Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Character Generation circa 1981

Here's a lengthy excerpt from the wonderful book, What is Dungeons & Dragons?, that I received in the mail yesterday:
The attributes (often called characteristics) are, in general, determined randomly by rolling dice. The standard method is to roll three normal (six-sided) dice and add up the scores on all three. This will give a number between 3 and 18 which will, for example, be the character's Strength. Similarly three d6s are rolled and totalled for the character's Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity and so on.

This method, however, tends to produce characters with many or all of their attributes at about average (10 or 11), and many players find the game is more exciting when they have characters who excel in one or more attributes. To this end there are several alternative methods of character generation. The first is to roll four six-sided dice and to discard the lowest score. For example, if the scores on the dice were 6, 5, 4, 2 then the player would discard the 2, as in this case it would be the lowest roll, and then add up the total of the rest, giving a final value of 14 for this attribute. The next method is to roll attributes for twelve separate characters and then to choose the set of attributes from any one particular character. This has the advantage that the player can elect, for example, to have a character with a high Strength if he wishes to play a 'Strong' character. It also does not tend towards the production of 'Super-Characters', that is those who have 18 in every attribute. These are not nearly as much fun to play as characters which have one or two low attributes. A character with low Intelligence can often provide great amusement, whereas a character with all attributes high, having less challenges to face, will often become simply tedious. One other method often used does fall into this unfortunate tendency to produce Super-Characters. In this method three d6s are rolled six times for each characteristic and the best score taken.
Apparently Messrs. Butterfield, Parker, and Honigmann didn't think much of the DMG's alternative ability score generation methods either. Good for them.

24 comments:

  1. Alas, you've totally changed the voice in my head when I read this, with that single word "Etonians" in your previous post.

    Exciting amusement, indeed.

    I figured at the time that this book wouldn't tell me much I didn't know from reading Moldvay Basic. Have you found any revelations?

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  2. I think that you may have misread that passage, James. Either that, or I did.

    As far as I can tell, the authors *only* criticize the last method, the system of rolling six times for each characteristic. In fact, they seem to favour the second method (rolling up 12 characters and picking one): "This has the advantage that the player can elect, for example, to have a character with a high Strength if he wishes to play a 'Strong' character. It also does not tend towards the production of 'Super-Characters', that is those who have 18 in every attribute. These are not nearly as much fun to play as characters which have one or two low attributes."

    Also, as Space Masters noted, they need to work on their math a bit. :)

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  3. This seems to back up the observation that OD&D/BD&D players who moved into AD&D often brought plenty of the rules along with them.

    Of note is that while there's several methods they mock openly, I'm not reading that sentence as negative to 4d6 drop lowest - he's saying that roling 12 characters and choosing is stupid, not that simply using a different system is bad. He's rather silent, in fact, on the system except to say it's an alternate which people who want non-average characters might like.

    Now perhaps I forget a section immediately afterwards where he proclaims the superiority of the original system, but I think the wording here is vague enough that Method I could be getting a thumbs up or down. (After all, having used 4d6 drop lowest in 3.5 for many years, I can attest that you still get plenty of crappy scores popping up here and there)

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  4. Gah! If I'd been quicker and not waited till I finished my snack, I could have beaten Akrasia. :>

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  5. "he's saying that roling 12 characters and choosing is stupid, not that simply using a different system is bad

    But the authors are not saying that. :)

    "This [system] has the advantage that the player can elect, for example, to have a character with a high Strength if he wishes to play a 'Strong' character. It also does not tend towards the production of 'Super-Characters'". That doesn't sound like calling a system 'stupid' to me. Quite the opposite.

    Only the last system -- viz. rolling six times for each ability score and picking the best -- is clearly criticized by the authors.

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  6. To be clear: 4d6-drop-the-lowest is not one of the alternative generation methods presented in the DMG.

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  7. "To be clear: 4d6-drop-the-lowest is not one of the alternative generation methods presented in the DMG".

    On page 11, 'Method I' states: "All scores are recorded and arranged in the order the player desires. 4d6 are rolled, and the lowest die (or one of the lower) is discarded."

    Between my different reading of the passage quoted in the blog post, and my reading of the DMG, I'm not sure what's going on here... :/

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  8. 4d6-drop-the-lowest and 4d6-drop-the-lowest-and-arrange-to-taste are not the same thing.

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  9. "4d6-drop-the-lowest and 4d6-drop-the-lowest-and-arrange-to-taste are not the same thing."

    Aha, okay then! :D

    (I simply assumed that the authors were referring to 'Method I', since the other two methods discussed clearly are 'Method III' and Method IV'.)

    In any case, I still don't see how one can interpret the authors as dismissing or criticizing all methods other than '3d6-in-order', for the reason I've already stated.

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  10. I fear we're drifting into Big Endian vs. Little Endian territory here again . . .

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  11. In any case, I still don't see how one can interpret the authors as dismissing or criticizing all methods other than '3d6-in-order', for the reason I've already stated.

    I'm mostly just yanking people's chains here (mostly), since I've noticed that, aside from ascending AC, there are few topics on which I can generate as much righteous indignation as the question of how best to generate ability scores.

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  12. Aiyee, James has named The Armor Issue Which Must Not Be Named!

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  13. Heh! I don't really feel that strongly about ability score generation. I'm just a bit OCD about interpreting texts (professional hazard, I guess).

    Ascending versus descending AC, on the other hand...

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  14. I just use 3d6 in order and have them roll up 6 characters. Gives us a 6x6 matrix. They choose the character they'd most like to play and my players are moderately unlikely to choose the one with the best rolls.

    They keep whatever rolls they didn't take as backups or give them to me as NPCs or hirelings or such.

    Honestly, they're just numbers. It doesn't affect our game much. The results for my campaign with 5 players was thief (with a 17, 14 dex), cleric (16 dex/wis, 8 str), cleric (17 wis, 14 dex), elf (avg str, 13 int, 6 cha), and fighter (13 str, 18 con).

    To us, it's the players, not the numbers. But I play with a bunch of weirdos who are just happy to have 5 hours to play D&D every Friday night.

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  15. Once I started playing point distribution based RPGs I realized the absurd nature of randomly generating stats with dice. It just dosen't make any sense. It isn't a level playing field and as a game mechanic it is just plain silly. I've got a weaker character than you just because of a dice toss? Screw that.

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  16. The way I read it, the authors criticize 3d6 In Order because it "tends to produce characters with many or all of their attributes at about average (10 or 11), and many players find the game is more exciting when they have characters who excel in one or more attributes."

    And they criticize 3d6 Six Times Take Best In Order because it has the "unfortunate tendency to produce Super-Characters."

    But they don't assess 4d6 Take Best 3d6 In Order at all.

    And they favorably assess Roll 12 Characters & Choose because it "has the advantage that the player can elect, for example, to have a character with a high Strength if he wishes to play a 'Strong' character. It also does not tend towards the production of 'Super-Characters', that is those who have 18 in every attribute."

    Myself, I've come to favor Roll 18d6 & Arrange. It almost always allows a player to give their character an 18 and a couple other high scores, so they can excell in whatever class they want to play. But, to achieve that, they almost always have to make a few other scores below average, giving their character exploitable weaknesses.

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  17. @pervis...yeah, I feel the same way about monopoly. "I have to go to jail becuase of a dice toss!? Screw that!"

    :)

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  18. Once for a "hero quest" we rolled 3d6 re-roll ones and twos, arrange to taste. When everyone is super, no one is.

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  19. Comparing dice rolling for stats to Monopoly mechanics is just plain ridiculous.

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  20. WHat can I say? I like the randomness of dice for character attributes. I don't assume I'm going to get to play exactly the character I might otherwise choose to play - thats part of the fun to me...and I don't know why its a requirement that every player have a character that is the equal of every other players character. I mean I'm certainly not the equal of every person on the planet but I find ways to get along.

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  21. Rolls 3d6...

    S(11), I(10), W(13), D(12), Co(5), Ch(16)
    Fighter, Neutral, 4hp

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  22. in the first long-term AD&D campaign i was involved with we used the old 3d6 in order method. my first character had about a 12 dex as the high stat, so i was relegated to thief, a half-orc. ahh the good ole days.

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  23. I still have my original copy of 'What is Dungeons & Dragons?', and I have DM'd 'The Shrine of Kollchap' countless times. It's probably the best D&D book ever after the 1e DMG and Moldvay Basic.

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