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Fairer Ability Score Rolling

posted Saturday, April 14th 2007 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering AdviceThird Edition

Here’s an interesting way to allow your players to roll up a character.

If your players prefer the randomness of rolling for characters’ ability scores naturally instead of using point-buy or a set array, try this approach. Using whatever rolling method you prefer, roll twenty sets of ability scores and number them 1 to 20 in order. Each player simply rolls a d20 to determine which line of your chart they use for ability scores. If a line is weak or mediocre, you might consider giving that line a compensation bonus such as some bonus skill ranks, a piece of starting equipment, some minor special ability or special social standing.

This method has two main advantages. One, it puts everyone on an equal footing because players can’t cheat. Two, it’s a lot quicker, which is always a plus when generating characters, especially if game time is limited and you don’t want to spend too long on character generation.

Obviously, you shouldn’t let your players see the chart in advance, nor should you let two players roll the same number – it looks quite suspicious if one player gets good ability scores, only for another to have rolled the same. Avoid the temptation to make ’20′ the best set and ’1′ the worst, since you don’t want to have to demand a reroll when someone suspiciously rolled a twenty when you weren’t looking. Don’t grant too much in the way of compensation abilities (why play a human when a dwarf with 4 Wisdom gets a free compensation bonus feat?), but make sure players are going to be reasonably happy with what they get. Lastly, always let players “arrange as desired” unless your group isn’t too fussed about picking their own character class.

The same system might be used to dole out character classes, if you’re running a traditional dungeonny game and need to make sure your players get the right party mix instead of sticking with their usual favourites or mucking around with dumb ninja classes from the latest splatbook. Take four playing cards and let each player choose one at random, assigning each card to a party role – warrior, mage, priest and thief. Warrior includes barbarian, fighter, paladin and ranger. Mage includes wizard and sorcerer. Priest includes druid and barbarian, and thief includes only the rogue (since nobody else can find and disarm traps). For a fifth player, include monk, bard and all those wonky splatbook ninja classes in an “optional extras” category. This way, you’re guaranteed to have a balanced group. (Remember, of course, that “balanced group” isn’t the only way to play.)

I’ll see if I can write a web program for pregenerating rolls automatically. That ought to save even more time.


  1. Andy

    May 20th, 2008

    “Priest includes druid and barbarian”
    I have to assume you mean druid and cleric..

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