So, one of the things that D&D Next is planning to do is get rid of the three core defenses, and replace them with saves linked straight to your attributes. This is something I’ve been considering for Lost Worlds, but hadn’t instituted because it makes it harder to give a class a bonus to a specific defense, or to scale that defense as you gain in power.
Rather than having: Reflex, Fortitude, and Willpower saves, you would simply make a savings throw using your ability score modifier for Str, Dex, Con, Int, Will, or Chr. I like this idea a lot, and I’m planning on trying to use it in Lost Worlds, but what this does is say that your thief is just as likely to dodge that magical blast at first level as she is at tenth level. You could always say that the thief has a special ability that she gains as she levels that lets heradd an escalating bonus to Dexterity saves, but this starts down the path of separating the ability from the save again, and makes you need to track two different numbers on your character sheet.
And maybe that’s the compromise. You don’t have different defenses than your ability scores, but you have an area of your character sheet that lists your savings throw for dexterity, which may be higher than your actual dexterity.
I haven’t made it through quite enough of the D&D Next play test material to have a full understanding of how the system plans to scale the attacks and defenses, so maybe they have a more elegant solution in mind already. I’m thinking maybe the Thief just gets a class ability to have “advantage” on dexterity saves, meaning you roll an extra die and take the best result. This could be the same with Lost Worlds: You get to roll a “wild die” for dexterity saves as a thief upon reaching 3rd level maybe.
This also takes us way back to an early post about who should be making die rolls. I never got a lot of feedback on that. I have been debating about having the players make all of the die rolls, both “active” and “avoid.” Right now, I’m leaning towards the active player makes the die roll, but what this ends up doing is making everyone passive when it isn’t their turn. Making an “avoid” die roll re-engages players even when it isn’t their turn to act. This decision mechanically means that instead of a “defense” like 10+Dex as a Reflex save, you actively roll the save on 2d10 and drop the “10+” from the equation.
This makes it very easy to switch a passive defense to an active roll, but at some point I’ll need to make a final decision on when rolls occur as opposed to static defenses. Of course, some of these “defenses” may not be necessary if I drop the Attack roll altogether. Or at least, they’ll probably be structured differently than a savings throw.