceive that as unfair (and there's an argument that they're right).

It's not as bad if you redesign the classes to have the flexibility to target multiple different saves, but even then you'd probably also want to redesign monsters to have a narrower range of stats.
So, rather than situationally more one-sided (rock-paper-scissors), you're confident that using ability scores would badly unbalance the game. Is it principally wizards that benefit--with their huge and varied spell list--or is it spellcasters more broadly? If there were a downside to using spells, like the chance to miscast with horrible consequences which I mentioned in the initial post, could that balance out?

If ability scores are too variable to have workable math, It'd probably be better to use the numbers transformation @Charlaquin listed in post #3 rather than revising whole monster manual--though that would eliminate a lot of the elegance of the change. /sigh
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
I know there are lots of systems that resolve actions differently, though I haven't played them. Is Earthdawn similar enough that reasonable inferences about 5e can be drawn from it? Does the system work quicker and more smoothly or feel more intuitive with its all-attacks approach?
Yes, closely similar. Say for a spell that would be a save in D&D, EarthDawn calls for an attack roll against mystic defense.

It might feel blander were it not for the addtional distinction between physical and mystic deflective armor (reduces the amount of damage.) I DM'd ED for about two years with a small group (three players). Mystic armor values are often 0 and usually lower than physical, so that there is a sense in play of magic penetrating or subverting the mundane world.
 
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Fanaelialae

Legend
So, rather than situationally more one-sided (rock-paper-scissors), you're confident that using ability scores would badly unbalance the game. Is it principally wizards that benefit--with their huge and varied spell list--or is it spellcasters more broadly? If there were a downside to using spells, like the chance to miscast with horrible consequences which I mentioned in the initial post, could that balance out?

If ability scores are too variable to have workable math, It'd probably be better to use the numbers transformation @Charlaquin listed in post #3 rather than revising whole monster manual--though that would eliminate a lot of the elegance of the change. /sigh
I agree that it's an elegant looking rule. But just because a rule has the look of a Ferrari, doesn't mean that it isn't hiding a lawnmower engine under the hood.

It's principally that the system wasn't designed to be used in this way. If it had been, you wouldn't see creatures with ability scores of 1 or 2 (which is basically a guaranteed auto-fail, even at level 1).

Having a chance to fumble is a debatable balancing factor. Let me flip the question back to you:

If fighters could do ability score damage (instantly defeating creatures with an ability score of 1 or 2, irrespective of their hit points) but ran a risk of horrible fumbles, would you consider that balanced?

Personally, I would answer no, but that's more of a stylistic preference than an objective truth. Though, that is contingent upon the risks being truly detrimental. Which can itself be an issue. Having a 5% chance for insta-death just for using your abilities isn't fun. Having a 5% chance of having your head replaced with a tentacle may actually be desirable for some players, while for others it might completely ruin their character concept along with the desire to play that character.

Casters have the greatest flexibility in exploiting the system. They have hundreds of potential abilities to choose from (spells) which can target any ability score. A player who keeps this in mind can work the system in their favor and is likely to be quite powerful.

There are few non-casters with similar flexibility, though the battle master comes to mind as a subclass that might be able to effectively exploit the system. Other subclasses won't even notice the change, like the champion fighter who neither benefits nor suffers as a result of this change, since they have no save abilities. Then there are classes like monk who have a core ability that depends upon a saving throw (stunning strike) and they are likely to be very swingy under such a system. Against low Con monsters they won't be able to miss a stun. Against high Con monsters they won't be able to land a stun.

Converting saves to NADs is the more balanced way to go, IMO. Sure, the lines on it aren't anywhere as elegant, but there's a reliable engine under the hood, and IME that's what matters more when you're actually playing.
 

loverdrive

Makin' cool stuff (She/Her)
Unifying the core action resolution mechanic.
If attacks vs. non-AC defences don't work like attacks (do not crit, do not automatically miss, do not interact with abilities that modify attack rolls, etc), then the resolution mechanic is no more unified than before — there are still three types of d20 rolls.

I'd say it's probably even more confusing, as there are things that walk like attacks, quack like attacks, but aren't attacks.

Or, alternatively, switching to a players always roll system.
This, on the other hand, makes sense. I'm still not sure if it is necessary, but it doesn't invite any bugs.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
If attacks vs. non-AC defences don't work like attacks (do not crit, do not automatically miss, do not interact with abilities that modify attack rolls, etc), then the resolution mechanic is no more unified than before — there are still three types of d20 rolls.

I'd say it's probably even more confusing, as there are things that walk like attacks, quack like attacks, but aren't attacks.
You mean like ability checks?
 


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