Friday, February 8, 2013


ever since we started playing B/X (supplemented by LABYRINTH LORD) a few years ago, i've been instituting a pretty hardline stance on using 3d6 in order for character generation. at first, mostly everyone complained - but when they learned they could fiddle around with the prime requisite stats the grumbling sort of came to an end...except for one player.

now, before i go on - why do i like 3d6 in order? well, flat out - i think it makes more interesting characters. no one WANTS low stats, but when you have a character with a 5 DEX or 6 CON - it forces you to create an interesting reason as to WHY their stats are so low. where they sick as a kid? are they missing an eye? are they crippled? it helps flavor the character. i'd rather take a chance when making a character and perhaps play a tyrion lannister or a raistlin majere - it's more interesting. to me, at least.

one you move away from 3d6 in order you are running the risk of the players having some generic and/or min/maxed characters. awesome, it's another dumb and uncharismatic fighter with a high STR/CON score. hey, it's a physically weak but genius magic user. oh, it's a fast yet fragile thief. there's no variety. most of the older editions of DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS allow you to succeed with low stats. your abilities are actually built into your classes. sure, it's still a deadly game at low levels - but it's rewarding to get a character up to 2nd level who is less than optimal.

just to prove the point to myself that 3d6 in order was viable, i generated a ton of characters for use at cons with that method. players chose from that pool of characters for about a year (and the players of later editions openly wondered how they would survive the adventure with such low stats and HP). guess what? at every single con game we ran the PC's won the day. sure, some of them died...but the adventure was completed - every single time. 

now, i do like the 3.X rule of improving stats every so often - i'm about to institute a house rule in our B/X games of stat improvement every few levels. the characters that survive adventures should be getting stronger as they gain power.

anyway, one of our players has railed against 3d6 in order since we implemented it, and made it a point to show me the 1st edition DMG rules where there are alternate methods for rolling stats: 4d6 in order while dropping the lowest die, 3d6 and roll 12 times (picking the best 6 and assigning them), roll 3d6 6 times per ability (!!!) and take the highest roll, and finally, roll 12 characters and choose the best one.

obviously, characters generated in those ways will be light years better than the ones made according to the OD&D or B/X rules. but the fact that those rules are even in the DMG got me thinking - have people been complaining about weak characters since OD&D?!?! is that why those alternate methods are in the DMG? my first few characters were created with the 3d6 in order method. what got us off that track?  when i was a kid playing D&D in the very early '80's (i was in elementary school from '80-'86)...well, of course i wanted high stats. my friends and i NEVER created characters in front of each other, as that would expose the fraudulent way we actually "rolled" stats. but why were high stats impressed upon us? why do many players and game designers feel that high stats are necessary? what happened that somewhere along the line players decided that their characters were too weak?

DEITIES AND DEMIGODS and its predecessor GODS, GODDESSES and HEROES. they're the reason. now, before you spit out your drink and go "no wonder - you were comparing your characters to GODS and GODDESSES", we weren't. look at the stats in those books for the heroes of  literature and myths.

in the early '80's i was too young to have read things like CONAN, LotR, jack vance or whatever...but i had read PLENTY of greek mythology. i was also pretty familiar with king arthur and robin hood.  i had always envisioned our PC's as the main characters in the myths and legends that i read - y'know, heroes. when we got our hands on DEITIES AND DEMIGODS and we saw the stats in that book for guys like perseus, odysseus, theseus, and the knights of the round table we thought we were doing something wrong in having such "poor" characters - and our characters began to emulate the stats we were seeing in that book. i mean, look at these stats:

PERSEUS (STR 18/89, INT 14 WIS 12, DEX 18, CON 18, CHA 18),
ODYSSEUS (STR 18/00 INT 18, WIS 10, DEX 16, CON 17, CHA 18),
THESEUS (STR 18/76, INT 18, WIS 17, DEX 18, CON 18, CHA 18)
SIR GALAHAD (STR 18/00, INT 15, WIS 18, DEX 18, CON 18, CHA 18)
SIR LAUNCELOT: STR 19, INT 14, WIS 13, DEX 18, CON 18, CHA 18)

even your average arthurian knight of renown had no stat less than a 10 while "averaging 15" in all 6 attributes. knights of quality? nothing less than 13 and an average of 16. 

after we all saw the conan movie in 1982 we wondered what he would be like as a D&D character - i mean, if odysseus had an 18/00 STR, conan must have had like a 22! in a pile of old DRAGON magazines we found an article that statted out CONAN (from the novels) and we sure weren't disappointed!

CONAN (at age 25): STR: 18/00, INT 15 (18), WIS 10, DEX 20, CON 18, CHA 15 (18)

conan was originally statted out in GODS, GODDESSES and HEROES and his stats were very similar to the ones presented in DRAGON (Strength: 18; Exceptional Strength: 100%; Intelligence: 16; Wisdom: 10; Constitution: 17; Dexterity:18; Charisma: 15).  in OD&D terms this was a pretty amazing i can imagine what people felt like in 1977 when they compared their PC's to CONAN.

as originally written, the rules of the game COULD NOT create characters like this...unless you used the last couple of methods from the DMG (or the sugesstions in UNEARTHED ARCANA, which we'll ignore for now). these books set the standard (in D&D terms) for the heroes the PC's were supposed to be emulating, so OF COURSE people started to want more powerful characters.  the game becomes less challenging when 18 is your average stat, obviously...but i feel like it was too late - the standard had been set: any stat that didn't deliver a bonus sucked and a stat that penalized you was grounds for not playing the character.
i imagine that some groups (like us) eventually got bored with boring, superhuman characters (who had at least 4 18's and possibly some higher stats) and went back to a more sensible way of generating characters. oddly, what snapped us back into that mode was the DRAGONLANCE source book. i was convinced that raistlin was going to have a 25 INT or something - and to see that it was "only" a 17 at first was a let-down.  RASITLIN (STR 10, INT 17, WIS 14, DEX 16, CON 10, CHA 15) had challenged a goddess and had her on the could he have done so with such "regular" stats? that got us thinking.  by this point, my friends and i were in 7th grade...and we finally realized that maybe the people who had statted out all these characters had just done it wrong and (weirdly) DRAGONLANCE had done it right. 

obviously, though - not everyone thought the way we did, as high stats have become the norm in D&D.  i can't speak for 2nd edition since i hardly played it (though all the generation methods from the 1e DMG are in the 2e PHB). the 3E PHB flat out tells you to scrap characters whose highest stat is a 13.  that's wise, since unless you have a 17 or 18 in your primary stats, early level skill checks, attacks and saving throws will be impossible*.  great game design.   i'd tell you what was in 4E but i threw the books out a while back.

*funny aside - a few players who ran through my sessions last year made this one fighter character talk like GRIMLOCK from the TRANSFORMERS. when i asked why they were doing that they all responded "dude, he has a 10 INT". all of them were regular 3.5/pathfinder players. when i pointed out that a 10 INT was normal they more often than not said that anything lower than a 14 was crap.  thanks, 3.5.

some people like playing with superhuman hero characters ala DEITIES & DEMIGODS. i think it's boring, but obviously i'm in the minority.  i'm still enforcing 3d6 in order, though.


David Macauley said...

In our current 1e campaign the DM allowed we players to roll 4d6, re-rolling 1's. I chose to roll 3d6 and ended up with a character that doesn't have one single attribute bonus of any sort. The DM and the other players thought I was mad. Funnily enough, of the original characters that set out, I'm one of a couple of survivors.

I prefer a game of D&D that focuses on the character and not on stats & bonuses.

xwardukex said...

same here. and i don't mean to say that our preferred way is "right"...just that i sort of like letting the dice fall where they may - or as one of our players is fond of saying: "stick to your guns".