|A Close Call (from Wikipedia)
So if the saving throw is really just a shorthand for level, a reward for extensive successful play, why do we need another number at all? Maybe Swords & Wizardry doesn’t go far enough with its single saving throw. Why can’t we just use the level directly? As frequently noted, I really like saving throws (see here, here, and here). Seriously, why am I writing this? The save system is maybe the least perverse part of the traditional game. Anyways, I have these ideas in my head, so here I go.
There are a few problems with using level directly. For one thing, saving throws shouldn’t be too hard at first level or too easy at high levels. In the original game, a fighter has to roll 12 or higher at first level to successfully save versus death. A beginning magic-user has to roll 15 or higher to save versus spells. The endgame saving throw target numbers range from 3 to 8, depending on category and class. They cluster around 5. These probabilities should be our guidelines.
Saving throws: when such a roll is needed for any reason, roll 1d20 under the character’s level, +4. So 7th level adventurer must roll under 11 to escape a magical charm from a harpy. This “level+4” rules apply to every other action which aren’t covered by the “stealth & stunts” rule, but fits the common adventurers knowledge like searching for secrets doors or picking locks.
That’s good, but the magic constant of 4 is aesthetically unappealing. Also, as written, at high levels the saving throw becomes either 100% or 95% (if 20 is always a failure). I think more risk should remain at high levels. Like many D&D rules, it breaks down somewhat at high levels. It would be nice to avoid that.
Paolo suggested limiting the level bonus to the hit dice total, which is nice and elegant, especially for a system that caps hit dice at or around name level. It also made me think of how I have hit dice and traits set up in Hexagram. Hit dice total, like pretty much everything in Hexagram, is limited to 6, and characters get one every level for the first six levels. So that could be the beginning of the save bonus, and each path (battle, guile, wonder) also has a pseudo-defensive trait that could be applied to appropriate saves. This is starting to stray from the clean idea using the level number directly though.
4E (and 3E, I think) use “half-level” bonuses for some things, but I think that’s ugly. If we’re going to replace the saving throw subsystem with something more streamlined, I want it to be really elegant. This is similar to something I hacked into my previous Fourth Edition game (see the luck throw), but that was designed to explicitly fit with other 4E assumptions (like the level range of 1 to 30).
What about d20 + level, 16+ = success and 5- = failure? That’s simple enough to remember, is symmetrical, and handles low and high levels well. Ranges from 30% success at first level (since there is a +1 from being first level) to 25% failure at level 10 (after which saves wouldn’t functionally improve anymore, though you never need to track anything other than the level). That’s kind of what Paolo suggested, but is independent of hit dice (which is nice, as level and hit dice are not always so correlated; consider the all d6 progression of OD&D that uses +1 bonuses at some levels).
So… what do you think of replacing saving throws with an explicit level check? Too far off the deep end?