Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ (the Theme from D&D)

Tonight, I’ll be presenting my thoughts on character creation methods in roleplaying games. Those of you that don’t care about that sort of thing, can watch this amusing video instead (couple of swears, so NSFW) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTLp14MKDDU.

One of the many things that divide roleplayers (and those that play D&D, in particular) is their preferred method for generating ability scores. There are numerous methods for creating ability scores, but the most divisive split is between random methods (rolling dice) and non-random ones (point buy or something similar). Both of these types of method have their advantages, the main ones being…

Non-random:
You can play exactly what you want
Puts everyone on equal footing

Random:
The fun of creating a character from a set of scores you weren’t expecting
The possibility of a really high set of scores

With advantages on both sides, it’s easy to see why people are split; neither one is obviously better than the other. However, let me expand slightly on each advantage in turn.

You can play exactly what you want:
This is the big advantage of point buy and other non-random systems; within reasonable bounds (you can’t have 18s across the board in D&D, for example), you can build whatever character you want. You can choose whether you want to excel at one thing and suck at another, or whether you want to be alright at everything. Obviously, some systems may guide you towards certain ends of the spectrum (4th ed D&D didn’t really support even spreads, whereas Savage Worlds has no real dump stats to take advantage of and encourages balanced characters), but at least the choice is there for you to make and you won’t be prevented from playing the character you want, just due to random chance.

Puts everyone on equal footing:
This is more or less important, depending on what you’re playing; in early D&D editions, ability scores didn’t really have much effect, but in something like Deadlands, rolling (or in that game, drawing) vastly superior stats was a real boost to a character. Obviously, in the systems where it matters, having everyone on similar footing is quite important to the balance of the game, but even in games where there’s not much appreciable effect, it can still breed resentment if one person has a high stat character, while another has been forced to play a stupid weakling because the dice came up low.

The fun of creating a random character:
I can completely appreciate the enjoyment of taking a random set of scores and building a character around them. Certainly, one of the main issues with point buy systems is that certain types of characters come out looking very similar (all fighters have 18 strength, all wizards have 18 intelligence). The only thing I would refute is that it’s impossible to have this sort of fun without random stats; how about choosing your race/class randomly and then using point buy to make it work… if anything, this will produce even more interesting characters.

The possibility of a really high set of scores:
Of all the pros and cons, this is the one that is likely to cause frictions within a group. To those who roll their scores because they enjoy the random element, this is really just a bonus; after all, creating a random character should occasionally allow the possibility that the character will be awesome. However, many players take the random option because they want to come out ahead of the curve, forgetting that there’s an equal opportunity to come out behind it. This leads to all sorts of sneaky techniques to get better rolls (do you re-roll just a cocked die or the entire set… depends on how good the un-cocked dice were), underhanded behaviour (practice rolling until you get an 18, then declaring that your first roll) and just plain fraud (rolling at home, where the odds of getting an 18 are weirdly high).

I have no major conclusions to draw from these comments; instead I’d like to finish with one of my favourite methods for random character generation in D&D. This method is sort of a halfway house and actually hits most of the advantages of both methods; you roll 24d6, drop the lowest 6 and then everyone in the party makes groups of 3d6 from whatever results are left. This has the flexibility for people to play what they want; everyone is using the same pool of points, so it’s equal; there’s enough randomness for the player who wants a challenge; and the person that likes high rolls can usually get an 18 if they choose to.

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