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So, recently I began playing 4e again and was discussing with a friend about how 'odd' the save mechanic for ongoing damage /lingering conditions appears to us. Right now it works like this:

Condition_A (save* ends)

*The target rolls a d20 at the end of each of his rounds (there are very few and rare modifiers for this roll throughout the ruleset, most of them applying on-next-save only). Results of 10 or more remove Condition_A. Other power/effects give players extra opportunities to roll saves more often, even outside their round.

My problem with this is how little (almost not at all) it depends on the relation between attacker's and target's strengths/weaknesses (including but not limited to level difference).

As a result I was thinking of implementing a save-attack mechanism. Something like the following, in the place of a simple d20 save roll:

The attacker repeats the same attack roll he made when using the power that put Condition_A on the target with the exact same modifiers at the time the power was used vs. the target's current defense. Condition_A persisten on a successfull attack, or what is called a failed save in RAW. Each time the save fails ( the save-attack succeeds ) the attack roll receives a -1 stacking penalty (to prevent lockdown for too long). Effects that affect saves apply here as well (eg Spell Focus gives a +2 bonus to save-attacks in order to have the intended effect).

How does this replacement relate in terms of balance/simplicity/realistic accuracy to the official mechanic? Would implementing it would be wise or attractive choice for a group and why is that so?

I do realize that there are probably plenty of effects that incur save ends conditions without an attack roll, but for the sake of this argument you can exclude those, since I can simply use the original rule for those cases.

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um, you save on a 10 or higher. (55% chance of saving) – wax eagle Jun 15 '12 at 15:12
Oh, thanks, I didn't realize that. – Eldebryn Jun 15 '12 at 21:29
up vote 16 down vote accepted

Implication One: Difficulty

Adding attack and defense values into how saves works affects the difficulty of many kinds of monsters.

Soldiers and monsters that are higher level than the party will be harder than in the normal system: they will have an easier time shrugging off save-ends effects the party puts on them, and the party will have a harder time shrugging off save-ends effects the monsters put on them. This is because soldiers & monsters above the party's level tend to have better than average attack and defense values.

Likewise, brutes and monsters that are lower level than the party will be easier: they tend to have lower attack & defense values, and so they'll have a harder time shrugging off the PCs' effects and the PCs will have an easier time shrugging off their effects.

While this is hardly an insurmountable problem, it does mean that the DM will have to be a bit more careful in balancing encounters.

Implication Two: Book-keeping

Saves are fairly easy to keep track of in the normal system: the DC is always 10, there are relatively few modifiers to keep track of, and those modifiers almost never change over time for a given effect. Despite that, at high levels it's still a fair amount of book-keeping to keep track of all the save-ends effects flying around.

In your system, you not only have to keep track of more modifiers, but those modifiers change every turn thanks to the cumulative penalty. You also have to remember the DC, since it's the target's defense rather than always being 10.

Implication Three: Sources

In the current system, if a player or monster has ongoing 10 fire damage (save ends) on it, and something else applies ongoing 10 fire damage (save ends), then the effects don't stack, and you just ignore the new instance.

In your new system, you'll have to decide how to handle it if two different sources put the same save-ends effect on a target. Is the new source or the old source responsible for making the attacks (they might have had different attack values or save penalties)? Does the cumulative penalty for successful save-attacks reset?

What if the source falls unconscious or dies? Does it continue making the save-attack rolls?

Implication Four: Conditional Bonuses

The part about repeating the attack with any modifiers it had when the attack was first made makes conditional bonuses much more valuable when using attacks that inflict a save-ends condition.

If they're inflicting a powerful status effect, players will go to greater lengths to get combat advantage, any bonuses their leader can hand out, etc. This in turn will make nasty effects tend to last longer.

Implication Five: Attack/Defense Debuffs

Effect that debuff attack or defense values become much more powerful. Debuffing a target's attack value also makes any save-ends effects it causes less dangerous. Debuffing a target's defenses also makes it harder for the target to shrug off any save-ends effects on it; save-ends penalties to defenses will be particularly nasty.

Remember that this will also make violating a defender's mark less attractive for monsters with attacks that cause save-ends effects.

Personally, if I was a player in a group that implemented this system, I would rebuild my character for attack & defense penalties ASAP.

Implication Six: At-Will Save-Ends Effects

Monsters with an at-will save-ends attack (most common in controllers and solos) make the difficulty and book-keeping problems much more severe.

Players with an at-will ability that inflicts a save-ends condition (yes, there are ways to get this) will become more or less viable, depending on their stats and how they inflict the condition.

My Suggestion

When you say you want the system to take into account the strengths and weaknesses of combatants, I envision simply adding some extra penalties and bonuses.

You can adjust for level difference by simply giving monsters +1 to all saves for every level they have over the party's level, or -1 to saves for every level behind the party they are. The other thing that pops into my head when you say strengths/weaknesses is elites and solos, but they already have a bonus on saves (and outright immunities to many effects on a lot of the solos from MM3 & later).

You might also apply a monster's save bonus as a penalty to saves PCs make against its effects, but I would be very careful when trying this out: many enemies, especially controllers and solos, can put out a lot more save-ends effects than a typical PC can.

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+1 a thorough and excellent answer! – Erik Burigo Jun 15 '12 at 8:22

Your proposed system will increase combat times and PC power. I expect that will then lead to common overwhelming victories and huge amounts of paperwork.

Tracking save-ends effects is already a significant time sink in upper heroic and beyond. Considering the huge number of save-ends modifiers (and the methods that they've been errataed in the past) nothing that involves an attack roll will help game balance. Making a stun last for 2+ rounds will turn bosses into cake-walks (and so on and so forth.)

There are a significant number of feats that provide bonuses against certain save-ends effects.

I agree that the mechanic is flawed, however. In my personal builds, I avoid save-ends like the plague, due to the average 1.5 round duration. If you feel compelled to adjust save penalties, a nod towards that would be to grant a +2 to saves on your highest Non-AC defense and a -2 on your lowest. Even this I'd be loathe to do considering how entire classes of players are already incredibly vulnerable to will-based stun- and daze-locking from enemy monsters. Given that players almost always have a greater than 55% chance of hitting (you save on 10 or better, not 11), this is something that will in general benefit your PCs significantly.

If you must, however, have the attack repeated with current modifiers. Trying to track historical buffs is a recipe for horribleness. If the target in question has to just make an attack again, at least there's nothing new needing to be tracked. On top of that, just apply a bonus to saves as a bonus to the necessary defense. Saves from PCs will last longer and will therefore privilege those builds, but it will give you the stat-based reflections you desire.

Alternatively, take a page from D&D next, and adjust based on the character's attributes versus the level's average attribute. That at least is something that only needs to be calculated once per level, and it's easy enough to describe penalties being against one stat or the other. The monster stat blocks, of course, are functionally random, so it's not the best choice ever. But it does provide the variation you desire.

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