Can the Attribute Numbers Rolled Be Modified?

Tuesday , 7, March 2017 9 Comments

Here’s Kevin Siembieda in Palladium Fantasy second edition answering this age old question:

That’s up to the Game Master. Many role-playing games allow players to reroll a particularly bad attribute or to roll two or three characters and pick the one they want. Personally, I don’t have a problem with any of this, although I suggest players try creating a randomly rolled, (mostly) unmodified character and “role-play” with what fate gives ’em. However, if a player is shooting for a particular O. C. C. and misses the attribute requirement(s) by 1-3 points, I often let the player bump up those few attributes to the minimum requirement so he or she can play that O. C. C. Having experimented often with different methods of role-playing and character creation, I’ve even allowed players to pick a character class and make up attribute numbers they think are appropriate (subject to my final approval and modification). Don’t forget that physical attributes can be “bumped up” through training/skill selection.

Remember, role-playing should be flexible, so the Game Master can go with whatever works best for him and his players. Just be consistent and fair. The bottom line is to have fun.

Okay, you’re talking about bags of hit points with some combat stats, skills, and special abilities here. That’s it! And this is in a sprawling game like Palladium Fantasy with something like four times the number of character classes as Basic D&D, too. Is it really that big of a deal to be barred from a particular class…?

Actually, it is. In “nobody dies” gaming, it’s very very very important to get the class you want. Why…? Because you want to stand around, vicariously looking cool in the precise way you want to do it. And because you’re not ever going to get a chance to try something different, you’re really going to want have the class you want up front.

Notice the lack of constraints on both sides of the gameplay. The “flexible” Game Master bends the rules in character generation so that players can get what they think they want. Then during the adventure, “whatever works” ends up being more bending of the rules so that the players can avoid the character death that they think they don’t want.

The problem here is the tacit assumption that the constraints of the game are somehow in opposition to the bottom line of “having fun.” But they really aren’t! Constraints are what give the game its definition, its form. They define what’s normal, what’s rare, what’s unique. They create a problem space that players can move around in and take chances in. They’re what make choice and loss and opportunity meaningful in the context of the game.

Consider the archetypal geriatric Merchant character from Classic Traveller that people occasionally insist on playing just so they can get a spaceship. Is it really fair to the referee and the rest of the players that the party should be tied down helping pay off some old dude’s mortgage and hunting for anagathics on the side…? If only we had some sort of consistent and fair means of adjudicating something like this!

And we do. It’s called character generation. And man, I love seeing players like that sit down at the table with their grand visions and then watch them all evaporate with a single die roll. Sorry, old man! You’re playing a one term Army character thanks to that failed enlistment role. Oh, and by the way… because of the draft, you aren’t eligible for commission. Erase that Mechanic-1 there, guy!

And then there’s the guy with lousy stats that joins the Scout Service with plans for failing a survival roll so he can make up a better character… only to go four or five terms before failing a re-enlistment roll…! It’s characters like that that are really fun to play. Stuff like that is better than any back story players are liable to bring to the table anyway. And then there’s the oddities that change the entire campaign on the spot. Bob is a Baron…? For real? What are y’all going to do with that?!

And why are people so hung up on having a character start out with a starship in Traveller anyway? You honestly mean to tell me that their game group is unable to look at their collective Mustering out benefits and then cook up some sort of scheme to commandeer, steal, or hijack one? Really…?

Oh, they’ll figure it out. And if they don’t it’s only going to be because they got distracted by something way more awesome. Unless they end up marooned on Gath and they are lucky if they can scrounge up enough cash in risky knife fights that they can afford to get Low Passage to yet another dead end backwater world. But that’s another story….

Trust the dice. They’re what make all this possible.

And what you think you want is holding back your game.


  • B&N says:

    If you’re rolled all unlucky, back-of-the-line attributes–like straight, white, able-bodied, conservative, male–i think you should be allowed to re-roll so that everyone doesn’t have the automatic advantage over you.
    Everyone should get at least one affirmative action characteristic–gay, black, disabled, liberal, or female.

  • Blume says:

    Dying is fine but what’s the point of role playing if you cant play a roll you wish to play. I hate thieves and would rather die a thousand times than play a sneak based character.

  • Gaiseric says:

    Rules purity-spiraling is a poor consolation prize to playing the character you want to play.

    It’s funny to me how we get this kind of nonsense in gaming, but not in any other entertainment venue. Does anyone suggest just showing up at the theater and seeing whatever movie is playing closest to 7:00 on Friday, instead of picking the movie that you actually WANT to see? And yet with chargen, that’s exactly what we’re specifically told we should do, and if we don’t, we’re not actually having fun. We just THINK that we are!

    • Jeffro says:

      That’s right. What you think you want is not what you actually want. But you won’t listen!

      • Gaiseric says:

        I like the poker analogy below, because it so haplessly proves the opposite point of what it thinks that it’s proving. If you get dealt a bad hand in poker, you take your lumps and it doesn’t really bother you too much (unless it’s high stakes, tons of money on the line poker, of course), because you play the hand out and a few minutes later you get dealt another one.

        With RPGs, the hand you’re dealt is one you’ll be stuck with for hours at a minimum—maybe even weeks, months or YEARS.

        Now, if you have fun playing a bad hand of poker for YEARS, then I’m not going to complain—go knock yerself out. But pulling out the badwrongfun argument on people who DON’T want to do that doesn’t seem to be a very fruitful discussion to mine. To wildly understate it.

        Especially if it immediately goes to false binaries of “play the hand your dealt for months or years, or else you’re a Special Snowflake playing My Precious Character, and not a real gamer at all” which seems to be where this always goes.

        • Jeffro says:

          You have no idea how the game works if you just play it like it was designed. No idea.

          • Gaiseric says:

            Either we’re talking about two totally different things, or that’s a non sequitur.

            Considering that the game I play is one that I kitbashed myself, it doesn’t even make any sense at all.

            In any case, I think the disconnect is something much more fundamental—the approach and stance we take as players, and which elements of the game we find the most fun.

            I don’t know what the source of the disconnect is, but my suspicion is that the biggest divide in the RPG community is between gamers who came into the hobby with a wargames and tactical approach, and those who came into the hobby because they were reading fantasy fiction and wanted collaborative oral storytelling and enjoyed riffing off of random dice results.

  • Brian Renninger says:

    The fun is dealing with limitations not in getting exactly what you want. Nobody playing poker always expects to get dealt a Full House or better every time. You take the cards you are dealt and when that hands done you see what the next hand is.

  • Blume says:

    Brian Renninger, poker hands take 5 minutes not 5 years.

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