Thursday, October 25, 2007

Static saves revisited

While I'm thinking about saving throws, I need to revisit the whole issue of static saves.

Back in September I was miffed about static saves being in 4e. As I wrote here, I felt that having static saving throws took away some of the tension and randomness that is inherently fun.

I still feel that if saving throws are reduced to a simple comparison between two static numbers then the game loses a huge fun factor. For example, there is a trap that requires a reflex save DC 15. A character with a reflex save of 12 blunders into it. DM compares and starts rolling damage. Sorry chump.

However, if the DC of the trap or the spell is dynamic (and in the case of traps Noonan hinted that would be the case), then the static save might not be so bad.

Using the same trap example, this time the reflex save is determined by 1d20+5. The character still has a static Reflex save of 12, but the DM now informs him that he's blundered into a trap and rolls d20 to see if it affects the character. There's a moment of tension built in, and tension is good.

Of course, a good DM will pause for effect and milk the tension whether it's dynamic vs static or static vs static. The crucial difference from the player's perspective is the knowledge that he had a chance of escaping unharmed vs the pre-determined static vs static.

Yes, the player is losing a die roll and therefore a sense of control over one's destiny. As stupid as it is, we players all feel deep down that if we're the one rolling the die the outcome will be better. If I follow my little ritual, recite the proper prayers, and pick the die that "feels hot" then everything will be okay. If I leave it up to the capricious and malicious DM, well, my poor character is screwed.

I am willing to trade that superstitious nonsense for one thing. Give me the player the die roll to determine the DC for anything I do that provokes a target to save.

The first thing that pops to mind is the DC to save against spells.

Right now in 3.5 the save DC is 10+level of the spell+stat modifier+any feats etc... This static number is what the target rolls against. It currently works pretty well. I cast a spell and tension builds as I wait to see if the target makes or fails it's saving throw. In reverse I'm told to attempt a save and tension builds as I roll and await the outcome.

However, I'll trade that for rolling to set the DC of my spells or special abilities. Allow me to cast a spell, roll d20 and add the spell level, the stat modifier, and whatever else then see if that's enough to beat the bad guy's Reflex or Will or Fort save. Not only is this more in line with the process for any other attack (ie. d20+mods vs AC or Save) it gives the player that same sense of control. Maybe even more control.

But what about the dreaded Natural 1?

Okay, casting a crucial Finger of Death and getting a 1 will suck (I say "will" because I just know it'll happen eventually). It'll suck even more than a 1 on an attack roll. With the latter, it's just a miss and possibly a fumble. Next round, swing and try again. The former means a wasted spell. Next round, no more Finger of Death, try something else and a different d20.

This downside is most likely going to be countered by the replacement of the Vancian spellcasting system. With spells being one of "at will", or "per encounter", or "per day" having a natural 1 isn't quite so crushing. And the flip side of a natural 20 adds extra sweetness to spellcasting.

The puzzle pieces are starting to fall into place and I'm beginning to form a pretty good idea of what 4e is gonna look like. If I'm not too far off, then I've got reason for optimism. Weird.

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