Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The GLOG: Testing Stats Upon Leveling Up

One rule that I've recently become enamored with is testing ability scores upon levelling up.

It works like this:

  • When you level up, you pick an ability score.
  • Roll a 3d6.
  • If the roll equals or exceeds the chosen ability score, the ability score improves by 1 point.

It's nice because it (a) counterbalances a little bit of the ability score drain that I sometimes put in my games, (b) gives players a little bit of control for those ability scores that are just one point short of hitting the next threshold for the ability score bonus, and (c) generates diminishing returns, since it is much easier to improve an 8 than a 14.

But after playing with this rule for a little while, it is starting to feel a little sparse.

Players don't level up often enough for it to feel significant, and frequently players don't succeed in improving that low score, which feels sort of shitty.

There are a number of workarounds (you're thinking of some right now, I wager), but what about this idea:

  • When a character levels up, three ability scores will be tested for improvement.
  • The first ability score is chosen by everyone at the table, who bases it on how that character has most recently solved their problems.  The DM breaks ties.
    • Str if they solve their problems through brute force.
    • Dex if they solve their problems through subtlety or duplicity.
    • Constitution if they solve their problems by endurance, or if they've gone through some exceptionally bad shit.
    • Intelligence if they outwit their problems, or by coming up with clever schemes.
    • Wisdom if they solve their problems through perception and common sense.
    • Charisma if they solve their problems through luck.
  • The second ability score is chosen by the character's player.  It must be different from the first.
  • The third ability score is chosen at random by rolling a d6.
To me, this seems like a good mix of random, optimized, and organic development.  Having three chances to improve your stats means that you're very, very likely to improve something when you level up.  And since stats start out at average (~10) and don't change the game much when they improve a couple of points, there's no harm in a little stat-driven character growth.

Players can usually be trusted to optimize their characters.  A fighter will raise Str, or try to build up a weak stat.

And randomness is also nice, because it means that your character might develop in unanticipated ways (just like real life).  And you can have fun trying to explain why your Con is 1 point higher ("It's because we left the city and I can't get purple lotus anymore.") if you're into that sort of thing.

But what I'm most excited about the party-selected ability score increase, since it feels natural.  And I mean natural in the sense of "your skill is improving because you used it a lot" rather than "your skill is improving because you hit some arbitrary, dissociated mechanic".  And it also allows the table to talk about a character and their actions over the last level.  When Swigmar took the dragon egg hostage and negotiated with the dragon for their release, was that a bold scheme (Int) or social interaction (Cha)?  (The answer doesn't matter as much as the fact that the party is talking about their roles in the previous adventure and reflecting on it.)

It also has the interesting effect of rewarding certain styles of gameplay with a certain stat.  The kick-down-the-door character may improve their Strength, even though they are technically a rogue.  The very cautious character who searches diligently for traps and secret doors may improve their Wisdom, even though they are technically a wizard.  

If you want to optimize your character, this incentivizes gameplay appropriate to your class.  So even if the PCs are at a party, the fighter is (slightly) incentivized to boldly challenge the duke on his cruelty, while the rogue is (slightly) incentivized to tell the necessary lies to Lady Mondegreen.

Or the fighter can be the duplicitous one telling lies to Lady Mondegreen, because it's a tiny incentive, and all stats are useful for all classes (more or less).

In Other News

I have a bunch of unfinished dungeons floating around.  Two of them (Gazebo, House of Healing) have been sitting at 90% completion because I don't love them anymore.  But I'm going to try to finish at least one of them in the next week, so expect that.

level 3 of the Gazebo


  1. I use this method:

    It gives bumps much less frequently than yours, but allows them to come in where they really can count in a positive way.

  2. "The third ability score is chosen at random by rolling a d6."

    -Since you've already chosen two of six, why not choose the third by rolling a d4 and simply skipping over the two already chosen?

    1. Because sometimes you get two tries at the same score. Randomness is much more fin when there's the possibility of hitting it big.