4d6 Drop Lowest

The more I read, play, and think about the B/X rules, the more I find myself undoing the various houserules and “fixes” I’ve implemented over the years. The more I work out what the rules really say and the more I’m able to let go of assumptions brought into B/X from other editions, the better I think the best version of the game keeps getting.

One houserule that I think I’d like to drop but won’t, though, is the ability score generation. Rather than 3d6 in order with a limited 2-for-1 point swap, we go with 4d6 drop lowest and arrange as desired.

Personally, I think 3d6 gives perfectly playable results, and perhaps even BETTER results, in game terms. However, players seem to be universally opposed to in-order rolling and the dejection of players over a few bad rolls really can sour the session.

So 4d6 drop lowest, arrange as desired is it for us. While I may have no issues deciding to go with a fighter instead of a thief because I rolled crappy Dexterity–or I may be perfectly willing to play a thief with crappy Dexterity–many players are not so inclined. I can explain to them all night long that the randomness of the rolls can bring out fun that was not expected, but they’re still going to be pouting because they really wanted to play a thief this time. So arrange as desired and play your thief, gosh darnit.

Same goes for 4d6 drop lowest vs. 3d6. Sure, we all know that 3d6–on average–gives perfectly playable ability scores for a game with power levels like B/X. But telling that to the player who just rolled a 4 and will be suffering a significant mechanical penalty forever just doesn’t work. “But your weak Constitution and reduced hit points will make this a FUN character to roleplay and you can make his fragility a memorable experience!” just isn’t going to cut it with most players most of the time.

So 4d6 drop lowest and arrange as desired might be a sop to the players, but it’s a reasonable one that I’m happy to make. I want my players to want to play B/X.

Of course, this all leads to the “dump stat Charisma” problem. But that’s a post for another day.

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13 Responses to 4d6 Drop Lowest

  1. I’m splitting the difference these days. Players can roll 3d6 six times and arrange them as they like, OR they can roll 4d6 drop the low roll but in order. So far, it’s working well. If a player is dead set on a certain class, they risk lower average scores. If they’re willing to let the dice show them what to play, they get slightly higher average scores.

    And once one veteran player showed them the value of NPC men-at-arms (limited by Charisma), no one thinks of it as a dump stat anymore!

    • Kilgore says:

      I agree that Charisma should NOT be a dump stat. But 35 years of the game tell me that most players think it is.

      I am working hard to increase the prominence of retainers in my B/X game and will have a post about my efforts in the near future. I hope it’s a report about success, but so far it’s looking real iffy…

      • Dennis Laffey says:

        Well, to be honest for many years I thought of Charisma as a dump stat!

        I’ve found that when trying to explain the benefit of retainers and henchmen to younger players who stared on 3E or newer editions, it helps to explain that these NPCs are how you increase your “action economy” in OSR games. Charisma (and funding) is your “action economy” stat. Then they get it.

  2. Geoffrey McKinney says:

    One of my own favorite PCs of all time is an OD&D magic-user with an intelligence score of 3 (rolled using 3d6 in order, set in stone). I play him as an idiot who nevertheless has an instinctive genius about magic spells.

    • Kilgore says:

      I can see this and I can imagine how it could be fun. But I can also imagine the disappointment of a player when their new PC’s Intelligence “sucks.” Especially since most versions of the game place a premium on above-average scores.

      My guess is that people who have been playing longer and have had more PCs in more kinds of games are more able to see that the numbers do not make the character.

  3. JTB says:

    One system I use is a variation of 4d6 drop. One die is different from the other 3, and must be used. The player then drops the lowest of the other 3…

  4. JB says:

    When I’ve run B/X, I’ve always used 3D6 with the trade 2-for-1 (prime requisite only, no reduction of DEX, CON, or CHA). I’ve found this creates very optimal characters for B/X due in no small part to the liberal ability score bonuses of the system.

    That being said, this week I’ve been looking at variation systems for generating AD&D characters and, clearly, this system doesn’t work. What’s more the variant systems presented in the 1E DMG doesn’t generate particularly good AD&D characters either (after testing). And yet, we always used 4D6 for AD&D “back in the day” and it seemed to work just fine. Right now, I’m leaning towards Alexis’s system of ability score generation:


  5. Mark says:

    We offer an extra level if you iron man it with 3d6 in order.

  6. Pingback: Range:0 for Read Magic | Lord Kilgore

  7. Taber says:

    A compromise I’ve seen in some OSR games is allowing players to swap two ability scores if they wish. Say you did roll a high Charisma and middling Dexterity, but you wanted to play a thief; you can swap those two scores.

    In Five Torches Deep, this is presented as the “racial bonus” of humans, which I think is neat.

    • Kilgore says:

      Yeah we’ve definitely used the “swap two scores” method in the past. I’ve also done a “roll 6 in order, then roll a 7th and swap it with one of the 6 if you want.”

      As I said in the post, I’d be fine with some form of 3d6 and might even think it’s BETTER. But there are more things to consider than just my opinions, and I also don’t mind slightly improved ability scores for B/X. Especially since we rarely have 6-8 characters in a party like the game is designed for.

      And I don’t mind arranging scores that much, since most players seem to prefer more control over what they play. I don’t blame them for that at all, and I don’t see it as being terribly important either way.

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