In D&D 4E as with many RPGs, characters have a fixed armour value or AC. When attacking, the attacker must roll a die to overcome the target's AC. In 4E offensive magic works the same way: the target has a fixed Fortitude/Reflex/Will defence determined by their stats, and in order to hit, the attacker rolls to overcome whichever defence is relevant.

However it was not always like this. Some spells in 3E and now again in 5E work the opposite way. In those editions the target is the one who rolls against a fixed value determined by the caster's stats, in order to avoid spell-damage.

Both methods compare the attacker and target's stats, and have an element of randomness. I personally like the 4E system as it simplifies combat without leaving anything out. Why was the decision made, when designing the early D&D editions (and still when iterating upwards into (A)D&D 1e–3e), to use saving throws to control spells?

Answers should consist of designer quotes and not personal opinions.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I have been trying to answer this since it was posted but all of the links on WotC that I can find to the article on Bounded Accuracy (the most important feature of 5th edition and why combat takes drastically less time than 4E) has been removed from the website. No designer quotes exist anymore on the subject. \$\endgroup\$
    – Airatome
    Nov 25, 2016 at 23:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ The question could use a little rewording, since many 5e spells do use attack rolls just like weapon attacks. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim Grant
    Nov 26, 2016 at 0:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure whether you're asking why 5e went back to saving throws for spells, or why somebody thought saving throws for spells were a good idea the very first time they were introduced several decades ago. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Nov 26, 2016 at 1:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm voting to hold this question until we know what you're asking: do you want to know why "the original decision [was] made to use saving throws to control spells," which would be a question going all the way back to 0e and saving vs. spells; or do you want to know why 5e designers reasserted the occasional spell-with-save mechanic that existed in 0e, 1e, 2e, 3e, 3.5e, but was avoided in 4e? \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Nov 26, 2016 at 1:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ So, are you looking for the very first instance of saving throws and how they were developed, or do you want answers to talk about each edition after that as well? (I'm a little confused by all this mention of 3e.) \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Nov 26, 2016 at 13:12


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