The phrase is as old as the hobby. You’ll even hear it outside of pen and paper: “Legion is dropping on the 30th. Who’s rolling up a demon hunter?” Even though there’s no dice rolling or randomization involved in WoW, the meme is still there, locked into the DNA of gaming. You don’t just create a new character. You roll them.

The idea is simple. In the D20 System, every character has a number of ability scores. These represent things like Strength, Intelligence, and Impressing Barmaids, but every character starts out rolling 3d6 to determine the raw numbers. The minimum of 3 is terrible, the maximum of 18 is amazing, and the average of 10.5 is average (despite being impossible to roll on three six-sided dice). Any dang way, chances are that most of my fellow nerds reading this already know all of the above. What’s less likely is that you all like this system.

As long as random stat generation has been a thing, there have been gamers who hated the everloving crap out of it. It’s not hard to understand why. For one thing, older versions of D&D featured ability score minimums to qualify for certain classes. The 1e paladin had requisite scores of Str 12, Int 9, Wis 13, Dex 6, Con 9, Cha 17. If my Goolge-fu is correct, that equates to a 0.10% chance of qualifying. Good luck.

Later editions and later games did away with these requirements, but even then you’re still at the mercy of the dice. Rolling all 8’s across the board makes for a miserable experience, especially if you’ve got some schmuck like Fighter at the other end of the table who somehow managed amazing rolls. (Seriously, Fighter. You’re a jerk.)

The alternatives are many. You’ve got 4d6, drop the lowest. You’ve got 4d6, drop the lowest, re-roll 1’s. You’ve got point buy, where you get assigned a budget to purchase your ability scores. I’ve even got a 5e DM who runs this madcap homebrew where you roll two sets of stats on a straight 3d6, but you choose which one you want for each score, and then you get two re-rolls of a single die (meaning you’ve got to record each individual die of each roll), or you can forgo either or both of the re-rolls to take a free feat. If that sounds complicated, it bloody well is. Here’s the thing though: I understand and sympathize with GMs who invent these schemes.

Rolling randomly allows for diverse and interesting characters. However, you also risk rolling terribly, which can be less than fun. If you go with a solution like point buy you wind up with samey characters. Every fighter has 18 Str and 8 Int. Every wizard has the opposite. You’ll never find a beefy magic user or a particularly charismatic meat tank, and that’s a shame. So GMs attempt to find some happy medium, keeping the thrill of rolling for stats but tempering it with some form of randomness mitigation. The real trick is finding that balance.

That’s why I turn now to you guys with the question of the day. How do you like to generate your characters? Do you roll for them? Do you use some form of point buy? Or does your system of choice offer up a crazy alternative version of character gen that is obviously superior to any of the above? Let’s hear your methods in the comments!

CONVENTION ANNOUNCEMENT: We’ll be manning a booth at Fort Collins Comic Con this weekend, August 27-28. Come on by and say hello!