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Xion_Anistu-san
2009-02-05, 01:01 PM
In recent posts and threads (both here and on other forums), there has been an increasing number of people who have an issue with what they call "save or lose" spells. This is to include all save-or-die spells as well as any other spell that causes some non-damage thing to happen , like sleep, suggestion, etc. So here are my questions:

How can people lump sleep, suggestion, etc. into the same category as finger of death, power word: kill, etc.?

What is the problem with save-or-die spells in the first place?

I ask these in all seriousness, and I do not want to make this a flame war between the casters rock/casters suck crowd. I really want to know the reasoning behind the issues so I can increase my level of game mastery. And to do this, I will be asking questions as people post their responses.

Yukitsu
2009-02-05, 01:13 PM
Yes, you can.

Any spell that ends the encounter on a failed save is essentially a save or die. Any spell that makes the enemy significantly weaker on a save is a save or suck, but since suggestion and sleep end the encounter, they are save or dies. Glitterdust fits into save or suck, for instance. No save and die would be a symbol of death, or any other that incapacitates people.

The problem with save or dies is that they can be pumped to have a 30-70% success rate, depending on whether or not the user can guess the correct save to target. PRCs and certain feats can change this. Fate spinners can target a strong save and still off a guy 95% of the time, or better. Epic boss fight. The boss gloats. Fate spinner, in the surprise round, offs him with a save or die. Cue end music. Save or dies, when used irresponsibly and often can lead to very, very anticlimactic moments in the campaign.

They aren't the only culprit however. An ober charger, while easier to thwart is just as guilty of this, as are some ranged touch specialists and any archer build with access to any archery enchantments that they could want.

Adumbration
2009-02-05, 01:15 PM
Save or lose spells are, by definition, save or lose spells. Spells such as Color Spray and Sleep, should the enemies fail their saves against them, will lose. At those occasions the enemy is rendered helpless, which qualifies them for Coup de gracing, and thus the failure or success of a single die roll determines whether the enemy loses or not.

Most DMs dislike this, since even the brawniest, strongest Ogre has sucky will saves, and thus is as prone to die as the lowliest kobold. Thus a what was meant to be a difficult encounter becomes easy.

BRC
2009-02-05, 01:15 PM
They can be lumped together because the ultimate result of those spells is the same, the fight is over. Whether you use "Suggestion" to "suggest" that the enemy surrender, that you put them to sleep, or that you just make their brain explode, the fight is over. If they are asleep, you can tie them up or Coup-De-Grace them. Combat is fun, and these spells settle it with one person and one dice roll.

Fax Celestis
2009-02-05, 01:15 PM
Save-or-die and save-or-lose break the game for one fundamental reason: they circumvent a creature's primary defense: Hit Points.

Sleep, color spray, glitterdust, et al, all fall into the SoL category for one primary reason: if you fail your save against it, you will be dead before you recover. In the case of sleep, for instance: a sleeping creature is helpless. Helpless creatures are capable of being Coup de Graced.

Any effect that makes your target helpless (sleep, paralysis, panic) or denies them actions (stunning, dazing, nauseating, frightened, slowing) is a "save or lose" because it gives you such a significant advantage that your target has essentially lost.

Sstoopidtallkid
2009-02-05, 01:18 PM
Not sure if this fits with the OP, but from a player's perspective, Save-or-Die is very different from Save-or-Lose/Suck. Sleep takes you out of one fight, Finger of Death takes your character out for good. The difference when used by the player is mostly academic, but when used by the DM, they are very different.

Douglas
2009-02-05, 01:23 PM
How can people lump sleep, suggestion, etc. into the same category as finger of death, power word: kill, etc.?
Suggestion doesn't actually belong in this category imo, it's more an out of combat utility spell. Sleep, however, does. The save-or-lose category consists of all spells that effectively end the fight instantly when the enemy fails the save. Some of them do it by killing the enemy, others by incapacitating it. The difference is largely irrelevant to whether you've won the fight or not - a sleeping enemy is only a single coup de grace away from being a dead one and isn't going to do anything to stop you from delivering that killing blow. A stunned enemy isn't quite so helpless but isn't fighting back either, and unless he's got a bunch of friends to distract you he'll be just as dead in short order.


What is the problem with save-or-die spells in the first place?
They completely bypass what is, in general, "supposed" to be the primary means of defeating enemies - hit point damage. If an enemy fails his save against Finger of Death, it doesn't matter whether he has 10 hp or 10 million hp, he's just as dead either way. In addition, they usually do their job in a single action in one round. This is far superior (when it works) to a (non optimized) damage dealer, who usually takes at least two or three rounds to deal enough damage to kill someone in ideal conditions. In 3.0 there were enough ways to boost save DCs that getting save-or-die to nearly always work was fairly easy. 3.5 eliminated or reduced most of those so that's not as much of a problem, but such spells still cause very high variability in how challenging a single encounter can be - one unlucky roll and your boss monster is dead in the first round, but five high saves in succession and the party wizard is feeling useless and the rest of the party is struggling to make up for his failures.

Fax Celestis
2009-02-05, 01:35 PM
A stunned enemy isn't quite so helpless but isn't fighting back either, and unless he's got a bunch of friends to distract you he'll be just as dead in short order.

...unless he's a humanoid or is otherwise gear dependent.


A stunned creature drops everything held, canít take actions, takes a -2 penalty to AC, and loses his Dexterity bonus to AC (if any).

Stunning: Better than disarming in nearly every way!

Sstoopidtallkid
2009-02-05, 01:41 PM
Keep in mind, too, that saves are nearly impossible to defend against with a proper build. 10th level Beguiler: 10(base)+8(Int=26=18+2[race]+2[level]+4[item])+2(Spell Focus, GSF)+1(Shadow Weave Magic)+2(Veil of Allure)+5(spell)=DC 28 to save. A quick scan of CR 10 monsters reveals an average Will save of about 9, meaning a 90% chance of the Beguiler getting a Dominated pet Dragon.

Draz74
2009-02-05, 01:54 PM
meaning a 90% chance of the Beguiler getting a Dominated pet Dragon.

Except that Dominate Monster isn't available until Level 18. :smalltongue:

Temp.
2009-02-05, 02:08 PM
What is the problem with save-or-die spells in the first place?
Mostly that they're almost all single-target spells, meaning that mass debuff spells will usually be more effecient. Killing one target leaves the rest of the group to eat your fighter's face; Crippling all the baddies lets your Fighter liberally apply steel to their spleens. This is why Slow is far more lethal than Finger of Death. Also: Death Ward.


And yeah. I know.

Yukitsu
2009-02-05, 02:18 PM
You need to pick better feats and spells if your save or dies are worse than slow. Slow, while a decent spell is fairly bad all around by contrast.

Person_Man
2009-02-05, 03:23 PM
As a DM, these are the strategies I use if a PC or PCs use Save or Lose effects regularly:

Reinforcements: Attack in waves. Or just add more then 4 encounters per day. Eventually, most (but not all) PCs will burn through resources and be forced to fight with different tactics. This solves the "combat finished in round 1" problem, and forces the PCs to save their best spells for the "real" fights coming later in the game day. If the PC is playing something with unlimited resources (Warlock, Dragonfire Adept, ToB class, Binder, etc), then you also need to do a better job of...

Mixing It Up: For every effect, there is an effect that counters it. SR, Counterspell, high Saves, Freedom of Movement, high Touch AC, etc. And various creature types offer a variety of immunities. Even if the Batman Wizard knows exactly how to target each enemy, eventually he'll run out of resources and be forced to rely on different spells or limited use items. And even the most optimized ToB class is going to have some enemies who are immune or resistant to his effects. And if that doesn't work, just...

Make Things Harder: You can give any enemy class levels to give them new abilities. You can give any enemy high stats, just because you feel like they're a better version of that particular monster. You can give any enemy a powerful (limited use) magic item to use against the PCs (which they can then get to use a few times as well, to reward them for their well earned victory). The point is, no matter how well optimized a ECL 10 PC is, he'll still have a hard time against a CR 15ish enemy. The only time this DMing strategy breaks down is when Player A wants to be a Batman Wizard and Player B wants to be a core only Monk. In that case, the solution is to...

Talk to Your Players: I know, it's a novel concept. But your campaign isn't a video game that you can't edit on the fly, and your players aren't sociopathic metagamers bent on "winning" a roleplaying game (we hope). If a player is abusing a spell and drastically overshadowing another player, ask him to mix it up and use other spells. Or give the weak player more treasure, and ask the strong player to relax and let him have it (or let the weak player go on a sidequest by himself, if the strong player has a bug up his arse about dividing things evenly).

The point of all of this is simple. Anything that is "broken" in 3.X really just requires a reasonable player and a DM who knows what they're doing. If you don't like that aspect of the game, then you should play 4E.

Xion_Anistu-san
2009-02-05, 11:59 PM
Yes, you can.

Any spell that ends the encounter on a failed save is essentially a save or die. Any spell that makes the enemy significantly weaker on a save is a save or suck, but since suggestion and sleep end the encounter, they are save or dies. Glitterdust fits into save or suck, for instance. No save and die would be a symbol of death, or any other that incapacitates people.

The problem with save or dies is that they can be pumped to have a 30-70% success rate, depending on whether or not the user can guess the correct save to target. PRCs and certain feats can change this. Fate spinners can target a strong save and still off a guy 95% of the time, or better. Epic boss fight. The boss gloats. Fate spinner, in the surprise round, offs him with a save or die. Cue end music. Save or dies, when used irresponsibly and often can lead to very, very anticlimactic moments in the campaign.

They aren't the only culprit however. An ober charger, while easier to thwart is just as guilty of this, as are some ranged touch specialists and any archer build with access to any archery enchantments that they could want.
How do you increase the effectiveness or success rate (where you mention 30% to 70% success rate) of a "save or lose" spell?

So "one shot, one kill" barbarians are as bad as a power word: kill spell? Isn't this more of an encounter design issue then a game mechanic or game breaking issue?

Xion_Anistu-san
2009-02-06, 12:04 AM
Save or lose spells are, by definition, save or lose spells. Spells such as Color Spray and Sleep, should the enemies fail their saves against them, will lose. At those occasions the enemy is rendered helpless, which qualifies them for Coup de gracing, and thus the failure or success of a single die roll determines whether the enemy loses or not.

Most DMs dislike this, since even the brawniest, strongest Ogre has sucky will saves, and thus is as prone to die as the lowliest kobold. Thus a what was meant to be a difficult encounter becomes easy.
And said ogre could roll a 20 on anyone and possibly cripple a party depending if he drops the fighter, cleric, rogue or wizard. That's one roll. What is the difference between that and "save or lose" spells?

Xion_Anistu-san
2009-02-06, 12:09 AM
Save-or-die and save-or-lose break the game for one fundamental reason: they circumvent a creature's primary defense: Hit Points.

Sleep, color spray, glitterdust, et al, all fall into the SoL category for one primary reason: if you fail your save against it, you will be dead before you recover. In the case of sleep, for instance: a sleeping creature is helpless. Helpless creatures are capable of being Coup de Graced.

Any effect that makes your target helpless (sleep, paralysis, panic) or denies them actions (stunning, dazing, nauseating, frightened, slowing) is a "save or lose" because it gives you such a significant advantage that your target has essentially lost.
What is wrong with gaining an advantage? Isn't that the idea of making a game plan or strategy, to gain an advantage over your opponent? So it works with one spell, how is that any different than luring a group into a pass where they are mowed down by archers hidden in the trees on both sides? What about unfair odds? Isn't this just good planning on the parties part?

Xion_Anistu-san
2009-02-06, 12:11 AM
Not sure if this fits with the OP, but from a player's perspective, Save-or-Die is very different from Save-or-Lose/Suck. Sleep takes you out of one fight, Finger of Death takes your character out for good. The difference when used by the player is mostly academic, but when used by the DM, they are very different.
I see your point. This would be a DM issue than and not really a player issue.

Xion_Anistu-san
2009-02-06, 12:20 AM
(Snipped the first part to save room and teh second part is what I'm dealing with)


They completely bypass what is, in general, "supposed" to be the primary means of defeating enemies - hit point damage. If an enemy fails his save against Finger of Death, it doesn't matter whether he has 10 hp or 10 million hp, he's just as dead either way. In addition, they usually do their job in a single action in one round. This is far superior (when it works) to a (non optimized) damage dealer, who usually takes at least two or three rounds to deal enough damage to kill someone in ideal conditions. In 3.0 there were enough ways to boost save DCs that getting save-or-die to nearly always work was fairly easy. 3.5 eliminated or reduced most of those so that's not as much of a problem, but such spells still cause very high variability in how challenging a single encounter can be - one unlucky roll and your boss monster is dead in the first round, but five high saves in succession and the party wizard is feeling useless and the rest of the party is struggling to make up for his failures.
OK you bring up two issues here that I see: circumventing hit points and unlucky rolls.

As far as the circumventing hit points goes, how do you change this? Since some "save or lose" spells don't actually kill (e.g. sleep, glitterdust, etc.), how do you change them so they don't circumvent hit points? Or do you just disallow them completely?

And on the unlucky rolling aspect, what happens when the party rolls several crits in combat? Or the party can't roll a save over a 3? As is mentioned above, most "save or lose" spells are single target spells, so how is that any different than having a crit on that target versus a bad save roll? How do you change these spells when there is the inherent mechanic of chance involved?

Xion_Anistu-san
2009-02-06, 12:26 AM
Keep in mind, too, that saves are nearly impossible to defend against with a proper build. 10th level Beguiler: 10(base)+8(Int=26=18+2[race]+2[level]+4[item])+2(Spell Focus, GSF)+1(Shadow Weave Magic)+2(Veil of Allure)+5(spell)=DC 28 to save. A quick scan of CR 10 monsters reveals an average Will save of about 9, meaning a 90% chance of the Beguiler getting a Dominated pet Dragon.
OK I've seen posts like this before, but how is it that all casters, or any character for that matter, get an 18 to start with in their primary stat? Does every play with stat buy for starting stats and buy an 18? That would leave the rest of the stats pretty low and make for a very focused character.

This seems more of a min-max/ munchkin-ization issue than anything else. No DM I know would allow it, and if they did, the game would be very skewed to deal with such a character.

sonofzeal
2009-02-06, 12:30 AM
The big problem (imo) is ease, chance of success, and drama.

Tossing a save-or-lose requires minimal investment, has a decent chance of success, and tends to destroy the drama in either direction. Unlike an ubercharger they require no tactics, and little in the way of optimization. It also has nothing to do with anything anyone else is doing; nobody needs to do DPS, or crowd-control, or buffing, or tanking, or flanking, it just happens.


My favorite houserule was that characters (PCs and enemies) at full health get +8 vs save-or-lose; below 50% they get +4; below 25% they get nothing. This ties into the HP dynamic, and allows for collaberation when bringing down big foes.

Xion_Anistu-san
2009-02-06, 12:31 AM
As a DM, these are the strategies I use if a PC or PCs use Save or Lose effects regularly:

Reinforcements: Attack in waves. Or just add more then 4 encounters per day. Eventually, most (but not all) PCs will burn through resources and be forced to fight with different tactics. This solves the "combat finished in round 1" problem, and forces the PCs to save their best spells for the "real" fights coming later in the game day. If the PC is playing something with unlimited resources (Warlock, Dragonfire Adept, ToB class, Binder, etc), then you also need to do a better job of...

Mixing It Up: For every effect, there is an effect that counters it. SR, Counterspell, high Saves, Freedom of Movement, high Touch AC, etc. And various creature types offer a variety of immunities. Even if the Batman Wizard knows exactly how to target each enemy, eventually he'll run out of resources and be forced to rely on different spells or limited use items. And even the most optimized ToB class is going to have some enemies who are immune or resistant to his effects. And if that doesn't work, just...

Make Things Harder: You can give any enemy class levels to give them new abilities. You can give any enemy high stats, just because you feel like they're a better version of that particular monster. You can give any enemy a powerful (limited use) magic item to use against the PCs (which they can then get to use a few times as well, to reward them for their well earned victory). The point is, no matter how well optimized a ECL 10 PC is, he'll still have a hard time against a CR 15ish enemy. The only time this DMing strategy breaks down is when Player A wants to be a Batman Wizard and Player B wants to be a core only Monk. In that case, the solution is to...

Talk to Your Players: I know, it's a novel concept. But your campaign isn't a video game that you can't edit on the fly, and your players aren't sociopathic metagamers bent on "winning" a roleplaying game (we hope). If a player is abusing a spell and drastically overshadowing another player, ask him to mix it up and use other spells. Or give the weak player more treasure, and ask the strong player to relax and let him have it (or let the weak player go on a sidequest by himself, if the strong player has a bug up his arse about dividing things evenly).

The point of all of this is simple. Anything that is "broken" in 3.X really just requires a reasonable player and a DM who knows what they're doing. If you don't like that aspect of the game, then you should play 4E.
See now this makes complete sense to me. Especially the last paragraph. It seems to me that "save or lose" spells can be used like anything else to make for a fun game--when used correctly by player and DM alike.

Or am I missing something yet?

Nohwl
2009-02-06, 12:54 AM
rolling a 20 happens 5% of the time and that just means it hits. you have to confirm a critical. so its less than 5% of the time. a wizard or cleric casting a save or lose or save or die can kill or cripple a monster 70% of the time. you want an example? level 1 party. its the wizards turn. he casts color spray targetting as many enemies as possible. assuming an 18 in int, +2 from a racial modifier and +3 from aging penalties(23 total) and lets take spell focus just for fun. thats a will save of 18 . more than likely the monsters will fail their save (90% of the time) and then be coup de graced. what can you throw at the party, and not kill them, that has a decent chance(over 50%) of making that save?

the players handbook tells you what stat to increase if you want to raise your save dc. its int for a wizard, and wisdom for a cleric.

it might be good planning on the parties part. but dungeons and dragons is a team game. you can have a wizard who scrys every target, teleports to it, and kills it without the rest of the party getting to do anything. that would be very good planning on the wizards part. do you want to play in a game where one person does all of the fighting and work for you?

TheCountAlucard
2009-02-06, 01:30 AM
OK I've seen posts like this before, but how is it that all casters, or any character for that matter, get an 18 to start with in their primary stat?

It does seem to happen with a surprising amount of frequency. Heck, when I ran Tomb of Horrors last year, I saw one of my players roll three eighteens when she was building her character.


Does every play with stat buy for starting stats and buy an 18?

When they're playing a single-ability dependant caster? Yes, they probably will.


That would leave the rest of the stats pretty low and make for a very focused character.

Sadly, the only ability score most casters will really pay attention to is the primary one. Unlike the paladin and monk, the caster can get away with having only one really good ability score.

KKL
2009-02-06, 03:16 AM
What is the problem with save-or-die spells in the first place?

Because they completely circumvent HP in every way and take your character's life out of your hands and reduces his death to "whoops I rolled low guess [name]'s dead!"

Nohwl
2009-02-06, 03:11 PM
with point buy, you can ensure that you get an 18. i think you have a 10% chance of rolling an 18.

Dyllan
2009-02-06, 03:40 PM
...assuming an 18 in int, +2 from a racial modifier and +3 from aging penalties(23 total) and lets take spell focus just for fun. thats a will save of 18...

Okay, I have never played in a game where a DM allowed level 1 characters to start old enough to have a +3 from aging penalties. Additionally, there are very few races (none in the PHB) that give a racial bonus to intelligence or charisma. So we're not talking about a normal character in your example, we're talking about extreme min-maxing with few, if any, restrictions are character design. Of course it's overpowered.

That being said, a more normal first level character... 18 in int and spell focus, would have a save of 16. Admittedly, most monsters are going to have from 0 to 4 in their will save at level 1. So at best, we still kill more than half the time. The point does stand.

Eldariel
2009-02-06, 03:52 PM
Gray Elf is a perfectly standard Elf-variant though; while it's not in PHB, in many Campaign Settings-books, they're right there alongside High Elves as standard races and they're 0 LA characters who actually fit the "Favored Class: Wizard"-shtick better than standard Elves. And they have +2 Int.

Also, a Gnome has +1 to Illusion DCs, which means that a level 1 Old Gnome could get the mentioned DC 18 Will-save on Color Spray and be actually PHB-only (age modifiers are in PHB). Further, the Gnome would only have -3 to physicals and thanks to having racial Con-bonus, they'd actually be fine in that regard.


This is just to answer the point about no standard races having +2 Int; PHB races don't exactly have +2 Int but close enough and Core has an LA 0 standard +2 Int race. The only reason it's not in PHB is the fact that they didn't want to make things convoluted by including subraces of the PHB races there; that's why they're MM instead.

Nohwl
2009-02-06, 11:00 PM
well as long as you dont get hit, hp and con dont matter that much. i would be using the abrupt jaunt variant with that character. because i cant cast celerity at level 1 and need a way to live until its my turn.

ive played a few games where age penalties were allowed.