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D&D 5E The Philosophy Behind Randomized and Standardized Ability Scores

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
I agree, but honestly IME people like to roll want to get better than average scores. This is why I see so many alternate rolling rules that prevent "bad" results. My group does this, with 4 different DMs and 4 different options. When I DM the best I was able to get people to agree to is if you don't like your results you can default down to the standard array. I technically offer point buy (which is superior to the array, due to versatility), but no one every takes it.
Well yeah, of course they do. Everyone wants good stats. But part of the point of rolling is the risk vs. reward prospect.

I get it, it sucks to get terrible scores. That’s why I allow folks to roll a new set if they don’t think they’ll have fun with the ones they got. But, I do encourage them to keep bad sets if they think they can live with them. If you aren’t prepared for the possibility of getting low rolls and willing to take them as a challenge, I encourage taking the standard array/point buy instead.

In fact, my advice is, if you already have a character in mind, you should take point buy and make the best version of that character you can with the tools available to you. Rolling for stats when you already know what character you want to play only introduces a chance that you won’t get stats that suit that character. If you want to roll, you should go in with no preconceived ideas about the character, roll in order, and then create a character based on whatever stats you got. Even if the stats you roll are total garbage, the character will likely die pretty quickly anyway and then you can roll up someone new.
 

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But that's not what I've ever experienced. It's not "dying valiantly" it's "my PC is an idiot who commits suicide by doing really, really stupid things". Pretty much everyone knew what they did and why. 🤷‍♂️
Then we go back to the OP, scores generation is tied directly to play style expectation.
If you play with players that just want bigger score, offer them this chance with a safety belt mechanic, it will be better than dummy suicide!
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
As a player, if I’m given the option of point buy/array or rolling stats, I’ll decide based on what kind of campaign the DM is running. If they’ve pitched a plot-based campaign, where a tight-knit group of plucky heroes go on an epic quest to stop some terrible evil, I’ll come up with a character that suits that sort of story and use point buy to hand-craft that character’s stats as I envision them. If they pitch a wide-open sandbox where the characters explore wilderness, hunt for treasure, and generally pursue their own goals, I’ll roll stats, in order, and make a character that suits the stats I roll. Those are basically my two modes. I don’t really see much point in rolling if you aren’t going to roll in order.
 

MarkB

Legend
I agree that fairness across the group is a major factor in choosing ability score generation methods. I'm not sure I agree that the concept's been given short shrift in previous discussions. My impression was that it was one of the primary motivators for introducing point buy / standard array.
 

I think of a small survey.

will you be happy to
Play a character with better stats than the others?
Play a character with lower stats than the others?
Play a character with one level higher than the others?
Play a character with one level less than the others?
Play a character with better magic items than the others?
Play a character with lesser magic items than the others?

Compare the yes/no answers. That will give you a good take on fairness tolerance or paradox!
 
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Cadence

Legend
Supporter
One addition I like beyond standard point buy/array is where PF have several levels of them based on how the campaign wanted to have the PCs relative to the world. (So some games might have a much higher than standard array start for everyone).
 


Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
One addition I like beyond standard point buy/array is where PF have several levels of them based on how the campaign wanted to have the PCs relative to the world. (So some games might have a much higher than standard array start for everyone).
They also did that with 3.5. Funny thing is though, at least for me, is that we tried the "more powerful" variant and didn't repeat it for the next campaign. We did a 32 point buy with an option to buy up to 16 but it just felt like the PCs were almost too competent because of bounded accuracy.

YMMV of course.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
random rolls worked well back in 1e&2e, but not since 3.5 and there are reasons related to the historical system mechanics for that. Without those differences they cause problems. It worked till 2e because of system differences & failed different in 3.x again because of differences. 5e is different from both & is unable to make use of the ways it could work or kinda work that those earlier editions enjoyed

Prior to 3.x (1e/2e) A +1 started around a 15 in an ability while -1 started around a six in an ability giving a nine point dead zone of +/-0 that was likely to contain nearly every ability score roll. The different abilities would add a small bonus or penalty to specific things even within that dead zone, but in general it was a very minor thing. Rolling ability scores itroduced some random near ribbon flavoring to characters as a result of this dead zone that no longer exists.

One of the big improvements that 3.5* made was to standardize the ability score mods to the -1/+1 at 8 & 12 with another +1/-1 every 2 points in an ability that we all know today. You could still roll stats but the gm needed to be more careful when awarding treasure & strongly consider everyoe's rolls against the magic items they dish out making it a bit of a mess that wound up feeling lacking compared to just starting everyone with a few levels to kick them off a seasoned.


5e has the same +/-1 every 2 points from 10 as 3.x did but also assumes no feats & no magic items so the gm doesn't even have the option of massaging the trasure rewards like in 3.x & certainly doesn't have the kind of deadzone present in 1e/2e

*Maybe 3.0 too I dunno
 

Blue Orange

Adventurer
I kind of feel like with the shift from 'D&D as game of skill' to 'D&D as collaborative narrative' people want to have more fine control over their character, as BookTenTiger said. You want to make a half-orc who rebelled against the stereotypes to be a wizard and specialized in enchantment, you've got to pick your scores carefully. You just want to make a wizard, you need a high INT.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I kind of feel like with the shift from 'D&D as game of skill' to 'D&D as collaborative narrative'

There has been no such general shift. Some players have ever played it as collaborative narrative, others have always played it somewhat competitively, some have always picked their abilities because of the roles, others because of technical reasons. And some have changed from one style to others, nad back over the years. I've even heard that some people have managed to make it a skill to play collaboratively, but that is certainly just a rumour... ;)
 

Amrûnril

Explorer
I love randomized ability score generation.

However, I've noticed a shift in how my D&D group has generated character ideas. Way back in the day a player would say something like "I want to be a barbarian!", roll up stats, and then build their character.

Now the players in my group say something like, "I want to play a soulful aasimar barbarian whose god fills him with devine rage, but he feels guilty after battle." The ability scores then serve to tell this story, and pregenerated scores tend to be easier to fit around a pregenerated character concept.

I remember one of my players rolling stats and saying "I can't make the character in my head with these scores."

I think randomized ability scores work better for shorter campaigns. If you roll "poorly" and you're stuck with that character for three years, it feels a little bad. If you roll "poorly" and you know this story will end in six weeks, it's a little easier to deal with.

I agree that trying to fit randomized abilities to a preconceived character can be problematic. While I like the idea of rolling ability scores, I'd never want to do it with a specific character in mind.

I like the idea of a group using Point Buy to make six different arrangements of stats, then each player rolling randomly for which numbers they will use.

For example, the first person may design a 15, 15, 14, 8, 8, 8. And if you rolled a 1, you would use that array.

Personally, I don't see the appeal of randomization mehtods that restrict ability scores to the same range as point buy. For me, the possibility of an extremely good or truly bad score in one of your abilities is one of the biggest things sacrificed when using point buy/standard array.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
There has been no such general shift. Some players have ever played it as collaborative narrative, others have always played it somewhat competitively, some have always picked their abilities because of the roles, others because of technical reasons. And some have changed from one style to others, nad back over the years. I've even heard that some people have managed to make it a skill to play collaboratively, but that is certainly just a rumour... ;)
I'm going to agree with this even though I often make efforts to make my games collaborative. d&d has implemented vestigial features like bonds/ideals/flaws & applied a illusory shellacking of paint to others that give the appearance of narrative & story based design elements. Those features & overload of fluff are largely not designed in such a way to empower or encourage that sort of play. Instead they tend to actively stand in the way of both shared/collaborative narrative and mechanically crunchy game play with a mix of half measures & gaping holes that plays out like someone didn't like mechanically crunchy games & only had the sort of loose understanding on systems built for shared narrative that comes with a disinterested listen to a vague description of them.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I love randomized ability score generation.

However, I've noticed a shift in how my D&D group has generated character ideas. Way back in the day a player would say something like "I want to be a barbarian!", roll up stats, and then build their character.

Now the players in my group say something like, "I want to play a soulful aasimar barbarian whose god fills him with devine rage, but he feels guilty after battle." The ability scores then serve to tell this story, and pregenerated scores tend to be easier to fit around a pregenerated character concept.
Yeah, this has certainly been something that's changed over time, for better or worse.
I remember one of my players rolling stats and saying "I can't make the character in my head with these scores."
I've been that player sometimes; and on those occasions my next move has often been to put my current idea on the back-burner for next time and play what the dice will let me this time.
I think randomized ability scores work better for shorter campaigns. If you roll "poorly" and you're stuck with that character for three years, it feels a little bad. If you roll "poorly" and you know this story will end in six weeks, it's a little easier to deal with.
There's two other factors in play here as well:

--- expected character lethality (if there's a good chance this one's going to die fast then I won't worry about playing it for 3 years until I've got lucky and played it for 3 years, by which time I'll have figured it out)
--- acceptance of character turnover due to player choice (some tables don't like the idea of a player having several PCs that cycle in and out of the party as the campaign goes on)

Either of these can mean you're not stuck with a character you don't want to play or who just isn't working out in practice as well as it did on paper.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Which works great until you get the DM that refuses to let you do that for whatever reason.
How on earth can a DM legitimately stop you from getting your own character killed off, provided you're not doing something blatant like having the character jump off a cliff?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I agree that the biggest problem with random stats is fairness. You have one person who didn't muster higher than a 14 and another who didn't roll lower than 13, and--especially at lower levels--the differences in capability are stark. I suspect there's still a gap at higher levels, as one person can take Feats and the other has to focus on cranking their relevant stats.
This brings up a tangential but relevant point: in old-school games the bonuses and penaitles only started at the outer end of the 3-18 bell curve; in 0e the 9-12 (?) range was all +0, and in 1e the 7-14 range was all +0 with just a very few minor exceptions.

Stats were really only relevant within those ranges for roll-under situations and for a few things that progressed linear e.g. bars-gates or encumbrance for strength or system shock for con.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
On a broader note, one reason I prefer considerable randomness in char-gen is that it reflects the reality of some people simply being better at stuff than others.

It also allows for occasions where the underdog character who never had much going for it (i.e. lower stats than everyone else) makes good and becomes wildly successful in spite of its own shortcomings. I've played one of those in 3e. Most enjoyable-to-play character I've ever had.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
How on earth can a DM legitimately stop you from getting your own character killed off, provided you're not doing something blatant like having the character jump off a cliff?

Tell you that you can make a new PC but you have to keep the same numbers if it was suicide by goblin. Refuse to have monsters attack. Just say "no, your PC is not suicidal". I would never do it because I don't use random rolls in the first place, but I have heard stories. Whether it's legitimate is in the eye of the beholder. After all, why would someone wake up one day, decide to join an adventuring group and then walk off a cliff?
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I'm going to agree with this even though I often make efforts to make my games collaborative. d&d has implemented vestigial features like bonds/ideals/flaws & applied a illusory shellacking of paint to others that give the appearance of narrative & story based design elements. Those features & overload of fluff are largely not designed in such a way to empower or encourage that sort of play. Instead they tend to actively stand in the way of both shared/collaborative narrative and mechanically crunchy game play with a mix of half measures & gaping holes that plays out like someone didn't like mechanically crunchy games & only had the sort of loose understanding on systems built for shared narrative that comes with a disinterested listen to a vague description of them.

It's one way to see it, the other way being that it actually suits people so much to be able to have very varied styles of gaming that 5e is the most popular RPG ever... :p
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Anyway, I wanted to put this out for general discussion- the social and table aspect of ability score generation. What do you think? Do you consider this, and if so (or if not), why?

Yes, this is why I moved to stat drafts to start new campaigns, which also creates a pool of sets that replacement/new characters can choose from. We draft twice. The player chooses the set they prefer to begin with and the remaining set goes in a pool that any player who needs a new/replacement character has access to. This means characters are made as a group and everyone is encouraged to make two decent sets because you never know which will be available should you need a replacement sets.

Furthermore, while doing the actual drafting, folks can discuss why they want the stats they want and maybe a compromise can be reached so someone could have a wizard with high strength, if that is how they see them - as folks wheel and deal about choices.
 

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