I’ve met a lot of gamers who love to min/max, especially during character creation. They’re willing to sacrifice abilities, powers and skills that they don’t think they’ll ever use in order to make the ones they expect to use all the time that much better. The most common trade off is low mental scores (Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma) for high physical scores (Strength, Constitution and Dexterity). If you’re objective is to play the big, dumb Fighter then this is the way to go. But how do the low scores in your bottom three abilities affect your ability to role play the character?
Most of us have real-life Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma scores between 8 and 11. This is the average range for humans as defined in the character creation section of every edition of the PHB. So if my real Intelligence is 10 and my character’s Intelligence is 6, how should I play the character? Am I not allowed to come up with good ideas? Or should I intentionally make mistakes that I know are wrong in order to stay in character? I say yes, you should.
If you were playing a character with a 6 Strength and you wanted to lift a heavy object the mechanics of the game clearly rule that you can’t do it. This is the case even if you’re a real-life body builder who can bench press hundreds of pounds. So why should the non-physical scores be any different?
What often happens is characters are built with high physical scores and low mental scores and then never feel any adverse in-game effects for having a low Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma. This is wrong and it’s not fair to players who roll up balanced characters. It’s also not fair to anyone playing a class that may require a balanced distribution of many ability scores.
In 4e D&D 12 of the 17 skills rely on the bottom three abilities. So characters with low mental scores see and feel the down side of number crunching during skill challenges. But this shouldn’t be the only penalty for min/maxing. Especially since many DMs don’t use skill challenges or don’t give skill challenges as much importance as combat encounters.
My feeling is that the DM needs to ensure that players with low ability scores play the character they’ve rolled up.
- PCs with low Charisma should make social blunders and make poor first impressions.
- PCs with low Wisdom should be naive and gullible and easily convinced of facts that are obviously wrong.
- PCs with low Intelligence should not be well educated and should not be put in charge of making party decisions (unless perhaps they have a really high Charisma score).
It’s the DMs responsibility to encourage players to stay in character. If a PC with a low Intelligence is always coming up with the plan, solving riddles and puzzles or left to do research in the library then the DM needs to step in.
I’ve come up with two possible options to help DMs ensure that PCs with low mental attributes are played the way they are created.
If a player with low scores continually acts in ways that are out of character then the DM needs to force the player to raise his character’s low abilities. It’s an extreme move but it will send a powerful message. You can’t have it both ways. If you want a really high Constitution at the cost of Wisdom then you have to play it that way. Otherwise the low scores need to be raised to the level at which you’re playing them.
If a player does not conform to his character’s low abilities when he’s forced to use them, make the rolls harder. If he’s got a low Charisma then make sure he faces the appropriate obstacles for someone with his deficiencies. The easiest way to do this is to make the DC more difficult if a PC is acting out of character. The players will quickly realize that they probably shouldn’t expect success as easily as someone with higher scores or formal training.
I’ll admit that the options I’ve presented above are quite extreme. The flip side is to do nothing. Although I loathe this option, it is the easiest way to deal with the situation, especially if none of the players are complaining. It may not be fair to reward what comes down to cheating, but it avoids potentially awkward conversations among the players at your gaming table.
What do you think? Should a player be forced to play to his character’s attributes? What if he refuses to do so (intentionally or otherwise)? Do you agree with my suggestions for handling this situation? Let me know if you’ve experienced this kind of abuse and how it’s been handled at your gaming table.
For the flip side of this problem, check out Playing Really Smart Characters.