That which follows is a method of Ability scores determination for use – during character creation – with any role-playing game employing six Abilities with scores in the 3-18 range. This includes all iterations of D&D I know about, retro-clones or other immediate derivatives of them, as well as Dungeon World and some others. The method can also be altered for a different number of Abilities or scores in a different range, of course.
My aim with this is to marry the “organic” feel of the roll-3d6-in-order method with some of the most desirable qualities of roll-and-arrange and fixed-set methods (namely, the ability to play the class you desire, to always have a character you can make sense of in your mind’s eye, and less power-disparity within the party).
Rafu’s matrix method
First you need to draw a grid of three columns by six rows. Outside the grid scribble the Abilities used in your game, one per row. It looks like this:
STEP 1: roll 6d6. Write the results in the first column, arranging them as you wish.
STEP 2: in the second column, write the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, arranged as you wish.
STEP 3: for the third column, roll 1d6 per row and write down the results in order.
Finally, total up each row to get your Ability scores.
Example: I'm playing OD&D. I roll underwhelming dice in Step #1 (4, 4, 3, 2, 2, 1), but I decide I'm gonna try and make this character a Cleric — a hardy and survivable, no-nonsense knight-templar type. Dice are kinder to me in Step #3.
- Str:345=12Int:212= 5Wis:464=14Con:454=13Dex:123= 6Cha:236=11
- If you like to use formal rules for “unplayable” characters, to establish when a player’s allowed to reroll, try devising some based on Step #1 (only): this saves everybody’s time. Something like: “if you got two or more 1s and/or your best die is a 4, you’re allowed to reroll”.
- If you want a more uniform power-level, and/or to make any one point of difference very meaningful (a flatter distribution):
- for Step #1, roll 8d6 then drop highest and lowest die (or even 10d6 drop 2 highest and 2 lowest, etc.);
- for Step #3, roll 3d6 and keep the median value (drop high and low) instead of 1d6.
- For a different number of Abilities (five scores, seven scores, etc.) you need to both:
- roll nd6 in Step #1 where n is the number of Abilities;
- alter the array of numbers in Step #2 by removing or adding (duplicating) values starting from the middle ones (3s and 4s): thus an array for an 8-Abilites game could be “1,2,3,3,4,4,5,6”, one for a 4-Abilities game is “1,2,5,6”.
- To generate Ability scores in a 2-12 range (Epées & Sorcellerie, World of Dungeons):
- skip Step #1;
- for Step #3, either:
- use the 3d6-keep-median roll, or
- repeat Step #3 twice, writing down both sets of results, then choose one (a whole set, not row-by-row).
I originally devised this method back in my 3E days, out of a desire to introduce some controlled randomness, but never got to put it to any real use. I wouldn’t use it for a 4E game, because it doesn’t fit with the small-squad tactics optimization those rules finally canonized as the “official” style of play, IMO. But in the present era of Old-School Renaissance, widely available OD&D retro-clones and free-licensed, D&D-themed Apocalypse World hacks… I believe there is now room and even demand for little house-rules like this to be circulated.