Roleplaying Ability Scores

Ability scores are supposed to be the base factor of everything a character does, yet after the stats are tallied and the modifiers added up, ability scores fade into the background.  By epic tier we have a near godly attribute or two, but by then it equates to nought more than a modifier.  That needs to change.

The High Ability Scores

  • Strength
    • Rarely are people just born strong.  People are sometimes born big, but strength is something that requires effort and dedication.  A big person who doesn’t workout is just big, not necessarily strong.  A truly strong character might like to workout, in fact, he probably has a workout regime.  Probably eats meals often and with lots of protein.
      • Think of the strongest people you know, in sports or Hollywood even.  What do you think their habits are?
  • Constitution
    • You could describe constitution as fitness.  A fit character knows the importance of a healthy diet, sleep, and exercise.  Most likely, they go through a rigorous stretching routine followed by a morning jog, every day.  They probably even stretch before a fight.  Their bodies are lean machines of efficiency.
      • Pro-athletes, Olympians, marathon runners.  What do they all have in common?
  • Dexterity
    • It’s easiest to think of dexterity in super hero terms; Spiderman, Night Crawler, Batman.  If we throw real people into the mix we add gymnasts, quarterbacks, and martial artists.  They all have lightning fast reflexes sure, but ever notice their other commonality?  Posing.  Whether posing through movement or in victory, dextrous characters always look the coolest.
      • Superheroes are known for dramatic entrances and exits.  We don’t watch martial arts movies for the dialogue.  What does your character need to do to look as cool as possible?
  • Intelligence
    • The greatest minds don’t strive or study for their intelligence, they are born with it.  They analyze everything in an instant, without conscious thought.  An intelligent character is a know it all, whether they vocalize it or not.  Though they know many things, expect them to eagerly delve into their specialty, at every given opportunity.  When they decide to tackle a problem, they do it methodically, learning from their every action.
      • Think of your years in school.  Remember “the smart kid”?  Science, math, grammar; nearly everything came easily for them.  What were the consequences?
  • Wisdom
    • Street smarts, common sense, spacial awareness, empathy; all these things encompass wisdom, the silent virtue.  In literature, we’ve learned the wise answer every question with a question.  They often speak in parables, fables, or riddles.  The truly wise have learned the “secret” to life, to find contentment in any situation (Philippians 4:11-12).  Speaking of Bible verses…
      • Proverbs 10:19
        When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.
      • Proverbs 18:4
        The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters, but the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.
      • Proverbs 29:11
        A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.
    • Everyone has a teacher, one they look up to as wise.  Who is yours?  Why are they “wise” to you?
  • Charisma
    • Check out how powerful the phrasing is for the definition of charisma:
    1. Theology. a divinely conferred gift or power.
    2. a spiritual power or personal quality that gives an individual influence or authority over large numbers of people.
    3. the special virtue of an office, function, position, etc., that confers or is thought to confer on the person holding it an unusual ability for leadership, worthiness of veneration, or the like.
    • Charismatic people are noticeable, almost as if they’ve been divinely marked for greatness.  A charismatic character has a hard time not making an impression.  People are drawn to look at them, then glance away.  When the charismatic stands before a crowd, he plays them like a well-known instrument.
      • Leaders, rock stars, celebrities; people gather around them, flood them, beg them for a touch.  Why?  What makes them so special?

The Low Ability Scores

  • Strength
    • A character with low strength is often called a weakling.  In society, strength is seen as power.  Those without strength generally get picked on, glossed over in reindeer games, and denied their advances in romance.  The result fosters either submissiveness, anger, or comedy within the weaker individual.
      • When your character gets picked on, how do you react?  When you need the aid of a stronger ally, how do you ask?
  • Constitution
    • Old, frail, sickly, obese, anorexic,; constitution encompasses the body.  One lacking in this ability may catch cold quite often, twist his ankle easily, or sunburn at the drop of a hat.  Sick people tend to be the most cautious of germs.  The obese may be found trailing behind the group, wheezing with cardio effort.  The old remember the days when their bodies were youthful; things that once may have come easily for them now only grant frustration.  Often, the low in constitution see the world as an obstacle course set out to see them fail.
      • A low constitution can take many forms.  What’s yours?
  • Dexterity
    • The “non-dextrous” are just plain clumsy.  Clumsy people drop things, stumble over carpet, and bang their head as they bend to pick things up.  Doors elude them, they push when they should pull.  Give them any sort of gizmo and they’ll most likely break it.  Leave cooking for those with a little more finesse.  Lastly, never ask them to carry your healing potions.
      • Think of just one thing your character does that demonstrates their clumsiness and spam it whenever it’s appropriate.
  • Intelligence
    • How do I blog about stupid people without sounding mean?  The schollarly challenged is just one aspect of dumb, but there are many, many more (synonym.com): anserine, (brainless), dopy, dopey, foolish, goosey, goosy, gooselike, (headless), jerky, blockheaded, boneheaded, duncical, duncish, fatheaded, loggerheaded, thick, thickheaded, thick-skulled, wooden-headed, cloddish, doltishdense, dim, dull, dumb, obtuse, slow, gaumless, gormless, lumpish, lumpen, unthinking, nitwitted, senseless, soft-witted, witless, weak, yokel-like.
      • Stupid people are everywhere and they annoy everyone, even the stupid.  If your character is unintelligent, you’re stupid.  Face it, embrace it.
  • Wisdom
    • Similar to the low of intellect, the foolish character is annoying, but in a more comical way.  Their antics are preposterous, absurd, mad even, but they just might work.  The foolish do the things we all secretly want to see someone do.  Scatterbrained is another unfortunate trait of the foolish.  They have a hard time focusing.  Conversations with the foolish can be frustrating.  They don’t listen well, often interrupt, and jump to conclusions before the conversation is over.
      • Foolish can be funny, but it can also elicit a strong “Not now!” from your allies.  What’s your quirk?  Is it silly or just annoying?
  • Charisma
    • Who has two thumbs and is the most awkward guy in the room?  Probably the guy holding the thumbs.  The low of charisma are just plain odd, not always unpleasant, but not the kind of person you’d invite to Thanksgiving dinner either.  They might have a habit of being a downer or a buzzkill.  Maybe they have halitosis.  It’s possible they’re just insensitive and mean.  Animals don’t like them either and old lady’s will look down on them with a glare.
      • In the old days of D&D we used charisma to define appearance, but it doesn’t have to.  A slutty, hot girl isn’t always attractive.  Outside of looks, why does your character have a low charisma?

Combining the high and low ability scores can give us some classic characters like the Absent Minded Professor, or the Simple Minded Brute.  What are some other classic combos?  What’s your combo?

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About j0nny_5

Mid-thirties and work a full-time job in beautiful northern Colorado. In my free time I play D&D, video games, and walk my two beautiful Bouvier des Flandres.
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3 Responses to Roleplaying Ability Scores

  1. I always liked the Wise old Monk… As dexterous as a cat, and always speaking in riddles and metaphors! Wax on! Wax Off!

  2. Brian Armitage says:

    Exceptional stuff.

    My gaming friends play in a variety of settings, many of which I don’t know in detail. For that reason, I often play high-Wisdom, low-Intelligence characters. That way, my character knows the world around him about as well as his player.

    • j0nny_5 says:

      That’s a great out! I did the opposite with a companion character once, high-Int, low-Wisdom. Her nose was always in a book, never helpful unless asked. Her journal was everything to her and held a vast array of information. It allowed me to feed characters like yours, those in an unknown world, with need-to-know information. Thanks for reading!

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