Saturday, March 5, 2011

That's How I Roll

I'm a 3D6-in-order kind of guy, probably because that's the method the Blue Book presents for the generation of player characters. Another area where Dr. Holmes strongly influenced me is in choosing the class for one's character.
After all six characteristics have been rolled and recorded on a separate sheet of paper or other permanent record for the character, the player decides what class the character will be, This decision is based on the character's strongest abilities and the player's preferences.
On this model, you roll the dice, take a look at what you've got, and choose a class accordingly. There are class-specific provisions for 2-for-1 and 3-for-1 swapping of points between abilities, but otherwise you get what you get. That's why I still use the term "character generation" rather than "character creation" when talking about rolling up a new D&D persona: until you roll those dice and record the results, there's no way of knowing whether you'll be playing a fighting man or a magic-user.

In the passage quoted above, Holmes states the choice of character class should be based on "the character's strongest abilities and the player's preferences." This comports well with the sample character in Volume 1 of the LBBs, Xylarthen, whose Wisdom is higher than his Intelligence and thus "would have progressed faster as a Cleric, but because of a personal preference for magic opted for that class."

This is a line of thought carried through into Moldvay's rules as well.
To choose a class, a player should first look for his or her highest ability scores. If one of the high scores is the prime requisite for a class, the player should consider making his or her character a member of that class.
Again, the implication here is that the choice of a character class is, to a large degree, one makes after one has rolled the dice, not beforehand.

I found myself thinking about this because, earlier today, I'd re-read the original appearance of the barbarian sub-class for AD&D, which Gary Gygax offered up for consideration in issue 63 of Dragon (July 1982). Unlike most sub-classes, the barbarian has no ability score prerequisites. Instead, Gygax offers an unusual method for determining ability scores:
  • Strength: best 3 of 9D6
  • Intelligence: 3D6
  • Wisdom: 4D4
  • Dexterity: best 3 of 7D6
  • Constitution: best 3 of 8D6
  • Charisma: 3D6
I don't want to argue the relative merits of OD&D vs. AD&D concerning the importance of ability scores. That's immaterial to what I'm discussing here, namely that, by 1982 at least, Gygax had shifted his thinking regarding character generation, putting the choice of class ahead of the generation of ability scores. Indeed, it is the class that determines the ability scores one is likely to have rather than the other way around. It's a noteworthy change and I neither praise it nor condemn it, though I must admit that I find the notion of "best 3 of 9D6" more than a little absurd. If you're going to weight the dice so heavily, why not just state upfront that all barbarian characters have 18 Strength and be done with it? This is, to my mind anyway, scarcely more than lip service to the notion of randomness.

As I said, my concept of character generation is heavily influenced by the way we read Holmes back in the day. One did not decide in advance to play a fighter or a thief; that was what one decided after rolling the dice and seeing the ability scores generated. I've always found this approach useful for two reasons. First, it breaks me of the habit of playing the same classes over and over again. Left to my own devices, I gravitate toward fighters or clerics but random rolling occasionally forces me out of my comfort zone into classes I otherwise might not choose. Second, it makes the prerequisites for sub-classes meaningful. Paladins, for example, are clearly meant to be rare -- "born, not made" -- and their rarity becomes increasingly notional outside of a 3D6-in-order scheme.

Clearly, this is an area where Gary had a different opinion from my own. He explains his position in a post to ENWorld from December 2003:
in 1972 we all rolled 3d6, but later when AD&D made the stats more meaningful, players would keep rolling until they got more viable numbers, so then we switched to various systems--roll seven or eight times with 3d6 and keep the six best totals or roll d4d and throw out the lowest die.

After all, the object of the game is to have fun, and weak PCs aren't much fun for most players. Even fine role-players want characters with at least one or two redeming stats...
It's funny to think about the Lake Geneva crew rolling and re-rolling characters until they got the "right" arrangement of ability scores, because, as a kid, I would have considered such behavior "cheating." To my friends and I, rolling ability scores was a bit like finding out which territories you start with in Risk or Illuminati. Will my next character be a fighter or a magic-user? Will he get an XP bonus? Mind you, I like a lot of randomness in my RPGs, so perhaps I'm just weird, but, nowadays especially, that's how I roll.


  1. Your way seems to involve a bit of suspense before rolling the dice as well as a lot of potential disappointment after. I can just see the player's face who rolled low as the hours go by. . . I'm not sure I'd want to endure all the "this sucks" comments. :^)

    How would you deal with the potential disgruntled players?

  2. Real men roll 3d6 in order.

    That is all.

  3. I've opted for a completely different approach determined by character species. I still use 6 attributes and 18 dice, but the way those dice are divided up varies. Humans still do 3d6 in order but for other races things are slightly different:
    For example:

    Lizard Men. Savage swamp dwelling reptile species.

    Attribute Generation Method: 4d6 Strength and Constitution; 3d6 Intelligence and Wisdom; 2d6 Dexterity and Charisma.

    Special: Tough hide AC 4 [15]. Amphibious; Can breath underwater

    And that's how I roll.

  4. I like a fair amount of randomness in my RPGs as well. But if one of my players has her heart set on playing a cleric, for instance, I wouldn't want to insist dogmatically that she roll 'in order' no matter what, even if that results in a character with 3 Wisdom.

    If everyone is 'on board' with 'roll in order', then cool. But if a player really wants to play a certain kind of PC, I would prefer to encourage that player's enthusiasm, rather than stifle it.

    I'm lucky to get in a couple of RPG sessions every month these days. Consequently, I'm much more easy-going with allowing players to allocate rolls to attributes as they like, or re-rolling weak characters.

  5. I prefer 3d6 in order for OD&D, but I'll take what I can get in AD&D. It's the nature of the game.

    We have a guy in my current AD&D game who rolled really crummy stats. (How about a Cleric who only has TWO spells at first level because of low WIS?)

    Anyway, we've decided he's immortal. He just won't die! He's come close several times, but now he's 4th level and still immortal.

    Anyway, the Barbarian thing isn't that big of a deal. I rolled one up out of that issue -- and from the 9d6 for STR, I got a 16. So there is still some randomness to it.

  6. I think Gary had it right the first time. It also inspired me to create the house rule that if if you rolled exceptionally high in a specific stat( 17 or higher) you could be a multi-class if you made the requirements in the other necessary stats.

    3D6 is how I roll.

  7. I'm sympathetic to both points of view: I might roll 3d6 in order for myself, just for the challenge, but let players in a game I was running do 4d6/drop lowest.

    Regarding Holmes' discussion of the character Xylarthen's constitution, did a CON of 12 make any meaningful difference in his edition of D&D? From what I recall, in most versions a con of 9-12 was functionally the same, and that statement would be bunkum. Maybe I'm not remembering something, though.

  8. "It's funny to think about the Lake Geneva crew rolling and re-rolling characters until they got the "right" arrangement of ability scores...."

    I'm not for or against any of these methods, but he lays out 4 alternatives on DMG p.11 and gives the same rationale you quote above. So whatever they were doing with the OD&D stuff in 1972, he was over it a few years later.

  9. Aos,

    That's a cool idea and one I've considered in the past. How have you found it works in practice?

  10. Anthony,

    To clarify: Holmes doesn't talk about Xylarthen; Xylarthen is found only in the LBBs. That said, in the Blue Book, Constitution gives hit point bonuses, so having a high score is useful.

  11. You know, I stared role-playing in 1998. Back then, we had two books teaching us how to roll stats. The first was the Classic Set by Troy Denning (the later, crummier printing that folded the rule booklet and dragon cards into one volume). The second was the AD&D 2e PHB.

    The Classic Set described only the traditional method: roll in order, pick your class, adjust stats 2-for-1 to boost your prime requisite at the expense of other stats besides Con and Cha.

    The 2e PHB gave "Method I", which was even more Ironman: you rolled in order, and you didn't even get to fiddle with your stats afterwards. You got stuck with what you rolled, picked your class, and that was it.

    Yes, the PHB had other methods with higher roman numerals, but the text fell just short of saying, "all these other methods are for immature babies who want to power-game and can't role-play." So we just shrugged and rolled our 3d6 in order.

    I guess that all I'm trying to say here is, this is hardly an early 70s/late 80s phenomenon. Particularly thanks to the fact that, unlike 1e, 3d6 in order was standard for 2e, this method was current in the D&D-playing zeitgeist right up through the dissolution of TSR and the dawn of the big d20 System revolution.

    So... let's hear it for the 2e fans. Woo-hoo.

  12. How would you deal with the potential disgruntled players?

    I'm not sure; it hasn't come up yet :)

    In olden times, I recall that most of us were a) keen to play any character and b) knew that the odds of survival were low, regardless of class, so being disappointed wasn't a huge factor. I think there was more bellyaching about rolling low for hit points, honestly.

  13. I guess that all I'm trying to say here is, this is hardly an early 70s/late 80s phenomenon. Particularly thanks to the fact that, unlike 1e, 3d6 in order was standard for 2e, this method was current in the D&D-playing zeitgeist right up through the dissolution of TSR and the dawn of the big d20 System revolution.

    You know, I hadn't remembered that. That's a really excellent point and I will keep it in mind for the future. Thanks!

  14. Ah, okay, my misreading, then. Still, according to Men & Magic (LBB, book 1), 9-12 offers no bonus or penalty. So, I stand by my call of "bunkum." Nitpicky, I know, but it's a meaningless statement that irks me.

    Meanwhile, I cannot find my copy of Holmes for the life of me. I hope I haven't lost it...

  15. In the Holmes passage you quoted, it states the referee does all the rolling for the attributes, after which the players may choose what their classes are. Is that how you conducted character generation? In all my experience I had never heard of a case in which the DM rolled the player characters' attributes unless they were being given pregenerated characters.

    Also, in your quotation of Gygax from an ENWorld post, he mentions "d4d." Was that supposed to read 4d6?

  16. Gordon,

    I see that the placement of the image in my post has confused people. My apologies for that. The image is from Volume 1 of the LBBs, not Holmes. I didn't see the LBBs until many years after I'd already been playing, so I didn't, as a rule, roll up PCs for my players.

    As for what "d4d" means, I'm not entirely sure. Your guess as to what Gary meant is quite likely, though.

  17. @ James,
    Well enough so far, but I've only been using it for a few months and we have yet to test out all the options. Later this year, as I move closer to inflicting The Metal Earth on everyone as a publication, we're going to do an extended play test of all my rule changes. Here is the blog post with all the silly races I'll be using and how we'll go about generating their attributes:

  18. I too like 3d6 in order to make it likely that a player will consider different class/race options than they might otherwise play.

    However, it is nearly impossible to roll up a paladin character with that method. Not only do you need the roll of 17, but the roll has to be in order. Statistically this doesn't mean that rolling up a paladin is a "special" occurrence, it means that it is an almost fluke occurrence. Rangers are tough to get too, but not quite as bad. I forget the statistical chance of rolling up a paladin, but it is very low.

    I like having high prerequisites for certain special classes and races (the demi-humans all have minimums too), but the bar for some is set way too high, at least in AD&D.

    If the benefit/purpose of 3d6 in order is to get players to try different classes based on what they roll, it ironically almost certainly means that no player, in even a lengthen campaign measured in years, will ever get to play a paladin, and most likely will never play a ranger either.

    That is the point where I find having the classes in the game just about pointless. I like 3d6 even for my AD&D games, but I also like to see folks have a chance at playing every class in the game if they have the time and inclination.

    Given how little time we have for gaming these days as it is, I don't think there is harm in allowing a player to take the minimum prerequisites to play a paladin or ranger, or lower the prerequisites so there is at least a fair chance of getting them with an honest 3d6 in order.

    What's even funnier is that the lucky player who rolled up a paladin in a tough, meat grinder kind of campaign that I prefer, would probably die at first level anyways. Oops!

  19. One other thing I had intended to mention.

    In the early years of game, and even in the early 80's (in my experience with Moldvay and shortly thereafter with AD&D), there was not only a lot more time to play, but a far greater stable of players available to get a game going. Didn't Gygax have like 20 or more players at some of his sessions on a regular basis? I knew we always had 4-6 and sometimes more, with everyone running extra characters and/or lots of henchmen and hirelings.

    The point is that it was more likely back then to get the chance to play all (or most) of the options, because more characters were being rolled up. Obviously the greater incidence of character death meant players were constantly rolling up new characters, and the greater number of players meant that a lot more characters were being rolled up at any one time compared to now. This greatly increased the likelihood that players would get a good chance at playing whatever they liked. Heck, I remember guys simply giving up on characters, even ones that had made it beyond 1st level, simply so they could try a different class/race combo out!

    I'd love to play in an ongoing campaign like that, even if it was once a week. IIRC, Gary was running games like that multiple nights each week and on weekends as well.

    I think those are important considerations to take into account when it comes to player options during character generation back then versus now.

  20. Life's too short for the guy who wants to play a fighter being forced to play a thief since his STR roll is 5. Some of us don't play every weekend, or even every I typically let players arrange their dice rolls themselves. Besides, I don't see anything wrong with a player becoming comfortable with a certain character type, although the guys I game with are pretty good about mixing up the classes from campaign to campaign.

  21. @Aos

    That's actually pretty close to how the original Runequest/BRPG and Palladium handle different races. I prefer it to the flat bonuses and penalties provided to races in later versions of D&D.

  22. I think there was tension built into this issue from the get-go. The OD&D Vol-1 presentation actually lists class/races first (and alignment), and only thereafter introduces the concept of ability scores -- which it says should be performed "prior to the character selection". So cognitively it seems like classes come first, even though the explicit rule is to roll abilities first.

    (I take a middle-ground approach these days. It seems particularly good for new players to pitch the major class/race options at them first to get their imagination fired up. Then they roll 3d6 in order and swap 2 to taste -- a small, not overwhelming amount of choice.)

  23. Anthony: "Still, according to Men & Magic (LBB, book 1), 9-12 offers no bonus or penalty. So, I stand by my call of 'bunkum.' Nitpicky, I know, but it's a meaningless statement that irks me."

    You're largely correct, but there is the rather murky point of "survival chances" [Vol-1 p. 11]. For Constitution of 9-12 it says "60% to 90% chance of surviving" -- so I guess 90% for Con 12? (Con 13-14 says "Will withstand adversity").

    Best hypothesis is that's meant as a proto-"System Shock/Resurrection Survival" roll. The numbers are within 5-10% of the analogous AD&D numbers. And the OD&D Raise Dead spell does stipulate "Naturally, if the character's Constitution is weak, the spell will not bring him back to life." [Vol-1, p. 33; emphasis underlined in book]

  24. @ Delta:

    Oh, that's interesting. I think you're right about this being a "proto-system shock" mechanic.

  25. The way the 3d6 system was set up certainly tries to steer players into certain classes based on the roll results. I still like the 3d6 system and use it, and frankly like the challenges it provides. If you have your heart set on being a fighter but only get a strength of 6, well, you can still try to be a fighter. Not everyone in an army is Conan the barbarian...some of them might be average joes pressed into the ranks, not all priests are particularly wise, etc...

    Some of our most memorable role-playing sessions came out of these improper characters, as they had to find clever ways around their "handicap" so to speak.

    RPGs seem to have swung completely to the other extreme: spending time crafting the ultimate, unstoppable character based on mathematical formulas. D&D Online (a computer game, granted, but a useful example of the thought-process) is horrendously guilty of this, and it takes so much of the fun out of it...I have yet to get a good explanation of the point to reincarnating your character repeatedly to get more Stat Points and spending hours rerunning the same quest to gather items to craft new super weapons in order to....what? Run the same quests over again, just faster? Meh....

  26. D&D is often compared to published fantasy fiction, but I wonder if it would be better compared to fan-fiction.

    The way that each new level of power is too low and 'fixed' in the next edition or by houserules reminds me a lot of the 'Mary Sue'.

    Someone recently said on a forum that in old editions of D&D, a single sword blow can kill you. He seemed to consider this self-evidently ridiculous.

  27. It's a noteworthy change and I neither praise it nor condemn it, though I must admit that I find the notion of "best 3 of 9D6" more than a little absurd. If you're going to weight the dice so heavily, why not just state upfront that all barbarian characters have 18 Strength and be done with it?

    Minor nitpick: expected value of best of 9 is ~15. This is a pretty standard goal for a major attribute if you go for class first. Witness the elite array in 3.x D&D. Though the variance is large enough that you will disproportionately get 18s, which is also undesirable.

    But this is symptomatic of my primary complaint with the older RPGs. Gygax was clearly going for a design goal here that remains very popular, and is a mainstay of later RPGs. However, there is this fixation on rolling dice for everything, regardless of whether or not it is the most appropriate way to achieve the goal. The better way to handle a state shaping like this is a point buy system, not rolling.

    Furthermore, the problem with this "rolling fixation" is that many of these dice rolling mechanics appear to show no understanding of the basic rules of probability. Gygax clearly wanted a particular mean to make a class "viable", but ignored the fact that his solution has such a high variance that it was unbalancing. I love old school RPGs for the adventure flavor and atmosphere, but lord do I hate the rules.

  28. @Coldstream:

    RPGs seem to have swung completely to the other extreme: spending time crafting the ultimate, unstoppable character based on mathematical formulas.

    That's not new. I played Champions/Hero System in the late 80s and I knew many min/max players back then. Anything with a point buy system (as opposed to rolling) is going to attract players that treat it as an optimization problem. This is really only an issue if the power discrepancy between optimized and unoptimized characters is huge, and there are ways to adjust for that.

    As for grinding -- rerunning quests for more rewards -- that is a staple of online games, but is not a function of their mathematical formula. It is because they are specifically designed that way so that the game developers do not have to keep making new content all the time. If they really considered this a bug, it is relatively easy to put in a feature that remembers you did the quest and adds some extra dialogue to the townsfolk to discourage repeats.

  29. I only just discovered recently in the Rules Cyclopedia the method of 3d6 eight times, drop two lowest and arrange to taste. I had never heard of it before and doesn't appear in either the 1st or 2nd edition dmg of AD&D. The closest is Method 2 from 1st edition where you roll 3d6 12 times and arrange as desired. It is interesting the Cyclopedia method matches the method described by Gary, so then we switched to various systems--roll seven or eight times with 3d6 and keep the six best totals.

  30. Our standard for important characters (PC and NPC) was 4d6, take the best 3, rolled in original D&D order (Str Int Wis Con Dex Cha). No swapsies and no trade-offs, and definitely no re-rolling characters. You had to play what you rolled.

    We felt this gave sufficient advantage and adequately reflected the survivability of low characteristic characters in the game (as in they didn't make it to 1st level in the first place).

    That being said, one thing I never really liked was exceptional strength for fighters, although others did extend the scheme (with exceptional intelligence for magic users, exceptional wisdom for clerics, and exceptional dexterity for thieves). However I preferred to treat each additional percentile stage as the next number up. So 18(00) strength was actually a Strength of 24 in my game. As a result, after a while, I played with letting people use all 4 dice for the characteristic most appropriate for their desired class, if they expressed a desire to play a certain class ahead of time. But then they had to be members of that class. Even if they rolled a "4" (although the lowest anyone ever rolled using all 4 dice was a "7" I believe, for a character that acquired a certain infamy as the dumbest magic user on the planet [His father was a guildmaster, you see. You know how it goes. Legacies and all that. <grin>]

    Technically I had schemes for increasing characteristics through the application of the appropriate training regime. But nobody ever availed themselves of the offer, as the advantages really weren't there. [This also reflected my experience with RuneQuest as well. No one ever had the time (or money) to indulge in characteristic training, not when it could be more profitably be spent at becoming better at using what characteristics you do have more fully.]

  31. I let players roll 3d6 or 4d6 pick three highest and arrange it against their abilities. They an roll 3d6 against their each ability if they so choose. It's all about players choice. They more restrictive method, the more OTHER advantages character gets in the game - More background skills (non-weapon proficiencies is a major descriptive tool for the expression of the character in the game). Thus, a retarded thief with a STR 5 will be a LOCAL BOY in the immediate community and everyone will be lookign out for him. To keep up realistically with non-viable characters surving along side Fighetrs with 18/00 STR. If the palyers so desire (and I have seen those that would rather roll now and choose character class later), they can PICK and GET to play whatever class they want. To accomodate this, I let the player roll up the stats by whatever method he or she chooses. If any of the prime requisites are rolled short of the required minimum, I let the player roll percentile dice for thise abilities. Basically I took the 3d6 Bell Curve from Gygax's DMG and translated it into a percentile chart that keeps the same proportion between the probabilities of the high numbers occuring. So, I have percentile die charts for rolling D&D Stats 9-18, 12-18, 15-18 etc, so in the end, the palyer gets a randomly rolled character minimally qualified to be a Bard, a Paladin, or a Monk etc. Of course, if the character becomes elite, he or she gets saddled with diasdvantages. I DO have a goofy paladin in my game and his Warhorse is named Justice. He rolled low stats and had to use the percentile charts a lot. To balance out te character, this Paladin is young and idealistic and he fell foul of the Church Inquisition in his own land. He had to flee just short of him being branded a heretic. Now he is a quixotic knight in a strange land, where the local Church thinks him to be a spy of the Inquisition and he had to undertake suicidal tasks of valor to show his Gioodness and get the local clergy to accept him.

    Character development is a great part of my campaign and I figured that the best way to get the players engaged in the play is to let them play the types of characters that they have always been interested it. And in good part it worked.

  32. 3d6, in order is fine for OD&D, where attributes have less significance. In AD&D, where attributes are more important, more generous or flexible methods should be used.

  33. I made players role 3d6, but roll 9 times (instead of 7) and take the 7 best rolls.

    If the character ended up being a fairly worthless character, I'd let them reroll the whole lot.

    Nobody wants to roleplay a loser.

  34. The method I used most recently is:

    3d6, re-roll 1s and 2s. Arrange in any order.

    Minimum score is 9, so at least the PC is average in a few scores.

    Seems to be OK for now. Players are happy and I'm happy.

  35. Recently I began running a D&D Cyclopedia campaign to the letter of the rules; it states that unless characters have all stats below 9, they are not permitted to reroll them. I explained that to my players before the rolling; not one of them has an exceptional ability. Not one of them has complained. You see, it's what you /do/ with a character that matters, not what his initial stats are. There are plenty of tales of the underdog beating his foes by using the environment and cunning and these are often the best ones.

  36. Stats in D&D are overrated, and quite honestly unimportant. AD&D, different story, almost unfortunately so as it leads to a sense of entitlement to make characters more uniformly powerful for some odd notion of "game balance". Game balance is a bunch of nonsense that can't exist on any meaningful level after a certain point. It's my guess that a lot of people griping about 3D6 for stats would complain that their chess opponent is "too good" for them to beat. Game balance..?

  37. Blackstone, "3d6, re-roll 1s and 2s" is mathematically identical to "3d4+6". Unless you just like rolling a d6 that keeps coming up 2 over and over . . .

    Brad, chess does have "game balance" --

  38. I do 4d6, drop lowest and arrange to suit. And I have been talked into a sort of "showcase showdown" sort of arrangement that allows the player to choose to roll a second set of stats but they then have to accept the results of that. I would love a straight 3d6 system and sometimes we play pickup sessions like that but since they only get one character at a time you have to bend a little.

  39. I'm more interested in the narrative aspects of RPGs than the pure gaming aspects so I'd rather people play what is fun and creates a good story than what is dictated by the dice.

    But really I think it goes back to the fact that I'm one of those people with horrible luck with dice... and one of my early DM/GMs was a complete stickler for the whole roll 3d6 in order thing (the only time he relented was when I rolled four stats, all '3', in a row).

    This inevitably meant me playing characters I either hated, at best, or "Jerry's Kids", at worst, (a politically incorrect term I remember gamers using back in the day to represent characters who should have been put out of their misery due to horrible stats).

    I never felt good about cheating so I never fudged the numbers.

    And then I discovered systems like "Champions" that used a point based character generation system.

    If my dice had been luckier it wouldn't have been an issue and I would have been happier with D&D as my main RPG outlet longer.

  40. 3d6 in order is fine for OD&D/Holmes. For AD&D I tend to have players roll by any of the methods in the DMG, then if they really want to play a particular class, they can arrange scores to suit, or, if they don't meet minimum, arrange to the closest estimate and bump the short scores to meet class requirements.

  41. I love, love, love that Xylarthen example. It puts the numbers second and the character first in a way that I don't think has been true of any other example of character creation in the history of D&D.

  42. I'm not sure what problem people have with min maxing. When it comes to life and death, the characters would be huge min/maxers, I realize they can not do it with stat generation, but people often talk about in regard to picking the best weapon, armor etc as well (or feats / skills in 3.x but thats a whole other blog).

  43. there seems to be a philosophical divide here that just happens to manifest in rolling attributes, between people who think you "nobody want to roleplay a loser" and people who think "you have fun playing the hand you're dealt."

    About the best essay I've read on the fun you can have roleplaying a "loser" is Zak's on monopoly with squatters: seen that way, min-maxing is simply beside the point.

  44. ...I think the next game I run I'm going to start out saying "let's try something that may be unfamiliar here; you are hapless rogues (maybe prisoners on a chain gang, or in a salt mine). If you get out of this hellhole maybe you can train up as some kind of class" and see how the players form attachments without most of the baggage already included, playing whoever they get.

  45. These days I tend to go with something more-or-less like 3d6 in order with the option to swap a single pair of scores. Also, I'll give players the option to re-roll “helpless” characters. (To qualify for helpless, the total of the standard modifiers from all six scores has to be less than zero.)

    If I’m the ref and we’re playing D&D, that means B/X or Labyrinth Lord so ability scores tend to be less important. Besides, at my table, the player tends to be more important than the scores. The helpless rule isn’t really necessary, but I’m OK with it, and some players feel much better having that option.

    I’m good with the class → ability scores route, but I wouldn’t use the 9d6 kind of thing. I’d go more with 6+2d6 and 12+1d6 for the important scores. Might as well create a real minimum (and possibly maximums for other scores) if you’re going that route.

    I’m not above just letting players pick their scores either. In my experience, players tend to give themselves lower scores than average when given their freedom. And, as I said, the player tends to be more important than the scores, so a straight-18s PC wouldn’t be a game-breaker.

    Having played probably as much point-buy as random-roll over the years, I have to say that point-buy systems have their disadvantages too. While I don’t care for too much randomness, I find too little even less fun.

  46. When running 1st edition, I always allowed players to roll 3D6 six times and then arrange as desired. It seemed like a good compromise, since it usually allowed the player to get the class he wanted while still preserving a considerable overall random element. No one ever complained.