Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Random Musing

For whatever reason, lots of gamers bristle at the idea of rolling 3D6 in order for their characters' ability scores. Me, I like it, even prefer it, because it's a good way to a) generate a character that's unexpected and b) generate a character who's likely to have one or more areas of obvious deficiency.

With that in mind, I wonder what might happen if instead of rolling 3D6 in order, a player could roll 18D6 and then allocate whole dice to whatever ability scores they wished. No score could exceed 18 and no score could be below 3 but, provided those rules are kept in mind, a player would be free to put however many dice he wished into determining any ability score. So, if a player really wanted a Strength 18 fighting man, he could allocate the sum of 5 of his 18D6 to achieve that end. Barring some really good dice rolls, this will likely mean that the fighter character will have below average scores in other abilities, but that's the price one pays.

Has anyone ever used a system like this? I've never done it myself, so there may well be some consequences for doing so that I'm not aware of. Theoretically, though, it seems like a good way to combine the most of the best features of 3D6 in order with player choice, the latter of which seems to be the biggest beef many gamers have with the standard OD&D method of rolling ability scores.


  1. There's a fairly similar system in Pathfinder:

    Dice Pool: Each character has a pool of 24d6 to assign to his statistics. Before the dice are rolled, the player selects the number of dice to roll for each score, with a minimum of 3d6 for each ability. Once the dice have been assigned, the player rolls each group and totals the result of the three highest dice. For more high-powered games, the GM should increase the total number of dice to 28. This method generates characters of a similar power to the Standard method.

    I've not used it, but the mathematician in our group decided it was the best method, and picked it for his character. The result was mage with good scores, although our barbarian did 3d6 in order and got 18, 18, 15, 14, 11, 16, which took the edge off it a bit. ;)

  2. I like that a lot, actually.

    What would be interesting, is that granularity would come into play. 1, 2 and 6 is not the same as 3, 3, and 3.


  3. I think it's something like the "Burger King" approach to DM'ing - you can have it your way... but you still have to eat at BK.

    It makes it easier to get characters like paladins and so on, but it also imposes very definite costs and choices on players (which they do not always appreciate at first blush).

  4. I expect that most players would make 2-3 scores very, very high and the rest would be abysmal. As a test, I'll roll up a fighter right now and this is what I got-

    Str- 16
    Int- 8
    Wis- 9
    Dex- 15
    Con- 14
    Cha- 4

  5. Whoops, I read that wrong. I made my fighter by limiting each score to just 3 dice each - which probably works out better as it keeps people from having pc's with 2 18's and 2 3's.

  6. First off, I'm surprised to hear that people are disgruntled by the 3d6 attribute creation method. I must admit that I'm biased as it was the first method i ever learned, but I've honestly never found a more balanced method of character creation. Again, I'll admit that as a young gamer I'd roll 3 sets of 3d6 per ability to maximize my abilities as much as possible, but I was young and wanted to min/max way too much.

    I don't think anyone in my group's ever really strayed too far from the 3d6 method, it's just the way it was and that's the way we liked it (I'm dating myself with that reference).

    I think the 18d6 would be interesting because it allows for conscious choices to be made as to what you want to sacrifice for the good of one or two abilities. I think I'll play around with this a little tonight, just to see how it goes.

  7. The problem is that one set of rolls determines the entire course of the character's career. Having been in games where some characters were vastly more powerful than others, it gets old after a while.
    I have no problem with random generation in character build (as long as that's known up front), as long as you control for balance.
    Having one character with all 18s and a nother with a single 12 (in say Strength) and the other stats at 3 would seem.... unfair.

    In some games this is expected, of course. Very high mortality games, for example, or ones where stats don't matter much.

  8. One of the best features of 3D6 in order is the same trend to average for every ability and for every character.

  9. If I remember correctly, the Unearthed Arcana book had some alternate generation rules that meant you were almost certain to get an 18 in your preferred stat. I don't remember the solution being as elegant as what you've just suggested though.

    If the players want to be specific classes and have excellent prime stats for that class, I'm fine with it. Heck, I'd be open to running a game where we assigned stats instead of rolling them. It just depends on the group and the goal of the game.

    I usually prefer not to do that for D&D, but I've done it and it's been fun.

  10. The problem is that one set of rolls determines the entire course of the character's career.

    Well, you don't exactly get to pick your genetics in real life either. And in sufficiently old versions of D&D you can be a weak fighter or a stupid mage or a foolish cleric, you're just not quite as good at it.

    Inflation of the effects of statistics, a la Greyhawk or AD&D or even B/X, is one of the worst things that ever happened to D&D. For me coming across OD&D and finding out how minimal the effects of statistics are was liberating - I mean, I still use them for certain things when I run but I prefer as few "bonuses" as possible.

    For me, 3d6 in order (with option to swap at 2-for-1) preserves the idea that this is a game where you are playing vulnerable humans venturing down into a very dark, very hazardous space for potential great reward. I don't believe in starting off as a "hero" and don't particularly care for the idea, and I think everything but 3d6 in order leads that way.

  11. I've had chargen sessions where we've used pools of 18d6, but we've kept the grouping to 3 dice. It's definitely provided flexibility. I would worry that assigning more than 3 dice to a single attribute could lead to some aggressive min/maxing. (CHA would definitely take the role of dumpstat).

  12. I'd let a player do this, but only if they brought 18D6 with them, and roll them all at once. And if any fall off the table, they have to do the whole thing over.

  13. I worry 18d6 might lead to too much fiddling and optimizing. The Pathfinder method at least lets characters pick their priorities in broader terms before settling down to the exact math of it. Another virtue of 3d6 in order is that it is fast.

    I compromise by allowing one ability switch after dice is rolled (including with a 3d6 social status roll that players are free to consider a dump stat, as it mainly determines only starting equipment and money.) This lets players choose the kind of character they want to play while perserving some quirkiness.

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. My group does 4d6 drop the lowest roll and the player is allowed to pick the attribute where the score is to be placed. I would be interested in trying the 18d6 method. The group I play with just finished our first maptool module and even using the 4d6 method, nobody had an ability score over 16. That can probably be attributed to the dice tools in maptool. Talk about horrible rolls. We had 6 pcs vs. 18 brigands and it took over an hour for us to resolve combat. The rolls were awful for the pcs and the brigands. I mean none of those combatants could have hit water if they fell out of a boat. As a side note, none of the guys I play with mind min/maxing. If some one ends up with an 18 or two, good for 'em. I play as an average human everyday of my life. Why would I want to fantasy game as one?

  16. I must admit, when I roll up characters for cons I tend to use a dice pool. However, this was more in an attempt to speed the process.

    I did notice that this method resulted in some characters having very high scores, but in most cases these were compensated for by lower scores elsewhere. If anything, having a dice pool should result in a more average pool of points with which to build a character, with the twist that you have to use it in the portions it was served in.

  17. I like the idea, but only if the dump stats are eliminated by ensuring that all the characteristic scores have some kind of mechanical effect. Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma should matter, and characters with low scores in those should suffer appropriate penalties. We'd never allow a physically strong player to argue that as he could lift an object, so should his STR 6 character, so why contemplate allowing a CHR 6 character to skillfully negotiate just because his player has a silver tongue. The stats (and mechanics of the game) are the means through which a players intentions are realised by their characters. A player says he is going to lift the boulder, but it is his characters Strength score, not the player's muscles, that are used to determine success. A player says that his character is going to skillfully negotiate, he may even demonstrate what he would like his character to say, but with INT 7, WIS 8, CHR 6, those intentions are likely to be realised in a very different way.

    The flip side of this is that stupid, shy, or tactless players can play intelligence, wise, and charismatic fantasy characters. Just as the fat weakling can play a character with the strength of a demi-god and the constitution of an ox.

  18. I was in a group that also did the same thing as heathandvashti. 4d6 and drop the lowest, the allocate them how you want. Nobody ever complained about that approach and everyone seemed to think it was the best option so you didn't end up with a total gimp of a character. The game that was really big with our gaming group was DC Heroes because we were more comicbook geeks before we got into gaming. So random character creation seemed liike a bizarre concept to us...we'd rather be given a point allocation system because it seemed like a more level playing field. MEGS was really an awesome gaming system. Ayways, I still feel that completely random stat generation is a bit dated.

  19. Ayways, I still feel that completely random stat generation is a bit dated.

    This is a very odd way of looking at it - as if dice rolling methods have become "better" because stats and their importance in the game got inflated. In fact, there is almost nothing older in D&D terms than ridiculously high stats becoming necessary for all kinds of things, and corresponding inflation of average character statistics. It started in Greyhawk and went downhill from there.

    Rolling up a character is as much a part of Dungeons & Dragons as fighters and d20s - and editions that have gotten rid of that, have precious little connection with the original game. The more time you spend on fiddly details in chargen, the more the game is built for PC survival, to the point where by modern editions it's pretty much a given unless you screw up or over-stretch yourself.

  20. I’ve wanted to try this for a while. It’s been on my B/X house rules collection for a long time, although erroneously 36d6 instead of 18. I also like the idea of including starting gold (÷10) as a seventh score. So, that’d make it 21d6. With all the d6s we’ve got sitting around, it’d be fun to roll them all at once.

    I haven’t tried it for one simple reason: No one in my group has a problem with 3d6 in order.

    The kind of thing that Penn describes is so utterly foreign to me. In my groups ability scores never make that big a difference. (And that’s not to even mention the fact that since our PCs are working coöperatively 99.9% of the time, we’re happy if another PC is extra-effective ’cause they’re on our side.)

  21. what the proposed new method lacks is what might be more important of the two advantages of the 3d6 in order method: "generating a character that's unexpected." This gets players accustomed to re-adapting to all the unexpected elements in the game: some of which come from the dice, others from the DM, others from fellow players.

    I'd prefer to tweak the ability score requirements of the various "prestige" classes.

    "He didn't really fill out his chain mail like the other paladins-- but we let him in because he was just that-- righteous."

  22. I'll argue contra: (1) The physical logistics of tracking 18 dice at once (whether recording or moving them without losing/tipping any over) seem clunky, (2) This assumes prior knowledge of the pros & cons for each ability, and (3) I find that brand-new players get bogged down with more than 3-4 choices at one step (and here the choices are on the order of 18 factorial or something -- actually, that's kind of a hard problem now that I think of it).

    My general rule-of-thumb is to keep the number of options at any given step to no more than 7+/-2.

  23. @Roger: "Another virtue of 3d6 in order is that it is fast. I compromise by allowing one ability switch after dice is rolled..."

    Agree. Same here.

  24. @KP: "I would worry that assigning more than 3 dice to a single attribute could lead to some aggressive min/maxing. (CHA would definitely take the role of dumpstat)."

    Agreed. This seems like a recipe for a whole party of (18,15,8,8,8,4) characters, with a lot of fiddly min-maxing to get there.

  25. I don't have a preference, but I allow my players to roll 3d6 and arrange to taste.

  26. 18d6, arrange to taste, is power creep over 3d6 straight in games using, say, the AD&D first edition ability tables.

    If you want a thief, you can have, say, Str 8, Int 6, Wis 8, Dex 18, Con 7, and Cha 9. (56 on 18d6, a below-average set of rolls)

    Compared to a character who rolled 3d6 straight and got significantly above-average rolls—Str 15, Int 15, Wis 14, Dex 15, Con 14, and Cha 12—all you lose is encumbrance, open doors rolls, and extra languages. Our poor-rolling, dice-shifted-around character is a vastly superior thief, earning +10% to XP, +3 on surprise and missile attack rolls, an additional -3 to AC, and significant bonuses to many thief abilities.

    Swap Str and Dex in the first example, and he'd be an overall better (melee) fighter than the second guy, too.

  27. i like the 18d6 method and have used it in the past. i feel letting players play the kind of character they like is a good idea.

    with hindsight i believe that limiting stats to 15 or 16 for characters rolled this way might be a good idea. i would also always require the player to come up with some kind of drawback for this character.

    players immature enough to put only 3 or 4 points into a dumpstat can roll again... 3d6 in order. :)

  28. There is an experiments that is worth trying with each group at least once. Let the players choose there ability scores.

    Everytime I’ve tried it, the players have picked extremely reasonable scores. Even those I wouldn’t expect to.

    Of course, if they all chose 18s across the board, that can be an interesting experiment itself. You might be surprised that it really doesn’t make such a big difference.

    YMMV of course. You might be surprised though.

  29. @Jimmy Swill: On granularity, one method I tried once for heroic characters (such as player characters) was to roll 13d6, and then assign dice to Core, Physicality, Mentality, Coordination, Aura, and the eight base characteristics (the additional two being Power [Aura, with Charisma] and Agility [Coodination, with Dex]). So that for example, your actual Strength was equal to your Core die + Physicality die + Strength die.

    And yes, the relative cost advantages of each die meant that heroic characters tended to have a Core of 6 [but we are talking about heroic characters here. The interesting bit was how people then decided their next die, since the next circle of dice had twice the value of the outer circle, but to get a really good score you had to put a high quality die in the outer circle.

    Although I do think it would be interesting to apply the 18d6 method in combination with a scheme such as Rob Donogue's rich dice method, where each die represents Force, Finesse, and Fortune [or Power, Grace, and Chance]. He used it for determining success in games like Drgaon Age, so you can use the distinction between the dice to narrate how you succeeded or failed. By it should also be equally valid to narrate the nature of your character. For example a character with a high Force Strength die would be more of a power muscle builder [short bulky muscle strands], whilst a Finess Strength might be more athletic [long muscle] or even just be someone that applies their strength better through leverage.

    Interesting thoughts.

  30. One method I have used in my games with some success is creating a 3x3 grid. The columns represent Str/Dex/Con, and the Rows Int/Wis/Cha. Roll 3d6 for each box in the grid. Now pick your stats from the appropriate row or column. It gives numbers not much better than 3d6 six times, but allows a limited amount of flexibility. That 16 I rolled is going to have to go either in my Strength or my Charisma...
    I like this method because it allows some choice, while also being somewhat bound by chance. You still aren't guaranteed high scores where you want them.
    It is also a reasonably fast method of generation.

  31. I used this method in a recent Barsoom game (except it was 27d6 b/c I have 3 add'tl stats for Honor, Psionics, and Tech level of the players homeworld). The players seemed to enjoy it, I think it's more of a placebo effect though. Having an 18 strength in OD&D doesn't really do all that much.

  32. I used 2 systems (depending on the campaign):

    (1) Roll 4d6 and take the best 3 dice.
    (2) Roll 3d6 and reroll any ones.

  33. 3d6 right down the line? That's for power gamers! I use 2d6 right down the line.

  34. I use 3d6, assign as you go, no swapping after you assign. That lets you guide the character a bit if you feel like it, but prevents complete optimization. Players with a strong preference for what class they currently feel like playing often end up with their best score something other than their primary attribute as they settle for a decent score rolled early.

  35. I'm going to crib this. I have been looking at LotfP for a campaign, with a few tweaks for my setting. I really enjoyed his write up of alignments for that game. I am thinking of making chaotic characters go 3d6. Period, no changing. I think using your system here for lawful players is fitting, given the idea that lawful characters being bound towards a destiny. During creation, if people want to pick a class for a chaotic character rather than asses a set of stats and build from there, I may allow switching the highest stat into the primary attribute. But, I'll insist this comes at a cost, a curse of some kind (like, "may not eat meat that has ever touched metal." etc.) A minor Faustian bargain of some kind. As if the character did something to have that happen, not a merely mathematical decision out of game.

  36. "3d6 right down the line? That's for power gamers! I use 2d6 right down the line."


    In our B/X/LL/FP game, some of the most successful characters have been the ones with the worst scores. My cleric is one of the highest (4th) level characters in the game, and he SUCKS. He's got a 10% penalty on XP (which IMO is the only place bad stats really hurt in B/X.)

    Also, I wanted to point out to the commenter who said something about making stats matter that Charisma ain't a dump stat in B/X D&D. In some ways it's THE stat, in a game where controlling your retainers and negotiating with dangerous monsters is par for the course.

  37. Wow... lot of comments.
    My preferred stat-generation method these days is based on a set of 18 playing cards containing a particular combination of aces through sixes (Usually I set two 2s aside... see below.) Deal the cards into six stat piles of three cards each (pre-designate each pile if you prefer), reveal the stats, then add your two 2s as you see fit, as long as they don't bring a stat over 18.

    I like it especially for new groups because each character comes out unique with unexpected strengths and weaknesses (like pure 3d6 does), extremely high and low stats are still reasonably rare and exciting, the floating 2s allow a player some influence in their character without being overpowering, and every player starts at a certain level of stat-balance (no gods or clods). It's easy, it's more random than "point buy" and other evils, and it does everything I like.

    With 18d6 assign as desired, you practically guarantee at least one 18. That may be the intent.

  38. I still like the 3d6 in order for statistic generation as it helps me actually create a character. I could be more tempted to use 3d6 with six sets rolled then assigned to the stats if a player has an absoloute desire to play a particular class, but otherwise favour going with what you've got.

    Particularly in OD&D, but even in B/X or Labyrinth Lord the stats are not so important or unbalancing as in say 3e so I'd still prefer to avoid too much design by assigning all the dice.

    With the 18d6 and assign I'd still say they had to be allocated in 3s so no stat comes with a lower value than 3 or greater than 18.

  39. Back in the AD&D days we would roll 3D6, re-rolling the lowest AND 1's. You were then allowed to put the numbers into the attributes of choice, followed by a 2-for-1 point swap.

    Now you are probably thinking "nice group of super characters...", BUT our dice didn't like us very much. We were lucky to get a character with one 18 in the whole party. Our resident player cleric actually melted his dice in my driveway. I can understand though with his highest attribute being a 12 ... for the 3rd time. How can you not get mad?

    Yep, the good ole days.