Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Rules Cyclopedia Hacks & House Rules: Page 109, Character Saving Throws

Rules Cyclopedia Hacks & House Rules: Page 109, Character Saving Throws
I've been toying with coupling each Saving Throw to an Ability Score, either to incorporate the Ability Score modifier as a bonus/penalty to each Save, or as shorthand for replacing Saving Throws entirely with a Standard Ability check (à la 5e in a roundabout fashion). On this dog-geared page we also have the advancement tables, an infrequent but still rebarbatively necessary reference. Table Look ups like these are a favored enemy of mine.

Conventionally in BECMI, only Wisdom Modifiers influence Saving Throws in BECMI, and even then, only sometimes with Spells.

Here's my tinkering take:

Ability
Saving Throw
Rationale
Strength
Paralysis/Petrification
Gritting of teeth and thrashing as chalky gray stone creeps up your ankles or against the numbness of clammy Ghoul-touch. This is physical willpower.
Dexterity
Wands/Rays
Nothing surprising here. Simple dodging really
Constitution
Poison/Disease
Also pretty paradigmatic, health and haleness and the Immune system
Intelligence
Spells/Control
Interpreted in this case as one's mastery over their perceived “reality,” familiarity with the nature of magical effects, with a smidgen of mental willpower
Wisdom
Dragon Breath/Area Attack
Intuitively knowing that standing specifically there is a bad idea, and unconsciously avoiding to do so.
Charisma
Death Ray/Level Drain
One's sense of self, force of personality, and accumulated experiences

I like to embrace the disassociated nature of Saving Throws and how the results end up informing the game fiction. You'll notice that naturally, since the standard Saves amount to five and Scores are six, I've had to add one. I'm a sucker for symmetry. I decided to split Poison/Death to give Charisma some more oomph, since Retainer Loyalty and Reaction Rolls don't always seem to carry the impact they deserve with players.

I've also placed Saving Throws versus Spells under the purview of Intelligence, for as a Prime Requisite for Magic-Users, I think it's more useful there to support Spell Dueling and niche protection for the Class as the go to troubleshooters of all things Magical.

While I can recite the Class Saving Throws for first level by heart (along with THAC0 catechisms up to Name, oh the useless knowledge one retains), the tables all follow mathematically frustrating different progressions, necessitating a leveling libram-lookup that I'd like to eliminate on principal.

The methods I'm meddling with don't quite work as nicely as I'd like, because they seem to have the potential to decouple the Saving Throw progression from character advancement, but I must admit that a part of me likes the idea of the types of challenges that trigger a Saving Throw having a consistent degree of danger.

I smell some options.

The Perceived “Problem:” A table look up requirement is present to adjust Saving Throws when Character Leveling takes place. Ability Checks serving as understudies for Saving Throws seems to solve this on the surface, but then improvement becomes handcuffed to Ability Score inflation instead of character advancement. No thank you. What else can it be bound to instead?

Option One:
Perhaps allowing the player to pick one category to improve each level would solve this. I like the granularity of this degree of advancement and the emphasis on Player Decision, as it can telegraph to the DM what the Player is “frightened of.” Scrumptious.

The Player's overall odds of success on a given save will likely suffer unless there's some standardization at the starting line for the progression. Maybe establishing all initial saves at 15 to flatten the field a bit would work. This would introduce a little more survivability at lower levels, without diluting the gravity of Saving Throws too much in the long run. This starts unyoking Saving Throws from Classes though, which can damage niches quite a bit.

Example One:
Haglef the Mantled is a Fighter at level one. Before Ability Score Modifiers are applied, all Saves are set to 15. His Ability Scores are as follows (I'm using BECMI Bonus progression, naturally):

Ability Scores
Saving Throw
Need/Exceed
STR
16
+2
Paralysis/Petrification
13
DEX
10
-
Wands/Rays
15
CON
18
+3
Poison/Disease
12
INT
11
-
Spells/Control
15
WIS
4
-2
Dragon Breath/Area Attack
17
CHA
17
+2
Death Ray/Level Drain
13

What a guy! After Modifiers, his initial chances are in the above table.

At Level 2, the Player thinks back to a nasty Fireball trap that singed him severely, and he wisely starts shoring up his abiogenetic deficiency in Saving Throws versus Dragon Breath/Area Attack. With this option, the decision of which Saving Throw to improve can either be informed by Play, or out of desire to optimize and increase a character's odds of survivability. With 36th levels of improvement and draconically even dispersion, the final base saves for all categories would be 9 before Ability Score modification. Still not overwhelmingly outstanding odds, but Player Survivability remains a matter of personal preference. This keeps things scary.

Option Two:
As above, but if we were to increase improvement selections to two (either applied holistically to a single save or split) this has the interesting aside of setting evenly distributed Base Saves to 3 at level 36, which is closer to the 2 specified in the tables for the non-Demihuman Classes.

Option Three:
To address the damage to Class niche, we could always try grafting on some Class Based cruft onto Option One and see if it takes. The easy way: each Class also improves a certain Save when a Level is gained. To keep it simple, start with their Prime Requisite save and work your way down the listed Ability Score order before repeating .

The standard Saving Throw progressions already seem to enforce a degree of niche protection: Favored by the Gods, a Cleric is more likely to withstand the searing blast of Dragonfire, the lithe Thief deftly dodges the Transmogrifying Ray, the Magic User crushes the hurled eldritch orb to dust in his hands, etc.

Since the Prime Requisite Ability Score under this new alignment is somewhat tied to a Class' Saving Throw Competency, it could help enforce this aptitude in Characters with Above Average Primes, even if we eliminate the fiddly progressions and stick with 15 as a base save.

Example: Here are Haglef the Mantled's saves (after applying his somewhat striking Ability Score Modifiers) at each level, up to Name, with changes emphasized. Class based Changes are in bold red while Player Choices are in bold blue.

Saving Throw
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
Paralysis/Petrification
13
12
12
12
12
12
12
11
11
Wands/Rays
15
15
14
14
14
13
13
13
13
Poison/Disease
12
12
12
11
11
11
11
10
10
Spells/Control
15
15
15
14
13
13
12
12
12
Dragon Breath/Area Attack
17
16
15
15
14
13
13
13
13
Death Ray/Level Drain
13
13
13
13
13
13
12
12
12

Here Haglef uses his level-based choices to shore up deficiencies (whether perceived or encountered through play is unimportant), while a steady level-and-class based improvement takes place alongside these decisions.

Another Example: Trebego the Yellow is a Thief, and sadly he was born under a significantly less fortunate sign than Haglef. Here are his Ability Scores, Modifiers, and initial saves, followed by an example progression table. At least he's blessed with the speedy Level Advancement of the Thief Class.

Ability Scores
Saving Throws
Need/Exceed
STR
7
+1
Paralysis/Petrification
16
DEX
12
-
Wands/Rays
15
CON
13
+1
Poison/Disease
14
INT
7
-1
Spells/Control
16
WIS
7
-1
Dragon Breath/Area Attack
16
CHA
9
-
Death Ray/Level Drain
15

Saving Throw
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
Paralysis/Petrification
16
16
15
15
15
15
14
13
13
Wands/Rays
15
14
14
14
14
14
14
13
13
Poison/Disease
14
13
12
12
12
12
12
12
11
Spells/Control
16
16
16
15
14
14
14
14
13
Dragon Breath/Area Attack
16
16
16
15
14
14
13
13
13
Death Ray/Level Drain
15
15
15
15
15
13*
13
13
13

*A nasty encounter with some Wights at Level 5 convinces Trebego to “double-dip” during Level 6 advancement. I don't really foresee this being a big issue though, because the choice is always a trade off.

Tertiary Example: Let's look at a Player who chooses to optimize heavily on a single save: Euphranor the Mysterious, a Magic-User with the admirable goal of supreme mastery over the arcane arts.

Ability Scores
Saving Throws
Need/Exceed
STR
9
-
Paralysis/Petrification
15
DEX
16
+2
Wands/Rays
13
CON
14
+1
Poison/Disease
14
INT
14
+1
Spells/Control
14
WIS
11
-
Dragon Breath/Area Attack
15
CHA
16
+2
Death Ray/Level Drain
13


Saving Throw
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
Paralysis/Petrification
15
15
15
15
14
14
14
14
14
Wands/Rays
13
13
13
13
13
12
12
12
12
Poison/Disease
14
14
14
14
14
14
13
13
13
Spells/Control
14
12*
11
10
9
8
7
5*
4
Dragon Breath/Area Attack
15
15
14
14
14
14
14
14
13
Death Ray/Level Drain
13
13
13
12
12
12
12
12
12

* With a double-dip right out of the gate, it's obvious that Euphranor fancies herself the finest spell duelist in the land, and she also chooses to double down at level 8. By the time she's Name Level (Necromanceress, Necromantrix? Reminds me of a future post on Level Titles, I do miss those) she's a staggering force to be reckoned with by enemy Spell Casters. But this is not without cost, as her intense focus on improving this resistance has semi-stunted her other Saves, only her Ability Score bonuses keep her somewhat competitively arrayed.

NB: With transcendent Ability Scores and consistent choices like this, a Player could theoretically take the Save tied to their Prime Requisite down to the minimum of 2 by Name Level. I don't find this too alarming, but some might. Here a Player has decided, at the cost of other attractive choices, to virtually neutralize a single type of commonly encountered threat. Good for them. This is character customization.

With Ability Score inflation virtually nonexistent in BECMI, I see this as a way to surmount some of the challenges of an unimpressive 3d6 in order that typically grow old over time. I liken it to the choice of Armor type and Weapon outlay in a way.
I do see typical Play as an active, informing force and powerful prophylaxis for stymieing such a strategy, however, and I think it has a strong likelihood of exacerbating the difficulties associated with this degree of focus.
Euphranor would regale you with hows and whys, if she wasn't so laconically lichened and lithic, languishing agape among the grazing Gorgons that guard Bargle's gatehouse.

Improvement is still subject to the slower “ladling” with this method when compared to the interval based competency injection of the standard progression, but it does eliminate the frightful table look up: A Class' Saving Throw Improvement progression is right there on the Character Sheet, in the order in which Ability Scores are placed, always starting with the Class' Prime. Leveling introduces a difficult Player Choice with potentially long reaching consequences, which is always nice.

Option Three:
Start applying the Class bonus at Level One. I think this might match the math for the level 36th hypotheticals listed above a bit better, but I don't want to rework the example tables just yet.

Option Four:
This is where we inevitably start to stray from Hacks & House Rulings and into System Revision. Let's let failed or successful saves dictate routes for improvement (use it or lose it, similar to the BRP Skill Improvement methodology). No look ups required, just mark all save attempts.

Example: Good ol' Trebego the Yellow (Thief, first level) is thinking of changing his sobriquet to “the Unlucky” as his first foray into the Ruins of Acorn Manor is less than encouraging. While probing a tiny alcove with a gloveless hand, his finger is bitten soundly by a Tremor Rat, necessitating a save versus Disease, which he fails, contracting a bad case of the Twitch. But his cautious nature was still bacon-saving when dealing with the Giant Reticulated Puffball fungi that flourishes in the Wine Cellar. He made his Save versus the Spores (Area Attack), while his Party decided rather unsportingly to end their adventuring career right then and there in order to audition for new, if frightfully dull, vocations as fungal fertilizer.

Thankfully, fencing the family silver that he filched from the pantry grants him enough filthy lucre to petition a local Lama for a Cure Disease spell (and it's enough to gain a level!) Christened a Cutpurse (Level 2) by the local Guild, he can now improve two saves: Poison/Disease and Dragon Breath/Area Attack.

Here, we still only allow up to two improvements per level, but it's almost tempting to not limit the number of improvements at all. In this case, I would probably single out only failures to drive improvement, not successes.

This could have the side effect of moving Player Decisions, and therefore Character Action toward more risky and proactive danger-seeking directions. With Trebego's Player deciding to intentionally seek out a Poisonsmith to try building up an immunity to Black Dougal's Bane the “hard way,” everyone wins, or at least, everyone get's the opportunity to roll up new characters with frequency.

Option Five:
We could even try decouple Saves from Leveling entirely, and Improve Saves as failures or successes occur during Play. The choice of which is dependent on taste. It has always been my personal preference to hand out consolation prizes on failures, and let survival be it's own reward.

This seems a bit terrifying and terribly unpredictable though, as the frequency of triggers for Saving Throws varies wildly based on play style, and without save difficulty being moderated and bound to threats encountered (something that's done consistently in systems like 3rd Edition), it seems that the threat of Save situations is much more likely to lose it's delicious menace much more quickly than what would be categorized as “normal” for Classic and other Old School iterations. It is a variation that seems eminently compatible with heroic one-shots or shorter campaigns though.


Is a single group of tables really onerous enough to merit this much meandering? I think so, but obviously the options presented here won't be to everyone's taste. Hopefully there's a ore-bearing idea or two in this seam somewhere for someone.
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