Building a Better D&D

#2
Start Where the Players Start

For a long time character generation methods have been a particular interest of mine.  One of the contributing factors to my decision to start this project was a bit of an epiphany I had.  Now, other people have certainly come to this same realization but I got here on my own.  What happened was I started to adjust the ability score charts to make the bonuses available to a wider spread of scores.

It seems obvious now.  I'd said for a long time in talking about character generation methods that the reason there were so many different attempts to change the way the scores were generated was because the bonuses were set so high on that 3-18 scale.  It's no surprise then that I was toying around with making changes to those charts.  And of course it just suddenly made sense that instead of tweaking how we generate scores (which had become akin to beating ones head on a brick wall - there just wasn't any more that could be gotten out of it from that direction) we needed to tweak what those scores actually GOT us.

As players we just have this weird desire to see bonuses.  Who'da thought?  Having a higher Dexterity than the next character obviously shows you that yours is superior.  But that doesn't MEAN anything until you see a bonus that demonstrates concretely WHY your higher Dexterity is superior.  If an 8 and a 14 both have no modifiers and aren't otherwise used directly there's do demonstrable difference between them in the game mechanics.

Back in Holmes basic where I started playing D&D it almost didn't even matter what your ability score was because it just didn't change anything.  There were all of three bonuses to be had - a high prime requisite gave you an xp bonus, high Constitution gave you more hit points, high Dexterity gave you a bonus to hit on missile fire.  THAT'S IT.  With such limited bonus structure it was sort of silly to be desperate for high Strength for a fighter or Intelligence for a magic-user.  3d6 in order was quite adequate because there was no difference between a 7 strength and a 17.  If you felt you needed to modify your scores you could sacrifice from one score to improve another at a rate of 2:1 or 3:1.  There was little point to doing so unless it could give you that bonus to xp.

That changed dramatically in moving on to AD&D.  There were a LOT more bonuses to be had - but you had to roll very well to get them.  I think that worked for a while, but soon enough players started deciding that instead of just taking whatever they got they wanted to play a specific class and race.  The combination meant that there was now a significant reason to have certain high scores in certain places.  Allowing players to arrange their scores as they wanted helped, but the simple fact that a 3d6 curve made the bonus-granting scores uncommon-to-rare meant that there came a constant effort to make getting those scores a more reliable exercise.  The fact that most methods to do so were still random meant that such reliability was elusive.

Follow that link above and look again at the generation methods given in the 1E DMG.  Method # 1 is 4d6 arrange to suit, and it has been by far the most commonly used random method even across multiple editions, but that didn't stop people from still looking for a better way to get those bonuses.  The other three are just variations on defeating the charted odds of getting bonuses by making a LOT more 3d6 rolls.  That Unearthed Arcana method... well aside from the fact that rolling 9d6 and taking the best 3 for ability scores is just outrageous it was INTENDED to be used only by Human PC's and varied according to class.  But it shows the lengths that people were going to - and worst of all they still remained dissatisfied with the results.

In one sense at least 3rd Edition actually got it right by making bonuses so much easier to get by adjusting the charts, not the dice.  I believe this is what AD&D needs to do as well - to adjust the charts.  Hell, using "Ironman" 3d6 with the original AD&D charts you will statistically have more penalties than bonuses!

Take a look at the changes to the Strength Chart:

Ability Score To-Hit Damage
3 -3 -1
4 -2 -1
5-6 -1 -
7-11 - -
12-13 - +1
14-15 +1 +1
16 +1 +2
17 +2 +2
18 +2 +3

A 12 already grants a bonus to damage and the penalties start at 6, not 7.  Note also that there's no provision for Super Strength.  That's an entirely separate argument but I'll just sum it up by saying % Strength was a bad design move and since it's intended to grant superiority to fighters there are better ways of going about that.  Any bonuses that a fighter might have lost for not getting Super Strength will be mostly made up elsewhere if not exceeded.

Here's the Dexterity chart:

Ability Score Reaction/Attacking Adjustment Defensive Adjustment
3 -3 +4
4 -2 +3
5 -1 +2
6 - +1
7-13 - -
14 - -1
15 +1 -1
16 +1 -2
17 +2 -3
18 +3 -4

Top end bonuses are the same as they used to be, but the threshold for bonuses has shifted down to 14-15.  Not as generous a spread as Strength but better than the 15-16 that had been required.

Here's the Constitution chart:

Ability Score Hit Points System Shock Resurrection
3 -2 35 40
4 -1 40 45
5 -1 45 50
6 -1 50 55
7 - 55 60
8 - 60 65
9 - 65 70
10 - 70 75
11 - 75 80
12 - 80 85
13 +1 85 90
14 +1 88 92
15 +2 91 94
16 +2 95 96
17 +3 97 98
18 +4 99 100

Here the change is also rather minimal, with the bonus being extended two points lower and everything else remaining identical, but even that extension will be significant.

None of those changes guarantee a bonus of any kind, just makes it more likely, especially for something closer to a straight 3d6 for stat generation.  Players will still want 18's but they'll be able to be satisfied with lesser scores because they'll have a bonus of SOME degree.  They'll be less likely to feel like their PC sucks against another PC who happened to make better rolls.

These charts better fit a default method of using even mere 3d6 rolls for stats.  The dynamic between the two is, I think, better than what can be achieved by using all those methods intended to defeat the odds of 1E.  It is at least a better way to approach the problem.  Look at the expected probabilities for the expected method of generation, and then provide the expected chances for bonuses/penalties by making the charts fit that.

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