Rants and Raves

To Buy or Not To Buy


Every tabletop gamer has their favourite part of the game: combat strategy, diplomacy, role-playing, miniatures, the storyline, or simply the social aspect of getting together to play a game.

Some games require maps and minis, some don’t. Some require vigorous role-playing, some don’t. One thing we can rely on every tabletop role-playing game to have, though, is Character Creation.

It’s my personal favourite.

Getting into character, choosing your motivations, your flaws, what makes you really tick. And, very importantly, what makes you stand out from the crowd? What pops about your character when s/he/they are standing amongst an eclectic group?

Personally, I create my character stats and abilities before I begin to touch on their background. Others often prefer to do it the opposite way; create who they are before they determine what they can do – and how good they can do it. Whichever way you choose to do it, in the end, ability scores are a vital piece of character creation.

For those that may need a quick refresher (Really? It’s okay, maybe you’ve been gone awhile, I’ve got you) the ability scores consist of Strength; Dexterity; Constitution; Intelligence; Wisdom; Charisma.

Like many things in Tabletop RPGs, there are different ways in which a person can determine their ability scores for their characters. I’m going to briefly touch on each way and the pros and cons of them (from, of course, a purely biased perspective).

Roll For Them

This was the first way I was introduced to ability score determination. However, unlike the ever popular ‘roll 4d6 and take the best three’, I was taught to roll 7d20 and drop the lowest and those were my six ability scores. Even if I rolled three 1s. It would be a fate my character would have to live with. This created quite the anxiety around character creation – at least for me!

The benefits of rolling for your character’s ability scores are mainly the authenticity behind it. No character at the table will have the same array of scores. They will all be incredibly unique. This also opens the door to a lot of role-playing opportunities – even with low rolls! When you have 6 points in Charisma, it can be quite hilarious to watch your Orc Barbarian attempt to intimidate a kobold.

However, as a setback, the table can end up incredibly unbalanced. One character could have all scores about 16, whereas another have none that touch 14. This can make an incredible difference during gameplay, whether it be combat or role-play. As a player, one may begin to feel “cheaped out” by getting only low scores. As a Dungeon Master, one might feel a bit cheaped out themselves when all of their PCs have higher ability scores than some of the higher challenge rating monsters.

Rolling for one’s ability scores still remains, from my perspective, the preferred way of determining one’s score. I think to combat any uneven play, the DM should be allowed to rule out certain too-low or too-high roll combinations when creating scores this way.

Point Buy

My personal favourite method of determining ability scores.

For a quick explanation, point buy works on a point system. If that bit wasn’t clear.

You have a determined amount of points (for this example, I’ll be utilising the D&D Adventurer’s League Point Buy system), usually 27 points. Each ability score then starts at 8 and you can buy – or sell – points in each ability score until you have run out of your 27 points.

For a quick reference, below is how much each stat costs:

  • A stat of 9 costs 1 point.
  • A stat of 10 costs 2 points.
  • A stat of 11 costs 3 points.
  • A stat of 12 costs 4 points.
  • A stat of 13 costs 5 points.
  • A stat of 14 costs 6 points.
  • A stat of 15 costs 8 points.
  • A stat of 16 costs 10 points.
  • A stat of 17 costs 13 points.
  • A stat of 18 costs 16 points.

In Adventurer’s League, technically you are disallowed from beginning your character above an ability score of 15 or below that of an 8. I think this is a bit rubbish and tend to abolish it when using Point Buy (at least in non-legal play). When you detract from the original starting point of 8 for your stats, you may retrieve one point for each one “sold” to use on a different stat.

The reason I like this way the best is due to its equal playing ground it creates. Yet, the player is still in control of arranging the ability scores of their character as they see fit. If they want to be charismatic, they can, if they want to be weak, they can. It offers equal amounts of role-playing opportunities as it does fairness across the table.

Standard Array

15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8

That’s it. In standard array, your ability scores can only be one of the numbers above – and you can only use each number once, clearly. Though with point buy, this is typically close to the numbers you end up with, I find this takes a lot of true character creation out of it all.

Standard array is just that. It’s standard. Your character will end up being not bad at much (besides one thing) and not amazing at anything, either, but not terrible. I find the character’s created this way to be simply average.

Though I will admit there is a benefit to the standard array and that is when you’re creating a character quickly (or, for DMs, you need to create an NPC and do not have time to flesh it out). Especially if you’re doing so for official play since Standard Array and Point Buy are the only two acceptable ways to determine ability scores in Adventurer’s League (or Pathfinder’s Society and many other Tabletop RPGs due to its fairness and consistency).

DMs Determination

This is a rare, very rare, way in which ability scores can be determined. The DM determines them for the players.

I had one particular controlling DM who did this for his campaigns. It was quite annoying, truth be told, as then the player has no control over what their character becomes. They would ask us to write the backgrounds for each character, pick their physical attributes and their class and races, and then the DM would take the sheets aside and arbitrally determine all of our scores.

Were they rolled for? Sometimes.

Point buy? Sometimes.

More often than not, though, in this method, the DM simply chose which score they believed the character should have. This particular method has far too many downfalls, in my opinion, especially when favouritism is taken into account (their best friend or sibling or partner seems to somehow always come out with the highest scores).

In the end, the determination of ability scores is a vital piece to character creation. The way it is done (outside of official play) should always be decided upon by the group as a whole – not just the DM, in my opinion, because the players should have an equal say into how their characters will be created.

1 thought on “To Buy or Not To Buy”

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