Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Being Yourself vs Rolling Stats

Note, this blog is not related to any current campaign or session.  Occasionally I enjoy using this blog for rambling about how I feel about different rules and systems, and this is just something that's been percolating in the back of my head for a while.

One of my fundamental beliefs when it comes to RPGs is that players should be allowed to play the character they want to play.  I hear DMs grumble about "special snowflake" players who want to run bizarre races like half-dryad/half-gnolls, and I always wonder why that bothers them so much.  This is a game of infinite possibilities, and restricting yourself to the same old races seems contrary to the point of the game, IMO.  As long as a race is balanced with the other races, and isn't offensive somehow (like parodying real life races), why should the DM care about the flavor?  We're all at the table for different reasons, and if I've always wanted to pretend I was a Dryad/Gnoll, then that's why I'm at the table.

If you find a specific player annoying because they keep playing weird things, then maybe that player isn't a good fit for your group.  It doesn't mean you're a bad DM or they're a bad player, it just means you probably don't have compatible play styles.  In my experience, it takes a certain kind of player to build a Dryad/Gnoll, and that type of player drives vanilla DMs nuts even when they run Human characters.  So maybe you're just not a good fit for each other, but don't blame the character they designed.  If you're going to let the player at your table, then let them play the character they want to play.

The DM controls about 90% of the story.  The only elements the players contribute is the actions of their own characters.  If the DM wants to dictate what type of characters they play, then maybe this game isn't for them.  That DM should just be writing a story instead, where they can control all the elements.  But D&D is a cooperative storytelling game.  Sure, the DM's the only one who knows the full plot, but everyone contributes, and the DM shouldn't be surprised if things don't go in the direction he planned.

And that's a big part of why I hate rolling stats.  There are times when I enjoy rolling everything randomly, even the class and race.  But for a long-running campaign, I want to play a character I designed from the ground up. It's an investment of my time to take a few hours out of every Saturday to drive out to the game store, and you better believe that if I go to the trouble, it's because I want to have fun.  And I don't find it fun playing a character I didn't design.

Admittedly, part of it is not wanting to get stuck with bad stats.  I don't really care about good stats, I just don't want to be stuck with a lot of 8s.  If the universe ever conspires to give me bad die rolls during a game, it will be during character generation.  That's when the Random Number Gods can do the most damage to me, because those rolls will affect me the entire campaign.  I'm not saying I'm superstitious, but I do tend to roll badly when it counts most.

And then there's fairness.  The makers of D&D put so much time into making sure all the races and classes are balanced.  You can't make Rogues "better" than Wizards (at least not in ways that are universally obvious), nor can you make Dragonborn better than Elves.  Of course people like certain combos better than others, but if any class or race is blatantly overpowered, it gets nerfed in the next errata.

And yet, in the very first session of a "roll stats" campaign, it's mathematically possible for players to create characters with huge differences in their stats.  If session one begins with the Rogue having every stat near 18, while the Wizard doesn't have a single stat above 10, who do you think is going to be the star of every following session?  It gets old when the same character outshines everybody week after week.

When our group starts a new campaign, we sometimes discuss the possibility of rolling stats.  I always argue against it, for the reasons listed above.  But while we're discussing it, several alternate methods usually come up.  For example, the "Organic Method" (4d6 drop lowest, roll in order, swap one, reroll one).  I've also looked at a bunch of different methods online, some of which were almost like calculus in their complexity, and it's gotten to the point where it's almost a berserk button for me.

Many players complain that point buy gives everyone cookie cutter stats, but my solution would be to STOP LOOKING AT EVERYONE ELSE'S STATS.  Your stats are not your character.  In any given campaign, I have no idea what all my co-players' stats are.  I know which characters are naive and which ones are crafty or lusty or cowardly or driven or simple-minded or devious, and I assume those players are playing their stats appropriately.  But if our party's Half-Orc Barbarian roleplays a low INT, I still have no idea if his INT is 3 or 9.  And I don't want to know, because my Half-Orc friend isn't a bunch of numbers to me, he's a (virtual) person.

The fact that everyone's stats are balanced is a bit like saying everyone in the party has 24 ribs, one liver, and two kidneys.  Those numbers exist under the skin, but I will never see them, nor do I wish to.  For the people who think "point buy ruined the game", what part of the game do they think it ruined?  How did it affect roleplay, really?  I've heard many older DMs make the complaint, but I have yet to see one make a convincing argument for how it hurt the game.  It might have made the game a little less deadly, but that's a feature, not a bug.  (I could write a whole other blog on how I feel about hardcore "killer" DMs.)

Now... all that said.  If I were to play a "roll stats" campaign, what would be my preferred method?

One of my biggest problems with 4d6 (even if you drop the lowest), is that the minimum is 3.  I don't believe a playable humanoid should have any stat below an 8.  To me, that would represent subhumanoid levels, or some sort of physical handicap.  I could see it working for specific character concepts or for certain types of campaigns, but for basic D&D it just bothers me.

So my preferred rolling method would be (*drumroll please*)... 2d6+6, no rerolls, put your stats where you want.  It's simple, and it gives you a minimum of 8, so no handicaps.  The average is slightly higher - 4d6 has an average of 10.5, while 2d6+6 gives you an average of 13.  But 4d6 has you dropping the lowest to weed out bad die rolls, while my method would require you keep the bad rolls.

I've tested it by rolling a bunch of sample stats using each method.  After 25 test rolls, 4d6 (drop lowest) gave me an average of 12.6, while 2d6+6 gave me an average of 12.8.  (Note that standard array has an average of 12.)  The only real difference was that my method didn't yield anything under 8.  Now, I could have just gotten some lucky rolls when doing my tests, and maybe someday when I'm bored I'll sit down and do 100 of each method.  But from what I've seen so far, I'd say it's close enough that it won't break the game.

But again, that's only if I were to run a "roll stats" campaign, which is highly unlikely.

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