How to Determine Saving Throws in DnD 5E

Recently updated on July 23rd, 2023 at 01:00 pm

If you’ve been playing the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons (click here to learn how to get into DnD if not), you’ve probably come across a saving throw before. At times, saving throws can be difficult to understand or calculate. I’ve created a quick guide on how to determine saving throws in DnD 5E. It includes an explanation of what saving throws are, as well as how to calculate saving throws in DnD based on ability score and character class. Click below to get started!

What are saving throws DND 5e?

Example of saving throws in D&D

While playing D&D, you’ve probably run into a situation where you need to roll to avoid some type of effect. This could be from a massive fireball or a mysterious drink that (unbeknownst to you) was poisoned.

A saving throw (also known as a save) is your character’s attempt to resist something. This could range from an enemy spell to a trap. Saving throws are not something you choose to make, but is something forced upon you. Again, this is often a surprise (like a trap) or an attack.

–> Related: How to roll for stats in DnD 5E

How Do Saving Throws Work?

Below, I’ll give a more detailed explanation of how saving throws work based on your character’s class and even the ability score.

Generally, to make a save, you need to:

  • Roll a d20
  • Add your character’s ability modifier based on the type of spell (e.g., for Wisdom-based spells, you’ll add your wisdom modifier)
  • (If applicable) At times, a DM may make you roll with advantage or disadvantage, depending on what’s happening in the campaign

If your roll is equal to or greater than the difficulty class (DC) for the save, that is a successful roll. Depending on the save, you either fully negate the harmful effect or reduce the damage of the effect.

In the case of a tie, there are some complications. Click here for more information on who wins ties in DnD.

Can you have expertise in saving throws?

If you’ve created a DnD character, you know that every class has a proficiency in, at the very least, 2 saving throws. With proficiency, your character will add their Proficiency bonus to the saving throw. This allows for variability between classes. Depending on the proficiency, as well as the type of saving throw being attempted, a character could be much more likely to make the save, or be at a greater disadvantage.

How to Roll Saving Throws in DnD by Ability Score

At this point, you may be wondering “What determines a saving throw in DnD, exactly?”

It often depends on the spell being cast. If your character is attempting to make a save, you roll a d20 with an added ability modifier and taking into account your character’s proficiency.

The second part is where we’ll focus in this section, the ability modifier.

Based on your character’s class, you will have proficiency in as few as 2 ability scores. I’ve created a quick reference below of how to make a saving throw based on the ability score being referenced.

Strength Saving Throws

Your character’s Strength ability score measures their physical power. Because of that, a strength saving throw is one in which your character’s physical power is competing with the physical power of someone or something else.

  • How to calculate Strength saving throws: In order to calculate a Strength saving throw, roll a d20 and add your character’s Strength saving throw modifier. In a platform like DnD Beyond, there’s an entire section dedicated to your character’s Saving Throws.
  • Examples of Strength saving throws: A few examples include catching a large object instead of dodging it, attempting to not be thrown about by a storm, resisting a trap that would crush you, hold massive pillars in place, etc.

Dexterity Saving Throws

Because Dexterity is a measurement of agility, if you’re wondering what are dexterity saving throws used for, it all boils down to your character’s ability to maintain their agility, balance and reflexes.

  • How to calculate Dexterity saving throws: In order to calculate a Dexterity saving throw, roll a d20 and add your character’s Dexterity saving throw modifier.
  • Examples of Dexterity saving throws: Pretty much any area-based effect and traps, anything that requires keeping your balance (walking a tight rope), and any other example of your character dodging out of harm’s way.

Constitution Saving Throws

Constitution measures a character’s endurance. More specifically, it takes into account health, stamina and life force. Because of that, a Constitution save would be your character’s attempt to avoid an effect that would take away from their health or stamina.

  • How to calculate Constitution saving throws: In order to calculate a Constitution saving throw, roll a d20 and add your character’s Constitution saving throw modifier.
  • Examples of Constitution saving throws: A Constitution save will likely happen if your character attempts to hold their breath, put off disease or poison, go without sleep, etc.

Intelligence Saving Throws

Intelligence measures a character’s reasoning and memory. More specifically, it is a measurement of mental acuity, recall and the ability to reason. Because of that, an Intelligence saving throw would occur for any effect that would attempt to disillusion your character, or take away from their memory.

These saves don’t occur as frequently, especially early in campaigns, but they are among the most serious. Essentially, you make Intelligence saving throws to prevent your character’s brain from being eaten, woozy thoughts, hurtful illusions, and more.

  • How to calculate Intelligence saving throws: In order to calculate a Intelligence saving throw, roll a d20 and add your character’s Intelligence saving throw modifier.
  • Examples of Intelligence saving throws: A few spell examples include Phantasmal Force, Mental Prison, and Psychic Scream. A Mind Flayer is a great example of a monster with Intelligence-based abilities.

Wisdom Saving Throws

Wisdom measures your character’s perception and insight. In particular, it is a reflection of how attuned a character is to the world around them. So, what are wisdom saving throws? A Wisdom save would happen whenever a character is resisting an effect that would meddle with their perception of the world (like being charmed or frightened).

  • How to calculate Wisdom saving throws: In order to calculate a Wisdom saving throw, roll a d20 and add your character’s Wisdom saving throw modifier.
  • Examples of Wisdom saving throws: As we mentioned above, common Wisdom saving throws would be avoiding spells that will charm or frighten your character. It could even happen if your character is attempting to determine if a rock falling is real or not.

Suggested –> Why is a Medicine check based on Wisdom

Charisma Saving Throws

Charisma measures your character’s personality. Based on that, it shows how effectively your character interacts with others, as well as their confidence and eloquence. So, a Charisma save would happen when your character needs to avoid something that would take over their personality.

  • How to calculate Charisma saving throws: In order to calculate a Charisma saving throw, roll a d20 and add your character’s Charisma saving throw modifier.
  • Examples of Charisma saving throws: The most common example of a Charisma save would be Possession, as that is something that directly subdues your character’s personality.

How to Figure Out Saving Throw DC by Class

Now, that we know how a character can meet a saving throw DC, how do you calculate DC for saving throws 5e? If your character is attempting to do something that would require a DC from someone or something else, the difficulty class largely depends on your character’s class. So, below you’ll find how to calculate saving throw DC by class.

Calculating Magic Class Spell Save DC

How do spell saving throws work? It’s actually pretty simple. Here’s the quick formula for calculating spell save DC:

  • 8 + Proficiency Bonus + Spellcasting Modifier (based on the class/spell)

So, for those wondering, “How do you determine saving throws 5e spells,” it’s as simple as taking into account your Proficiency Bonus and Spellcasting Modifier, and adding those to the starting point of 8.

Calculating Proficiency Bonus: If your character has proficiency in an ability modifier, the bonus is calculated by 2 + ([Character Level – 1]/4), rounded down. So a character that is Level 12 would have a proficiency bonus of 2 + ([12-1]/4), which is 2+ 2.75(rounded down) which equals 4.

Calculating Spellcasting Modifier: A character’s spellcasting modifier is equal to ([Ability Score – 10]/2). For example, figuring out a Level 12 Cleric’s Wisdom spellcasting Modifier (with an 18 Wisdom Ability Score) would by ([18-10]/2) which is 4.

For each of the classes below, we’ll take into account how a DC should be calculated based on the classes primary ability modifier.

Here’s a quick reference on the spellcasting ability modifier for each class:

ClassSpellcasting Ability Modifier
Fighter (Eldritch Knight)Intelligence
Rogue (Arcane Trickster)Intelligence
The primary spellcasting ability modifier for each class in D&D.

Cleric Spell Save DC

For Clerics, we know that the ability modifier is Wisdom. This, essentially, means that Clerics are Wisdom-based casters. And, while they are able to cast other types of spells, their spellcasting modifier (essentially, how hard they hit) comes from Wisdom. The higher the Wisdom, and in turn the higher the spellcasting modifier, the harder it will be for enemies to make saving throws when you attack them.

  • How do you calculate spell save DC cleric 5e: A Cleric spell save DC is calculated by adding 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Wisdom spellcasting modifier. For example, a Level 12 Cleric with 18 Wisdom will receive a +4 to both proficiency and spellcasting, meaning the spell save DC will be 16.

Druid Spell Save DC

Druids are similar to Clerics, in that they are Wisdom-based casters. Because of that, the same rules would apply that we applied to Clerics.

How does Druid calculate spell save DC: A Druid spell save DC is calculated by adding 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Wisdom spellcasting modifier.

Warlock Spell Save DC

Warlocks’ spellcasting ability modifier is Charisma. This means, when calculating a Warlock’s spell save difficulty class, we’ll include Charisma in the equation.

  • How does warlock calculate spell save DC: This is done by adding 8 + your proficiency bonus + your character’s Charisma spellcasting modifier.

Bard Spell Save DC

A Bard’s spellcasting ability modifier is also Charisma, meaning that’s what we’ll take into account when figuring out the character’s spell save difficulty class.

  • How do you increase spell save DC Bard: This is done by adding 8 + your proficiency bonus + your character’s Charisma spellcasting modifier.

Monk Spell Save DC

How does monk calculate spell save DC? If you’ve taken the Way of the Four Elements, it’s based on Wisdom.

  • What is a monk spell save DC: Based on the Way of the Four Elements, a Monk spell save DC is calculated by adding 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Wisdom spellcasting modifier.

Paladin Spell Save DC

What is the spell save DC for Paladins? Because we know that Charisma is a Paladin’s spellcasting ability modifier (they are Charisma-based casters), we will use that in the equation below.

  • How does Paladin calculate spell save DC: This is done by adding 8 + your proficiency bonus + your character’s Charisma spellcasting modifier.

Sorcerer Spell Save DC

Sorcerers are the last class that have Charisma as their spellcasting ability modifier.

  • How do you calculate spell save DC for Sorcerer: This is done by adding 8 + your proficiency bonus + your character’s Charisma spellcasting modifier.

Wizard Spell Save DC

Wizards are one of the only classes that use Intelligence as their spellcasting ability modifier. This makes sense because of the way they learn spells, and their ability to attempt to commit new spells to memory.

  • What is spell save DC for Wizard: This is done by adding 8 + your proficiency bonus + your character’s Intelligence spellcasting modifier.

Artificer Spell Save DC

Artificers are the other class that use Intelligence as their spellcasting ability modifier.

  • How to calculate Artificer spell save difficulty class: This is done by adding 8 + your proficiency bonus + your character’s Intelligence spellcasting modifier.

Death Saving Throws

3 failed death saving throws

There will be times in combat where your D&D character loses all of their hit points. When that happens, they go unconscious and enter death saving throw mode. For those wondering if a death save is a saving throw, the answer is yes. It’s a special type of saving throw. A death saving throw is not an ability check.

For those wondering, “How do you make a death saving throw 5e”, the answer is pretty simple:

  • When your character begins their turn with 0 hit points or less, roll a flat d20 (no modifiers)
  • What happens if you fail a death saving throw? If you roll 1-9, it’s a fail and that is marked as one of three failures.
  • If you roll 10 or better, it’s a success
  • Three successes lead to your character preventing death
  • Three failures lead to your character’s death

What happens if you roll a natural 20 on a death save?

If you roll a natural 20 on a death saving throw, your character will immediately stabilize and be given 1 HP.

Can you take an action after death saving throw?

Because a saving throw is down at the start of your turn, I typically say that, upon regaining consciousness, a character is free to move and take actions as they would like.

Can you use lucky on death saves?

Yes! Halflings have a racial feature called Lucky that also works on death saving throws. So, if you roll a 1 on your death saving throw, and your character is a halfling, you can roll again.

Frequently Asked Questions About DnD Saving Throws

What is the most common saving throw 5E?

Generally, the most common saving throws in DnD 5E are Dexterity, Wisdom and Constitution. These are the situations and encounters that occur the most often. Among these three, Constitution is likely the most common, as there are many scenarios and monsters that would force a Constitution save.

Can you choose to fail a saving throw?

In short: It depends. I would say it’s up to the DM but here’s how I’d break it down:

  • Wisdom saves: Because wisdom has to do with a character’s perception of the world around them, with being charmed as an example, I’d say you couldn’t choose to fail this saving throw as it’d be hard to choose to fail a save here. I can’t think of a way you’d easily convince yourself that your perception of the world, or people around you, is different than your perception of it.
  • Charisma saves: Because charisma measures your character’s personality, along with their ability to maintain their personality, I think it’d again be a difficult measurement. You could argue some people allow themselves to be hypnotized, but I think the better argument would be that some people are more susceptible to being hypnotized, not that they’re making that choice.
  • Dexterity saves: Simply, yes. You could refuse to get out of the way of something barreling towards you.
  • Strength saves: Again, a pretty simple yes here as well. You could choose to give up an arm wrestle.
  • Constitution saves: This is a tough one. Constitution measures a character’s life force. To a degree, people can withstand some amount of pain, but there is, generally, programming that prevents pain (especially life-threatening pain).
  • Intelligence saves: Because intelligence has to do a with a character’s mental acuity and ability to reason, I’d say no. I think it’d be difficult to give up a person’s reasoning.

Does INT save common?

Intelligence is among the least-common saving throw in DnD. But, as mentioned above, Intelligence saves are the ones that can be the most negatively impactful. So, while they don’t occur often, they hit hard when they do come.

Can you crit fail a saving throw?

While there is no official ruling on critical failing saving throws in D&D, many tables opt into a punishment for doing so.

Is a nat 1 an auto miss?

Yes, when you roll a natural 1 on a saving throw, it is an automatic fail regardless of any modifiers your character may have. Think about it, you have rolled the absolute worst number possible for your character, so it makes sense that they would fail.

Can you Nat 20 a saving throw?

A natural 20 on a saving throw and ability check does not necessarily guarantee success. This is based on the varying difficulty classes for saves and checks. A natural 20 on an attack roll, however, is an automatic success.

What is the highest spell save DC 5e?

The highest possible spell save DC that can be achieved in D&D 5E is 30. In order to get this, you must reach character Level 20, while multiclassing as a Warlock with a Cleric or Paladin.

What magic increases spell save DC?

There are a variety of items in D&D that will increase your character’s spell save DC. Among the most common are All-Purpose Tools and the Amulet of the Devout. Below are a few more examples.

Items that increase spell save DC in D&D

ItemSpell Save DC BonusClasses
Tome of Understanding+1Cleric, Druid, Monk, Ranger
Ioun Stone+1All
All-Purpose Tools+1, +2, or +3Artificer
Amulet of the Devout+1, +2, or +3Cleric, Paladin
Arcane Grimoire+1, +2, or +3Wizard
Bloodwell Vial+1, +2, or +3Sorcerer
Moon Sickle+1, +2, or +3Druid, Ranger
Reveler’s Concertina+2Bard
Rhythm Maker’s Drum+1, +2, or+3Bard
Robe of the Archmagi+2Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard
Rod of the Pact Keeper+1, +2, or +3Warlock
List of items that increase spell save DC in D&D

What spells require an intelligence saving throw?

There are 7 spells that require intelligence saving throws:

  • 2nd level spell: Phantasmal Force
  • 3rd level spell: Enemies Abound
  • 5th level spell: Contact Other Plane (Caster makes this roll)
  • 6th level spell: Mental Prison
  • 8th level spell: Feeblemind
  • 9th level spell: Pyschic Scream

Additional D&D Guides to Consider:

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