Tuesday, December 18, 2018

House Rule: No Attribute Scores

Much like alignment, attribute scores are ready for the dustbin of history. Why? Because we have dumbed them down to uselessness. Some history, according to me (no references will be cited):
  • Basic: Roll 3d6 down the line. Take what you get and deal with it. Some adjustments can be made. No limits on what class you can be. 
  • Advanced: Best of 4d6, placed where you like. Adjustable. Some classes have minimum attribute requirements. Some racial and gender maximums. 
  • D20: Either roll as above, select from an array, or use point buy. Class and race limitations are gone, but abilities are dependent upon score (most notably, spellcasting).
Of those methods, Advanced (1st & 2nd editions) is likely the best (though the gender bias is disappointing). My reasoning is that there is still randomness to attribute scores, and if you want to be a specialized class (druid,paladin, illusionist, assassin, or monk) you must satisfy some pretty strict requirements; for example, a 1st edition paladin was required to have:
  • strength: 12
  • intelligence: 9
  • wisdom: 13
  • constitution: 9
  • charisma: 17
So, to be a paladin, you had to make sacrifices where you could. It was hard to roll a paladin, but the added abilities could be worth it.

The modern trend is a bit more democratic, in that if I want to play a paladin, I play a paladin. Also, no one has to play an atrociously bad character, nor play with a character who *happened* to roll three 18s. You can walk into a game with a character you made, and it only takes a glance to see that the character followed the rules.

However, putting everyone on a level playing field means that no one is extraordinary for anything. If you tell 10 players to make a human fighter in a d20 system, you will get 10 fairly equal fighters, and many will have the same attributes. There will be the oddball, like me, who takes a high wisdom over constitution because, "sometimes not being surprised is better than hit points."

So, here is my idea. It may not be new, and I have not played this way, so I present it for discussion: no more attribute scores. Attributes, but no scores. Instead, your class' primary attribute gets a bonus die, when applicable. You're a fighter using strength? Roll your bonus die along with your d20. Thief using dexterity? Roll your bonus die along with your d20. If your class has multiple primary attributes, say strength and constitution for a fighter, you pick one to get the bonus. Now you have striker types, and meat-shield types. One breaks down doors, and one isn't poisoned easily. The bonus die would increase periodically, say whenever you would normally get an attribute point increase.

Additionally, you could choose a second attribute to get a bonus on, but with this one you would also take a minus on another. You want to be a cleric who is strong? Take a bonus die on strength, and a penalty die on constitution. Want to also be charismatic? Take a bonus die on charisma and a penalty on dexterity. If this method is added, one could forgo the increase to their primary attribute and increase one of the secondaries, or perhaps even eliminate the penalty on one?

The idea is to add a bit of randomness back into a stale idea. If everyone is +3 to attack, then everyone might as well be +0. I recently played a game of Dungeon Crawl Classics where the judge provided characters. These characters were clearly fudged, as all characters had an 18 for their primary attribute, and some had more than one. He did this (I assume) in part because it was a Try-It-Out session, and to get new players interested it is hard to hand them a sheet full of single digit attributes. The other part, I think, is that he agrees with me. Attribute scores do not matter, so let everyone be a bad ass.


You know how much fun it is to hit that natural 20, or even a 19? Think of adding the excitement of maxing out your bonus die as well? I think it would add drama, and liven up combat, which frankly, can get a bit stale these days.

As for mechanics, I'd say start with a d3 bonus die. If your game (like 5e) has a proficiency bonus, use that. If not, maybe start with a d4.


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