... now with 35% more arrogance!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Deferred Ability Rolls

The discussion with Timrod about having players choose class first has reminded me of another idea I've occasionally toyed with: deferring ability rolls until needed. By this, I mean that the player picks class and race, rolls for number of gold pieces, purchase equipment, but doesn't roll for the ability scores until needed. Con is rolled almost immediately, because you need the hit point adjustment when rolling hit points -- although maybe you could leave the Con bonus as a surprise for the character's first combat. Charisma is rolled when the player looks for hirelings or attempts to negotiate for something, to get the loyalty and reaction modifiers. Dexterity is rolled right before combat, if using Dex to determine initiative. The other scores are rolled as needed. Once a character has returned from an expedition and experience points are about to be awarded, the prime ability score is rolled, if it hasn't been already.

The idea here is to discourage players from narrowly defining a character's behavior based on ability. This seems counter-intuitive, because most people would say that you need ability scores to know how to play your character's personality. A low Charisma character would never attempt to lead mercenaries into battle, right? But that's just it: there are people in real life and characters in fiction who are obviously deluded about their capabilities. There are people who think they are the life of the party, or natural-born leaders, who are actually anything but. There are secret geniuses who never apply themselves, and clumsy people who think they are graceful or mechanically deft. It might be more interesting to let players spin a backstory and develop a personality first.

The other benefit of such an approach is that allows a slightly-quicker start. This might especially be important if you are using a "funnel" approach, similar to DCC RPG; let players write down a bunch of names, classes, and short phrases representing general backgrounds for a couple characters, then roll gold and 1 hit die for each. Start playing immediately, watch as the characters develop in play. Let the funny incongruities  pile up where they may. The characters with a full set of scores will probably be the ones the players had the most fun playing.

Experienced players might not go for this, but it would be a quick way to kick off a campaign with a less-experienced group.


  1. I did something very similar to this when I was getting my kids' group going; they'd never played before and the last thing I wanted them to do was get bogged down in chargen or be confused by too many numbers. I had AC, HP, THAC0 and damage - just four numbers and IIRC, gave each class the max in its prime requisite. Then I had specific situations in the first few dungeons that required a requisite roll and it was only at that point that they got the chance to roll the 3d6.

    Gradually increasing the amount of information they had to assimilate worked exceptionally well and made me realise just how little info characters actually need to start adventuring.

  2. If you do this often enough enough (and depending somewhat on system) the six attributes aren't needed. Just a holdover and touchstone on "defining D&D"

  3. The first time I played DnD in 1980, my friend Brian completely ignored ability scores for my characters. They were a class and/or a race. It worked perfectly and the ability scores were never needed.

    Heck, I didn't have a bonus to hit OR damage for my fighter, "Berserker" was his name, until I found that +1 flaming sword. :)

    How did I ever survive? Smart play and paranoia, that's how.