Dice Rolls

I recently reinstalled and started two games based on the Dungeons & Dragons systems (both well before third edition rules): Baldur’s Gate and Stronghold. What I found, almost immediately, upon starting up both games was my aversion to a system I once encountered quite frequently.

A set of Chessex dice in transparent container. Inside are a set of twelve six-sided dice, these being clear.

A set of Chessex dice in transparent container. Inside are a set of twelve six-sided dice, these being clear.

In both games, you are allowed a ‘roll,’ based off one of the suggestions D&D gives in creating a character. While there are many systems the later manuals suggest, the one I most frequently encountered in groups was rolling for your stats. This had its variants as well, but, again, I most commonly encountered having to roll 4d6 (four six-sided dice), discard the lowest number, add up the remaining three, and then have that number. Do that seven times, drop the lowest score, and then assign as necessary. In person, this typically is done in front of a dungeon master so as to make sure players aren’t fudging the numbers in their favor.

I will quickly state that in terms of tabletop versus videogaming, the former allows for more discretion and control via the DM. If a party generally has lower stats, the DM can account for such and adjust her game accordingly. While we are seemingly getting closer to that goal in videogames, this was a system that just did not exist. In the two games I listed above, you wanted the best stats because the challenges you faced would have set numbers that only changed based on difficulty level selected, not your stat allocation.

In videogames, there may be someone watching the entire time (if we want to personify the system), but there is the option to constantly reroll. Which is what I did in both games. Over. And over. Once more. Again. Noch mal. Schon wieder. Eventually, this would lead me to a point where I had stats with which I was satisfied. Stronghold also has a system in place whereby you can subtract from a non-essential stat for a particular class to give points to the primary attribute of said class at the conversion rate of 2:1.

Looking at one of my favorite series, Quest for Glory, it’s not hard to imagine what drew me to its stat attribution. There is constant advancement in the game, and the character creation is based on distributing a pool of points. The point-based system works much better for getting a player into the game and playing, while it usually communicates two things: if you want to reroll a character because you are not satisfied, it will be much easier than sitting through many clicks to get the same allocation of points that you can distribute (and if you provide the option of resetting skills and attributes, it makes it an easier base off which to start); there will also exist more points that get added to these skills. In terms of QFG this comes through a training system, whereby you use a stat in which you wish to become better. In other games that come to mind, Dragon Age: Origins off the top of my head, you are given a steady allocation of points every level which you may spend as you see fit.

Every system will have its flaws, typically around balancing the attributes’ usefulness, but the one that struck me about the dice rolling stat system is that it delays playing the game. While I was playing Stronghold for another reason entirely (having an idea for a post at The Border House), I found myself instead falling into the habit of making sure I had the proper stats–which led to at least half an hour spent on getting the right rolls. Recently, my mother and I were looking through all the older, disk-based games we had carefully put away, and what I recall about many of the RPGs on said disks was that I spent a sizable amount of time on the character generation screen, just because of such systems. D&D itself seemingly sought to change this in their third edition rules with the addition of gaining attribute points to allocate every fourth level, which seems as much to please players with a more steady mark of progression, as to make the various videogames based off their ruleset more friendly to the average player (ultimately, these two instances are the same).

It is not hard to realize why, even in the early days of the internet, I scoured websites looking for third party character editors to allow me to eschew this process and just have the stats I wanted. I had games I wanted to play.

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About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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2 Responses to Dice Rolls

  1. Seth says:

    It does shock me how unhesitatingly I embraced the 4e “standard” of using point-buy, despite being someone who came up in the vicious, vicious days of 2e (3d6, in order, screw you if you roll a 3); I remember thinking that our 4d6 and drop the lowest system for 3e was -unbelievably- generous, and that was sans the extra roll your method carried.

    But I think you’ve focused on the correct issue, and WHY I was able to leap into 4e so readily: for me, the game is about making characters I can immediately fall in love with. When I look back at old tabletop and comp-based games, I also spent ages re-rolling, saving a potential set, and re-rolling; I remember entire hours spent doing this on MUDs like Mortal Realms. In contrast, when when I consider the most enduring rpg experiences (and this is not to say I’m not currently working through BG2 and Icewind Dale 2 saves at this very moment) I think of games like Chrono Trigger, where each individual character excelled at certain tasks and the goal was to find the party composition that worked best for a particular level or combat.

    For me (and I’m grateful to you for this article, which led to this revelation) a point-based allocation system allows me to craft a character whose expressed role in-game will match the rp concept I craft for it, flaws and all. That’s much more important in the pbp gaming that makes up the majority of my play, because it means I can target a specific contribution- be it damage, control, defense, or healing -and ensure my numbers fall in line with the character I envision.

  2. Hamwize says:

    I remember booting up Baldur’s Gate for the first time back in ’98, having never played a pen ‘n paper game in my life. I found the whole system pretty mystifying. There was little explanation for anything in the character creation system. I persevered and, of course, the game was wonderful. I even ended up getting into D&D as a result of Baldur’s Gate. Today, however, I don’t think I would have had the patience for figuring out a system that was pretty arcane to anyone who wasn’t familiar with D&D. I would probably have chalked the system down to bad game design. Maybe all the hand holding and ease of use in RPG’s today is making me soft…

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