November 13, 2015

Point Buy or Trust the Dice?

Dungeons and Dragons

The one-off D&D nights have become a weekly event for us. It’s still a lot of fun and I really feel like I am improving significantly at being a DM. One thing I love about this is that everyone is perfectly fine with re-rolling characters whenever they wish for each session since the sessions won’t necessarily intertwine with each other we’re all free to experiment.

One aspect I looked into to try out during our recent games were some different ways to build characters in 5e. Methods to choose skills and feats for example can’t really be tweaked, but there are plenty of different methods for distributing stat points.

Point Buy

In 5e, Point Buy is the player having all 6 stats start out at a base of 8. The player gets 27 stat points that they can choose to distribute into the 6 stats however they would like. This is a pretty cool method at first glance because it allows the player to tailor their character to the play style they would like to do.

This also ensures that every PC is equal in terms of power. Everyone has a total of 69 points (7 * 6 + 27 = 69) at base level for their character. Remember, we are using 7 in the math here because you cannot have a 0 as a stat ever in terms of character creation. Only 27 of the 69 points’ location can be chosen, but still. However, there are limits that are in place for how you are able to spend your points.

  • You cannot have a stat lower than 8
  • You cannot have a stat higher than 15

Thoughts on Point Buy

The stat values having constraints is actually a huge benefit to the player in this system. The lowest modifier you can have is a -1, and that is by choice. This also prevents min/maxing from getting out of hand. A player cannot have a 4 in a dump stat and have 2 18’s because of that. This keeps the characters balanced.

In order to get a stat from 8 to 15 you must spend 9 out of your 27 points. This means that you could have a maximum of 3 stats at 15 and 3 stats at 8 given the 27 point buy.

If you were to theoretically buy up to an 18 you would have to use 12 of the 27 points, this is almost half of your total points. While this would be excellent for say a damage dealing barbarian front loading into strength and constitution and really nothing else, you have very little options for multi classing or utility with your skills.

Regardless, the point to take here so we can compare Point Buy to the other methods is that you have a maximum stat pool of 69 points to choose from.

Standard Set

The standard set is a group of 6 numbers that are predetermined in the PHB that you can distribute to your stat points. The set of numbers is the following: 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8. A pretty average group of numbers with only one negative number.

The main benefit of using the standard set is that it takes very little time to create a character.

While you do not get to choose the stat values you get, you do end up getting a higher amount of power in terms of stats. When we sum the entire set together we get a value of 72 points that we have in our stat pool.

4d6 Keep the 3 Highest

The last method described in the PHB is that the player rolls 4 d6 for and keep the highest 3 rolls in that set. The sum of the 3 highest d6 is the value of that stat. You do this 6 total times to get a set of numbers and you are allowed to put the numbers into any stat you choose, however you can only use each unique roll once in your set of stats.

This method is a bit tricky to determine what stat pool it creates in order for us to compare it to the other two standard methods, so I am going to go with the average of the dice rolls. Using the site AnyDice I was able to determine that the average roll you would get with this method is 12.24. Since in D&D we are working with whole numbers only, the number will be rounded down to 12.

4d6 keep 3 in graph view

4d6 keep 3 in graph view

4d6k3 in a table breakdown of percentages

4d6 keep 3 in a table breakdown of percentages

4d6k3 Math

The site calculates the mean (average), deviation, maximum, and minimum rolls for the dice roll you selected. The following is the output of the mean as it is the most relevant here:

“4d6 drop lowest”,12.244598765428275
“3d6 drop none”,10.500000000004832

Our average roll is a 12. We will then put 12 into each of the 6 stats to create an “average character” to determine their stat pool. 6 * 12 = 72 so we have a stat pool of 72 total stats as an average.

On paper this is awesome, we get 3 more stat points on average than the other two standard methods. However we have to weigh the pros and cons quickly before we do a full comparison.


  • Higher average stat pool
  • Ability to have stats higher than 15 before race bonuses
  • Maximum base stat value: 18


  • Ability to roll stats lower than 8
  • Cannot choose each individual stat value
  • Minimum base stat value: 3 (though HIGHLY unlikely at a chance of 0.08% chance to roll)


On paper, 4d6 keep 3 is the best of the three methods to use. With an average stat pool of 72 this is a 3 stat point gain compared to the other two methods. The downside of course is that this stat pool could become lower than 69 with 3 rolls under the average.

Another downside to this method is that all the players will not be on an equal power level. It is extremely likely that your players will have different stat sets from each other. If you want to keep the game completely fair, 4d6 keep 3 is not a good method of doing so.

In terms of raw power, 4d6 keep 3 is the front runner by a fair margin even at its most average amount. There is a good chance that you will roll higher than the average number makes it worth the risk.

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