In the years since 4e D&D was first released Wizards of the Coast has tweaked and adjusted some of the rules in an effort to improve the game. Several vaguely worded powers were cleared up. The action economy of Solo and Elite monsters has taken steps towards becoming a challenge again. Different methods of power advancement, outside the AEDU (At-will, Encounter, Daily, Utility) model were attempted with mostly successful results. Despite these many improvements to the game, there is one aspect of 4e D&D that continues to hold it back – allowing PC to wield powers with save ends effects. I believe 4e would be a better game if we took save ends effects of out the hands of PCs and made it exclusive to monsters.
While this suggestion may seem a little extreme, there are good reasons for at least considering this change. In the hands of the DM, effects with a duration of save ends heighten the drama of the game for the players. It is another dice roll on the table and rewards players who are either favoured by luck or by proper planning. There are several powers which interact with saving throws, either by granting them or by granting a bonus to them, as well as several key class features and feats. As such, any character can effectively plan around suffering and shaking off effects with a duration of save ends. It is an empowering mechanic for PCs, because it places the power to save themselves firmly in their hands.
For the same reasons, save ends effects may seem to be good in the hands of a PC as well. However, the truth often proves to the opposite. The DM is already keeping track of multiple effects, recharge abilities and hit points of several creatures in an encounter. Players only have to keep track of their own character. Making certain to roll every saving throw for an effect on a creature can be distracting and frustrating to the DM. Worst of all it can slow combat down which can lower the dramatic tension of an encounter. It can lead to the combat turn of Team Monster taking longer and longer, focusing on the parts wherein they have the least interaction with the PCs. Slowing the game down is a cardinal sin in 4e, and works against what makes the game elegant and fun to play.
The additional randomness of save ends effects also are an illusionary benefit. Without the ability to inflict saving throw penalties, an effect that a saving throw can end has only a 45% chance at best of lasting until the end of the PCs next turn. In the case of Elite and Solo monsters this chance is even further reduced. This alone can make an effect that has a guaranteed duration of until the end of the character’s next turn more commonly effective against an enemy. A player could answer this problem by building in saving throw penalties to their effects, but those can stack fast. All it takes is a -11 to saving throws, which is possible by mid-Paragon, to turn an average effect that a save can end into a fight stopping power.
Finally, while PCs have a variety of options in how to mitigate saving throws, only Hobgoblins and Deities have common ways of dealing with such things. While Elite and Solo monsters receive saving throw bonuses, Team Monster only has a few select way of handling save ends effects. While these do include saving against certain effects at the start of the turn, or being able to move or shake such effects as part of an attack action, they are uncommon. The presence of such powers move the monster in question towards denying the use of a power, which may make such a power feel even less effective. This can lead to players having less fun at the table.
While there are ways to reduce the burden save ends effects have upon the game, it is a simpler and more elegant solution to remove nearly all save ends duration effects from the hands of the players. Place them solely in the domain of Team Monster. The exception to this would be ongoing damage, as that is often a means by which certain striker-types can inflict out-of-turn damage on their targets. Instead of an effect having a duration of save ends, either a set duration or a sustain effect would be the best. Soft control powers, such as attack and damage penalties, could best be handled through a sustain minor. Stronger soft control effects, such as combat advantage and speed penalties, could best be handled through sustain move.
Hard control effects, such as dominate and stun, have a much stronger impact on the flow of combat. A rounds or two of hard control can be all it takes for the players to win an encounter, and this should be reflected in their powers. Hard control effects should have a set duration, typically until the end of the PC’s next turn or end of the monster’s next turn. This allows the power to have its impact, potentially swing the fight for the PCs in the crucial first turns of a fight, and then end. Ultimately it makes the powers more strategic in nature, as having a set duration makes them a more known factor to both the PCs and the DM.
As any DM who has had to deal with a perma-Dom Bard or Stun-Lock Wizard will tell you, effects with a save ends duration in the hands of PCs can be powerful enough to completely upset the dramatic tension of combat in 4e D&D. Likewise, unless a character is specifically built to abuse the save ends duration, the powers are less used than their set duration counterparts, due to them being ultimately less reliable. Aside from ongoing damage, effects with a duration of save ends should be removed from the hands of players, and placed in the hands of monsters. The game will be better for it.
What are your thoughts on removing save ends effects from PCs? Have you played at a table where someone has optimized their PC around saves and save end conditions? Do you think powers with save ends are (or can be) too powerful in the hands of the PCs? When choosing powers for your PCs, how heavily do you weight powers with save ends conditions against other powers with set durations?