One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.” -Hunter S. Thompson

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Rolling the Bones: The Ability Score Experiment

When I started my new D&D 5e campaign in January I had planned on having a session zero devoted to character generation. At the time it looked like I would only have 3 players, two of whom were brand new to RPGs.  I was happily surprised to discover that these two new players, on their own initiative, decided to make characters via our Facebook Messenger group. One of the players made the choice to make his character using a method I thought was really hard core. His method was Roll 3d6 six times to make two sets, choose the best one and place in order. My first impulse was to quash this and tell them to just use the rules outlined in the Player’s Handbook. But then I stopped and thought about it. I had a bunch of new players who were willing to make less powerful characters for the sake of the roleplaying opportunities that might arise from it.

This method was accepted by the group and worked fine. Before the second session started we had two new player’s join the group. These two players were very familiar with 5e and balked at the idea. Both of these players told me they had a hard time making characters. One player even told me he had thought of dropping out before even starting because of his frustration making the character he wanted. In the end that player did drop out due to scheduling issues. This was a shame because he really added to the group and the campaign as a whole.

I can attest that this method is frustrating and difficult. I had a hell of time making characters when I tested it out myself. The problem I’ve discovered is that players come to the game with the idea of a class they’re excited to play, and when the stats they roll up prevent them from effectively playing what they want it’s frustrating. I don't see this as a case of power gaming as much as it's a case of wanting to play a character that is competent. The current method means that they either have to play a sub par character, or choose a class that they don’t want to play. Both options are understandably unappealing. 

One of the unexpected advantages of playing at my local game store is that they keep sending me people interested in playing D&D. Thus, this week I have another batch of new players joining the group. Since we only have about two hours of play time it’s imperative that the players are ready to play as soon as everyone arrives. Therefore, people need to have their characters ready. Which brings me to my long winded point. In an effort to make the game more “interesting” I made the game more difficult and less appealing. If I had gone with character creation as per the book I could have just let players make the characters they wanted to play, increasing the fun, and allow new players join in without having to spend my time explaining the method and then frustrating them with its limitations. The evidence thus far has shown no obvious advantage to creating characters with this harsh method. If anything it has detracted from the game. 

As a busy person in real life I don’t want to spend my time vetting characters. I do however, want a sense of balance and fairness at the table. I’ve decided to end this “experiment”. Going forward we will be generating stats using the rules as written in the 5e PH. This provides an arbitrary environment in which everyone knows what to expect and lets people play the character’s they want to play.

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