Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Define Hopeless

I appreciate all the discussion around ability score methods from yesterday, and I note the poll has a flaw - for old school methods like 3d6, it doesn't differentiate between 3d6, once-and-done, versus rolling multiple arrays of 3d6 attributes and picking one.  Lots of folks that use 3d6 roll a series of characters (I saw x6 was a common number in the comments), and they'll pick one they like.  The idea is to avoid "hopeless characters".

Two questions come to mind - how do you define hopeless, and where did this idea of "hopeless characters" enter the thought process?  It's not in Moldvay.  The DMG 1E approach, 4d6, purports to avoid unplayable characters, but doesn't define what one would look like.  LOTFP has a suitability check.

I do one of two things - I have the player tally up the ability score modifiers, and any character that nets out at zero or higher is not hopeless.  If it's a "high powered game", I might make the tally +1 or better.  For instance, if the attributes were 13, 10, 11, 7, 13, 12 - the character would have +1 for strength and constitution, -1 for dexterity, and would net out at +1 - not hopeless.  The first "not hopeless" character you generate is a keeper.

I do like the idea of rolling five or six sets of scores that was championed by a number of folks, because you can make the unused sets of scores into NPCs.  Starting groups usually hire mercenaries and torchbearers, so those unused stats can be assigned to the hirelings.  When we play tested ACKS in the city with Tavis and the Mule Abides folks, this was used to great effect.  Speaking of which, ACKs day is getting closer; I keep expecting to see a printing announcement for that one.  Guys are building churches, refurbishing the castle, all that stuff in Gothic Greyhawk, so the final release of ACKS will be a welcome sight.

We have an interesting character in that current game that danced along the line of hopelessness - his initial stats were something like 16, 15, 13, 12, 7, 5 - he netted out at +1 (+2 strength, +1 intelligence and wisdom, -1 constitution, -2 charisma).  Bo made him into "Forlorn the Elf" - freakishly strong for his size, but frail and haughty and unable to attract decent henchmen.  He's since lost a point of wisdom due to one of those old school random things.  But he's survived to level 5 and has become one of the more interesting characters in the group.


  1. In my book, there is no such thing as a hopeless character — unless you play the character that way. If this is the case whether you have a bunch of 3s or a bunch of 18s doesn't make a difference. I say this with confidence because published in an April Fool's edition of Dragon, there was the Hopeless Character class. Instead of laughing it off like the rest of the world did, a friend of mine took it as a challenge and insisted on playing the class as written (which got worse as it advanced). Not only did he survive and level, but we all had a blast.

    Again, there is no such thing as a hopeless character unless you choose to be hopeless.

  2. Actually... there is a "hopeless characters" option under Moldvay basic. It's at the DM's whim, though.

    "Hopeless characters" get weeded out rather quickly via death anyway. If one happens to survive to second or third level, that just makes them ten times as awesome.

  3. (Oh, and... rolling up characters: I do 3d6 in order... and then allow players to drop ability scores to raise their prime requisites based on the restrictions outlined in that old Moldvay book. When I was a kid, I think 4d6, rearrange, and no adjustment was the norm. I kind of like how the limited adjustments under Moldvay ever-so-slightly tilt the frequency of high strength fighters, for example. It appears that someone gave it some thought, though I haven't done an extensive study of the earliest editions....)

  4. as jeffro pointed out, Moldvay page B13 for "Hopeless Characters" option.

    Personally, I think it's fun to run a PC with a lousy score or two. Attributes aren't SO crucial in B/X that you can't compensate to a degree with smart play.

  5. I've never liked quantifying this. If someone really hates their roles, they can re-roll, but that is not encouraged. Psychologically, if you put something in the rules, that licenses it. It also adds another calculation and/or choice to the chargen process.

    If I played a game where players wanted to control their ability scores, I would probably just let them use a point buy system, or arrange a pregenerated array.

  6. This is mostly for old-school type games. I'm not sure this would work in other, newer games.

    I like 3d6 in order for BX/OD&D/S&W, 4d6 arrange as desired for AD&D/OSRIC. It depends to some extent on the modifier range being used.

    I've (happily) played a character with a 3 Dex and various other characters with similarly poor scores, but many (most?) gamers won't play a character with a crappy score in anything.

    My acid test for a character is to total their ability modifiers and if it's zero or above they should be played as-is. If they have a negative total the player has the option to roll a new set of scores.

    I don't tend to favour point-buy, it too often leads to the same characters every time. For me, optimized characters are a bit depressingly two dimensional. As with real people, we quite often like a character for their good points, but we cherish them for their flaws.

  7. I definitely agree some oddball scores (high or low) make guys interesting. That Forlorn guy with the two low score is a good example. The party magic user is somehow blessed with an 18 constitution.

    Thanks for the Moldvay reference, I glossed over it apparently.

  8. I usually just use 3d6 in order, if your total ability modifier is 0 or more your good to go. However method 6 from the 2E PHB has always intrigued me in its quirkiness I have never really seen anything like it anywhere else.

  9. I do 3d6 in order, but 7 times. The 7th roll can be swapped for one of the 6 abilities, but ultimately it will be multiplied by 10 to be your starting gold so it's not a pure dump stat; particularly for characters interested in wearing armor. From a purist perspective I justify it because we choose character class and race before we roll the dice.

    Also, if a character's net ability modifier is negative, he gets an experience point bonus.