As part of our complicated stateside travels, the spouse and I stopped into a friendly local gamestore last night (Fun-n-Games in Blacksburg, VA) and took up an invitation to help make up the four-player quorum in a D&D Encounters session.
We skulked away clutching our participation prizes, which will be useful as apotropaic repellents should we ever be ambushed by zombified grognards. The Fortune Cards, though, were not as fun to add "in bed" to as fortune cookies.
The 4E system puts the fortitude, reflex and will saving throws on the same mechanical footing as Armor Class (all four are "defenses" against different types of attacks). This does bring up something I have wondered about. In classic D&D, dodging a lightning bolt is a "saving throw" that goes up by level, while dodging a sword swing depends on "armor class" that doesn't go up by level.
This doesn't seem quite right. If anything, the distinction should be between the defensive nature of armor (protects regardless of the wearer's awareness, might not work against beam-type spell effects) and agility (needs awareness and freedom to dodge, but more able to escape spell beams and other metaphysical ills). You can see this ambiguity in how attack-type traps are handled in pre-3rd edition D&D; sometimes a peril like a swinging blade or arrow trap is handled as "survive a hit roll as from a 5th level fighter" while other times it is "save vs. petrification or take 2d8 damage."
The next revision of my own game system will most likely do away with saving throws against physical contact - though things like poison and charm, testing resistance of body or soul itself, will still use them. Instead, effects that depend on physical contact may "ignore armor" (lightning bolts, for example), going against only the dexterity bonus and any magical protections. Or they may include armor (fireballs, for example) and so require some form of hit roll to do full vs. half damage. Dexterity bonuses, of course, will be ignored for unaware, unconscious, or incapacitated victims. This goes hand in hand with my plan to give small dodge-based AC bonuses to rogues (and possibly fighters too) as they go up levels.
I guess the question is, does it matter who rolls the d20 - the bolt caster, or the thief jumping away?
Oh yes, the nonviolence comments inspired me to start work on a whole damn nonviolent adventure generation system, in place of the single nonviolent adventure. That, I swear, will be the next post.