Pathfinder Advice: Help! I Rolled Crap Stats!

Sometimes, the dice hate you. Sometimes, the dice love you. But, there is no worse time to suffer the capricious whims of the dice than during character generation. Believe me, I know.

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

Pathfinder is a complicated game. We rely on dice to determine many facets of the game, but for many of these situations situational modifiers and player skill can hugely affect the die roll.

However, this isn’t the case during character generation. In character generation, you are pretty much stuck with what you roll. Here player skill counts for naught.

If you don’t get great stats, it can be tempting to declare the character hopeless and re-roll. However, very few characters are truly hopeless. There is nothing wrong with playing a character with sub-optimal statistics. (Assuming you are not at a table where everyone is super-optimised). My first ever character had a Charisma 3. Admittedly, that’s not exactly a huge problem for a fighter, but it still defined a large part of his personality and backstory. For me, it made him more memorable. (It also made hiring henchmen and hirelings quite tricky later on, but I love a challange!)

Assuming you are going to stick with your stats, it doesn’t mean you (or your character) are necessarily doomed. Follow the notes below, to generate your character:

Step 1: Choosing Your Class

The better your stats the more options you have during character generation. Some classes—like monk—require several decent stats to shine.

However, you’ll noticed in the list below several character classes only really require one primary requisite. Of course, every character wants a high Constitution and Dexterity, but they don’t necessarily need them. Not having high numbers in these stats is not exactly a death knell (but it can make life tricky).

  • Bard: Cha
  • Barbarian: Str, Con
  • Cleric: Wis, Cha
  • Druid: Wis
  • Fighter: Str or Dex
  • Monk: Str, Dex, Wis
  • Paladin: Str, Cha
  • Ranger: Str or Dex, Wis
  • Rogue: Dex
  • Sorcerer: Cha
  • Wizard: Int

Looking at the list above it’s clear bards, druids, fighters, rogues, sorcerers and wizards all only really require one statistic to play to the class’s strength. Simply stick your highest statistic in that ability.

It’s also handy to put some of your best scores in Dexterity and Constitution as these boost your character’s defences. After that, assign your scores in the order that makes the most sense to you. Remember, though, Intelligence governs—to a large extent—how many skill points your character gets. Some characters—like rogues—need a decent range of skills while others can probably do without.

Step 2: Racial Adjustments

Remember, your character’s race modifies his statistics. You can enhance your original rolls by choosing a race that plays well to the prime requisite of your chosen class. For example:

  • Dwarf: A dwarf’s stats are modified in the following manner: +2 Con, +2 Wis, -2 Cha; this makes them good choices for fighters, barbarians, druids and rangers, but bad choices for paladins and sorcerers and (to a lesser extent) clerics.
  • Elf: Elves’ stats are modified by +2 Dex, +2 Int, -2 Con; this makes them a good choice for range-focused rangers, rogues and wizards, but bad choices for barbarians.
  • Gnome: +2 Con, +2 Cha, -2 Str; gnomes make good sorcerers and bards, but their strength penalty makes them a poor choice for melee-focused fighters.
  • Halfling: +2 Dex, +2 Cha, -2 Str; halflings make good rogues, sorcerers and bards, but their strength penalty makes them a poor choice for melee-focused fighters.
  • Half-elf, Half-orc, Human: These three races get a +2 to any one stat of their choice. Thus, they are a good choice for almost any character class.

So if you have bad stats, these combinations can be surprisingly effective:

  • Dwarf: druid
  • Elf: rogue or wizard
  • Gnome: bard or sorcerer
  • Halfling: bard, rogue, sorcerer
  • Half-elf, half-orc or human: bard, druid, fighter, rogue, sorcerer or wizard

Living with a Low Dexterity or Constitution

Every character would like a high Constitution and/or a high Dexterity. Having more hit points or a better armour class is always desirable. However, for some concepts a low Constitution or Dexterity can be rapidly fatal.

For example, a melee fighter with a low Constitution score is a disaster waiting to happen, but an fighter specialising as an archer is in a far better position to survive a low Constitution. If you’ve got a low Constitution, choosing a character concept that involves a lot of melee is really asking for it! Depending on the nature of the foes you regularly face you might want to consider picking up Great Fortitude to boost your Fortitude saves. Toughness is always an excellent choice for more hit points.

Similarly, a low Dexterity affects (among other things) initiative rolls, armour class and Reflex saves. If you’ve got a low Dexterity, you don’t want to be at the front of the marching order. If you are at the front, you are far more likely to get attacked while flat-footed (potentially disastrous if you fight a lot of rogues). Choose a concept that puts you in the middle or the back of the party. Improved Initiative is a good choice for characters with a low Dexterity score as it helps you act quicker than normal. However (sadly) you character won’t qualify for Dodge to boost your AC so you’ll need to wear the best protections you can afford.

What Do You Think?

Is life too short? Should your GM let you re-roll your stats until you get he set you want or should you view bad stats as an opportuntity? Let me know, in the comments below.

Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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8 thoughts on “Pathfinder Advice: Help! I Rolled Crap Stats!

  1. I have liked the method introduced in 1E Unearthed Arcana, where you choose your class or race first and then roll a number of dice for each stat based on your choice. Want to play a paladin? You get 6 d6 (I think) to roll for your Charisma. This was introduced because EGG found that his own players kept rolling and rolling ability scores until they got what they wanted.

    With that said – if you use the tradition 3d6 method, then your framework provides a means to make it work acceptably.

  2. We once had someone role up something like STR 9, DEX 12, CON 16, INT 13, WIS 13, CHA 11 (we agreed to roll in fixed order, just for the fun of it), which of course are no bad stats, but also a rather strange combo.
    The player was really unsure what to play, since it seemed to make neither a good melee nor ranged combatant and finally decided to play a dwarven cleric (i.e. CON 18, WIS 15, CHA 9).
    She was sort of a tank (choosing Toughness yielded her 16 HP at first level!) and was quite effective at blocking enemies and buffing the party. Had a lot of fun with that ‘suboptimal’ character.

    I think Clerics do not have a particular need for charisma, since only their channel ability is dependent on it. Also, with a somewhat decent strength and constitution you can play a frontline cleric which works quite well, even without charisma (we have a house rule that each cleric can channel at least once a day no matter the charisma).

    One could also mention the rules for aged characters. After a certain age, a character gains bonuses on mental stats at the cost of penalties to physical stat. But for a cleric that is not involved in melee combat, it might be a fair trade. Also for wizard. Because forget everything but intelligence.

  3. Starting stats are less important than other dice rolls in my opinion, as 1 example a 5th level fighter with amazing stats is doomed if he rolls 1 consistently for hit points! Low hit points can be mitigated by some feats and clever play, but ultimately if your a front line character who if hit is killed in 1 shot your doomed.

    I’ve often looked at the point buy system for stats and taking average hit points like the monsters, but never actually played a game that does it that way . So don’t know if it works.

  4. I absolutely hate low stats. Point buy all the way for me. My very first character I didn’t even get to roll up. It was done by the GM for me because he couldn’t trust that I’d know what to do or pick based on the rolls (which was done in order), and I ended up playing an elf fighter with an Int so low, I was “automatically gullible”. To the point he committed suicide by jumping out of a the third story window when the necromancer told me the building was on fire.
    The dice have always hated me. I hate the rule that “as long your modifiers equal 0 total, you can’t re-roll.” Although not as much as that “roll in order” rule. I’m that player who rolls one 16 out of six stats, but three are guaranteed to be 8’s. The worst character I was forced to keep was my human cleric with stats 8/11/10/9/16/12. The +2 went to Con to make it 10.
    Right now the GM’s taken pity on me, and I get Pathfinder Society hp each level because otherwise my dwarf slayer would have 12 hp at 3rd level.
    Meanwhile, all the other players are “complaining” to me about how once again their god-like character with four 18’s, and their lowest is a 15, when they’re the wizard, oracle, or rogue. Even after 20 years, I still end up in that kind of group. Hate rolling.

    I like that in your article you didn’t once go “suck it up buttercup, it just means that you’re not that good of an adventurer as a basic NPC with NPC stat array. You’ll just have to figure out a way to still be effective.” Or that the stats “don’t make the character.” when they obviously do when you have to roll. There’s challenging, and then there’s Mission Impossible. So I thank you for that.

  5. Way back in the days of 3E, I rolled up an awesomely, yet terrible character. He ended up becoming a elven wizard, and his stats were 8, 16, 3, 18, 16, 11. I was determined to play this first level wizard with 1 hit point. He ended up living till 8th level, with all of 8 hit points at 8th level. He was terrified of everything, especially diseases, bacteria, illnesses of all kinds as he was certain it would kill him. His persistent coughing and sneezing was just wonderful to role play.

  6. I agree that sub-optimal characters can be fun. The thing about Pathfinder is that the mechanics are basic math. Take a look at the Bestiary and you’ll see that in the back on PG 291 it gives average stats for monsters per CR. Now factor in that the CR system is based on 4 PCs and you notice that each level 1 PC needs to hit a 12 AC and contribute about 4 damage to resolve a CR 1 encounter.

    With minimal optimization four PCs should be able to get close to hitting these about 50% of the time.

    I feel though that where sub-optimal characters suffer is on skill checks. For the first few levels anyway. Hitting a DC 15 seems easy until you realize you have no bonus or worse, penalties.

    This is where it’s important that the PCs work as a team. Aid Another, familiars and animal companions, and certain spells can overcome these challenges.

    Low stats just reinforces a cardinal rule in many RPGs: no man is an island. The party is the sum of its parts and often is greater than the individuals in it.

  7. One if my most memorable characters had 4 Strength. The campaign was brutal (we started at level 1, so no bags of holding; I was giving away gold for the sake of carrying capacity), but it was a fun, different challenge.

  8. Honestly, I tend to let my players have one 18 and roll the other 5 scores because I tend to believe they the heroes of the campaign shud be special. However, I do believe that bad stats aren’t all that big a deal. In most cases, the class statistics take over as u rise in level anyway. A fighters strength modifier pales in comparison to his base attack bonus, and an enchanted weapon can cover some of that, as can feats. In a game like mine though, where magic can be hard to come by, I prefer to let the players have that one high score to help balance out the potential bad stats.