Monday, March 16, 2020

Rolling Ability Scores – DMG Delve Part 2

        You would think with all these years into the hobby, and all the characters that have been created we would know a few solid truths. One truth that tends to get circulated is that stats should be 3d6 straight down the line, no exceptions! This is not the case in the AD&D 1e Dungeon Master’s Guide. We come to a section early in the book about “Creating The Player Character” and the first sub-section is “Generation Of Ability Scores”. This section gives you information not only on the generation of PC stats, but NPCs as well. While many in the OSR movement claim that modern D&D has a tendency towards super heroes, it seems clear from Gary’s writing that the PCs in Dungeons & Dragons should be “a viable character of the race and profession which he or she desires”. 

Gary admits that it is possible to generate playable characters by rolling 3d6, but only after “an extended period of attempts at finding a suitable one due to the quirks of the dice”. This shows too that rolling over and over again to get a character’s stats at least was a thing. He also discusses how creating lower quality characters can often lean to characters having a short life and this in turn discourages new players. I think this is a great insight and I have argued this for a while online, people (in general) don’t like their characters dying. This can drive people from the game before they ever really try it. One of the best parts of the game is the ability to create a character that is “yours” and getting to play that character. This is not to say that characters should be immune to death, which is going too far. Without a solid threat of consequences, you are robbed of a sense of danger and accomplishment. We should though strive to have characters that are viable for their profession. Thus the rolling system used to create them must tilt slightly in the PCs favor. This should create adventuring folk, not monster bait. With this in mind Gary discusses four methods for rolling attributes for your PCs.

Method I: 

All  scores  are  recorded  and  arranged  in  the  order  the  player  desires.  4d6 are rolled, and the lowest die (or one of the lower) is discarded.

Method II:

All  scores  are  recorded  and  arranged  as  in  Method  I.  3d6 are rolled 12 times and the highest 6 scores are retained.

Method III:

Scores rolled are according to each ability category, in order, STRENGTH, INTELLIGENCE, WISDOM, DEXTERITY, CONSTITUTION, CHARISMA.  3d6  are  rolled  6  times  for  each  ability,  and  the  highest  score  in  each  category  is  retained for that category.

Method IV:

3d6  are  rolled  sufficient  times  to  generate  the  6  ability  scores,  in  order,  for  12  characters. The player then selects the single set of scores which he or she finds most desirable and these scores are noted on the character record sheet.

All of these methods allow you to either arrange your stats, roll more than 6 times, or roll more than 3d6, some of the methods allow for combinations of these. Whichever way you choose to go about it, you are certainly going to get more options than the 3d6 in order. 3d6 in order seems to be the method for generating commoners and people of little renown. Gary mentions making NPCs (which he seems to mean powerful NPCs), which he seems to recommend them getting high scores because, “how else could these figures have risen so high?” General characters need to be average, so he recommends considering and 1s rolled are treated as 3s, and any 6s rolled are considered 4s. For special characters, not high NPCs, but not commoners (like henchmen) he recommends using the same system as the PCs, or doing the 3d6 method, but adding 1 to each dice rolled.

It seems clear that the idea behind the rolling systems is to have characters that are decent at their profession. This seems reasonable to me. I want competent characters and that can accomplish their goals like professionals. I do not want characters that are sickly and gross with little reason to be in the field. This seems to be the appeal of DCC, which is not exactly my cup of tea. There is nothing wrong with it, but it does not suit my style. What do you think? What method of rolling do you use? 

      This is some of the interesting stuff in the 1e Dungeon Master's Guide. I will continue the series Delving into the original DMG. If you are interested in the purchase of the book, please see the links below.

If you are interested in getting a copy of the AD&D 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide you can get a PDF or Print on Demand HERE.

If you are interested in an original copy try HERE.

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  1. In my campaigns, we use Method 1. It seems to work best for middling attributes. Truly horrific rolls are never really seen by anyone except the roller. 7, 8, 9, 7, 8, 18 - Trashed. start over.

    1. I keep the rule that your positive and negatives need to balance in favor of the positive, or you reroll.

  2. Then there was Method V in the Unearthed Arcana where you choose the class you want to play and then roll dice based on which attributes were most important. For example, if you wanted a Thief, you rolled 9d6 for Dexterity and took the 3 highest. Then you rolled 8d6 for Comelinesss (because thieves were handsome devils apparently). And so on down the line until you roll 3d6 for the least important attribute. If you didn't roll your minimum, you take the minimum--thus, your paladin could have that coveted 17 Charisma even if you couldn't roll that high.

    It was groundbreaking at the time since it favored the player's choice over dumb luck.

    1. Thieves are handsome devils, they stole my heart.

  3. "One truth that tends to get circulated is that stats should be 3d6 straight down the line, no acceptations!"

    Suspect you mean 'no exceptions'.

    But I must thank you for reminding me that even Gary expected some exceptional ability scores for PCs. Nice to see that.

    1. Thanks for the typo, writing on the cell phone is never easy.

  4. Thank you for this, I am so tired of this argument from the OSE of 3d6 down the line. Even Gygax knew players need to survive to invest in their characters and build the drama and tension when danger is on the line. Cheers!

  5. System V for me, Unearthed Arcana

  6. We used Method I and still do for OSE.

  7. Some time back, I threw some formulas into an excel sheet to simulate dice rolls for the four methods (method IV took some manual adjustment). I figured 200 replications of each method was statistically significant.

    The results (combined score totals followed by number of characters that fell in that range)...

    Method 1: Classic Bell Curve
    100-109 6
    90-99 56
    80-89 100
    70-79 32
    60-69 5

    Method II: Higher on average than Method I. Best choice if you want to arrange.
    100-109 5
    90-99 93
    80-89 87
    70-79 14
    60-69 1

    Method III: Highest chance of higher scores. Cannot arrange.
    110-119 4
    100-109 96
    90-99 96
    80-89 4
    70-79 0
    60-69 0

    Method IV: Worst overall results; scores would actually be worse than my replication as the best out of 12 is selected. In this case, these were sorted high-to-low from a list of 2400 randomized stat rolls.
    90-99 69 5.8 results divided by 12
    80-89 584 48.7 results divided by 12
    70-79 1307 108.9 results divided by 12
    60-69 776 64.7 results divided by 12
    50-59 113 9.4 results divided by 12
    40-49 7 0.6 results divided by 12

    1. This is totally neat, you should show this on different FB groups.