Character Creation: Ability Scores – DM’s Pocket Guide
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Rachel: Okay, so today we’re talking about determining character ability scores as part of character creation.
Tricia: Yes, this was something that I didn’t actually realize there multiple ways of doing it, because I just used D&D Beyond stuff where it’s like, “Here’s your standard array, put them accordingly.” I think that’s what you taught me, because that’s what you knew. So I didn’t know there were other options until we started playing with different people and they were like, “Do you want to do standard array or this or this?” and I was like, “Wha-ha-ha-ut?”
R: Yeah, so there’s three different ways to go about doing this. The first way that’s in the book is the chaos way. It says you generate your character’s six ability scores randomly by rolling four 6-sided dice and recording the total of the highest three. So roll four, discard the lowest one.
T: That prevents you from getting truly abysmal characters?
R: Uhhhh, yeah, well, no, actually. This is the most chaotic method of doing it, because there is the possibility of you rolling four 1s and having a character with an ability score of 3.
T: That’s true. But by having the fourth dice, it is trying to prevent that as much as possible.
R: Yeah. The law of averages should even you out to something nice and rounded. It’s true the other way as well, that you could end up with – the highest score possible with this is 18, which is way way up there. So yeah, if you enjoy chaos, I know this is a good method for, maybe if you don’t know what kind of character you want to make, you can roll the dice and have them decide. So if you ended up with a really high strength score and a really high charisma score, well that’s leaning toward a paladin. So yeah, that’s one way to do it.
T: I like this. I haven’t done this way yet, and I now want to, cuz it appeals to me in that – biological determination, that this way is, well you’re just given these sets of skills. What do you make with them? Versus what we will talk about next.
R: Okay, well maybe there’s a game in our future with that. The next one is the standard array. There is a set of six figures that you will apply to your ability scores – 15, 14, 13, 12, 10 and 8. So that way you’re guaranteed to get a couple of good scores, a couple of bad scores, and a couple of mediocre kinds of things. It’s the most even way of distributing your ability score points.
T: I’m trying to think if there’s much to say about it other than that is very even and controlled. It’s the easiest way to make sure you have a balanced party.
R: Or a balanced character, at least.
T: Well, but party too! Cuz then you’re guaranteed that there isn’t going to be that one character that’s so powerful or so tragic.
R: That’s true, but I mean, this is before we apply any sort of racial bonuses to it, so you could still end up with a character that piles everything into a single –
T: Yes, but then they’re still only guaranteed a single really good thing. The foundation is the most even.
R: No, I agree with that, for sure. And then the last one is a variant way of addressing ability scores. This is the point-buy system. I think this is the one that D&D Beyond steers you towards straight away, is the point-buy. The way it’s described in the book is a little counterintuitive in the age of technology when you can literally just click up and down on a thing. You have 27 points to distribute. Everything starts with, I believe an 8, and then you buy up with the different scores.
T: You’re looking at me like I should know, but I literally always just choose standard array when I make a character on D&D Beyond.
R: Oh, interesting. I’ve always been funneled into point-buy.
T: Well, keep telling me about it.
R: So with point-buy, in the book it’s limited to the highest score you can get is 15, so similar to standard array. It puts that limitation on there. You can’t get above that, above that number. It allows for a bit more customization, so if you wanted to be really good in two skills, you could buy them both up to a 15, and then have like, two really bad ones. So yeah, if you want to create a character that is all about something and has nothing to do with something else, then this is the way to do it.
T: So it’s still even in that you can’t just be like, “I’m perfect at everything!” But you can be much better at more skills, so long as you’re willing to compromise by being much worse at more skills.
R: Yeah, exactly that, yeah.
T: Okay, and where is all of this information?
R: This is all very early on the Player’s Handbook. Page 13 in the Player’s Handbook.
T: Page 13. So with this one in particular, I do want to just end by summarizing: On page 13, there’s three different ways to determine your ability scores when you’re character creating. There’s the chaos method where you use four d6s and use the highest of three, and that’s the most chaotic. There’s the standard array, which those numbers are in the book. You have to choose those and allot them to different abilities. And then there’s the point-buy system where you have 27 points and you can determine how you want to allot those points to different skills.
T: Alright! Well, let’s make some characters!
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