Thursday, October 25, 2007

Wishlist, part 2

In continuation of my ongoing wishlist for 4e, I bring you...

2. Keep saving throws on par with spell DCs

It's no secret. I love to play arcane spellcasters. The chapter on spells in the PHB and the Spell Compendium have replaced the Sears catalog of my youth. I can spend hours pouring over those pages, dreaming up which spells my caster will take and when. I'll soak in every detail from the school to the components required. For the higher level spells (4th and up) I'm particularly interested in two things. Is it affected by SR and what kind of save the target gets?

Anything that ignores SR (the bane of every high level caster) always grabs my attention. Also as my casters are almost exclusively sorcerers, my characters don't have a Swiss Army Knife (aka, spellbook) and they don't get mulligans when it comes to spell selection. So I also strive to pick a good balance of spells based upon what kind of save the target gets.

In other words, I try to make sure that I'll always have a decent spell regardless of what the target's best save is. If it's a big brute with tons of Fort Save bonuses, I'll hit it with spells that require Reflex or Will saves. If it's fast and agile, I use Fort save spells. Cerebral monsters are notoriously feeble so skip the Will save spells and use Fort or Reflex based ones. It's not a perfect system but my high level casters are rarely left without anything to throw at an enemy.

However, no matter how high I think the DC on my spell is, chances are still good that Crwth will roll a d20 and poof. He doesn't even need to say the words. The smug grin says it all. My spell had no effect.

Obviously I don't expect every spell I cast to get through the target's defenses every time. It's a game of chance and that randomness is what makes it great. For every time that a critical spell failed to get through due to a saving throw, there's one-shot-in-the-dark, hail Mary, final prayer spell that unbelievably succeeded. I'm talking about that Finger of Death that somehow struck down a Red Dragon Wyrm with one shot (thanks to a series of 1s on the d20). It's that kind of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat that I love.

However, I do feel that the saving throws for monsters advance at a faster pace than the DCs of my caster's spells. Crwth has a much greater head for the mathematics behind it than I do, so I'm admittedly low on statistical proof and long on subjective observation. Still, it seems to me that higher the CR of the monster, the more "spell proof" they are.

Take, as an example, a look at Graz'zt's saves from this article. "Fort +36, Ref +31, Will +27". Granted, he's a demon lord but I don't think his saves are all that unusual for a CR 32 encounter.

Now take a 32nd level Sorcerer with maxed out Charisma. Start with 18, put every point into it, buy the best +8 item, and read a +5 Tome. Cha 39 by my math. That's a very respectable +14 bonus. This means his 9th level spells (his biggest guns) have a DC of 33 (10+9+14). Throw in some specialization/focus and you can get that up to 35. I'm sure some min/maxer out there could bump that up another point or two.

Still, that gives the sorcerer a 50/50 chance of getting a Will based spell to affect Graz'zt. And that's picking on his weakest save. And that's only if he gets past that SR 45. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see how this battle would go.

That's an extreme example to be sure, but my base argument is that high level casters shouldn't feel useless against foes that are their equals.

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