3d6 or 4d6, Concluded

For previous posts on this topic, see this and this.

First, the thread I started on the Goblinoid Games Labyrinth Lord forum sort of took off. A lot of great discussion there. Here are a few things I particularly liked:

What I like for a retro game like LL is 3d6 assign in order. To do a quick sample:

1st roll = 9

Before I go any further, I have to assign this to one of the six. It’s not what I want for a prime ability score, so I’ll go elsewhere. Always good to have at least average Con, and Con 9 will keep Dwarf and Halfling an option, so I assign this to Con.

The idea is that you have to slot your roll before making the next roll, which seems like a workable compromise between “in order” and “arrange to taste.” If you’re set on playing a magic-user, you wait until you get a good roll to fill the Int slot. Though, of course, you may not get a good roll. Or, you may get a better one later. As in Yahtzee, it’s up to you if you use that roll for ‘4 of a Kind’ or for ‘Threes’.

I like to have humans roll 5d6 (dropping the lowest two rolls) to make them larger-then-life types, but non-humans roll 4d6 (dropping the lowest roll).

From the comment it sounds like demi-humans do NOT have level limits in his game. This seems like a decent idea for mere humans in such a game.

But the first thing I’d consider to “power down” B/X/LL would be to scale back the ability modifiers*. Something like this, maybe:

(sample Strength mod)

3-4 …… -2
5-6 …… -1
7-14 …… 0
15-16 .. +1
17-18 .. +2

I actually think I prefer bonuses to start at 15, but changing the ability modifier scheme is a bigger change than altering the method of rolling up abilities in the first place. Though I’m not at all a dead-on by-the-book player by any means, I also don’t like to tinker with things more than I feel is necessary. The low power curve of Swords & Wizardry White Box (based on OD&D with no supplements) made it just fine for PCs to usually have no bonuses at all, but LL is designed with at least some bonuses in mind. If bonuses are lowered, PCs are at an unfair disadvantage unless abilities are actually RAISED to make up for it. This problem is summed up here:

It’s been my experience that lowering the ability score modifiers actually just encourages the players to only accept higher scores. I’d rather give a +1 at 13 and have PCs with high stats of 15 than have players all refusing to play a character that doesn’t have at least one 17 or 18.


Here’s an interesting idea:

I just had a weird thought for combining 3d6 and 4d6. Give each ability a starting and potential maximum stat. It would work like this:

For each ability, roll three regular dice and one die of a different color – the potential die. The starting level of an ability is the total of the first three dice. The maximum level of the ability is the total of the three highest of all four dice. For example:

Rolling for Strength, a player rolls 4, 3 and 3 on the first three dice and a 6 on the potential die. Starting Strength is 4 + 3 +3, or 10. The potential maximum is the highest three of the four die (4,3,3,6) or 4+3+6 or 13. So the character would list Strength as 10/13. His staring Strength would be 10 but over time he could raise it to 13.

To raise abilities, every time a character goes up a level, he can raise one ability of his choice by +1, provided the ability is below its maximum.

I’ve long thought about how to allow ability increases in a reasonable manner. It’s something that we’ve never done, but I can see it being worth thinking about. This particular method sounds sort of cool.

If you’re interested in the topic of rolling up abilities, I heartily recommend reading through the entire thread. Add your own thoughts, too.

As for me, reading through the feedback here and on the board has got me pretty much convinced that 3d6 is the way to go. With bonuses available at 13, 4d6 just gives out too many pluses without enough minuses.

My plan is to use 3d6, though I haven’t decided if it’s going to be:

  1. 3d6 in order, with 2-for-1 adjustment allowed as per the rules, or
  2. 3d6, arrange as desired, or
  3. 3d6, let the player choose one of the above options before rolling

Either method will allow a player to create the class of character he or she desires, which is something that I do think is in the best interest of everyone at the table.

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12 Responses to 3d6 or 4d6, Concluded

  1. Greg says:

    I want to try the option of roll and assign on the spot – really appealing to me – sorta adds a gambling element to generation of characters.

    • Kilgore says:

      That is a pretty intriguing idea. I’ve never heard of it before. Not sure that I would really want to use it, but it sounds like a cool concept.

  2. Tacoma says:

    In one OD&D variant game I ran, the playtesters all roleld 3d6 in order. Only two players had an ability score modifier, and both were positive.

    To get a modifier, you had to have less than 7 or greater than 14. So the bulge of the bell curve resulted in most people falling between 7 and 14.

    So the modifiers were:
    3-6: -1
    7-14: +0
    15-18: +1

    There were racial modifiers, so it’s possible someone could have a 19. For 19+ the modifier was +2. But this is equivalent to an Ogre’s Strength, so it’s generally outside the normal maximum.

    They knew that in that game, stats affected my decisions but that small modifiers were really important. A lot of rolls were on d6, so +1 is a big deal. But the system was based on a DM decision to allow success, require a roll, or guarantee failure. Only if you had to roll did your modifiers come in. But your stats would play into my decision on whether or not you had to roll. And use of tools, preparation, etc would make a big difference in that decision.

    It’s not exactly freeform, the stats play a big part, but having average stats is okay because the average person is capable of quite a lot. To play like that you just need a reasonable DM who is not an adversary to the players.

    • Kilgore says:

      That sounds good to me, but as I note in the reply to Paladin’s comment below, I wonder if that’s the GM in me that digs it and that players wouldn’t necessarily be so excited by the idea.

  3. A Paladin In Citadel says:

    I like your solution, it seems a fair compromise, but still keeping stat inflation in check.

    My only gripe with the b/x/ll modifiers is it creates stat inflation pressure, by having the +2 and +3 modifiers. With the old -1/+1 modifiers, there’s little pressure for a high stat, since it gives you no extra advantage. If I get a +1 at 14, and a +1 at 17, there’s not pressure for stat inflation.

    • Kilgore says:

      My only gripe with the b/x/ll modifiers is it creates stat inflation pressure, by having the +2 and +3 modifiers. With the old -1/+1 modifiers, there’s little pressure for a high stat, since it gives you no extra advantage. If I get a +1 at 14, and a +1 at 17, there’s not pressure for stat inflation.

      Agreed. That’s something that I really like in Swords & Wizardry White Box. 15 or greater gives +1 only.

      I wonder, though, how many mostly-player players appreciate this. Is it only mostly-GM players who think that sort of thing makes for a better game? Not because mostly-player players are power-grubbing, but because they like the variation available.

      For instance, I can see having a lot of fun GMing a game where the only classes available for PCs are fighters and magic-users. Or even only fighters, for that matter. But I doubt many players would be excited to run PCs in it.

  4. Skeezix says:

    Statistics are jack, the player is the important part of the equation. Roll 3d6 in order, fill out your character sheet.

    Now play the game. Roll the dice and stop worrying about whether you’ve got STR 7 or STR 18. If you’re worried about that? Chances are you’re playing the wrong edition.

    Good god, what a bunch of whiners.

    • Kilgore says:

      the player is the important part of the equation


      Roll the dice and stop worrying about whether you’ve got STR 7 or STR 18. If you’re worried about that? Chances are you’re playing the wrong edition.

      Ah. Play to have fun. And have fun the way you say. Got it.

      Good god, what a bunch of whiners.

      Well, I see at least one.

  5. Jack Colby says:

    I’m mostly a DM, and I still prefer the range of modifiers. The numbers in Moldvay are fine by me, as written, and fit well with the natural probabilities of a 3d6 roll. Some people talk about the higher modifiers like they are forcing players to only accept high ability score rolls, but since when did players get to decide if their scores were good enough? There’s advice for the DM about hopeless characters, but there is no mention of allowing players the choice to reroll! Also remember a zero modifier is not shabby at all, that is average, as in “most characters will be within this range”. A positive modifier is a rarity and something to treasure, not a “right” of each and every character rolled. That said, for someone with a 14 to have the same modifier as someone with an 18, well, that just seems wrong to me. If that’s true, the 1-18 scale is pointless and you might want to just use this for each ability score: 1d6 Roll of 1-2 = -1 modifier, 2-3 = o modifier, 4-6 = +1 modifier.

    • A Paladin In Citadel says:

      I often use the stats as “challenge” scores, so if you have a higher Dex, you might have a better chance of avoiding falling rocks, for example. And I allow characters to carry 10 times their Stength score. SO the stats do matter.

      The 3d6 character creation creates a bellcurve distribution that you won’t get with one d6, or one d20.

      To each his own though. SOme people like the extraordinary strength rules in AD&D. If that’s what someone wants in their game, more power to them.

  6. bat says:

    Obviously Lord Kilgore is a bit of a softie when running the actual game. I allow the players to 4d6 because they will be facing a relentless meatgrinder.

  7. Rob says:

    Eh, having a magic user with an 7-8 intelligence doesn’t actually bother me in the slightest – There are plenty of dopes who make it through engineering or math degrees either by stubbornness, hard work, or dumb luck.

    My usual system is 3d6, assign at will. That way everybody can play the class they want. Re-roll more than twice and be made relentless fun of, ya sissy. (I once saw someone reroll 237 times with a computerized die roller. He was going for two 17s. I made him reroll once more and keep whatever came up.) I keep debating offering “3d6 in order” characters an extra 50 starting gold or 100 free XP as a reward, but I haven’t tried it yet.

    This is mostly because the way I see it, it happens like this:
    1) Players roll 3d6 in order.
    2) Player want higher scores, so they reroll a lot.
    3) The system designers say meh, let’s roll with it. Next edition uses 4d6 drop lowest.
    4) Some DMs toughen the monsters, because everyone is using 4d6.
    5) The system designers again roll with it. Next edition has tougher monsters. Everything is now balanced again. Just like it was in step 1.

    …Well that was pointless, wasn’t it?

    I’ll just hang out at 3d6, thanks. The probabilities at least normalize into a bell curve. A ten foot pole, creative use of rope, and knowledge of when to run will keep you alive a lot longer than an 18 strength anyway.

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