Prior to the character selection by players it is necessary for the referee to roll three six-sided dice in order to rate each as to various abilities, and thus aid them in selecting a role. Categories of ability are: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity, and Charisma. Each player notes his appropriate scores, obtains a similar role of three dice to determine the number of Gold Pieces (Dice score x 10) he starts with, and then opts for a role.This is how Volume 1 of OD&D describes the process of character creation. Aside from the proper arrangement of the ability scores, which was lost to D&D in the Second Edition era, the quoted passage is noteworthy because it states that it is the referee rather than the player who determines each character's starting ability scores. I only just noticed this little wrinkle and I can honestly say that I have never played the game in this way in nearly three decades of experience with D&D. I am intrigued by the idea and might give it a whirl one day, but I have no plans to do so anytime soon.
On the other hand, what I have every intention of using in my next campaign is a straight 3D6 roll in order for all ability scores. There are several reasons why I want to do this. First, OD&D is much less obsessed over high ability scores, either mechanically or philosophically, than later editions of D&D (or indeed most other RPGs). The great sage Philotomy Jurament speaks at some length about this here and I don't have a lot to add, because I agree with his perspective. Second, one of the things I know very well from my own experience as a player is that I tend to fall into ruts when I create characters. That is, I tend to find a comfortable role and personality and stick with it, molding all my charcaters in roughly the same image. People generally consider this a great failing in a writer and I think it's just as great a failing in a roleplayer. So, random generation helps to encourage players to create characters who are perhaps a little different than those they'd normally have created if they were given free rein to weight their dice rolls or assign scores as they see it. I think that's a good thing, especially if it encourages the playing of flawed or even mediocre characters who nevertheless persevere and achieve great things. In some sense, that's what D&D is about.
That said, I do want to allow for a small degree of customization on the part of my players, but customization that works hand in glove with the strongly archetypal nature of the character classes and races. Thus, I allow each player to replace the result of a single dice roll with a 6, depending on his race. Thus, if a player rolls 2, 4, and 3 for an ability score, he may choose to replace one of those rolls -- presumably the 2 -- with a 6 for a single ability score associated with his character's race. The races and their associated scores are as follows:
Dwarf: Strength or Constitution
Elf: Intelligence or Dexterity
Half-Elves: Intelligence or Dexterity or 1 derived from the Prime Requisite of the character's chosen class.
Halfling: Constitution or Dexterity
Human: Any 2 -- 1 derived from the Prime Requisite of the character's chosen class and another of the player's choosing.
As you can see, this provides human characters with a distinct advantage over demihuman ones, but, because of the lesser importance of ability scores overall, it's not an overwhelming one. Of course, I also intend to enforce rather strictly a limit on the number of demihuman PCs -- no more than one per four characters. My campaign is intended to be a human-dominated one and demihumans, though present, are rare and adventuring demihumans are highly unusual. I am still uncertain if I will simply eliminate the level or increase it somewhat over the OD&D suggestions. While I'm not at all philosophically opposed to level limits, I think D&D's traditional stance is largely incoherent, given the number of exceptions, special cases, and random oddities found in the literature.
Coming Thursday: Goblins as a playable race.