Where Did You Get That?!
Being able to trust that your players can make a balanced character is a really fun place for a DM to be. I’m at a point where all my players are capable of making a character and I am certain that it will be made correctly and within the rules. When I was younger, I would have to check; people often made mistakes with bonuses and math. I even used to have some players who, when unsure about some aspect of their character during creation, would assume the most powerful way of reading it was accurate. That, or they were trying to cheat. Now, I only look at someone’s character sheet if they ask me to, or if they’re playing some strange new class I’ve never heard of. This means that I sometimes get very fun surprises during the course of the game I’m running.
The party was part of a team sent to fly an airship over some very high mountains. No one had done this before, so they were set to explore uncharted territory. One of the players was the captain of the ship; they were all about 10th level, and this was 3.5 edition of D&D. At one point during the campaign, I intended to have their ship stolen from them, which would require them to seek it out and get it back. To do this, I had the ship boarded by a group of 2 dozen were-tigers, who all revealed themselves, and ordered the party to jump over the edge (they all had feather fall). The captain responded by telling the were-tigers that he would go peacefully, but that in order to fly the ship safely, they would need something of his. He set down a small wooden box and slid it over to them. As he jumped over the edge, he spoke the two command words of the Folding Boat he had just laid at their feet, causing a full galleon to appear atop his ship. The ship could not hold the weight, and both ships crashed to the ground, killing all the were-tigers. I had not anticipated that!
Another group I ran was wanting to speak to a dragon, and had approached the tribe of kobolds that laired outside his cave. It was a pretty low level party, but they had a good amount of gold. The kobolds told the party that they would only be allowed to enter if they brought an appropriate sacrifice first; a pair of fat, white goats. However, before they told the party what was required, they spoke among themselves in their native language. I had not seen what languages my party spoke, and so I was surprised when I found out that one of the players spoke kobold. The player managed to hear that the dragon was actually dead, and a giant was waiting in the cave to kill anyone who entered so they could steal from them. When the party went to get the goats, the other player went and bought a couple Arrows of Giant Slaying; the encounter was much easier than I had planned, but it was still great, because I didn’t change anything simply because they had an edge.
I love being able to trust my players. I’ve also discovered that if someone seems to have an ability that is way more effective than it should be for their level, the rest of the party will notice. So many times I’ve had a successful player have their teammates ask to see what ability they used so they can ensure it was understood correctly. It’s worth taking a chance and letting players take care of their own character creation just to add an extra layer of fun for you as the DM.