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Background

I recently started DMing a group of players for Pathfinder. They are completely new to the game (and roleplaying in general) and I'm rather new to Pathfinder and completely new to DMing.

We started with the starter set adventure and now want to play an adventure path. Before that we are playing one or two of the downloadable bonus adventures of the starter set.

Actual Question

For character creation I chose the "roll 4D6 drop worst result, do this 6 times then assign the results to the attributes as you choose". I chose that in contrast to point buy, as I thought it's easier for the players as it requires fewer decisions.

However, on of the players got some really bad roles and ended up with a 5 and a 6. They chose to assign their race bonus (+2 from half-elf) to the 5 to end up with the following array: 17,15,14,10,7(5+2),6 It feels like the +2 is "wasted" to fix a gaping hole in the character. According to this thread the average sum of attributes should be 73, in this case it's only 67 and the chance of getting a 5 or lower should only be about 1%, so it seems like bad luck.

I'm not sure whether I should do anything about it. Is that character severely limited or just "more interesting to play"? I'm tempted to say something like "attributes below 7 are rounded up to 7" to avoid attributes that are too bad. However, I'm not sure what to do about the other players in that case. Overall the players rolled the following attributes:

  • P1: 17,15,14,10,6,5 = 67
  • P2: 16,15,15,14,12,9 = 81
  • P3: 16,13,13,12,11,10 = 75
  • P4: 16,15,15,13,11,9 = 79
  • P5: 15,11,11,11,10,9 = 67

So rounding up P1's <7 attributes to 7 seems ok compared to P2-P4, as it would increase the "sum of attributes" to 70 only, still well below that of the others. However, P5 actually had the same kind of "bad roll" just a lot more average rolls so their character is actually even more boring.

So I think I couldn't do the simple round up without being unfair to P5. But I can't find a good rule to "fix" the bad attributes that might also allow P5 to increase their attributes a bit without basically just rerolling attributes.

P1 chose to be a half-elven druid with their connection to nature being used for spells from the domain of plants. They chose the character concept "wrath of nature" from the strategy guide so they'll mostly be casting spells. They assigned their attributes like this: STR: 7 (-2) (5 + 2 racial bonus) DEX: 10 (+0) CON: 15 (+2) INT: 14 (+2) WIS: 17 (+3) CHA: 6 (-2)

The 7 for strength seems okay for a caster as they don't need it much afaict. However, @Shalvenay recommends not to use the racial bonus for this but use it for the dependent attribute. While making the WIS go up to 19 (+4) does seem quite attractive, I'm wondering how bad a STR of 5 (-3) really is. For example, if I'm calculating maximum carrying load they could carry almost nothing. Also, their low CHA is worrying as they would like to use animal empathy and "handle animal" which depend on charisma. They could of course move the 6 somewhere else, but the only options would probably be constitution (leading to only 6 hit points, which seems quite low) or dexterity (leading to an armor class of only 11, or 8 on touch), both making them quite fragile. Would that be a huge problem for a caster that's probably trying to stay behind the fighter(s) anyway? I'm especially worried about the constitution here as the group does not have a clear healer, so they only one who currently has healing spells is that particular druid.

As for P5: They chose to go with an elvish Ranger focused on ranged attacks (the "archer" character concept from the strategy guide). They assigned their attributes like this: STR: 11 (+0) DEX: 17 (+3) (15 + 2 racial bonus from elf) CON: 9 (-1) (11 - 2 from elf) INT: 12 (+1) (10 + 2 from elf) WIS: 11 (+0) CHA: 9 (-1)

This seems ok for now, as dexterity seems like the most important attribute for an archer. However, the 11 in WIS might become a problem for the spells of the ranger later on, I guess.

I'm currently thinking of allowing P1 and P2 increase two of their attributes by an additional +2, this would move the group's attribute modifiers to this distribution: P1: +4 P2: +9 P3: +9 P4: +7 P5: +4

So they would still be "weaker" than the other characters (so I hope it will not seem like an arbitrary bonus they should get as well to the others), but would have the possibility of fixing their obvious weaknesses (especially P1) and/or excelling at one of their attributes beyond anything the other group members have (e.g. P1 pushing their wisdom up to 19 (+4) and P5 pushing their dexterity up to 19 (+4)).

Also, the default method of taking [15,14,13,12,10,8] would lead to a sum of modifiers of 2+2+1+1+0-1=+5, so the +4 they achieve is still less than the default. Thus, it still a) reflects their bad luck in rolling and b) is a tradeoff for the higher attributes they could not have achieved via the default method. I'm also thinking about offering them to choose the default array instead of taking the 2 * +2 bonuses (bonus on attribute, not modifier). What do you think?

How should I handle this? Is that kind of attribute distribution actually a problem or can both P1 and P5 play well with their characters? Is the power difference to P2 still reasonable or too big?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Something to think about for your next chargen session: I usually get permission to roll stats for multiple characters, then choose the array that best fits the character I want to play that campaign. Doesn't help in the middle of a char progression, tho. \$\endgroup\$ – Alyksandrei Dec 27 '15 at 0:31
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For your players' specific choices:

P1 has the right idea by picking a SAD class in the Druid, but has his dump stats off kilter. While dumping Strength, even down to 6, can be managed (especially for a Druid who should be able to travel light, as Druid defensive buffs are excellent and they are well-equipped to not need tons of rations, etal), he shouldn't put his racial +2 into it.

Given his array, I would have him dump Strength and Charisma -- Dexterity is needed for initiative, and Intelligence for skill points, so you can't dump either it turns out. Wild Shape is also more beneficial for P1 than he thinks -- Natural Spell comes at the same level as Wild Shape itself in PF, so he gets casting-while-shaped essentially "for free". Along with that, he should put that +2 racial bonus into Wisdom and bask in the glow of a +4 starting Wisdom bonus.

P5 is also on the right track with focusing on archery -- the casting of the Ranger is not strong, and with two full Vancian casters in your party (namely, the druid and the wizard), his casting won't be needed for much, while the Dexterity-based skills will be quite useful in a rogue-less party. Furthermore, his choice of Charisma for a dump stat is a reasonable one -- it's not nearly as severe a dump as in P1's case, and many Rangers don't rely upon Handle Animal the way Druids do.

Regarding concerns about healing

Having played a Druid in a party where that was the sole access the party had to healing magic, by the way, I would strongly recommend your party obtain Wands of lesser vigor if you are willing to waive the [evil] descriptor on the spell or Boots of Earth (if Fast Healing 1 is enough) if they aren't, and give one to the druid and one to another character -- Druids can't convert to healing spells as they get Summon Nature's Ally instead, and spell slots are precious especially at lower levels.

In general:

You are right to be somewhat concerned about this...

The more relevant sum in this case is of attribute modifiers -- if it's less than 0, D&D 3.5e (and presumably PF (Pathfinder) as well as it's derived from D&D 3.5e -- if it's not a rule there, you can always port the 3.5e rule to your game as a houserule) has a rule that allows the player to reroll for their stat array.

In your case, it comes out as follows:

  • P1: +3, +2, +2, +0, -2, -3 = +2
  • P2: +3, +2, +2, +2, +1, -1 = +9
  • P3: +3, +2, +2, +1, +1, +0 = +9
  • P4: +3, +2, +2, +1, +0, -1 = +7
  • P5: +3, +0, +0, +0, +0, -1 = +2

Which means that all of these arrays are acceptable, at least by the sum-of-modifiers rule; however, the +2 arrays are indeed non-trivial to work with.

However, character class and construction has much more to do with this than ability scores alone.

Character classes and builds in D&D generally depend on one or more attributes to do their job:

  • For a Fighter, this is either Strength or Dexterity, but Constitution also helps
  • Rogues are all about Dexterity, and can make use of Intelligence and/or Charisma
  • Clerics and Druids rely highly on Wisdom as it is their casting stat, but also benefit from Strength and to a lesser degree Constitution.
  • Wizards are all about Intelligence, but are helped a bit by Dexterity as well
  • Sorcerers rely on Charisma and also receive a little help from Dexterity

However, not all classes are this simple, or Single Attribute Dependent (SAD). Some classes, unfortunately, are Multiple Attribute Dependent (MAD), which means they have features and functions that key off of different attributes:

  • Rangers rely on Wisdom for their casting, but need Dexterity heavily for combat and benefit from Constitution and/or Strength.
  • Paladins are equally troublesome, as they need Strength (or possibly Dexterity) for their melee combat while using Charisma for their casting and paladin abilities. (PF actually fixed the worst of this -- the 3.0/3.5 Paladin used Wisdom for casting, which was terribad as it meant the character had to have 3 good attribute scores at a minimum.)

Furthermore, some character classes can afford to "dump", or take a penalty in, certain stats:

  • Fighters can generally dump Charisma, as they aren't expected to negotiate their way out of situations
  • Wizards often dump Strength, as they aren't getting into frontline combat
  • Clerics and druids will frequently dump Dexterity, especially if they aren't using ranged weapons or have Zen Archery -- that feat also allows for SAD archer Rangers, relying entirely on Wisdom.

Overall, this means that P1 and especially P5 must be more careful with how they build their characters. P5 is going to have to go with a fully SAD class with an easy dump stat, for instance -- if they're dead-set on a Paladin or two-weapon fighting (aka dual wielding) Ranger, I'd let them reroll because it's not compatible with their stats array. However, that array would make a reasonable Fighter, Cleric, or Druid.

P1 is a bit more interesting, because they have a double dump on their hands -- most classes only have one designated "dump stat". It is still possible to be effective with two stats dumped, even as severely as that array dumps them, but it takes care to avoid backing yourself into an unexpected corner by dumping the wrong stat. (Dumping Intelligence, Constitution, or even Charisma can have unexpected side effects in certain games -- it may be the case that characters with a low Intelligence will not be able to speak properly, low-hit-point/squishy characters will have trouble surviving first level, or a particularly uncharismatic character will be run out of town before the adventure can get off the ground.)

Footnote: these lists are incomplete -- I don't have experience with all the 3.x or Pathfinder core classes

Bonus: Racial bonuses shouldn't be used to "fill holes"

As to P1's racial attribute bonus? It should go to the dependent attribute for P1's build, not to fill a "hole" in their attribute scores -- you're basically always better off putting it in the strong suit, especially with a +2 bonus because that translates into an unconditional +1 to the derived modifier.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks a lot for your extensive explanation! I added some more details about the classes the players chose (P1 chose to be a spell-focused druid (as opposed to one that has a strong animal companion or transforms into a monster and fights itself) and P5 wants to be an archery-focused Ranger). \$\endgroup\$ – Joachim Kurz Dec 20 '15 at 14:21
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This can be really concerning, especially if your group is very competitive or sensitive to this. P1 and P5 will be less able than P2, and this can be a larger problem if P1 and P5 have roles or classes which do similar things to P2's class. P2 could simply make P1 and P5 feel redundant; that's no fun.

I've played in groups where this is an issue, and the only fair way to get around it (which we've discovered) is to resort to point buy or roll a set of attributes jointly.

That second option is fun because you get some of the randomness from dice rolls, but it's also fair because every player starts with the same array to work with. So if we're all stuck with 16-16-11-10-10-9, our characters will be of roughly equal power. This, of course, assumes we all choose classes of comparable power; but that's another thing entirely.

Using racial bonuses to shore up weak points isn't always optimal, but that is the players' choice. In general, you want players to be able to do at least one thing well, or at least have all your players make the same "min-maxing" mistakes.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm also worried about one of the stronger characters shadowing P5. P2 has the same class as P5 but quite a different focus (P2 is a dual-wielding Ranger dwarf, while P5 is an elvish archer Ranger), so they chose quite a different attribute distribution. However, P3 is a wizard whose dexterity is the same 17 P5 has, although it's not P3's focus attribute (they have INT 18). But P3 and P5 chose quite different skills, P3 chose lots of knowledge skills (fitting his wizard concept) and P5 chose dexterity based skills like "disable device" or "stealth". So it might work out... \$\endgroup\$ – Joachim Kurz Dec 20 '15 at 14:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JoachimKurz Personally, I would strongly recommend talking to your group, noting that there is this obvious power difference, and having players re-create their characters using the method I mentioned. It can be as simple as swapping numbers on their attributes and skills. If your group are on board with this, then it's a good solution! \$\endgroup\$ – PipperChip Dec 20 '15 at 14:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure I love everyone having the same array. Some builds are more MAD (multi-attribute dependent) than others, so the same array is still going to be better for some builds than others. \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont Dec 20 '15 at 18:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PurpleVermont -- exactly -- also, some classes can take deeper dumps in their dump stats than others can. A Druid can afford a deep Dexterity dump because they have a variety of other ways to tank (strong defensive spells, good armor, Wild Shaping, companion/summon tanking) and a reasonable hit die atop that, but a Wizard is much worse off with a low Dexterity as their tanking options are more limited and their hit points are generally lower as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Shalvenay Dec 21 '15 at 2:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PipperChip -- also, in 3.x -- I'd say class selection and build dwarfs attribute score differences when it comes to character power -- I could build a Druid with P1's or P5's arrays that'd overshadow P2's dwarven Ranger in a heartbeat, but that's because the Druid is a full Vancian caster with a powerful set of class abilities, while the Ranger is a half-caster with the same hit die and much poorer class abilities. \$\endgroup\$ – Shalvenay Dec 21 '15 at 2:42

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