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

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... ;)
 

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Amrûnril

Adventurer
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
Epic
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

Legend
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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