DnD 5e Saving Throws
If you’re starting a Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition game, you might’ve heard the phrase "saving throw" tossed around.
Basically, they’re a type of d20 roll you make to resist something bad from happening to your character. But, of course, there’s a bit more to it than that.
In this article, I’m gonna cover everything you need to know about DnD saving throws.
Let’s start off by explaining what saving throws in 5e are.
What Are Saving Throws in DnD 5e?
Saving throws in 5e are what you roll to resist or prevent a negative effect.
Page 179 of the Player’s Handbook describes saving throws as:
Basically, if someone targets your character with a magical or other effect, you’ll roll a saving throw. Now, this doesn’t apply to attack rolls in 5e. Only other certain effects.
To make a saving throw in 5e, you’ll take your 20-sided die (d20). You’ll then add your Ability Score modifier and possibly your Proficiency Bonus to the roll. The total is what you use to see if you succeed at your save or not.
Throughout your DnD game, your Dungeon Master may ask you to make a saving throw to stop something bad from happening to them. Usually, you don’t choose to make a saving throw. You’re typically forced to make a save against some outside force like resisting a spell or the effects of a trap.
Depending on the type of save and if you succeed, you’ll either suffer nothing or a dampened effect. This could be damage or some other effect like charm or fear. If you fail a saving throw, you’ll usually suffer the full brunt of the spell or ability.
Many spells and abilities force saving throws. And, each of them uses a metric called the Difficulty Class to see how hard it is to succeed.
The Difficulty Class or DC of any spell, ability, or other effect determines how hard a saving throw is to pass. It’s a numerical measure of difficult for a given roll.
Basically, the DC is the number you’re rolling against when you make a saving throw or Ability Check.
Player’s use DC to determine their spell and class or racial feature saves. DMs use either DCs in creature stat blocks or set them on-the-fly.
For example, an Archmage from the Monster Manual has a set spell save DC (though, there’s nothing saying you can’t adjust it). But, if a player wants to attempt a jump across a wide chasm, you as the DM need to determine how hard that jump will be. Likewise, traps should have their Difficulty Classes set ahead of time.
Now, of course, the higher the DC, the harder the roll is.
Luckily for all of use DMs, Wizards gives us a handy chart for the general difficulty of certain DCs. Page 174 of the PHB lists the following:
- DC 5 = Very Easy
- DC 10 = Easy
- DC 15 = Medium
- DC 20 = Hard
- DC 25 = Very Hard
- DC 30 = Nearly Impossible
But, what do these numbers mean?
Well, it all breaks down when you start mathing things out. The number 1-5 make up 25% of a d20’s numbers. So, a player has a 75% chance of rolling a 6 or higher than that, not counting any modifiers.
Likewise, a player only has a 5% chance of rolling a 20 sans modifiers. And, going beyond that to DC 25 or 30 is almost impossible without higher level characters.
Death Saving Throws
Death saves in 5e are a special type of saving throw characters make once they drop to 0 hit points.
Now, unlike other saving throws, death saves don’t use a corresponding Ability Score.
They’re still a type of saving throw. But, they aren’t considered an Ability Check. And, since they don’t use an Ability Score, you don’t add anything to your roll.
Luckily, you have to roll a 10 or higher to succeed on death save. If you succeed at three, you stabilize and don’t die.
Fail three and you die.
So, don’t fail. Simple as that.
How to Determine Saving Throws in 5e
Now that you know what saving throws in 5e are, how do you calculate them?
You determine saving throws based on two things; 1) the corresponding Ability Score Modifier and 2) if you have proficiency in that save.
You calculate your saving throws in 5e using the following formula:
Saving Throw Modifier = Corresponding Ability Score Modifier + Your Proficiency Bonus (if proficient)
So, if you have an 18 in Strength, your base saving throw is +4. This is because the Ability Score Modifier for an Ability Score of 18 is +4.
Now, if you’re proficient in that saving throw, you also add your Proficiency Bonus.
Using the Strength example, if you have a 4th level character with an 18 Strength and are proficient in Strength saving throws, your modifier becomes a +6 (+4 from Strength and +2 from proficiency bonus).
But remember; you don’t add your proficiency bonus if you’re not proficient in that saving throw. You’ll know whether you’re proficient in any given saving throw from your character’s first class.
Another thing to consider is if your target benefits from cover and you’re forcing a Dexterity saving throw. Half and Three-Quarters Cover confer bonuses to creatures when making a Dex save. So, take that into account when either targeting a creature or becoming the target of a spell or ability.
DnD 5e Saving Throw Examples
Here are a few examples for each of the six saving throws.
Strength Saving Throw Examples
- Catching a falling party member
- Resist being pushed by a runaway cart
- Holding onto an object as someone tries to rip it from your hands
Now, I will say that a lot of these could be contested Strength ability checks. It’s all up to your DM.
Dexterity Saving Throw Examples
- Dodging out of the way of a trap
- Reducing fall damage (might be a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check)
- Resisting spell effects like reducing damage from the fireball spell
There are tons of spells and other abilities that force Dexterity saving throws. So, having a high Dexterity score is great.
Constitution Saving Throw Examples
- Resisting the circumstances that impose exhaustion
- Saving against a poisoned meal
- Resisting spell effects like reducing damage from the cone of cold spell
Intelligence Saving Throw Examples
- Resisting spell effects like the feeblemind spell
- Resisting monster abilities like the Mindflayer’s Mind Blast
Honestly, there aren’t a whole lot of times you’ll make an Intelligence saving throw. But, when you do, it’s usually against a life-or-death or an extremely debilitating effect.
Wisdom Saving Throw Examples
- Maintaining your composure after experiencing something alien
- Resisting spell effects like the charm person spell
Like Dexterity, lots of abilities and spells force Wisdom saving throws.
Charisma Saving Throw Examples
- Resisting spell effects like the banishment spell
- Resisting monster abilities like the Ghost’s Possession
Like Intelligence, there aren’t many times you’ll need to roll a Charisma saving throw. But, they’re usually against some harsh effects.
Final Thoughts on DnD Saving Throws
That’s it for saving throws in 5e.
Saving throws are a type of roll in DnD 5e when you’re forced to resist some negative effect. You’ll roll your d20 and add your saving throw modifier to get the total. You’ll add the corresponding Ability Score Modifier and maybe your proficiency bonus to the roll.
There are times when a saving throw might be more appropriate than an Ability Check or contested rolls. But, the rule of thumb to remember is you roll saving throws when something is happening to a character, not when they’re choosing to do something.
In that respect, saving throws are reactive rolls.
Did I leave anything out? Have any more questions? Leave a comment below to let me know.
3 thoughts on “Your Guide to Saving Throws in 5e”
I’d like to read your take on methods of gaining proficiency on these saving throws (besides just multiclassing). *More* than proficiency?
Hi, I have a question about saving throws. Why are Wands and Staves/Rods separated. Aren’t they extremely similar magical sticks that Mages use to perform magic? I’ve been looking for some background or Gygax quotes on why this could be since the beginnings of DnD. Any ideas?
Historically, I’m not sure. The closest thing I could find is a Quora response explaining pre-TSR and post-TSR functionality differences between wands, rods, and staffs. Full thread here.
When it comes to 5th Edition, there’s functionally no difference between the three and they’re mostly for roleplay purposes. The only exception is your Game Master may allow your character to use a staff as a quarterstaff for attack purposes.