If You Stat Me Up I’ll Never Stop

HOW PUMPED ARE YOU?!?!?!!

You’re goddamn right.

If you’re lucky enough to live near a Wizards Play Store, you’ve probably gotten your hands on the Player’s Handbook for the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Many of my player’s already have a copy, but as I’ve mentioned before, we’re all in different locations, so some of my players don’t. They’re either not near a store or they wanted the cheaper deal on Amazon. If you’re in the same boat, never fear, I’m here to let you know the book is worth the investment. I could go on and on (and I will in a Tome Show or Round Table podcast soon), but I’m here to talk to you about something I’m already changing in this book I love so much, and that’s the process of ability score generation.

To Roll or Not To Roll?

Before I get started, let me just say that this is my group’s opinions about generating ability scores. You may have your own, please sound off in the comments below. While this method was tailored toward them, feel free to use it in your game.

As many of you know, a character’s features and options in D&D are dependent upon their six ability scores – Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. These scores can range from 3 (awful) to 18 (badass) before racial modifiers are applied. The Player’s Handbook presents three options for generating your base ability scores…

  1. Rolling. Roll 4d6, drop the lowest die roll, add the remaining rolls together. Do this six times, then assign the ability scores.
  2. Array. Use a predetermined array of 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8 to assign ability scores.
  3. Point Buy. Use a point buy method, involving all of your stats starting at 8. Then you have 27 points to assign to boost the stats. Each increase in a score costs more points than the last increase (more on that below). This method caps your ability scores at 15, whereas rolling can get you 18. It also makes your minimal possible ability score 8.

Most of my players have played third edition, in which option 1, rolling, was the preferred method. All of players have played fourth edition in which a point buy similar to option 3 was the preferred method. During the playtest we went back to rolling for ability scores since it was just a few short campaigns. Then I remembered why I prefer the point buy method.

Rolling for ability scores is a great option – it provides a lot of variance and allows for a character have a super high Strength, but also a pitiful Intelligence. However, rolling also provides a huge variance amongst characters, which can make the game less fun. If someone rolls great and has god-like ability scores when someone else just rolls ok, the fighter might feel second-rate compared to the barbarian.

Normally this is the kind of thing I’d ask my players what they want to do, but they’re divided on the issue. When I told them I wanted to use the point buy method via email, my inbox exploded (in a hilarious and awesome way).

Here’s an email from one of my players, who is clearly anti-point buy…

My argument against point buy:

1) Point buy is lame.

2) You can only be good at something if you are the right race to be good at it.

3) You can’t be good at more than one thing unless you are the right race/class combination.

I have to say, points 2 and 3 are pretty good arguments (and point 1 is just a little hurtful… single tear).

It was only moments later which I got this pro-point buy email from a different player…

Argument for Point Buy:

1) Large statistical variance between character competency is amusing in short games, but frustrating and inappropriate for the multi-year campaigns we tend to play.

2) Because our DM is not a dick, rolling for stats will tend to skew towards OP characters. Here is what happens when people roll stats:

PC: Uh, I rolled three 7s, a 10, and two 12s.
DM: Haha, that’s dumb you can reroll.

PC: I got six 18s!
DM: Uh… OK cool.

3) “Characters only really good at one thing” is a function of playing in a larger group. In a smaller group it would make sense to spread your stat points and skills around more but when you do that in a larger group you appear inferior to specialists.

Also good points there (and yes, I do let people with terrible rolls reroll). In fact, there were good points coming at me from all around. One player enjoys his character enjoyed being bad at something and point buy doesn’t really allow for that either for a minimum of 8 in each ability score. Still, I didn’t want one player to be a superhero compared to the rest or vice versa. To make matters more intense, I eventually started getting emails like this…

BE MEN AND ROLL THE GODDAMN DICE
What’s a DM to do? Order everyone take the array and then have no one happy? Then I remembered, D&D is a game meant for hacking, modding, and blowing up. Was there something I could do to ability score generation?

Taking It Back Old School

First, I made a quick list. What were the wants of my players…

  1. A balanced method of generating ability scores in which luck and chance do not favor random PCs over others
  2. A method of generating ability scores which can allow nonoptimal race and class combinations (like half-orc wizards) to have key ability scores for their class above 15
  3. A method of generating ability scores which can allow for some abilities to be as low as three (because sometimes playing a a weakling wizard or a barbarian with no social skills is fun)

Then I thought back to the days of third edition D&D. While rolling was the preferred method of ability score generation, there was a point buy option, which allowed a player to raise stats to 18. So let’s look at that option. All ability scores start at 8 and a player has 25 points to spend.

  • An ability of 9 costs 1 point.
  • A ability of 10 costs 2 points.
  • A ability of 11 costs 3 points.
  • A ability of 12 costs 4 points.
  • An ability of 13 costs 5 points.
  • An ability of 14 costs 6 points.
  • An ability of 15 costs 8 points.
  • An ability of 16 costs 10 points.
  • An ability of 17 costs 13 points.
  • An ability of 18 costs 16 points.

That’s not a bad place for me to begin. I’m going to adjust these numbers so they’re more in-line with the fifth edition point buy, however, and go from there. I also need to work in lower ability scores.

The Exploration Age Homebrew Method

Here’s the method for generating ability scores I’ll be using for my Exploration Age home campaigns.

All ability scores start at 8. You have 27 points to spend. The cost of each score is shown below.

Score Cost
3 -5
4 -4
5 -3
6 -2
7 -1
8 0
9 1
10 2
11 3
12 4
13 5
14 7
15 9
16 12
17 15
18 19

You may only have one ability with a score of 17 or 18. Likewise, you may only have one ability score with a score of 3 or 4.

When you “buy” score with a negative cost, it means you gain points to spend elsewhere.

You may still use the standard array.

For high powered, tougher campaigns, give your players 32 points to spend. In this case, the standard array might be 16, 15, 13, 12, 10, 8, or 17, 15, 12, 10, 10, 8, or 18, 14, 10, 10, 10, 8.

Assessment

So what do you think? Have I managed to get everything the players want and curb some min-maxing? Should I just stick to one of the older methods? Let me know! Sound off in the comments.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!