Building a Better D&D
If my little project were larger in scope I have to say that saving throws would ideally be replaced by spell to-hit rolls. The idea is that this would make it an active spellcaster activity instead of a passive target reaction. However, it would require a revision far too severe for the purposes of my 1E project here. For an entirely new edition, yes it would be worthwhile, but in keeping with the goal of maintaining the spirit AND feel of 1E it's too much.
The 1E save categories are otherwise actually okay. I used to think that the AD&D saving throw system was quite whacked, but you mostly just have to understand why things work the way they work. I have come to typically think of it in these terms: “Spells, by default, ALWAYS hit unerringly and WILL take effect - the save lets you try and reduce or avoid the effects AFTER the fact.” Spells, with few exceptions, DON'T have to-hit rolls that have to be made by the caster. Within certain limits dictated by the spell, where the caster wants the spell to go - it goes. What he wants it to affect - it affects. This is a basic compensation to magic-users in particular for sucking at everything else and having limited resources (spells) in combat. The saving throw, at least at low levels, is just a token chance to save yourself at the last second. It's a concept that was brought into D&D from wargaming where a unit takes damage from an enemy unit that would normally wipe it out entirely, but it is allowed a saving throw as a chance for a lucky miracle that some part of the unit manages to survive the attack. It's almost as if it were added on at the last minute because they realized that they made magic WAY overpowered:
"We have to completely redo the entire magic system. Even with the limited
number of spells that casters are allowed they're like weapons of mass
"Nah. Too much work to do that. How about instead we just let victims make a die roll when they get hit with a spell that will... I dunno, cut damage in half, or prevent the effect from harming them at all?"
Looking at it from that perspective helped me to understand why it worked the way it did.
One of the differences between how A&D handled saving throws and how, say, 3E approached it is that AD&D assumes that your chance of a successful save is based on just two primary factors: the level and class of the victim. It is HIS attempt to save himself, therefore it is HIS level and class which dictate how lucky he should be in avoiding certain kinds of attacks. Then the higher level you are, the luckier you become, until eventually you ROUTINELY are cutting damage from spells by half or avoiding effects altogether. 3E decided that, no, the level of the spell itself should be at least as important. Maybe so, maybe so. But by monkeying with the saving throw (and I will only mention in passing that with all the bonuses and adjustments that was only the start of their interference) they clearly altered the dynamics of how frequently magic had its full effect. That meant that all sorts of other things then had to be adjusted to fit. Again, I'm not actually saying that's an inherently bad idea. Hell, I was cheerleading the notion that the entire AD&D magic system should be broken down entirely and then rebuilt from the ground up long before anybody wrote the first serious word about a Third Edition - hell, I was saying that before 2nd Edition had even been released. But again, that's beyond the scope of the project. Therefore, if AD&D says it's just level and class of the person doing the saving that matter, so it shall be. But that doesn't mean that it can't be touched at all or improved without respecting that.
As case and point: the numbers for thief and fighter Breath Weapon saves are wonky and both have now been addressed in my revised save tables. Wonky how you ask? Breath weapon saves for fighters improve too drastically. It starts out the worst and ALMOST winds up the best in the game. In particular I couldn’t fathom an obvious reason why it should be faster than their other saves much less the best of any. I just didn't see why dodging breath weapons should be a benefit that fighters should develop so well. Accordingly, I slowed that progression just a bit. Their lower level saves in this category now tend to be better with only their higher level saves being worse than in the original chart - and then they aren’t worse by much. It almost makes it not worth altering the rate at all. If it weren't for BW their saves would progress at the same rate across the board but for some reason EGG saw fit to make this progression the fastest in the game. It still is - I just toned it down a bit. Frankly, my supposition (until somebody shows me evidence why I'm wrong) is that the saving throws WERE very arbitrarily assembled. They weren't designed, weighted, or even deeply examined for their fit and function in the game. They just were what they were.
The breath weapon save for thieves, however, I found particularly questionable. It starts out average but ends up the worst in the game by a fair margin. The reason this strikes me as troublesome is because it SHOULD reflect a general class ability to dodge or avoid effects via inherent dexterity and agility of the class. Also, it isn't just breath weapons themselves that this impacts because the category is typically used for avoiding traps as well. It's one thing to suggest that thieves start out not much luckier than anyone else at it, but it's quite another to see that they steadily fall WAY behind all other classes at that because it's their slowest improvement progression. That is just ass-backwards to me. It's the one saving throw where even if thieves don't start out the best they should improve at LEAST as fast as any other class, and sensibly should even end up better at it than any other class.
Thieves still end up with the worst saves overall and I DEFINITELY question that. So much so, that I may actually push a little more on this edge of the envelope, but only after further consideration. Still, this single change alleviates considerable statistical suckage for them. Fighters retain the best overall saves but don't end up outstripping other classes quite so far as they used to by having their BW progression toned down just a tad.
The tables have also been converted to a “5% principle” progression.
It does somewhat bother me when I look at the categories that 1E uses and they seem so arbitrary, narrow, and hopelessly unintuitive. 2E actually provided some good description of the additional things that the categories typically cover. If you're just reading the 1E labels then the categories don't seem to make a lot of sense. Why should THOSE effects have separate save categories but not others? Why should it be better for this class at this level, but worse for that class at that level? Again, my suspicion is that those questions simply weren't asked. Somebody just picked a starting point, decided on a rate of increase, then spit out a chart. I started thinking that maybe the categories just need to be relabeled to be be more descriptive of their general effects, and then have a list of specific effects that the category covers. I tried it and it actually does seem to both help and bring up new considerations:
Willpower/Fortitude = parlyzation, poison, death magic
Magic Device = rod, staff, wand
Bodily Trauma = petrification, polymorph, aging
Dodging = breath weapons, traps
General = spells and miscellaneous
First thought that popped up was, "If there's a SAVE against bodily trauma effects like petrification and polymorph, why is there an ADDITIONAL System Shock roll that has to be made TWICE - once when the attack is made (whether or not the attack actually succeeds at the initial effect) and again if the character failed the Saving Throw against the spell but succeeded at the first System Shock and is being transformed back to his original form? I mean, you hit someone with Polymorph Other; if they fail the save they're screwed; if they make the save but fail the first SS% they're screwed; if they make the first SS% but fail the second when being "CURED" they're screwed. What the hell? Why not just say there's no save and make the friggin' spell 9th level? What do you think would happen if you went to your DM and said you want to research a spell that was save-or-die but that even if you make the save there would still be a 20% chance you die outright, then when the spell duration ends or is dispelled there's still another 20% chance to die from it?
Well, I'll just tell you that MY conclusion is that System Shock, while having always masqueraded itself as a sensible if sometimes painful rule, is in fact only good for killing PC's by kicking the player when he's down. Freakin' DEATH-effect spells are not as pointlessly and arbitrarily deadly as that - and THAT makes no sense. Now there is a certain amount of hesitation that I have because when you start thinking of the PPD save as one of willpower and fortitude rather than constitution (that is, more of a MENTAL resistance rather than a physical one) then an additional effect like System Shock ALMOST makes sense, since it would then apply to the physical side of the effect which the mental saving throw doesn't deal with. But the fact is that it still amounts to giving the dice three chances instead of just one to kill you dead, dead, dead, and there's just no justification for that kind of overkill (if you'll forgive the accidental pun.) Also, in 1E AD&D, this category of effects is NOT described in terms of mental resistance but only physical. It was only my own suggestion to label it as willpower/fortitude to foster discussion that lent credence to that idea. I'll also go into the subject of SS% in greater depth later on.
Polymorph as a spell/effect was going to be rewritten anyway because while it's a great idea when seen in a written narrative adventure or a movie, in an RPG it needs constraints, purpose, limitations and above all simplicity of function. If you're just turning enemies into toads or pigs all you need is a save and a duration for the effect with anything else being overkill. If you're turning yourself or your friends into ancient red dragons to lay the smack down you suddenly see that there are a dozen ways to abuse the shit out the spell and turn an otherwise functional game into a train wreck. Player characters don't have the constraints of author-dicatated plot and story. The DM relies upon rules to provide sensible constraints in an RPG. The rules should not put the DM in the position of having to arbitrarily nerf spell effects just to keep his game under nominal control.
So, in case you haven't gathered it yet, my first point is that System Shock is hereby relegated to the ash heap of history. And for good measure that little section in the DMG listing AGING penalties for casting certain spells is also deep-sixed. Spell effects will be what they are written to be. The deadliness and effectiveness of a spell should be fully known and understood by its basic entry data and the description of its effects. If your ass gets turned to stone you get a saving throw, yes? Okay, if there is a chance that such an effect will actually kill you dead then the spell description should state those chances and the Saving Throw, if any, should deal with that question then, there, and for all time. If the effect of petrification is ONLY to disable you by a quasi-permanent transformation, then THAT is what the saving throw determines - if its intent is to KILL you forever and ever (amen) then the saving throw determines that instead. If there are to be spells that will then reverse that transformative effect then obviously the question of whether the recipient is dead or alive is immaterial. That spell is not altering life and death since that question has already been decided by the saving throw, it's JUST altering physical form for better or worse. If there are DM's out there that want petrification to kill you then the save is NOT just for that physical transformation but life and death. If you fail the save and die - because you were turned to stone - then the cure/reverse is NOT the Stone to Flesh spell, but RESURRECTION.
This further brings into question the justifiability of Resurrection Survival rolls. I'll get into that with the next entry.
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