D&D 5E Point Buy vs Rolling for Stats

Klaudius Rex

Explorer
Ive been DMing for many years now, and enjoy it very much. I just finished up Out of the Abyss, and it went great. However, it almost felt like we were "power gaming" by the end of the adventure path.

As I normally do with almost all my games, I allowed my players to roll their stats at the beginning of the game instead of using the point buy or standard array ability scores presented in the Players Handbook. However, during the course of the game, i often felt that i had to fluff monsters attacks, hit points, and damage just to keep up with the characters power surge.

Soon, i will be running the Tomb of Annihilation adventure path, and this time, i'm seriously thinking about mandating that players ONLY use the point buy or standard array methods of creating their characters ability scores.

I truly believe that rolling ability scores is more fun for players, and can create balanced characters with the "risk" of having a few bad stats...

...but, would you believe, that I've never seen a balanced character come to my table with rolled up ability scores? They all presented with above average stats for their characters with usually no bad stats, no negative anything, and at least an 18 score (or maybe two 18 scores) to start. Each and every player! This has even happened when the group is like at 5th level, and a character dies, and a player comes back with a new 5th level character with above average rolled up ability stats. You could say that this is "luck of the dice," but I'm thinking that's not the case...

You see, I want to trust my players. I don't want to accuse them of fudging/lying with their dice rolls, especially when it comes to ability stats. And i don't want to sit and watch them roll up their characters and police them. I'm not the kind of DM who micromanages players characters sheets. I generally trust that when they make their characters at home, they are rolling the dice honestly.

But no one has ever came with a character with like a rolled up ability score of an 8 or something like that. They've all presented with some pretty "lucky" dice rolls...each and every time with each and every character that they make.

One time, later in the game, my wizard wanted to poly-morph into a T-Rex but was disappointed because his strength score was too low. I had a druid who didn't like to shape shift because turning into a bear was sub-optimal compared to the other players with better stats!

So I'm just really thinking that this time, for the new campaign, to disallow rolling the stats.

Do you think this is too harsh?

Do you other DMs police your players?

How should this be handled?
 

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Caliban

Rules Monkey
But no one has ever came with a character with like a rolled up ability score of an 8 or something like that. They've all presented with some pretty "lucky" dice rolls...each and every time with each and every character that they make.

I'm shocked. Shocked, I tell you!

Opinions vary greatly.

Personally, I hate rolling for stats. I always prefer point buy. (Mainly because dice hate me and if there is one person at the table who will roll below average stats, it will usually be me.)

Other people feel the opposite.
 

neogod22

Explorer
Ive been DMing for many years now, and enjoy it very much. I just finished up Out of the Abyss, and it went great. However, it almost felt like we were "power gaming" by the end of the adventure path.

As I normally do with almost all my games, I allowed my players to roll their stats at the beginning of the game instead of using the point buy or standard array ability scores presented in the Players Handbook. However, during the course of the game, i often felt that i had to fluff monsters attacks, hit points, and damage just to keep up with the characters power surge.

Soon, i will be running the Tomb of Annihilation adventure path, and this time, i'm seriously thinking about mandating that players ONLY use the point buy or standard array methods of creating their characters ability scores.

I truly believe that rolling ability scores is more fun for players, and can create balanced characters with the "risk" of having a few bad stats...

...but, would you believe, that I've never seen a balanced character come to my table with rolled up ability scores? They all presented with above average stats for their characters with usually no bad stats, no negative anything, and at least an 18 score (or maybe two 18 scores) to start. Each and every player! This has even happened when the group is like at 5th level, and a character dies, and a player comes back with a new 5th level character with above average rolled up ability stats. You could say that this is "luck of the dice," but I'm thinking that's not the case...

You see, I want to trust my players. I don't want to accuse them of fudging/lying with their dice rolls, especially when it comes to ability stats. And i don't want to sit and watch them roll up their characters and police them. I'm not the kind of DM who micromanages players characters sheets. I generally trust that when they make their characters at home, they are rolling the dice honestly.

But no one has ever came with a character with like a rolled up ability score of an 8 or something like that. They've all presented with some pretty "lucky" dice rolls...each and every time with each and every character that they make.

One time, later in the game, my wizard wanted to poly-morph into a T-Rex but was disappointed because his strength score was too low. I had a druid who didn't like to shape shift because turning into a bear was sub-optimal compared to the other players with better stats!

So I'm just really thinking that this time, for the new campaign, to disallow rolling the stats.

Do you think this is too harsh?

Do you other DMs police your players?

How should this be handled?
I like point buy, it lowers the ability to cheat and it causes players to think about how they want to distribute their points. Everyone will be weak at something. As far as dealing with the power spike at higher levels, there's no way around that. It's not due to ability scores, but rather the profiency bonuses and class abilities. You're always are going to have to adjust at higher levels.

Sent from my VS995 using Tapatalk
 

Arial Black

Adventurer
Rolling for stats is great fun!

You know what's even more fun?

At session zero, everyone rolls their stats together as a group, and can communicate with each other about who wants to create what (partly based on the scores they've just rolled) and can work together to be part of each other's backstories.

One side benefit? You are overseeing the whole operation, and you'd catch anyone who would be foolish enough to cheat right in front of you.

The players can have no valid complaints about this (Awww, I can't cheat if you're watching me!), except one: "it takes me a week to think of a coherent and interesting character". Fair enough. I'm like that myself.

Solution? After session zero, the players can go away for a week and complete the design process, bearing in mind all that has been discussed and that you wrote their rolled stats down (for administration purposes, of course!). Next session, after you peruse their sheets and the players introduce their completed PCs to one another, you can begin the adventure. :D
 

Hussar

Legend
I'm an even bigger fan of standard array. It stops all the mickey mouse stuff of dump statting and creates nicely rounded characters. Die rolling is, AFAIC, just bad.
 

Oofta

Legend
This argument comes so often that I've come up with a canned response. Sorry about that, but I simply don't have the energy to type it all in again.

All I will add is that I disagree with your statement "I truly believe that rolling ability scores is more fun for players". I, and most of the people in my current game groups, prefer point buy. However there is no "one true way" to play D&D, so this post is why I prefer point buy.

If you really want to roll, have people do it at the table, with no take-backs, no rerolls, no "anything below an 8 becomes an 8" or whatever. So assuming truly random rolls, roll 4d6 drop lowest, no takebacks, you get what you get.

The only advantage to rolling for ability scores is that you get random results. Sometimes they will be higher than what you get with point buy, sometimes they will be lower.

Some people believe you get better numbers on average. If it does it's within a point or two, and depends on how you do your analysis since point buy is a constricted range. If you stay in the constricted range 8-15, a 27 point buy is slightly better.

In addition, many groups use the Creative Hero Enhanced Attribute Templates (C.H.E.A.T.) system (frequently with the permission of their DM) when rolling stats for characters. For example if you roll enough characters you will eventually have a good one, something I took advantage of in the old D&D video games like Baldur's Gate.

If you C.H.E.A.T., the resulting numbers of course will normally be higher than what you get with point buy.

The equivalent point buy C.H.E.A.T. method with is to simply give people more points to spend, or use a heroic array from previous editions. For example, give 32 points and consider letting people buy higher numbers.

While my experience may not be typical, characters with sub-optimal stats always die before they get past 2nd level. YMMV of course.

So why do I prefer point buy?

Story Time
The last time I rolled for ability scores we used straight roll 4d6 drop lowest. My wife and I wanted to use a point buy system, but were told that everybody had to roll for stats. I rolled a decent character, my wife rolled incredibly poorly (a single 14, a single 10 and everything else below) while another gal (Sue) at the table rolled a couple of 18s and a low roll of 14.

Neither my wife nor Sue were happy with the characters. Sue felt guilty, my wife had a character with stats that she felt could not represent the heroic character she had envisioned when we were discussing what we wanted in the campaign.

When my wife asked if she could reroll or use the point buy system from the living campaign, the DM just laughed, and said something along the lines of "that's too bad you rolled poorly but it's fair because everybody rolled".

Sue eventually committed suicide-by-goblin because she felt guilty. Since you can't be forced to testify against your spouse, I can neither confirm nor deny that my wife secretly adjusted her numbers to something reasonable.

Random is not "Fair"
Analogy time: you apply for a job somewhere that advertises average pay per hour of $10.50. When you get there, you roll dice to see what your actual salary is. Will someone making $3.00 per hour working next to someone making $18.00 per hour doing exactly the same job with exactly the same qualifications consider this "fair"?

Personally I'll take PCs that start out on roughly equal footing.

Heroic Characters
I admit it. When I play the game I want to play a character that's just a little better than the average Joe. I want my character to be a good at their job, perhaps one day rising to the ranks of the best of the best.

Some people may enjoy the challenge of playing a character with below average stats. I don't. For me the game is about escapism, pure and simple. I want to play George Clooney's character from Ocean's 11 or Vin Diesel's character from The Fast and Furious (or any of the other characters from the movies, they're all exceptional in their area of expertise). I don't want to play Ralph "it tastes like burning" Wiggum from The Simpsons.

For that matter, I don't want to play Superman either. I like a sense of growth, and don't really care for ability scores of 20 at first level. The math seems to work for 5E a little better without super high stats at first level as well.

Whether or not any particular character will "shine" from an RP or achievement perspective is a completely separate, unrelated issue. Whether or not you personally enjoy playing characters with potentially vastly different capabilities out of the box is a preference.

Character Vision
I start thinking who I want my character to be when we first start discussing a new campaign. I develop a background story, basic description, goals and so on long before I determine numbers. I will frequently post a "prequel" story before the campaign starts as an introduction for everyone else for my character.

If I roll for stats, I may or may not be able to build the character I had envisioned. I've always been able to do so with point buy.

Character Effectiveness
If you compare two characters with the same race and class, the difference between good scores and poor becomes evident. For purposes of comparison I don't remember exact numbers from my game mentioned above. I don't remember exact numbers, but let's say that Sue rolled 18, 18, 17, 16, 14, 14 for her character Berta. My wife rolled 14, 10, 8, 8, 6, 5 for her character Tikaa.

Let's say that Berta and Tikaa are both dwarven fighters. How would each character fair in a one-on-one fight against a hell hound at 4th level?

We know that Berta does 68% more damage, can take 20% more damage, has (at least) a +2 to Reflex saves vs Tikaa's =3. Tikaa had to put that 5 somewhere and since she has heavy armor, dexterity is the best place for it.

For Tikaa, the Hell Hound wins initiative a little over 60% of the time. On average Tikaa lasts 3.8 rounds, the Hell Hound lasts 8.6 rounds

On the other hand Berta wins initiative a little over 60% of the time. On average Sue lasts 6.8 rounds, the Hell Hound lasts 6 rounds.

Conclusion? Tikaa is doggy chow by a significant (5 round) margin. Berta is slightly well done but walks away victorious. In addtion, Berta probably comes out even more ahead because she probably wins intiative.

This is not a "minor" difference. It's a dramatic difference that is going to be noticed encounter after encounter.

Of course I can hear the cries of "Your wife should play class <x> to be more effective." First, dwarven fighter is one of the better classes for someone with low stats. Second, I'm comparing effectiveness here - no matter which class she and Sue play, Sue will always be far more effective in that class. Sue also has the option of playing virtually any class/multi-class character whe wants.

Whether people care about effectiveness is, as always, up to the individual. I don't think it's wrong to say I want my character should be reasonably effective at their chosen profession.


Party Ability Score Variance
It's almost inevitable that there will be winners and losers in the random result lottery. Sue and my wife's experience were a bit extreme, but for every character with an 18, there will be a character with a 5 or less.

A while back I wrote some code to compare "groups" of 6 randomly generated characters using 4d6 drop lowest (I was bored). I assigned point buy values to 3-18 (above 15 used +2 for every number) and then compared point buys. It's not a perfect comparison but gave me a general feel for different power levels.

The majority of "tables" fell into the 25-40 point difference range. What does that mean for real numbers?

Well compare 25 point buy diff for a couple of randomly selected tables.
Diff 25
Cost: 13: 12, 12, 8, 8, 9, 12 - hit the snooze alarm boring
Cost: 38: 16, 10, 7, 15, 12, 16 - pretty good, only 1 low stat

Diff 35
Cost: 15: 11, 11, 9, 7, 13, 12 - nothing horrible, at least he has a 13.
Cost: 50: 14, 17, 14, 15, 10, 15 - no weaknesses, scores too high for my personal taste.

To me, those are significant difference, the low end represents stats of someone who may be decent an their company softball team. The high numbers represent people that play in the major leagues. The last character is probably a superstar on their team.

Conclusion
Ultimately I think it comes down to player empowerment and agency. Different people play for different reasons, but I see no value to forcing someone to play a randomly generated character if they do not want to. I don't think playing someone with below average ability scores makes you a better role player or person.

This is not about "competition" between characters or that I believe stats dictate whether or not I can roleplay a character. It's about feeling like I can contribute to the team on even footing with the rest of the characters.

I want to play the vision of a character that I have, not a character that is forced on my by random luck.

I have no problem accepting that some people prefer random characters. Just don't tell me that it makes you somehow superior, or that rolling for ability scores is "the one true way" to play D&D. Ain't nobody got time for that.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Ive been DMing for many years now, and enjoy it very much. I just finished up Out of the Abyss, and it went great. However, it almost felt like we were "power gaming" by the end of the adventure path.

As I normally do with almost all my games, I allowed my players to roll their stats at the beginning of the game instead of using the point buy or standard array ability scores presented in the Players Handbook. However, during the course of the game, i often felt that i had to fluff monsters attacks, hit points, and damage just to keep up with the characters power surge.

Soon, i will be running the Tomb of Annihilation adventure path, and this time, i'm seriously thinking about mandating that players ONLY use the point buy or standard array methods of creating their characters ability scores.

I truly believe that rolling ability scores is more fun for players, and can create balanced characters with the "risk" of having a few bad stats...

...but, would you believe, that I've never seen a balanced character come to my table with rolled up ability scores? They all presented with above average stats for their characters with usually no bad stats, no negative anything, and at least an 18 score (or maybe two 18 scores) to start. Each and every player! This has even happened when the group is like at 5th level, and a character dies, and a player comes back with a new 5th level character with above average rolled up ability stats. You could say that this is "luck of the dice," but I'm thinking that's not the case...

You see, I want to trust my players. I don't want to accuse them of fudging/lying with their dice rolls, especially when it comes to ability stats. And i don't want to sit and watch them roll up their characters and police them. I'm not the kind of DM who micromanages players characters sheets. I generally trust that when they make their characters at home, they are rolling the dice honestly.

But no one has ever came with a character with like a rolled up ability score of an 8 or something like that. They've all presented with some pretty "lucky" dice rolls...each and every time with each and every character that they make.

One time, later in the game, my wizard wanted to poly-morph into a T-Rex but was disappointed because his strength score was too low. I had a druid who didn't like to shape shift because turning into a bear was sub-optimal compared to the other players with better stats!

So I'm just really thinking that this time, for the new campaign, to disallow rolling the stats.

Do you think this is too harsh?

Do you other DMs police your players?

How should this be handled?
Do note Out of the Abyss has probably the weakest high-level support of all the 1-15 modules.



Sent from my C6603 using EN World mobile app
 

neogod22

Explorer
This argument comes so often that I've come up with a canned response. Sorry about that, but I simply don't have the energy to type it all in again.

All I will add is that I disagree with your statement "I truly believe that rolling ability scores is more fun for players". I, and most of the people in my current game groups, prefer point buy. However there is no "one true way" to play D&D, so this post is why I prefer point buy.

If you really want to roll, have people do it at the table, with no take-backs, no rerolls, no "anything below an 8 becomes an 8" or whatever. So assuming truly random rolls, roll 4d6 drop lowest, no takebacks, you get what you get.

The only advantage to rolling for ability scores is that you get random results. Sometimes they will be higher than what you get with point buy, sometimes they will be lower.

Some people believe you get better numbers on average. If it does it's within a point or two, and depends on how you do your analysis since point buy is a constricted range. If you stay in the constricted range 8-15, a 27 point buy is slightly better.

In addition, many groups use the Creative Hero Enhanced Attribute Templates (C.H.E.A.T.) system (frequently with the permission of their DM) when rolling stats for characters. For example if you roll enough characters you will eventually have a good one, something I took advantage of in the old D&D video games like Baldur's Gate.

If you C.H.E.A.T., the resulting numbers of course will normally be higher than what you get with point buy.

The equivalent point buy C.H.E.A.T. method with is to simply give people more points to spend, or use a heroic array from previous editions. For example, give 32 points and consider letting people buy higher numbers.

While my experience may not be typical, characters with sub-optimal stats always die before they get past 2nd level. YMMV of course.

So why do I prefer point buy?

Story Time
The last time I rolled for ability scores we used straight roll 4d6 drop lowest. My wife and I wanted to use a point buy system, but were told that everybody had to roll for stats. I rolled a decent character, my wife rolled incredibly poorly (a single 14, a single 10 and everything else below) while another gal (Sue) at the table rolled a couple of 18s and a low roll of 14.

Neither my wife nor Sue were happy with the characters. Sue felt guilty, my wife had a character with stats that she felt could not represent the heroic character she had envisioned when we were discussing what we wanted in the campaign.

When my wife asked if she could reroll or use the point buy system from the living campaign, the DM just laughed, and said something along the lines of "that's too bad you rolled poorly but it's fair because everybody rolled".

Sue eventually committed suicide-by-goblin because she felt guilty. Since you can't be forced to testify against your spouse, I can neither confirm nor deny that my wife secretly adjusted her numbers to something reasonable.

Random is not "Fair"
Analogy time: you apply for a job somewhere that advertises average pay per hour of $10.50. When you get there, you roll dice to see what your actual salary is. Will someone making $3.00 per hour working next to someone making $18.00 per hour doing exactly the same job with exactly the same qualifications consider this "fair"?

Personally I'll take PCs that start out on roughly equal footing.

Heroic Characters
I admit it. When I play the game I want to play a character that's just a little better than the average Joe. I want my character to be a good at their job, perhaps one day rising to the ranks of the best of the best.

Some people may enjoy the challenge of playing a character with below average stats. I don't. For me the game is about escapism, pure and simple. I want to play George Clooney's character from Ocean's 11 or Vin Diesel's character from The Fast and Furious (or any of the other characters from the movies, they're all exceptional in their area of expertise). I don't want to play Ralph "it tastes like burning" Wiggum from The Simpsons.

For that matter, I don't want to play Superman either. I like a sense of growth, and don't really care for ability scores of 20 at first level. The math seems to work for 5E a little better without super high stats at first level as well.

Whether or not any particular character will "shine" from an RP or achievement perspective is a completely separate, unrelated issue. Whether or not you personally enjoy playing characters with potentially vastly different capabilities out of the box is a preference.

Character Vision
I start thinking who I want my character to be when we first start discussing a new campaign. I develop a background story, basic description, goals and so on long before I determine numbers. I will frequently post a "prequel" story before the campaign starts as an introduction for everyone else for my character.

If I roll for stats, I may or may not be able to build the character I had envisioned. I've always been able to do so with point buy.

Character Effectiveness
If you compare two characters with the same race and class, the difference between good scores and poor becomes evident. For purposes of comparison I don't remember exact numbers from my game mentioned above. I don't remember exact numbers, but let's say that Sue rolled 18, 18, 17, 16, 14, 14 for her character Berta. My wife rolled 14, 10, 8, 8, 6, 5 for her character Tikaa.

Let's say that Berta and Tikaa are both dwarven fighters. How would each character fair in a one-on-one fight against a hell hound at 4th level?

We know that Berta does 68% more damage, can take 20% more damage, has (at least) a +2 to Reflex saves vs Tikaa's =3. Tikaa had to put that 5 somewhere and since she has heavy armor, dexterity is the best place for it.

For Tikaa, the Hell Hound wins initiative a little over 60% of the time. On average Tikaa lasts 3.8 rounds, the Hell Hound lasts 8.6 rounds

On the other hand Berta wins initiative a little over 60% of the time. On average Sue lasts 6.8 rounds, the Hell Hound lasts 6 rounds.

Conclusion? Tikaa is doggy chow by a significant (5 round) margin. Berta is slightly well done but walks away victorious. In addtion, Berta probably comes out even more ahead because she probably wins intiative.

This is not a "minor" difference. It's a dramatic difference that is going to be noticed encounter after encounter.

Of course I can hear the cries of "Your wife should play class <x> to be more effective." First, dwarven fighter is one of the better classes for someone with low stats. Second, I'm comparing effectiveness here - no matter which class she and Sue play, Sue will always be far more effective in that class. Sue also has the option of playing virtually any class/multi-class character whe wants.

Whether people care about effectiveness is, as always, up to the individual. I don't think it's wrong to say I want my character should be reasonably effective at their chosen profession.


Party Ability Score Variance
It's almost inevitable that there will be winners and losers in the random result lottery. Sue and my wife's experience were a bit extreme, but for every character with an 18, there will be a character with a 5 or less.

A while back I wrote some code to compare "groups" of 6 randomly generated characters using 4d6 drop lowest (I was bored). I assigned point buy values to 3-18 (above 15 used +2 for every number) and then compared point buys. It's not a perfect comparison but gave me a general feel for different power levels.

The majority of "tables" fell into the 25-40 point difference range. What does that mean for real numbers?

Well compare 25 point buy diff for a couple of randomly selected tables.
Diff 25
Cost: 13: 12, 12, 8, 8, 9, 12 - hit the snooze alarm boring
Cost: 38: 16, 10, 7, 15, 12, 16 - pretty good, only 1 low stat

Diff 35
Cost: 15: 11, 11, 9, 7, 13, 12 - nothing horrible, at least he has a 13.
Cost: 50: 14, 17, 14, 15, 10, 15 - no weaknesses, scores too high for my personal taste.

To me, those are significant difference, the low end represents stats of someone who may be decent an their company softball team. The high numbers represent people that play in the major leagues. The last character is probably a superstar on their team.

Conclusion
Ultimately I think it comes down to player empowerment and agency. Different people play for different reasons, but I see no value to forcing someone to play a randomly generated character if they do not want to. I don't think playing someone with below average ability scores makes you a better role player or person.

This is not about "competition" between characters or that I believe stats dictate whether or not I can roleplay a character. It's about feeling like I can contribute to the team on even footing with the rest of the characters.

I want to play the vision of a character that I have, not a character that is forced on my by random luck.

I have no problem accepting that some people prefer random characters. Just don't tell me that it makes you somehow superior, or that rolling for ability scores is "the one true way" to play D&D. Ain't nobody got time for that.
Lol this guy says he doesn't feel,like typing, then copies an entire book. Keep it to a few short paragraphs, no one wants to read an article.

Sent from my VS995 using Tapatalk
 

Oofta

Legend
Lol this guy says he doesn't feel,like typing, then copies an entire book. Keep it to a few short paragraphs, no one wants to read an article.

Sent from my VS995 using Tapatalk

This argument comes up so often I saved off my last response to a text file. If it wasn't clear, this is a cut-and-paste from the last time this thread came up a couple of months ago.

Do you have anything to add to the conversation or are you just trolling?
 

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