Saturday, 4 August 2012

In Praise of IV

Roman Numeral Failure
Back in the day, we always used Method I from the DMG to generate our characters. It allowed some  choice of class and the "4d6, drop lowest" mechanism meant that stinkers were fairly rare. But not very rare, and there was a subtle issue with the act of re-arranging the stats.

Because the player re-arranged the ability scores they tended to start of with an idea of the class they wanted to play and the rolled scores became a sort of puzzle to be solved: how to arrange these and combine them with age and racial abilities to make a <your class here>. I'm a believer in embracing the random and using it as a springboard to ideas one may not have had otherwise and this didn't have that feel at all.

But it was quick. And for the DM rolling up NPCs that's a useful thing, to say nothing of the time that could be spent when a new party is rolled up. Method II didn't actually produce very good characters and required twice as much rolling; Method III required six times as much rolling, and Method IV twelve times! These were not going to be used at any "live" table I've ever been at.

The world moving on,
and around and up and down.
But the world moves on.

I've had a little webpage up for a while which generates character lists for method IV and I've found it inspirational as a DM. When generating NPCs, I use three levels of detail: plebs, henchmen, and established characters, more or less by the book.

Plebs use 3 averaging dice in order so their basic scores run from 6 to 15; henchmen now use Method IV unmodified and so have the full 3-18 range but have no guarantee of two 15s; established characters are generally level 4+ and are generated by Method IV with the requirement of two 15+ scores.

Method IV uses an underlying 3d6 roll rather than the 4d6 roll of Method I and this means that you get a wider range of scores in each character - 5's and under do actually turn up. For instance, here's a set I've just generated with the "established" system:

Set 1111487151513F M T
Set 215157881513F M
Set 311812151584C F T
Set 41015119171110C F M I T
Set 512161215898C F M
Set 6941012181515F
Set 714151511121413C F M T A
Set 8159101317168C F M T
Set 911171513151516C D F M T
Set 101610141741114C
Set 1115101681489C F M T
Set 12161111861714C F M

If I'm looking for a fighter I have quite a few choices here but #6 jumps out as a potentially interesting one. His (or her, of course) Int is what's making him a fighter. He's nothing much to look at physically; a little bit weedy in fact, and he's not clever but he's fast as lightning, good-looking and charismatic in some way. Here's what that gives me:

Gerald the Slow (4th level fighter, NE)
Gerald is an anti-hero. Slow of wit but quick of limb, he takes what he wants often in outbursts of violence that take others by surprise. Good looking and arrogant he is rarely without a doxie on one arm and a toady on the other. Any attempt to engage him in mocking word-play is an invitation to a slit throat. Gerald hangs around in seedy inns and is occasionally encountered  along with his gang of misfits by battered parties returning from some underworld setting. Gerald's MO is to follow such a party when it emerges from some underground entrance in an attempt to gage its strength. A weak party will be attacked without parley by missile fire and poison with the intent of wiping it out completely; a strong party will never know Gerald and co. were there. His wisdom, however, is such that he has had a few close calls over the years. But as yet his luck has held.

And into the stack of NPC index cards goes Gerald the Slow.

Obviously, not all NPCs can be quite as quirky as a STR 9 fighter but Method IV certainly means that penalties for low scores are something to be considered whereas in Method I we always have the phenomenon of the "dump stat" where a poor score can be shoved away so that it has minimal effect.

For example, #10 above is a good cleric stat block - high hit point bonus, a damage bonus, and two bonus spells but a hefty 3 point penalty to AC. The presence of #11 probably means that a player looking for a cleric would take that instead despite the lack of hit point bonus but I think the choices this method gives are more interesting. Additionally, a player with no idea, or no strong idea, of what to play can scan down the list for inspiration in a way that Method I is not conducive to (and still less the various point-buy systems).

Perhaps Gerald the Slow is something a player might like to have a go at when they see it presented on a sheet when they would never have thought of playing an 18 Dex, 9 STR fighter, or the strong, smart but implusive, charismatic magic user on line #2.

Now that computers can generate lists of stats in an instant there's really no need to avoid Methods II to IV, so why not give them a try?

1 comment:

  1. I am definitely a "Method I" fellow; if I wanted a more random approach it would likely just be "Method I, attributes assigned in order".