While the Dungeon’s Master team enjoys some well-deserved vacation time, we’re breaking out the greatest hits and shining a spotlight on a few of our favourite articles from 2012. We’ve searched for hidden gems that our newer readers might have missed and our long-time readers will enjoy reading again. Enjoy a second look at these greatest hits from Dungeon’s Master.
Most gamers I’ve met like rolling dice. And most gamers I’ve met like to power game. So when you ask gamers if they’d rather roll their six ability scores randomly or assign them and get the most optimized stats possible you’re unlikely to get a consensus. Personally I like rolling 3d6 for abilities. It makes you play the character and not the numbers. In my experience this always makes for more interesting characters which in turn makes the gaming experience more enjoyable.
I’ve found that experienced gamers are the ones who are most open to the ides of rolling their abilities. This could be in some part because they’ve likely played previous editions of D&D where that’s just how it was done, so they don’t see it as a big deal. I also think experienced gamers are more open to rolling their ability scores because they realize that there is something to be said for randomness. They realize that it’s not the extraordinary scores that make your character interesting, but the lower ones. Rolling your stats makes you intimately and immediately aware that a character is more than the raw numbers on the page; something many newer gamers have a hard time understanding.
By rolling your stats you’re more likely to be appreciative of that one good score, even if it is only a 14. And in cases where an ability score is particularity high, say an 18, it’s going to have a big impact on the PCs and the game. In a world where most people have relatively flat ability scores, anyone with an 18 will be truly extraordinary. Just think of how people will treat a guy with an 18 Charisma? This super-Charisma guy is going to be a spectacle for all the right reasons. His 18 makes him special. However, if an 18 Charisma is extremely commonplace, as it is when everyone uses a point buy system, it denies everyone that chance to feel special because they happen to roll something statistically improbable.
I’m not suggesting that we completely abandon point buy; it certainly has its place and serves a practical purpose. But I think that we should all realize that there is something to be gained from trying the 3d6 method of generating ability scores as anyone who has participated in the D&D Next play testing can attest to.
From January 24, 2012, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: The Advantages of Using 3d6 Over Point Buy.
Have you ever played a character in 4e D&D without optimized stats? A Fighter with a Strength score below 14 or a Wizard with an Intelligence under 14? I think it’s safe to say that none of us have done it. Why would you? The game assumes that you’re going to have a decent score (16+) in your primary ability from the outset and to ensure this we use the point buy system to assign the numbers as we deem appropriate. Add to that racial bonuses and there’s really no reason you’d even have to play a character with a low score in their primarily ability.
As long as players use point buy to assign scores we’re always going to see fully optimized stats. All Fighters will have exceptional Strength. All Wizards will have exceptional Intelligence. The base foundation on which characters are built (the six ability scores) will be similar, if not identical, when comparing characters of similar classes. The mechanics of 4e almost demand that this be the case. It’s not to your advantage to play a PC with sub-optimized ability scores. If you want to be on par with the game’s power baseline you have to optimize the numbers. A character with a 14 in his main ability will be less powerful than his allies. But is this really a bad thing?
Some of the most memorable characters I’ve ever played have not had exceptional ability scores. All of these characters were created using older D&D mechanics. We didn’t assign ability scores, we rolled them. When I first began playing D&D everyone made characters using the old 3d6 method. You rolled 3d6, added them up, and that was your ability score. There were a few variations but in the end the ability scores were determined by random rolls and the luck of the dice. It was extremely rare to have an 18 in any ability score at level 1. Even two scores of 16 or more was practically unheard of.
Rolling your abilities randomly really added something to the character creation process that has disappeared with 4e. Today if I’m making a character I do it on a laptop, in the comfort and privacy of my game room. The social atmosphere that used to accompany character creation has long since disappeared, assuming it was ever present in 4e.
When I make a character in 4e I don’t need to consult with the other players in my group about what everyone’s playing. There is such balance in 4e that a party can get by with almost any group of characters as long as their all optimized. It’s certainly easier if the four roles are represented, but an experienced group can be just as effective with an unbalanced party. Because of this there is no need to make the character creation process social.
Rolling for ability scores changes how you make a character. It doesn’t just add a new step that requires you to rolls the dice a few times, it encourages community. Before 4e I never made characters by myself. It was a shared experience. You’d invite the gaming group over and often you’d spend an entire session making PCs. One of the reasons for this was to keep everyone honest. If I was lucky enough to actually roll an 18 or two I wanted witnesses. I didn’t want anyone doubting that my ability scores were indeed what the dice gods provided me with.
Even the way I made decisions during character creation was different when I rolled my scores. Today I usually choose class first. Then I find a race that has suitable racial modifiers in the abilities I think I’ll need most. Then, using point buy, I assign the points to the abilities that I need for my class. The result is usually one score that starts at 18+ and one that starts at 16+. Of course there are times when I simply want to play a race/class combo that doesn’t mesh perfectly, but I again make up for the shortfall when I’m assigning my ability scores.
When abilities are determined by the dice, I do all the rolling first. If I’m using the method where the stats are recorded in the order rolled than I need to see where the dice fall before choosing a class. I’m less likely to play a Fighter if my first total is only a 9. Usually I wait to see where the highest number ends up and then choose a class that relies on that ability. A high Wisdom means a Cleric, a high Dexterity is a Rogue or Ranger; you get the idea. If the numbers are relatively flat then this is when race can help make a good score a great score or to shore up a low number in a secondary ability. If we use the method where we roll the six scores and then assign the numbers to the six ability scores as we see fit, then I’ve got a lot more options when it comes to class and I’m less likely to pick a race just because it will bump a low score.
When you rely on the dice to determine ability scores it’s entirely possible that the party won’t have anyone with a high Strength. Does this mean you play without a Fighter or that someone plays a less optimized Fighter? By making character creation a social exercise you can figure these things out as a group.
The social experience that accompanies character creation is certainly a strong argument for using rolling over point buy, but there is an even better reason – character diversity. As I mentioned above, characters with average numbers, or even below average numbers, tend to be more interesting. They’re not perfect. They may be really good at one thing but terrible in most others. And isn’t this a more accurate representation of real life? I realize that many people play fantasy role-playing games to escape reality but I want to have fun when I play. If everyone’s PC is the very best at what they do it often makes for a less exciting experience.
Look at the characters in Harry Potter as an example. The stories take place in a school full of Wizards. If these characters were all created using the 4e point buy then they’d all have an 18 or higher Intelligence at the outset. However, it’s clear that Hermione has a much higher intelligence than Harry, and Harry probably has a higher Intelligence that Ron. Had all three been equally intelligent the stories would have been pretty boring. The fact that they all have different strengths and weaknesses makes them a more interesting adventuring party, despite the fact that they’re all Wizards.
The greatest disadvantage of rolling dice to determine ability scores is that it’s impossible to ensure equality between characters. While diversity is actually something to be encouraged during a home game, it can be a nightmare during public play. And this is where point buy has a clear advantage over dice rolling methods – point buy levels the playing field. This is vitally important during public play. Any elements left to chance will be abused. You know that you’d constantly see characters with six 18s. “I swear that’s what I rolled. My dice were red hot that night. Ask my mom, she witnessed it!”
With the next iteration of D&D currently being developed and play-tested it will be interesting to see how ability scores are determined. Will players have the choice to use point buy or roll dice? Will the system support both methods equally or will point buy still be the preferred way to determine ability scores? If Wizards of the Coast is truly looking to bring back the best elements of previous editions then I for one hope they do encourage the old 3d6 method for determine ability scores. Looking at the bigger picture I see this as an important element of D&D that was lost with 4e. Point buy works for the game that 4e is today, but with changes on the horizon I think there’s room to bring back this tried and true method of character creation.
What are you thoughts on using the 3d6 method to create ability scores? Do you think bringing it back will help D&D or do you think that point buy is the way to go? Can you see a system that allows players using either method to sit at the same game table and feel like their on level playing field? Do you think there any method that involves dice rolling should have qualifiers like no more than one 18 or reroll any ability score under 8?
- Playing Characters With Low Ability Scores
- Adventuring With A Sub-Optimal Party (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4)