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Old Screeds

The Saving Throw Monster [25 August 07] Making sure you never miss a save.

Another aspect to survivability is saving throws. Every class has one or two weak saves -- except the monk, who has three good ones. And hit points and armor class matter little if you are charmed or entangled or poisoned. And even a monk can fail a save. What can you do to make sure you're never on the losing end of that d20 roll?

In Dungeons and Dragons, most power drivers -- attacks, skills, spell casting, saving throws, etc -- improve directly with level. The higher the level, the better the power driver. In general, these drivers improve at the same rate with every level you gain. A fighter's BAB improves by one every level; a mage's improves every other level. But saves do not follow this pattern. Instead, they get a big boost at level 1, then improve at a constant (albeit bumpy, or chunky) rate thereafter. Therefore, every time you multiclass and take a new level 1, your saves benefit from the big boost.

(Side note: Skills do the exact same thing. At level 1 you get a big boost -- four times what you normally get per level. But the rules do not let you get the quadruple skill ranks boost when you multiclass into first level in another class. With saves, the rules do.)

So multiclassing is the key to maxing your save bonuses, by piling up lots of level ones. If you take classes that already have a couple good saves, the end result has better saves than either alone could hope for. A cleric2/bard2 has base saves of Fort +3, Will +6, Refx +3 (total +12), for example. A cleric4 has Fort +3, Will +3, Refx +1 (total +7). The bard/cleric wins.

Total Saves Improvement

That comparison -- +7 vs +12, for example -- is powerful, but it tells us little about when to stop taking one class and branch out into another. For eample, a 7th level bard has saves of Fort +2, Will +5, Refx +5 -- total +12. That must be great, right? But a 6th level bard also has saves of Fort +2, Will +5, Reflex +5! A level 4 monk has Fort +4, Will +4, Reflex +4 -- total +12, just like the level 7 bard. So which is better?

Instead of looking at saves, look at saves improvement. A level 6 bard has saves of Fort +2, Will +5, Refx +5, compared with a 5th level bard's +1, +4, +4. All three saves improve by 1. The Total Saves Improvement for the level is +3. A level seven bard also has Fort +2, Will +5, Reflex +5, but here saves have not improved at all. The Total Saves Improvement is +0.

If you were a 6th level bard trying to boost your saves, should you go on to 7th level bard or pick something new? Level 7 bard gives you nothing, so go with another class!

(Side note: Level 7 bard gives you 3rd level bard spells, of course, and THAT's worth a lot! Just not to a true Save Monster.)

So you need to look at the Total Saves Improvement (TSI) for each level. For another example, look at a 3rd level wizard. The Will save stays the same from level 2 to level 3: +3 to +3, but Fortitude improves by +1 and so does Reflex. The Total Saves Improvement for level 3 wizard is +2, on the strength of boosts to Refx and Fort.

It follows that taking the first level of monk is the best save value in the game, because the TSI is a hefty +6 (Fort +2, Will +2, Refx +2). A second level of monk has a TSI of +3 (+1 +1 +1). But a third level of monk has a TSI of +0. Over the three levels, your average TSI is +3 (+6+3+0/3). A fourth level of monk gives another +3, so the average over four levels is also +3 (+6+3+0+3/4). As a baseline, let's look at the TSI and Average TSI for Monks across levels 1-10 and 11-20:

Level Monk1 Monk2 Monk3 Monk4 Monk5 Monk6 Monk7 Monk8 Monk9 Mnk10
TSI +6 +3 +0 +3 +0 +3 +0 +3 +0 +3
Avg TSI 6.0 4.5 3.0 3.0 2.4 2.5 2.1 2.3 2.0 2.1
Level Mnk11 Mnk12 Mnk13 Mnk14 Mnk15 Mnk16 Mnk17 Mnk18 Mnk19 Mnk20
TSI +0 +3 +0 +3 +0 +3 +0 +3 +0 +3
Avg TSI 1.9 2.0 1.8 1.9 1.8 1.9 1.8 1.8 1.7 1.8
That average, by the way, is the cumulative rolling average. The average at level 5 is the average of levels 1-5; the average at level 10 is the average of levels 1-10; etc.

Crucially, even the monk, with the best saves in the game, sees total value of saves decrease with level. Average Total Saves Improvement starts in the range of +3 and dwindles over 20 levels to +1.8.

So if a character class grants its best save bonus at the early levels, then to maximize saves, take only the early levels of several classes. If you imagine five classes, all with saves like a monk, then the AltMonk4/AltMonk4/AltMonk4/AltMonk4/AltMonk4 would have better saves than the Monk20. In fact, let's do that table to see how it looks:

Level AMk1 AMk2 AMk3 AMk4 AMk1 AMk2 AMk3 AMk4 AMk1 AMk2
TSI +6 +3 +0 +3 +6 +3 +0 +3 +6 +3
Avg TSI 6.0 4.5 3.0 3.0 3.6 3.5 3.0 3.0 3.3 3.3
Level AMk3 AMk4 AMk1 AMk2 AMk3 AMk4 AMk1 AMk2 AMk3 AMk4
TSI +0 +3 +6 +3 +0 +3 +6 +3 +0 +3
Avg TSI 3.0 3.0 3.2 3.2 3.0 3.0 3.2 3.2 3.0 3.0
Clearly, taking four levels each of five AltMonk classes (or prestige classes) is sweeter by far than taking 20 levels of Monk. Total Saves Improvement stays above +3 thanks to multiple infusions of +6 every four levels. But this is all hypothetical -- there are no other core classes or PrCs that offer Monk-like saves. What if we take a slew of other classes and prestige classes?

For example, let's compare a reasonably common multiclass combo. The Cleric 3 / Wizard 3 / Mystic Theurge 10 / Hierophant 4 is a good one:

Level: Clc1 Clc2 Clc3 Wiz1 Wiz2 Wiz3 MTg1 MTg2 MTg3 MTg4
TSI +4 +2 +1 +2 +1 +2 +2 +1 +2 +1
Avg TSI 4.0 3.0 2.3 2.0 2.0 2.0 1.9 1.9 1.9 1.7
Level MTg5 MTg6 MTg7 MTg8 MTg9 MT10 Hpt1 Hpt2 Hpt3 Hpt4
TSI +0 +3 +0 +2 +1 +2 +4 +2 +1 +2
Avg TSI 1.7 1.8 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.8 1.8 1.8 1.8
Here too, the character's average saving throw bonus goes down as you advance in levels. And this paticular combo is still not as good as the pure monk -- at early levels the average TSI is less than a monk's, and at higher levels it sort of equals it. So what legal Core Rules multiclass combo beats the monk? We have to give at least a minor nod to reasonableness -- taking levels in druid and cleric, sorcerer and bard, for example, would just be too unbelievable, even if it is legal. But before we tackle a not-entirely-improbable combo, we have to look at a few tricks.

Tactics for Save Success

Good saves are not based only on base saving throws. There are class abilities (and racial traits and magic items) that boost saves too. No save monster would covet the paladin's puny good fort saves and poor will and refx. But at second level, a paladin can add her charisma bonus to ALL her saving throws, thanks to the Divine Grace ability. With a high charisma, this abilty trumps the monk completely! Look at the save table for a paladin with a 16 charisma who bumps it up at levels 4, 8, 12, and 16. At level 2, +3 applied to all three saves gives a TSI of +9 (an additional +1 for the typical +1 Fort at 2nd level gives a true TSI of +10.) Level-based adds to Chr gives an additional +3 TSI at levels 8 and 16:

Level: Paln1 Paln2 Paln3 Paln4 Paln5 Paln6 Paln7 Paln8 Paln9 Pal10
TSI +2 +10 +2 +1 +0 +3 +0 +4 +2 +1
Avg TSI 2.0 6.0 4.7 3.8 3.0 3.0 2.6 2.8 2.7 2.5
Level: Pal11 Pal12 Pal13 Pal14 Pal15 Pal16 Pal17 Pal18 Pal19 Pal20
TSI +0 +3 +0 +1 +2 +4 +0 +3 +0 +1
Avg TSI 2.3 2.3 2.2 2.1 2.1 2.2 2.1 2.1 2.0 2.0
A Save Monster Paladin (that is, any who would put a 16 into Chr and then also push all her level ability score additions into Chr) is also probably someone who would make sure she had an extra +4 or +6 enhancement bonus to Chr, so the saves above actually under-represent the paladin's awesomeness. Note that we can still do much better than this, though, with the right multiclassing -- especially with tricks like the Paladin's Divine Grace.

(Side note: A more likely choice for a paladin who boosts Charisma in this way would be a paladin/sorcerer/eldritch knight. That's actually a very sweet combo.)

Here are some other class-based tricks to boost your saves:

  • A wizard or sorcerer can pick a familiar at level 1 that grants a +2 on fort or refx saves.
  • A cleric with the luck domain can reroll one failed save each day.
  • A second level monk, rogue, or shadowdancer gains evasion, so that a successful reflex save does no damage at all.
  • A raging barbarian gains a +2 morale bonus to will saves when raging.
  • A loremaster can use a Secret at level 1 and 3 (with Int 14+) to gain an extra +2 on two saves.
  • A duelist's Grace ability at level 4 grants an extra +2 on refx saves.
  • A dragon disciple's +2 Con gained at level 6 grants an equivalent +1 on fort saves.
  • A dwarven defender gains a +2 resistance bonus on all saves in a defensive stance.
Well, no reasonable character could take advantage of ALL the above tricks, but here's one example -- not too far-fetched, I think -- that uses a bunch of them. Consider the Ranger2/Paladin2/Monk2/Cleric3/Sorcerer4/Mystic Theurge2/Loremaster3/Dragon Disciple2. First, here's a base version with no tricks:
Level: Rngr1 Clrc1 Rngr2 Monk1 Monk2 Paln1 Paln2 Clrc2 Sorc1 Sorc2
TSI +4 +4 +2 +6 +3 +2 +1 +2 +2 +1
Avg TSI 4.0 4.0 3.3 4.0 3.8 3.5 3.1 3.0 2.9 2.7
Level: Sorc3 Clrc3 Sorc4 MyTh1 MyTh2 LreM1 LreM2 LreM3 DrDi1 DrDi2
TSI +2 +2 +1 +2 +1 +2 +1 +2 +4 +2
Avg TSI 2.6 2.6 2.5 2.4 2.3 2.3 2.2 2.2 2.3 2.3
Although this base set of numbers is better than a straight monk, this really fails to impress. However, look at a version with several class abilities included: Divine Grace with Chr16 that goes to 18 at level 8 and 20 at level 16; A Weasel Familiar; Loremaster secrets adding +2 Fort and +2 Refx; and a Heroism spell (along with Craft Wand and/or Extend Spell) that is always on when needed, adding +2 to all saves -- that's +6 TSI at sorcerer6. Factor those in and now let's see what we've got:
Level: Rngr1 Clrc1 Rngr2 Monk1 Monk2 Paln1 Paln2 Clrc2 Sorc1 Sorc2
TSI +4 +4 +2 +6 +3 +2 +10 +5 +4 +1
Avg TSI 4.0 4.0 3.3 4.0 3.8 3.5 4.4 4.5 4.4 4.1
Level: Sorc3 Clrc3 Sorc4 MyTh1 MyTh2 LreM1 LreM2 LreM3 DrDi1 DrDi2
TSI +2 +2 +1 +2 +7 +4 +1 +4 +4 +2
Avg TSI 3.9 3.8 3.5 3.4 3.7 3.7 3.5 3.6 3.6 3.5
Now we're cooking with gas. This even beats the AltMonk4 x5 hypothetical. If you look at individual saves, this build boasts a stunning Fort +24, Reflex +18, Will +28 while that Heroism spell is up. And even without Heroism, +22, +16, +26 is totally tasty.

However, There are other good answers to the "best save monster" puzzle, other Save Monsters one could imagine, using other factors and tricks. Here are two more possible options I pondered:

  • Monk2/Wizard3/Cleric3/MysticTheurge4/LoreMaster3/Thaumaturgist3/Hierophant2 -- this has the advantage of actually being a decent caster, and you don't have to be lawful good. You can even convert away from lawful after you take your two levels of monk.
  • Bard4/Ranger2/Paladin2/Monk2/Duelist4/DragonDisciple6 -- Good for a gnome, human, or half-elf with the bard levels so high -- swap two levels of cleric for two levels of bard to avoid the xp penalty, optionally. You can't take the last level of bard later because this build requires a permanent change of alignment to lawful good before you take Paladin1.

I still have only hinted at race, magic items, and still other save boosters. But let that be a topic for my next screed.

This is part of an extended series on Survivability in Dungeons and Dragons.

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