Friday, April 12, 2013

OD&D Saves vs S&W saves vs D20 saves

Hey all.  Write after my last blogs post this topic was posted to the OSR Google+ Community:

"Is there a logic behind the OD&D saving throws, as in which is appropriate to use in a particular situation, why they are at the levels they are for the classes, etc?  Is there somewhere that talks about it that I can read?

I'm trying to understand the impact of moving to the single number in S&W, and to be able to respond to my Pathfinder-loving friend when he pontificates about how great the d20 method is."

This was a great question and I took the time to write a long response.  I've pasted my response here because I think the subject is a great one for a blog post:

"So this is going to be a long comment.  Should probably be a blog post for my blog but oh well.

I can't speak for the creators of OD&D but there probably was some logic to the savings throws.  The five categories were kind of tricky though.  Death rays and poisons are mostly straight forward, 'wands' are too bad to think about, turned to stone makes sense, dragon's breath makes sense, but to me the trouble pops up with Spells and staffs.  Why are wands and staffs treated differently?  Aren't wands using spells?  Why the breaking up of those ideas?   Of course things can get trickier: what save is used when it's a poison effect caused by a spell generated from a wand?  I'd say use the Death Rays and Poison save.  In the end, it's left up to the DM to figure this stuff out.

As for the moving to a single save in S&W, it has some advantages.  The reason I think, was originally for legal reasons to help make S&W it's own thing.  Though it's also a lot simpler.  If you were to take the save growths of each class in OD&D and mapped them by the type, you'd probably end up noticing a particular pattern in each save.  What moving to one save means is that that graph is averaged (more or less I think) so there is a single growth of save chances for a particular class.  Each class has bonuses to certain saves, to help reflect the fact some classes will fair better at some saves that others.  If you look at the original charts, you'll see that at any equal level, one class's saves to another only differentiate by a few points.

In practice, the single saves works.  I ran a 1st Edition adventure with S&W and it worked well.  I told player's to make a save, if they had a bonus they thought might have factored in, they'd ask me and I'd confirm or deny.

Now as to why each class is better in some that others, it makes sense that a Magic-user can deal with magic effects better than other classes.  Fighter's can better avoid Dragon's breath because they are probably more spry and used to running around.  Clerics are holy and are able to purify things, so it makes sense they can deal with poisons better, etc.

As for the D20 system, the system is great at what it sets out to do as a simulationist system.  I like the system a lot actually, though I don't play it much anymore.  The D20 system said, 'oh hey, those poison and stone saves?  Aren't they really asking for the same thing?' and made it fortitude.  Dragon's breath is essentially your reflex save, and the mind affecting spells became will.  Magical effects were broken into the 3 categories based on the type of effect, which is really a smart thing to do in my opinion.  There's nothing wrong with the 3 saves from D20.  DCC uses it still to good effect.

The truth is (and S&W's AC system will attest to this), the difference between the two methods isn't that stark.  Both are rolling to meet a target.  You must beat your save number in OD&D, and you must beat your save DC in D20.  The idea is you are meeting a threshold.  You can reverse engineer D20 saves to come up with a method to make S&W saves a bonus instead of a static number, just like armor class.  Just depends on how you actually want to play.

Hopefully this is helpful to you and I partially answered your question."

This has actually inspired me to write an additional post on S&W Appreciation Day concerning the 'save' system.  This will be in addition to my 'Why Play Swords & Wizardry' post.  Stay tuned!

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