Don't Hate The Dice: Hate The System
by, 01-26-2010 at 06:14 PM (1484 Views)
My very first character in AD&D had all sixteens, in every stat, rolled in front of the GM, using the standard 3D6 system. I have yet to repeat that luck in character generation. I also had a generation that resulted in good strength, constitution, and max dexterity, average wisdom and intelligence, and a 4 charisma. He had to be an assassin, by the 1st Edition rules.
This does not include all of the hopeless characters that get generated on a daily basis all over the world. You know the ones; their highest stat is 8, and that's in constitution.
There's a problem with the 3D6 generation system, and that is that it is based on flawed reasoning. That is, the idea behind it is that a character's stats will be based solely on random events, with extremes being rare, sampling from all of humanity. But that's not the case.
In actuality, a person's statistics are often defined by what they do. A weight lifter didn't get born with the ability to bench-press a bus. All stats can be developed to a higher level. There are exercises, mental and physical, to increase every aspect of a character represented by the game stats. So why decide what your character can do by what they already are? Shouldn't stat generation follow their chosen class?
Hence the decision to place stats in any order the player wishes, once the stats are generated, whether that be by points assigned, or by dice rolls. If your GM wants you to use the point system, then you're not going to have a hopeless character. However, random rolls are not weighted in favor of hero-creation. They're actually weighted for average-Joe-creation.
If you consider how many possible ways there are to get a number from 3 to 18, there's only one way to get a 3,4,17, or 18. But there are six different dice throws that will result in a 9, 10, 11, or 12. The system is stacked against heroic results. On the other hand, they're stacked against feeble results too.
But the characters you're generating are not the average. They're above average, spending their time looking for adventure, and often finding it in challenging and dangerous ways. This is an example of their job stressing their abilities, making them stronger in the areas that are used most with their activities. A wizard gets smarter. A fighter gets stronger.
The increase in attributes gained with certain levels is far inferior to the actual development an average result would see over time. If you've gone up 20 levels, you should have a much higher increase in your attributes than those gained by the character advancement system.
What this all means is that your character generation has been cheating you. You shouldn't even be calling it character generation. It should be called hero generation. Bob the window-washer isn't the one you call when a swarm of goblins attacks the gate. You call for Champion Brontoguy and Arch-Finger-Wiggler Thaumas. Neither of these persons has a stat lower than nine, and their primary ability stats are likely sixteen or better.
For that matter, the challenge rating system is based on characters that aren't hopeless. It's assumed that they're gifted in their chosen professions, and have at least a decent chance of success in their efforts. In other words, the CR system does not account for low attribute penalties.
So the character generation system needs changed, and beyond the system of dropping the lowest roll of 4D6. Your odds are only slightly enhanced by using such a system, and it doesn't change the fact that the most likely rolls will be 9-12. What is needed is a way to shift the odds in the favor of heroism. Many times, you'll see a method that involves rolling 12 D6 and dropping the lowest nine. That's time consuming, and the people that manufacture game dice love it. A simpler method uses fewer dice, adjusts the most likely results in your favor, and flattens out the infamous bell-curve a skosh.
With that in mind, the following systems may be useful to you. I'll start with the old standby.
3 D6: Range, 3-18. Likeliest results: 9-12. This is what you're used to. I won't spend much time here. But you've got 2 ways to get results of 4 or less, 2 ways to get 17 or more, and 6 ways to get a 9, 10, 11, or 12. It simulates a random sample of humanity, but not of adventurers.
2 D6 +6: Range, 8-18. Likeliest results: 12-14. This reduces the hopeless character possibility, because none of your stats will be lower than 8 (although they might all be 8 or 9, but that's still closer to average). It also shifts your most likely results up a bit. There are, using this system, 3 different ways to get each of those results. There's still only 1 roll that will get you a 17 or 18. This will give you more heroes. You might like this system best.
3 D4 +6: Range, 9-18. Likeliest results: 12-15. This skews the results up one point, and because more dice are used, it gives a broader span of most likely results. You still have 3 ways to get those numbers, but you're just as likely to get a 15 as you are a 12. And you still only have one possible way to roll a 17 or 18. You might like this system best.
2 D4 +10: Range, 12-18. Likeliest results: 14-16. There's only one way to get half of the results in this spread, including 17 and 18. There's 2 ways to get the likeliest results. There's no guarantee you'll have an 18, but no matter what the results, you've got a character that is far above average. Your GM might like this system least, but only if they have difficulty coming up with challenges. Make 'em work for it.
1 D8 +10: Range, 11-18. Likeliest results, NONE. With only 1 die rolled, there is only one possible way to achieve each of the rolls. You're just as likely to get an 18 as you are to get an 11; that is, a one in eight chance, every roll. No hopelessness, and a nonexistent bell curve. You also only need one die to generate your attribute. You might like this system best.
1 D10 +8: Range, 9-18. Likeliest results, NONE. This is very similar to the previous method, except that your range is increased by 2. You might like this system best.
Granted, you won't get tournament approved characters this way. But tournament character generation is very specific anyway, and you may be able to have more fun with a character made for your house-rules game using these methods. So, if you're dissatisfied with a less-than-average-hero-of-the-realm, talk to your GM, and see if you can agree upon one of these methods.
And if you are a GM, talk to yourself. Most of us do.