Increasingly, I’ve noticed that new games being written in the OSR style have only a single saving throw. The GM doesn’t ask you to make “Your save against breath/poison/spells/et al,” because it’s all covered by a single target number. And after seeing this three or four times, and trying it myself once, I’ve begun to wonder what value there is in dividing the saves up in the first place.
Multiple saves are certainly more flavorful and more granular, but what benefits does that bring? Half the time I call for a save, I feel as though the flavorful name of the save has absolutely nothing to do with the thing being saved against. The save versus breath (sometimes called “breath weapon,” or in the ancient texts, as the save versus “Dragon Breath,”) is used to avoid a danger which quickly fills a large space, and typically results in half damage on a successful save. Aside from a dragon’s fiery breath, it might be used to avoid a volley of crossbow bolts set off by a trap, scatter-shot from a cannon, hot oil being dropped from the parapets of a wall, or many dozens of other things. In fact, the majority of things it will be used to save against will not be breath weapons. And don’t even get me started on Paralization, I don’t think I’ve ever had cause to call for that save when its name was actually relevant.
Saves against poison and spells are a little better, but the fact remains that some of the saves are so completely disassociated from their original purpose that their names have become anachronistic. But, perhaps it is important for each class to have some things it is good at saving against, and some things it is bad at saving against. Perhaps granularity is the reason for the system’s longevity. But, if it is, can someone please explain to me the logic which dictates what makes a given class good or bad at saving against something?
Why do wizards have a save of 13 v. poison, but 12 v. paralization? What makes clerics better at avoiding being turned to stone than everybody else? Some of these decisions seem more logical than others, of course. Wands having a lower save than Spells is cool, because it means a magical device will never truly live up to the power of a real caster. But, by and large, these decisions seem arbitrary.
Furthermore, I feel I must mention the amount of bookkeeping involved in having a multitude of saves for each character. When I’m making a new character, I need to record a number of my HP, a number for my AC, and far too many numbers for my saves–which will come into play far less often than the previous two numbers will. And the way they advance is so arbitrary that, for many characters, finding out what your new saves are might be the only reason you ever need to consult the book after creating your character. HP progresses according to your hit dice, AC progresses according to the armor you find, and saves progress a random amount at random levels. When I’m playing a rules-light game, nothing but spells cause me to reach for my books more frequently than saves do.
So I must ask: is there any good reason not to use only a single save for each class?
(As an aside, I should point out that if flavor and granularity are so very important, why not use Fortitude, Reflex, and Will saves like D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder? The flavor for these saves is more broadly applicable, and they offer a reasonable amount of granularity with an easy-to-understand logic behind it. )
Edit: Some relevant reading: