A New Look at Attribute Saves in D&D

I’ve used attribute saves (roll 1d20 and roll under a selected attribute) in D&D to handle actions that aren’t covered by the rules but that I feel need some type of random element is needed since 1976 or so. It’s simple but it has some issues that I’ve never liked: it gives too much reward to high attributes (and too much penalty to low attributes) and it does not take into account the player’s level.

As I’m starting a new OD&D campaign, I decided to give rethink this procedure. Here’s what I’ve come up with. Comments are not just welcome, but desired.

Attribute Saves: When the DM calls for a save versus an attribute, the player rolls 3d6 and adds the following die modifiers:
1) the bonus for the attribute (from the attribute tables in the game)
2) if the DM says the task falls under the characters class or background, the player adds a bonus based on his character’s level (1-3, +1; 4-8, +2; 9-15, +3; 16-24, +4; 25+, +5).
3) any situational modifiers assigned by the DM.

If the result is 8 11 or higher, the character succeeds at whatever is being attempted. [Updated: Thanks to Daniel for noticing the 8 should have been an 11.]

This system greatly reduces the bonus or penalty from high or low attributes and takes the character’s class level into account if he is trying something that falls within the boundaries of his class. This should take care of my main issues with attribute saves. Using 3d6 instead of 1d20 means that rolls are more likely to be near average instead of all results being equally likely — which seems to make sense given the way I use attribute saves in my games. It is also easy to explain and use. What do you think of the system?

Note: I don’t use attribute rolls as skill rolls. Players can’t say “I’ll make an INT save to try X.” They have to tell the DM (me) what they are trying to do and if I think a die roll is needed, I will tell them the save they’d need to make to succeed.


Randall Stukey

Randall is the author and publisher of a number of old school games (Microlite74, Microlite81, BX Advanced, etc) through RetroRoleplaying.com. Randall's main job, however, is being caregiver for his MS-afflicted cancer survivor wife. You can support Randall with a donation to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund.

Gates & Glamours RSS Feed

Latest posts by Randall Stukey (see all)

Randall is the author and publisher of a number of old school games (Microlite74, Microlite81, BX Advanced, etc) through RetroRoleplaying.com. Randall's main job, however, is being caregiver for his MS-afflicted cancer survivor wife. You can support Randall with a donation to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund. Gates & Glamours RSS Feed

Leave a Reply

12 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
1 Comment authors
Daniel "Theophage" ClarkMJ HarnishPeterBenoistGamer Dude Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Daniel "Theophage" Clark

Wait-a-minute…you roll 3d6, add some stuff, and try to beat an 8?!? That's practically a walk in the park. Are you sure you don't want to raise that target number a bit? Even to 50/50 at least?

MJ Harnish

You might want to check out the attribute check method I describe in the latest issue of Fight On! It uses the attributes straight off the sheets and 3D20 and can handle 3 levels of difficulty (easy, moderate, hard)While it doesn't take in to account level explicitly, it can very easily accommodate levels simply by making tasks that were once difficult at low levels, moderate or easy at higher levels. The system is very intuitive and easy to use if I do say so myself.


Getting 8 or more on 3d6 without any modifiers at all is a straight chance of (roughly) 75% success. Assuming a character gets +1 (7+) for any reason, that chance jumps to about 84%. At +2 (6+) it's about 91%.

I have no problem at all with using 3d6 to get a bell curve, but I think using 8+ as your base success point is a tad generous.


I was thinking of using something similar for my OD&D talent system. Any inspiration is greatly valuable at this point, so thanks for the post.

I was thinking of using 2d12 instead of d20. How about beating a target number of 15 instead? Hmm. Brainstorming ahead…

Gamer Dude

This is pretty cool…

Have you ever taken a look at Castles and Crusades "SIEGE" rules? It's pretty simplistic and would easily work w/ any system I imagine.


Perhaps work in the concept of "prime attribute" in there somehow? As in, a fighter gets a bonus when trying a check based on STR, a magic-user gets a bonus when rolling against INT, etc.


Wouldn't the concept of "prime attribute" constitute some sort of double dip, in this instance? If you get a modifier from the attribute, AND a bonus when your class is relevant, it seems to me that a fighter with a high Strength will have a far superior final modifier than the wizard with low strength, to begin with. In effect the natural high score for a prime requisite plus the qualification of the action as a class activity represents the prime attribute concept already.


I think it would be analogous to the XP bonus a character gets from having a high prime attribute. A fighter with a high STR would, arguably, be able to kill more monsters (and thus gain more XP) than one with a lower STR. And yet, they are able to not only kill more monsters, but get more XP per monster killed.

A fighter with a 17 STR can get more out of it than a thief with a 17 STR, because he has been trained to use his STR better to his advantage.


But then, that would be represented by the fighter getting the modifier from his class levels while the thief wouldn't benefit from any class modifier, wouldn't it?

I'm sorry, I don't mean to sound confrontational. That just sounds redundant to me, especially when a single +1 modifier affects the probabilities of outcomes so much on 3d6.


I'm not a big fan of the C&C SIEGE Engine system as I think it places too much emphasis on having high attributes and because the prime system ends up making some character classes automatically very good at things that aren't really their "area of expertise."

We used my 3d6 system yesterday and it seemed to work okay in play. It may need some tweaking (for example, raising the success score from 11 to 12 — or perhaps even 13), but it needs more testing first.


I've been toying with the idea of using 3d6 for my OD&D talent system, Randall. And I can confirm: the threshold needs to be higher. 13 is good for my own purposes. Also, even a +1 modifier will affect the probabilities of outcomes tremendously. See there for the actual probabilities, the column on the right hand of your screen: "Chance to Roll Result or More".


Benoist: 11 (which is just above the 10.5 50/50 point) seemed like a good starting point. However, given that I only seem to call for a roll when the result of an action isn't "obvious" to me, I believe I agree with you that the chance of success needs to be a bit less even before I take into account that most players will seem have at least a +1 or +2 bonus on the majority of thing as they are likely to attempt. I think will playtest "12" this weekend then try "13". BTW, sorry for the slow replies.… Read more »