On Ability Auctions

Ability scores used to mean something.

I'm kidding of course. The original implementation was that most people would have neither a bonus or penalty to their ability scores. That made the bonus something special.

However, the expectation that players should have a bonus threw everything whopperjawed, because now systems were implemented to favor those high ability scores. Qualification for classes encouraged this trend, even though the intent was to make the classes rare. Setting was keyed into the rules, and a lot of people wanted a different setting.

Later on, in order to address this trend, ability scores ceased to be representative of the action ability, and instead became representative of skill. Having a 28 strength as a fighter in Pathfinder doesn't mean you're the size of the hulk. It means you are very good at hitting things and causing damage. (Of course by RAW, it does actually mean you're that strong -- but what does that say for your intelligence 30 wizard?)

What I'm interested in today is the long term campaign, started with an ability score auction.

Ability Score Auction

How does it work?

There are two methods I am familiar with, but they both work in the same way. Players are given a resource to spend on various statistics, the winner gets the statistic they want. The non-winners get the next selection in descending order.

The two methods are the experience point auction and the statistic point auction.

For the statistic point auction, players are given 10 points. Every player bids from 1-10 points on each stat. The winner receives an 18 in that stat, the second player receives a 16, the third player receives a 14 and the rest of the players receive a 10. For every point that is left over in the end, the player may raise one statistic by one point. Common variations include not being allowed to use points to raise statistics over 14 or 16, and ties causing both players to get the next lowest statistic i.e. if two players tie for second place, they will both receive a 14 instead of a 16.

The experience point auction has each player roll a set of statistics. They are given so many thousands of experience points to bid with (usually 2,000) These stats are rolled and applied in order. You should have one strength score for each player. Each player then bids for control of that strength score.

How to prevent shenanigans like the players all deciding to bid 1xp to get a head start on the game? Well, by getting everyone on board first. I think it's perfectly fine to start the event off with a discussion on what everyone wants to play so they are all on the same page. However, once the auction starts, traditional bidding for the high score or everyone writing down their bids and having a blind auction with no talking is the way to go.

Hack & Slash


  1. For starting characters ability scores aren't that significant and random rolls makes generating player characters time consuming; therefore , everyone starts with the SAME scores
    , First, pick desired your character class. there are six basic abilities for every character; strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom & charisma.
    Next, assign each ability score one of these six values; 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 & 16; no duplicates allowed, and place as desired.
    Finally, select your character’s race as non-human races will have modifiers to certain ability scores.
    Players should not panic or whine if their initial scores are not as high as desired. In game play, ability scores increase with adventuring and training.

    1. What are you saying here? Is this a quote?

      The fact that the game begins by immediately rolling dice can have value.

  2. Pretty cool system but preventing my players from collusion would be hellish, just about need bridge screens. The 3d6 down the line allowing one swap works for us. The rolling of the stats is magical enough that players enjoy spectating on the rolls of other players.

    1. I think hellish is overstating it a bit. Everyone will genuinely want the best stats for their character. If you allow them to talk beforehand about party roles, but deny them the ability to discuss strategy while bidding (having a silent or blind bid) that should take care of most of it.

  3. Eric Wujack famously used an auction in his Amber game. The point of the design was to put the players in competition with each other. Since they began by competing for stats, it would put them in the frame of mind to continue competing within the game world. If this is where you're trying to get to, that's fine.

    Random stats emphasized fate. This makes players more accepting of character death

    Crafted characters create in the player's mind the idea that they are in control, that they are telling the story of their character, and it can sometimes make them less accepting of things in the game world turning out other than they expect.

    I've experimented with systems where players have to work together to create characters. For example, requiring them to negotiate with one another over high stats. This can encourage teamwork.

    1. Fate? Don't you mean chance?

      Railroaded plot emphasize fate.

      Chance is kind of neutral between the fight of Fate vs. Free Will. It just happens, and it doesn't care who it pisses on, but sometimes how well people pick themselves up and when people decide to take risks in spite of their apparent weaknesses is how you determine who are the real heroes from who are the puppets who were built up as the "Chosen one" and told that they could handle a lot more than, when you get down to it, they really could.

      The real hero is always unexpected. It just looks so incredible that the Gods of Fate, who insist THEY CANNOT BE SURPRISED, totally take credit for it after the fact.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...