Saturday, August 13, 2011

Saving Throw Abuse

In a discussion that comes up once in a while about DMing technique, good, bad, or otherwise, a friend of mine was pointing out how saving throws and skill or attribute checks are frequently a target for abuse.

Here is an excerpt from the conversation.

"It's not just saving throws, its any kind of check like that. Given enough rolls, even versus silly low numbers, someone will eventually fail.

Specifically, here is the situation that has come up in our game multiple times. Very first session, we approached a dungeon entrance, having to climb a small hill, GM said "make a climb check, shouldn't be a problem for anyone". My Dex 10 Cleric in Scale Armor rolls a 3, DM declares he falls down the hill taking 1d3 damage. Did it really profit the game to make the PCs make a climb check to get up a small hill anyone could walk up and down all day long?

A little later on the characters were crossing a 3 foot wide pit... "make a jump check to get across". I fail again...

In the last session we played, the party killed a bunch of giant venomous insects. The party woodsman decided to salvage the poison glands so that the rogue could make poison. The GM made the woodsman make 3 seperate checks to harvest the poison, then three seperate checks to not poison himself, for a total of 6 rolls on a downtime scene.

In a session with another GM, we were sailing a captured ship to the adventure destination. To get there, we had to make perception checks (one per day), followed by navigation checks, followed by Profession-Pilot checks... for a grand total of 45 d20 rolls just to see if we made it to the adventure . . ."

Fourty five checks just to get to the real adventure? With those kind of odds you can almost bet that if/when they do arrive, they'll be in no shape to face the challenges the DM intended them to face. That is a recipe for boredom not to mention setting the players up to decide to delay or avoid what you worked so hard to prepare.

This is something it takes a DM/GM a little time to develope a sense for when first getting started. I know I have been guilty of this kind of thing in the past, though I work to avoid this unless there is a purpose behind it that sometimes might not be immediately apparent to the players (though in such a case it is good policy to provide a clue to it somewhere).

When it comes to outright abuse, the above are prime examples of someone either not trying to improve or unaware yet of where this falls on the DMing learning curve. It is definitely someone destined for burnout.

Saves for getting up a common hill are pointless unless there is something obviously making it more difficult. Was the party under attack? Were they running for their lives? Was the terrain more difficult due to spilled grease or lots of juttng rocks? Was there an urgency of some sort making it tougher? If not then as a DM you are wasting everyones' time.

Having a skilled woodland survivalist, in a non-combat, non-time constrained situation make those checks for the poison glands is a waste. I could understand if it was some very unfamiliar abberation he was cutting on for the first time, but not a common critter in a casual situation.

Multitudes of saves on a trip are pointless, especially if it has nothing to do with the adventure at hand.

An exception would be something like the hidden roll I made to see if the PCs got a little off course in a recent session when searching a densly wooded area, and the check to see if two of them might spot and/or trigger a hunter's small game snare. It was for flavor so I had no damage result, and barely a minute of game time was used up, plus a few seconds of laughing at the hapless thief.

The checks made while searching for secret doors in a dungeon, those are appropriate because there is a time schedule of possible random encounters and the risk of not finding that hidden passage or treasure.

Climbing down a dangerously slick cavern wall? Yes, if they didn't find an easy way down and it is germaine to the adventure.

Leaping over a 10 foot chasm? Yes.

Leaping a 5 foot wide pit? Maybe. Definitely when being chased by something or chasing something. Put a tape measure down and try it. My fat old arse just tried this in a narrow space with a wall not far beyond the destination spot and found it a close call without a running start.

That same 3 foot wide distance mentioned above from a game my friend was playing in . . . easy, even for me. For an adventurer in a non-pressure situation, it shouldn't even be given a thought.

The less you abuse saves and checks, the more actual gaming you accomplish. Your players will thank you for it and as a DM you'll enjoy your game a lot more.

1 comment:

StevenWarble said...

In defense, the climbing and pit jumping incidents occurred back when we first started playing D&D 3rd, and we were still feeling out the rules.

The navigation mess took place a few months back, and were caused by a whole different problem which I will remain silent on...