Here are my thoughts on ability score generation and improving ability scores (for anyone who cares, ha ha!) and how I arrived at my house rules on the subject.
I like random generation and its “this is the lot you have been given… work with it” philosophy. The primary drawback of random generation methods is that they frequently give sets of scores that most players in my experience are unhappy with. I’ve tried many many score generation systems over the years and ACKS is my personal favorite ability score generation system. What it has going for me:
- 3d6 – the only method for generating a non-skewed, bell-curved set of outcomes between 3 and 18. (I find this desirable.)
- Rolling scores in order – stays true to the “lot you’ve been given” philosophy and eliminates the tendency of “cookie-cutter” scores according to class.
- Rolling five sets of scores and choosing one – this significantly mitigates the the chances of getting a set of scores a player is unhappy with and almost always generates at least one set that represents a person of overall above average ability (this latter part I also find desirable).
Now for me, this method frequently outputs interesting and perfectly acceptable sets of scores. But it is not entirely perfect to others I’ve played with – it still often leaves players who want to play a certain character unsatisfied. The method almost always gives at least one score of 14+, but rarely in the right place for the player. Enter my house rule: “Swap any two scores”. I find this makes for a happy compromise between the “gifts you’ve been given” and “tailoring your PC to your vision” philosophies.
I started (but have not been able to play in a long time) a campaign with a heroic, swords & sorcery feel to it. I’d like to see characters that feel like Conan, Aragorn, Gandalf, Gotrek and Felix, Fafhrd and Grey Mouser… etc. If these characters were given ability scores as in ACKS, they would have mostly average to above average scores across the board. In other words, their score spreads look heroic (and most players like having a set of scores that look heroic). For clarification, I personally set the standard measure of a “heroic set” to have at least 1 score of 14+ and no scores below 10.
If the player rolled a “heroic” set of scores at the start… then great! Often however, it happens that an average set is rolled, or a good set is rolled but it doesn’t look heroic – like a couple 13s and the rest average, or you get a set with an 18 and a 4, 6 and 7, and so on. In other words, you get a set of scores that are totally playable, but they don’t feel heroic.
Enter my 2nd house rule: At each new level, choose one of your abilities and roll 3d6. if the result is greater than the chosen ability’s current score, increase it by one point. So if someone rolled a heroic set right off the bat, then they probably won’t benefit much from this (and they don’t need to), but for everyone else who rolled a few average or below average scores… over time, they can be great too.
I also like how this 2nd house rule models self-improvement and that the more improved you are, the harder it is for you to improve yourself more.