Monday, December 12, 2011

Man or Superman?

Why would I ever play a *human* in a game? I get to be a crappy human every day at work.  The whole point of gaming is escape; when I game I want to kick major ass.
-Paul, 3.5 gamer

A few weeks ago, I spent some time looking at a series of AD&D rules that were controversial to gamers playing versions of D&D older than 1E - there was an interesting poll (dubious AD&D rules) that inquired after who actually uses those AD&D rules.  Despite the controversial title, I ultimately came out defending most of them on the grounds of creating interesting tactical or logistical choices.  However, one thing I skipped at the time was ability score inflation and race/class sprawl.

It's fair to state that one reason you're still playing an older version of the game is some distaste for characters that are described as "half-dragon elemental lord sorcerer artillery, optimized for area damage".  But the sentiment expressed by my buddy Paul above isn't wrong; wish fulfillment and power gaming sells books and is a big draw for the later edition crowds.  Playing a scrappy "ordinary guy" that straps on armor and descends into the dungeon is an acquired taste, if you didn't grow up playing that way.

The AD&D 1E DMG purports to be a human-centric game, but by the time 1.5 rolls around (the Unearthed Arcana stuff) there are tons of race variants, all with nifty new abilities, ability score generation methods that are off the chart, and power creep classes like the cavalier and barbarian.  This became clear when my son came running downstairs a few weeks ago with Unearthed Arcana.  "Awesome!  When do I get to be a Drow?  Drow are awesome!"  He's been wanting to read the Drizzt books for inspiration for his future Drow; I'm certainly not going to discourage him from any reading at his age (9).  He's already called dibs on making a Drow Ranger if the opportunity arises.  So would a Dragonborn or Tiefling be that far out of place in the milieu of Unearthed Arcana?

I'm firmly in the 3d6-in-order camp for ability score generation, and prefer the simpler classes and races in classic or basic D&D.  It supports emergent character concepts and avoids the dump stat mentality.  Emergent characters means this:  the combination of random generation, decisions in play, and survival, ultimately leads to a more interesting character than if the player scripted everything out via a point buy or rearrangement of the ability scores.  Emergent character is about discovering the character organically through play, and overcoming deficiencies; modern character generation is about creating a tactical build and then measuring if it performs as expected through empirical observation.

Which brings me to an issue I have with the 4d6 methods in AD&D and later - if you're going to swap scores around and do the whole min-max thing to get the character just right, why not just use an old school point buy and be done with it?

Seems like a good time for a poll, since ability score generation is one of those oft-house-ruled procedures that splits the community, and I doubt the 3d6 in order method is the most popular.  So drop a vote on the right or leave a comment.


  1. By the book basic D&D (Labyrinth Lord / Moldvay / Mentzer): 3d6 in order plus optional point swapping to raise prime requisites.

  2. I prefer 3d6 x6 and arrange to taste - I tend to have story-oriented players who come with interesting character concepts in mind who prefer to have some ability to shape their character. Still, the characters are all very human - 18s are RARE, and sometimes your character has a major flaw (e.g. a 3 in an ability score).

    With more powergame-oriented players, though, I'd stick with 3d6 x6 in order as a way to curb back the min-maxing tendencies.

  3. Oddly, I actually prefer playing humans in 3.5 games, simply because they have more options and no racial negative adjustments. Still prefer Old School gaming, though.

  4. I give players a choice of 4d6 in order or 3d6 and swap two stats (this is Beacon so it only has 4 stats, STR, DEX, MIND, CHA). The reasoning is that that they can go for a heroic emergent build or if they have a specific class in mind being able to swap two stats will generally let them play it without any penalties.
    Naturally I also let them roll 3d6 in order if they wish to feel like bad asses.

  5. In my current pathfinder game, we're doing 4d6, arrange as desired. I'm about to run Doom of Daggerdale in 2ed, though, and I think I'm going to try 4d6, in order. That way they'll have some of the heroic emergence, but hopefully won't feel like their scores are too low. (Man, this is making me feel like I should be chasing kids off my lawn or something..._

  6. What does "and adjust" mean in the poll? Racial adjustments? Is it at all common to play a game with racial adjustments and not use those adjustments?

    In my ad7d campaign, it's 4d6 drop lowest, in order, except you can swap two stats. Keeps rare classes fairly rare, lends a good bit of an organic feel to the array, but still allows those 18/xx fighters to happen, and throws a small bone to any players who want a bit of optimization.

  7. Guy - a lot of the classic D&D variants suggest the DM may allow players to lower a stat by 2 to raise another state by 1; that's what I was thinking when I talked about adjustments. AD&D may have never allowed that along with 4d6 drop the lowest.

  8. I went with "3d6, rearrange and adjust", though it is not quite what I prefer to use. I prefer something along the lines of rolling them in order, but at any time you can take one roll and drop it into the class's you want to play primary stat.

    If not that, it has been roll 3d6 seven times and place where you want. The seventh roll becomes coin.

    Perfect timing by the way. Stat determination is the current point at which I find myself for my own Microlite20 development!


  9. I use 3d6 in order two times, choose one, for my pathfinder game. Changes the game quite a bit, and at last there are real interesting flaws in some of the characters. And with, what, 11 base classes, and all the race boni, you can still choose most of the time between two, or even more, that could work.
    I have come to generally dislike the rearrange after taste. To easy, to flavourless, to much of the same stat spread in similar characters.

  10. I like a method I first saw posted on Dragonsfoot; it's a variant of method IV in the DMG. Roll 3d6, in order, sufficient to generate 6 characters. Unless you use comliness you'll have a string of 96 numbers. You can then pick any 6 numbers in the string, in order.

    Whatever attribute the player wants most, he will usually have a good score in. If the player is OK with playing a big-4 class, he'll be good at his class. It also gives him a better chance at the specials, without being automatic.

  11. Not that I think this is dogma or anything, but I still think it's worth a repost.


    Also sprach Jeff Rients:

    Personally I loathe all the canonical cheating methods. I think there are two and exactly two legit ways to generate scores for D&D characters:

    1) 3d6 in order
    2) write down whatever numbers you like

    Anybody stuck on "wants to play a X" should be using the second method. I've used this method before. One guy wrote down all 18's, including 18/00 Str. Somehow, we all survived the experience.

    -- Comment on Grognardia: Cheating Methods

  12. 3d6 in order, two rows, choose one.

    rorschachhamster: With Pathfinder? Nice :)

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  14. Depends on the system. I don't always play D&D, in fact I'm more likely to go for something like Warhammer Fantasy Role Play (damn you Raggi, I hate writing that out every time I say it) if left to my own devices. Lots of the 3.5-heads I roll with don't like it, though, they're used to planning things out and building what they want rather than making the best of what they get. Character generation tends to be a compromise endeavour, in the end: I think I'd settle on 3d6, player's choice of allocation, DM's choice to intervene (for situtations of the "I can't see you playing low INT characters, dude, unless you're going to totally playing-piece this one..." variety).

  15. I wrote a blog post as a comment to this blog post-

    It expands a little bit beyond the theme of the original post, but if you all want to check it out, there it is.