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I am a longtime 4e player who has been running a PF2 game for about 8 levels now. One of my biggest frustrations with it is that Fortitude, Reflex, and Will are sometimes used as saving throws and sometimes used as a static defense e.g. Demoralize using the target's will DC. This makes some level of sense from a roleplaying perspective but in terms of game design it isn't all that fun or sensible. Additionally, I generally like static defenses more as it means players do not need to always be ready to roll dice on anyone's turn and can pay better attention to combat, or go to the restroom when not their turns, etc.

What would be the effect of always using DCs rather than saving throws? Would the math change significantly in terms of likelihood of effects working? How would one go about it? My instincts say that the default DC level of 10 + modifier is probably good for the defensive end, but for the character or enemy using an attack, should I use (save DC - 10) or something different?

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    – V2Blast
    Commented Jun 16, 2022 at 14:04

2 Answers 2

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Fortune/Misfortune Effects

Many affects allow the player to re-roll saves, either for good (Fortune effects) or ill (Misfortune effects). All of these would need to be revisited on a case by case basis to see how they would interact with your change. This includes Hero Points, as @brandon mentions, but also many important feats and abilities:

Most of the above can be pretty easily converted to instead make the enemy re-reroll appropriately, but there's all sorts of small things you'd need to watch out for - for example, does Incredible Luck grant the circumstance bonus to the player's save DC? Or do you apply it as a circumstance penalty to the enemy? (I recommend the former).

The Bigger Problem: Math

Again, this can be accounted for, but it's not as simple as just switching from the DC with +/- 10. It's a little counterintuitive, so here's an illustration: Bocephus the Goblin has a +10 Reflex Save, and Abraxias the Evil Wizard casts Fireball on him with a Spell DC of 20. Results for the normal rules (die roll, save result):

  1. Critical Failure (due to natural 1)
  2. Fail
  3. Fail
  4. Fail
  5. Fail
  6. Fail
  7. Fail
  8. Fail
  9. Fail
  10. Success
  11. Success
  12. Success
  13. Success
  14. Success
  15. Success
  16. Success
  17. Success
  18. Success
  19. Success
  20. Critical Success

This means there's: 5% Crit Fail, 40% Fail, 50% Success, 5% Critical Success

However, if you have Abraxias roll at +10 vs Bocephus's Reflex DC of 20, you get:

  1. Critical Success equivalent(due to natural 1)
  2. Success Equivalent
  3. Success
  4. Success
  5. Success
  6. Success
  7. Success
  8. Success
  9. Success
  10. Fail Equivalent
  11. Fail
  12. Fail
  13. Fail
  14. Fail
  15. Fail
  16. Fail
  17. Fail
  18. Fail
  19. Fail
  20. Critical Fail Equivalent

That means now Bocephus has a:

  • 5% chance of critical failure (the same)
  • 50% chance of failure equivalent (instead of 40%)
  • 40% chance of success equivalent (instead of 50%)
  • 5% chance of critical success (the same)

That's a huge swing in the favor of Abraxias. If you apply the same rules to players and monsters, it's at least seems equally penalizing to both sides, but many monsters already have a higher Spell Attack to compensate for this, so the players will still be extra penalized. If you want to make the math work, you could try adding 12 to Bocephus's Reflex Save to get his DC... but even then, as @Ruse points out, that alone doesn't solve it. Even using 12 instead of 10, Abraxias would critically fail (aka Bocephus would critically succeed) when he rolls a 2 or 1. So you'd have to make critical failures for this roll only happen when failing by more than 10. Again, not impossible, but I prefer to minimize complications at the table, and having two different DCs with different rules (one for normal things, like Demoralize, another for inverted saves like getting Fireballed) for each save seems awkward. (As a side note, getting to be the one rolling the die is an often overlooked advantage of Spell Attack spells.)

I've never met a player who doesn't want to roll dice

I've not played Pathfinder with everyone on planet Earth (yet), so I can't say for certain... but every player wants to roll dice. It's fun. I wouldn't recommend rulings that cause players to roll less dice, especially outside of their turn, when player engagement is at its most difficult. It's not really as fun to just watch the GM do everything as it is to get to roll dice in response to the GM doing things.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Even using 12 to determine the DC doesn't entirely fix the math, because the crit system in PF2e is slightly asymmetrical: "You critically succeed at a check when the check's result meets or exceeds the DC by 10 or more. [...] if you fail a check by 10 or more, that's a critical failure." In this case: when Bocephus rolls 19+10 vs Abraxias' DC 20 he gets a normal success, but when Abraxias rolls the equivalent 2+10 vs Bocephus' DC 22 he gets a critical failure instead, because he fails the DC by 10. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruse
    Commented Jun 16, 2022 at 19:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ruse ahhhh great spot, I'll edit that in! Thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    Commented Jun 16, 2022 at 21:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have played with a player that would go to great lengths to avoid having to roll dice whenever possible (generally plays casters who either buff other players or uses spells that have a save or have this effect happen) (also always takes feats that allow them to take a 10 instead of rolling). I believe this stemmed for a strange dislike for any amount of randomness. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 21, 2022 at 11:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Re: the last point: In my experience, PCs who cause saving throws are about as common as monsters so I don't think actual dice rolling would be affected much especially for casters. The groups I've played with generally dislike saving throws, and usually people are alert when it isn't their turn anyway in order to take reactions especially as martial classes who generally need to be the most alert to battlefield specifics. The math points are very good though, and I probably won't implement this rule so as to not buff spells and also not have to deal with 2 sets of defenses. \$\endgroup\$
    – Slambat
    Commented Jun 22, 2022 at 19:08
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Hero Points Would Be Much Less Powerful

By making all saving throws into checks against the target's DC you eliminate the option for player characters to reroll important saves. This makes player characters experience the worst effects in the game more frequently, and would make the game harder.

As a side effect this would increase the likelihood that players spend their Hero Points on skill checks and attack rolls, as there's less to save them for. Paired with being unable to reroll saves this should make fights more swingy, increasing the odds of things going very well or very poorly.

Beyond that, there's the thematic effect of making things feel out of the player's control/luck⁠—the difference between "That enemy's so powerful" and "I can't roll for beans". This is particularly pronounced in PF2e as critical failures and critical successes are based on more than just natural 1's or 20's with the DC +/- 10 mechanic.

Math

Moving the die roll from one character to another wouldn't change the math here, assuming that abilities which only trigger on rolled saving throws are still allowed to work in some way. Using DCs of 10 + save modifier and attacks of save DC - 10 would be appropriate. substantially changes the math, thanks to @ESCE for catching that the math is different using other values than I considered in my initial answer, a +11 bonus vs DC 20.

Of particularly interesting note, there is no way to adjust the DCs or bonuses to fix this thanks to how meeting a DC is a success and that critically failing happens at 10 below that DC. There can only ever be <= 45% chance of failure on any check in PF2e, while there can be a <= 50% chance of success, so this situation cannot be fixed without something like meeting the DC being a failure.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ My players tend to only use their hero points for attacks or preventing Dying, so I didn't think about that. I imagine standardizing it in the other direction, by making everything a save, would do the opposite - make hero points a bit more powerful and things like Demoralize that are intended to target DCs easier to deal with. Will definitely have to think about this some more. \$\endgroup\$
    – Slambat
    Commented Jun 16, 2022 at 17:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ It wouldn't lessen the opportunities to use hero points (not in a balanced combat at least), but it would mean that most uses for hero points are offensive. Under normal rules, saving throws are among the only defensive dice a player rolls. Flipping saves to be offensive rolls wouldn't remove the ability to use a hero point, it would just make using one offensive instead of defensive. \$\endgroup\$
    – WeirdFrog
    Commented Jun 16, 2022 at 17:27

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