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I'm going to be running a new campaign for my players, with our session 0 starting tomorrow. I was leaning towards the traditional ability score method of generation (roll 4d6, drop the lowest). I am not concerned with the numbers themselves but the problems that random numbers could create.

Now, I've just gotten into a heated discussion with several of my players because I mentioned the possibility of using a point buy or standard array for ability scores. When I mentioned the option of point buy, the argument made was that this would lead towards min-maxing and remove their creative input on how to make their character. Not only is this logically fallacious, but the point buy system prevents min-max by limiting scores to a min of 8 and a max of 15, not to mention the system itself seems designed to inherently limit the ability to min-max by placing a hard cap of 20 on abilities.

The problem I'm having is, if we were to do a point buy or array assignment, it would be entirely for their benefit. They don't seem to understand the social problems created when abilities are completely randomly assigned. Of course, if they're hellbent on rolling for stats and I oppose them, that is also going to create a social problem in the game, since it seems this is an early sign of the adversarial "players vs. DM" attitude.

What I am looking for is a good resolution, or compromise, so that my players don't feel slighted and no one ends up with very high or very low numbers, creating overshadowing or spotlighting issues.

Since some of the answers have taken into account my group's long term friendship, I should clarify that with the exception of two players, we've all known each other and been friends (off and on -- this is the first time four of us have been at a table together in at least 5; there's a story there but I won't go into it) for 15 or so years, but we haven't been gaming together throughout that time. We used to jam VTM all the time (8 or more years ago), and I've been running a Pathfinder game with some of them for the past 2.5 years (we used a point buy for that game), but this is actually our first serious foray into D&D proper as a group.

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I don't think it's a duplicate because I'm not asking about the numbers. – LegendaryDude Feb 19 at 16:28
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Reminder: Comments are for helping improve a post, not for small or incomplete answers. Previous comments containing answers have been removed. – SevenSidedDie Feb 20 at 21:38
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I have protected this post in response to flagging activity. Please read the question - it's a social problem with a GM and their group, your favorite chargen method is not an on topic answer to it. Clear frame challenges are OK using our usual guidance on XY questions on Meta but that doesn't mean this is a free-for-all. – mxyzplk Feb 21 at 2:18

10 Answers 10

up vote 35 down vote accepted

This answer includes a frame challenge.

0. Let go of the fallacy of perfect balance.

What I am looking for is a good resolution, or compromise, so that my players don't feel slighted and no one ends up with very high or very low numbers, creating overshadowing or spotlighting issues.

Oddly enough, over the years that I played "roll 'em up" since 1975, we somehow managed to have fun without point buy. For decades. Loads of fun, with some characters a bit stronger than others. (Heck, even with point buy, please see "tiers" in 3.5 as how "balance" can still be an issue).

Current experience: we rolled our characters in the 5e campaign I am in now. No point buy. I've known all of these guys since high school, except my nephew and the DM. That's since about mid 1970's. Differing personalities. Rolling is no obstacle to fun and success.

If all of you attend this game with "let's have fun" as the goal, then let's get to addressing your problem.

As stated, your problem isn't dice rolling or not, per the email extract you provided us. Your problem is the relationship between players and DM.

What problem should you solve first? "Player versus DM attitude."

  1. Find Common Ground

    Before session one, you need a face to face session with everybody who will play to iron out what you expect from the game, and what they expect. Listen, and then share what you expect and why you think point buy is a good idea. Then, as a full table of people, come to a consensus.

  2. Rolling Doesn't Hurt

    Rolling for stats is a 40 year old feature of RPG games that works well enough. If that is what all of your players want, where's the harm in letting them do that? Your forecasting drama and problems is not giving anyone, yourself included, the benefit of the doubt. You will all be able to have fun, regardless. Anyone griping later on gets "the look" and the following response: "you all agreed to roll for stats, let's press on with the game, make the best of the tools you have." Since you mentioned that this is the gaming group you've been with for 2.5 years, and you've been friends with some of them for about 15 years, you all already know how to have fun together. Have some faith in that already established track record.

    If the opinion is divided among the players on this point, go back to point one and the pre-meeting to iron out expectations before character creation. Until you reach consensus, the game is at risk.

  3. Play!

    Once expectations are more or less aligned, play and have fun.

  4. Have Fun!

    If you aren't having fun, you are doing something wrong (as a group). That would be the topic of an entirely different question, after you all begin. I see this question as "an ounce of prevention" effort (a good idea as you know this group). Given that you've known each other a while, up to a long while, I'd be very surprised if you don't have fun if you start on the right foot. Consensus building is a means to that end that's pretty effective.


On a mechanical note, since this is 5e, an ASI (later) or a racial bonus (at start) can take the hard edge off of a low number.

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+1 for this: "Your forecasting drama and problems is not giving anyone, yourself included, the benefit of the doubt" If your group has stuck together for 15 years and reacts negatively to the idea of point-buy, then it would seem stat-line disparities are not viewed as a problem. Assuming they suddenly will be isn't doing anyone any favors. – CrusaderJ Feb 19 at 19:19

Disclaimer: Overall I prefer point buy.

For rolled characters in a long campaign, where the PC/PC imbalance can annoy me, this is my preferred solution for keeping a similar level of "fair starting position":

  • Let everyone roll an unassigned array of stat values. Use any method you like, such as 4d6 choose best 3, in order to help keep the stats in the range that the group enjoys.

  • Let any player who wants copy the entire array of any other player, after all rolling is done. It has to be taken in its entirety. Should be done before assigning values to stats or any adjustments for other choices e.g. race or feats.

That's it. No need for complex maths, setting targets, assessing characters or point-buy-like adjustments to die rolls. But you can do those in addition to this approach if you wish.

The main purpose of this approach is to prevent a single stand-out super high or super low result leading to long-term imbalance or any feelings of irritation at the initial unfairness (and it is mostly the feeling of exceptional good or bad luck at the start being locked in, whether or not justified, that we want to address). I think it is more useful for addressing one or two weak arrays, so that a player is not forced into a compromise class/role if they don't wish to be. If there is a single super-high array, it may cause some interesting discussion, or just lead to a slightly higher-powered game than usual.

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Personally, I find this answer particularly elegant because it addresses precisely the underlying problem with randomisation - that player A feels like player B got better rolls, and this colours player A's entire gaming experience from then on - by telling A that if she thinks B did better, she can have the values he rolled, too. Players, like GMs, are only human; this is an elegant hack to keep the grumpier bits of our humanity from getting in the way of our having fun gaming. +1 from me. – MadHatter Feb 20 at 10:53

It sounds like you're looking for ways to normalize the randomness of rolling for stats. To do this, I would first decide what you as a DM are comfortable with. Is it OK to have some wunderkinds and some dullards? Do you want the wizard to be better at stealth than the rogue because the rogue rolled terribly and the wizard rolled so well that they maxed out dex for the fun of it?

Given that, I think you have three options.

Set minimums and maximums for the rolls

For instance, say that a character can have no more than one 18, no matter what they roll. Anything else will be rounded down to a 16. So, if a character happens to roll all 18s, they can only choose one stat to be an 18 and the others are now 16.

You can also say that the minimum for any stat is an 8, so even if someone is unlucky and rolls a 4, that roll gets bumped up to an 8. This will help normalize the players, but still leave room for exceptional abilities. You will definitely have some characters be better than others, but the chances of someone being completely useless is lower than straight rolling it out.

The DMG has rules for different point buy setups, and you can find various alternate rule sets online. I know it's not DnD 5e, but Pathfinder uses the d20 SRD rules, and there are multiple alternate rolling types:

Standard: Roll 4d6, discard the lowest die result, and add the three remaining results together. Record this total and repeat the process until six numbers are generated. Assign these totals to your ability scores as you see fit. This method is less random than Classic and tends to create characters with above-average ability scores.

Classic: Roll 3d6 and add the dice together. Record this total and repeat the process until you generate six numbers. Assign these results to your ability scores as you see fit. This method is quite random, and some characters will have clearly superior abilities. This randomness can be taken one step further, with the totals applied to specific ability scores in the order they are rolled. Characters generated using this method are difficult to fit to predetermined concepts, as their scores might not support given classes or personalities, and instead are best designed around their ability scores.

Heroic: Roll 2d6 and add 6 to the sum of the dice. Record this total and repeat the process until six numbers are generated. Assign these totals to your ability scores as you see fit. This is less random than the Standard method and generates characters with mostly above-average scores.

Dice Pool: Each character has a pool of 24d6 to assign to his statistics. Before the dice are rolled, the player selects the number of dice to roll for each score, with a minimum of 3d6 for each ability. Once the dice have been assigned, the player rolls each group and totals the result of the three highest dice. For more high-powered games, the GM should increase the total number of dice to 28. This method generates characters of a similar power to the Standard method.

You could use any of these, or even modify them to fit your specific group.

Allow players to fallback on the array

I've run sessions where players can roll their stats, see what they get, and if they don't like it they can fall back and use the point-buy array. This way there is a floor to the player stats, but no ceiling. Someone could conceivably roll all 18s and be a god, but none of your players are going to find themselves completely useless either. It also gives players some interesting choices to make (I rolled 2 18s and 4 6s, is that better than taking the point buy array or not?).

Modify the point requirements for each stat increase, and increase the points available in the point buy

This is a much more free-form setup than the other two, but 5e is the 'ask your DM' edition so you do have some baked-in leeway over this.

If your players like the thought of having a 20-int 18-dex wizard at level 1, then allow them more freedom within the point buy system. You could make it so that the points scale up non-linearly, and then give players more points in the beginning. That way, players can make a character with all 14s, or they can make a character with a 20, and 18, and the rest 8s. It allows them the flexibility to make a super specialized character or a jack-of-all-trades, and since you're controlling the points available you will never end up with a character that's just too much better than everyone else.

In the end, you'll need to approach this based on what your party wants. As someone who has been in this situation, it can be extremely demoralizing to build a rogue and roll poorly for stats, and end up being less stealthy than the wizard (even though I've spent my entire life training for stealth and the wizard has never even tried it before). This is doubly true for 5e, because with bounded accuracy it makes skills extremely swingy. Missing out on a few points due to bad stat rolls can cripple a character's abilities when using skills, and depending on your role it can easily make you feel worthless. If your group doesn't mind playing useless characters, or if they're amenable to useless characters falling off cliffs (this allowing them to re-roll a character), then you can relax the restrictions above. If instead they like to feel powerful and like heros, then you'll probably want to keep a tighter control on the potential rolled stats swings.

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Yes, it is. I made sure to cite it above. As I said, I know it's not 5E exactly, but the general D20 rules are the same. You can use it as a guide (or even copy it directly) when rolling out your stats. The OP doesn't seem super interested in keeping with the strict RAW approach to rolling stats, so I figured some non-RAW examples would help them decide on a course of action. – Percival Feb 19 at 20:48
    
I always put a lower bound on rolled stats: if the modifiers sum to 0 or less (before racial adjustments), you can re-roll the whole set (not just one or two stats; all or nothing). That means that a character is always good at something. They might be solidly average, or they might have a +5 in something balancing out some negative modifiers elsewhere, but they'll always have something they can do relatively well. – anaximander Apr 7 at 9:16

You might be able to work around the problem: let them roll as they requested, but if somebody's stats seem too low, tell them that as the DM you're turning one of their stats into a 16 (or flat-out allowing them to reroll). Keep doing this until they're all at about the same power level.


It sounds like you have a more general problem, which is that your players are trying to tell you how to run your game. Frequently the way this happens is that somebody else used to be the DM, but then they stepped down and became a player, but everyone is used to that guy calling the shots and it's a hard habit to break.

It might turn out that it's too frustrating for you to DM for this specific group. You might have to tell them: "Sorry, guys, I can't be the DM if you're contesting my authority like this." Let the old DM go back to running the game for this group, and find some other group to be the DM for.

(If this weren't your 15-year gaming group, I'd suggest that you quietly remove the most quarrelsome player from the game, and find someone else to replace him. That doesn't work if you all know each other, though.)

Anyway, don't give up yet. :) Try letting them have their way for a few sessions and see if they settle down.

As you run your game, try to make sure that all the players are happy, not just the loudest one who keeps telling you what to do.

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This was always my approach. After rolling, I would ask to see everyone's scores and do a rapid, gut-feel "tweak" of the number to ensure they were roughly in the same bracket. I'd also make sure everyone had one high and one low value, because it makes play more interesting. In many years of this method the most important thing I learned is that most of the time, the dice do this for you quite well without your input. – Matt Thrower Feb 22 at 9:44

You cannot change peoples' minds for them, and you cannot make them receive as a benefit something they do not want.

While I personally agree with your reasoning vis a vis characters unbalanced with respect to each other, if your players have all had enough gaming experience in general, it is a losing tactic to simply say, "You're all wrong and I'm right."

You are, however, within your rights as GM to say, "I'm the GM, I have the responsibility of making this fun, and the desire to have fun of my own, so we are doing it my way."

That said, the degree of agreement within the player group is an important factor, here: If all the players are unanimous, I would probably (almost certainly, in the absence of particular knowledge of the players) let them do it, with a thundering out-loud caveat of, "Don't come whining to me when you roll 5-6-8-9-10-15." On the other hand, if you have two people vocally opposed (say) and four people silent or on the fence, that's entirely different.

The idea suggested elsewhere this discussion, of regressing to the array after a disappointing roll is initially appealing, but beware: What this technique really does is enforce an overall rule that no player will be below average, but some players may be above average. There is basically no penalty for a player to roll, and discard a bad roll, but keep a good one. The person who suggested this notes that, but my point is systemic: The average power of your party will almost certainly go up as a consequence. My instinct would be to force the choice of buy or roll up front.

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They like random stats. Great. And you want at least some balance.

How about a system that randomly allocates the same amount of stat for everyone, with some safety so that if they want to play a wizard they can. Their wizard might be a body builder, or sickly, or sly, or foolish, beyond their control.

Suppose you want an average of 12 in stats.

Have everyone roll 12d6.

If you roll more than 6 of any one value/pip count, reroll the extra dice until you no longer have more than a 6 in any one pip count.

Now, your stats start at 9. Each 1 adds 1 to strength, each 2 adds 1 to dex, each 3 adds 1 to con, each 4 adds 1 to int, each 5 adds one to wis, each 6 adds 1 to cha.

Each player then picks one stat, their "presumed competence". That stat is set to 15. Any points assigned to that stat can be moved to any other stat, as the player chooses. (If they pick a stat that is already 15, they get 6 points; if they pick a stat that was 9, they get 0).

You'll notice that players total stats are a constant. Average stat is 12, and they range from as low as 9 to up to 15.

Players get "surprising" stats in that they could have a wizard with lots of strength or whatever. At the same time, because of the presumed competence stat, they have a wide choice of classes they can go with.

After this is done, they apply racial modifiers.

Someone can be marginally more lucky than other players, in that their rolled stats can be more optimal for their class, and their presumed competence might give them lots of points to distribute to tweak them. But you won't have one character with a max stat of 11 and another with a min stat of 14.

This system is roughly based off of ORE one-roll character generation.

Various tweaks:

More/fewer dice can be used for a higher/lower average (6 dice = 1 point higher average). You can lower the base stat from 9, and add 6 dice for every lowering. The "presumed competence" system can be replaced with an extra 6 dice. Dice that sum more than the cap can be allowed (ie, no cap), and/or you can let players manually reallocate them.

Math:

With the "automatic 15" rule:

Each stat has an average of 12, and a variance of (1/6)(5/6)*12 = 1 and 2/3, for a 95% confidence interval of ~8.5 to ~13.5 (SD of ~1.3).

8 base with 18d6 would have a variance of 2.5, SD of ~1.6 and 95% interval of 7.9 to 14.1.

Without the "automatic 15" rule:

9 base, +18d6, comes to average 12, Var 2.5, SD of ~1.6, 95% interval of 8.9 to 15.1.

8 base, +24d6 comes to average 12, Var 3.33, SD of ~1.8, 95% interval of 8.4 to 15.6.

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I think you should bold the paragraph beginning Players get "surprising" stats... or move it to the top of this answer, because that's kind of the point (as I read it): variance, but avoiding results that lock players out of certain options. – Jeffrey Bosboom Feb 19 at 22:34

Rolling vs. not doesn't make any significant difference to the balance of the characters. It's easy enough (with introductory-level statistics knowledge) to set the minimum and maximum variation and the shape of the curve. And that's before you get to things like, "sacrifice three points out of one stat to add two elsewhere".

The difference it makes is whether you design the character's stats to match its class progression, or design the class progression to match the stats.

That latter style of play is more interesting to some people. Some people honestly enjoy the "I've got a charisma of 18, but my intelligence and wisdom are 3 and 4" challenge. If that's the way your players think, there's no reason not to let them. It generates a wider variety of characters as they try to work around deficiencies. If the adventure you're planning to run requires certain classes or a minimum competence, just let them know that, and then you can adjust things by either changing what quantity/sidecount of dice are rolled, adding a small pool of bonus points, or just playing it and seeing what happens.

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In literally decades of rolling characters I have never found it to be a problem. Apparently neither have your players, so consider the possibility that you are being overly pessimistic.

Aside from the possibility of re-rolling totally dud PCs, the players understand that they took a chance so why should there be any "social problem"? If everyone appreciates the rules (including what constitutes a dud character) before they start, then any reasonably mature player will make the most of it.

Point buy has the huge disadvantage that it encourages players to invest in a PC from the start. Real social problems are then caused when the character is killed and that (unearned) investment is written off. This in turn puts pressure on DMs to be kind to characters for no better reason than the player will be upset if they die.

Randomized character generation also allows the player to be surprised and to pick character options that they might not otherwise have considered. In the long run this can be the foundation of character development which is much more organic and creative than points-buying.

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Battles will be unbalanced if people don't think laterally

An unbalanced party will be a problem if you concentrate too heavily on combat, so if you treat the game like a video game then you will have issues where some players feel they aren't contributing.

You can upgrade characters in-game to redress imbalance

Lots of things can happen within the story to upgrade a character - this can range from a basic stat increase to a "double edged sword" upgrade.

You can fix the problem with story instead of dice rolling

For example, a character who isn't as strong as the player would like could come from the same tribe as a common enemy and have a chance to see through their tactics during an attack. This character is now useful not because they have 18 strength but because they have special knowledge.

A character could learn some embarrassing secrets about the leader of an enemy group - next time they attack the party, while the overpowered ranger is gearing up to pump everybody full of arrows, that character can force the leader to withdraw by threatening to reveal said secrets out loud.

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I didn't bother reading the other replies simply because I like to advocate two simple methods: 4D6 & "Ironman".

4D6 Method: for each stat roll 4D6 and take the 3 highest dice; re-roll 1's. More often than not this gives you above average stats with a good chance of some "heroic" ones in there. After that just assign where the player wants to put the stats so that their desired class is that much better starting off in the beginning levels.

"Ironman" Method: roll 3D6, in order and take what you get. Does this make for an epic character from the start? HELLZ NO!! But... it will force players to find ways to overcome any and all shortcomings from their built-in inadequacies. Let the player choose ANY class they want, regardless of stat limitations. Heroes are born of conflict and overcoming nigh insurmountable odds... why not from the very beginning? Many of my most memorable D&D moments have been from playing a statistically handicapped character either from NPC interactions or how I had to "creatively" find ways out of situations.

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How do either of these methods address imbalanced stat rolls and group conflict? – TuggyNE Feb 20 at 19:10
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The question is about much more than what generation method to use. I think you're implying that these two options would solve the problem in the question, but it's non-obvious how they would. Updating your answer to extoll the virtues of each option as a remedy for the problem in the question would make this a much, much more useful answer. – SevenSidedDie Feb 20 at 19:18

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