When we make characters we often focus on their best ability score. We do whatever we can to get our key ability as high as possible right out of the gate. When we hit level 4 and level 8 we use that opportunity to push our best score even higher. But what about the scores on the other end of the scale? If you started with a 20 Strength it probably means that you’ve got an 8 in something else. How does that 8 affect your PC?
In previous editions of D&D the starting attributes were determined by dice and that meant the possibility for really low scores. Even less random methods of character creation like point-buy weren’t foolproof. Racial penalties to starting attributes still meant a chance of having a couple of really low starting ability scores. The revised point-buy system in 4e and the elimination of racial penalties means that you’re less likely to have any abilities lower than an 8, but even 8 is still just on the low side of average.
So what impact does a starting ability score of 8 have on your PC and how you play him? That may depend on how you explain your lowest score.
We’ve put together some notes on how a low ability score in your physical attributes (Strength, Constitution and Dexterity) may affect your PC. We’ve offered some suggestions to explain why you’ve only got an 8 as well as some possible role-playing quirks that may accompany this low ability score. In some cases low scores can be overcome with the right equipment, feat selection or common sense.
At least in 4e D&D attack scores are tied more closely to the key abilities of your class and not just Strength and Dexterity as they once were in previous editions.
- A low Strength means that your character is physically weak. He’s going to have difficulties performing tasks that require lifting, jumping or climbing.
- Perhaps your PC is a little bit past his prime and that’s why he’s got a slightly diminished Strength.
- How does a weak PC view physically demanding tasks? Is he a complainer or does he try even though he knows he’s not likely to succeed? Maybe he’s always coming up with excuses for why he can’t do something, or maybe he just feels that grunt work is beneath him.
- Since a low Strength likely means poor basic melee attack numbers, your PC should try to avoid close combat at all costs.
- PCs with low Strength should try to focus on classes that rely on ranged weapon attacks or magic.
- If you’ve got a low Strength you should try to assign a few points into Constitution to make sure your Fortitude defense isn’t a complete disaster.
- A low Constitution means that you’re not as physically tough or healthy as the average adventurer.
- This can be easily explained if your PC is overweight or underweight. As with Strength above, age may be a good explanation for your low Constitution. Or perhaps you were a war veteran who was repeatedly injured over the years and never given the appropriate time to heal afterwards.
- Since you’ve got a low Constitution you’re likely to get tired faster and sick more often.
- How does a PC with a low Constitution address his fragility? Does your pride cause you to push yourself too hard too often and then collapse from exhaustion? Are you taking some kind of “medicine” for your ailment, and if so are you keeping this remedy hidden from your companions? Or do you try to hide your lack of stamina by constantly making excuses to rest?
- A low Constitution also means fewer hit points, fewer healing surges and hitting your bloodied value that much faster. If you also have a low Strength then you likely have a poor Fortitude defense.
- With your lower than average hit points you should invest in some decent armor, or better yet try not to put yourself in situations where you’ll take damage. Think about taking a feat like toughness to help off-set this penalty.
- By knowing which monsters use poison or generally attack Fortitude, you can better avoid them. But for those times when your Fortitude is attacked, it’s probably useful to have training in Heal or Endurance so that you can fight off poison or other debilitating aftereffects.
- A low Dexterity means that you’re slow, clumsy and uncoordinated. Your ranged weapon attacks are probably laughable and you rarely act in the top half of initiative.
- If you’ve got a low Dexterity then you’d better have a decent Intelligence or else your AC and your Reflex defense will suffer. And if that’s the case you’d better have lots of hit points.
- How does your PC cope with his awkwardness? Does he make excuses like being clumsy or not seeing objects in his way?
- There are physical conditions that may explain your poor Dexterity. A missing eye eliminates your depth perception. Extreme damage to your hearing may affect your balance. After loosing a limb, it takes time to adjust. Or maybe you’re just nervous, jumpy or paranoid.
- Do you avoid tasks because you’re worried about dropping things, tripping and falling, or even injuring your friends? Are you overly apologetic or do you blame your short-falls on others?
- When selecting ranged weapons you need to find those with the heavy thrown property since they rely on Strength and not Dexterity. If you don’t like acting last, take feats like Improved Initiative or Quick Draw.
- If you’ve got a terrible Dexterity then you might as well don the heaviest armor you can. Don’t worry about the armor check penalty to your skills. The ones that will suffer the most are already based on your Dexterity so you weren’t going to succeed at those very often anyway.
Next week we’ll follow-up with Addressing Your Weaknesses (Part 2) when we’ll look at how to explain and overcome your PC’s low Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma.