Friday, May 24, 2013

Saving Throws: The Clones

In a previous post I looked at saving throws across the ages as far as the official D&D releases are concerned. This time I'll look at a number of more recent clones instead. (The selection of clones below simply reflects what I am familiar with. If you think that I am missing an important innovation from some other system, please let me know!)

Let's start with Labyrinth Lord (LL), arguably the most popular clone out there. LL is billed as a clone of B/X, so the following saving throws should not come as a surprise:
Breath Attacks
Poison or Death
Petrify or Paralyze
Spells or Spell-like Devices
Aside from expressing and ordering things a bit differently, this list is a perfect match of B/X. The only "addition" is the generalization from "rods and staves" to "spell-like devices," something that sounds a little awkward but indeed clarifies what the saving throw is used for.

Another extremely popular clone is Swords & Wizardry (SW) which bills itself as a clone of the original 1974 rules. Somewhat surprisingly, however, SW uses a single saving throw regardless of the kind of effect a character has to defend against (although some classes get bonuses against some effects). SW also includes an optional system that matches the original game:
Death Rays and Poison
Wands (all)
Turned to Stone
Dragon's Breath
Spells and Staffs
Except for minor spelling changes, this alternate system is indeed identical to the 1974 rules for saving throws.

Next we look at the Old School Reference and Index Compilation (OSRIC), a popular clone of the first edition AD&D game that uses the following saving throws:
Aimed Magic Items (rod, staff, wand)
Breath Weapons
Death, Paralysis, Poison
Petrifaction, Polymorph
Spells for unlisted categories
As is to be expected, the categories are identical (aside from variant phraseology and the clarification about unlisted categories) to AD&D. I may be the only one, but the weird renaming of "petrification" to "petrifaction" seems exceedingly wrong to my ears (despite the fact that it may be absolutely correct from a geological perspective).

Not really a clone of anything in particular, although roughly inspired by B/X as far as I can tell, Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP) uses the following saving throws:
Breath Weapon
Magical Device
On the one hand this is clearly more B/X than AD&D: Paralyze is different from poison. On the other hand this is clearly more AD&D than B/X: Magical devices (such as wands and staves) are different from magic itself (spells and innate magical abilities). In other words, this is actually the first "cross-over" saving throw system so far, so LotFP gets extra points for innovation here. Also notable is the absence of an explicit "petrification" category.

The LotFP saving throws also come with a decent rationalization: paralyze is for effects that somehow limit movement, poison is for effects where hit points are irrelevant, breath is for area effects, device is for effects caused by magic items, and magic is for all other spells or spell-like effects. This presumably means that "petrification" could fall under "paralyze" since it restricts movement, "poison" since it's not affected by hit points, or "magic (device)" if it's a spell effect?

The Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS) is not really a clone either, but it's certainly inspired by the BECMI approach to D&D. ACKS uses the following saving throws:
Petrification & Paralysis
Poison & Death
Blasts & Breath
Staffs & Wands
Compare this to LotFP above and you'll realize that the saving throw categories are pretty much identical. Whether ACKS actually copied from LotFP or not doesn't really matter, what does matter is that they came to the same conclusions (and their rationalization is pretty much identical too).

Much like SW (see above), Delving Deeper (DD) also bills itself as a clone of the original 1974 rules. DD uses the following saving throws:
Breath Weapon
Despite the goal of cloning the 1974 rules rather closely, DD nevertheless modifies the saving throw categories: First "rays" move from being paired with "poison" to being paired with "wands" instead; second "paralysis" shows up as an effect again, but paired with "petrification" instead of "wands" this time. Most importantly, however, DD interprets all saving throws more based on effects rather than on sources.

The DD rationalization for saving throws goes as follows: poison is used against biological attacks, including things like cloudkill; wands is used against targeted attacks, including things like finger of death; paralysis is used against physiological attacks, including things like flesh-to-stone, polymorph, and slow; breath is used against area attacks, including things like fireball; and spells is used against mind-affecting attacks, including things like charm person and geas. In other words, DD deviates significantly from the original rules when it comes to saving throws.

BLUEHOLME (BH) bills itself as a clone of the Holmes Basic set. BH uses the following saving throws:
Breath Weapon
Magic Wand
Ray or Poison
Spell or Staff
We do have quite a surprise here: the "gaze" category which replaces "turned to stone" from the actual 1977 rules. As far as I can tell, there is no precedent for a "gaze" category in any of the other D&D-variants I've studied, so BLUEHOLME should get extra points for innovation. Whether the category is actually useful or not I am a little confused about. For example, would it apply to all attacks a beholder can make?

Two more quickies to finish off: Both Basic Fantasy and Dark(er) Dungeons pretty much follow the B/X saving throws with very minor variations in spelling and application.

What can be learned from this?

  1. Some of the newer reincarnations of D&D stick rather closely to the original saving throw categories for the system they are based on.
  2. Others try to innovate, either by reshuffling the categories in a way that had not been tried before, or by offering different rationalizations.
  3. Only two systems, LotFP and ACKS, actually agree on a "new" interpretation of saving throws; several systems agree (pretty much) with B/X, which probably makes those categories most widely known.
If I had to choose from among all these interpretations, I tend to like LotFP and ACKS best, followed by DD, followed by all the B/X interpretations. One particular reason for my preferences is that I like my elves to get a bonus versus any effect that restricts their movement, something that nicely dovetails with the traditional "immunity" elves get from ghoul paralyzation.


  1. In the "not really a clone" category, there is also C&C, which uses attributes as basis for saves:
    SAVE TYPE Categories
    Strength Paralysis, Constriction
    Intelligence Arcane Magic, Illusion
    Wisdom Divine Magic, Confusion, Gaze Attack, Polymorph, Petrification
    Dexterity Breath Weapon, Traps
    Constitution Disease, Energy Drain, Poison
    Charisma Death Attack, Charm, Fear

  2. The correct answer would be that there can be no beholder in BLUEHOLME™ because they are excluded from the d20 SRD! The more sensible answer is that "Gaze" would apply to those attacks, unless they were rays.

  3. Clarification for LotFP: It also gives an order to the saves, tells you to start on the left, and work your way right until you find one that works for what effect is happening. So paralyzation would fall under whichever save came first in the ordered list. =c)