Swords & Wizardry collapsed all the saving throws into a single number, with some class-based modifiers. For example, clerics get +2 when saving against paralysis or poison, and magic-users get +2 when saving against spells. The traditional saving throw categories do provide atmosphere (death ray, dragon breath), but are somewhat cumbersome and nonintuitive.
One thing I’ve been doing recently is using “most favorable” or “least favorable” save numbers for cases where the choice of what save category to use is not immediately clear. If it seems like something the class in question would have some competence with, the character gets to use the most favorable. Where this has come up most is for the saving throw involved in carousing-like activities.
I have previously discussed simplifying saving throws by deriving them directly from character level. Here is another approach. Rather than have one column of saves per class, as S&W does, or use the more complicated multi-save system as did the original TSR editions, why not have two progressions by level: favorable and unfavorable. All classes would reference the same values, but would differ as to which number was used by situation. This method would require two numbers, but would avoid needing any class-based or situational modifiers.
Putting this idea into Third Edition terms, combat oriented classes would use the favorable numbers for direct physical situations, whereas magic-users would use the favorable numbers for resisting sorcery or mental effects.
The cleric does not fit quite so neatly into the 3E classification. A cleric should probably have favorable saves when dealing with demonic or undead threats, for example, but not necessarily for situations that require general toughness. Classes like the cleric would be easily handled by this proposed dual number system, without needing to spell out the types of threats beforehand.
|1 – 3
|4 – 6
|7 – 9
|10 – 12
These numbers are derived from the OD&D fighter best and worst saves. I chose the fighter because A) the fighter is the most fundamental class and B) fighter saves improve every third level rather than the less frequent schedules of the other classes. The resulting pattern is also quite nice and easy to remember, as the two numbers always differ by 4 (20%) and always improve by 2 every tier (once a player has written down 12/16 they never even have to every consult the table again as long as that basic rule is remembered).
All classes would use the favorable number for the 0 HP death save.
I am aware that some people think that saving throws should be collapsed into ability checks, but I do not think that is the best approach for a level-based game, as improving saving throws should be a reward for longterm successful play, not a trick of the dice at first level. See here for more on my philosophy of saving throws.