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Relatively few spells in D&D 5e require a Charisma saving throw, and when they do it's often difficult to describe the in-game reasons for why they require such a throw.

One of my players told me that the Charisma saving throw for Banishment is essentially a check on the target's sheer "force of will" to remain in their present plane.

This clashes with my understanding of what a Wisdom saving throw entails. I've always imagined that the Wisdom saving throws for spells like Geas and Dominate Person were also a check on the target's "force of will".

Is there any narrative explanation for the difference between a Charisma and Wisdom saving throw? What is the in-game difference between Wisdom and Charisma in terms of willpower?

If both saving throws are related to willpower, then why are they treated as distinct saving throws?


To clarify: I'm not interested in the gameplay differences between the two saving throws. Clearly they have different purposes in terms of balance. What I'm more concerned with is how they relate differently to willpower.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: Typical Examples of Saving Throws for Player Characters? \$\endgroup\$ – Sdjz Dec 13 '19 at 16:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS It doesn't really answer the question of how they're different. That just confirms to me that they're both related to willpower, but it still doesn't confirm to me that there's any in-game difference between the two of them. Why have different throws if their in-game purpose is effectively the same? \$\endgroup\$ – Andrendire Dec 13 '19 at 16:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the clarification, Andrendire. I think that makes the question a lot more concise, and explains why the related question Sdjz found is just related and not a duplicate (as I originally thought it might be). \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Dec 13 '19 at 16:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 I guess I'm just struggling to find the right words to phrase this question. If we approach this question from an in-game perspective, why is a very Wise person better than a more Charismatic person at exerting their willpower for remaining uncharmed but not for remaining in their plane of existence? Seems to me that a strong-willed person should be good at both. \$\endgroup\$ – Andrendire Dec 13 '19 at 16:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TimPederick: Answer in answers, not in comments. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Dec 14 '19 at 10:10
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It's unclear but...

Looking at the definitions provided for Wisdom and Charisma on the abilities page, there is not a clear definition of saving throws listed for the abilities.

Wisdom

Wisdom reflects how attuned you are to the world around you and represents perceptiveness and intuition.


Charisma

Charisma measures your ability to interact effectively with others. It includes such factors as confidence and eloquence, and it can represent a charming or commanding personality.

Like you, I have also heard and read of Charisma as a sort of 'force of personality', though I'm having trouble finding that in a source book. In any case, I think what we need to turn to is the spell lists that require each type of throw.

For PHB Spells that require wisdom saving throws, we see things like: Charm Person, Command, Compulsion, Dominate Person, Enthrall, Hideous Laughter, and Polymorph.

For PHB Spells that require charisma saving throws, we see things like: Banishment, Calm Emotions, Planar Binding and Seeming.

Clearly there is some overlap, but I think we can draw some rough boundaries.

When making a Wisdom saving throw, you are retaining your attunement to reality by resisting magical effects that attempt to trick you into behaving differently then you would normally or take advantage of your unconscious. On a failure, your intuition has failed and you cannot correctly perceive the world as it truly is. An enemy is a friend or master instead. For the spell Scrying you are attuned enough to the forces of magic that you can detect an incoming spy and resist it.

When making a Charisma saving throw, you are using your force of personality to resist a physical alteration of the world. On a failure, your confidence is shattered so much that you are physically banished or restrained. You have lost your command of reality.

Ultimately though, you are correct. It is a fine line.

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    \$\begingroup\$ IMO, the designers themselves were inconsistent, which makes the definitions more difficult. Calm Emotions should be a Wisdom save, while Polymorph should be Constitution, or Charisma if we restrict to mental stats. \$\endgroup\$ – Foo Bar Dec 14 '19 at 17:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ I imagine the distinction was also largely affected by the way that Con/Dex/Wis inherited the majority of saves from Fort/Ref/Will of previous editions. Each of the other abilities were only given a handful each, so for any given spell that targeted Will, the default was just to stick it as Wis. A few were then given to Int/Cha, but this was done infrequently and inconsistently, leading to the poor distinction between the two \$\endgroup\$ – James Otter Dec 15 '19 at 18:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ What James Otter said, inheriting from previous editions has muddy the water quite significantly. However adding to what-Charisma-can-do is that many abilities and spells that deal with "Souls" or possession also seem to fall in Charisma's bucket. Good examples of this are the Ghost Monster's possession ability, and the Magic Jar Spell. Again not a hard rule with specific text that one can point at, just a guide line the designers seem to mostly follow. \$\endgroup\$ – L.P. Dec 16 '19 at 19:14
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They are not "both willpower". They're as different from one another as they are from a DEX or STR save.

I know that's blunt, but it's an important lead-in to any answer to this question. The mistaken premise here is that you are defining these explicitly distinct qualities in terms of an analogy (that each equals willpower in some sense), and then are building a syllogism based on those simultaneous analogies which would suggest that CHA and WIS are the same thing.

They aren't. There is not a stat called Willpower used for all of these purposes. There are two distinct stats used for different purposes. Any investigation which begins with "they're the same, so how are they different?" is going to be challenging.


At their cores, CHA and WIS represent fundamentally different ideas. Charisma is not about force of will but about force of personality. A charismatic character can inspire people to follow them or to agree with them or to believe them.

A sufficiently specified character can produce similar effects on reality itself-- that's how a sorcerer is different from a wizard. The wizard studies reality and the Weave, learns how they interact, and then follows known steps to manipulate the Weave to produce effects in the world. A sorcerer doesn't know any of that stuff, and instead sort of intuitively persuades the Weave to impose an effect on reality in a manner they choose. Sorcerers are filled with magical power and they rely on their charisma to direct it. Wizards are filled with proven knowledge and then apply it.

Wisdom is the ability to discern relationships between things and gather insight into them. Wisdom is about understanding the world around oneself. Wisdom isn't at all about imposing one's will on reality (even for wise characters that want to do so, the wisdom itself doesn't directly cause or direct changes). It's about understanding what reality is and ought to be, along with understanding the implications of things being otherwise.


Spells with CHA saves tend to be about imposing a change on reality, with the target accepting or resisting that change. Think of Banishment: the caster is attempting to literally change the plane of existence on which its target... exists. The target can assert their will to resist that change. It's not about understanding what's happening to them, it's about refusing to let that thing happen.

WIS saves are more about understanding what's going on. When an Illusionist whips up an illusory boulder in the air above a target, the target's wisdom allows them to connect the dots: this isn't how the world behaves, with boulders just appearing in midair, so that boulder may not be real. A high WIS saving throw means their understanding was deep enough to pierce the illusion, while a lower saving throw indicates they aren't totally convinced but not so strongly as to break the illusion.

As an alternative for the boulder case, an INT response might be something more like sitting down and calculating all the specific things about the boulder and its appearance that don't seem to fit with normal reality and then precisely deducing its likely illusory quality. That may be hard to apply in a saving throw situation, though.


There was an amazing analogy posted in an answer to another question on this stack which I was unable to find and reference properly. This partial analogy is not mine, and I would be happy to attribute it to its actual author.

Wisdom is about knowing that tomatoes don't belong in a fruit salad (whether they are technically a fruit or not). Charisma is about making a fruit salad that everyone loved, whether the tomatoes in it belonged or not.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Andrendire I just think that you're mistaken. There's nothing fundamentally less intuitive about CHA than WIS, and both could be developed with practice. Again, sorcerers are about producing unnatural effects by "persuading/inspiring" the Weave, which is CHA. The sorcerer does not rely on what natural connections already exist (which would be WIS), they impose the conditions they want whether they fit or not. The boulder analogy is not perfect, but I'd argue it's the difference between calculating the properties of a boulder on paper to deduce that it's not real for X specific reasons \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Dec 13 '19 at 18:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ (con't) vs. quickly grasping that the boulder probably isn't real, whether you could walk someone through and explanation of why that's the case or not. It definitely can be confusing, and I wouldn't give D&D many awards for super-consistency, but I'll suggest that you think about these stats in the opposite direction from how you have been: don't assign a definition, then decide that certain applications do or do not fit and so it's misclassified. Instead, look at the actual applications of the stats, and then develop definitions from that. That said, there's nothing wrong non-RAW ideas. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Dec 13 '19 at 18:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ After reading your comment about how sorc "persuades" the Weave to do what they want this makes me think that for warlock they're persuading their patron to do magic to affect what's around them (the warlock) and they can't actually do it themselves. Is my reasoning good here or can you better describe? I'm curious \$\endgroup\$ – Himitsu_no_Yami Dec 13 '19 at 18:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ You know, your blunt, bolded and short one liner to open your answer really doesn't add to your answer, and actually left a rather bad impression on me that put me off reading all the way through. The question states they are different in both the question title and the bolded question (and has done in all revisions) yet the way you've stated it gives the impression that you think OP doesn't understand this. Totally up to you of course but if it doesn't hurt your writing style too much I'd soften this intro a bit. I'll come back and read the rest when I'm over it. :-) \$\endgroup\$ – RyanfaeScotland Dec 16 '19 at 10:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanfaeScotland Thank you for your input, I've softened the first line. I will push back a bit on your statement that the question makes clear, and has always made clear, that they know the saves are different. The question has always indicated that the OP defined CHA and WIS saves identically, and that common definition prevented them from understanding what why these two distinct saves existed and what the differences were between them. The question was entirely premised on each save vaguely being "willpower"-- that is, the same thing. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Dec 16 '19 at 16:23
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What I'm more concerned with is how they relate differently to willpower.

In former editions, there were even feats to exchange one for the other (or their bonuses at least).

For a lengthy and good explanation, please also read the other answers. This one is not meant to contradict them but to deliver a very short, graphic and slightly exaggerated narrative of the difference.

Using your willpower (aka Wisdom):

You want me to jump into the gaping chasm of fiery death?

Even if you claim that it is not, that sounds dangerous and harmful. I won't do that.

Using your force of personality (aka Charisma):

You want me to jump into the gaping chasm of fiery death?

Who the hell do you think you are to tell me what to do? I will jump when I say so and not one moment earlier.

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