I've been thinking a lot about saving throws lately.
Combing the blogs to see what others have to say about saving throws has been enlightening. There are a lot of interesting posts out there. Mr. Stanham has a nice article on the subject over at Silver Blade Adventures. Jeff Rients has some interesting observations about how the names of the save categories have evolved. Then you have all the various charts, and graphs, and whatnot where people wiser than I are trying to see the truths that are hiding behind the numbers. I still felt a little lost though.
I love having words like "Death Ray", "Petrify", and "Polymorph" on the character sheet. I think it adds a sense of danger and helps to give new players a healthy dose of caution. I'm not a big fan of the old school matrix though. It seems kind of clunky and arbitrary to me. I get the impression that the numbers in the original saving throw matrix weren't "planned out" so much as they just "felt right". For one thing, there are a lot of different matrices depending on which edition/clone you decide to play. They are all very similar, but everyone seems to try tweaking the numbers here or there for reasons I don't fully understand. It seems as though designing the old school saving throw matrix was always treated more like an art than a science.
There are other options. 3e introduced Fortitude, Will, and Reflex saves. They do feel more even-handed and planned-out than the old style matrix, but I still don't like them. I like my saves kept separate from my ability scores. The character has already failed to protect themselves or to avoid trouble. To me, rolling a saving throw represents the universe aligning to protect the character after they've fallen into harms way. Lasers bouncing off jewelry, bullets getting lodged in bibles, that sort of thing. Fort, Will, and Reflex saves just seem like Ability Checks modified by level, and that's not really what I want.
I could use a single save system, like in Swords and Wizardry. That's a pretty slick system. I'll admit that it tempts me. It feels a little too cookie cutter though, like there isn't enough distinction between the classes. It also makes the character sheets less aesthetically appealing to my eye. Maybe I'm being petty, but having cool looking character sheets is important to me. Still, of all the options I've seen this one is the easiest to customize, and that's a big plus for me.
So... I've decided that I want something like the old matrix, with cool names and categories weighted for certain classes. But I want it to feel less arbitrary and more equitable. Also, it would be nice if it was customizable enough to accommodate new classes because eventually someone will roll up two 5s for their ability scores and I'll have to come up with saves for a talking dire squirrel or some other craziness.
I think I might know how to do it.
I'm going to crunch the numbers a little more, I'll post some details in the next few days.
Wish me luck.