Aug 14

House Rule: The Matrix – An Alternative method for starting PC stats

The Matrix


One of the topics Evan and I plan on covering in an upcoming Dungeon Talk Episode is starting a new game. We believe that our audience will mostly be made up of newer Players and newer DM’s, so we wanted to give some thoughts on getting started.

This article will cover an alternate method of rolling starting ability stats for all the PC’s combined. I call it the Matrix. I’m sure it’s from a Game System I’ve never played or otherwise stolen. I’m not claiming i created it, just that I want to start using it.

If you want to skip all the fluff below, Click MATRIX and you can just see the basics.



My brief history with rolling stats:

When I first began playing D&D (Basic Red Box edition) I was 12 years old. My friend Brandon had  heard of the game before, but I had not. I can remember being in the local bookstore called Book Land in Corbin, Ky looking at that box on the bottom shelf of the Games section. I had no idea that my life was about to change. I know that may sound melodramatic, but if you figure in the number of friends I had and have based only on our shared love of D&D, not to mention the amount of time, energy and money I’ve invested into this hobby; I am not overstating things. I’ve easily spent more time with D&D than I have any other hobby or activity, other than watching TV – I guess.

Brandon wanted to buy that Red Box but didn’t have enough money. He talked me into splitting the cost with him. On the way home he started reading the players book and I started with the DM book and have never turned back. In my tenure I’ve easily  DM’d 90% or better of the time. I still have that Red Box, btw.

To start with, we followed the rules pretty closely: you rolled 3d6 and added them together. You then put them in order of Strength (STR), Dexterity, (DEX), Constitution (CON), Intelligence (INT), Wisdom (WIS) and Charisma (CHA). [EDIT: I have been reminded that in Basic D&D the order of Stats was not as above, but is actually Str>Int>Wis>Dex>Con>Cha ] With this basic method you were very likely only going to have one or two good options for what kind of Character you wanted. Keep in mind, in the original editions you had Prime Requisite stats, meaning if you didn’t have high enough stats in specific abilities you couldn’t be that Class (I’m looking at you Paladin). In this method you rolled first and then saw what type of character you would be good at and then created around that.

This did not last very long for us. We were definitely swept up in the epic-ness of all of this. I believe that the original Conan the Barbarian had been out for a while and we wanted to have that adventure.  Average stats of 9-12 do not an epic tale make; at least not for a bunch of 12 year-olds.

Now that we were in “the know” we found other people that were also playing D&D and we found out that there were some ‘optional’ methods of rolling for stats.

  • Roll 3d6, but you could re-roll 1’s
  • Roll 3d6, but you could put them in any order you wanted (so you could at least get your highest stat in the Ability that fit your character concept best)
  • Roll 3d6 in order, but you could subtract 2 points from any stat to add 1 to any other
  • Roll 3d6, but roll a 7th stat and use it to replace any other stat. (The hope here was that the 7th stat would be the best or at least higher than one of the original 6)

With this new information our characters suddenly were closer to what we wanted them to be. A 17 or that elusive 18 was no longer out of reach (though things got interesting again with 18/% strength rolls – if you know what I’m talking about, congratulations you’re old!).

Somewhere in my college years of playing D&D we adopted a new way of rolling. We had also went through the Basic Red box, the Advanced Blue Box, jumped to AD&D (dashed through Unearthed Arcana optional rules – yay! Barbarians and Assassins) and then landed on 2nd Edition Advanced D&D.

  • Roll 4d6, drop the lowest die. Put them in any order you want
  • Roll 4d6, re-roll 1’st and then put them in any order you want.

I’ve been going between these two methods ever since.  With these, and especially the second one, you are very likely to have above average stats.  Having two stats at 16 or higher is very common. Not having at least one 17 or 18 is unusual with these methods.

All of that is about to change starting with my next game.

The method I want to show you today, is a combination of many of these. The element I like best about the Matrix is that you begin forming your party even before characters are made. The Matrix works like this: On the first night you have all your Players come to the table without a character generated yet.  You then have one of the players roll a basic stat roll (using 3d6 or 4d6 – re-rolling 1’s or not – depends on how far up you want to push the average score). You, as the DM, would record that score and then have the next Player roll using the same method. Then the next and then the next.  You would write these in order left to right. Once you get to the 7th roll you’d drop down and start going right to left. This goes on until you have 36 rolls.  You would have something like this:

16 10 9 7 12 14
12 16 11 10 11 15
9 15 11 9 11 11
15 12 14 17 14 14
17 13 8 11 11 14
13 12 10 16 12 14

Now here’s where the Party building starts. Your players would each get to pick one of the stat lines created. You use the stats in order, but you can reverse them if you want. There are a total of 28 variations available (24 if you don’t want to use the cross axis’s).

Two players can use the same line but not in the same order. So Player One could take Column A (STR 16, DEX 12, CON 9, INT 15, WIS 17, CHA 13) and Player Two could take the same column but only if they reversed it (STR 13, DEX 17, CON 15, INT 9, WIS 12, CHA 16).  In a party of 4-6 players there ‘should’ be a stat line that will fit just about any character class or build.  At this point, the negotiations and cooperation begins.  Sure there are going to be some stat lines that are better than others, but is Player One willing to give up the stat line with 2 scores over 15 so that Player Two can get a really good stat line for his Paladin? That’s up the players. If things do not go well, then as the DM you may need to step in. Worst case scenario the Players don’t have to agree, but you determine randomly who gets to pick their line first – but if you can’t get the Players to agree here, then I worry about how they will actually play the game together.

I think the formation of the Party is one of the key ingredients to a successful game. If you are about to start over a game or a from scratch I would strongly suggest you have all the players together during character creation. Allow the Players to figure out for themselves how and why they are together (assuming they are at the start). Let them build connections; maybe two of the characters were in the same gladiatorial arena together and won their freedom. Maybe two of the characters are related.  In one game I had a Player who was a servant to the other, think a life-debt like Chewbacca and Han Solo.

Character creation should equal Party Creation.  If you use the Matrix, please leave some comments on how it worked.



– Michael, AKA Professor Mumbles


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    • Jonathon on July 9, 2013 at 12:56 pm
    • Reply

    So many years ago I started with 1st edition D&D and after a long break, picked it up with 3.0.

    I did not like the fact that I had to roll for stats at the beginning, or someone told me to take these numbers, but at least loved the idea that I could buy my stats up to 28 points.

    By 4th edition standards, your matrix is worth…

    1 33
    2 23
    3 7
    4 22
    5 12
    6 28

    Definitely staying away from that column 3.



    1. I completely understand the value of the point buy system and have played in it and had no problems, but I just don’t like the idea. I guess it’s one of those things that whatever your first experience is, has a greater impact on you, or something. I want to know that there is a chance that I could create some crazy all 18’s monster. We used the Matrix for the start of the new game we are starting this week. I think we had one line with two 17’s and the rest were between 8-14. Didn’t do the math but it’s probably around 30 points.

      Keep in mind that when we do the Matrix that two people can use the same line but one has to use it left to right or top to bottom and the other person has to use it in the reverse order. I like how it’s still random, but there’s some negation and cooperation between players out of the gate. I also let them use the X diagonals in the same manner.

    • Matthew on October 25, 2016 at 10:45 am
    • Reply

    An alternative method that I like to use in my games that isn’t mentioned, is rolling 4d6, drop the lowest die, for all 6 stats. Repeat this method 3 times, and choose the resulting column that you like best. This gives the players a good chance of getting a good array of scores, and can still be combined with the reroll of 1’s.

    • Goat Man on December 16, 2016 at 2:50 pm
    • Reply

    I used the Matrix for a character creation night for the campaign I’m running at our local game cafe. Worked like a charm and got the players thinking about creating a balanced, cooperative party from the get-go. Five players each rolled 4d6, dropping low, and completed one row of stats. I rolled the sixth. Then the picking began…

    The min-maxer of the group got what he wanted and a few players even picked a line they knew was sub-optimal compared to others but more interesting to role play.

    Many thanks!

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