Today I'm going to discuss an issue with the saving throw mechanic in 4e which, I have found particularly annoying. It may not be the most game breaking problem related to saving throws (that dubious honor would belong to save penalty stacking), but it is a pattern that I often find while reading power lists, and I thought I could find a simple, harmless solution. I'm talking about the combination of 'save ends' durations and effects that boost your party's attacks against a target.
In short, the problem is this: the 'save ends' mechanic is designed to apply effects that last for a minimum of one of the target's turns, and have an average duration slightly below two (of the target's) turns, when applied on standard monsters. This allows for effects lasting longer than a single round, but less than the whole encounter, and has the advantage of requiring relatively little bookkeeping. However, while the mechanic works as intended with conditions such as immobilization or stuns, which are relevant mostly during the target's own turn, it often appears on power effects that don't interact so well with it. In particular, any condition whose primary purpose is to lower the target's defenses or otherwise enhance attacks against the target results in a reduced effective length, to the point that the attacker would find the power more desirable if it lasted for a single turn!
There are two main scenarios where this, depending on whether a power boosts attacks from the attacking character, or from the whole party.
'Save ends' on personal attack boosts
Effects that enchance your attacks against the target are the worst possible scenario for the 'save ends' duration. These are problematic because they have no relevance during the target's turn. Rather, they only matter in your turns, which come after the target rolls to save. As a consequence, their effective duration is a full turn less than conventional 'save ends' effects (averaging less than a full turn, even for standard monsters!) and if the target makes his first save, you never get to benefit from the effect unless you spent an action point.
'Save ends' on group attack boosts
When the offensive boost applies to your whole party, the 'save ends' duration isn't typically as terrible as in the previous scenario, but its efectiveness can vary wildly, depending on initiative order. It can be as good as a regular 'save ends' effect (when all your allies act between you and the target), and as bad as a personal attack boost (when your allies are between your target and you). Such extreme variability is really annoying, as it forces you to delay actions until the order is acceptable, and makes the usefulness of certain daily powers depend on random factors such as initiative rolls.
A new rule for 'save ends' effects: Persist
To address these problems, we define a new type of effect duration: "save ends, persist".
Save Ends, Persist - The effect works as if it had a duration of "save ends", and gains "Aftereffect: this effect lasts until the end of your next turn". ('Your next turn' refers to the next turn of the character causing the effect. If an effect with persist has additional aftereffects, these aftereffects take place after the one triggered by persist.).
The definition of Aftereffect appears in Player's Handbook 2:
Aftereffect - An aftereffect automatically occurs after another effect ends. In a power description, an “Aftereffect” entry follows the effect it applies to. A target is sometimes subject to an aftereffect after a save. If that save occurs when the target is rolling multiple saving throws, the aftereffect takes effect after the target has rolled all of them.
If a power has an effect that lowers a target's defenses or otherwise improves attacks against the target, and has a duration of "save ends", change that duration to "save ends, persist".
Apply this to effects that explicitly grant combat advantage, but not to those imposing conditions (like daze, blind and stun) that also grant combat advantage. Other effects that work only outside of the target's turn, like Hideous Laughter (Bard daily 9, PHB2) are good candidates for this patch.
Below, there is a non-exhaustive list of powers that should be patched.
1. Powers boosting personal attacks
- Cascade of Light (Cleric daily 1, PHB)
- Oath of consuming light (Avenger daily 5, PHB)
- Lacerating Maul (Ranger daily 1, MP)
- Easy target (Rogue daily 1, PHB)
- Checking Jab (Rogue daily 1, MP)
- Crimsom Edge (Rogue daily 9, PHB2)
2. Powers boosting party attacks
- Corrosive Sigil (Artificer Daily 5, EPG)
- Slayer's Song (Bard Daily 1, PHB2)
- Malevolent Mischief (Bard Daily 1, AP)
- Rain of Starlight (Bard Daily 9, AP)
- Crack the Shell (Fighter Daily 5, PHB)
- Lamentation of the Wicked (Invoker Daily 5, DP)
- Blazing Brand (Paladin Daily 1, DP)
- Radiant delirium (Paladin Daily 1, PHB)
- Dread Star (Warlock Daily 1, PHB)
- Blood Designation (Warlord Daily 9, MP)
- Phantasmal Assailant (Wizard Daily 5, AP)
3. Other powers
- Hideous Laughter (Bard Daily 9)
Where to draw the line?
I have tried to limit the changes to the strict minimum: defense penalties and effects that explicitly grant combat advantage. This leaves out conditions implicitly granting CA, as well as conditions that are relevant outside of the target's turn: Daze, stun and blind, among others. You could argue that, if a patch is necessary for the former effects, these conditions should also be taken into account. My take on this is that, for stun-like conditions, the main effect is the action-denial during the target's turn, and whatever happens during other character's turns is just a bonus.
Either way, you need to draw the line somewhere, or just forget about 'persist' and have all save ends effects work until the end of the attacker's turn. I think that extreme would be counterproductive, as it wouldn't be as easy to keep track of when each effect ends... unless you changed the saving throws so that they also happened during the attacker's turn. But, if you do this, the whole mechanic is a lot less intuitive. So, limiting the changes to relatively few powers is a good compromise, to me.