CaSE #11 : Attributes.

We’ve discussed the story’s framework and made some major structural decisions about your adventure.  Now let’s take a look at the game conditions – mechanics and nuances that will have effects both obvious and subtle.

The first factor to look at, one that will have a lasting influence in your game from the start of your adventures to the end, will be the characters’ Attribute scores.

There are many ways that starting Attributes scores [STR, DEX, WIS, CON, INT, CHA] may be generated.  The Player’s Handbook or your RPG’s sourcebook list these in detail.  Some methods include :

  • Roll 3d6 for each attribute, keep what you get.
  • Roll 3d6, re-roll 1’s.
  • Roll [4d6 or 5d6] for each attribute, keep the sum of the best three dice.
  • Roll [4d6 or 5d6], re-roll 1’s, keep the sum of the best three dice.
  • Any of the above, but the attributes must be rolled in (STR > DEX > WIS > CON > INT > CHA) order.
  • After generating attributes by a method described above, players have the opportunity to decrease any attribute(s) by 2 points to increase another attribute(s) by 1 point.

DM’s may elect to allow a player to roll as many sets of six numbers as the player wishes, letting the player take the value set with the highest sum total or best average.  Or the DM may limit the player to generating 10, 5, 3, or perhaps just 1 set(s) of six numbers, and then choosing the set they wish to use.

“Balanced” attribute system types may include :

  • All attributes start at 10…  Add 1d6 to each one, keep what you roll.
  • Elite array (15, 14, 12, 13, 10, 8)
  • Point-buy system, with Low / Moderate / High banks of points available, but no scaling of point cost at higher attribute values.
  • Point-buy system, with Low / Moderate / High banks of points available, with scaled point cost at higher attribute values.
  • All attributes start at 10; at each new character level, a single attribute improves by +1.
  • All attributes start at 10; at each new character level, a single attribute improves by +1, but at Levels 5, 10, 15, 20, all attributes improve by +1.

For a DM it is essential, before settling on one of the methods above (or one of your own invention), to consider what long-term effect the chosen attribute-generation system will have.

Under most circumstances, the highest attribute value a brand-new character can start with is 20 (18 plus a +2 racial bonus).

D&D v.3.5 attribute stats, Player's handbook p. 9

D&D v.3.5 attribute stats, PHb p. 9

This means that your player’s character could have a massive +5 bonus to skills and abilities tied to that attribute, to start your game.  And that character can only improve from there on, through the rest of the character’s life in your game.

Starting characters out with an attribute system biased towards high attribute scores (and corresponding bonuses) effectively creates a party of superheroes or demigods – a group who are well beyond the average 10-12 attribute-point stats of generic NPC’s.

You’ll have characters that hit more often, have more hit points, have access to higher level spells, have much better Saves, are much more Skillful, have better Save DC’s on their spells…very early in the game, and before the addition of bonuses from magic items !  A DM might struggle to provide adequate opposition from monsters and villains in encounters against a group of characters like this.

The reverse is true for DM’s who choose to run a lean, tight, difficult campaign where low attribute scores are the norm.  Characters will be scarcely more powerful than the average NPC on the street.  Combat will be more daunting, success more difficult to achieve, danger more immediate in all encounters.  Where players may feel themselves skating through encounters and adventures on a high attribute set, players may find their low-attribute characters barely heroic, frustrating or disappointing to play when so obviously limited in skill and prowess.

There is an appeal to allowing unique rules in your game for the determination of attributes.  It sets the tone for how easy or difficult your realm will be for characters.  And it challenges players to plan their characters carefully.  A DM should be aware that attribute sets above or below the average both carry a wide, permanent, ever-present effect on the player’s ability to succeed in pretty much every aspect of your game play.

Knowing what conflict and what antagonists your players’ characters will face in your game, decide your attribute-generation rules to scale properly against the threats over the full arc of your story.  Look for balance in the game’s mechanics, and favour this balance over simply choosing a cool or gimmicky attribute system.




About d20horizons

D&D player.
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