View Full Version : Low and high Save DCs? (3.5)

2009-06-21, 03:58 PM
I've been trying my hand at homebrew here: http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=115612, but I'm having a bit of trouble balancing the Save DCs the class forces on opponents. This is mostly because I lack experience with D&D, particularly at high levels.

So what I'm wondering is this: what save DCs are appropriate for low level play, mid level play, and high level play? For example, is a Fortitude save DC 15 too high for a monster expected to give low level well optimized PCs a good challenge? Or is it too easy? What about Will saves and Reflex saves? Or mook monsters as opposed to boss-like monsters?

2009-06-21, 04:04 PM
The most typical formula for a save that isn't based on some sort of ability-level system is:

10 + 1/2 the level or HD of the Effect Generator + a Stat Mod

EDIT: Where is the link to what you're specifically asking about? Maybe I'm a blind, but it doesn't seem clear.

2009-06-21, 04:21 PM
Whoops! Wrong link, I'll fix it.

The Homebrew class is here:


The Save DCs that this class enforces are either 10 + Dexterity mod + 2 (level 1)/ +4 (level 6)/ +6 (level 11)/ +8 (level 16), or 15 + Dexterity mod + 2 (level 1), +4 (level 6), +6 (level 11), or +8 (level 16),

2009-06-21, 04:29 PM
I think the easiest method is to look at the monsters in the SRD.

Some examples:
Chaos Beast: CR 7 that is totally reliant upon it's special ability, but it's ability is incredibly powerful: DC 15
Bodak: CR 8 that does about the same thing? DC 15 again. Fancy that.
Aboleth: CR 7 that can use powerful mind control a few times per day: DC 17 (but this effect can be countered, so keep that in mind)

Ok, so let's consider monsters that actually scale (this makes it easier) and/or are higher CR
Basilisk: CR 5 and a DC 13
Abyssal Greater Basilisk: CR 12 and a of DC 21, it would appear that the DC has scaled almost equally with CR.
Frost Wyrm: CR 12, DC 17 Will or DC 22 Reflex.
Nightwalker: CR 16, DC 24 Will

I don't really feel like doing the DC of dragon's breath weapons, too many to post and all that.

So, If you wanted a really rough estimate (I'm saying it again, really rough): for monsters that are pretty dependent upon their ability, start with DC 15 at CR 7 and increase by 1 for each increase in CR. If the ability is simply damage instead of paralysis/petrification/death it's probably a reflex save and the DC will be somewhere around 3-5 points higher, the greater disparity occuring at higher levels of course.

A bit to remember, PC saving throws increase the most at mid levels because of cloaks of resistance and multiclassing. So expect the most rapid jump in DC's to be required at levels 7-15 whereas the other levels can do so more slowly.

This is about the best advice I can give you for monsters that are essentially dependent upon a special ability. For monsters that aren't, you need to look at how viable their other options are. Also, HP is really important. If a monster is going down in 2 rounds, it needs effective abilities (I'm looking at you mindflayers!)

Edit: Ah man, all that work wasted while not understanding because of a bad link. I am a sad panda.

2009-06-21, 04:39 PM
Edit: Ah man, all that work wasted while not understanding because of a bad link. I am a sad panda.

Actually, this will help a lot for any monsters I decide to homebrew in the future. Thanks for the info! :smallbiggrin:

2009-06-21, 05:20 PM
It's easy to compare to equivalent level saves PCs can dish out; those tend to be about 50/50 with average save (good progression and minor stat buff or bad progression and major stat buff or some other notable buff), while poor save (bad progression, minor stat buff) is unlikely to make it and a good save (good progression and major stat buff or some other notable buff) is very likely to pass.

This mostly kicks in along the midlevels though, as low-level PCs don't have that much base bonus to saves yet for it to make an impact, mostly making them stat-based.

Anyways, you can derive PC max saves from the following:
Stat starts at 18, +2 on 4 (item), +2 on 8 (stat on 4-8), +2 on 10 (item), 26 on 14 (item), +2 on 16 (stat on 12-16), +4 on 18-19 (inherent), +2 on 20 (inherent + level-up)

So +4 on 1, +5 on 4, +6 on 8, +7 on 10, +8 on 14, +9 on 16, +11 on 18, +12 on 20. The other half of the DC is either spell level or HD, which come out at about the same (level 4 caster casts level 2 spells, 4 HD monster has base 2 in the modifier), so 15 at 1, 15 at 2, 16 at 3, 17 at 4, 18 at 5, 18 at 6, 19 at 7, 20 at 8, 21 at 9, 22 at 10, 23 at 11, 23 at 12, 24 at 13, 25 at 14, 26 at 15, 26 at 16, 27 at 17, ~29 at 18, ~30 at 19, ~31 at 20 (as spells don't progress up here and these are a result of inherent bonuses, they're approximates). Then if it's supposed to be a hard save to make, it could be few points over that (especially Fear-effects and other damaging, but non-lethal effects, and effects subject to blanket immunities like Freedom of Movement or Death Ward, can afford to be rather high) and if it's particularly lethal, it should be under that.

Note that a PC with stat bonus from race, feat boosting the ability (feats generally add up to +2 max, be it Ability Focus, Spell Focus or any such) and such can exceed that with 3 points without breaking a sweat; a 3-point increase to the line drawn above should also be within the party's capabilities to survive. It's also worth noting that this is appropriate for a 28 - 32pb game; Elite Array or 4d6b3 game should probably have about 1-3 points lower numbers across the board.

Note that the line I drew above applies to CR, not the monster HD obviously. That's just what you can expect from an equivalent level PC; the composition of the Monster's save DC is irrelevant, what matters is the final number being appropriate for its level. Also, it's worth noting that most Monster DCs are few points under that across the line; first level saves are generally in the neighbourhood of 13, and so on. But it varies from how hard the save is "supposed" to be.

Keld Denar
2009-06-21, 05:30 PM
If its a 20 level class, the DCs are typically 10 + 1/2 level + stat. (See Monk)
If its a 10 or lower levle PrC, DCs are typically 10 + level + stat. (See Assassin)

If you want it to be multiclass friendly, a good idea would be 10 + 1/2 HD + stat.