Stat (statistic) rolling is that magical moment during character creation when you find out how many daggers your thief can juggle, which Dragonball character you look like, or how many barmaids you’ll be exposing your huge…charisma to.
He’s fudging his strength rolls.
There are as many methods of doling out stat points as there are game systems, dungeon masters, and munchkin players. And if you multiply those three categories together and made them argue over which stat-rolling rule is superior, you ironically get the same number of game-mechanic systems currently on the market.
Some people advocate heroic games (lots of dice, big stats) whereas others prefer a more classically balance character (random numbers assigned to random attributes). One tried-and-true method of balancing statistics involves creation points, which allows players to draw from a limited pool of genetic wealth. This has the added bonus of splitting stat points between categories, ensuring that the strongman is pretty stupid, and the ultra-wise wizard can’t open a jar of pickles. In other words you’ll end up with a pack of jocks, geeks, preppies, and that creepy janitor who never seems satisfied with the cleanliness of the kid’s bathrooms.
Good ol’ middle school cliques’
All stat rolling methods are equally valid under the right circumstances. All stat rolling methods are bad and improperly balanced under the wrong circumstances. Personally, I don’t give a gnome’s fig what method of point distribution my players use, and here are 4 reasons why…
1) If the players want to fudge their numbers, they’ll find a way.
Blessed are the players who will accept atrocious stat rolls, for they will be playing the most interesting characters.
In our old Dungeons and Dragons games the D-6’s were rolled, and the attribute columns were filled from top to bottom with no regard for which class, race, or abilities you wanted. Were you looking forward to playing a Barbarian? That 5 you just rolled in strength tells me otherwise. But at least you’ll have a fun time explaining to the party (in character) why your arms are T-Rex levels of useless.
On the other hand, stubborn gamers who have their hearts set on playing a Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 Terminator-800 will resort to all sorts of shadiness. You can force your players to roll their stats in a sterile room, wearing nitrile gloves, with one hand on the Holy Bible, and a determined gamer will bribe the trustworthy witness (with Cheetos, we assume).
Let the players roll what they will. Let them fudge their numbers. In the end if you have doubts about the thief rolling a natural 20 for his Dexterity, with 3d 6’s… poison him. Take away a few stat points permanently. Find a karmic, in-game way of proving that his dice rolls are meaningless when they’re not at your table, as are his agency and free will.
2) Players who want an unfair advantage will create one.
Now let’s pretend for a moment that you engineered a locked, fortified room full of traps and cameras. Let us also pretend you dropped your players into this room and told them (by way of a creepy puppet) that you want to play a game. But first they have to roll their stats in front of a live-feed camera, and if there’s any funny business, the thousand-volt suppository you gave them will activate.
Congratulations, you have a group of characters as balanced and pure as the driven snow.
That’s what I would say, if half those munchkins didn’t turn around and immediately start breaking the system through perfectly game-legal exploits, synergistic abilities, equipment, spells, etc. No tabletop RPG handbook is fully balanced, and there are whole forums dedicated to character-creation “efficiency” and statistic min-maxing. In fact, I argue it’s better to let players believe they have the upper hand with a few generous attribute points, that way they won’t surprise you with an incredibly powerful spell combination they engineered through a fluke of feats.
And if you’re wondering if I’m serious about forums discussing broke-ass character builds, here’s one on Paizo. The title is: “What is the absolute most broken build I can make in this scenario?”
3) Most attributes are related to combat abilities or skill checks.
“Seriously, how many hitpoints do you have?”
I’m about to argue an unpopular opinion, which is practically the theme of this blog. But just hear me out.
I believe skillchecks are just randomizers to determine how long it takes for a character to succeed, how much money it costs them, or whether it’s worth the mental effort of devoting themselves to a single task for a length of time. The real meat and bones of the story should be in the choices made by the players at crucial times, and should never be reliant on a physical attribute.
I.E; The plot should hinge on whether or not the players enter the launch codes. Not if they can lockpick the goddamn briefcase open.
That said, most attributes contribute to skillchecks. And it is my firm belief that the plot of your game should never be based on a lengthy series of skillchecks, interspersed with combat scenarios, with more skillchecks and combat scenarios to break up the monotony of skillchecks and combat scenarios, with additional skillchecks and combat scenarios and skillcheckcombatscnarioskillcheckcombatskillchrkrkkcccmmmbtt…
Please Stand By
Ok, so most newbie dungeon masters I’ve gamed with use the skills–combat–skills–combat formula, because they haven’t caught on to those pesky factors we call Story and Roleplay. If you’ve chosen to base your game on random dice-rolling then cheaters, munchkins, and min-maxers will be rewarded by your chosen format.
But even if a single player becomes a stat-monster on the battlefield, overshadowing the other characters in your game, just remember…
4) Powerful characters will carry the team through combat, regardless.
Don’t get me wrong, combat is exciting. If a game has a shitty combat system, I won’t play it. But the experience and gold should be awarded evenly on the battlefield, because even the most burly stat-buff killing machine won’t survive the encounter without the other players at least holding the enemy’s attention by playing lutes, casting cantrips, and prancing about in their bedazzled pantaloons.
I’m not going to go soft on you and claim that success in a tabletop game is a team effort, and that everyone has to work together to reap the rewards, and it’s the events that occur after the battle that progresses the game in a meaningful way… wait, that’s exactly what I’m saying.
If you’re only rewarding the players for murder-looting, then you might as well be playing Halo or Titanfall or Warcraft. Because a game based purely on killing has reduced itself to a character sheet, with an experience column that slowly raises in value and a level column that increases by +1 at regular intervals. And remember, this is all based on how many lives your players snuff out.
So congratulations if you fall into this category of dungeon mastery, you’re one step closer to proving to the players they don’t need you, and they’d be much happier ticking off numbers on a spreadsheet or playing video games.
Try to keep stat rolling balanced. Don’t let your players cheat blatantly. But in the end the game’s success will hinge more on your planning, storytelling, and gamecraft. So try not to chili-punch the next player who shows up with a Cyborg killing machine designed by Jesus and built by all the German engineers in the world. Just remind him who’s in charge by giving him a computer virus so his robot must talk with a fabulous lisp.