How do you and your group generate stats? A lot of games answer this question for you; Hero System and World of Darkness are two popular games that lack random stat generation. For the last twenty years most newly designed systems have lacked random stat generation, though the exceptions have been the biggest players in the field. D&D in all of its prior incarnations and the Palladium system have long relied on random rolls.

In Dungeons and Dragons 3e (and all earlier variants), rolling for character stats was the primary method, though RPGA play in 3e required point buy. In 4e the tables are turned- point buy is the standard, while rolling up characters is only an optional rule.

I stumbled across the topic a couple of times recently; good stats rock! and bad stats rock! are two recent articles that caught my eye. So did Stupid Ranger’s post where Dante relates that people want to roll the dice!.

As Tom points out, random stats can be a real boon to creativity and roleplay. A low stat can push you to portray an interesting limitation or quirk, such as a bumbling wizard whose nose is always in a book not paying attention to the ground. (Elric’s famously weak constitution is a good literary example.) Similarly, unexpected high stats, like a wizard with a high strength [in my case, the result of stats rolled with 3d6 and placed in order for a campaign at the local game store] can make a character memorable. These advantages are diluted somewhat with freely allocated stats- how many people have played in a party with every character having charisma as their dump stat?

Variation within the group is important too. If the lowest score anyone rolls (or allocates) is a 10, then 10 becomes the baseline for “weak stat” roleplaying. If someone rolls only a 6 that becomes the standard for a weak stat and 10 looks pretty good in comparison. If someone has a 6 Wisdom and plays themselves as straightforward and trusting, that’s perfect. When 10 is the lowest stat in the group, someone looking to hang a roleplaying hook on their bad stat will play their character the same way… which can make you start to wonder about the 12s and 14s. It’s good to have variation among the group’s stats when you’re looking for dramatic inspiration.

Rolling up stats has a quirky history in many groups. I’ve known players who “luckily rolled five 18s”, and I suspect we all know someone who can’t beat the average to save their poor character’s life. I’ve frequently experienced the frustration of low rolls- at every level, for the length of the game, someone else’s character is better than yours because they rolled high a couple of times before the game ever began. While I’m not competing with my fellow players (usually), I do get frustrated when the wizard’s dump stat (strength) exceeds my fighter’s greatest asset.

In my current 3.5e campaign, I cobbled together an interesting compromise that I call stat smoothing. It is a bit inflationary… but to the average not the peak. Here’s how it works.

  • Every player rolls their character’s stats as normal.
  • Add up the rolled stats for each character. Suzie might roll 76 stat points total, Fred 82, George 68, and so on.
  • Pick the highest rolled total. (In the example above, Fred’s total is highest at 82.)
  • Each player calculates how many points as they would need to reach the leader’s total. They record half of that number. This is their stat smoothing total. (In the example above, Fred gets 0, Suzie gets [(82-76)/2 =] 3, and George gets 7.)
  • Players distribute the number calculated above (the smoothing total) between their stats. So Suzie might increase a 15 to an 18, while George increases his character’s strength by 2 and every other stat by 1.)

That’s the whole system. Everyone is still happier rolling good stats, but players who roll less well are rewarded with a little more control and a little less low stat sting. So far everyone has been happy with the result; it was later borrowed for an Aces and Eights game.

Do you still have your players roll stats in order? Are your characters three levels less competent because the dice gods hate them? Have you sworn off random stat generation altogether? Tell us your tales of stat rolling.