Monday, December 12, 2011
Character Generation- How Do You Roll?
This post started life as a comment on the "Dreams in the Lich House" blog, but I realized that it was really long and figured I might just as well turn it into a post here. Take a minute and go read that post, if you haven't already, I'll still be here when you get back.
I voted for my preference for 3d6x6 in order, but that's not how we play AD&D here most of the time. I started playing D&D with Holmes Basic and ability scores weren't as important there, but in AD&D they take a wild leap forward in importance for the playability and survivability of your character. In OD&D the highest bonus was +1, the worst penalty was -1, as far as I can tell there is no Strength bonus for Fighting Men at all other than an XP bonus. Holmes Basic follows this pattern, but ups the Constitution bonus to +3 at 18. Moldvay Basic* really ups the ante as far as ability score modifiers with most stats having modifiers that range from -3 to +3, Charisma being the lone hold out with it's -2 to +2 range. AD&D explodes modifiers though, particularly Strength, where it separates the To Hit modifier from the Damage modifier and adds Percentile Strength to Fighters and their Sub-Classes that roll an 18. So suddenly for Strength alone you have modifiers that range from -3/-1 to +3/+6; admittedly that's the most egregious case of stat bonus/penalty inflation, but it does pretty clearly show the advancement of stat importance through the editions.
As a DM I have taken to going with one of two options for character generation. Option A- roll 4d6(drop the lowest)x6 arrange to taste, or option B- roll 4d6(drop the lowest)x7 in order drop the lowest stat**. I still play with a "Hopeless Character" clause too, if you roll a character with either option that has no stats higher than a 9 or has multiple negative modifiers, just give it to me and I'll use it as an NPC sometime maybe. I usually give them one "free" re-roll too, just in case they think they can do better, but they give up the first character in those cases as if it were hopeless. I guess I have gotten soft as a DM lately.
Then there's the Mona Rule- Named after my wife, who has notoriously bad luck with dice, this rule is, essentially, if you roll more than two hopeless characters in a row, the other players can each grab a single die and roll instead of you (assuming there are at least four players, otherwise the DM can take a die too, or a player can take more than one die to make up the difference; it's not ever been an issue) and roll your character for you while you record the results; this rule is designed to save time and stop Mona from saying things like "I think it could be a great role playing challenge to play a character with no stat higher than a 10 and multiple penalties"; a second, rarely used option for saving time is to have me pregenerate characters, given my extraordinary luck with dice and the fact that this is well known, I am always shocked when I offer and no one accepts. I guess the thrill of generating a PC of your own is still a mighty thing.
I would like to try some "Iron Man" AD&D again sometime, where everyone rolls 3d6 in order and plays what they roll, but we tried that last year and got a pretty lackluster party and a good time was not had by all. I think that's because of the expectations of the players when playing AD&D, looking at the stat modifiers, particularly if they have ever seen a copy of Unearthed Arcana and it's crazy munchkin maker stat rolling systems, they just assume that any character that doesn't have X number of bonuses is destined to be a failure.
I have tried playing OD&D, B/X and Cyclopedia with my group over the last few years, and they have pretty solidly rejected anything but AD&D, which is odd because none of the gamers I play with now have a rules heavy or wargamer background. I think they just like the greater range of choices in race and class, multi-classing options, larger hit die types and maybe the proliferation of polearms. We don't use a lot of AD&D rules as written, like most people I house rule a lot of stuff and always have. I've never used the Weapons vs. AC table for instance, and unarmed combat in AD&D is a nightmare, I have banned Psionics, Monks, Assassins, Bards & Gnomes and I am on the fence about Halflings. I have added and subtracted rules from pretty much every edition of D&D I have ever come across and played. I actually like 3e's Saving Throw system better, 2nd edition did Thieves Skills better and initiative, although with my current game I have returned to the simple d6 party initiative, I have found over the years that you go with the complexity level that the group you are playing with is comfortable at. I liked the way Clerics could trade spells for healing in 3e and that Wizards got bonus spells for high Intelligence, so I added them to my 1st edition game. I also took the old house rule that became standard procedure in 3e and give everyone maximum Hit Points at 1st level, it's a small thing, but I guess it may be a kind of heresy.
*Moldvay Basic & later Basic D&D editions postdate the publication of AD&D, so there may have been a little cross pollination/contamination there. I can't comment on Mentzer Basic because I don't have a copy, but Cyclopedia D&D goes -3 to +3 across the board for everything.
**Or whichever stat is most advantageous for you to drop, usually that would be the lowest, but not always if you have a specific character class in mind.