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Examples of House Rules for Unfair Stats

Written by cyberkyd - Published on August 26, 2010

This post was contributed by Cyberkyd, a member of the DungeonMastering.com community

House Rules for Unfair Stats

House Rules for Unfair Stats

House Rules Rule! My Stats Are Killing Me…

The other day, as I was going though character creation with some of my players, one of them rolled extremely good stats and the rest, unfortunately for them, rolled fairly bad ones. Especially since the High Roller was the only one who had ever played an RPG before, I knew that he would have a largely unfair advantage. At the moment, I had decided that the best course of action was to force the High Roller to apply -1 to all his stats except for HP. Looking back, I realize that it probably was not the best course of action.

Starting stats are important. They can greatly affect a player’s chances of surviving a first encounter, (Perhaps later I’ll examine the First Encounter Survival House Rule) and can influence the other players in a variety of ways.

Although every RPG, including D&D, includes a rule as to how to roll stats, many players completely disregard these rules and just follow the GM’s custom stat instructions. There are several widely used rules that seem to work well.

  1. The Large HP Rule: Everyone gets an extra dice roll to their HP. Usually used in a dungeon crawl type of adventure.
  2. Equality For All: The GM rolls a set of stats before hand and all players use it, applying any needed penalties and bonuses. Usually used in large groups of newbies.
  3. Same but Different: A variation of Rule Two. After HP is rolled, the GM rolls and calls out the number. Everyone chooses the stat to apply it to. So, everyone technically has the same choices but can still customize their characters. Usually used in the same setting as Rule Two.
  4. Beefed Up: All stats get a standard extra bonus, such as +4. This is usually used when there is a small group of characters and the GM is not planning on introducing any party NPC’s.

Of course, there are many more variations and rules, and certainly a large amount of players do follow standard stat rolling rules. Any way is okay, as long as all players use it. The trickiest moments are when most of the players receive miserable stats, and one or two roll lots of high numbers. One of the most important things to remember about character creation is this: People like bonuses a LOT more than penalties. What I should have done about the High Roller Situation is simple. I should have allowed everyone else +1 or +2 to all stats except for HP, and given the High Roller +1 to one stat.

Think about it. Giving one player a penalty is only going to make the game harder, and so more frustrating, for him. Giving everyone a bonus makes the game a bit easier, and so more fun, for everyone. Now you’ve (somewhat at least) leveled out the stat differences between the High Roller and the others, and it achieved the same result as just giving a penalty.

In tournaments or game conventions, the judges are usually not going to allow you to apply bonuses to your stats if you don’t like them, but might occasionally allow a complete stat re-roll. In cases like this, it is important to learn the #1 most important skill a gamer needs: How to be a good loser, or in this case, how to be a good low-roller. If someone starts sulking about their stats, they don’t have to play. But with House Rules, they shouldn’t have a need to.

Cyberkyd is the creator of the BlakLite RPG system. He enjoys writing articles about all things RPG and GMing his own game.

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Written by cyberkyd

Cyberkyd is the creator of the BlakLite™ RPG System, and a writer of articles and fanfiction. At fifteen years old, he hopes to soon write articles for major RPG magazines. Check out his RPG’s web site at chaoscreatures.com, and get a copy of the player’s manual for free!

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35 Responses to “Examples of House Rules for Unfair Stats”
  1. roaet says:

    I have always been very fond of the idea of using a stat table instead of rolling. It keeps all my players somewhat equivalent and forces them to make hard choices.

  2. Kevin says:

    I prefer point buy systems over any version of “roll your stat and then fiddle with the outcome” options. If you’re just going to fiddle with the outcome, why bother to roll?

  3. DeadGod says:

    I just recently put together a set of house rules for BECMI D&D and used the following:

    If no single attribute is above 12, or 3 or more attributes are below 10, the player gets three “mercy dice.” The player rolls 1d6 for each mercy die. The player may add these dice to any score, but must add the entire die to the score. A score can not be brought above 18 with mercy dice.

    Not that there is an “or” in that condition, so you can still get those mercy dice if you have a single high attribute, but 3 or more attribute below 10. In practice I haven’t had to hand out mercy dice too often, and when I did the characters end up with scores comparable to other party members.

  4. Jeff says:

    A system that I’ve been using (got it from the blogosphere) that keeps the playing field even but also let’s players have the thrill of rolling for stats is to let each player roll a bunch of d6 into a community pile such that the final number of dice is 18 or a little more (drop the excess low scores). Then each player gets to assign 18 dice to their stats (3 to each stat). This way everyone gets the same total score and flexibility and they all got to roll for it.

  5. Wizbang says:

    Most of the time we use a communal stat block. Everyone rolls their, let’s take D&D, 4d6, reroll 1s, on an open table. Everyone does 2 stat blocks and then everyone is free to pick one of someone else’s stat blocks or one of their own. If one person rolls a super block then everyone generally picks it and all is even. Just tweak the monsters or the DCs a little (1 or 2) then no one knows any different and they can all play with a super set.

  6. Yocewyn says:

    I agree totally that all players should be treated equally. I also believe that dice don’t treat people equally. I would create a pre-made array or use the point-buy system.

    This is not the only possibility. I have heard of a DM who allows his players to choose his ability scores. (Yeah, you can take six times an 18.) Players will soon figure out that power-gaming does not equal fun, so they stop doing that.

    I haven’t tried it, and you should only try it with hardcore RPGers. But maybe it will inspire someone, so I post it anyway.

  7. Doug says:

    I’m really surprised, if you are concerned about fairness, that you aren’t using any kind of point-buy system. I haven’t had players roll stats for a long, long time because I decided that random was only fun for players who rolled well, or perhaps for a one-shot where those who roll poorly can ham it up in play. But it seems like these are complicated systems for doing the same thing that point-buy does…?

  8. Wayifnder says:

    There are no such thing as unfair stats.

    Because any GM can kill anybody without even trying.

    In fact, in the more manly approach promoted by AD&D where you rolled for what you got and kept what you got (unless you didn’t qualify for anything) in order having a guy with a lot of high stats was like a prize, especially if he rolled it legitimately. The game was deadly enough that I could have a guy with all 18s in his stats and not be worried that he’d overpower my monsters. True, such a superman would be amazing, no question, but if you run the game as it was meant to be played (meaning if you ran something other than 4E) you had a game that was deadly enough.

    Instant death traps can still kill Mr. Wonderful. Too bad 4E did away with that.

  9. Pete says:

    One option for the “give everyone a bonus” is to add on a curve. Choose a number (18-20 for D&D for example). The player who has the stat closest to that number gets his highest stat bumped to that number, and everyone else gets that many points to distribute as they see fit.

    So if your fighter has a 16 STR, and 16 is the highest of any score in the group, his 16 is an 18 and everyone else gets 2 points to put wherever. It’s a minor boost that doesn’t overpower but can save weak stat.

  10. Tiorn says:

    Honestly, from a DND perspective… if the PCs are supposed to be ELITE characters, then their starting stats should be based on the ELITE ARRAY (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8) to begin with. That should be the starting point for determining what to do about the obvious problem.

    As for me, I’m in the planning stages for a campaign now… and I’ve decided that I’m starting everyone with the elite array (arranged as desired), with only racial modifiers allowed. I’m planning for a 3.5e campaign, so everyone will be getting a bonus point every fourth level, of course. But I’m also planning on another increase (to all abilities) at a higher level (say 11th). If we happen to progress into epic levels, I’ll do another such overall stat increase as well.

  11. In one campaign with about 11 player characters, I tracked combat data in Excel spreadsheets.

    Each session, the players turned in a stat sheet with # hits, # misses, damage caused, killing blows, and more.

    Two players had rolled exceptionally high stats, the others pretty average.

    Those two players alone were netting 90% of the group damage. 70% of the killing blows. They were billy badasses who were perfectly willing to leave the rest of the group in trouble if they smelled an advantage elsewhere.

    How fair is it to the rest of the party to know you’re contributing to 10% of combat? ALL TOGETHER? Not 10% per person, the remaining 9 people comprised 10% of the group damage. A little over 1% contribution per person.

    This was the last time I ever allowed players to roll stats.

    It has been point-boy/array systems ever since. And I know my experience was not unique, because when 4th edition came out, point-boy/array was THE prescribed method, with rolling finally where it belonged — as an alternative to the “real” rule.

  12. Hhm says:

    yeah… I rolled for games that i”ve played in but I really, really like point buy or the stat blocks that they just hand you in a chart much better. Rolling is stupid, imo. It gets you slightly worse off usually or you win big… or you just get what you want to begin with and call it a day, which I prefer.

  13. Dan True says:

    I usually use the stat buy method, as I was tired of having extreme stat differences.

    A method I’ve been meaning to try, but haven’t got the chance to yet is a group-decision system. It will probably only work if you have a group of players who know the system.

    The idea is that you or the players roll 6 x [#players] stats and then the players can as a group devide them. This way the group can decide who gets what in a democratic manner, and I bet it wil strengthen the group dynamic that everyone feels they’ve gotten something and also taken some of the bad.

    Sadly, in some groups it will never work. In my group, which is fairly close-knitted and friendly, it would probably give a good result and I mean to try it next time I start a new game.

  14. Michael Pfaff says:

    If you’re using random stats post-AD&D/OD&D you’re really doing your players a disservice. In 3E and 4E stats matter much more than in earlier editions where the stats would normally just give a small bonus here or there. Now, everything relies upon having decent requisite stats. Honestly, like someone said earlier, if you’re rolling randomly and then mucking up the results because they’re not fitting the bill, you should just be doing point-buy or an array in the first place.

  15. Dave Lord says:

    I make my players roll 1d8 + 8. This ensures that there are not terrible stats, but also that there are no extremely high ones either (max 16 unless you get a +2 racial modifier).

  16. Ev says:

    I gotta agree about point-buy. It just levels the field for everyone. Some can have extremely high stats with lower ones, others can be totally balanced

  17. Josh G. says:

    point buy please. back in the day we did 4d6 take away the lowest. assign the numbers where you want em. maybe one re-roll as well if the DM was feeling generous. That pretty much avoids terribly under statted characters.

  18. Pat says:

    When I start a new campaign, I use the point buy-in system but to further level the playing field, I have each player write down a handicap, all the handicaps are then drawn by the players. It keeps players from becoming to perfect and the handicaps have even become their own stories. I once had a mage who stuttered. We made it work.

  19. athynz says:

    I’ve done the point buy system and also given a set of starting stats that could be applied to any stat (i.e. 16, 2 14s, 2 12s, 10) for a high powered/ forgotten realms campaign – that started a few years ago when as a player I rolled some really killer stats – 2 18s, 17, 2 15s and a 12 starting… and most of the other players rolled pretty crappy stats. While it was fun for me it was not so much for the rest. That character fared second best in a battle with the deck of many things… LOL

    With those predetermined stats or point buy I don’t allow my players to go above an 18 or below an 8 – I had one player who played a bard that was dumb as a rock but extremely charismatic… it was supposed to be a “fun” campaign and as a farewell campaign for a long time player who was moving away… let’ just say coming up with things to counter that bard, not killing the rest of the party outright, and keep things interesting was a big challenge… sending in undead and constructs time and time again would get real old real quick…

  20. James says:

    The way I allow my players to roll their PC stats is fairly straight-foreward. Each player rolls 4D6 for each ability score – then (1) re-roll any die rolls of 1 – (2) discard the lowest score – (3) completely re-roll the ability score if the result is 11 or less.

    This method means that everyone is going to get a +1 ability modifier (racial modifiers depending) and usually gives and average roll of 14-15 and a max of 18.

    With Hit Die its simple again for level 1 each character gets max hp (max die roll + con modifier) then its die roll + con for each level thereafter. This means that if your running a low level campaign especially players wont be plagued by under average hp scores.

  21. Spaz says:

    My players roll an extra die and drop the lowest, if that doesnt work they get two re-rolls but each roll is separate they cant pick and choose between rolls

  22. Larry says:

    I have my players roll 4d6, reroll 1’s, drop the lowest die and arange to taste. If the stat block is crappy the player rerolls the stat block untell the player gets a stat block they like.

  23. Covertfun says:

    Introducing… VIM

    90 – (sum of ability scores) = VIM

    The VIM attribute has a modifier like any other, so a VIM score of 20 gives a modifier of (+5) to VIM checks.

    The Rule:

    Instead of automatically gaining an Action Point after every long rest or every 2nd encounter, characters roll (d20) with their VIM modifier against the usual Easy/Moderate/Hard DCs (5/10/15 for 1st-3rd lvl characters).

    Beating the Easy or Moderate DC grants you an Action Point. Beating the Hard DC gives you TWO action points.

  24. John says:

    I usually play D&D and we either use the online character builder that allows for three re-rolls of all stats or we do it “old school” and break out the actual dice. I’m a big fan of just going with what you roll the first time and then developing the character to deal with what seems to be too low. What we do when we use the dice is that they can apply each number to the stat they want it to be.

    For example, say you roll the dice and get 18, 14, 10, 8. If you are playing a “meat shield” you apply the 18 to your AC; 14 to Fortitude, 10 to Will and 8 to Reflex. If you were playing an Acrobat, you’d put the 18 on Reflex instead of AC.

    If you get a “bad” roll like 9, 5, 6, 4 then you can just overcome it as the game progresses by buying armor, potions, spells etc. to help you out until you level up a bit. You also change your tactics and have your character use his brains more than his brawn (or lack thereof). Make him sneaky and stealthy instead of brazen and bold.

    Any character can be a fun character if you focus on the role playing aspect of it and play out the part.

    Also if there are members of the party who have “high” stats and some who have “low”, then it’s just up to the more powerful characters to protect the less powerful ones. At the same time, those with lower stats are not necessarily helpless. They can develop their character in ways that don’t rely on AC or Reflex. They can be the guy who casts spells or shoots flaming arrows from a distance or they can be the guy who learns a bunch of healing spells and keeps the “big guys” patched up.

    A band of adventurers is a Team. You are not competing against each other. If everyone remembers that the goal of the game is for everyone to survive the encounters and for everyone to participate in meeting the challenges, then you are role playing. If you think of the game in terms of points, numbers, XP and worry about the rules a lot then you are playing something else.

  25. Covertfun says:

    Oh, and I use this rule for lots of reasons, but rolled stats give the players an extra sense of ownership over their characters.

    If the players roll their characters up together, that’s always a nice feeling, too… watching the new girl get two natural (17-18)s makes everyone just super happy.

    In my 4E campaign, the Bard has one good stat and the rest 8, 10s and a 14, I think. Correspondingly he has so much VIM! It’s an awesome character and story feature that he’s the keen-bean of the group. Why do a party of hardened killing machines hang around with him?

    Because he’s all heart.

  26. John says:

    I love your idea Pat! The drawn handicaps would be a real blast. I may have to try that next time I start a new campaign.

  27. Roger says:

    The group I am in have a core who have been together for nearly 30 years, from the very beginning of D&D.
    We still roll dice as nothing beats the emotions you feel if the dice are good, or if the dice are bad. A low stat character is a role-playing challenge. The challenge is what we are there for surely.

    The system we use to create stats is as follows. Roll 4d6 discard lowest dice, do this six times and then arrange into ability scores as you please. On one occasion during the six rolls one dice of the 4 can be rerolled. The new roll must be kept. If you do not use that one bonus dice, then it is lost.

    Each player rolls two stat blocks and uses whichever she feels the better one for her character.

    Most of us can remember when you had to roll 3d6 in sequence and that was your character.

    Things are a lot better now with all the options.

  28. A Different Kevin says:

    In D&D, all sorts of versions, the method I’ve come across most frequently has been roll 6 sets of 4d6, drop the lowest. With that, the only time anyone had a real problem was with a sneaky DM (he played kobolds as they’re described: mean, nasty, little trap-setting swarms of sneakiness). But, that was obviously a play style problem – no one had any really bad stats. I personally detest the array/stat-block method because most players that I know will build the same kind of character the same way (all characters of class X have stats A, B, C, D, E, and F), resulting in what amounts to pre-made characters. The point buy systems are better than the arrays, but frequently have the same cookie-cutter-by-class effect.

  29. Jimmy A says:

    I have never used the Point-Buy system in 3rd (or 3.5) edition, but I have in fourth ed. and I find it works really well. If a GM would role stats for all the party members like in one of the examples why not let the party use point-buy and make their own stats? I liked rolling for the longest time but there have been games where my numbers were sub par and games where it was nice to have 18, 17,17, 16, 13, 12 to start my new character. I am a point-buy convert but to all the rolling enthusiast I will leave a rolling method I find to be balanced and requires little re-rolling: The 6d6 and add 10 to each style. It is not my own but I like it, at minimum a PC gets all 11’s and maximum all 16’s.

  30. Jimmy A says:

    I just had to say more :)
    When a group comes together to play a game the stats of their characters will have more or less impact on the game depending on what edition they are playing and what the goal of the campaign is. I read over the other comments so far and it seems that most people prefer balance in the party. Most groups gather to have fun; that’s always been my goal as a player and a GM. I recommend party balance to any GM because it is important to preserving fun. I once played a game where the GM was into “balancing the universe” and as such he would always throw more stuff at the overpowered player, who ended up quiting because she felt like she was being punished for rolling good stats. The DMG in 3rd edition mentions that good numbers help players less than bad number hinder them, or something to that effect.

  31. Galadare says:

    I agree with A Different Kevin, part of the fun of the game is using your wits to survive in spite of weak stats. The variety is fun as well.

    Point buy systems don’t support this and instead favor cookie cutter characters. I recently built 2 different fighters for different campaigns. I took a different approach in terms of character concept and where I started the process, and it wasn’t until I was done and had played them each once that I realized they had identical stats.

    The trouble is that you fundamentally have the same choices to make in the same environment with the same resources. If you are putting any thought at all into your character, it becomes very difficult to justify doing something different.

    One possible compromise would be to allow players to build their characters with a fixed stat (say 16) and roll the other five.

  32. Mario says:

    Here’s some I’ve seen:

    MINIMUM HP: Raises party hp by assigning a dice-based minimum as follows: d4 = 1, d6 = 2, d8 = 3, d10 = 4, d12 = 5. I like it because it keeps a poorly rolling high-con barbarian from having lower hit points than a cleric who rolls well, thus keeping people more firmly entrenched in their roll.

    FLOATING d6s: I don’t use this one, but it’s an interesting way to influence probabilities. You get 24d6 and assign how many will be rolled at a time. Thus, you can have a 2d6 stat for your Achilles heel, a 5d6 stat (discard 2 lowest) for your strength score, and so on. One guy rolled 3d6 for five stats and 8d6 for his last one to make sure he had a high intelligence for his wizard.

    @Steve: I disagree with the line of reasoning that characters can use equipment to patch up weaknesses, because at the same time, their less crippled counterparts are using equipment to augment their strengths, thus continuing the power discrepancy.

  33. mmKALLL says:

    The handicaps seem cool for roleplaying purposes, and the floating d6 system seems interesting.

  34. Moonshinestar says:

    I think play them as you roll them. Makes a more interestng and fair game.

  35. cyberkyd says:

    @All These People Against Rolling At All:
    Honestly, if you don’t want to roll, then don’t roll! This article pretty much only applies to people who actually roll! I know most of you aren’t trying to be mean, but seriously! DON’T COMMENT NEGATIVELY JUST BECAUSE YOU DON’T HAVE YOUR PLAYERS ROLL FOR STATS. I’m open to positive criticism. All I have to say more is that I am totally going to quote Roger on this all the time: “We … roll dice as nothing beats the emotions you feel if the dice are good, or if the dice are bad. A low stat character is a role-playing challenge. The challenge is what we are there for surely.”

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