To Roll Or Not To Roll?
Standard array is boring, but predictable. Point-buy is almost the same. Rolling for stats is really fun while you are doing it, but you can end playing a character for months (or years) that has decidedly worse stats than everyone else in the party, or you can feel some resentment if you were that one really unlucky person during those rolls. From the GM's point of view, it can be harder to balance encounters when the PCs have a wider range in their relative power levels. Is there a better way?
Group Character Stat Generation
If these things weigh heavy on your mind (and to be fair, some people are fine with the above "issues" -- if that's you, then you should certainly do whatever is fun for you), here's a possible solution: A group draft form a rolled pool. Here's how you do it.
- Each player rolls a set of stats, using whatever method is appropriate. We'll get into some variations, but for now we'll start with doing 4d6, drop the lowest, six times for a set of regular D&D 5e stats. For our base example, the rolls are not tied to an attribute yet, it's just 6 values in the 3-18 range.
- All the stats rolled go into a single communal pool.
- Determine a drafting order. Use the rolls that each player provided to the pool, the highest-rolling player going first. Start with each player's highest stat roll, using their next highest (and so on) to break ties.
- Following the drafting order, each player picks (and removes) a single roll from the pool.
- Repeat until each player has a full set of stats, but reverse the drafting order when picking the second stat and every even-number round after. So, with five players labelled A-E, the order would be ABCDE, EDCBA, ABCDE, EDCBA, ABCDE, and EDCBA for 6 attributes.
What does this get you? Assuming players pick the highest stat available in the pool, you get a very even distribution. The "best" and "worst" characters are likely to only to be a few total points off of each other. If everyone in a five-player group just rolled and kept their own stats, the difference between the player with the highest total and the lowest is usually 10+ points. With the shared pool, it is usually 3 or less.
Using this system really evens things out. With few players there is likely to be more variation, but still way less variation than players just keeping their own rolls. Players are still rewarded for rolling well at character creation time, but the GM doesn't have to worry about balancing one character having three 17s and another having four 10s -- and the players won't have to deal with resentment or jealousy. This is what I like best about this system, you still get the fun of rolling, but the resultant characters are much more likely to be closer to each other and the default array. With best three of 4d6, you'll almost certainly have some 16s and 17s (and maybe one or two 18s) that are above what 5e's point-buy allows, but the characters won't be ridiculous unless everyone rolls ridiculous.
A couple ways to modify this method:
- Tie values to specific stats when they are rolled. Much like "rolling down the line", each player rolls a value for each attribute, and it is the attribute-value pair that is added to the pool. Now players can only draft values for attributes they have not already drafted. Players will have less options to pick from, so the effective difference between best and worst my increase a bit. This might also lead to some more interesting discussion/negotiating during the draft as players make the case for the character they might play and a stat they really want.
- Roll extra values. If characters need 6 attributes, each player might roll 7 or 8 stats. This will remove the need to take a lot of the lowest values, so will push up all the character's arrays. This could be combined with the first variant to add extra sets of attribute-value pairs, or even provide some "wild" values that could be assigned to any attribute.
- Rolling extra values can also be used to offset a "weaker" roll system, like straight 3d6 or 2d6+3 or whatever you want to use. You might also put caps or minimums on the final roll totals, if you want to keep the available stats in a certain range.
- Allow stat trading after the draft. Maybe someone really wants two 14s and someone else thanks a 15 and 12 is a good trade. Even more interesting with attribute-value pairs.
- If you are using a character system with an odd number of total attributes, you might want to use the third-round-reversal draft order method -- first round in regular order, second and third round in reverse order, then continuing with regular and reversed, alternating. This makes sure that the person who picks first also picks last.
- As a different option for draft ordering, after the first round, use a "lowest goes first" ordering - so whomever has the lowest current total sum of stats selected so far always gets to pick, and use the initial ordering to break ties. This adds a bit of drafting strategy for players willing to pick the less-than-highest available value.
- Use a different first-round order, starting with the worst-rolling player, or roll a d%, or go in order of the next closest birthday, or whatever.
One weakness of this system is that if circumstances require a new character being rolled up, you'll have to consider how you want to deal with it. Roll a whole new pool for all new characters to come from? Reuse stats from a dead/removed character? Use one of the usual solo generation methods? You'll have to decide what is good for your group.