Rolling Up Characters in D&D

Sorry for the delay, folks. The company I was working at cut things down to a skeleton crew, so I’ve been busy with job hunt activities. Anyway, on to today’s topic.

Lately, the point buy approach to setting character’s ability score has been under heavy discussion on the forums. I’d like to take look at it’s counterpart, rolling ability scores as done in D&D.

The benefits of random score seem to be:

  • Unexpected Results: Having the dice decide your scores can help push the player toward character types they might not have tried on their own, potentially expanding their horizons.
  • Quick and Easy: Rolling and adding up 3 dice (or rolling 4 and dropping 1) is pretty quick and may be a faster operation than buying up stats out of a budget. The real time saver though is not having to make a decision and prioritize what goes where.
  • Jackpot: Occasional rolled results will give you a character that is outright better than expected. That “winning the character lottery” feeling can certainly be enjoyable.

On the other hand, rolling gives us the following drawbacks:

  • Lack of Control: Sometimes the player will have a certain character in mind. Not being able to make that character because the dice don’t cooperate is a nuisance to say the least.
  • Undesirable Combos.: Sometimes the dice will give you a character the player just isn’t interested in playing. For example, I really don’t like giving character’s low intelligence. I like to think tactically and having a character who can’t do that seems like it would be awkward. Other players may have similar scores or combination that just don’t work for them.
  • Low Scores: This one is the flipped side to “Jackpot”. Just like you can get better score than expect, sometimes you can do worse. Having someone with a similar score set but being outright better can get annoying and doesn’t really add much to a lot of player’s experience.
  • Bland Runs: Both low and high scores can provide useful points of characterization. Middle of the line scores don’t tend to inspire much either way. They can be useful for keeping a character from being overloaded with traits. However, you risk having a character no particularly high or low scores, which means fewer hooks to work with.

Suggested Fixes

First off, I’d like to point a suggestion made in the original rpg net thread. Essentially it boils down to rolling once on a master table to get a series of scores. This lets you customize the score combos so they’re all balance and there’s at least on stand out score. For there, you can use random rolls to determine which score gets assigned to which ability. Overall the methods is very solid and seems to work well. It does mean that you simply won’t see certain set of score though as you’re limited to what on the table.

If you want to stick a little closer to the classic rolling approach, try this:

  1. Pick an Ability: Decide on an ability score of your choice.
  2. Roll a Die: Roll a single die and assign the results to that score.
  3. Flip the Die: Take the inverted value of your roll. For most die, you can get this by simply picking it up and looking at the bottom face. The inverted roll should equal 7 minus the regular roll, so 1 is paired with 6, 2 with 5, and 3 with 4.
  4. Assign the Flipped Roll: Roll 1d6 to determine where the flipped roll goes. If the target ability score already has 3 rolls assigned to it, add it to the ability with the fewest rolls. If there’s more than one, the player can pick which one to use. If only one ability has less than 3 rolls assigned to it, you can skip rolling and just assign the flipped roll to that ability.
  5. Pick Next Ability: Repeat from the “Pick an Ability” step until all ability scores have 3 rolls. You can not pick an ability that already has 3 rolls assigned to it.
  6. Add up Rolls: Total the rolls for each ability to get that ability’s score.

This approach works out to slightly fewer rolls than the standard 3d6 method. It’s somewhat more complicated, but it does lead to all character having roughly equivalent score totals. It’s also got a few opportunities for the player to sway the results by picking where a values goes as abilities fill up. This can result in a bland run through, so you’ll probably want mechanics in place for players to tweak these results.

In any case, I’d strongly suggest making randomization something the player can opt into or out of as desired. If anything, I’d be inclined to give a small perk to randomly rolled character as an extra incentive. The perk should be limited use and scalable so I can give the full amount to completely random characters and less to those who opt for less randomness.

Published in: on July 25, 2011 at 12:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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