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All Rules in Designing Spells

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Saving Throw

Source Ultimate Magic pg. 131
Most spells that directly affect creatures with a magical effect should allow a saving throw. Spells that create nonmagical materials that then strike or impede creatures (such as ice storm and sleet storm) do not normally require a saving throw.

Spells that require the caster to make an attack roll to hit (even if it’s a ranged touch attack) may or may not require a saving throw (enervation and searing light do not, disintegrate does). Attack effects that do not require rolling damage should always allow a saving throw to reduce or negate the effect; otherwise, the spell becomes an obvious choice for anyone of the level to cast it.

Tip: When deciding whether or not the spell should have a saving throw, consider how you’d feel if someone used the spell on your favorite PC. If your PC didn’t get any chance to resist the effect with a save or to dodge it entirely because of a failed attack roll, would you be annoyed, embarrassed, or angry? If so, you should give the spell some kind of save or attack roll, just so it’s not an always-effective option.

Fortitude Saves: Spells with Fortitude saves usually physically transform the target, apply an effect you’d normally resist with a Fortitude save (such as disease or poison), or are a form of attack that sheer physical toughness is enough to resist. In general, making a successful Fortitude save means the effect hits, but the target toughs it out, like a bear shrugging off the stinky musk sprayed by a skunk. Note that if your spell only affects creatures—not objects—then nonliving creatures such as constructs and undead are immune to the spell. For example, this makes them immune to creature-oriented polymorphing spells, but not spells such as disintegrate, which can attack objects.

Reflex Save: Spells with Reflex saves usually create a physical burst or spread in an area, like an explosion, which the target is able to dodge with a successful saving throw. In general, making a successful Reflex save means the target dodged the effect, or the effect rolled over or around the target with a lesser effect. Note that you shouldn’t build a spell where the caster makes an attack roll and the target also makes a Reflex saving throw; doing so brings Dexterity into play twice for the same spell (once for the target’s AC, once for the target’s Reflex save modifier).

Will Saves: Spells with Will saves are mental, mind-affecting attacks; the target resists with pure mental power, by using evasive thoughts or noticing flaws in the spell’s assault that can negate its effectiveness. A Will save is like a mental version of a Fortitude save; the effect “hits” the target, and whether or not it succeeds depends on the target’s willpower. Most direct-attack Will-save spells (such as sleep and phantasmal killer) are mind-affecting effects (see Descriptors, below).

Some spells can be cast on objects, and the object only gets a saving throw if it is a magic item or is held by a creature; these spells should have “(object)” listed after the type of saving throw (see shrink item).

Helpful spells and spells that do not harm the target in any way either should have no saving throw, or should allow a saving throw but have “(harmless)” listed after the type of saving throw (see fly).

Spells that only affect the caster never require a saving throw (you’d never try to resist a beneficial spell you’re casting on yourself ), so you don’t list a saving throw for those spells at all (see true strike).