Cubes cubed. A trio of six-siders. Three Dee Six, or Three Die Six. No matter how you slice it, 3d6 is gaming perfection. Some might ague that 3d6’s vastly more popular little brother 2d6, of Craps fame, is gaming perfection, and while I can’t really argue that point, I can say that 3d6 is perhaps more aptly D&D perfection.
Over the past decades, the D&D brand has done a good job of convincing everyone that in fact the d20 is D&D perfection. Sure the twenty-sider is indeed D&D’s famous symbol now. It’s unmistakably “D&D”, and always will be. Let’s be real, though. It’s kinda boring when you get right down to it. Nevertheless, the big bad d20 holds the two most important D&D rolls in it’s chubby little fists; To Hit and Saving Throws. So, I’ll leave Mr. Big Britches d20 alone and focus on my favorite little cubes and the character generation rules so perfectly incorporated into D&D by Mr. Gygax and Mr. Arneson.
What’s so great about 3d6, you might ask. Quite simply, the awesome bell curve it provides. While we are only generating a range of 16 possible numbers, the underlying odds are rather complex. Here then are the actual odds for rolling each and every 3d6 sum, from 3 to 18 (rounded numbers):
3: 0.5% (actually 0.46, or 1 in 216, but rounded off for this table)
18: 0.5% (as 3’s note above)
Now, maybe you already knew all of this; if so I must tip my hat to your gaming knowledge! Me, I’m just beginning to really absorb it. Rolls of 9-12 account for 48.2% of all rolls, and expanding that range a bit, rolls of 8-13 account for 67.6%, rolls of 7-14 account for 81.4% of all rolls. Only 18.6% of all rolls will be outside of this 7-14 range (an important one in OD&D terms), with half, or 9.3% of all rolls, being 6 or less, or 15 or more, respectively. So, less than a 1 in 10 chance of having superior (15+) or inferior (6-) scores in any given ability. Chances are that one of your six stats will be either superior or inferior.
Let's just stop here a moment and consider that 9-12 range, the 48.2% of all rolls category. The fact that nearly half of all of the rolls fall within this range is pure gaming quintessence. The rules state that this is the average ability score for characters. Lo and behold, this isn't simply conjecture, it's true when using this 3d6 method. Pure genius on the part of Gygax and Arneson. When using this dice rolling convention, we end up with basically one half of all character abilities being lumped together in this average range. Aside from increasing the number of dice (and perhaps making the extreme scores too illogical), is there a better way of randomly determining character ability scores that these two could have devised? I for one think not.
It’s such a grand gaming convention, the process of rolling those innocent 3d6 when creating a character. I enjoy this bell curve so much that I plan on killing characters by the wagon full in my upcoming campaign, just to see the bell curve in action more often. Just kidding! I would like to see the 3d6 roll more often in games, though.
I’d enjoy a RTH or Saving Throw system using these dice, but I think that rolling more than one or two dice all night long might become tiresome. The mini-curve provided by 2d6 has worked well for Craps, and works well in Chainmail and other games. This notion just might inspire me to move forward with my desire to somehow incorporate the Chainmail 2d6 RTH into my OD&D games, but that is indeed a topic for another day.
I prefer this table to just about any other used in D&D, whether it’s a d00 percentage roll, or a d20 RTH/Saving Throw. I’ve crunched up the Solstice RTH, by using my gaming crew’s old tried and true method of rolling a d6 and a d10 together, and I find that the small nuances of that combination introduce a wee bit of definition to the old linear 1-20 rolls.
To paraphrase Mr. Gygax again:
The dice are your tools. Learn to use them properly, and they will serve you well.The 3d6 bell curve is just begging to be used more. I would welcome ideas or suggestions in this regard.
~Sham, Quixotic Referee