At the other extreme from the super character is the character who appears hopeless. The player is convinced his new character has a fatal flaw that guarantees a quick and ugly death under the claws of some imaginary foe. Discouraged, he asks to scrap the character and create another.
In reality, few, if any, characters are truly hopeless. Certainly, ability scores have an effect on the game, but they are not the overwhelming factor in a character's success or failure. Far more important is the cleverness and ingenuity the player brings to the character.
When a player bemoans his bad luck and "hopeless" character, he may just be upset because the character is not exactly what he wanted. Some players write off any character who has only one above-average ability score. Some complain if a new character does not qualify for a favorite class or race. Others complain if even one ability score is below average. Some players become stuck in super-character mode. Some want a character with no penalties. Some always want to play a particular character class and feel cheated if their scores won't allow it.
Some players cite numerical formulas as proof of a character's hopelessness ("A character needs at least 75 ability points to survive" or "A character without two scores of 15 or more is a waste of time"). In reality, there is no such hard and fast formula. There are, in fact, few really hopeless characters.
Dealing with Hopeless Characters
Before you agree that a character is hopeless, consider the player's motives. Try to be firm and encourage players to give "bad" characters a try. They might actually enjoy playing something different for a change.
A character with one or more very low score (6 or less) may seem like a loser, like it would be no fun to play. Quite simply, this isn't true! Just as exceptionally high scores make a character unique, so do very low scores. In the hands of good role-players, such characters are tremendous fun. Encourage the player to be daring and creative. Some of the most memorable characters from history and literature rose to greatness despite their flaws.
In many ways, the completely average character is the worst of all. Exceptionally good or exceptionally bad ability scores give a player something to base his role-playing on—whether nimble as a cat or dumb as a box of rocks, at least the character provides something exciting to role-play.
Average characters don't have these simple focal points. The unique, special something that makes a character stand out in a crowd must be provided by the player, and this is not always easy. Too many players fall into the "he's just your basic fighter" syndrome.
In truth, however, even an average character is okay. The only really hopeless character is the rare one that cannot qualify for any character class. The playability of all other characters is up to you.
Dealing with Dissatisfied Players
All of the above notwithstanding, you don't want to force a player to accept a character he doesn't really like. All you will do is lose a player. If someone really is dissatisfied, either make some adjustments to the character or let him roll up a new one.
When adjusting ability scores, follow these guidelines:
- Don't adjust an ability score above the minimum required to qualify for a particular class or race. You are being kind enough already without giving away 10 percent experience bonuses.
- Don't adjust an ability score above 15. Only two classes have ability minimums higher than 15: paladins and illusionists. Only very special characters can become paladins and illusionists. If you give these classes away, they lose their charm.
- Don't adjust an ability score that isn't required for the race or class the player wants his character to be.
- Think twice before raising an ability score to let a character into an optional class if he already qualifies for the standard class in that group. For example, if Kirizov has the scores he needs to be a half-elf fighter, does he really need to be a half-elf ranger? Encourage the player to develop a character who always wanted to be a ranger but just never got the chance, or who fancies himself a ranger but is allergic to trees. Encourage role-playing!