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Nerdarchy > Dungeons & Dragons  > Streamline Your 5E D&D Game with Alternate Saving Throws
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Streamline Your 5E D&D Game with Alternate Saving Throws

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Many staple mechanics of fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons shape the greater genre of tabletop roleplaying game options. While 5E D&D is my favorite edition I have found myself wondering recently if perhaps this game couldn’t be even better. Is there a way to hack 5E D&D to make it more streamlined? Being the plucky adventurer I fancy myself to be I’m determined to try. In the previous post I wrote about an alternate ability scores and an option to streamline things regarding those. Today I’m taking the next logical option to explore with saving throws. For those of you who don’t know I have a YouTube channel and as part of #DungeonMarch I’m posting exclusively RPG content all month long.

A new option for 5E D&D saving throws

When it comes to 5E D&D saving throws some are more often used than others. Unfortunately this means the Super Scores continue to reign supreme. In all fairness Constitution shines a bit more in the saving throws department but not enough to really elevate it out of its status among the Sad Scores.

For context I started playing D&D with fourth edition and from my understanding 3.5 D&D did something similar where there were only three saving throws. As such I propose we return to this model.

I understand how giving each ability score its own saving throw allows for nuance and specificity but I feel like it sacrifices expediency for a disproportionate amount of crunch. This crunch could be implemented in other facets of the game — particularly those unrelated to combat — but that’s for the next post. For now I’ll share the three saving throws I propose and how they could be implemented in our 5E D&D games.

Stamina saving throws for physical exertion

First on our list of saving throws is Stamina. A character’s Stamina bonus is calculated by taking the higher modifier between their Prowess and Fortitude. If you’re implementing this option for saving throws without changing the base ability scores then would calculate Stamina based on Strength and Constitution.

Stamina represents a character’s ability to physically persevere through their successful save whether trying to break free using brute force and endurance or resisting exposure to extreme temperatures or other hazards like poisons. To implement this saving throw option in your 5E D&D games consider any spell or effect calling for either a Strength or Constitution saving throw to apply the Stamina saving throw bonus instead. A character uses their Stamina modifier whether the original effect calls for Strength or Constitution, which the players draws from the character’s highest bonus between Strength and Constitution.

Focus saving throws for mental capacity

This saving throw is much harder to quantify using the standard 5E D&D ability scores because Focus replaces Willpower from previous editions. If you’re using my alternate ability scores option then Focus is calculated from Determination and Wit. Determination is really equal parts Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma and the same could be said for Wit. It’s a sticky situation when adapting part but not all for Focus.

I could really see an argument to be made for this to draw from any two of the mental ability scores. For sake of legacy I would determine that Focus would pull from Wisdom and Charisma. While this is clearly malleable and you could adjust it how you like I feel this sets the saving throw solidly in the place once occupied by Willpower. The main reason for the name change was because Determination is synonymous with Willpower and I am assuming most people interested in actually implementing this are going to be doing so with my alternate ability scores.

Reflex saving throws for dodging

Reflex is canonically tied to Dexterity and Intelligence. If you’re using the alternate ability scores then Reflex pulls from Initiative and Perception.

I personally like the imagery of tying this one to Perception (or Wisdom, as the case could be made) because it immediately evokes imagery for me of someone whirling reflexively to catch something they saw in the corner of their eye or heard in the distance. Once again, feel free to adjust these how you wish as I am fully aware the legacy calculation for this saving throw is Dexterity + Intelligence.

What’s the point?

As previously mentioned my goal with this alternate option for saving throws is to streamline 5E D&D. When you have three options instead of six it’s automatically easier for new players. When saving throws have different names from the core ability scores I’ve found people have less struggle and frustration with calculating accurately too.

Obviously, do what works best for you and your table. The aim is to facilitate fun but if your group just can’t get past these new ideas, don’t sweat it.

As for assigning them there are two options. The first (and the one I use) is lumping classes into the categories of Mage, Specialist and Warrior. Mage classes get Focus proficiency, Specialist classes get Reflex proficiency and Warrior classes get Stamina proficiency. The second option (and possibly the more fun for some people) is choosing the one their character would have proficiency with.

One hang up to mention really quickly when it comes to balance alteration — doing saving throws this way potentially makes the Resilient feat more potent as a character would only need to take it twice to suddenly have proficiency in all saving throws. If you find the feat is too powerful by granting what equates to two saving throw proficiencies then I would simply disallow the +1 Ability Score Increase that accompanies the other benefits.

What do you think about this new option idea for 5E D&D saving throws? Do you like or dislike this option? Are you replacing ability scores too? Let me know in the comments and connect with us on our Facebook page!

*Featured image — If you dig new ideas and creative approaches to 5E D&D check out Nerdarchy the Patreon where supporters get new content every month to drop right into their games like the upcoming Encounters with the Winter Lord. The cover illustration shows unwary adventurers about to find out why they’re called drop ghouls. [Art by Askhan Ghanbari]

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Steven Partridge

Steven Partridge is a published fantasy author and staff writer for Nerdarchy. He also shows up Tuesdays at 8:00pm (EST) to play with the Nerdarchy Crew, over on the Nerdarchy Live YouTube channel. Steven enjoys all things fantasy, and storytelling is his passion. Whether through novels, TTRPGs, or otherwise, he loves telling compelling tales within various speculative fiction genres. When he's not writing or working on videos for his YouTube channel, Steven can be found lap swimming or playing TTRPGs with his friends. He works in the mental health field and enjoys sharing conversations about diversity, especially as it relates to his own place within the Queer community.

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