Friday Favourite: Addressing Your Weaknesses

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on February 21, 2014

On Friday we comb through our extensive archives to find an older article that we feel deserves another look. From January 5 & 15, 2010, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: Addressing Your Weaknesses (Part 1 | Part 2).

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.

Strength

  • 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.

Constitution

  • 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.

Dexterity

  • 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.


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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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Karl February 21, 2014 at 9:23 pm

This is an amazing article! I need to print it to hand out during character creation! Has given me tons of great roleplay ideas! Thanks!

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