Monday, June 16, 2014

How Do You Roll?



Last night I was reading about +Erik Tenkar rolling an 18 for a character he was playing at the North Texas Role-Playing Games Convention he had recently attended (see What Makes Rolling 3d6 in Order So Special? for more) and it got me to thinking about how I like to roll my ability scores. For years my friends and I would roll three sets of 4d6, discarding the lowest die result, and arrange each grouping as we saw fit. This method made high ability scores relatively common place and it wasn't unusual to have several players at the table who didn't have an ability with a score lower than 14. In many ways that method feels like the beginner's mode of dice rolling to me today. 

In early 2006 I picked up a copy of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide for $3.46 at a used bookstore (it was a third printing for those of you who care about such things). I can still remember the first time that I opened the book and started working my way through it, fascinated by the differences between how I played and how the game used to be played - at least according to the book. After reading through the Dungeon Master's Guide over the course of several weeks I came to the conclusion that I no longer liked the method we had been using for years.

I decided to start experimenting with how we rolled our ability scores. At first I decided that we should roll in hard mode (which even Gary discourages) and  had my players use a single set of 3d6, in order, but the results weren't very satisfying. The players who always seem to roll high continued to have good scores, but those of us who the dice gods hate (read me and Icarus) would often find ourselves playing characters without a single score above 10 and most of our results in the single digits. After that initial failure of a change we tried a variety of different methods ranging from going back to our original method, to multiple sets, to even rolling d10s. In the end the method that provided the most satisfying results was rolling two sets of 3d6, in order, and picking the best result for each ability score.

So how do you roll your ability scores?

83 comments:

  1. For B/X (our current campaign rules), 3d6 in order with the points trading as given in the rules.

    For AD&D 3d6 in order, 6 sets, take the set you prefer. If swapping any one pair of scores will allow a PC to meet class prerequisites (we used a lot of non-core classes from Dragon & other sources) then that was permitted.

    In another complication, AD&D has racial minima & maxima so I had race selection come after score generation but pushed the affected scores up and down to fit them to the race rather than taking the scores as race prerequisites as indicated in the PH.

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    1. Does having the players roll 6 sets increase the character creation time to the length it takes in 3x?

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    2. Nope :-) Spending your GP allowance on equipment is still the single most time consuming part of AD&D chargen at 10-15 minutes for the whole party, and that because of rulebook sharing.

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    3. Ha!

      I love that equipment buying is always the longest part of making a character no matter the edition, play style, or player. You're always wondering if you should get another torch or 10' pole!

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  2. We still use the 4d6 method. I used to allow you to re-roll 1's, then that got shaved to re-rolling a single "1" if you rolled multiples. Then I dropped that altogether. This does get you a higher average score, but we always justified that with the logic that these are supposed to be "heroic" characters.

    All that being said, I'm thinking I like your two sets of 3d6 method. If I ever get the chance to run a game, I might do that.

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    1. The two set method really goes quickly and lets people feel like that have more control over their destinies. It's a good feature.

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  3. Currently I roll three sets of 3d6 straight. The player chooses one as the PC, the other two are loyal henchmen (childhood friends, drinking buddies, etc) or backup PC's if it dies!

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    1. I really like that! What made you start doing it that way?

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    2. I do pretty much the same thing. However many the player wants, but flesh out all of them as full PCs. 2 of the 3 will die before reaching level 2 anyway.

      Just recently I got my wife to start a campaign using the Holmes Basic rules. She rolled up 4 characters. One ended up a magic-user with 1 HP and CHA 3. Surprisingly, he's still alive along with his 3 buddies.

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    3. I appreciate methods like this, where you don't "throw away" any rolls.

      --Dither

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    4. I really wish I could remember where I picked it up, because it was probably an OSR blog (or cobbled together from multiples) and I'd like to give credit where it is due.

      I found this http://rpgist.wordpress.com/acks-house-rules/ which might be where I got it (or something like it) from, but he has them create five sets. One is primary PC, two are backup PC's and two are henchmen.

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    5. The more I read about this method, and the variations thereon, I'm finding that I really freaking like it. I'm going to have to give it a shot the next time that I run!

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    6. Now I'm trying to think of a method to leverage your first 3 PCs + 2 Henchmen. There's gotta be something here. >:D

      --Dither

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  4. With AD&D We always used to do the 4D6 drop the lowest then arrange method. I personally think it results in characters that are to uniformly good.

    The game I'm presently working on you roll in order, with one optional re-roll on one stat keep the second result for better or worse.
    Makes for some incredibly flawed characters but in this instance that's the point .

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    1. I'm kind of excited to see how that game's takes final form Mark Van Vlack!

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  5. We roll 18D6 and the player arranges three results per score as he likes. If I feel generous, i allow a re-roll of one lower result for every six rolled in the initial set. This way it's still no more (or only slightly more) than 3D6 per score, but the player has some authority about what character he ends up with. Worked very well for us so far.

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  6. Lately we've been rolling 3d6 down the line. If the stats are all horribly under 10 we can start over, but otherwise anything is more realistic than point buy.

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    1. Ugh, anything is better than point buy. I absolutely hate that method for generating ability scores.

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  7. A few years ago, I started my groups rolling one set of 3d6 (arrange how you please), where the lowest die of each roll became a 6. Even if you rolled 1,1,1, the minimum result was 8. It pushes the average up, and consistently provides scores 8-18 for "heroic" PCs.

    I plan to go to one set (or 2-3 based on methods above that turn additional sets into NPCs and backup PCs) straight down the line as soon as my system goes to "Beta." A lot of work has gone into making even the most deplorable scores playable without also making great scores godly.

    The effect I want to go for is "3d6 for everyone." Lol.

    --Dither

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  8. Roll two sets with 3d6 in order, if they both are s***ty, you can choose on of the pooled discarded from all other players.
    Works even with Pathfinder... ;)

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    1. Have you ever thought about having the players bid on the results from the discard pile?

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    2. What would you use to bid during character creation?

      --Dither

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    3. If you allowed the players to keep their discards as their own till the game begins other players could bid experience points, percentage of treasure gained, magic items, ect.

      If it all goes to the Dungeon Master then it should be beer, pizza, hookers . . .

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  9. Back in my AD&D days, we rolling 3d6 six times for each score and took the highest roll from each row. Mainly because we thought it was more fun when each character had at least a few modifiers, and the AD&D tables are pretty stingy on the modifiers. (We didn’t use many ability checks, so the score itself didn’t really impact play.)

    Now—playing B/X—I go with 3d6 in-order, swap one pair. B/X is a bit more generous with the modifiers, and I tend to use the score directly for either checks or direct comparisons. I strive to make sure that ability scores have a noticeable effect but not so much that low scores can’t be overcome.

    In the past, I offered the players the choice between rolling and point-buy. (Everyone online was telling me how rolling was stupid and obsolete.) My players choose rolling every time. (Though we do point-buy in systems where that’s the norm.)

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    1. My experience with Point-Buy is that it works best for tournament/organized play and video games. Apart from that... give me dice any day.

      Even the bad rolls. :)

      --Dither

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    2. I like both methods for rolling (and hate the point buy system). Out of curiosity did your AD&D method take much longer to create the characters?

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    3. Oh, and my experiences with the point buy are similar to Dither's only with more rage and hate involved. ;P

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    4. Bioware games really bug me. They're all thin knock-offs of D&D Nth Edition -- a bunch of them are 3e, I forget which. Come to think of it, all of them from NWN onward are probably bizarre iterations of 3e. Jade Empire and Mass Effect practically had D&D coming out of their ears.

      It was that moment in Mass Effect where I had been experiencing death after death after Yet Another Stupid Death when I bought the next level in armor proficiency -- which was OPTIONAL, mind you -- and never experienced another combat death which was not my own dang fault.

      It was realizing that a few optimal choices meant your character was set for their entire career which finally turned me off Point-Buy forever. I even tested it by starting up a couple new careers and switching around the points. It's just... no.

      Point-Buy < Dice Rolls

      --Dither

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    5. “Out of curiosity did your AD&D method take much longer to create the characters?”

      Well, it was more rolling, but that probably mostly gets overshadowed by the overhead (i.e. joking & talking). You just roll a bunch and then circle the highest number on each row.

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    6. Robert Fisher,

      Cool. I think I'm going to be giving your method a chance as it sounds really fun!

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  10. When I started we went by the book (Moldvay Basic). When we moved to AD&D we used "Method I": 4d6, drop the lowest, arrange as desired. Even to my youthful eyes then, some of the other methods looked overly complicated and/or munchkiny. I think there was a paladin in the party once. Was he was rolled using Method I? I dunno. Probably not.

    These days I'm mostly running B/X again. My players roll 3d6 in order, although (like Robert Fisher above) I allow them to swap any two scores. It's quick and easy and seems to keep everyone happy. On the rare occasion I get to play, the same rules apply but I don't like to swap scores. I play the cards I'm dealt. I feel like that's part of the point of the game.

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    1. The more people I run across that are running the B / X grouping the more I think that I've missed out by not getting to play those game systems. I'm definitely going to give them a shot very soon.

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  11. As far as D&D (and clones) go, I've only played Original D&D (small white box w/ supplements), Basic D&D (1977 blue & white box), AD&D, and a weird hodge-podge of all of the above from 78-79 while waiting for the PHB & DMG to be released.

    As a player I used whatever method the DM specified. As a DM, I've experimented a bit but found that the most generally satisfying experience comes from 4d6 drop 1, arrange as desired. It reduces the amount of whining I have to listen to, and doesn't seem to produce any really outrageous characters. If a new player has their heart set on a particular character type and can't produce it in a single set of 4d6 rolls I'll often let them fudge it a bit as long as what they want fits with the rest of the party. I'll also find a way to penalize them appropriately for whatever amount of "cheating"was required.

    The point of the game is to have fun, use a rolling method that lets players create the race & class they wanted to play. I have run a 3d6 in order, play what you get game, but that was for very experienced players looking to challenge their role-playing skills.

    As an interesting challenge for anyone with the math skills: analyze the various rolling methods and explain in probability terms how they differ. don't worry about order, that adds way too much complexity. For each method, just tell me the exact probability for a single roll of each number 3-18; and for a set of 6 stats the probability of getting N rolls of 16+, 17+, 18, 5-, 4-, or 3 for each N=1..6

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    1. I'd love to see the results of those methods.

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    2. Here's something to get you started: http://anydice.com/program/3e54

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    3. I’ve considered 3d4+6 before. Never actually used it, though.

      If you have any “averaging dice” (six-siders numbered 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5) in your collection, you can add those in the mix two. Here’s the anydice code for 2 of them + 1 normal d6 + 2.

      output 2d{2,3,3,4,4,5}+1d6+2 named "averaging"

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    4. Okay, you guys are sending me down a rabbit hole I will never make it back out of . . .

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  12. 3d6, swap two, although I really like OrcStompRunner's concept.

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    1. I simply must object to being credited with it. Everything I am as a DM these days is gleaned from far too much time reading other peoples blogs.

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  13. I go with 3d6 in order but swap 2 if desired.

    I think it's funny people treat 18's like they are rare. The odds of any one roll being an 18 is 1 in 216, if you generate 5 characters the odds one of their characters will have an 18 in a score is better then 1 in 8

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    1. Ah, but you forget those of us who are really, really unlucky. I've been rolling characters for 10 years now and I've only had three 18s throughout all of those years. By contrast my brother rolls an 18 nearly every time we roll characters - regardless of whose dice we're using or what method. Dude just has the knack.

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    2. I've not had any given player roll more than 5 characters in a year, so 8 years to 'guarantee' an 18 on one of your sheets makes it pretty special. And in fact under rigorous B/X chargen there's nothing like the Kirlian of glee that blooms when one of my players gets that 18! Infectious, even.

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  14. It was always 4d6 drop the lowest back in the day. And you got one reroll. You could use it for stats or hp or later in play. But you only got the one.

    Now I'm all about 3d6 in order.

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    1. 3d6 in order is really fast and when we're pressed for time I will use it, but sometimes it's more fun to let them cherry pick out of a few different sets.

      Then again I am sort of a softie. ;)

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  15. My preferred way to roll is not to.

    I much rather have a point buy, point allocation or template/overlay/modification package.

    That said, if I have to play D&D in a classic fashion, I usually do 4D6, drop the lowest, put it where ever you want. If you can't pick your numbers, you might as well be able to pick where they go.

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    1. You know you're the first person who prefers point buy? What makes you like it so much as opposed to rolling your ability scores?

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    2. When I game, it's my free time, and my choice as to how I spend that time. Why would I want to spend it playing any random character, when I can spend it playing the character I want to play.

      I want to imagine a character and then make that character for the game, not roll randomly and take what I get.

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    3. Additionally, if I want to have an 18 in something, possibly at the cost of having a 6 or 7 somewhere else, let that be my choice.

      Plus, some people always seem to roll well, while other don't, as you mention above. However if every one have, I don't know, 60-65 points, that's what you all get to allocate. Nice and even.

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    4. That's a really good point and I've never thought of it that way. I'll have to re-evaluate my position on point buy now.

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    5. My work here is done, despite a spelling error resulting in poor grammar.

      Has. If everyone has. Not have.

      Damn autocorrect. :P

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    6. It seems to me like the inability to create a character you want using the dice you roll is a problem with the system, not the dice.

      --Dither

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  16. I guess I'm another in the minority that actually likes point buy. However, when I do roll stats, I prefer 4d6, reroll ones, drop lowest, in order but you can swap two scores if you want. This gives above average scores and keeps some of the randomness, but players still get to put their highest stat in whatever they want.

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    1. Your rolling method is pretty similar to how my group used to do it. That said, why do you like the point buy? What makes it so appealing?

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  17. +1 on hating point buy systems. i'd rather take my chances to have an exceptional character or a terrible one, than see everyone have a "fair & balanced" (ie. mediocre) cookie-cutter character -- there are only so many ways to point-buy a fighter, or any other given class.

    my problem with in-order rolling methods, even with a swap or a re-roll is that in AD&D more than half of the classes have two or more minimum ability requirements, with the 1e Paladin having a stunning 5 ability minimums. 2e had Paladin & Ranger w/ 4, Bard w/ 3, and Druid and all of the Specialty Wizards w/ 2, and of course multi-class means multi-minimum abilities

    most players have a pretty set idea going into a game what kind of character they want to play, and with in-order rolls you are often SOL unless you can find another player to trade characters with.

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    1. A good point Tom. One of the things that I hate is when I've come up with a concept for my character only to find that I don't qualify to be what I wanted. Generally I fix this by just telling everyone that I'm a Wizard (or whatever) and actually playing a fighter. Lots of fun to be had down that road!

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    2. And on a slightly different topic, I've always been amused by Traveler and its character generation system where your characters can, quite literally, be killed or die of old age while you are rolling them up

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    3. I've let AD&D players raise scores to meet minimums of a desired class, but if it results in a total of more than 63 all told then they have to lower non-prerequisite scores to get the total down to 63. Because I'm also a softy. I've never had anyone ask to do this for a Paladin since I think it would mean taking a 3 dex.

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    4. Tom

      Really? That's one more reason for me to play that game. I've been trying to find a copy of it for years but there's never been one pop up in the local used book stores.

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    5. Rainswept

      "I've never had anyone ask to do this for a Paladin since I think it would mean taking a 3 dex."

      Winner!

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    6. No lie. I have the original boxed set from 1977 and a bunch of supplements. can't vouch for how it's done in more recent editions, but in mine, you roll your stats then you gain your backstory, skills, some equipment, and starting cash by playing through a "mini-game" where you can do things like enlist in the military, or take a job...

      As for finding it, there's always Amazon.

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  18. I have used for many years the method of 4d6 discarding the lower value, but in the last 6 years now use the point system: all attributes start at a base of 10, plus 20 point to put where player want at various cost with ability over 13 (if they want can lower the 10 to the ability to have more points for other). I find this method more balanced and allows players to create characters more in line with what they want to create.

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    1. Huh. I always find point buy disappointing because it just never feels as satisfying to me, but that may just be me being cantankerous.

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    2. No Charles you are fine! :)
      I know that roll dice makes it more unpredictable and forces you to create your own PCs according to the values ​​available. But I do starting my players from the background and then from there determine the skill. So being able to use the points system makes it easier to create PCs that best fit the background created.

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    3. I’ve always thought it was easy to understand why people (who do) prefer character building (i.e. point buy) over character generation (i.e. rolling). (You get to get as close to the character you want as the character-point economy allows.) I think it is a lot harder to understand why those of us who prefer character generation do so.

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    4. Huh.

      Robert you've given me something to mull over here.

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    5. I tend to think of "character building" as what you do when you get done rolling stats. I usually have my players do the basics then assign them "homework" to be done before the first real gaming session; or sometimes the first session is devoted entirely to character building. The basic minimum is choosing a race & class, rolling starting cash & hit points (but I usually just tell them to take the max on their 1st hit die), and coming up with a name.

      Then if they seem to know whet they are doing they can go their merry way with the understanding that sometime before the first session they will submit for my approval: their chosen proficiencies & languages; a description and/or picture; a short personality sketch; place of birth, social status, family & close relatives, friends, associates, apprentice masters or trainers, contacts, enemies ... dead or alive and how they died if known; and a back story including how they chose their career, a few memorable incidents in their past, and how they got from wherever to the starting point. I have tables for some of that stuff if they want to roll for it.

      The point of requiring all that upfront is threefold: it gives me a bunch of mostly free NPCs, some future adventure hooks that one or more of the character will have to care about, and it forces the players to start thinking of their character as a person rather than a set of stats and begin forming an emotional attachment.

      And hey, if someone manages to get themselves killed in the first encounter, the work doesn't have to go to waste ... they can always roll up a sibling or cousin w/ 90% of the same background and a thirst for revenge.

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    6. If I have the players at the table for character creation, I want them rolling dice. If everyone is peering at their books adding up points for abilities and skills and equipment, the social element dies.

      --Dither

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  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  20. For AD&D, we always used to roll 4d6, drop the low, arrange as desired.

    For the Middle Sea game, I haven't yet decided, but I am leaning toward 4d6s3 in order, reroll one if desired (taking either score), exchange one pair if desired. I want to keep some of the dice oracle part of character creation, but still give the players some leeway.

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  21. A long time ago I thought to give players 36d6 to roll all together (I have more then 36d6!), then let them choose 18 and finally to distribute 3 of them at the abilities as they liked. Although this might be a way to leave some unpredictability, at the same time you can at least choose according to your preference ... but I have never used it! :-p

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  22. With B/X, starting gold is rolled with 3d6. So, with any method in which the player can rearrange scores or trade-off points, you can have them roll seven scores and use the extra one for gold. “Do I put that 18 in Str or gold?”

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    1. Mmmm... a further dilemma for players... they will make the right choice? ;)

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    2. Now that's a bit of inspired brilliance right there Robert!

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  23. I had my group discuss two chargen concepts. I told them from the start that it would be 3d6 and their choice boiled down to whether they wanted to choose where the scores went. Surprisingly (due in part that these are mostly younger guys), they were all into the idea of building a character around whatever dice they rolled in order.

    One of the big problems our group has faced in the past is too much chargen happening away from the table means players don't know what their character can do when they get to the table. It's all "homework."

    Group assignment:
    - Each player rolls 3d6 to generate one number. The group generates all the numbers which each player can then assign to their character however they like. The downside is that if anyone dies -- the current gen of PCs become henchmen and a new group of PCs is rolled up.

    Individual assignment:
    - Each player rolls a set of 3d6 in order, and players can trade sets (but not individual scores) with each other White Elephant-style. The player who rolled the set gets first choice. Since every PC is individual to begin with, new PCs are a cinch.

    Both are intended to make chargen a more involved social thing. After discussing both, we'll probably give the second one a shot the next time we roll up characters.

    --Dither

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    1. The obvious "answer" to avoiding rolling up new PCs with group assignment is to just make new PCs using the same scores generated by the group -- except that means players can tinker with the scores away from the table and that's specifically what we're trying to avoid.

      --Dither

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