We’re going to go mostly by-the-book in our new 1e AD&D campaign, emphasis on “mostly.”
Here are two passages from the Gygax himself on generating ability scores:
The range of these abilities is between 3 and 18. The premise of the game is that each player character is above average — at least in some respects — and has superior potential. Furthermore, it is usually essential to the character’s survival to be exceptional (with a rating of 15 or above) in no fewer than two ability characteristics. (PHB, pg 9)
While it is possible to generate some fairly playable characters by rolling 3d6, there is often an extended period of attempts at finding a suitable one due to quirks of the dice. Furthermore, these rather marginal characters tend to have short life expectancy — which tends to discourage new players, as does having to make do with some character of a race and/or class which he or she really can’t or won’t identify with. (DMG, pg 11)
The Dungeon Masters Guide then goes on to list Methods I, II, III, and IV, all of which are likely to get a PC with better average scores than straight 3d6. Methods I and II and also give the player control over which scores go where. While I freely admit to using all of these methods back in the day, and several others besides, I have come to believe that the distribution of 3d6 is superior.
However, the points about survivability and player satisfaction are not completely without basis. Though I have no issue with the game being lethal, I’ve also grown tired of spending so much of our time rolling up new PCs and starting over at 1st level so often. And as this is a GAME that we play for ENJOYMENT and FUN, I don’t have any problem with players having at least a little control over what sort of character they’re going to play.
As for the ability of low-level PCs being able to survive, we’re addressing that by having all PCs begin play at 3rd level. The increased hit points, combat ability, and spell availability means that PCs should be able to have good chance to get out of bad situations before half the party is dead. PCs will start with no XP, however, so they’ll still have to earn their way to 4th level. I think this will make the game more fun for everyone involved without doing significant damage to balance.
For ability score generation, we’re going to use
3d6 are rolled seven times, generating the scores STR, INT, WIS, DEX, CON, and CHA in order plus a bonus roll. Any two scores, including the bonus roll, may be swapped. Then the seventh score is dropped.
This preserves the results curve of 3d6 and the creativity-inducing randomness of rolling in order while allowing players to possibly eliminate a real low score by swapping it with the bonus roll or putting their best score in the ability of their choice.
For instance, say a player rolls the following:
If the player wishes to play a magic-user, great. Swap that bonus roll with one of the other scores and get on with it. But say the player wishes to play a fighter. Suddenly a decision needs to be made. Does he swap the 16 INT for the STR 9? That would get him come positive combat modifiers, but it leaves that bonus roll of 13 unused.
This is pretty much what we used in our Labyrinth Lord games, and we’ve been pretty pleased with the results. We’ll see how well it translates to AD&D. I’m expecting it will work just fine.