So, it is time for a new campaign – and a brand-new character! You and your group of friends are sitting around the gaming table. You have selected your best dice and gathered them in your hands, shaking them before letting them roll.

The first roll is a 14, the second 12, followed by 13, 11, 18 (Yes!), and… 4?

Your friends moan at your bad luck and a wave of disappointment wash over you. What do to next?

The 18 value is great, but a 4? Should you retire the character straight away or beg your DM to be allowed to make a re-roll? Or should you embrace it and make the best of it?

low scores
Did you happen to roll a dreadfully low ability score? Don’t fret – there are still many ways to create a fun character! (Photo credit: el pepe, Unsplash)

Rolling low doesn’t have to be bad

This might be somewhat controversial, but I’m in strong favour of keeping the character, even if it has one – or several – low values. Rolling a low score really isn’t the end of the world and it can in fact lead to interesting, but flawed, characters.

Here below I will go through the pros and cons of having a low core ability score, and how to roleplay it. Forget power-playing and embrace your new – somewhat imperfect – character instead!

Change your class

If you got several low scores, it might be wise to stay clear of classes that “demand” several high core ability scores. For example, it is preferable to have three solid good core stats if you want to play a monk or a paladin. However, you can certainly get away with one or several low scores if you play a wizard, thief, or a fighter.

What is the best way to place your low score?

You have six core ability score: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma.

Each core ability is important for certain classes in different ways. For example, a fighter will need high Strength, dexterity, and constitution, but not necessarily high scores in wisdom, intelligence, and charisma.

But remember, the core ability score affects more than just your basic scores, they also affect hit points, skill checks, saves, and more.

Which are the most important traits?

The most important core score depends on your class. If you play a warlock, you usually want to place your highest score on Charisma, if you are a thief, you probably are going to place it on Dexterity, and so on.

The other three most important scores are: Wisdom, Constitution, and Dexterity, since they are the most common for saves. In addition, Constitution also decides your hit points, which you probably want to be as high as possible. However, Constitution isn’t linked to any skill checks, while Wisdom affects 5 skill checks (Animal Handling, Insight, Medicine, Perception, and Survival), and Dexterity affects 3 skill checks (Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth).

Only dead fish follow the stream

Most players will place their low score on charisma, and below we will discuss why this might be the best strategy. But why play it safe, when you can create an interesting character? Let’s see how you can take advantage of placing your low score on all of the various core abilities.

Charming as the devil himself, or not: How to roleplay a low Charisma score

As previously mentioned, the most common ability score that most players will end up dumping the low score is charisma. In a way, this makes most sense, since charisma doesn’t affect AC or hit points, and isn’t among the most important saves. In addition, it only affects 4 out of 18 skill checks (Deception, Intimidation, Performance, and Persuasion), and unless you are a bard you aren’t going to use Performance anyway.

So, how do you roleplay a character with low Charisma? A lot of players will assume that a low Charisma score will either make you ugly or lack all social skills. But Charisma is so much more than that. In fact, while high Charisma allows you to seamlessly interact with others in a confident and eloquent matter, low Charisma can mean that you are incredibly shy or withdrawn. It could also be part of your upbringing, perhaps you were raised far from society or spent a lot of time alone? This could mean that your social skills are lacking, but it could also mean that your social skills are simply very different from your group, which can lead to all types of hilarious misunderstandings!

Strong as an ox, or not: How to roleplay a low Strength score

If you are roleplaying a character with a low Strength score, begin with figuring out why they aren’t especially strong. This can be the beginning of creating an interesting character with a flaw or weakness. The immediate thought is that someone is weak is because they have spent their time and effort to pursue another goal.

For example, an introverted wizard who rather spend time with their nose in a book than engage in outdoor activities. But lack of strength can also have other explanations, such as that your characters are either very young or quite old. Think about if your character has always been weak? Perhaps born weak or raised during hardship that resulted in a lack of strength. Or is this something new? Lack of strength could be the result of a recent illness or imprisonment.

Roleplaying a character with a low strength score can also be quite funny. Perhaps you need a stubborn mule to carry your equipment or bribe someone in your group to carry things for you. This can create an interesting “fish out of water” character that is much more entertaining to roleplay than an average Strength 10 character.

Stealthy as a cat, or not: How to roleplay a low Dexterity score

Instead of an archetypical cardboard chisel-hard fighter with strong fists, but few words, make something different. Perhaps you might consider placing your terribly low score on Dexterity instead? Sure, this would affect Dexterity saves, but if you have high hit points, you can probably take a hit or two. And with heavy armour, the Dexterity bonus is useless anyway, and you are not going to be stealthy regardless of what happened.

Let’s start by examining what a low Dexterity score actually means. This could be that you are incredibly stiff, or that you lack coordination, or that you simply happen to be quite clumsy.

Think about why your character has these abilities. Perhaps you are a mighty paladin, who is strong and has exceptional endurance, but who has never stretched a day in their life. Or perhaps you are blind in one eye and therefore lack depth perception, which – although you are quite agile – makes you exceedingly clumsy. Are you perhaps so absentminded that you tend to stumble or knock out your tea, because you are transfixed about the nature around you, or engrossed in a book. In this case, try to figure out why you are so absent-minded. Perhaps you are just very focused on your studies, or you have just arrived from the Underdark (or the Feywild) and are amazed at the world around you. You can also simply have been born quite uncoordinated, but are trying to improve by trying to learn how to juggle or taking dancing lessons.

Tough as nails, or not: How to roleplay a low Constitution score

A low Constitution score usually means that you don’t have any stamina, whatsoever. This means that while you might be able to lift your backpack with all your equipment, you probably won’t be very good at walking with it for a full day. A low Constitution score could be the result of an incredibly pampered lifestyle at court with little to do and an idle lifestyle, but it could also be the result of a wasting illness or famine. Like with a low Strength score, this could also be a result of that your character is very young or old. You can also weave a low Constitution score into your background and class. Perhaps the pact that you entered as a warlock demanded some of your life force? Or to save someone you loved, you had to go through an ordeal that barely left you alive? Your body still hasn’t recovered properly, and it never will be the same again.

Wise as an owl, or not: How to roleplay a low Wisdom score

According to the Player’s Handbook: “Wisdom reflects how attuned you are to the world around you and represents perceptiveness and intuition.”

It also describes your willpower and common sense. So a character with a low wisdom might have an average intelligence and be quite smart. What then could be the reason behind your character’s low perception and intuition? Perhaps your character is absentminded and doesn’t pay attention to the surroundings? Or perhaps your lack of common sense is due to that you have grown up somewhere very isolated or among people who follow a completely different set of social rules. For example: You could have grown up at an isolated monastery, where the friendly monks followed strict code and never lied. Therefore, your character doesn’t understand the concept, and can’t phantom – or identify – when people are being dishonest.  

Low willpower and common sense could also be common if your character is from the Feywild, but it could also be a result of that your character is being very carefree or perhaps trusts their god a little bit too much.

Clever as a fox, or not: How to roleplay a low Intelligence score

While Wisdom defines perception and common sense, Intelligence is defined according to the Player’s Handbook as “Intelligence measures mental acuity, accuracy of recall, and the ability to reason.”

To play a character with a low Intelligence score typically means that you’re quite daft. This could be a result of that you’re born a little bit slow, or that something has happened that affected your mental ability. Perhaps a hard blow to the head makes it hard for you to crack codes or remember a dungeon’s layout, but it doesn’t mean that you’re gullible and won’t understand when someone is trying to trick you.

A high wisdom score still means that you can use your intuition and perception, but you might not remember things or draw clever conclusions. This type of character can be hilarious to roleplay and it doesn’t have to be a disadvantage! You can of course always be the big tank with a small brain, but you might also play the cute bard who perhaps isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, and hands over the planning and strategic approach to someone else in the group – that stuff is really complicated and boring anyway!

How to make the most out of a low score

As we have shown, a low score doesn’t have to be the end of the world and it can lead to all types of interesting characters. However, you can also improve your character by carefully choosing your race or linear carefully.

A minimum value of 3 gives a -5 modifier, but if you place your score of 3 on an ability score that your race or linear has+2 in, it will lead to that you get a 5, which in turn has a -3 in modifier, which isn’t that bad.

Feats, abilities, and magical equipment are your friends!

You can also choose to play a halfling, which gets the Lucky trait that allows you to reroll natural 1 during certain circumstances. Even better would be to play a human variant and get the Lucky feat, which allows you to roll on advantage three times before you finish a long rest and can also be used to force you to miss you with an attack.

In addition, other feats such as Inspiring Leader can gain you temporary hit points.

You should also become best friends with the bard in the group, who might give you Bardic Inspiration, which could be the difference between a failed save or a successful one.

As you gain levels you might also find magical items that can raise your ability scores further!

Have fun!

Starting with a low-level character with one or several terrible ability scores is probably going to be a little bit of a challenge, especially on lower levels, but can lead to interesting background stories or flawed characters that can grow with time. Many of my favourite characters have had low ability scores that has made them unique and fun to play, including a barbarian who grew up in isolation and who can’t lie, and a thief who accidently lost her soul in a dumb bet at a shabby tavern…

Midnight Tower consists of Tove and Erik, who have been players and DMs of roleplaying games for more than 25 years. At present, Midnight Tower has released several D&D adventures, six printed books,...

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