Unified saving throws

When trying to decide between turning to ACKS or Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea for my OSR gaming needs, one of the things weighing heavily in AS&SH’s favor was that it handles saving throws in a unified/simplified manner. I’d like to adapt that to ACKS, but saving throw progressions are part of ACKS’ class balancing, so it would need to be done carefully to avoid upsetting that balance.

In short, the AS&SH system is:

  • Each character has a single “Saving Throw” (SV) stat. Level 1 characters have SV 16+ and it improves by one on every odd-numbered level regardless of class.

  • There are still five saving throw categories and each class gives a +2 bonus to saves in each of two categories. For example, Fighters get +2 to Death and Transformation saves, while Magicians get +2 against Devices and Sorcery.

And that’s pretty much it, in contrast to ACKS’ assigning saves to each category independently, with each class starting out with different average saves (Fighters start with an average save of 15.6, while Mages average 12.8) and then improving at different rates (while Fighters start with the worst saves, they end up with the best of the main four classes at level 14 because their saves improve more frequently than anyone else).

Looking at Clerics and Thieves (chosen because they use the same “improve every odd-numbered level” progression as AS&SH), Clerics start with an average save of 13.4 and Thieves with 14.2. So, how badly would it break the math and class balancing to start all classes with a save of 14+, improving every other level, with the following class-based modifiers:

Fighter: +2 Petrification/Paralysis and Poison/Death
Mage: +2 Staffs/Wands and Spells
Cleric: +2 Poison/Death and Spells
Thief: +2 Petrification/Paralysis and Blast/Breath

Any classes with saving throw bonuses as a class feature (e.g., dwarves) would, of course, still get those same bonuses in addition to the standard pair of +2s.

Aside from simplifying things, using a unified progression also means that classes outside the main four can choose which two saves they gain the +2 bonus on rather than being tied to having saves just like one of the main four. For example, perhaps Paladins might get +2 to save vs. Petrification/Paralysis and Spells.

So… Good idea? Bad idea? Horribly broken idea? Suggested improvements?

Hey nDervish. The question I have is: what exactly are you trying to accomplish with changing it to a unified save? At a glance, neither one looks any easier to use than the other. The only advantages I see to this unified rule:

  1. You don’t need to look at a chart.
  2. The nomenclature when calling for saves may make more sense.

For me, those are not worth making the changes. Charts are easy to reference (the Judge simply needs it on his screen if using one, and players simply look for the number on their character sheet). Admittedly, calling for a save vs. Paralysis when attempting to disarm in ACKS is not as elegant as saying, “make a save”.

One possible hiccup I can see off the top-of-my-head with unified saves is how it affects saves with respect to spells. For example, a spell where you must save vs. spells has the exact same chance of success as a spell where you must save vs. death. My guess is that some spells become more powerful and some become worse. That may or may not be a bad thing.

Here is a simple system you can try:

  1. Fighters start with save 15+ and improve by 1 point each time attack throw improves. Fighters get +2 saving throw versus Paralyzation.
  2. Thieves start with save 14+ and improve by 1 point each time attack throw improves. Thieves get +2 saving throw versus Blast/Breath.
    Clerics and Mages start with save 13+ and improve by 1 point each time attack throw improves. Clerics get +2 saving throw versus Poison/Death while Mages get +2 saving throw versus Spells.

Any effect which is save v. Death or save v. Paralyzation becomes “save at +2”. Any effect which is save v. Spell becomes “save at -2”.

Marcus is a 4th level fighter. His saving throw is 13+. (15+, improved once at 2nd level and once at 4th level).

  • When saving against a special maneuver, he needs 9+. (+2 and +2)
  • When saving against death magic, he needs 11+. (+2)
  • When saving against a fireball, he needs 13+. (0)
  • When saving against charm person, he needs 15+. (-2)

#1 is the main thing, yeah. “Level 5? Your save is 12.” Boom. Done. Sure, there are bonuses on the save based on your class, but the base save is strictly based on your level and nothing else.

Also, going along with that, the bonuses for each save category are static, meaning a) there’s only one number to update as your level changes and b) after playing a while, the player knows his bonuses and doesn’t need to look at his character sheet. No “hold on, I leveled two weeks ago, I need to check whether my Paralysis save changed…” just “I’m level 5, that’s a save of 12+, and I get +2 for being a Fighter.” without needing to check character sheets or charts at all.

And I feel that it’s a cleaner way to deal with things like Divine Blessing proficiency and the Zaharan Ruinguard’s Dark Blessing class feature. As it stands, one of them changes the class’s save chart, while the other can be handled as either a bonus on saves or a personalized save chart modification. (I initially thought one of my players had copied his Cleric’s saves incorrectly until I noticed he’d taken Divine Blessing and already rolled that bonus into his listed saves.) If everyone has a straight-level-based save, then everything which modifies it is clearly a modifier, which removes that difference/ambiguity.

On #2, AS&SH does use a different nomenclature for the save categories, but that’s essentially orthogonal - you can use either set of names with either underlying mechanic. And neither “save vs. Paralysis” nor “save vs. Transformation” is terribly intuitive as your defense against being disarmed or knocked down…

Good point on the possible hiccup. With the sets of class-based save bonuses I proposed in the OP, Fighters would have a 2-better save vs. Death (3 better vs. Death RAW), Mages would have 2 better vs. Spells (3 better vs. Spells RAW), and Clerics (+2 on both) and Thieves (no bonus on either) would have the same Death and Spell saves (RAW Clerics are 5(!) better vs. Death and Thieves are 2 better vs. Death). That’s definitely a significant difference, but, like you said, I’m not sure whether it’s a difference for the better or for the worse.

Perhaps also relevant to this point is that AS&SH applies your CON modifier to saves vs. Poison (but not Death magic) and WIS modifier to saves vs. Spells when the spell creates illusions or compels behavior, while I do not believe that ACKS ever applies attribute modifiers to saves. So that makes the “Death vs. Spells” question a bit more personal and situational.

Thanks for the suggestion!

You may have noticed in my reply to Beragon that one of the major things I prefer about the AS&SH system is that the base save value is strictly level-based and improves at the same rate regardless of your class. But, in your suggestion, you had different classes starting with different base save values, which then improve along with their attack throws. Was this just to try to keep the math and balancing closer to the existing ACKS saving throw rules or is there an underlying fundamental reason for why, e.g., Fighters should start out with the worst saves, but they improve faster and eventually end up with the best saves?

That’s essentially what I did for the kid’s game - I averaged all the classes’ saves, took the fighter down an extra point to start him at 15+ rather than 16+.

I did not, however, add any situational bonuses to any class - I like those breakdowns though.

Everybody’s a lot better at Blast & Breath throws this way, for sure.

If you go with a true unified save mechanic, it’s going to significantly affect the relationships of saves in ACKS overall. There’s no way around that. Again, whether that matters in the overall scheme is really hard to say, but I don’t think it will break it.

In any case, I would NOT tie ability modifiers to the saves. Monsters don’t get them and it steps away from keeping it simple.


  1. Does it have to be based off of level?
  2. Do you want monsters to use the save progression too? Will they use their HD or their save as Fighter x line in their description? For example, a purple worm has 15 HD, but it saves as an 8th-level Fighter.

Assuming the answers are yes to both questions and monsters will use their HD, then here’s a suggestion:

Unified Save progression:
Level/HD = save
0 = 18+
1 = 17+
2 = 16+
3 = 15+
4 = 14+
5 = 13+
6 = 12+
7 = 11+
8 = 10+
9 = 9+
10 = 8+
11 = 7+
12 = 6+
13 = 5+
14+ = 4+

Note: the progression has everyone except creatures with less than 1 full HD, start with the worst possible save in ACKS (0th-level save vs. Blast & Breath) and end with everyone getting the best possible save in ACKs (13th level cleric save vs. Poison & Death). Bonuses granted to specific saves will bring the maximum possible bonus to 2+.

There is an underlying fundamental reason for it. At 1st level, fighters are relatively the most powerful class. At 14th level, fighters are arguably the weakest class.

Giving fighters weaker saving throws at low level keeps them more balanced in the early game. Giving fighters great saving throws at high level keeps them more balanced in the late (e.g. less likely to expire to a spell).

It also represents the fact that mages, clerics, and thieves are spending their time working on other areas (spells, skills, turning undead), while fighters are focused on their combat prowess and toughness.

Finally, the rate of progression of saving throws is wedded to the rate of progression of proficiencies. If you create a symmetry across classes in saving throws, you break the symmetry with proficiencies.

Most of the ACKS design is very tightly coupled together so house-rules that change core mechanics of the game can have odd impacts in unexpected ways. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t house rule, just be aware the impact can spill over in unexpected ways. (A classic example was how 3.5’s new saving throw system made wizards radically more powerful than they had been in 1e/2e).

There is an underlying fundamental reason for it. At 1st level, fighters are relatively the most powerful class. At 14th level, fighters are arguably the weakest class.

I guess there is that. Time for me to start tilting at the LFQW windmill, then? (It’s not like I’d be the only one…)

Finally, the rate of progression of saving throws is wedded to the rate of progression of proficiencies.

That part is easy to resolve, and your suggestion did it in exactly the way that seemed obvious to me: Tie proficiencies to attack throw improvements rather than save improvements. (Granted, your suggestion did it indirectly, as “saves improve by 1 each time attack throw improves by 1; gain a proficiency for each 2 points of save improvement”, but that’s equivalent to just saying “gain a proficiency for each 2 points of attack throw improvement” and cutting out the middleman.)

But, then, I have my doubts on whether that’s the right way of handling it, since it basically means a class’s proficiency progression is purely a function of Fighting value rather than being based off of the category where it put the most points. So perhaps it would still be best to base proficiency gains off the standard save progression tables, even if those tables aren’t used for the actual saves.

Most of the ACKS design is very tightly coupled together so house-rules that change core mechanics of the game can have odd impacts in unexpected ways.

Yep, and that’s exactly why I asked if there was an underlying fundamental reason. I figured I might be missing something. :slight_smile:

In any case, I would NOT tie ability modifiers to the saves. Monsters don't get them and it steps away from keeping it simple.

A few points on that:

  1. At least in my game, ability modifiers can be penalties almost as easily as they can be bonuses. (I do 3d6-in-order with the “Generating Multiple Characters” rule from ACKS 16, but do not allow characters to move points between stats, so what you roll is what you get. The only thing making positive modifiers more common than negative is that you’re more likely to pick the characters out of your five who have better stats.)

  2. If, as you suggest, monsters improve their saves on every HD/level, then they’re improving twice as fast as PCs, which more than makes up for not getting ability modifiers on their saves.

  3. PCs get ability modifiers on to-hit rolls and hit point rolls which monsters don’t, so why is it a problem for them to get ability modifiers on saves while monsters don’t? (They also get Dex bonus to AC and Str bonus to melee damage, but those are arguably already incorporated into monsters’ AC and damage rolls. I can’t recall any standard monster getting “+2 to hit and damage due to its great strength”, though, only “+2 damage due to its great strength”, nor have I seen any with “2 HD, using a hit die of 1d8+2” (which isn’t quite the same thing as “2+4 HD”)).

  4. While ability modifiers add some complexity, it’s a different kind of complexity. I generally dislike complexity of a sort that requires looking up simple things on a table, but very much like complexity that arises from the interaction of multiple simple, easily-remembered factors.

As for how I would actually do monster saves, I haven’t looked yet to see how AS&SH does it, whether they improve for every HD or every other HD or what. What I do know off the top of my head, though, is that AS&SH monster listings just say “Save: 12” or whatever - the save value is precomputed in the listing, so that you don’t have to think about it during play.