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When do magical items require saving throws?

For example, suppose a fighter with a ring of protection +2 is hit with a fireball. I see three possibilities:

A) The ring needs a save only if it's not worn

B) The ring needs a save if the character fails their save

C) The ring needs a save regardless because it was exposed to magical fire

Which of these applies?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I do have one! \$\endgroup\$ – munk Sep 10 '20 at 17:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ FWIW, mine's a bit over 40 years old. đź‘€ \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 10 '20 at 18:39
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Whenever the DM calls for one

I realize that this isn't a very satisfying answer, in terms of granularity, but here's what the DMG has to say about Item Saving Throws (Page 81).

These saving throws are self-explanatory in general. It is a case of either saving or failing. Potions and liquids which do not make their saving throws should be noted secretly by you - unless the player concerned has his or her character check to determine if the fluid was harmed. Such failure will not otherwise be notable without examination and testing.

Thanks, Gary. As with a lot of AD&D game play detail, the DMG leaves each DM with a lot of latitude.

There is a previous passage for non-magic items regarding 'when exposed to the attack' leaves a lot of room for interpretation and was probably meant to be inclusive of magic items - which stand out due to how may bonuses to the roll they got as compared to a non magic item.

In AD&D 1e: DM interpretation is expected and even required.

The paragraph on "Circumstantial Adjustments" does not shed a lot of light beyond (paraphrased) if the circumstances make {X} seem sensible, make an adjustment. The items paragraphs seem to assume that a saving throw has been called for. (These are both from DMG page 80)

Magical Items: Magical items gain +2 on all rolls plus +1 for each plus they have above + 1, i.e. + 1 = +2 on saving throw, +2 = +3 on saving throw. Furthermore, the magic item gains +5 on saving throws against attack forms in its own mode, i.e. blow vs. shield, fireball vs. ring of fire resistance or fireball wand.
Non-Magical Items: {snip} It is assumed that the item in question is actually exposed to the form of attack, i.e. the blow falls on the item, the fall is such as to not cushion the item, the fire actually contacts the item, etc. As with magical items, non-magical items gain +5 versus attacks in their own mode.

If one took that paragraph too far, a shield has to make a saving throw any time it is used during combat against an ogre or a giant, for example, when dealing with Crushing Blow.

This assumes that the item is struck by a weighty falling obiect or a blow from an ogre's or giant's weapon, for example.

Most DMs and most players did not prefer to do that, but I had one DM who seemed to delight in checking to see if a giant's attack destroyed our fighters' shields. (Original Giants modules, 1 and 2). That was within his remit, but none of us liked it.

What I saw in play during my AD&D 1e days.

  1. The character rolls the saving throw versus the damage form and if they fail such that they are downed the magic item saving throws begin. (Your case B, almost) This was the most common ruling that I recall seeing and using myself: it was done to keep the game from bogging down in a never ending series of saving throws.
  2. The character rolls a saving throw and anything exposed to the damage form (as judged by the DM due to circumstances) has to make a save. (Your case C, sort of) I saw this quite a bit.
  3. Whenever a dragon breathes, you make one saving throw and the DM applies it to the character and selected items depending on the situation. (This was a special ruling that a number of DM's I played with in college all agreed on, but I do not recall its original source). Dragon breath, and dragons, are special things - their name is on the game. (Your case C, but dragons only)
  4. Only items not on a living PC roll a saving throw on the item saving throw, or on the magic item saving throw, table. (When the DM remembers to do this)(Your case A).

How would I rule on your case?

For example, suppose a fighter with a ring of protection +2 is hit with a fireball.

If he successfully rolls a save, no further roll. Ring saves by default (and may have helped!)
If he fails the saving throw but is still standing, no further roll. Why? Because I'd also (to be consistent) have to ask for a save on his other items if I open that can of worms, and we have seven other players at the table that the DM has to take care of.
If he fails and falls, I may call for the ring to make a saving throw depending on how badly this went, and for that matter, I may call for saves on some other items as well. Reasoning-wise, this fits into the general "circumstances" idea and was usually accepted by most players as fair.

(FWIW: I DM'd quite a bit of AD&D 1e in the 80's, and a bit in the 90's).

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