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Sunday, June 15, 2014

What Makes 3d6 in Order so Special?


When I came into the RPG hobby back in Junior High in 1980/81, character generation was 4d6 (drop the lowest) and arrange as you see fit. Pretty much every group I played in rolled that way, with a few campaigns rolling 5d6 and dropping the two lowest. And then came Unearthed Arcana, with it's 3d6 to 9d6 method, depending on class or attribute - that was like characters on steroids before steroids were big ;)

It seemed to be the groups that had been playing since the White Box were big on the 3d6 in order. I didn't realize this until years later. When we played with a previous generation of gamers (back then, it seemed like every 4 years was a new generation) it was strict and by the book - or at least, strictly by that group's set of houseruled rules. In Junior High or High School playing with a College group - it might have been AD&D, but it wasn't the AD&D we played, and it always was 3d6 in order and no level bump. The party is in their low teens and you and another are 1st level and your highest ability is a 12? Maybe, just maybe, if you hide in the back you'll survive to level 2. Or, failing that, survive until the first food break and then leave ;)

When I rolled an 18 on 3d6 for strength in +Matt Finch 's game at NTRPG Con last weekend, it was the first time I've rolled a PC using that method in nearly 30 years. Probably the first 18 that wasn't the result of rolling dozens of characters using the method and than cherry picking (which you would do as a teen - we even did it on 4d6).

That 18 was special. I also didn't have much of a class choice at that point, as my next highest score was a 12, and I did have a 5 and a 7 in the mix (wisdom and intelligence respectively).

I'm not sure I'd run a campaign with 3d6 in order these days, but a funnel via the DCC RPG method to weed out the chaff? Yep, that I can see. I like that idea, actually. It's like rolling multiple characters but not really having sole decision over which one wins out in the end...

15 comments:

  1. I only briefly played Basic D&D by the book, so I only had a tiny handful of 3d6 in order guys. After that, we used the 4d6 drop lowest from the DMG a lot, and I remember 6d6 in order, drop the lowest 3 used at least once. Once UA came out we switched the 9-3 order one. We had fantastic games and PCs suddenly survived a lot longer, which I think was a serious boon since in Elementary School and Junior High School kids would drop in, roll up a guy, die, and then stop playing. The ones with a guy that survived generally stuck it out longer. Character death was often a signal to quit and not come back for the less dedicated - or even to just start a new campaign with one of the other GMs. Even the dedicated types would sometimes stop for a while after a PC died off. So the better stats = more HP and better "to hit" = longer lasting characters probably helped a lot now that I think about it. We had a lot less player turnover in the UA-era games than in the earlier games.

    I supposed with White Box it doesn't matter - the stats seem to be largely useless by the book, unless you happen to have a high ST and a fighter, and even then it feels marginal. But I haven't played White Box so I couldn't tell you from experience.

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  2. 3d6 is great for pushing you out of your comfort zone and into better role playing.

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    1. I couldn't agree more, Pat. It's a healthy thing to have to play a class you normally avoid, and it's also good to take what might seem like an average character and individualise him/her.

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  3. The power curve for stats was flatter back then, too. BTB white box your stats barely mattered, no matter what class you were. It wasn't until Greyhawk that STR even gave bonuses to hit or damage. The only real reason to let your stats influence your class choice was the XP bonus.

    As far as low-level characters joining a mid-level party, it was a bit rough, but you could almost certainly have the best armor class in the game (or at least that your class could use) right out of the gate if your party was willing to spot you even a modest amount of cash... you could often afford it out of your own starting money. One thing I think we sometimes waved was the rule about not getting more than one level on an adventure if you were lower level than the rest of the party... though maybe we just let the group manipulate that a bit by running back to town...

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  4. For those concerned about character survivability, I think providing characters with maximum gold to start is a better place to start than ramping up attribute scores or hit points. Having said that, when running games with a standard attribute modifier range, I do allow characters with a net modifier of less than 0 to re-roll.

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  5. That picture-are you sure it the method used wasn't roll 4d6, Ashley eats the lowest?

    We used 4d6-L, arrange. And since you were doing this alone before the game, keep rolling until you got a good array, or realize that super low score was because the dice bounced off something and therefore it was an invalid roll.

    Hey, what can I say. We went on to elect Jesse "If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying*" Ventura governor.

    *He actually said that during a commencement speech.

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  6. I can see why people wouldn't want to be stuck with a "dud" character. But if you aren't rolling 3d6 in order, then you might as well just be using a point-buy system, or let players pick their character's ability scores. Messing around with rolling different numbers of dice is just the long way around what you're really trying to do...getting the ability scores you really want.

    -Ed

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  7. I can see how there would be a lot of resistance to 3d6 in order in the more recent gaming scene. In 4E, you start as action hero and end up a super-hero. On the other hand, no group I've played with in the last thirty years really bought into the TRUE zero to hero path either. We all wanted characters who had a decent chance of surviving from the get-go, who were more likely to be brought down by bad play than bad dice. So we typically used something like the 4d6 method. Even then, we'd re-roll anything deemed debilitating, as long as the DM approved.

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  8. If I remember right, in most of the 70s games I ran it started 3D6 in order, but you got two rerolls, usually used to improve the lowest stat or stats, and you could swap one pair of two stats so as to make your prime requisite good for the class you wanted to play. I forget if the rerolls were replacement rerolls so you could end up worse. There was also the option to kill off a really bad character. So it was weaker than the 4D6 and drop low die but not hardcore by the book.

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  9. It doesn't. It's like a bunch of people saying Herman's Hermits was the best band ever*. Misplaced nostalgia.

    * which was briefly a thing.

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    1. but for some people Herman's Hermits actually is the best band ever ;)

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  10. Well 3d6 in order makes sense when the stats don't mean much. Even Gygax recognised that by offering 4d6-L (and even more generous options) in the DMG, while excluding 3d6 in order. Once stats became integral to performance, the old system didn't work. Personally I prefer B/X and it's gentler range.

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  11. 3d6 in order is how you separate the men from the boys.

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  12. In HM5e you roll the 3d6 in order, but a character without a score above 12 or that has two scores below 6 gets called a "shopkeeper" and you discard and reroll. I've been using any characters that are rolled up like that to automatically be henchmen/followers of the PC that finally gets created. It has some fiddling after that with build points, but I love the 3d6 in order from basic D&D that we used to play. One of the characters from that old campaign was a thief named Xander who managed to survive a damn long time even with some of the worst scores around (nothing above a 12 if I recall) - it really came down to playing the character you had effectively .. and a little luck.

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