D&D 5E Why do so few 5E monsters have save proficiencies?


Moderator Emeritus
I have to say that one of the elements of 5E I was most skeptical about was the re-expansion of saves from three categories (in 3E) to six categories (the stats), when one of my favorite parts of 3E was the contraction of saves from five categories to three. It just seems like more to keep track of, and would have preferred keeping the three categories (fort, reflex, will) and allow for use of different stats to modify them based on circumstance or class or whatever. Regardless, I got used to it but was surprised to see so few monsters in the MM got any save proficiencies (at least based on my browsing, I have not gone through and counted).

As such I have been awarding different monsters/npcs (but not all) one or two save proficiencies based on what makes thematic sense.

Am I missing something?

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Jeff Carlsen

I suspect monsters don't get save proficiency very often to ensure that monsters fail saves more often than players. Exceptions are made only when that extra high defense is a significant part of the monster. Personally, I'm content with that, as it's one fewer thing to check when running monsters.

mostly that make up for it with super high ability scores. I don't mind it because it keep stat blocks shorter. skill Prof is a weak point. its really easy to get high values so a 8 str rogue can grapple an ogre and such.


Magic Wordsmith
Someone in my Discord notes that whether or not a monster has a save proficiency is heavily skewed to monsters above CR 3 (with the highest amount being CR 10+), so his conclusion is that it may be related to tier 1 spellcasters not suffering too much since their spellcasting is almost prohibitively expensive if they fail. There may also be thematic reasons. Apparently most of the CR 10+ monsters with no save proficiencies are constructs or undead, stuff like that. With exceptions of course.

As for skill proficiencies, many of them are pretty much irrelevant outside of Acrobatics, Athletics, Perception, and Stealth except perhaps as descriptors that suggest something about the nature of the monster (e.g. smart monster has Arcana).


Moderator Emeritus
I haven't gotten to high levels in 5E yet (and even in previous editions I planned to end most campaigns by 10th or 12th - which to my mind is "high enough"), which might explain why I have seen so few.


First, in many cases, creature's are under control of the builder. A monster with +5 con and another monster with +2 con and a +3 save proficiency are identical -- the +2 con one can just have more HP.

Second, for attack stats, increasing your attack stat gives you higher accuracy. While granting save proficiency doesn't. A monster that misses all of the time is boring; so deciding between +5 strength and +2 strength +3 proficiency, going with +5 strength works.

Save proficiencies (and skills) makes the stat block very slightly more complex. You get more bang for the complexity buck if you drop it all things being equal; especially with low modifiers. A +2 bonus has less information:math than a +6 bonus does, so adding save proficiencies (or skill proficiency) has better bang:buck at higher CRs.


There may be deeper reasons. For example, lagging of save proficiencies from CR 1-8 would result in spellcasters gaining in power-per-action. If then save proficiencies became more common from CR 9-30, this happens around the same time that spellcasters start getting their level 5+ spells (which are a phase change in what they can do).

Meanwhile weapon based PCs "whiteroom" scaling is different, with a power bump at 5, and a flattening off at level 10+. With spellcasters running into DC walls at the same time that weapon users power curve flattens out, it could produce balance.

But I haven't done any math to prove that, nor evidence that even if it did happen it was intentional.


Note that, under the DMG guidelines, an extra save proficiency is worth like 1/5 of a CR or so. Magic Resistance is worth like 1/2 of a CR.

So adding them on the fly on anything that isn't a mass foe isn't going to budge the encounter difficulty much, by the rules. And the rules are more like guidelines.

In comparison, +2 to your primary attack stat (so +1 modifier on attacks and saves) is worth about +1/4 of a CR.
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Because pretty much all spells have an extra save to shake the effects every single round, and with bounded accuracy it means they'll be affected for a round (two saves) or two (three saves) at most even without saving throw proficiency.

Plus it sucks to cast a spell and have it do nothing.

And there are always more monsters.


With the house-rules we are using at present, all monsters get save proficiency in all saves (but so do PCs) in balance to monsters having half the HP. (FWIW, they also get a +4 AC bump).

Monsters which actually have saves listed in their stat block now get advantage on those saves.

It works for us. :) shrug

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