Screw the Bell Curve

By Shamus
on Jan 12, 2008
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

While talking about rolling up characters in D&D, Daemian_Lucifer has this to say in the comments here:

As for transfering the characters,after seeing my brother roll 18,18,18,17,18,18 in a D&D game ones using 4 dice,I am ready to believe almost any roll.

I just want to point out that this is the most improbable gaming story I’ve ever heard. How improbable? I wrote a program that rolled up one hundred million characters, and it never rolled a character that high. In a hundred million attempts, the best it rolled was a character with 17, 18, 17, 17, 18, 18.

If a player came to me claiming to have rolled that, I wouldn’t believe it unless I’d seen it myself. The odds are long, long, long. Longer than winning the state lottery.

And even if I did see it, I’d have to think long and hard about what to do about it if I was the GM. Keeping in mind that the goal of the game is to have fun, I’d have to make sure the other players wouldn’t be irritated by having such a superhuman in their group. If it’s a roleplaying-heavy group it might be okay, but in a combat heavy, stats-focused game, that character is going to outshine everyone. It’s going to be a party of Aquaman, Hawkman, and Kairo following Superman around and trying to find ways to be useful. Superman might have fun, but the other three are going to have to be really good sports about it.

Creating challenges for that sort of group will be a pain as well. Anything that can pose a challenge to Superguy is probably too dangerous for the others to handle. Anything that is a decent challenge for the others is going to be a doormat for Superguy.

Still, amazing roll.

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  1. Kilmor says:

    Hence the reason for point buy :D

    In my game I added a Luck score that players do get to roll, and have to make rolls to see if it goes up/down during play. Same rolling-for-stats fun, less unbalanced-characters-ruined-my-game frustration.

  2. Retlor says:

    Agreed. Point buy is better for group balance. There is something fun about having randomised stats, but it can lead to a wide power disparity. In the end, it’s up to the GM. If they can make sure that all players feel like they are contributing something, then it’s fine, but nothing ruins combat like a big gap between the powerful character and the less powerful character, especially in a combat heavy game like DnD.

    Case in point (cue long, boring gaming story): The other day I was playing in a Star Wars Saga edition game. The GM is pretty good at making sure we all have something to do, but the difference in power between the Jedi and everyone else is marked. We were fighting bounty hunters and, in order to make sure the Jedi actually had trouble with them, the GM tweaked their stats a bit. So there was a gungan with a Reflex Defence (which in Saga also functions as AC) of 32. The Jedi, thanks to his force powers and skill with a lightsaber, was able to stand up to him. The rest of us needed natural 20s to hit. In the end, only by burning force and destiny points were we able to do anything.

    The point of that tale? That if you have a power disparity then the GM must either challenge the weaker characters, resulting in it being way too easy for the powerful ones, or challenge the powerful ones, resulting in it being impossible for the weaker ones.

  3. Eric the Baker says:

    One thing you have to keep in mind about the wonderful world of statistics. No matter how unlikely something is to happen, it still has a chance to happen.

    If something has a 1 in a 100,000 chance of happening, it does not mean that you need to try 100,000 times before it will happen. It could happen the 1st time. It could happen the 100,000th time. Usually it will happen somewhere in the middle. It is completly possible, (but still equally unlikely) that a player can sit down for his first ever adventure, roll up his very first character, and have a complete string of 18’s.

    What should make you gasp and look for loaded dice, is when a player rolls up two of these incredible characters back to back. Or two players individually roll up similarly unlikely combinations.

  4. Thpbltblt says:

    Can’t say as I’ve ever seen anyone roll disgustingly high like that. I’d have to see it myself to believe it, even with an honest person telling me they did it.

    On that note, I’ve got a large d20 that I like to use over my regular 20’s, and I can’t win for the life of me using it as a player. But that die is deadly when I run a session as a DM.

  5. josh says:

    I’m kind of bored, so…

    For each stat, you get 18 if all 4 dice are 6s, or if 3 are 6s. Out of 6^4 outcomes, there 1 of the former, and 15 of the latter, so the probability of an 18 is 16/(6^4). Raise that to the 6th power and… you have about a 1 in 282 billion chance of getting straight 18s. Considerably worse than the odds of winning the jackpot in the Califronia Lottery, about 1 in 41 million.

    Figuring out the probability of 5 18s and one 17 is harder, so I’ll leave that to someone else :-)

  6. Changling bob says:

    When I DM D&D I use point buy (28).

    However, not having got the books, I would use random rolls for, say, Paranoia because who cares, the most overpowered Troubleshooter will be dead (6 times even!) within a couple of sessions!

  7. Irdak says:

    I´ve been DM in a couple D&D chronicles, and I´ve found quite useful to give them a set of rolls for them to assign to each stat. That way, everyone has the same power level :)

    To keep the players happy, you can make it a very good set of rolls (in my case, I opted for 18, 18, 16, 16, 14, 14). They´ll really appreciate it, and you can always balance the adventure by presenting them villains and monsters one or two CR´s higher than they should according to stats :)

  8. Devin says:

    Random stat generation is, IMO, one of the worst things a DM can do to his players. Yes… /statistically/ all things are equal… but how often do you start a game where one guy has sweet stats, and one guy has crappy stats?

    I’ve never heard an argument that makes me think rolling for stats is a good thing. Sure, it’s exciting as hell, but in my experience someone always walks away king of the dice, and someone is already thinking about their backup character.

  9. Mike says:

    In 1983 my brother wrote a program on a PDP11 that would only stop on perfect roll, I showed him the math ((1/6)^3)^6=(1/6)^18=@ 9.846400*10^-15 and he decided to stop the program after two days of hogging the cycles.

  10. guy says:

    someone has to roll up that uber-character. Why not that guy? for those who say that it’s impossibly unlikely, remember the rule of big numbers: anything unlikely is bound to happen sometime if it has enough opportunities. there is about a 1 in 30 thousand chance that someone will have a dream about a loved one shortly before they die, and there are 300 million people in the US. therefore, around 10,000 people have had it happen. and then there is how unlikely life-bearing planets are, but given how many planets there are, one of them had to be one.

    note: stats that average below 13 are often grounds for a reroll. plus, one guy once managed 5 witnessed nat 20s on unloaded dice in a row, so there are plenty of unlikely occurrences in dnd

  11. Avaz says:

    In our group’s Wilderlands RP adventure (which, I should point out, is harsh on lawful good characters), I ended up rolling something near a demi-god, though not anywhere near all-18’s. My one lowest roll was a 13, with the rest being all higher and all witnessed. Well, I had already decided to play the group’s paladin (in the process being dubbed Superman), but the character is just aching to bring about a TPK, I can feel it in my bones. So even though he is head and shoulders better in just about all aspects than his party peers, he is also highly likely to die first because of the alignment/campaign circumstances.

    As a note, for the first couple sessions, my paladin came close to death both times (one of them being certain death if I didn’t roll high – thankfully I did), so… yeah. :)

    Edit: clarification.

  12. Xiphos says:

    On 4chan I read about a character creation technique where, instead of rolling the dice and assigning them to different stats, you roll for the stat in order, and whatever you roll is whatever you get. Players would be allowed to reroll a single stat and be given the opportunity to swap only two around.
    It was devised not only to give the players more evenly distributed character usefulness, but to open a new door to roleplaying opportunities, since it reflected how, when growing up, people often have little control over how they develop as they grow. It lead to some interesting secondary uses for the characters, such as a Wizard who turned out to be quite the skill monkey.

  13. Lain says:

    It happens.

    I’m playing now for 25 years.
    I rolled in an percentage based RPG 2×100 and one time 99. Hell of a fighter. But a party without thief, Magician and cleric (stay at the basis) is a bad one, even with Superman as fighter.

    Another time my character was buried alive. Only thing I could do is pray and die. I rolled a 1 with percentages. And consequently changed my class to cleric the rest of this charcterlive.

    Last one was the most astounding.

    I DM’ed AD&D. A player (ugly, dirty barbarian, Conan-like) went to an brothel/temple of the goddess of love in an capital city. Highpriestress of that temple was a daughter of the goddess and an assassin (Cool lovestory like the old greek myths).

    The Barbarian-Player rolled under 5 % for even getting her attention. (“Hey, the Bitch (!!!) there looks quite nice. I take her.”)

    The Barbarian-Player rolled under 5 % for even getting a date for making love. (“I was more than 6 months in the desert. I’m hornier than a legion of rabbits. You’ll serve quite (!!!) well.”)

    The Barbarian-Player rolled under 5 % in the workout and so astonished the half-goddess. “That’s all? Well, not so bad (!!!). Pffff. I take on my clothes and go to a pub.”

    Later she deserted everything for him, become his sidekick and wife and they get a few children and an small kingdom when we played lvl 9+.

    In Cyberpunk my character survives with an firstclassheadshot, when our Doc, another player rolled a 72. (One 10sided; when rolling a 10, you’re allowed to throw again)! Ingame he used in despair of loosing me his bubblegum. That worked so well, that later on he promoted for a real doctor title with that theme for his graduation.

    THAT kind of statistically almost impossible rolls at an important time makes RPG more interesting than an PC-Game ever could.

  14. Rebecca says:

    So why don’t you D&D guys do it like in MMORPGS, where everybody starts with the same number of points and alots them where they want them?

  15. Gabriel Mobius says:

    Actually, I do know someone who rolled that high on his stats, and yet my mediocrely rolled Dwarven Swashbuckler keeps up with him in combat, easily. Believe it or not, I’ve known dice to have a twisted sense of humour. Someone will roll absolute perfect stats, creating an ultimate being… and then their d20 rolls from that point on will utterly suck.

    I am very close to believing in some deity of dice that acts much like Loki.

  16. Xiphos says:

    Rebecca: That would be boring, and less realistic.

  17. Viktor says:

    I always want point-buy. I sometimes roll really well for stats, but other times I get screwed on them, and I prefer just to take the average. Point buy may be less realistic, but I don’t want to be screwed for an entire game b/c of a bad roll in the beginning.
    GMing, I’d tell someone who rolled high to pick a class like samurai or monk, and someone who rolled low to play a druid. That can go a long way to balancing the stats.

    Xiphos: DON’T DO THAT! Roll-in-order is evil. That’s how I ended up playing a char with 5 int. I was ready to kill my GM for not letting me reroll. I ended up sending him to a monastery for “special” priests after one adventure. He was ruled by my GM to understand “simple words and phrases”, and was NO FUN to roleplay. The point of the game is to have fun, not to be realistic. Realism is just a tool in having fun, not an end unto itself.

  18. Robert says:

    If I were DMing, I’d give him a choice.

    1) You can keep all these statistics. They represent the fact that your character is one of the luckiest, most privileged people in all of the realm – which means that he is hated and envied by everyone less fortunate, and also that the gods of luck have become interested in him and will probably want to find out how someone so lucky deals with a run of Exceptionally Bad Luck and Interesting Challenges. At 1st level.

    2) You can keep an 18 and two 17s and reroll the other 3 stats, and not face any kind of balancing penalty/bonus.

    3) You can completely reroll your stats in order to get something reasonable. If you do that, your character will be considered to have a reservoir of amazing luck, giving you a +1 stacking luck bonus on attack rolls and saves permanently. That gives the character something exceptional and quite useful, but it doesn’t unbalance the game by making the other characters comparatively useless. Plus, every time the character makes a roll by 1 he’ll remember the bonus and think “this was a good trade”. On average that’ll happen at least once a session.

    4) You can keep the statistics. They represent the fact that your character is some type of exceptional plot-central entity (grandson of a demigod?) and will *constantly* be imposed upon in major ways by the gods/the fates/the needy villagers.

  19. Cineris says:

    I don’t find this story hard to believe at all. In one game we had a player who claimed to have rolled a 22 for Strength on 4d6 drop the lowest.

    Edit: Before anyone mentions this, I am specifically talking about rolls here. The guy was playing a Kobold, which has a -4 Strength modifier.

    So those rolls are absolutely plausible.

  20. Adam says:

    Who cares about the all-18s roll. It’s been done, and everybody talks about it. The real battle against probability is the character with 3, 3, 4, 3, 3, 3.

    12 HP at 12th level? Yes, please!

  21. ShadowDragon8685 says:

    This is why I endorse point-buy. But players don’t like 25, and I understand that, because it makes a character who’s either an all-rounded wuss, or someone who’s utterly crippled at everything but one specifi thing in which they are a savant.

    So I like to give high PB values – 36, 40, 44, 46 even. This way everyone can be walking around as a minor superhero.

  22. Andy P says:

    Xiphos: boring? Maybe, but I’d rather have a whole campaign worth of fun and well-balanced challenges than six “exciting” dice rolls. (Just play craps if you like rolling dice that much).

    Realistic though? Um… really? How is anything D&D related even remotely realistic? Heck, is realism even something you want in an RPG?

  23. JB says:

    Highly improbable things happening is the rule, not the exception.

    What is the chance you will win the lottery? Not very likely. What is the chance someone will win the lottery? Quite likely. So someone out there will probably encounter the improbable.

    If, in a game I was DM’img, I would accept it. Back when I used to play, we allways rolled. But we had minimum standards, so noones character would never really suck. Everyone had good characters. The one or two lucky had great characters.

    Also we allowed some limmited rearrangement of the stats, so everybody could be great at something.

    If someone is unhappy about having a good character, because someone else has a better character, then that is in my oppinion a problem not related to the game.

  24. Ozy says:

    I don’t remember who originally said this, but I think it’s a very important point, Shamus: Don’t roll the dice in the first place if you’re not willing to accept the consequences. The original problem that prompted this was characters failing at some task which they could not believably fail, given their skill, due to a rather unlikely roll, with the lesson being that if you as a GM think that something would realistically just happen, then it just happens.

    In this case, the event in question would be “not having 5 18s and a 17.” If you tell your players to roll stats according to the rules as written, and one of them, honest to the gods right in front of your face, rolls those stats, it seems a bit dishonest to say, “Well I didn’t really mean it…”

  25. Jen says:

    I’d believe it. When I was about 10 I got to see my brother get dealt a royal flush in a game of casual poker. And the deck wasn’t stacked to the best of my knowledge.

    As for the argument over whether rolls make a difference, the fighter in my current party has the worst rolls of the whole group while at the same time easily kicking the most ass in combat. Our elven ranger with a Dex of 19 spends most of his time missing. And the wizard who ended up with disproportionately good stats saved us a few times in combat thanks to her high bonuses. She was wielding a dagger. And then she quit because she was a new player and it turned out that roleplaying was not for her.

  26. Cascadian says:

    Just because it’s improbable doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. However, it’s much more likely somebody cheated somehow.

    The most memorable event of improbability in any game I’ve played involved the Ghostbusters RPG, more than 20 years back. That game uses percentile dice. I can’t remember the exact scenario but the players were in a fix and their only way to survive was to “cross the streams” as in the movie. That move required a 00 to get a try at it, and then another 00 to succeed. I watched them roll both 00s, and then roll another 00 on the next attack roll. That’s a one-in-a-million event. These were the really crappy d20s that were available in boxed sets of games, with two sets of 0-9 that you could color different shades if you wanted to use them as d20s. The edges rounded away so that they’d roll forever. But there was no clear bias for 00 that I could tell.

  27. Nazgul says:

    I don’t believe it either. Let’s compare those odds with the odds of a random gamer on the internet fibbing about something like that, which are maybe 10-1 at best, LOL.

    I find point buys kinda boring. Also, I like stat-heavy characters and don’t see good/high stats as a very unbalancing thing unless you take it too far. I don’t know anyone that sits down to make a cool character to play and wants to have a sheet full of mediocre characteristics.

    When I GM, I like to let the players get numbers that get them excited about the new character, and move around the numbers to the stats they are interested in. If things tip a little in their favor at this point in character creation, it’s a poor GM that cannot (or will not) compensate for it fairly.

  28. Snook says:

    Personally I enjoy rolling for stats. Sure, you might roll poorly, but you might also roll wonderfully. And it usually balances out. In the cases that it doesn’t, the GM should either let you re-roll once, or let you point buy.

    I’ve gotten some amazing characters out of rolling for stats, that I really enjoyed playing. My favourite is my halfling wizard. He rolled an 18 for INT and DEX… and an 8 for STR. I just ran with it, and he’s managed to survive through horrifyingly long odds against him.

  29. ngthagg says:

    I am thrilled that no one has talked about the mathematics behind this, because it means that I get to be geeky in my favourite field.

    josh calculated the odds as being 1 in 282 billion (282B for ease of writing). A lot of people look at this and say it will never happen, but how many actually calculate the odds of it never happening.

    The formula is simple: the odds of this never happening is (282B – 1)^n / 282B^n over n rolls. Windows calculator isn’t being very cooperative, so I’m not sure we can trust the results, but I found with 2 billion rolls, we’re down to about a 99% chance of it never happening. I don’t really have any estimate of the total number of characters rolled over the history of gaming, so I can’t say if 2 billion is likely or not. Using an untested method, I think at about 17.8 billion, we have a >50% of it happening.

    This is an example of something called the birthday paradox, where most people are surprised to find it only takes 23 random people to have a >50% chance of two sharing a birthday.

  30. ngthagg says:

    Oops, I forgot to comment on what I thought about dice rolling for characters. I’m not a big fan of point buy. I find min/maxing really kills the enjoyment of D&D for me, and it’s just too easy with point buy systems.

    The best system I’ve seen used dice rolling, but with a set point range for acceptable characters. This resulted in character’s that were fairly close in terms of power, but had the variety of random stats.

  31. Davesnot says:

    @Eric the Baker:

    If something has a 1 in a 100,000 chance of happening, it does not mean that you need to try 100,000 times before it will happen. It could happen the 1st time. It could happen the 100,000th time. Usually it will happen somewhere in the middle.

    Actually.. it’s entirely possible to never happen in 100,000 in that example… EACH time you try there is the same odds… it doesn’t make it any more likely you’ll get the chosen result on that roll.. it’ll still be 1:100,000

    Stats are fun.

  32. Sidewinder says:

    The only real issue with stats that I’ve encountered is the dishonest people rigging theirs and leaving honest ones in the dust.

    With the new editions of D&D it got a lot easier to min-max, so having a whole bunch of good stats became unnecessary as long as the player had one or two awesome ones. The most obvious example is the “dex-fighter”. If you have a high dexterity, then none of the other stats matter. You don’t get hit because of your high AC, you attack often enough that high damage rolls are not crucial, and you have good bonuses to the stats that “matter”.

    When you take one of those dex-fighters and put him in a party with a typical build (fighter, wizard, thief, cleric) none of the other players get to do anything. The wizard is too slow or frail to be of any use unless they take all combat spells to buff or assist the dex-fighter. The thief is just as dexterous, but deals reduced damage and dies faster. The cleric is good for when the fighter gets hit, but ideally that’ll be so infrequent that it won’t matter.

    In my experience, the actual ability scores are nearly irrelevant as long as the DM is willing to put his foot down on what the players can and cannot do. Let them have their broken rolls as long as they know that they are only guests in a world you control. I’m always lax about my players’ stats. Let them have their ridiculously broken character for a few games as long as they’re all happy with who they get to play. The appeal seems to wear off rather quickly. Even min-maxers will get sick of it after a few games, and you’ll see players actually wanting bad attributes for the sake of roleplaying!

    Plus it’s a heck of a lot easier to give them free reign over the one character they control than it is to set so many arbitrary limitations that no one ends up having fun.

  33. RHJunior says:

    Simple enough to balance the challenge—
    Arrange situations where superPC’s **character class** is out of its depth.

  34. thark says:

    Only one in every million (or whatever the correct statistic might be, can’t be arsed to figure it out, probably a lot less likely) randomly generated five-man parties is going to have an all-18s character. (Or an all-17+ or whatever you want to go with for the example.)

    Which is fine for the other 999 999 parties, but if yours happens to be that single one, it’s now your problem to deal with and the fact that it’s so unlikely is no consolation.

    The D&D podcast talked about a similar problem with oldschool random treasure generation (where 1ed AD&D used to have a very slight chance of rolling up an artefact).

    I like randomization as a source of inspiration, but not in cases where balance is important, as is the case with D&D.

    (The all-low character is of course just as much of a problem, and you can probably come up with a dozen other problematic cases, each of which individually unlikely but there’s enough of them you’re like as not to run into one eventually.)

  35. General Karthos says:

    Okay… so what are the odds on rolling 3, 4, 7, 7, 6, 5?

    The character rolls so bad he couldn’t even QUALIFY for a character class. Keep in mind this was on four dice.

    People who were there and saw it could not believe it. I still don’t believe it.

  36. food4worms says:

    I think the fundamental problem with rolled stats in D&D goes back to how Gygax and crew “balanced” the game. They spent a lot of time balancing the four basic classes, but left it to randomness to deal with pretty much everything else assuming that that would keep things sane.

    The problem, therefore, with point-buy systems in D&D is that you are only concentrating your points in one, rather limited, area. If those points were also used to buy skills and powers, you wouldn’t mind so much point-buying, I’m betting (which is why GURPS and World of Darkness are also very popular).

    The problem with those kinds of point-buy systems is that it takes a very long time to generate a character. Which doubly sucks since combat also tends to be viscious in those games.

    Now, take a look at Spirit of the Century ( Each character is described by three kinds of stats. Each character has the same number of stats of the same kind (10 aspects, 15 skills, 5 stunts). Lot’s of variation is there, and it’s not a burden to come up with a new character if you need to. Ironically, however, the way the game system works you won’t be needing to do that unless you really want to.

  37. Kristin says:

    One thing I’ve done when creating multiple characters at once, that could work for parties, is roll 6xnumber of characters stats. Randomly determine who gets the highest, and work around the table. Once everyone has their high stat, switch directions for second-highest stat.

    It balances the characters without punishing anyone for insane god rolls.

  38. siliconscout says:

    true story.

    DM tosses a poster up @ DeVry looking to start a dnd club. open to all for the campaign.

    20 (think it was like 23 or 24) show.

    it’s a huge group so he says just pre-roll a 1st level using 2ed rules. No humanoids and bring it.

    Everyone showed up so the DM makes it clear, when yer dead you are gone from the game and are free to start a second or even third group until he gets down to no more than 8 players.

    I rolled up a war priest of St. Cuthbert, using a 2 handed sword with 15 in WIS and a 14 STR everything else rolled in the 7-10 range. Nothing special (thus the priest of war idea).

    This guy sits down next to me and shows me his priest (after all we are priestly brothers right). He is also a war priest but there the similarities end. You see he has straight 18’s, well except for his Charisma (pretty much the worlds most useless stat in 2ed) it happens to be a measly 17. Lucky that eh.

    He then proceeds to try to convince me that he rolled the character up just this morning with all the gusto and “honest to God’s” that only the truly fibbing can perfect.

    I shake my head, ask the DM about it but he’s swamped and could care less. Buddy next to me seems pretty cocky about that and begins to make himself insufferable.

    20 minutes into the gaming session (and about 10 deaths down) he makes a somewhat lucky roll on damage and drops the main tough guy at the thieves guild that we are trying to bust up. He proclaims himself immortal and praises all Glory to Iuz, indeed he demands we all thank Iuz that he arrived to save us. (and in fact he had indeed saved that part of the party).

    My character had arrived shortly after the falling of the tough guy and just in time for his glorious coming out. Well anyone who knows Greyhawk knows that Iuz and St. Cuthbert just don’t mix.

    With a cry of Infidel I lunge to attack. The DM OK’s the pvp action and it’s a roll.

    Initiative I got high teens he rolled a 3. I go first. I take a swing of the mighty2 hander and roll 20. A crit and in this game auto x2 damage. I don’t remember the exact damage roll but when doubled it more that killed the guy x3.

    He looked deflated to say the least, I just looked at him and said “Wow those stats sure helped eh… maybe you shouldn’t have used up all the dice god luck rolling him.”

    It was a sweet moment in what was an interestingly bloody beggining to an eventually great campaign.

  39. siliconscout says:

    one of my fave characters I ever played was named eggbert.

    All of his stats were 5 or lower except dex which was a 9. Good enough to be a thief and indeed a pick pocket at that.

    He was a coward through and through. At level 5 he had 5 hit points and took his first hit that didn’t drop him negative (4 points from a goblin dagger).

    At level 6 he got a whole 2 hp AND found a luck stone.. his most prized possession.

    At level 7 with his mighty 8 hitpoints he found gauntlets of Ogre power …. his ultimate doom was at that moment.

    Filled with the unbridled potential of not being encumbered by a dagger he actually stood up to fight when confronted by the tavern bully. He cranked him damn near through the wall and almost…. ALMOST out cold. The return shot was a crit, and even with the 50% not real damage for brawling rule killed eggbert outright.

    Prior to his death he had the killing blow on 2 ogres, 1 hill giant, a purple worm and a remohrazz all of which saved the party from a TPK. His back stabs were amazing (and lucky). He also saved them once from a Basilisk and lead it from a down and nearly crippled party evading it and sneaking back to the party.

    Most fun I ever had RPing a character.

  40. siliconscout says:

    nothing more to add just wanted to see the x2 20’s next to my name!

    HEH! 20’s FTW!!!!

  41. laesin says:

    I have to admit to an unreasoning hatred of random stat generation. This is for one reason and one reason only. My bad luck with dice is legendary. If a roll actually matters to my characters wellbeing it WILL fail, if not critically fail. On the other hand insignificant tasks with no bearing on the game will often critically succeed. Its gotten to the point that in tough combats other players take away my dice to roll them for me just so there isn’t a TPK.

  42. Snook says:

    I have atrocious luck when it comes to rolling hit points. My level 7 fighter had 26 HP (when he levelled I got lucky and rolled 10.)

  43. Dev Null says:

    Been awhile since I’ve done any tabletop gaming, but the thing I used to hate more than anything else was a set of all middle-of-the-road stats. Roleplaying extremes is amusing – the character with an 18 and a 5 gives you something to hang a personality on; a collection of all 18s would be almost as dull to play as all 11s. Unfortunately point allocation systems end up with everyone being perfectly suited to their profession and fairly generic. I always preferred things that were a bit of a mix. You know, I’m rolling a cleric so I get to roll 6 dice for wisdom, but only 3 for strength (keeping best 3). You’re far more likely to have a high stat where you need it, but you will still end up with some odd extremes in other places.

  44. Telas says:

    Is it possible? Absolutely.

    Did it happen? Of course, it’s on the Internet after all…

    RE: dice vs. point buy. I was really resistant to point buy at first, then realized it was the key to a balanced party, and embraced it.

    But then I played in a game that was rolled stats, and realized that point buy takes some fun out of the game, and turns it into an exercise in min-maxing. (Like 3.x needs any more of that…)

    Now I’ve come full circle, but I do want to have some kind of solution for either the uber-character or (more importantly) for the runt of the litter.

    Options I’ve seen include:
    – 4d6 drop lowest; reroll 1s or make 1s into 2s.
    – 4d6 drop lowest; reroll anything 7 or lower.
    – 4d6 drop lowest; reroll the lowest score if your total ability mods add up to less than 8 (before racial mods).
    – 2d4+10.
    – 3d4+6.

    Another option I’ve seen is “no more than one 18 before race mods”; the extra points can go anywhere else at a 1:1 ratio.


  45. Zimboptoo says:

    It’s not just character gen. The whole point of rolling dice is to get a random and sometimes improbable outcome.
    Case in point:
    I was in a 7th sea LARP last year wherein a group of NPC peasants mobbed a royal court. After the PCs took out a few of them, the peasants got an attack in. The STs decided that the peasants, as a whole, would roll 2k1 for attack. (For those unfamiliar with the system, (x)k(y) means you roll (x) d10s and add together the highest (y) to get the result of the roll. Also in this system, 10s explode and are re-rolled, with the new roll adding to the ten and counting as one die.) One of the STs, Andy, rolled two dice, they came up 10 and 3. So he rerolled the exploding 10. Another 10. He rerolled again, same result. At this point the rest of us were gathered around, watching. After five 10s in a row, Caitlin (the other ST) started rolling. Two more 10s, and then finally a 2. For a total of 72 on 2k1. The odds of this roll are approx. 10 million to 1 against. Thirty-odd people witnessed the roll. The STs decided that it was pretty much an auto-kill, lucky pitchfork to the neck.

  46. Inane Fedaykin says:

    This is why I like point buy.

  47. Corsair says:

    So did he get a houseruled in class, or did the guy reroll?

  48. ngthagg says:

    After some more thought, I realize that this problem is not like the birthday paradox at all (in that the odds of the particular event do not approach 1 at the same pace).

    Also after some more thought, I realized that I still don’t like calculating probabilities, especially the 4d6 ones.

  49. Although it is ridiculously improbable, I once had a set of stats that was all 18’s and one 17 come up when clicking the
    “reroll” button in Baldur’s Gate. I grant you, I’m not likely to ever do that again, and the game also does “cheat” by setting your stats to at least the minimums you needed to play a specific class.

    Remember that “unlikely” isn’t the same as “impossible”, not to mention the fact that gross mechanical systems like dice aren’t going to generate perfectly random numbers. (I had one friend who accidentally melted a d12 in his car on a hot day, and it came up 12 75% of the time it was rolled.)

    Someone usually wins the lottery, after all.

  50. ArmySyko says:

    Don’t play d20 and play Rolemaster instead. 10 stats at 60 and an extra 60 to spend how you see fit. Drop some stats, raise some others or try to beat 660 on 11d10.

    Throw the rest away.

  51. Jeff says:

    Thark: “I like randomization as a source of inspiration, but not in cases where balance is important”

    Hear hear!

    Randomization is fine and dandy, but I’d rather my players all started at an even footing. Equality of opportunity, and all that.

  52. Mari says:

    Oh, I believe it alright. I’ve sat around and watched some pretty amazing things at the game table, not the least of which would be unbelievable dice rolls in quick succession.

    But yeah, I’m with most others here in that I prefer point-buy for character generation. Not only does it eliminate that Superguy thing, but it also gives players the ability to really customize their characters. If they want a savant that shines in one stat but is garbage in the others, they can do it. If they want a rounded character, they can do that. If they want to spread a little bit of talent among several stats they can do that, too. And if they want to play a complicated class where there are three or four “prime” ability scores, point buy is about the only way to get it.

  53. Didacsoy says:

    I used to play LOTR with a GM that had a nice approach to character rolling: he let you roll three sets of stats and choose one of them, and you could trade the lowest score for a 90 ( 0) as your character’s “main” stat. That helped a heck of a lot while keeping things reasonably random, because with percentile stat rolls, most characters were quite unplayable after rolling just one set of stats.

    I loved Vampire’s point-buy system (attributes, skills and “bonus” from the same pool) however, I’m very fond of random stats provided players are reasonably shielded from complete randomness.

  54. GAZZA says:

    For each stat, you get 18 if all 4 dice are 6s, or if 3 are 6s. Out of 6^4 outcomes, there 1 of the former, and 15 of the latter, so the probability of an 18 is 16/(6^4).

    Not quite. There’s only 1 way to roll 4 6’s, of course, but there are 4 ways to roll 6665 (5666, 6566, 6656, 6665), and so on, so there are actually 21 ways to roll 18 with 4d6b3 rather than only 16. It works out to about an 18 in 1 trillion chance to roll 6 18s this way (I have no idea where 1 in 282 billion came from, sorry).

    Figuring out the probability of 5 18s and one 17 is harder, so I’ll leave that to someone else :-)

    Well, you get 17 if you roll 6655 (6 ways: 5566, 5656, 5665, 6556, 6565, 6655), 6654 (12 ways: 4566, 4656, 4665, 5466, 5646, 5664, 6456, 6465, 6546, 6564, 6645, 6654), 6653, 6652, 6651 (all 12 ways). Thats 54/1296 ways to get 17, and 21/1296 to get 18.

    The odds of rolling 5 18s followed by a 17 are therefore 21^5 * 54 / (1296)^6 [about 47 in 1 trillion]; if you don’t care what order they are rolled in, then you multiply that by 6 [279 in 1 trillion] as you could roll 17 18 18 18 18 18, 18 17 18 18 18 18, and so forth.

    (sorry, probability for RPG dice rolling is a pet hobby of mine).

    As far as the general topic is concerned: it’s not randomness per se that is problematic in RPGs (I personally like Amber and their ilk, but there’s no real issue with “to hit” rolls and saving throws), but rather investing too much importance to a single random event. If you’re at all fortunate, your D&D character will make hundreds or thousands of “to hit” rolls in his life, so the fact that any one of them is a 1 or a 20 doesn’t really matter. But he’ll only roll his Strength once.

    The surprise to me is not that point buy is so popular; it’s that anyone seriously prefers anything else. Way back as far as AD&D 1st there was invented the concept of different dice rolling methods with the obvious and expression intention of minimising the chance of bad rolls – even Gygax realised that 3d6 6 times in order wasn’t going to give you a playable character very often (and back then the methods were far more extreme: roll 6 times for each attribute and pick the best roll, generate 12 characters and pick the best one, and in Unearthed Arcana you got to roll 9 dice and pick the best three for your primary stat). I can only attribute it to some sort of gambler’s fallacy (“bad rolls won’t happen to ME!”) If you want imbalanced PCs, and you have a mature group, you certainly don’t need to rely on platonic solids to give it to you – just give the Gandalf player 40 points to play with, and the rest can have 25 or so.

  55. Benjamin Finkel says:

    I fear my comment will get swallowed in the void, but, nonetheless. I remember finding somewhere in 3rd ed’s DM’s Guide a “heroic stat progression,” where your players would have stats of all 10s, whereupon they got to choose where to apply the modifiers 8, 6, 4, 2, 0, -2, before racial bonuses and penalties to their stats. I’ve used this one ever since, and been happy with it. It makes players feel a bit better than normal NPCs (who get those modifiers halfed in my campaign, and they are happy to have mostly highly positive scores. This model still forces them to make interesting decisions, like which stat to be lowest (not all chose Charisma), and whether Dexterity or Strength really deserves the 14 stat to score those cool feats that require a 13. I think my whole group likes it, and it removes quite a bit of this whole headache for me.


  56. DocTwisted says:

    I’ve been on the other end of the spectrum… in one d20 Modern game I saw another player trying to roll up a character and getting 3, 4, 4, 3, 5, 4.

    Then there was the entire GURPS campaign where any critically important task my character had to perform (defusing a bomb, for example) would guarantee that I rolled an 18. If that campaign had been made into a movie, it’d go over budget on pyrotechnic effects.

    Oh, as for personal preference… I like using the Elite Array in DnD.

  57. Joshua says:

    Rolled stats seems fun, unless you actually roll the crappy rolls. Usually, what ends up happening is the DM ends up being nice anyways, and lets the players reroll until they get a playable character. If you’re going to do that, why not just use point-buy instead? Personally, I prefer 30 points like NWN. The joy of randomness should be in the temporary rolls like hits and saving throws, not permanent stats.

    What’s also interesting to me(especially that no one has mentioned it), is that uber stats aren’t nearly as necessary as they were in 1st and 2nd edition. Previously, unless you had at least a 16 or so in a stat, it DIDN’T Matter, because you had the same main bonus as someone with a 10. In 1st and 2nd edition, a character with all 14s is a fairly spectacular hero, but has no real game advantages over Mr. Joe Average peasant. At least in 3.x, you don’t NEED to have the uber stats(unless you’re a spellcaster, just to cast your basic higher-level spells, sigh).

  58. Shapeshifter says:

    One time i saw a guy roll up a character with 3 18s, was 3d6x9/keep 6 rolls iirc.

    These days i do point buy pretty much to sidestep that problem.

  59. Ryan says:

    I come from the idea that this game is a fantasy game where the players come ordinary circumstances and rise to the state of heroism through their actions and not their stats. With this said, I typically use a 4d6 method for rolling or the 28 point. This produces an average party with no one too extrodinary. If at some point I would have a player roll something like that, I would allow him to play those stats with the others. Even if they feel a little cheated, they must realize that if they rolled those numbers, I would allow them to play them as well. Even more so, this, once again, is a game of fantasy and sometimes superhumans are born and will rise to the roll of hero. In the same token, there are also some villians that share the same type of characteristics and could contend with the superhuman. And even if you look at his character, what class was he playing and how limited to magic is the party? If he was a fighter, he wouldn’t really be to powerful and if the magic is common, the party could catch up rather quickly to his physic.

  60. Tommi says:

    If I don’t have a character concept, rolling stats in order is a good way of generating one. The exact details of rolling are not relevant, the randomness is. If I do have a concept, just plain choosing my stats is the preferred method.

    As a GM, I let players choose their stats as long as the rest of the group agrees with their selection, which should not be a problem in most sensible groups.

    I really dislike point buy, because I don’t care about balance and don’t like making the amount of insignificant decisions that PB requires. Just get on with the game.

  61. a friend of mine is just a high roller. When he rolls his stats its a fairly common thing for him to have at least one 18 and 3 other stats 16 or higher. The remaining rolls are rarely below 13.

    Our GM specifically asks him to roll a 20 sided when needed… every time the GM asks him to roll 20, he literally rolls a 20 on a 20 sided.

    We used to play d6 Star Wars. Every roll was accompanied with one lucky 6. If the lucky 6 rolled a one, you’d have to reroll it and subtract the result from the original roll. However if you rolled a 6, you could reroll and add the result. One night the party was in a bad situation. In a fit of FUCKIT!! his character threw a dagger at the attacking Star Destroyer. He rolled so many 6’s on his lucky die that it was determined that the dagger hit a critical and unknown weakness on the Star Destroyer, causing a critical and explosive failure a la New Hope.

    The funny thing is, that same 6 sided has not rolled a 6 for him ever since…

    I watch all his rolls, I’ve checked his dice. Its not that he never rolls bad, in fact when he rolls bad, he rolls spectacularly bad, all night long. Its just that his stats always roll high, and if you ask him to roll a 20, you can expect a 20. His dice rolls are regularly a statistical anomaly. They’re not impossible, just highly improbable.

    Improbability Lich? I could strangle him if his failures weren’t so funny.

  62. Zaxares says:

    It can happen. In my years of playing RPGs, both as a DM and as a player, I’ve seen some phenomenal runs of luck (both good and bad). I still remember the time where I rolled 20 FOUR times in a row. On the same dice. I’ve also had a situation where I rolled 1 three times in a row (although it was on different dice).

    I usually avoid both the Point-Buy AND Roll 4d6 methods when allowing my players to generate characters and use my own personal house rule instead, which I call the “Heroes with Flaws” system. Here’s how it works:

    1. Pick any one stat. You have 18 in that stat, not counting any racial bonuses.

    2. Pick another stat. You have 15 in that stat, not counting any racial bonuses.

    3. You have 50 more points to assign among your remaining stats on a 1-for-1 basis, as you see fit. You may not add these points to the two existing stats you’ve already chosen.

    This creates characters that are a cut above the rest, with the option of creating stupidly min-maxed characters if the player so wishes. It satisfies the people who want to play characters that are exceptional (and let’s admit it, we play D&D to be HEROES, not Commoners who went into adventuring. Well, not usually anyway.), and it levels the playing field by giving all players the same stat total.

    Oh, and incidentally, my veteran players know NOT to use Charisma as a dump stat, since I allow psionics in my campaigns and Ego Whip is thus a constant threat…

  63. Stormcaller says:

    The Worst I saw:
    I ran a high level game a while back with roll 7 lots of 5 dice, keep the best three and drop the worst set. – They were the chosen of the gods or somesuch.

    After the first player rolled his, before the others arrived I had to modify it to be as such with minium 11 due to him pulling a max of 9 with this method. I was expecting a range of 12-18 initially. I still only had one person in the group (of 6 players who had 2 18s.

    The Best I saw:
    A game I played where the GM was rather fond of train lines, at level 3 he decided that we were not heading in the right direction so put a huge green dragon in front of us. He also had decided earlier that 20’s exploded, not just critted. I watched the rogue roll 5 20’s then a 6 i think for an instant kill on this dragon. The GM who had not been paying attention denied it and requested a reroll, at which point the new total was 154. These die are, as far as we are aware, not loaded as if anyone other than their owner uses them they come up <10, if he uses them they are consistantly 15+

  64. Eric the Baker says:


    Actually.. it’s entirely possible to never happen in 100,000 in that example… EACH time you try there is the same odds… it doesn’t make it any more likely you’ll get the chosen result on that roll.. it’ll still be 1:100,000

    Stats are fun.

    Good point. I knew that and should have taken that next logical step and mention that in my comment. Dunno why I didn’t. Glad you picked it up.

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