Wednesday, December 22, 2010

3d6, in order

After using it on both sides of the screen I've become a serious fan of rolling up characters using 3d6 and assigning the rolls in order.  That is no rearranging of scores.  Even in games where the DM doesn't require it I sometimes assign ability scores in order.  This morning, in the shower, I was thinking about 3d6, in order, what was lost when game rules moved away from that.

We need feats and doo dads and more rules to differentiate characters!
I'm sure you've heard that.  I hear it from friends and read it online.  Where I don't often hear it is from people playing "3d6, in order" games. Of flippin course every fighter is gonna be the same if you rearrange scores (esp if you roll tons of dice, reroll '1's, etc. to "guarantee" one or more 18's) so that they all have 18 STR, next highest rolls in DEX/CON and WIS/CHA dump stats. Duh! If you decide to play a fighter and then roll 3d6 in order. A lot of interesting, fun to play characters will emerge.

The player characters should be Heroes, well above the common folk.
I like campaigns were the characters are average schmucks as much, maybe more, than when they are near super-humans and "destined" heroes.   But, assuming we are interested in heroic play the above is often claimed as reason for rolling lots of dice, rerolling 1's, etc. So as to greatly increase chance of high stats.  Instead of elevating the PC's and introducing substantial power creep (thus requiring increasing monster & magic item power and leading to endless splat books, 1-up manship, and rules) I suggest degenerating NPC and esp common folk.  Farmer Bob doesn't have 3d6 abilities, he has 2d6 or 4+2d4 or 8+/-2(Fudge Dice are wonderful things), or simply 8.  Or really old school it, "normal" folk are 0lvl without stats or significant abilities of any kind.  Only PC's and henchmen have levels.

3d6, in order isn't for every game style, it isn't more better, I don't always use it. The point of this post is to encourage you to try it for yourself and find out if you enjoy it as much as I have grown to.


  1. Even as a die-hard point-buy 4e-lover I have to agree with everything you’ve presented here. In order to retain some of the wonder from the 3d6 days I rarely max out any of my attributes when I use point-buy. I intentionally choose races for their role-playing aesthetic rather than the +2 to the stat I need most for my class. I never end up with a 20 in anything and rarely have anything higher than 16 at level 1. The more adequate distribution of the points makes the character balanced and well rounded. This in turn gives me way more options when role-playing. It becomes considerably less about finding the biggest weapon that does the most damage and a lot more about getting immersed into this interesting PC.

  2. You are so-o-o right.

    One of my most memorable characters was a halfling thief with a decent dexterity, an intelligence of 3, and a wisdom of 18. I got to play him like a senile, absentminded kung fu sensei. He was very good at his job, just very dumb about other things. He could only speak a few words of common language as well.

    The play is the thing. Sure, winning is the main goal, but how you get there is half the fun!


  3. I'm using 3d6 in order in my Megacrawl 3000 posts, and prefer it in games as well - but then I prefer to be surprised by what my character turns out to be. In my last campaign, I gave the players a choice - roll 4d6 (drop lowest) in order, or roll 3d6 and assign the rolls to your scores. I think most of them went 3d6 because they wanted the control.

  4. I prefer this - I like playing a character with flaws and weaknesses. However if other players in the group min-max the stats I sometimes find that y character gets left behind in the power race. Also as the encounters are geared towards the ubercharacters my characters are less able to accomplish anything. I still have fun role-playing however which is what is important.

  5. You can't fight human nature. Players won't enjoy a character with crummy stats, especially if everyone else got better rolls.

    I suppose there are exceptions, but why risk alienating new players by expecting them to embrace mediocrity. Players want to be the hero. That doesn't mean going easy on them, but forcing them to play weak characters goes too far the other direction.

    4d6, pick the best three, re-roll until you get at least two 15s, arrange as you like, max first level hit points, sounds about right.

  6. Risk alienating new players? If 3d6 in order is all it takes to spook someone, they aren't long for the older editions where 1st level characters die when you sneeze on them.

    The notion of "one PC for the entire campaign" is an evolved position from the original game, where eventually through sheer perseverance, one of the 1st level PC's you've rolled will eventually make it to 2nd or 3rd without dying.

    3d6 in order for 3rd or 4th edition would be a nightmare, with the expectations those editions have for character longevity. For Basic or AD&D it's a very viable way of playing - whichever PC survives is the one you end up playing, the stats are secondary to the player skill it took to keep him alive.

  7. Multiple deaths might be a charming part of old school gaming, and might appeal to "some" old timers, but that style of play probably won't be attractive to newbies.

    To me, old school simply means fewer rules, more free form (but not totally free form).

    If I was running an old school campaign, and starting at first, and had some players that were new to the hobby, I'd ensure their stats were respectable. That along with max hit points, plus a tightly run game would improve their odds of survival, but not so much as to trivialize the challenges that made old school so fun and memorable.

  8. Great post, Norm. I agree that the unintended consequence of some of the more liberal stat roll methods is homogeneity. All fighters have high STR. All mages have high INT. In that environment, you do need splatbooks to feel "different". Hill Cantons has a cool method he just put up at his site. You roll the char's background and that gives you extra dice for various attributes. Then, if I understand the system, you roll the varying amounts of dice, in order, to generate your attributes. Sure, 5d6/keep 3 might give you a higher chance of having a high STR, but its not a guarantee. I'm using his system next time and we'll see how it goes. :)

  9. I'm leaning toward 3d6 re-roll 1 in preference to the more common 4d6 take the best 3; because it's low abilities I want to avoid rather than increase the chance of more 18s. I think it's very hard to role-play, have a credible character, with an ability score of 3. Strength of a two year old, mind of the severely mentally handicapped. Unless we start saying that 3 is the normal man's norm for everything. I assume the normal man is 9-12 for everything and give an ability score bonus (eg blacksmith) where I feel appropriate. Now a 6-8 ability score, that can be weak, dumb, rash or butter fingers and possible to role-play very well. Straight 3d6 in order, tempting but not for my next campaign.

  10. The AD&D 1e DMG lists 4 method for generating character stats:
    I. 4d6, drop lowest and assign at will.
    II. 3d6 x12, choose best 6 and assign at will.
    III. 3d6 x6 for each stat, choose best.
    IV. 3d6 in order for 12 characters, choose best.

    0e, Holmes, B/X and BECMI uses 3d6-in-order but point exchange is allowed on a 2-for-1 or 3-for-1 basis.

    A lot of people use Method I, I personally like Method II because I have crappy dice.

  11. There was a Pathfinder campaign starting up at a local store a few months ago. I was interested till I got to the chargen rules.

    5d6 keep 3,12 times. Take best six. If you still don't have an 18, change one to 18. I didn't expect 3d6 in order, but still...

  12. Good post and good points.

    One thing that I find makes 3d6 fun is if playing characters with subpar stats has some in game reward. Implicitly, this could be enemies taking mercy on a low Str character or a low Int simpleton getting along better with simplistic NPCs and creatures. Explicity, if there are rewards for high attributes, why aren't there rewards for lower stats? I used to give XP bonuses for good roleplaying that is true to the player's stats, some times even at the expense of the story. Finally, if stats can be changed through magic, why can't they improve along with levels? Giving one point of Growth per level that can either be used to buy a skill, increase a stat, or saved as a Luck point for emergency use doesn't break the game at all and gives players some improvement to shoot for. And if we consider how big the Hobbits in LotR got at the end of their story, there is a precedent in the lit that inspired D&D.

  13. I think one of the reasons people might shy away from 3d6 in order is that these days players usually have a character concept in mind when they start rolling up the PC. If you want to play a Conan clone, it's hard to do w/ low STR and CON. This gets magnified if you are beginning a long campaign that is intended to take your character to high levels; a character w/ seriously flawed stats might not be "viable" in that scenario.

    All that said, I would also encourage players to try 3d6 in order, even if only for one-shot adventures. In a way, it is strangely liberating to just play the hand fate deals you, and it can be more rewarding when you actually find a way to keep your STR 4 Dwarven fighter alive through multiple combats.

  14. I used the 4d6 rearrange to taste method for most of my D&D life (AD&D).

    I've come around to 3d6 later and really enjoy it.

    I've been playing a cleric, which is fine. However, I really want to play something different after he bites it. I'll deal it if happens, but would suck to roll up another cleric. To my mind that's the primary downside.

  15. Great comments everyone. I agree with most the points made esp how it's not for every type of game or player.

    @Kiltedyaksman and others
    Yeah, that's why when DMing low power games where I like 3d6, in order I tell the players "3d6 for stats, I encourage you to try keeping them in order. It can be surpassing, challenging and a lot of fun. But, if you absolutely had your heart set on a particular character type then go ahead and rearrange scores."


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