There are many steps in creating a character. Today I’d like to take a look at the process of determining the ability scores.

Before I start, I’d like to note that this is written with D&D in mind. Each system has a different process for creating a character and they don’t have the same ability scores with D&D. Now that’s out of the way, let’s begin.

There are quite a few ways to determine the ability scores of a character. I am going to mention three of them, which I believe are the most common.

Rolling dice

Let’s begin with the most chaotic method, which is rolling dice. I call it chaotic for two reasons. Dice add randomness which can be good and bad. Also, there are so many different versions of this method that I can’t cover all of them here. However, it’s usually a fun method and, even if it has many versions, the main idea remains the same.

You get an amount of dice, usually d6s, and you roll them a number of times. Each time you roll them you determine an ability score. That’s the main idea and, as you can see, its explanation is quite abstract. That’s because each version sets the variables that define the method.

An important variable is whether the order in which the scores are generated plays a role. For example, if you roll [18, 12, 15, 4, 8, 9] and the order plays a role, this means the Strength score of your character will be 18, Dexterity will be 12, etc. If it doesn’t, you can arrange them however you want.

I said this variable is important because you pretty much let the dice decide what character you’re going to play. Even if you could play a wizard with the stats above, it probably wouldn’t be that fun. A character that uses Strength as one of its main scores would be a more efficient choice.

You could consider the type of dice to be another variable but, at least in D&D, the d6 is the one that’s used the most.

Another variable is the amount of dice used. There are many variations here. Technically, you only need to roll 3d6 to determine an ability score but using more increases the chances to get better scores.

In D&D 5th Edition, for example, the dice rolling method suggested is to roll 4d6 and drop the lowest die. You then add the other 3 and you have one ability score. Do that five more times and you have six scores. The order here doesn’t play a role and you can arrange them however you wish.

I’m going to mention a few more methods very quickly so you get an idea about how many there are. Most, if not all, of them can be used with or without taking the order of the rolls into consideration.

  • Roll 3d6.
  • Roll 5d6 and drop the two lowest.
  • Roll 4d6. After you have generated six ability scores, replace the lowest one with 18.
  • Roll 2d6+4.
  • Roll 20d6 and drop the two lowest. Arrange the rest of them in groups of three.
  • Roll 3d6 twelve times and keep the best six rolls.
  • Roll 3d6 six times for each ability score and keep the highest rolls.

I could probably keep going for some time but it’s not something I’d like to do and I doubt it’d be something you would enjoy reading. But I’m sure these are enough to show you how many different versions there can be.

You can even invent your own if you want. Let’s make one now. Roll 4d6, drop the lowest. If any score is below 8 then make it an 8. If you roll 4 6s for a score then make it a 20.

Overall, this method is fun because you get to roll dice. However, it is also risky and unfair. It’s risky because you can get some pretty high scores but also some really low ones. That leads to it being unfair. Having an ability score or two below 10 can be interesting because you can incorporate this fact into your character’s story. Having most of them below 10, however, makes the game less fun, at least as I see it. This issue gets bigger if there are players with incredibly low scores and players with really high ones.

This situation has happened to me and I had to intervene and tinker with the scores. I don’t know if that decision was the right one, but my players didn’t complain since they are amazing and understand that everyone should have fun.

Point buy

Point buy is a process that doesn’t require dice. The Dungeon Master gives the players an amount of points and they decide how to distribute them among the ability scores. That’s the base idea but there are many variations. Each score may cost a different amount of points, for example. You can also change the amount of points given and you can also set lowest and highest scores.

In D&D 5th edition you get 27 points, the lowest score is 8 and the highest one is 15. Also, the cost varies depending on the score.

pointbuy.jpg
The ability score point cost table for D&D 5th Edition. Taken from the Basic Rules document.

I consider this method good for two reasons. It’s fair for the players, compared to rolling dice, because everyone gets the same amount of points and they can spend them however they want. The second reason is that the Dungeon Master can partially determine the power level of the campaign by changing the variables of the method. For example, if the DM and the players decide they want a campaign with a power level higher than the average, the DM can increase the amount of points the players will start with, as well as tinker with the lowest and highest scores.

Standard Array

The standard array is a specific set of scores, which in D&D 5th edition is [15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8]. Now you may ask “Where do these numbers come from?” and that would be a very good question.

First of all, this set of scores can be generated using the point buy method. This makes the standard array a subcategory of point buy. However, there’s a second answer. I mentioned above the dice method to determine ability scores in 5th edition(roll 4d6 and drop the lowest). The standard array is a bit lower than the median of that dice method. That’s because the standard array provides you with playable stats without having the risk of getting really bad ones if you had used the dice method.

Moreover, I’d like to note that it’s one of the methods mentioned in the D&D 5th edition Player’s Handbook. Also, it’s used in the D&D Adventurers League, which is the official organized play for D&D.

Overall, the standard array is fair like the point buy method. It may not provide as much versatility but the scores are not bad and it’s a bit faster than point buy. That’s what I usually use when I want to create a character.

And these three are the methods I consider the most commonly used when it comes to determining your character’s ability scores. Like I said, systems other than D&D may provide different ones. There may also be others, not as commonly used, that I haven’t heard of. If that’s the case then please let me know.

Which is your favorite method and which is the most unusual method you have met?

And until next time, have fun!

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6 thoughts on “Determining Ability Scores

  1. Personally I run 3d6 with unlimited mulligans. Before anyone rolls stats, though, I explain my perspective so my players know what I’m looking for. That being that having weaknesses is often more fun than having strengths, and having one or two bad stats with one or two good stats is perfectly viable. I feel like this takes the best of both worlds, with the randomness of dice and the fairness of point buy. I take it on faith people won’t keep rolling for bonkers stats and so far it’s worked out.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I prefer everyone rolls – including the GM. Anyone can use anyone else’s array however (possibly with a 1d3 penalty, spread about however they like, to keep things differentiated). You avoid the cookie cutter builds of point buy (eg all paladins have 8 Int), but retain dont have to retain intraparty balance. Low Fantasy Gaming RPG suggests this approach as one option.

    Liked by 1 person

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