I’ve done the math that proves that rolling the standard 4d6 keep the highest 3 (4d6k3) has a higher average stat value than point buy or the standard set. My players and I have rolled for our stats for as long as we’ve played D&D, but we ran a one-shot a few months ago and tried a few new things. One of these experiments was creating our PCs using point buy instead of 4d6k3.
Surprisingly, both the players and I really enjoyed the results of the point buy characters. Unlike rolling for stats, everyone had the same relative power from their ability scores. Yet they still had plenty of customization options when it came to building their PCs. It was such a success that we have collectively decided to use point buy for character creation for our next long-term campaign.
Enough about us, let’s talk about you! Why should you think about ditching the dice and using point buy for your D&D character creation?
The Problem With 4d6k3
Rolling for stats is fun and exciting. It gives you the thrill of gambling and adds a bit of mystery to the character creation process. What isn’t fun is having an awful spread of ability scores when one of your party members rolls an extremely high-powered character. I’ve found myself asking the DM if I can take the standard set in lieu of my rolled ability scores because I rolled poorly.
On the other side of the screen, it makes it hard to balance encounters when there is a large discrepancy between the players’ ability scores. While this problem does eventually taper off a bit the more the PCs level up, it is a big issue in the early game. Even though it’s a team game and you’re benefiting from having powerful friends, it sucks to be out-shined by characters simply because you rolled poorly.
High-powered characters with a few +3’s and +4’s can be a big issue. Having a few PCs or an entire party full of extremely powerful PCs is an issue that the DM will have to be aware of. They will be able to make more saving throws, deal more damage, and pass more skill checks than what the average PC is capable of. This won’t be an issue once the DM is able to adjust their encounters accordingly. However, until then it’s very possible to over or under-tune your encounters if you use the resources in the book.
The Solution, Point Buy!
All PCs are Equal
Due to all of your players having the same exact stat pool to build their characters with no one will outshine anyone. Each character has the same potential power as the rest of their party. This is important as a player for the simple reason that if I rolled poorly as a rogue and had a 14 in Dexterity, the ranger with a 20 in Dexterity at level 1 is a much better stealth character than I will be for quite a few levels.
Like I mentioned before, it’s a team game and the party overall does benefit from the ranger’s high stats, but it sucks being the rogue whose class identity was taken away from them because they rolled poorly. It will take you 3 whole ASIs of dumping directly into your Dexterity score to catch up to that ranger which is a very long time.
Your Choices Still Matter
With 4d6k3 you have the choice of where to allocate each of your rolled stats into your ability scores. The randomness is interesting because it may present you with the opportunity to build a cool multi-class character you hadn’t originally considered.
On the flip-side, that randomness can also limit your choices since very few classes. If your stats are (18, 12, 10, 8, 9, 11, 10) that’s awesome that you got an 18, but there are some classes that become considerably harder to play compared to others when you only have 1 good ability score. Casters, in particular, are difficult to play without at least a solid CON or DEX score.
With point buy, you can have a character build in mind from the get-go and create a character whose stats will reflect a viable path for that build. Due to the variance of dice rolls, you may not be lucky enough to have stats that fit this build.
Reasonably Capped Power
When you use 4d6k3 to create your PCs you have the ability to roll anywhere between a 3 and an 18. This presents a sliding scale of ability score modifiers between -4 and +4 before racial bonuses which is a considerable gap.
With racial bonuses included you could potentially have a character with a +5 stat in your party. Point buy has a cap of 15 in any given ability score which brings its maximum ability score modifiers with racial bonuses included to two +3’s. This is a huge difference in the overall power of the two character creation methods.
From a flavor perspective, I feel that having at the most, 2 +3’s is a lot more reasonable for a level 1 character’s power level. A +5 modifier is the physical limit for characters in D&D 5e and I feel that it would be extremely rare if not completely unheard of for some no-name fighter to be stronger than most of the Monster Manual. A +3 in a stat is well above average, but tempers the expectation of the player and gives them more room to grow as a character.
What is Point Buy?
Point buy is one of the 3 methods of determining ability scores that are described on page 13 of the Player’s Handbook. Essentially point buy starts every PC out with an 8 in each of the 6 ability scores. From here you can increase each stat by using the 27 points that are given to each player.
This is not a 1:1 ratio for points to ability score, in fact, the best stat spread you can have is (15, 15, 15, 8, 8, 8) before racial bonuses and ASIs. Let’s take a look at the rules!
Point Buy Rules
- 27 total points to spend
- Ability scores cannot be lower than 8
- Ability scores cannot be higher than 15
- Each ability score costs a different number of points (see the table below)
- You must spend all of your points
Example Ability Score Sets
As you can imagine there are a ton of possible outcomes for your new character’s ability scores. You can tailor your character to their role’s strengths, or you can balance them out so they have no weaknesses. Let’s take a look at some of the point buy options that the PHB lists.
I’ve mentioned that the min-max build using point buy is (15, 15, 15, 8, 8, 8) before racial bonuses. This lands you with three +2 modifiers and three -1 modifiers for ability scores. It’s not half bad as far as the negatives are concerned, and the 15’s will never be more powerful than two +3 modifiers after racial bonuses are included. While your main abilities will be strong, those -1’s will take a toll on you when saving throws become more frequent in and out of combat.
Note: A standard human character can make this array phenomenal by turning all three 15’s into 16’s for THREE +3 modifiers.
The PHB also lists that a completely average character would look like the following (13, 13, 13, 12, 12, 12). This build would be 3 +1 modifiers, and after racial bonuses are added it would be 2 +2 modifiers and 4 +1 modifiers.
Personally, I would not use this set of ability scores as I like having at least 1 or 2 high ability scores, but it’s a perfectly serviceable build. There’s something to be said about a character with no weaknesses.
If you wish to build a point buy character without dealing with the point buy system you can simply take the standard set (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8) which is a product of point buy.
This spread is great because the worst-case scenario is that you’ll end up with only 1 ability score with a -1 modifier. You can potentially have 2 ability scores with a +3 modifier after racial bonuses. I’ve built quite a few successful characters using the standard set and I typically use it for a fall-back if I don’t roll great stats.
Point Buy Calculator
Using point buy instead of simply rolling for stats or taking the standard set does involve a bit more math. Thankfully great resources like this Point Buy Calculator make it simple for you and your players to build a character using point buy. Simply keep track of your total stat points spent in the lower right-hand corner of the calculator and you’re good to go!
This calculator, in particular, is especially great as it has all of the 5e published races available for you to select. It also has options for adjusting the point buy system if you wish to change the value of some stats or increase the maximum or minimum stat values.
One gripe I do have with this calculator is that it does allow you to keep adding stat points even after you’ve gone past the maximum. Regardless, it’s clearly printed as a fraction so you will be able to tell if you’ve gone over the limit.
Homebrewing Point Buy
Homebrewing the point buy system is probably one of the safest things you can homebrew without breaking your game. Increasing or decreasing the original 27 point pool will allow your players to create higher or lower-powered characters. So long as each PC has access to the same amount of stats to allocate everyone will be equal, and therefore, balanced.
You could also change the maximum and minimum ability scores. This allows your players to create more powerful characters as they can allocate their points differently. Personally, I would never lower the minimum ability score below 6. Having a -3 or lower in a stat is dangerous territory even for the min/maxers. Keep in mind that players can never have more than a 20 in an ability score by natural means.
I did say earlier that having high-powered characters can be an issue. However, this is much less of an issue for the DM to tackle if the entire party has an equally high-powered build. You will know to slightly overtune the fights from the get-go. The entire baseline changes and you are prepared for it.
At first glance, point buy looks a bit intimidating. There’s more math and rules involved with building a character this way. However, it is well worth the extra time to use the point buy system to make an evenly balanced party. No one is left out of the spotlight since everyone is evenly balanced. DMs will be able to plan their encounters around the entire party having the same base ability which makes their job a bit easier as well.
4d6k3 does give you on average a slightly more powerful character. What it also does is present a variance that could swing in or out of your favor depending on how the dice roll. Point buy eliminates the randomness to ensure that everyone is on equal footing for your foray into your D&D game. This has made a world of difference for my group, and I hope it will do the same with yours!
You should also consider encouraging a balanced party composition in addition to keeping players at equal footing when your group creates their characters. I’ve written an article on this subject recently to explain party composition.