Death Ray or PoisonFor people who grew up with B/X or BECMI or AD&D there are quite a few surprises here:
All Wands - Including Polymorph or Paralization
Staves and Spells
- The "polymorph or paralyzation" category was originally the "wands" category instead of being a separate "effect" category (the effects just being examples of wands).
- Whereas a successful "death ray" saving throw means "no effect," a successful "poison" saving throw means "half of the total possible hit damage" instead; whether this means that the character could still die (half of maximum hit points) or not (half of current hit points) is not really clear.
- The description for "spells" seems to imply that a successful saving throw means "no effect" at all, which is at odds with the description of "wands (and staves) of cold, fire ball, lightning" causing one-half damage if the saving throw is successful; presumably "spells" was meant as "all spells that don't otherwise cause damage"?
Spell or Magic StaffAside from the different labels, the descriptions are pretty much the same as in the 1974 game, including the "save against spells for no effect" approach. Note that complete absence of "polymorph or paralyzation" from this set of saving throws. Let's skip AD&D from 1979 for a moment and continue along the "basic D&D" line first, with the B/X sets from 1981:
Death Ray or Poison
Turned to Stone
Death Ray or PoisonFirst note that we're now back to the order in which saving throws were given in the 1974 game. Next note that "paralysis" has moved from the "wand" category into the "effect" category of "turn to stone" but "polymorph" is nowhere to be found (still covered by "wands" I would presume). Finally note that "rods" finally make their appearance (Holmes included the Rod of Cancellation as a magic item but there was no corresponding saving throw). Neither the BECMI sets from 1983 to 1985 nor the Rules Cyclopedia from 1991 change the saving throw categories further in this line of D&D development.
Paralysis or Turn to Stone
Rods, Staves, or Spells
Let's look at AD&D, the first edition from 1979, next:
Paralyzation, Poison or Death MagicHere we have a number of significant departures from the original 1974 game and it's "basic set" offshoots:
Petrification or Polymorph
Rod, Staff or Wand
- Paralyzation moves from the "wands" category into an "effect" category just like in B/X, however instead of moving to "turn to stone" it ends up moving to "death magic" which is the more inclusive revision of "death ray" from 1974.
- Polymorph is back from 1974 and also moves from the "wands" category into an "effect" category, but this time into "petrification" which is the move inclusive revision of "turn to stone" from earlier editions of the game.
- Wands are no longer separate from rods and staves, implicitly giving rise to something like a "magical device" category (even though it's unclear whether this was actually the intention).
- Spells are now their own category, further implying that there's a distinction between effects from devices and effects from actual casters.
Ten years later we get to the second edition of AD&D from 1989:
Paralyzation, Poison, or Death MagicInterestingly nothing really changed from 1979, they are even using just about identical footnotes to the saving throw tables. Not much innovation there! (I guess it all went into removing devils and demons?)
Rod, Staff, or Wand
Petrification or Polymorph
In 2000 with the third edition of (A)D&D we get the infamous "streamlined" saving throws: Fortitude, Will, and Reflex. In 2008 with the fourth edition we get something I don't even understand, but I know I don't want it. So we'll just ignore those strange developments here.
What can be learned from this?
- Only the "breath weapon" category remains the same across the various revisions, although it does start out as "dragon breath" and thus got generalized a little with AD&D.
- AD&D lowered the power level of staves and rods by lumping them together with wands instead of regular spells. This could be seen as a "magical device" category.
- The "3P" effects of "paralyzation, petrification, polymorph" jump around a lot over the years. If we prefer them as distinct effects (rather than basing the saving throw on the source of the effect) then the AD&D version arguably makes the most sense: both petrification and polymorph are "radical changes to the body" and lumping them together based on that seems appropriate; paralyzation, on the other hand, simply takes the victim out of the game much like "death rays" or "poison" might.
(You may also be interested in this followup article covering various clones of the original rules discussed above.)