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Diary of a Geek

Don't Hate The Dice: Hate The System

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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.

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Updated 01-26-2010 at 08:05 PM by Anachronist (correcting range description of die roll)

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Comments

  1. Sneaksta's Avatar
    Very Nice Ideas here, I think I may even use one or 2.. oh, to be a nitpicker, you got the ranges mixed up on the last 2
  2. Anachronist's Avatar
    Har! Yes, I did, and nitpickers give me a chance to make it right. Thanks! I'll edit it.
    Not a ninja edit, either. I goofed. Thanks, Sneaksta.
  3. AaronOfBarbaria's Avatar
    I've played with different ideas as to how to give that little push into "heroic enough" for more characters throughout my time as a gamer.

    One of my favorites as far as overall ease, range of results, and comparative time consumed rolling dice is 4d4+2 the range keeps a bit of the low but still workable area (6-9) so that your hero doesn't get an instant "flaw free" pass, and keeps getting a really high score (16+) rare enough to truly feel special.

    But then, I tend to view characters with a 13 or 14 in a score or two as having "high scores," since it really only took a 9 to be good enough to have a class.
  4. Anachronist's Avatar
    And that's a good system too. Let's see... it would have a range of 6-18, but the curve would be pretty steep (more dice rolled gives a steeper curve). It would center on 12, but (as you said) keep you fairly safe from the "hopeless character" problem.

    Something to keep in mind, all that are reading, is that sometimes you want a character with a low stat. It's a role-playing opportunity for the experienced gamer that can add a lot of fun and enjoyment.

    For new players, though, it can be more of a challenge than they can handle. Hopefully, if a new player had such a result, they'd have an experienced player to help them through it, or a GM that allowed a re-roll of the stat.

    I don't consider any of these methods to be better than any other, although they are more convenient than some. I'd hope that a gaming group would be able to agree, in advance, on the best method for character generation.
    Updated 01-26-2010 at 08:54 PM by Anachronist
  5. Sneaksta's Avatar
    We always rolled 4d6, drop the lowest, but with an " I am the shit!" option. If all 4 die were the same, you totalled all 4. so, 4x1=4, 4x2=8, 4x3=12 4x4=16 instead of 12. 4x5=20, and the ultimate, I think you can figure out.........


    Yes, Ninja edit in action... I added more.
  6. Farcaster's Avatar
    These are some interesting ideas on alternate random methods for generating stats. However, it begs the question of use a random method at all? If we the players are crafting the character, why should any element of character creation be random? Point buy gives the player more flexibility to create the character he envisions, rather than be beholden to what he happened to roll. It also keeps one character from being able to far surpass (or lag behind) the other characters in the party simply because of a chance set of rolls.
  7. Anachronist's Avatar
    Good points, Farcaster. But not every game uses point assignment systems, and not every GM does either.
    Random systems are a double edged sword; you may become awesome, you may become feeble. But remember that these alternate systems skew the results in favor of higher results, so you shouldn't have players lagging very far behind the majority. And it keeps that degree of randomness for people who do want it.
    I touched briefly on point assignment systems, but for further commentary: a point system means you'll have either all slightly above average stats, or one or two really high stats and many low-to-average ones. And assigning the attributes takes some of the fun out of the generation, in my opinion. The start of a new campaign often begins with each player, in turn, rolling their stats, with everyone watching and cheering or groaning, and that's a part of the fun too. I played in a group once where the player that rolled the highest total of the six attributes bought the refreshments for the night.
    Tournament generation usually requires a point assignment system. But, for house-rules games, the players may enjoy these systems more. Or they may enjoy assignment. It's best to be decided by general consensus of the players and GM, but all players should use the same system for that campaign.
    These are not intended to tell anyone how they should generate their character. They're just alternatives that players might like as much or better than their usual method.
  8. Farcaster's Avatar
    Oh, I agree. You just hadn't touched on using point buy, so I thought it deserved mentioning. Your introduction actually sets up a pretty strong case for point buy -- I thought anyway
  9. Anachronist's Avatar
    There's a lot to be said for point buy; but it's not for everyone's tastes. Point buy, if used, should be used for all PCs and all NPCs. The characters' levels will result in attribute development, causing differences based on those. It's an easy way to make sure that these encounters with class levels will remain balanced with the party. It's an easy way to keep balance within the party too.

    But it just feels too homogenized to me. This is a personal preference, mind you, and based on my own experiences. I like the minor levels of imbalance that keeps players and GMs on their toes. And seriously; there's more important things in the game to worry about than whether or not your totals are lower than someone else's. Once you've got the numbers for point buy memorized, attributes take 3 seconds. Yes, it's easy. But it's not as much fun.

    I think character generation should be more fun than that. It helps a player identify more with their new alter-ego.

    I'm not trying to disagree; point buy is convenient and balanced. And there's nothing wrong with using it at all. I just prefer dice rolls. Weighted, but still random.