Athas is a brutal, unforgiving world, and death is not uncommon, even to player characters. Loosing a character, especially an advanced one, and having to shoehorn in a new starting character is never easy. And low level characters are going to have trouble surviving what high level ones can.
So Dark Sun introduced the Character Tree. For it you roll up four characters to form the tree – at the start of any adventure you decide which is the active character and which are the inactive ones. When a new adventure starts you can switch characters or keep playing with the current ones.
There are some rules though. While any race and class combination is allowed, there are alignment restrictions – all four characters must be good, neutral or evil. The lawful-chaotic alignment doesn’t matter. Which means they are all either LG/NG/CG, LE/NE/CE or LN/N/CN.
While the characters do know each other and are assumed to be working towards similar goals, their gear is their own. No swapping gear between characters – the other characters need it to survive themselves after all. They aren’t going to be giving up that precious magic sword of theirs for anything.
Character swapping is limited to a few situations. Firstly, at the start of an adventure. Second, during an adventure, but only at the discretion of the DM, and usually with a 3d6 day delay to represent sending messages and the other character journeying. Swapping characters when they are in distant cities should not really be considered, but if they are both in the same location it would make more sense. And also when an active character dies. An inactive character arrives within one day to take over and the player rolls up a new 1st level character.
As an active character adventures and earns XP and levels up, the player may advance one of his inactive characters 1 level. It does get a little tricky when dual and multiclass characters are involved, as multiclass characters can only advance one of their classes.
So what to put into the character tree? You could go with four gladiators but that is kind of redundant. The dice rolls do determine the exact make up but a spread of characters able to handle a number of situations would work best. You could have one for fighting, one for wilderness travel and adventures, another for city adventures, someone good at magic or psionics or whatever you decide. Some character may cover more than one area, such as rangers, who can both fight and survive in the wilderness. Given the way 2e works, you can have unusual characters covering various aspects for the group. A high INT, high CHA fighter is feasible in 2e, able to be the social face of the party in a way that isn’t really possible in later editions.
I do have a number of ideas in mind for this character tree, but first we need to roll the dice to see what we get. There are a number of options for how to do it, with more or less control over what we get.
The basic option is rolling 4d4+4 6 times, once for each stat in order. It gets good stats, on average around 14 per stat, but lacks control.
Option 1 is rolling 5d4 twice for each stat, keep the highest.
Option 2 is rolling 5d4 6 times and assigning them as desired.
Option 3 is rolling 5d4 12 times and assign the 6 best as desired.
Option 4 is rolling 6d4, discarding the lowest dice, 6 times and assigning as desired.
Option 5 is each stat starts at 10 and rolling 10d4, with dice assigned as desired. No score can be higher than 20 and all points on a dice must be added to the same stat.
The basic option will probably give you better overall stats than the first three options, while the other two will be about the same, on average.
As an example, I used option 4 to roll 4 lots of stats and got one with 19, 19, 17, 16, 14, 13 and one with 16, 15, 14, 14, 10, 8. It is a shame that first was a test run as they would be a very powerful character.
In the end I go with option 5 and get the following 4 sets of dice rolls;
1, 1, 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4.
1, 1, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4.
1, 1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4.
1, 2, 2, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4.
Those are above average, yes. I do have some character ideas in mind that will require them for prerequisites though.
And next time we will start creating those characters.