The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

Not So Random Abilities

There is a feeling in some quarters that buying abilities has somehow robbed D&D of diversity; this is wrong on two accounts. First of all, despite the wholly random nature of Old School generating methods, meaningful diversity was far from omnipresent. Second, that the point buy method as it exists now is set up to encourage you to make every stat 12 is a function of the math behind the system, and not point buys themselves. It is completely possible (as seen in many other games) to create a point buy system that encourages more diversity than dice do.

There Was No Diversity in Old School

Everyone has countless fond memories a table of players with every character having very different abilities. No one had 16, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8 (and if they did it wouldn’t raise an eyebrow). But what gets constantly forgotten in such reminiscing is that most of these stats were effectively the same, even if the recorded number was different.

Right off the bat almost every class had either two or three abilities that had no impact on them. Charisma, Intelligence, and Wisdom only mattered if you were playing a class who had that stat as its prime requisite. There were no skills nor saving throws that crapped on you if you had a 6 in one of those three.

Then of the abilities that did matter, you had a huge range of scores that gave no bonus or penalties, and an even larger one that gave a mere +/- 1. Though this varied slightly based on the edition and the ability you were looking at, it was typical to have about a 50% chance on 3d6 of landing no bonus/penalty and about a 90% chance of being between minus 1 and plus 1.

(for comparison, in 3.x you would have a 25% chance of rolling an even score and a 67% of rolling between -1 and +1)

New School Rules Could Bring Diversity

The way that D&D is set up now, with the ability bonus changing every 2 points, is far more conducive to diversity than anything that was done old school. But that doesn’t make random rolling the right way to go; actually a properly setup point buy system will encourage more diversity than dice because multiple dice are weighted to the center, while players will gladly pay for high abilities with low ones.

But there is the crux of what is wrong with the D&D point buy system; you cannot buy a stat lower than 8. In fact, with 4E you are limited to just one stat that is 8, the rest must be 10.

Attributes make the man.

Now I know what Wizards was thinking when they made the lower limit for stats as 8; they were thinking that if they made the lower limit for stats 3, then every character would have three 18s and three 3s.

But here is the thing – its none of Wizard’s dam business if players want to do that. The game is balanced now to the point that willingly taking a 3 will really hurt you, and taking multiple 3s could be fatal in most games. Its not Wizards job to protect players from themselves; that is the providence of the DM.

So here are some suggested alternate point buy systems if you want to see some more diversity in your games:

  1. Use the current system, but give the characters 44 points, and make them start buying from 6.
  2. Use the current system, but after completing the purchase allow them to choose to lower a stat which is 8 to 6 in return for raising one other stat by 2.
  3. Make a flat point buy from 0. Give every character 72 points to spend, and every point raises a stat by 1; apply maximums and minimums as you see fit.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.


December 13, 2010 - Posted by | 3.x, 4E, Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. One of the things overlooked, or conveniently forgotten, with “random” stat systems is the “still-born syndrome” which came up a lot back in the day. Stats are the first thing a person does when generating a character in earlier editions. If a player didn’t like the random rolls he would declare that character was dead and re-roll a new one, until he got some “random” rolls he liked. He had spent no real time generating the “dead” character so there was no incentive to not do this, unless the DM forced the player to take the rolls, basically forcing the player to the character.

    Comment by callin | December 13, 2010 | Reply

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