Save Ends

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Posted on November 17, 2010 at 2:41 PM
Nov 172010

Warning: D&D 4E blather ahead. Not a gamer or a fan? Probably not for you.

As many of you already know, the purpose of the saving throw mechanic changed in 4E. It’s no longer to avoid a given effect; that’s what the array of defenses are for. Rather, it’s a (normally) fixed difficulty to shake off an effect. Its purpose, on the meta-level, is to take the place of duration-tracking. You no longer have to keep track of whether it’s been three rounds or four since the effect began; you just roll each round to see if it ends.

And that’s fine, as far as it goes. It definitely runs more smoothly in that respect.

Unfortunately, the ease and smoothness break down when you get to powers that aren’t “save ends.” Powers or effects with durations like:

  • Until the start of your next turn.
  • Until the end of your next turn.
  • Until the start of the target’s next turn.
  • Until the end of the target’s next turn.

I find that those often become something of a headache to track. Oh, it can be done–it can be done fairly smoothly by a well-prepared DM–but it still gets tedious, at times.

As I may be running a game in the near future–for the first time in a few years, I must admit–I’ve been contemplating this. And I’ve come up with a house rule that I’d like to test, but I’m interested in what other gamers think.

In essence, I would eliminate every one of the aforementioned durations. Every power with an ongoing effect is “save ends.” But

There are now two levels of saving throw. Every power that is currently a “save ends” power gets a “hard save,” which is 10+, as the game currently stands. Every power that currently has an “until X” duration gets an “easy save,” which is 6+.

The practical effects of this are that, most of the time, such powers will only last until the end of the creature’s next turn. (And with solos, they’ll automatically end, since the +5 save bonus means even a 1 makes the 6 DC, and saves aren’t included in the “auto-hit/auto-miss” rules that apply to attack rolls.) But on occasion, they’ll squeak out an extra round or two.

Now, I recognize that this isn’t 100% analogous to the old system. There are subtle but important differences between “until the end of the creature’s next turn” and “until the end of your next turn.” In the latter case, you yourself get to take advantage of whatever effect you put on the creature, during your next attack; in the former, you don’t. My system loses that level of granularity–or rather, makes it less predictable.

But I think it’ll average out to close enough for most powers. And for those powers that really seem nerfed by the change, we can house rule the power as well to tweak it back to equality with others.

So rather than having to keep track of whose turn effect X ends on, or whether it’s at the start or the end of the turn, all the DM has to do when someone suffers an ongoing effect is to mark H or E next to the description, and roll accordingly. No tracking, no real bookkeeping; just a few die rolls at the end of the turn.

Thoughts, opinions, and any implications you don’t think I’m seeing are all welcome.

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  10 Responses to “Save Ends”

  1. Ari, this is a REALLY interesting idea. I DM one to two games per week, and while I have honed my tracking system for effects down to a science, this is the ONE area I think could be well-served by a simpler mechanic. On top of that, I kind of like the unpredictability factor, though some players might not quite agree. :) I may try this out this weekend — I will report back if/when I do. And I’d love to hear how it goes for you when you playtest it. Nice!

  2. Nice recap of how 4e changed saving throws. I like your method of changing the variable “effect ends” by also giving it a save, but how about getting rid of saves entirely?

    I mean, saving throw in 4e breaks down to a 50/50 chance of ending (for your hard saves) unless a creature has a saving throw bonus (and most low to mid creatures don’t). This seems unnecessary.

    You could make the actors (PCs and monsters) control the duration based on their actions. An example would be like so:

    1. A creature hits my PC and he’s now affected by some effect. We’ll call this effect “A.”

    2. On my turn, I could choose to use a standard action to automatically remove the effect, or choose to make an attach instead but with the effect continuing.

    In this way, it takes the randomness out of the equation.

    For the “easy saves” the PC could choose to use a move action to continue the effect instead of it automatically ending at some arbitrary point in time. For more powerful effects you could make it a standard action.

    This method is not only easier to manage, but also puts more strategy and choice behind power usage. It also has a more “real-world” balance because effects end or are sustained when dealt with (by actions) instead of randomly (by time).

    Thanks for the post.


  3. Joe:

    I’m not personally a fan of forcing people to give up actions. I try to rarely use stun powers–either in my gaming or my writing–unless they’re extremely thematically appropriate, for precisely that reason.

    And I actually like a level of randomness. :-)

  4. Oops, the 2nd line item should read as “attack” not “attach.”

    2. On my turn, I could choose to use a standard action to automatically remove the effect, or choose to make an attack instead, but with the effect continuing.

  5. Ari,

    Well, it wouldn’t be “forced” as they’d always have a choice, but I see what you mean. :-)

  6. @Joe — Very interesting idea. I wonder if yours and Ari’s could work together. So, you can choose to take an action (standard or move, as appropriate), but if you don’t, you still attempt the hard or easy save against the effect at the end of your turn. So essentially, you’re choosing to take time to deal with the effect to remove it, or you’re hoping you’ll be lucky enough that the effect will end on its own (at the end of your turn).

  7. The other potential problem with a “use an action to end an effect” mechanic is that it royally screws solos and elites, who are often supposed to account for multiple creatures’-worth of attacks with a single standard action.

    Now, if solos and elites only had to spend minor actions to gain that benefit, it might work–but then you run the risk of it being too easy for them, and it not really having any functional opportunity cost.

    But it’s possible they could work in combination, as George suggested. That way, the solos and elites just wouldn’t (often) make use of the option, but it would still be there.

  8. Oh, I like this! I like this a lot!

    Sure, it doesn’t always map equally, but it offers some interesting possibilities: mooks spending actions to grant their leaders a saving throw, PCs piling up “penalty to saves” effects on difficult monsters, etc.

    And we already have at least one condition that “action ends”, which is “prone”. Other “action ends” conditions could be cool to cook up.

  9. Ari, I think the idea is interesting, but there are some types of conditions that wouldn’t interact well with it. The problem lies in the “save ends” mechanic itself – it is well suited for negated actions and attack debuffs, but a poor fit for anything related to lowering enemy defenses. So stuns and the like work all right with it, but when you get to a simple effect like granting combat advantage, it turns out you’d rather have a power granting combat advantage until the end of your next turn (or even until the start!) than the same power with “save ends”. The same applies to any effect that imposes a vulnerability, or grants a penalty to AC.

    Basically, saving throws are a good mechanism for determining how many of the target’s turns a condition will last – but when it comes to durations outside of the target’s turns (“how many of my allies will be able to attack it before the condition ends?”) it becomes way too unreliable and dependent on initiative order. And it’s not only defense reductions that are affected – stuff like negating opportunity attacks, and even dazing, can care more about your allies’ turns than those of the target.

    In addition, you may have underestimated the amount of trivial conditions that PCs and monsters can impose. While it’s true that reducing everything to ‘save ends’ brings a reduction in complexity, there are a lot of at-will and encounter attacks that would then require saving throws. I’m not sure if it would really be an improvement, from a bookkeeping point of view.

  10. I agree that the most problematic conditions will be those that end at the start or end of the player’s turn.

    However, it certainly eliminates the issue that often the ‘until the end of the creatures next turn’ is often better than (save ends).

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