Recently at the Temple of Demogorgon, Brunomac wrote about what he calls "Fuddism", meaning a playstyle where the players are stuck with characters who are pathetically underpowered, which they pit against overwhelming odds in a dungeon run by a DM who plays the role of Bugs Bunny, constantly getting the upper hand in a game the players can't win. I'm a little doubtful about the existence of pure Fuddism, although I'll acknowledge there occasionally are DMs fond of what I call "screwage", as exemplified by a recent Dragonsfoot thread about teleportation errors and what to do about characters getting partially embedded in walls.*
But one of the main examples of Fuddism (according to Brunomac) is the insistence on rolling 3d6 in order for ability scores. It's his argument that this approach leaves most characters less competent than ordinary villagers, unless the players are extremely lucky with their rolls. As someone who obviously likes random attributes, I have to disagree, primarily on two grounds.
First: ordinary is not pathetic. What you get when rolling for random attributes as opposed to point-buy, re-arrangement of scores, or weighted rolls (4d6 drop lowest) is most likely an ordinary person. Well, as ordinary a person as you can get, when you're able to use absolutely any weapon and attack multiple opponents simultaneously (Fighter) or cast spells (MU, Cleric.) What sets PCs apart from the rest of humanity as "adventurers" is not their superior ability scores, but the fact that they choose to face danger for potential reward instead of doing what's expected of them.
Ordinary is definitely not pathetic the way I interpret scores**, but it's also not pathetic under the original rules. The only effect Strength, Intelligence and Wisdom have on adventurer actions is to increase or decrease earned experience: you can play a Strength 3 Fighter, you'll just earn 20% less experience than a Strength 9 Fighter. There are no damage bonuses for Strength, or even encumbrance adjustments. Intelligence does affect the number of languages learnable, but otherwise, it's just a rating that has little quantifiable effect. And if you absolutely can't live with "little quantifiable effect", there's an exchange rate to allow you to trade Strength for Intelligence, or other exchanges.
Beginning with Supplement I, that changes, and as time progresses, the bonuses, penalties and restrictions of the ability scores become more pronounced, which is why we also see more schemes to lessen the blow of rolling "bad" scores. Around the same time, there's a huge influx of new players, which means more variation in play preferences... and we start seeing more people who simply can't stand the idea of playing someone ordinary. The non-amazingness of average ability scores gets exaggerated as being pathetic; Joe Average gets transformed into Elmer Fudd.***
Second: loss of control is not malice. Aside from saying "you have to roll 3d6 in order", the DM isn't controlling the outcome of character creation or deliberately crippling PCs any more than the players are. The whole point of random rolls is to create fairness and surprise by removing human intervention. They allow the unexpected to happen, and allow players and the DM to create something they otherwise probably wouldn't have thought of.
And I don't mean here that random rolls make you a better role-player. I'm not necessarily in favor of playing an Int 3 character as Lennie Small, since I think this is an overinterpretation of the meaning of Int 3. However, rolling a low Strength and high Intelligence, when you want to play a Fighter, forces you to consider what your best solutions to problems should be, perhaps encouraging you to be more of an Odysseus than a Hercules.
Together, these two principles mean a more interesting game, to me. I'd rather see players running ordinary joes who take risks and use the resources they've been dealt by playing cleverly, eventually becoming formidable heroes, than a predictable set of characters based on the latest popular action, sci-fi or fantasy movie or comic book engaged in a game of power-collecting.
* It's my opinion that, by the rules as written, partial embedding in a wall simply can't occur unless the DM specifically sets out to screw the players. I've talked about dick rulings before, but maybe I'll post something about the kinds of screwage that would actually fit into Brunomac's Fuddism description.
** And, in fact, I don't even think players should automatically assume Strength 3 is a feeble weakling unable to lift a dagger, or Intelligence 3 is a moron, barely able to speak. Unless they feel like it. But for me, those are clearly labels, above and beyond the meaning of the scores themselves.
*** Besides, Elmer Fudd isn't incompetent. He's a naturally meek person who absurdly chooses to project himself into the role of Mighty Hunter. He's trying to prove his manhood with cruelty towards animals much weaker than he is. This is why Bugs teases him mercilessly. And Bugs is only able to do so in accord with the Cartoon Laws of Physics: "For every vengeance there is an equal and opposite revengeance."