Addressing Your Weaknesses (Part 2)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on January 15, 2010

How do you explain you character’s low mental attributes (Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma)? How do these low ability scores affect the way you role-play your PC? We continue looking at how an ability score of 8 has in-game consequences and provide some in-game suggestions to explain your low scores.

It’s unlikely that any PC will have a starting score below 8, but even an 8 is still on the low side of average. If you’re a power gamer you’ve probably pumped up a couple of your ability scores and sacrificed others. Just remember that your choice to have low mental attributes should have in-game, role-playing implications. In Playing Characters With Low Ability Scores we look at how to overcome problems that arise from players who refuse to play to their low ability scores.

The suggestions we provide below are not the only explanations, but they’re probably among the most common ones. How you choose to play your PC with an ability score of 8 is up to you, but there should be a noticeable difference between PCs with an 8 and an 18 in the same ability. In some cases low scores can be overcome with the right equipment, feat selection or common sense.

See Addressing Your Weaknesses (Part 1) to explain your low physical scores (Strength, Constitution and Dexterity).

Intelligence

  • A low Intelligence means that your character is dumb. You learn slowly and you have poor reasoning skills. You’re still able to do things, but you need more time to complete tasks and require more direction.
  • One possible explanation for your low Intelligence could be a lack of any formal training or education while growing up. You might have been a slave, a war refugee or a slumdog living on the streets. Or maybe you grew up in isolation and had no one to teach you.
  • You’ve probably learned to rely more on instincts (Wisdom) than book smarts.
  • You may have been smarter once, but a sever head trauma resulted in memory loss or just difficulty learning and processing new things.
  • How do you compensate for your low Intelligence? Do you try to laugh off mistakes and play the part of the fool? Maybe you try to hide your ignorance by keeping quiet and not talking a lot. Do people think that you’re indecisive since you shrug your shoulders whenever you’re asked a direct question?
  • You might fall into the opposite extreme, and are unaware of your own ineptitude. You constantly try to contribute, even though your ideas are outrageous and clearly inappropriate. Maybe you’ve learned to just repeat what everyone else is saying in order to sound smart and your companions just think you’re subservient.
  • A little knowledge can be very dangerous. You’re not likely succeeding on monster knowledge checks, but that doesn’t mean you don’t voice an opinion. You might have a tendency to share what you know to be true (even though it’s completely inaccurate). A Skill Training feat in one of the knowledge skills is a good way to address this shortcoming.
  • If you’ve got a low Intelligence then you should strongly consider taking a decent Dexterity, otherwise your AC and Reflex defense will suffer greatly. If neither of these is your best ability score you may want to consider wearing heavier armor or getting a shield.

Wisdom

  • A low Wisdom means that you lack common sense and have poor instincts. You’re likely to make assumptions based on misinterpreting (or just missing) the facts. A low Wisdom doesn’t mean that you’re dumb, just oblivious.
  • With a low Wisdom you likely lack focus. You tend to daydream and may be seen as unreliable. Wisdom often comes with age, so perhaps your character is just young and foolish. There’s also a good possibility that you’re just forgetful.
  • You’re likely to assume that everyone knows what you mean or that if you know something that everyone else must also know it. This assumption may lead you to leave out details since its obviously common knowledge.
    “Of course there are orcs in the forest. They’ve been following us for the past half-hour.”
  • If you’ve got a low Wisdom your Perception and Insight are both going to suffer because of it. If you don’t want to be caught unaware all the time you may want to take a feat like Alertness or Skill Training to improve these skills.

Charisma

  • A low Charisma means that you’re not a people person. You suffer from a low self-esteem and have poor social skills. You could also be tremendously shy.
  • Your low Charisma probably stems from a lack of self-confidence. Maybe you’ve been told you’re worthless all your life and you believe it. Your tormentor could be an abusive parent, overbearing sibling or a ruthless employer.
  • Your feelings of poor self-worth likely mean that you take all comments as criticism.
  • Maybe your low Charisma stems from tremendous guilt. You may carry a shameful secret that you fear may one day be discovered. Were you a slave, a bastard, a criminal, or from an enemy country? Perhaps you blame yourself for a great wrong like the death of a loved one or fleeing from an important battle.
  • A crisis of faith may also explain your lack of confidence.
  • A low Charisma doesn’t necessarily mean you’re unattractive, but it could be a contributing factor. Perhaps you’re badly scarred, have a birth defect or just look different. Your outward appearance only contributes to your low Charisma if you choose to let it.
  • How do you compensate or try to overcome your low Charisma? Do you speak louder than anyone else to make sure you’re the centre of attention? Maybe you treat others the way you’ve been treated, lashing out and insulting anyone ugly or different.
  • If you recognize that you’ve got a low Charisma perhaps you’re content to be the power behind the power. You whisper your good ideas into someone else’s ear and let them take credit, knowing smugly that your idea was accepted. Maybe you’re not that cunning and whisper into someone ear because you’re too shy to speak for yourself.
  • There are many ways to overcome a low Charisma and most of them rely on role-playing. Few in-game mechanics will give you an edge. Surrounding yourself with charismatic friends is a good way to fade into the background if you seek anonymity.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Scott Rehm January 15, 2010 at 11:13 am

Very nice read, for the most part, but I think its a little too limited in its examination of charisma because it focussess primarily on self-confidence, which is just one aspect of charisma. At its core, charisma is about the character’s presence and ability to get others to listen to him. Lack of assertiveness is only one possible way to bring that across.

A character might lack social grace – coming across as rude, thoughtless, or cold. This works well with a low or average wisdom because they simply do not pick up on the feelings of others. Being brutally honest and overcritical are ways in which you can be very confident and still have a low charisma.

A character might not lack social grace, but might not be able to adjust his speech patterns to his audience. A high intelligence, low charisma character with an overly intellectual speech pattern works here. He is esoteric, difficult to understand, and possibly boring. People tend to tune him out or get lost listening to him.

A character might have an aura of distrust, one of those people whose every word sounds like a lie, even when it isn’t. You know, those oily people who smile a little too much and too broadly and have a sneering tone. Seems like a con-artist but really isn’t.

Similar to the character who lacks social grace, a character might have a speech impediment or other handicap that tends to put people off (unfairly). It is a shame, but people tend to make judgements on those with stammers, stutters, or the people who just can’t find the right words and struggle with communication.

One last recommendation I would make is to be careful when compensating for a low score. When compensating for a low charisma by speaking loudly and getting everyone’s attention, you may inadvertanly convey charisma to the other players because they will learn to listen to you when you speak and follow your good ideas. The key, when compensating, is to overcompensate. If you decide your character tries to be loud to compensate for no one ever listening, be louder than you have to be and be petulant about it. Demand that people listen to you even when they already are, just to put across the idea that, really, people shouldn’t be listening to you at all.
.-= Scott Rehm´s last blog ..DM_Simonides: Hey folks, please don’t give ChattyDM (or anyone else) grief over being on The Power Source on my behalf. But thanks for the support. =-.

2 Ameron January 21, 2010 at 12:38 pm

@Scott Rehm
Wow. You’ve certainly given this a lot of thought. I like the additional examples you’ve provided. I found that of the 6 ability scores, Charisma was the one I struggled with the most. Your comments have added a lot more for players to consider if they have a low Charisma. Thank you.

3 Sorain January 24, 2010 at 9:45 pm

one of the fun ways of portraying low wisdom charicters (espeically with high int or knowladge skills) is that they may notice or know everything, and cant pick out whats important

“Oh, thats what the trip wire was for! I thought it odd to have a spring mounted scythe without a trigger.”

*after a not apparent villan has accidently let slip he knows the undead encampment is in a iron mine, proving he is in on the events*
“I wonder what that will do to the market on iron in the region…”

4 K'van Zine January 28, 2010 at 11:58 am

While I understand how low Int and Wis can be seen in those ways leaving out a possible background reason as to why is a bit disappointing honestly. You see my original character K’van, was a Dragonborn Paladin, who would have amazing Cha, and moderate Wis had just Bahumut awful Int. How did I commenstate for such? It was a simple backstory fix, he is not stupid in any capacity, as that would take away from him as a PC Paladin, but instead simply ignorant to the world an its processes. He was raised among Paladins who sheltered themselves in secluded mountains, so his knowledge of the world was simply what he could find in the library. So when we come across things like Warforged or even cake (Though it was a lie) for that matter he was confused, such things he believed could not simpy exist. But they did, and thus his own ignorance due to his childhood and raising. Background fixes are more important then just accepting it and going along with your low scores. Becuse unles you’re a Barb roleplaying as an idiot or just ignorant person is not really that fun. Unless that is what you’re good at.

5 Ameron January 28, 2010 at 12:13 pm

@Sorain
Excellent examples.

@K’van Zine
It sounds like you had a lot of fun role-playing a PC with a low attribute (in this case Int). As I mentioned in the first article, 4e pretty much eliminates scores lower than 8 for PCs. And although 8 is low it’s not low enough to cripple your PC. By creating an detailed background for your PC you’ve incorporated his low score into an interesting character quark. This is exactly the kind of creativity I’m trying to encourage when you end up with an 8 in any ability score.

6 Sorain January 28, 2010 at 2:57 pm

@ K’van Zine
Nice, a really good angle on it. I imagine a similar idea for lower wisdom could work. If you were raised to belive absolutely in a specific way for things to work, like in a cult, then even after some experience of the outside world, your instinctive thought pattern would be the one you were raised with. (‘Lieing is bad, so people useually dont’ for example) of course, by epic teir (when the teir baised +1 to all stats leaves you with 10) you have simply been through to much to think that way anymore. Even at Paragon (+1) the ingraned habits are yealding to the realitys of the world(s).

A thought on Charisma: one of the ways I thought of Charisma was as a measure of how much impact you have on people. so… Charisma 8 person does not stick out in peoples memorys as well, their ideas tend to get co opted by others as their own (if effective) for example. The upside to that is they dont make serius bad impressions either. (Though this might cause trouble for the next half elf bard to come through the town, since they asscociate your race and class rather then you with the problem.) By contrast, High Charisma people cant help but garner attention, and cause a strong impression on people werever they go. Everyone will remember you for saving them, or having that great idea to save their crops. However, good luck sneaking into and out of town without pulling out some ‘verbal gymnastics’ and since you cause a strong first impression…
Fortunately, high Charisma people have the social stregnth to turn this around, so while the city states king might initally want to burn you to death when he finds you in his doughters chambers, you at least have the ability to (with some good explanations) explain about the assassin who ducked into the room and jumped out the window. (Hope some of your friends can supply some physical evidence on this)

7 Ameron February 2, 2010 at 11:22 am

@Sorain
I’ve always felt that a PC’s reputation is tied directly to his Charisma. If you’re interested, we ran a three-part serious on reputation a while back. It covers some of the same great points you mentioned.

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