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Question

How to make sure that a player that rolled awful stats will still have an awesome time at the table? What possibilities are available for the DM? Would it feel cheap to find stat-boosting items? What can players do to make sure that player is still having fun?

The simple solution of re-rolling the stats is out of the question. The adventure has already begun and it would feel very unsatisfying if the original rolling carried no weight at all.

Background

Starting a new adventure, we all decided to roll stats (highest 3 of 4d6) for our new characters. Most people rolled stats close to what one would get with point-buy, but one player had all stats in the range 8 to 11 and averaged below 10 (which is worse than a commoner).

The players are all quite new to the game and it is the debut for the GM. We all had some laughs on the horrible rolls and everyone is still having fun. The player has not complained yet, but my worry is that it will feel less fun in the long run.

The player picked druid, so they can wild-shape away the physical stats at level 2.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think there's some info that would be helpful: how experienced are you/your players, what classes have everyone picked, what parts of D&D to this player and the others particularly enjoy/not, &c. Also (and more importantly): what informs you that the player isn't currently having an awesome time? \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Mar 30 '17 at 15:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ How combat-heavy do you plan to make the adventure? Are you expecting more of a sporting approach to combat encounters, or more of a warlike approach where the party is expected to bail on an encounter that looks too strong? Also, what's their sum of modifiers? \$\endgroup\$ – Shalvenay Mar 31 '17 at 0:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: How can I avoid problems that arise when rolling ability scores? \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Feb 6 at 23:04

11 Answers 11

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You won't like some of these answers...

  1. Ask your table and your player what they want

    • Ask the table openly. "Bob just rolled really bad stats, and I don't want to hold him up to that. Would you guys think it's fair if we let him re-roll?"

    • Ask the player directly. "I'm going to find it really hard to tailor encounters for you, because your ability scores are so low. Do you think you'll have fun? What would you want to do if you could fix it?"

    • And then, most importantly, listen to their answers. They'll probably tell you exactly what you should do.

  2. Tailor encounters such that ability scores are not important

    • Puzzles, social interactions that do not involve rolling, things that can be solved by spells that do not have saving throws, attack rolls, or ability checks -- such as Detect Thoughts, Minor Illusion, Comprehend Languages, etc -- will go a long way to giving utility to a commoner-type character. If you place the burden of the encounters on the players, not the characters, then you are giving everyone, including the low-stats character, an equal chance.

    • Of course, this cannot be done in every encounter. Sometimes, combat will happen. And that character may not have too much utility then.

  3. Allow him to change classes into a pure support type

    • Let him be a cleric, wizard, or druid. A cleric can spend their turn putting up Bless and Guidance, which do not require ability checks to cast. Wizards could eventually cast Haste on their allies. Druids can Wildshape into any beast, replacing their physical scores entirely and hiding their real stats behind class abilities. Meanwhile they can spend ASIs improving their Wisdom score.
  4. Give him magic items

    • This might (not necessarily will) feel unfair to the other players, but give him magic items to make up for his deficiencies. The issue here is, he is getting rewarded for rolling low, and so the other players might feel punished for rolling high/average.
  5. Re-roll his stats or have him use point buy

    • If you are the DM, then it is within your rights to implement this solution. Put a narrative spin to it like his inner spirit has awakened due to intense trauma/stress.

    • If you are not the DM, and you are not being allowed to roll, express your concerns to the DM that this is not fun for you. Most DMs will listen to their players if they express their concerns.

  6. Kill him off

    • An extreme solution, I'll admit, but if you as the DM don't want to re-roll stats, then kill this commoner adventurer who's tagging along with the party. People like that are simply not cut out to be an adventurer, and death is a part of the risk of adventuring. Now that he's dead, you can have him roll up new stats for a new character.

    • If you are the player, I'd hate to say kill your character... but kill your character. If you are truly unhappy with it, then you cannot and should not try to address the problem by tacking on band-aid solutions to it. It's not worth the stress and tension to keep dedicating your time to playing something you're not enjoying.

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It depends on the kind of players you have and the kind of game you run.

If they are the kind of player that measures themselves by their "DPS" and your game is primarily about combat then this is a problem, and a somewhat intractable one.

But if they are not, then it's not a problem.

Here's the deal. Back in the early days of D&D - Basic, AD&D, etc - 3d6 down the line was the stock dice roll method. Red Box D&D had you roll 3d6 down the line, discard the character if they're all under 9 or two are under 6. You can swap stats 2 for 1 to your prime requisite. That's it. And these were the days before stat inflation - you could get a +1, +2, or +3, that's it, no "20"s in a stat and 18s were rare.

And we had fun. In fact, the D&D Basic (Mentzer red box) set, with more than 1 million units printed, is perhaps the most popular version of D&D ever (IIRC the number of people playing D&D in the mid-1980s is higher than today). So it's not like it's impossible to play the game with low stats.
5e has deliberately gone back to a playstyle more evocative of AD&D 2e, moving away from the balance-and-CharOp of 3e and 4e. So it supports that playstyle fine.

In most ensemble TV shows and whatnot, there are characters that are clearly not the best at anything, not super strong or super smart or whatnot (Xander from Buffy, Shaggy from Scooby Doo, etc.) They can still participate and be memorable, whether they can win an arm-wrestling match with anyone else on the show or not.

Back in the day most thieves, as you couldn't get Dex as a bonus to your melee and couldn't get sneak attacks just from flanking, were worthless in combat. As a result they were the ones running around doing more interesting stuff! In combat go pull that lever, set that tapestry on fire, break the magic gem, etc. If the player is having trouble with basic attacks he can always innovate.

You say "The player has not complained yet." So don't make a problem where there isn't one. Have a fun game, don't make it a giant tactical grind, and whether someone has all 9's in their stats really won't be all that relevant.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +many for "we had fun." That most other answers accept the implicit assertion "low stats=no fun" has been driving me bonkers. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Apr 3 '17 at 21:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yup. If nobody at the table thinks it's a problem, then it's not a problem. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Sherohman Mar 16 '18 at 10:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ In my experience from those days — admittedly I was a kid — there was a strong non-Darwinian weeding-out factor at work. Characters where the stats weren't awesome would tend to get eaten by owlbears, lick the sphere of annihilation, fall into lava, etc., at rates much higher than math would have suggested. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Mar 15 at 22:24
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Use it as a story hook

Have a trusted NPC point out how the PC struggles against the odds to do great deeds, and that in itself is heroic. Leading on from this, create a story arc that results in the PC receiving a boon from a grateful patron or deity: a boost of +4 to be divided amongst the PC's stats as the player sees fit.

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If you are willing to do it now, there was actually a rule in the 3.5 handbook that stated that a player was able to re-roll all of his starting ability scores if the total combined modifiers added together were really bad.

If your scores are too low, you may scrap them and roll all six scores again. Your scores are considered too low if the sum of your modifiers (before adjustments because of race) is 0 or lower, or if your highest score is 13 or lower.

I know this is 5th edition, but that's the counterbalance they originally figured out to prevent this from happening. If your argument against re-rolls involved "not being faithful to the rules/cheating" then perhaps this can convince you to reconsider.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd even argue that this advice is better in 5e- in 3.5 there were no hard caps on ability scores, and many ways to increase them. I.e. belt of giant strength+6/8 was relatively common, etc; there was even a prestige class, War Hulk I believe, that was 5 levels long and increased your strength by 2 every level of it. Stat gains at 4th levels might be slightly higher, but you'll never have that orc warlord character with 40 strength either. \$\endgroup\$ – Delioth Mar 30 '17 at 18:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ While I like this answer, the person asking the question said the following: The simple solution of re-rolling the stats is out of the question. I will neither up vote nor down vote, but what can you do for this DM given the criteria in the question? We did something similar in my nephew's campaign, in terms of a "range of acceptable rolls" \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 30 '17 at 18:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1 the question explicitly says "not rerolling." \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 3 '17 at 16:56
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Mechanically the PC will always be inferior to other PCs and perform more like a monster stat block (low dice modifiers) than a proper PC.

Short of re-rolling stats or otherwise changing the PC's stats (maybe offering a fixed array) this PC will always struggle to perform at the same level as the rest of the party and just generally be less effective all around with -1 to 0 modifiers for every stat.

Option 1: itemization

As you note in your question, magical items would be a way to shore up these short comings but they really only work if you are specifically giving this character better items then you ever intend to give the party, this works short term if the weaker PC is the "chosen one" and pulls a +3 magic item from the stone but as the party progresses everyone else should be getting magical items and the relatively short range of magical item bonuses means they will catch up and eclipse the PC again. Also depending on the party if you try to shower this one PC in items they may end up going to other PCs as a way to double down on strengths rather than shoring up a weakness.

Option 2: cast this PC as a side-kick

Accepting that this PC is just generally weaker frame him in the story and the party as a side-kick/apprentice character. You could then make an agreement with the players that the side-kick will eventually "step up" and become a leading-man hero with better stats and this PC's story is about the progression to that role. This is an OOC and non-raw solution where you will update the stats of the PC later due to story reasons.

Option 3: The PC will receive multiple "Blessings" or "Charms" from the DMG

The DMG (p.227) contains an entry on permanent character buffs in the form of blessings form the dieties for performaning acts on their behalf.

A character might receive a blessing from a deity for doing something truly momentous-an accomplishment that catches the attention of both gods and mortals. Killing rampaging gnolls rarely warrants such a blessing, but slaying the high priest of Tiamat as he attempts to summon the Dragon Queen might. A blessing is an appropriate reward for one of the following accomplishments:

• Restoring the most sacred shrine of a god

• Helping a god's favored servant complete a holy quest

• Foiling an earthshaking plot by the enemies of a god

This low stat PC could be called to be a divine servant and receive a series of Blessings for completing acts, additionally the charm section is a series of lower level buffs from arcane sources.

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I would have (and have have) let him roll again at the time.

I do think druid is good class choice, as shapechange can mitigate some of the problems, especially if he took Circle of the Moon. He might end up spending a lot of time as a bear, but that's OK if he's OK with it.

Perhaps a quest from his nature god, that results in a one-time boon to his stats could be set up as an adventure plot.

Or just have fun with it. In the old AD&D, I once rolled a character that had no 2-digit stats. 9/8/9/5/7/6. I went with it, made him a cleric (the only class he was eligible for by the rules), and played him to level 7, and had a lot of fun. I didn't expect him to be very effective, and no one else did either, but once I let go of that he was enjoyable to play. And while he was relatively weak, he was not an actual drain or hazard to the party; he could be played as being at least somewhat useful.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ -1 the question explicitly says "not rerolling." \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 3 '17 at 16:56
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The character hasn't always had bad stats

He once was a somewhat above-average adventurer of middling level, who suffered permanent ability and level loss (there are several mechanics for this, as well as GM license). It could have been a curse, a disease, a poison. By accident or a choice to make the great personal sacrifice. Great sacrifice in the backstory will go a long way toward making the world provide the player a chance.

Right time, right place, no special skills

You're looking for something heroic in character but not ability.

The king's young daughter fell into the lake of flesh-eating bacteria, and while everyone else was too shocked to even scream, this character jumped in and fished her out. Sadly, there was only one curative potion available, which was of course administered to the princess. By the time another could be fetched / prepared, the bacteria had crippling effects. His heart's weak, muscles ache, and they got to his brain, eating all his memories, most of his intelligence, and his words can barely be understood. He's got no clue why ever guardsman and officer he meets -- including the heir to the throne -- throws him a salute, but the bards will be singing of his sacrifice long after both nation and royal family are history.


Of course, you shouldn't simply slap this backstory onto the player's character. But suggest that they make one. Letting them explain the disability is going to get them invested and increase their enjoyment.

From there, you can either redefine success relative to his abilities, like @Clearly Toughpick suggests, have a major deity favor him like @Joshua says, or make a major quest goal to earn a cure.

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It probably won't be an issue. Because of the Bounded Accuracy philosophy, the character still won't be totally worthless; their rolls will still be within a few points of a character with better scores.

In any case, you've already largely solved the problem. A Moon Druid is an excellent choice for such a character; they can choose to throw all their magic to buffs and healing where stat bonus won't matter much, and wildshape can largely obviate the need for high combat stats.

Honestly the only thing I'd add to that is keep an eye out for ways to give the character advantage on rolls, like reminding the party that they can help their druid friend.

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You may consider giving the character the opportunity to put in the work to gain proficiency in certain skills... this means building in adequate down-time in the story and introducing the necessary tutors and other resources. There are mechanics for this in the books.

Running off of that, you might want to give them the opportunity to buff their scores through training. I know this is the idea behind ASI on leveling up, but as the DM you can work in the opportunity to add in a morning workout routine to eventually increase the strength score. Or to study books and increase intelligence. The thing is this might seem like favoring one character, but I think if you're open about what's happening with the other players, they should be okay with it.

Mind, this should take awhile to increase a score by even one point, and it shouldn't be without sacrifice. If they're busy reading or running or something, maybe they don't get to go shopping when everyone else does, or maybe they miss the important meeting with a diplomat. But this route keeps the door to role playing open, without messing up the narrative.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Please take the tour when you get the chance. We like suggestions to be backed by actual experience; have you tried this approach or seen it tried? How well did it work? \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Feb 6 at 23:03
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So a PC has low scores? Give him a second PC with low scores!

A sidekick. A servant. Your buddy is a druid? Give him a pet. (Maybe a dryad or sentient plant if there is a beastmaster in the group already.) Not a strong pet, but something between a ranger's and a familiar. But it's a regular creature, not one you revive during a nap or summon on the fly. So it's not used just to tank and give advantage.

This gives him greater tactical options, rather than just a jockstrap of +3 awesomeness. And a friend for life you don't just give away to improve an already stronger partymember.

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The Players guide recommends that the player re-rolls if too many of the rolls are low. I think it was if you get 3 stats 8 or below, I normally extend it as 9 or below since it has the same effect.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Players guide? Is that a DnD-5e source book? You mean the player's handbook? This answer could be greatly improved if you cited the relevant quote from the book and the page number it can be found in. \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Mar 16 '18 at 7:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1. The question clearly says "The simple solution of re-rolling the stats is out of the question. The adventure has already begun and it would feel very unsatisfying if the original rolling carried no weight at all." \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Mar 16 '18 at 23:24

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