OD&D (the little brown books) used these categories:
- Death Ray or Poison
- All Wands - including Polymorph or Paralyzation
- Dragon Breath
- Staves and Spells
B/X D&D shuffled things about a bit with these categories:
- Death Ray and Poison
- Magic Wands
- Paralysis and Turn to Stone
- Dragon Breath
- Rod, Staff or Spell
Again, I never played B/X. I just recently (last year, in fact) managed to get my hands on a copy of the D&D Rules Cyclopaedia, which is pretty cool I must say, although most of the illustrations are pretty boring.
My main contact with saving throws was via AD&D1e (and my bastardized combination of 1e and 2e), which had separate save categories for:
- Paralyzation, Poison or Death Magic
- Petrification or Polymorph
- Rod, Staff or Wand
- Breath Weapon
As it was presented in The Old Days though, it was all a bit arcane; the reasoning behind the categories was never actually spelled out. Exactly why a fighter should find it harder to save against an effect from a spell than against the exact same effect via a wand was never actually explained (as far as I know); it was left to the individual GM to rationalize backwards from the data. And it was open to ambiguity — if one was attacked with a wand that squirted out a roiling, roasting cone of fire exactly like red dragon breath, should one properly save vs. Wands or vs. Breath Weapon?
When D&D3e came along, all those effect-based categories were swept away, and instead three characteristic-modified categories replaced them:
- Fortitude (modified by your Constitution bonus or penalty)
- Reflex (modified by Dexterity)
- Will (modified by Wisdom)
I don't play D&D4e (boo! hiss! spit!), so I don't know how saving throws are dealt with in that system.
Note: Geoffrey, in the comments,describes the D&D4e saving throw system. It has the sole virtue of simplicity, but it doesn't encourage me to bother with that glorified over-hyped version of Descent.
As I've mentioned before, my game of choice at the moment is Swords & Wizardry, which discards all saving throw categories and uses a single Saving Throw target number for each class and level.
I believe that in its 3rd printing it states that the save be modified against various effects according to class (e.g. a cleric gets +2 to their save against being paralyzed or poisoned). It's not a terrible idea, and it does help to further delineate the individual classes, but then to a small degree it also compromises the Single Save's main virtue, its simplicity and I don't use it myself.
Although I do miss the baroque splendour of the old AD&D Saving Throw Matrix, I've found S&W's single save number to be very workable and flexible in play. I tend to use it as a characteristic save a lot of the time; for example, if a character trips a trap in which he finds himself dodging a multitude of poison darts like Indiana Jones in the first movie, I can call for a DEX save and have the character modify the saving throw by his DEX bonus (or penalty). If they trip a mysterious, non-obvious magical trap, I can just ask for a saving throw.... and because there are no verbal clues (i.e. not a save vs. paralysis, or a save vs. poison, but just a save) it adds to the tension when nothing obvious happens.
I like the concept of the saving throw a lot. It means there's always a chance.... maybe a very slim chance, but a chance, and where there's hope, as they say, there's life.
For that reason, I'll almost never not allow a saving throw in any situation, no matter how hopeless it may seem. Even if it does no good in the end, it makes people feel better, and that means a more enjoyable game.