Ability Scores Weighted by Race

Clorfindel the Elf and Gloin the Dwarf
LOTR art. Artist unknown. Taken from LOTR wiki.

I’ve been thinking of ways to simplify the character creation process for new players, and I struck on an interesting problem with the way the game is presented. Typically, the first thing I ask my players to do is to roll their ability scores. Which means that their first glimpse of the game is “Roll these dice, record the resulting sum. Repeat this task five more times, then assign one score to each of these six abilities, the functions of which you probably don’t fully understand yet.”

This is a bad first impression of fantasy gaming. Sure the GM can help the player out by giving them an idea of how the ability scores will relate to class abilities, and the player will sticks it out regardless. Nobody is going to walk away from the table after 2 minutes. They will eventually start doing more interesting things, and they’ll probably have fun. None the less, this is a bad introduction which weakens a neophyte’s initial experience.

What if, instead, the initial question was “Which of these fantasy races would you like to be?” That’s a far more interesting introduction to fantasy gaming, I think. And in describing how each race functions mechanically, the GM is also describing interesting detail about the game world. Defining wisdom to a new player is difficult, describing a dwarf to a new player will connect with their experiences and engage their imagination.

Once a race is selected, the ability scores are rolled according to the strengths and weaknesses of that race. 3d6 is the average, but if a race is particularly strong in a certain area, then they would take the 3 highest from rolls of 4d6 or even 5d6. For every ability score where the race is strong, there must be others where they are weak, and take the lowest 3 from 4d6 or 5d6. So humans, as the baseline race, would roll 3d6 down the line; while a race which is strong, but clumsy and stupid, might roll 5d6(+) for their strength, and 4d6(-) for both their dexterity and their intelligence.

This would replace any bonuses or penalties the races get to their ability scores, which would eliminate scores over 18 at first level. And while it might seem extreme, 5d6 drop the lowest/highest doesn’t actually end up with too many extremely good or bad rolls. The averages would be 7 and 14 respectively. AnyDice represents the data really nicely.

So that the players have a little control over the scores they end up with, during character creation they may (after any roll) turn the face of one die to a 6. For (-) rolls, this is done after the high dice are dropped. So if a players rolling a 5d6(-) ability score rolls 6, 5, 4, 4, 1, then first the 6 and the 5 would be dropped. After that, the player can turn that 1 into a 6, resulting in a final ability score of 14. But this can only be done once for each character, and must be done before moving on to the next ability score.

Here’s how I think the races might work out:

Human
STR 3d6
CON 3d6
DEX 3d6
INT 3d6
WIS 3d6
CHA 3d6

Dwarf
STR 4d6(+)
CON 5d6(+)
DEX 4d6(-)
INT 3d6
WIS 3d6
CHA 5d6(-)

Elf
STR 5d6(-)
CON 5d6(-)
DEX 4d6(+)
INT 4d6(+)
WIS 4d6(+)
CHA 4d6(+)

Gnome
STR 5d6(-)
CON 4d6(-)
DEX 3d6
INT 5d6(+)
WIS 3d6
CHA 4d6(+)

Halfling
STR 5d6(-)
CON 5d6(-)
DEX 5d6(+)
INT 3d6
WIS 4d6(+)
CHA 4d6(+)

Orc
STR 5d6(+)
CON 5d6(+)
DEX 3d6
INT 5d6(-)
WIS 3d6
CHA 5d6(-)

Goblin
STR 3d6
CON 3d6
DEX 5d6(+)
INT 4d6(-)
WIS 4d6(-)
CHA 3d6

Kobold
STR 5d6(-)
CON 4d6(-)
DEX 5d6(+)
INT 5d6(+)
WIS 4d6(+)
CHA 5d6(-)

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16 thoughts on “Ability Scores Weighted by Race”

  1. Awesome system! This is a very satisfying way of rolling ability scores without having to worry about going over or under your curve. Thanks! I’m going to try it once we get back to gaming.

  2. As I told you when you were developing it I really love this system. I’m just concerned about the abilities scores that are modified negatively by this system that have positives in standard Pathfinder. I get that Rocks Fall is what you’re aiming to have as your standard, but I would probably modify this before having my players roll on it.

    1. To save myself from excessive cross referencing, can you point out which are changed?

      I arranged the ability rolls based on how I view each race in my fantasy world. I didn’t really consult Pathfinder, though I did assume they’d line up decently.

      1. Dwarf has + Wis, yours is baseline
        Gnome has + Con, yours is –
        Goblin has – Str and Cha, yours is baseline
        Orc has – Wis, yours is baseline

        The only one I have a real issue with is the gnome (probably not unbiased there), but the fact that you’re doing this for your own fantasy world: by all means change as you see fit! I just wanted to let you know where the variance is.

        1. The goblin was a challenge for me, because as I think I mentioned in a conversation with you, dexterity is the *only* thing where goblins shouldn’t have a penalty. I made my decisions on how to arrange their abilities using my own internal idea of what a goblin is like first, and then modifying that to make the goblin distinct from the Kobold.

          I think my gnomes started with a con bonus in an earlier draft. They may end up with one again, but I wanted to get away from the dwarf/halfling hybrid idea which gnomes have had in the past.

          1. I will say, I like what you did with goblins and orcs. I just wanted to show the differences. Hmmm… Outside of the Con differences I really like what you did with the gnomes. Best of luck with the rest of Rocks Fall! I’d love to hear more on its progress and give feedback if you’re seeking it.

  3. I love it. Simple, elegant and effective. Do the classes balance? At first glance it looks like elves are the straight up genetic winners in our world provided they don’t want to break down a door.

    I do think you touched on a larger and more important (to gaming as a whole) topic, which I have expanded and pontificated upon at my own place

  4. That is similar to how the Palladium Fantasy Game did it – one of the few things they got right.
    Check out the 1st edition rules – lots of stealable stuff that ports almost effortlessly into D&D.

  5. As you can imagine, I like staying within the 3 to 18 range.

    However, it is worth pointing out that this assumes rolling abilities in order. That’s not a problem for me, but it might be for someone that wants to play an elf rogue (or whatever) and rolls badly on their dexterity (even with the skew, it’s possible).

    I would definitely use a system like this for characters that were fully or mostly specified using randomness though.

    1. Yes, this does necessitate rolling abilities in order. That’s something I struggled with for a long while, actually. (It actually took me about 2 days to come up with an ability score rolling method I liked.)

      The way I figure it, the system allows you to control (in large part) your character’s abilities. It just requires that you pick a race appropriate to those abilities.

      1. You can always allow the so called “organic” method (http://home.earthlink.net/~duanevp/dnd/stat_generation.htm):
        * After rolling all the scores in order, you can reroll 1 of them, and take the new result if it’s better.
        * After that, you can switch any 2 ability scores once.

        With your race-weighted variant, I wouldn’t allow a character to switch a score for which the race is strong with a score for which the race is weak (regardless of what they actually rolled).

        Very nice house-rule, by the way, I’m stealing this for my next campaign.

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