Saving Throws 5e DnD Rules Guide

Saving Throws 5e DnD

Last Updated on January 10, 2023

“Roll to save.”

You may have heard this term before and it has nothing to do with your bank account. 

At some point in your DnD game, your Dungeon Master (DM) will ask you to make a saving throw also known as a saving roll. 

Many new players simply respond with a blank face and have no idea what they’re talking about, and that’s okay. We all have to start somewhere and we’re glad that you ended up here. 

Today, we’re going to be guiding you through the world of DnD 5e and more specifically in this guide we’re talking about saving throws; what they are, the different types, and how to calculate them. 

So grab your dice bag and let’s get rolling. 

What are Saving Throws in DnD 5e?

Simply put, saving throws are a dice roll to determine if something bad happens to your character. 

Typically, if you roll high enough, the bad thing doesn’t happen, or it happens less. If you roll low, however, you’ll receive the full force of whatever bad thing is happening.

Saving throws are like a test against your character’s physical and mental attributes. If you spring a trap and roll a Dexterity Saving Throw, your character is testing their agility and quickness to avoid the trap. If they roll high and succeed, the trap may graze them or miss entirely. If you roll low, it’ll hit you straight in the chest. 

It’s like a test back in school where it’s either Pass or Fail. It’s an easy way to determine the effects of various encounters and events on pen and paper.

Saving Throw Difficulty Class

When rolling a saving throw, you’ll have a specific number you’re trying to match or beat. This is called the Roll/Check’s Difficulty Class. The higher the Difficulty Class the harder the action is supposed to be to overcome. 

The Player’s Handbook on page 174 has a handy guide to give you an idea of what the Difficulty Check should be.

Difficulty ClassDifficulty
DC 5Very Easy (Trivial)
DC 10Easy 
DC 15Medium
DC 20Hard
DC 25Very Hard
DC 30Nearly Impossible

Let’s take a closer look at each of these. 

  • DC 5: Players will usually always succeed in these actions. They’re probably not even worth the roll. 
  • DC10: Players will usually succeed if they’re experienced with the problem or just lucky. 
  • DC15: Players who are trained or skilled will be able to succeed. The above-average skill, training, or luck will more consistently succeed. 
  • DC20: The average person will not be able to complete this task. Characters with specialized training, skill, or tools will be able to perform these tasks and even then luck will be a factor. 
  • DC 25: These are the actions of heroic individuals. Trained professionals will have trouble with DC 25 and most won’t even attempt. These are the actions sung about in stories and legends. 
  • DC 30: For all intents and purposes a DC 30 Save is impossible. Without divine intervention or the aid of incredible powers, a DC Save will fail in almost all situations. 

Let’s take another look at the DC, but thematically this time. I’ll give an example using locks and or traps. 

Saving Throw Difficulty Class Examples

DC 5: There’s a bucket of water balanced over a door, and the player can clearly see the bucket. 

DC10: A door in a house is locked with an old cheap lock. Any piece of metal the right size jammed into the lock and turned will typically unlock the door. 

DC 15: A trapped chest lies on the floor. If examined the players can see wires or rope running through the side. It can be opened but will need to be disarmed or risk springing the trap. 

DC: 20 The first of many locks to the vaults in one of the banks of Waterdeep. These locks were created specifically for this vault by master craftsmen. This would be one check to open one lock.

DC: 25 A Lich has trapped and locked the door to their final sanctum. Multiple layers of mechanical traps and spells lay in wait for the adventurer who attempts to open the door to their inner sanctum without the proper keys and passwords. 

DC: 30+ The door to a god’s domain is sealed with locks and sigils. A mortal will not be able to enter without divine intervention from a god. 

How do you calculate Saving Throws?

Now that we have an idea of what Difficulty Class is, let’s move back to our Saving Throws. 

Calculating saving throws is pretty easy. There are only 3 numbers you need to worry about. 

  • D20 Roll
  • Ability Modifier
  • Proficiency Bonus (If Applicable)

The first number is your d20 roll. You’ll get a number 1-20. 

Next is your Ability Modifier. Each Saving Throw has an associated skill or ability. If you’re avoiding a trap you’ll most likely use Dexterity to determine how quickly you get out of the way. If you’re being targeted with a spell you might use Charisma or Intelligence to determine if you resist the effects of the spell.

There are saving throws related to all of the primary Ability Scores. For this part, you’ll add only the Ability Modifier. This is the + or – number next to your Ability Score. 

If you have a Dexterity of 15 your Ability Modifier would be +2. You would only add the +2 to your Saving Throw. Keep in mind if the associated ability score is low you may have a negative number which still gets added to the saving throw, making it more difficult. 

You can look below for a handy chart or check the Player’s Handbook on page 13.

Ability ScoreModifierAbility ScoreModifier
1-516-17+3
2-3-418-19+4
4-5-320-21+5
6-7-222-23+6
8-9-124-25+7
10-11+026-27+8
12-13+128-29+9
14-15+230+10

Finally comes the Proficiency Bonus. Characters will usually be proficient in at least one type of Saving Throw. This is usually determined by a character’s class or other abilities they pick up along the way. If your character is proficient in the Saving throw type you can add your proficiency bonus. 

Example Saving Throw

Mik the Dwarven Barbarian eats a roast duck, (his favorite meal). Unfortunately, the duck is poisoned and he needs to make a Constitution Saving throw to not be sick. 

His Constitution Ability Score is 18 and has a +4 Modifier. As a Barbarian, he is proficient with Constitution Saving Throws and his Proficiency Bonus at level 10 is a +4.

The poison used on the roast duck was rather strong and requires a DC 20 to negate the effects. 

Mik rolls a D20 and rolls a 13.

13 + 4 + 4 = 21

D20 + Ability Modifier + Proficiency Bonus

Mik’s Constitution Saving Throw against the poisoned duck is 21, which is greater than the required 20 needed. 

The Result

Mik the Barbarian Dwarf devours the duck and only notices slight indigestion from a burp as he lights his pipe for an after-meal treat.

The Saving Throw is a success and he overcomes the poison. 

Death Saving Throws

There is a special kind of Saving Throw that unfortunately all of us will need to make at one time or another in the game. That is the Death Saving Throw

When a player is reduced to 0 hit points they are knocked down and are in danger of dying. They use the rule of three to determine if you actually die. 

  • Succeed at 3 Death Saving Throws and your character stabilizes and remains alive.
  • Fail 3 Death Saving Throws and your character is dead. 

So how do you calculate your Death Saving Throw? 

It’s simple; you just roll a D20. 

Since this isn’t an ability or actual skill that you’re using to remain alive you get no bonuses to your rolls. It’s all up to the roll of the dice. The DC is set at 10, so mathematically the odds are in your favor. 

Different Types of Saving Throws with Examples

Each of the main Ability Scores have its own Saving Throws and they’re used for different things. Here are some examples of what they could be. These are all subject to your DM and they have the ultimate decision. 

Keep in mind that many spells and abilities call for a specific Saving Throw. These are not up for debate and you can’t substitute one ability for another. For example, the Dragonborn’s Green Breath Weapon calls specifically for a Constitution Saving Throw. You can’t substitute it for a Dexterity Saving Throw. 

Here are some examples of Saving Throws that your DM could potentially ask you to roll. 

Strength

  • Holding a mooring line in rough seas. 
  • Catching a heavy falling object.
  • Tossing a Dwarf over a chasm. 

Dexterity

  • Jumping out of the way of a rolling boulder.
  • Dodging an arrow trap. 
  • Navigating a steep walkway.

Constitution

  • Eating rotten or poisoned food. 
  • Resisting cold effects.

Intelligence 

Typically, intelligence checks are used to resist spells that turn your brain to mush. There aren’t many DM-imposed intelligence checks because the DM will typically want you to use your actual intelligence to roleplay the scenario. 

You wouldn’t say to your DM “I tell him a riddle, my Intelligence Save is 18.” You would actually tell your DM a riddle and they would determine the effects based on the actual riddle you said.

Wisdom

Wisdom is another Saving Throw that frequently will be used against spells. A DM might impose a wisdom check in a few different situations. 

  • Noticing that someone is lying or dirty dealing.
  • Determining an illusion when it doesn’t quite fit the surroundings. 

Wisdom checks imposed by the DM will often be perception based meaning, “Do the players notice that something is amiss?” 

Charisma

  • Resist magical effects that attack the personality of a character. 
  • Trying to look inconspicuous to the guards.
  • Trying to convince the village it was a dragon and not the party that accidentally burned down their farms. 

Using Saving Throws as a Dungeon Master (DM)

Saving throws are a great way to add some tension to a game. There are, of course, plenty of spells and abilities that specifically call for Saving Throws, and as a DM you should follow those rules. If you house rules something different make sure that you are consistent. There’s nothing quite as frustrating as seeing rules being sporadically enforced with no explanation given. 

If used correctly, it could lead to some incredible moments in the game. Unfortunately, it’s easier to add Saving Throws with Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution for thematic effect than it is to add Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma. 

For the latter three, you primarily rely on your actual player to provide these attributes to the game. That is after all part of a role-playing game. You can reward your players by thinking cleverly which is much more interesting and fun than making a Saving Throw to determine if something happens, and you should reward that creativity among your group. 

With Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution you can’t really rely on the actual player’s attributes so it makes more sense to throw in the occasional Saving Throw. 

Try to make your saving throws seem more exciting than, “It hits you.” or “It misses you”. 

For an example, let’s look at a scenario where a Rogue needs to make a Dexterity saving throw after failing to disarm a trapped chest.

Great Success: The Rogue snapped their head to the side a second before the party heard the click. The dart went whizzing past the Rogue’s head as they nonchalantly opened the chest.

Success: The Rogue busy at the lock heard the familiar click of the lock, but then a sound that wasn’t supposed to be there. It took them a moment, but their reflexes kicked in and they dove for the ground just as a hail of darts flew over their head. 

Failure: After a few minutes of working at the lock it finally opened. Pulling open the lid they see the counterweight within moving, but the Rogue was too slow. The Rogue let go of the lid trying to make it fall, but a dart came flying out and hit them in the arm. 

Great Failure: The Rogue eager for the treasure quickly unlocked the chest and flung it open. To the party’s horror, they saw a wave of darts shoot out of the chest. The Rogue slowly turned around looking more like a pin cushion than an adventurer. 

This adds a bit more thematic flair to the game than if you simply said, “Yup, you disarmed it.”

My final piece of advice to DMs is that not everything needs a Saving Throw. This is especially true for low Difficulty Checks. If you have too many, it turns DnD into games like Octodad where mundane tasks become impossible. 

I had a DM once try to make us make a Saving Throw to pick up a pitchfork leaned against the side of a wall. He failed somehow and the DM said he tripped and stabbed himself. We didn’t play much longer with him. 

Saving Throws FAQs

How do you calculate Saving Throw modifiers 5e?

Saving Throws need 3 numbers to calculate. 

D20 + Ability Modifier + Proficiency Bonus (if proficient) = Saving Throw

First is the roll of a D20. Next, comes the Ability Modifier of the Save (Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha). Finally, if the character is proficient in the saving throw they add their proficiency bonus. 

What are Saving Throws against spells 5e?

When targeted with a spell, certain spells offer a Saving Throw. Each spell will have a different saving throw and typically if they succeed they’ll only take half damage or it will negate the effect. 

Spell Saving Throws are calculated the same way as any other Saving Throw. 

D20 + Ability Modifier + Proficiency Bonus (if proficient) = Spell Saving Throw. . 

How do you calculate Saving Throws on a character sheet?

Your Saving Throw on a Character Sheet is your Ability Modifier. 

If you are proficient in the Saving Throw it is your Ability Modifier + Proficiency Bonus.

D&D Player’s Handbook
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02/08/2023 06:00 pm GMT
Saving Throws 5e DnD Rules Guide
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