Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sorry, But We Should Not Bring Back the Straight 3d6 Roll for Abilities

Okay, so over at Dungeon,s Master.com Derek Myers did a Greatest Hits 2012 reposting of an item on "The Advantages of Using 3d6 Over Point Buy".  The post waxed lyrical about how creating characters by rolling 3d6 down the line for stats was so great.  Those of you who've read some of my earlier posts will understand why I was immediately incredulous.  "The Advantages of Using 3d6"?  What the WHAT?!  Here was my reply on the subject:
Nope, I have no idea what the hell you are talking about.  I first played D&D back with the original around 1978.  The two things that made it totally suck were rolling 3d6 down the line for stats and suicidally low HP at first level.  That's why I abandoned D&D after just a couple sessions of play.  The game sucked.  You'd almost always be forced to to play a class you didn't want and die quite quickly--forcing you to go back to rolling up yet another crappy character you didn't want to play either.  It was straight up cruel, farcical, tabletop masochism:  "Thank you sir, may I have another!"  What we ended up doing is rolling character after character on a piece of scratch paper (to stay within the 3d6 down the line rules) until we finally got scores we liked and then played that one.  Just a huge waste of time either way.  To me one of the most important choices in an RPG is picking the class you want to play.  With the 3d6 method players only rarely get to play what they envision.  That sucks.  Bringing back 3d6 is a terrible idea.  It was one of the worst parts of the older versions of D&D.  It was dragged out behind the barn and put down with prejudice for a reason: it sucked.  Don't reinvent the square wheel.
 This is a perfect example of why the old school renaissance movement completely mystifies me.  If you really like it that way, then do go on and play what you want.  I'll just never understand the attraction.


  1. I can understand your PoV. And when there is a party and they need a hole plugged, maybe need a fighter or cleric, I prefer to just roll the stats then assign them to fit the class. But I prefer just to roll the dice and see what comes up and pick my class then. For me, I don't care if my guy is optimal or barely alive because of low hit points, I just try to have fun with it and make it work.

  2. I started playing AD&D in 1981, after Gamma World and Traveller, and like you I never understood the attraction of first-level characters that had a life expectancy measured in combat rounds. But over the past few months I've been playing Dungeon Crawl Classics, and it has made some things clear to me that were never clear before. Rolling 3d6 right down the line and taking what you get IS fun, but it's fun contingent on some other factors.

    You don't go into this process with the expectation of instant attachment/identification with your character. DCC facilitates this by making multiple characters per player into the expectation, and by making character creation extremely fast--both elements of early D&D that got lost in later editions. The *expectation* is that starting characters tend to die. It's the character who lives, who lucks out or who is played so well he survives, who becomes special. What I'm discovering is that I love these characters MORE than the ones I lovingly designed; they surprise me in ways that the nonrandom ones never did. Somewhere along the line the idea developed that you should love your character and identify with him from the very start, instead of growing into him.

    Come to think of it, I did have an experience like this in my gaming youth. In our group we had the Champions guys and the Villains and Vigilantes guys, and I LOVED V&V; randomized powers made you cook up more interesting and wahoo origins and themes. (I noticed the Champions guys tended to make variations on Wolverine every. Single. Time.)

    It's like how introduction of an element outside the control of the creator is one of the best spurs to creativity. This can be random, or it can be a formal restraint. Writing formal poetry makes you work harder for every image and sound, and you surprise yourself. Taking the character you roll right down the line is similar, or that's my experience. But people like different things.

  3. I think you might have missed the point of my article so allow me to clarify a couple of things.

    First off, I’m not suggesting that we do away with point-buy. I like point-buy and I think it brings a much needed balance to D&D, especially for 4e and especially for public-play. I’m merely suggesting that there are advantages to trying the 3d6 method and that if your entire group is on board with it you might want to try it for a change.

    Secondly, when I say 3d6 it’s really a “catch all” term. I don’t think anyone is saying that you have to roll 3d6 (and only 3d6) and assign the scores in the exact order they’re rolled. You could try this but I don’t think it would make many players happy. When I’ve used 3d6 in the past we’ve set a few ground rules to ensure some balance between characters. Here are a few of our variations.

    -Assign the abilities in any order, not necessarily the order in which they’re rolled.
    -If all six ability scores don’t fall within a set a minimum and maximum total, you roll all six ability scores again.
    -Roll 3d6 seven times and take the best six.
    -Roll 4d6 for each score and discard the lowest die.
    -Roll 3d6 but reroll all 1s (although this tends to lead to much higher ability scores).

    The point is that there are so many variations on the 3d6 method that groups interested in trying this approach should be able to come up with some variation that works for them and ensures a certain level of balance and practicality.

  4. I started playing in 1978. I never liked the whole 3d6 in a row model. I prefer a point buy or an array. The closest I get is 4d6-L and arrange them as you wish. Add in bonuses or penalties after for race.