Thursday, July 8, 2010

Random thoughts: Rollin' up characters

Does anyone else do this: you see three 6-siders sitting somewhere and, in an idle moment, pick them up and roll them.  If the result is high enough (for me, the threshold seems to be 16), you think "Hey, this could be the makings of a good character!" and roll the dice 5 more times, perhaps even writing down the results on the back of an envelope or an old receipt.  I confess that I do this all the time;* after all, a good dice roll should not go to waste.  That said, I can't imagine a circumstance wherein I would actually use these archived dice rolls for a character.  I mean, I'm not about to sit down at a gaming table and reach into a hat stuffed with these odd scraps of paper and use the selected set of dice rolls for my new character; I'm gonna' roll the dice all over again!

* I have a set of 3 dice sitting by my computer with which my wife and I sometimes play an impromptu yahtzee-like game.

One of the outcomes of this habit is that my preferred D&D ability rolling method has changed from the old AD&D standby Best-3-of-4 to this technique: I roll 3 dice, if one (or more) turns up a "1", I re-roll it/them one time. If I get another 1 on the re-roll, I'm stuck with it.  I like it because now 1s become a symbol of new hope, of a second chance.  In fact, I was inspired to write this post when, moments ago, I rolled a 5 and two 1s, re-rolled the ones and--Bingo!--scored a pair of 6s.  From a 7 to a 17 just like that!  Whereas with the best of 4 method, I could have hoped for a 12 at best.  Of course, with this method, you roll three 2s and you're stuck with a 6, whereas in the best of 4 method you have a 4 in 6 chance of upgrading at least a little bit. I don't know if a method like this has ever been endorsed by any version of The Game, but I find the added dice rolling to be very satisfying without introducing a munchkinriffic element.*

* For a really good munchkin system, Unearthed Arcana, I believe, introduced a method where you rolled your six abilities using an ascending number of dice for each roll starting at 3 dice and working up to 8 dice, taking the best 3 of each set. We called it the Steroid method back in the day.

The other thing I've started doing is adding up the total net bonuses of the "characters" I've made in this way.  First you need a universal bonus set up to use.  For a while I was switching between several universal bonus systems: the Old School +1 for abilities 15 or higher, and a standardized system based on AD&D.   But I've settled on what I call the "Post Modern" system; you're probably familiar with it: 9-12 = 0, 13-15 = +1, 16-17 = +2, 18 = +3 with symmetrical penalties at the lower end of the spectrum.  Castles & Crusades and, I think, Labyrinth Lord, use an identical arrangement.  I add up the total bonus/penalty to get a nice, neat assessment of how good the "character" is, attribute-wise.  What's been shocking to me is when I roll up a character that, in my AD&D trained eyes, looks like a total Fudd but ends up being a pretty decent dude in the final analysis.  For instance, I rolled up one character with a 15, four 13s and a 12.  Using the old AD&D bonuses, you'd immediately slap that 15 on your Dex or Con and take the AC bonus or an extra hit point, and then you'd have 5 meaningless scores to spread across the rest of your humdrum character.  Using the Post Modern bonus system, this seeming Fudd scores a +5 total bonus, which I can say with confidence, after assessing at least a hundred "characters" in this fashion, is pretty excellent.

As an aside, the dice in the illustration* above are ephed up: or at least the one in the middle is.  Everyone knows that the numbers on opposing faces of a 6-sider always add up to 7, and yet there you see the 3 and 4 sitting right next to each other.  Amateurs.

*Thanks, by the way, to the Folks at the National Parks Service for providing this image in an item about the historic game "Farkle"  which was apparently a popular dice game in the colonial era.  I'm more familiar with it as a drinking game played by snooty grad students.

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