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I have a very strong preference for keeping discussions in-character and avoiding out-of-character table talk. The trouble is that my PC is not very smart (an Int 8, Wis 13 half-orc barbarian) but I'm one of the more experienced players at the table.

How can I contribute usefully to strategy discussions we have in-character, while faithfully role-playing a stupid character?

Do I have to just accept that the only way is to make suggestions out-of-game?

The background to this question is that I've already run into problems because of the combination of avoiding out-of-character discussion and avoiding suggesting smart things in-character.

As a player I like to overcome the challenges which are presented, so I do want to think about the best way a situation should be handled, in a way that good prevails (I tend to play Chaotic Good alignment) and everybody survives to see another day – barring accidents and bad luck. The other players don't bother planning on how to tackle challenges, and usually just run into them head-first.

So my character is a simple barbarian and I mainly kept to that role in the party: I smashed things and use brute force, no questions asked. The problem is that I stopped thinking about making intelligent suggestions to the group because my character would never do that. This resulted in two characters dying in an unwinnable fight against an enemy that outnumbered and out-powered us, because the party tried to hack & slash through an adventure that could have been easily won through negotiation and strategising to play two factions off against each other.

I don't mind things going badly due to crappy rolls, but it haunts me that things went badly because I decided to keep quiet.

Is there a way to get my strategic plans presented to the party through my not-so-smart character, or do I have to just break character and strategise out-of-character? Is there any way to reconcile my two priorities of staying in-character as a role-player, and successfully strategising as a game-player?

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I believe answers already exist for a related question here: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/11856/how-can-i-play-dumb –  mxyzplk Oct 30 '13 at 11:33
Note that Int 8 is a character whose Intelligence is somewhat below average but not egregiously so. And Wis 13 implies that you've got some "common sense" and awareness of your surrounding to make up for it. Also, as an adventurer and a warrior, fighting is totally your thing. So even by the standard of "Roleplay your ability scores without deviation," coming up with a decent strategy from time to time really isn't breaking character. –  Alex P Oct 30 '13 at 15:40
@El_Jairo I've done a thorough rewrite/reorganisation of the question to bring out what I think is the actual problem: the conflict of priorities between staying in-character and successfully strategising as a player. How does that look? I cut or summarised most of the background, to focus instead on what the background events showed you about the problem rather than a detailed story of what happened. –  SevenSidedDie Oct 30 '13 at 19:48
This question suddenly got good! Good edit @sevensideddie. –  mxyzplk Oct 30 '13 at 21:28
Please don't answer in comments. Answer in answers. –  mxyzplk Mar 13 at 19:49
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11 Answers

The main issue with this question seems to be whether you want yourself (the player) to make suggestions for play that your character would never come up with. This seems to be a style issue - some parties are fine with this, some are not. If your party is, and you are too, then go ahead and make them. Then play your character as perhaps not understanding the plan (even though you came up with it) and having to have the other characters explain it.

If you would prefer not to do that, can you find another reason for your character to make clever suggestions. I notice he has an OK WIS. Maybe he has a store of good tactical example in his brain. You can say "I remember tribe was fighting Oriknani, we hid until they got really close. Throg thinks this good idea."

The other issue is that the players playing the smart characters don't seem to be coming up with good ideas. Maybe you should play a smart character next time.

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+1 for capitalizing on the wisdom/ie. "past experience." –  LitheOhm Oct 30 '13 at 19:54
+1 too. An illiterate soldier who survived a major campaign (say, the desert campaign in WW2) should be plenty able to know what to do. I guess it hinges on what does the group think INT and WIS are. –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Oct 30 '13 at 20:14
-1: wisdom is defined as common sense and seeing solutions, dredging up past examples is much more of an int (memory/logic) based thing to do. Suggest reading the Ability Score descriptions in the various PHBs (assuming answer is for DnD here, but safe assumption), they are all fairly concrete on this. –  Jack Lesnie May 21 at 8:26
@JackLesnie I disagree, I've always assumed that intelligence is the ability to solve new problems and come with new solutions, wherein wisdom is about knowledge and common sense. –  Maurycy Zarzycki May 21 at 10:18
The descriptions of the ability scores in the PHB, and the fact that every Knowledge skill in the game is based from Int, contradict this. You're confusing 'experience' and 'knowledge', which is a result of the slightly unfortunate wording. –  Jack Lesnie May 21 at 10:25
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DJ Clayworth touched on it, but my experience with this is that when you're talking about out of character strategy planning, parties seem to fall into a few general camps:

  1. Don't do it, keep as much talk in character as possible.
  2. It's okay, but try to reason what your character would actually know.
  3. Forget about your character's intelligence, if you have an idea we want to hear it.

I know I played in one game where the least intelligent party member by stats was essentially also the group leader, by simple virtue of the other players all wanting to defer and let someone else decide what course of action to take. And they were happy, so it was fine.

Personally I think it's something of a non-issue in this case. Certainly an 8 INT Barbarian (possibly illterate, depending on game version and such) is not going to be a math genius and in some types of situations should be played as not knowing what to do. I don't really see how this is one of those, and a 13 WIS would certainly justify coming up with a sensible course of action.

(Personally I view INT as "book smarts" and WIS as "street smarts", so to speak. So you may be not well read and not educated, but with that higher WIS you do have a good sense of how to survive and cope with problems.)

So if you were playing with me, I'd want you to make the suggestion, in character.

What you can do is start making suggestions like this and see how the other players react. Do they react by following them? If so, great!

Or do they react by saying "your character isn't smart enough to come up with that?" If that happens once as a joke comment, no worries. If they really think that, then you will have to dial it back. But exactly how they feel about it is what matters in this case, and it's not something we can answer.

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I was in a very similar situation once. I had a half-orc barbarian named Xig Xag. Three of the five people had never played before, so it was tough to teach them without breaking character. Here are a few of the things that I did to deal with that:

Playing Dumb is Fun

My character would get us into all kinds of silly scuffles and would do ridiculous things. By choosing to do dumb things in situations where we would get beat up but not killed, the newbies in the group learned how to curb my behavior and how to direct me. Plus, it gave us something fun to talk about afterwards, which allowed us to reflect on other ways that we could have acted. The point is that they got used to me being dumb.

The DM is Responsible, Too

There was the temptation to tell people that they weren't playing to their character with certain decisions. If it was seriously out of line, I'd open my mouth. Otherwise, I left it to the DM. Sometimes he would alter their decision with circumstances. Other times, he would make an out-of-character discussion. I had to assume less responsibility.

Intelligence and Instinct Are Not Equal

Sure, Xig thought that if he couldn't see you, that you couldn't see him...he was stupid. Despite his stupidity, he still had instincts. There's a difference between knowing that the level 1,000 wizard will kill you with words and being afraid of the magic man with the knobby stick because he's magic. You can make the "correct" decisions without having to be intelligent. Sometimes you can use your instinct and creature-isms to fill in where your intelligence falls short. Loyalty is another good example of this; I'll leave it to you to think that one through.

Inaction is an Action

Since I was a more experienced player, I was more willing to explore the world and interact. The rest of the party simply was't there yet. As a result, I found myself leading the group into situations that they shouldn't have been in. I countered this by being lazy. My character was unintelligent, so I thought that a healthy dose of laziness was a good attribute to throw in at times. It was kind of hard to bring myself to do this since it slowed down the game, but that's where the DM filled in by changing circumstances to force others to act. Backing off of the initiative gives others a chance to act.

Hopefully these are useful to you.

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Make very inappropriate suggestions contrary to your real plan.

  • Telling everyone that "Der is three of dem, we can rush em!" when it's clear there is seven or eight is one example.
  • "I get em dat robe lady with no weapons in one hit! If can get to past knife guy to her!" this lets everyone tell you that you could never get to the Mage because the opposition can easily protect her and while saying that someone will come up with the best plan to kill the, clear to them now, greater threat.
  • Being skittish about certain situations that seem like traps after you have been in one of them is valid. Near history pains are sharp in his mind, one pit trap equals every hallway has one in it. That gets the "Gronk will look for pits, I not fall in like last time!" then describe putting your face to the ground and looking intently ahead a bit at a time. This forces other players to react as though there is a trap and to search the area so they can get him to carry on. "See Gronk it's safe we all looked."
  • Insane ideas pushed to the edge show players when plans that include anything remotely like the idea might prove to harm them. Take the opportunity early on in the adventure when it looks like ploughing in might win very easily but do it very wrongly so things go much worse than they should have, but not so bad as to lose players. Then refer back to the very situation every time you suggest some new course of action. "Trog say we rush em, but do it better than that time wiff a lizard guys!"
  • Disregarding the good plan in the first breath of the sentence and adding the stupid thing at the end is great as well "I can no talk underground elf talk, I can bash the big one good, you guys get the others!" adding to that sentence by tossing in the 'attack first' last time failure "We can get em like the kobalds!" when you failed to beat the kobalds can add to how dumb this suggestion is, but having already said to parley is not something he could do means it might be something they could do.
  • At any point you think someone is saying anything that might involve acting with out thinking join that person loudly exclaiming "That idea great, we do that!" can point out to the rest of the group what NOT to do.

TLDR: Make large of your really stupid plans, and the others PC's will tell you to cool it while the adults talk.

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This free's you up to complain about them not doing your idea's and let's face it that's what all brainless roleplaying is about :) –  Vethor Oct 31 '13 at 12:14
This is basically what I have in a comment I just made, with the exception that your bad ideas can have deep insight to guide the player in the right direction. –  MirroredFate Oct 31 '13 at 23:50
Your first example describes someone with INT 3, not INT 8 and WIS 13. –  vsz Mar 12 at 20:49
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A suggestion of mine would be: use time, in game and out to compensate for differences in character ability and player ability.

This is a problem many players face, not only when playing int 6 barbarians (I've an int 6 cleric in my campaign), but also when playing epic 48 int wizards. The player, who is most likely maximum int 12, is never going to roleplay either accurately. But there is a way of getting around that.

Lets take a case study. Your barbarian is put in the exact scenario you described, and you, as a player, immediately come up with a valid tactical solution. But, the orc wouldn't get it, would he?

Well, at least not immediately. But what if that half-orc were to spend the afternoon thinking the problem over and over again? He might come up with a tactical solution valid enough -- he just had to "take 20".

This works the other way around, too. Your int 18 wizard would surely come up with something? Take your time and think through a couple of plans, hell, calculate a few probabilities if you need to, take your time to prepare contigency plans and fallbacks, even out of game if situation allows.

Most importantly, remember that it is to be fun. If you are ruining your fun because you constantly worry about how dumb exactly your char needs to be, don't do it. It is not worth it.

Disclaimer: Not feeling all too well while writing this, might contain factual, grammatical, or any other errors, and be hard to comprehend at times.

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Taking more time to figure out what your genius character had 6 seconds to come up with, or forcing yourself to make a decision in an instant when your idiot character has all week to think, are very good approaches. Just be careful in the former case not to let it drag the game to a crawl. If possible, try to talk to the DM about you, as a player, getting some advance notice of things that your character hasn't found out yet, so you can get a head start on the thinking, maybe even outside the game session. As with all cases of player-vs-character knowledge, tread carefully. –  Matthew Najmon Oct 31 '13 at 7:50
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Remember Occam's Razor: The simplest solution is usually the correct one.

This can be applied to your character's strategy-making. A solution you can come up with can likely be put into very simple terms, which carries the bonus of your allies likely understanding the general purpose of the plan better as well.

Remember that your character, though he may be traditionally dumb in terms of math skills and understanding arcane tomes, could be far more clever on the battlefield - able to recognize what will put him and his allies at the greatest advantage in combat. If you are going to go this route, don't make your plans overelaborate, or you'll break the illusion of him being a 'combat savant'.

This also carries the bonus of letting the other characters strategize around your simple plan, coming up with the more complex parts to make it work. You, as a 'dumb' character, can offer suggestions as different parts get brought up, so that you can continue to contribute as the plan comes together.

You can even, if you're feeling especially inclined towards a bit of humor, suggest all the simple parts, let the other PCs put them together into a more elaborate plan, and then have your character praise the other PCs for the great plan that they thought up, and wish he had thought of it himself.

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It's good to think about how your character can contribute, but it's also worth keeping in mind that you are not your character. As you mention, you can easily come up with good strategies that your character couldn't.

So how do you keep this from breaking role? Well, there's going to be other people in the party where the opposite holds true: their characters are smarter/wiser/better than them and can come up with strategies that the players can't. How do you simulate the thinking of a person who's smarter than you? One good way is to bounce ideas off other people. One "smart" person can come up with ideas herself that two "normal" people can come up with together.

I've found that's a good way to contribute. The smart character wants to come up with a plan, so all of the players talk it over and pretend the character thought through it just as well in her head. So people with dumb characters can still contribute to the planning, just as somebody else's thought processes instead of as their characters.

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You've got competing priorities: on the one hand, you want to help your team; on the other, you want to have fun playing a big dumb guy.

Consider sacrificing some IC talk to have it both ways. A brief "let's take care of that wizard before he can cast a spell" before getting back IC and having your character do the exact opposite.

Winning and fun.

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"I don't mind things going badly due to crappy rolls, but it haunts me that things went badly because I decided to keep quiet"

This should never bother you because YOU are not keeping quite, your character simply is not able to contribute. If you are really role playing your character and you know that he would not be able to contribute somthing, than you should not contribute it.

I am usually the GM for the game groups I play with and recently had the opportunity to play a character instead of run the game. My character was fairly smart, but not as smart as I am (when it comes to this type of stuff...I have been GMing sense 1978), and I knew the other players would try to depend on me to help solve a lot of the problems that our characters would encounter. However, my character was not in any way the type of person their characters would consult or depend on for advice (I was essentually a half wild 15 year old) so, I made my character unable to unnderstand or speak any language (based upon my background). For the first few sessions the other players spent far to much time trying to figure out how to communicate with me so that I could halp them figure out stuff. I simply looked at them blankly and followed along with the actions they took or, did my oen thing when approprate. Where there many opportunities that were missed or bad stuff that could have been avoided had I used my "out of game" experience to make decisions? Yes. But YOU are not your CHARACTER, and to truly rolepley you have to keep this on mind.

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Actions Speak Louder than Words

Strategy discussion can be good for the party's overall survivability. On the other hand, strategy discussion can often drag on longer than it really should, especially if everyone is strategizing in character!

I, too, have a character (Minotaur) with a negative INT (9) and low WIS (13). My answer to the repeated strategy discussions in the middle of a dungeon is not to add a dullard's voice to the pot, but rather to put my hoof through the nearest door, and see what happens.

Of course, as you've discovered, a lack of strategy can be a detriment to the party sometimes, even up to and including character death. In my case, my character is a Warden and I increase the party's survivability by taking the hits for them; being the first to advance into the next room of the dungeon is usually going to be fine unless the rest of the party is woefully underprepared for it. As a Barbarian, you can help protect allies by killing things quickly. Rageblood gives you a free charge/encounter when you drop a target to 0, and Rampage gives you a free MBA/turn when you crit. Jagged Weapon at level 8+ (assuming level+4 items) helps with the latter, as does sources of Immediate, Opportunity, or multi-target attacks. More attack rolls = more crits = more Rampage, not to mention the damage dealt by those Immediate/Opportunity/multi-target attacks.

In addition to the main strategy of "kill it 'till it's dead," you can strategize through your actions during combat. For example, charge past (or away from) an enemy your defender has Marked. The GM will probably take the Opportunity action, but you've got some extra defense from the Mark (-2 tohit normally, or -3 if the Defender has the Mark of Warding [Dragonmark Feat] from Eberron Campaign Setting) and the Defender gets to use one of his or her Mark-violation powers. Not only are you helping your ally get more out of the character, most Mark violations cause damage, which brings the enemy closer to death, which will ultimately remove an enemy from combat, reducing the party's total incoming damage.

In the general case, taking a Standard action to Intimidate a bloodied enemy to try and remove them from combat may be another option for a low-INT character (you don't need to be smart to be intimidating, Barbarians get Intimidate as a class skill, and some Barbarians use CHA), however it may not be viable in your particular case, with only 9 CHA as a Rageblood. DC for Intimidate is the target's Will+5 or Will+10, depending on their disposition to the intimidator. Some GMs might give a bonus to the Intimidate roll based on how much damage the target has taken, but that's a house ruling, not RAW.

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Average people shouldn't pe played as 'dumb'

Int 8/Wis13 should not be played as an especially dumb character - given the stat distribution (which for the normal population is with average=10), it's exactly an average orc, simply without heroic intelligence.

Almost every RL gaming group would most likely (on average) include a player with mental stats like Int8/Wis13 - do any of them avoid making intelligent suggestions? 10% of every college classroom is Int8 people. The suggestions for roleplaying 'dumb' mannerisms or dullard characters are NOT for characters like yours, but for much lower intelligence scores than that. Especially since Wis 13 already means 'smarter than 90% of common folk'.

In short, don't play it as an especially stupid character, because it isn't particularly stupid in any noticeable way. -1 penalty to int rolls means being slightly (5%) more likely to make logic mistakes or act without thinking of consequences. He may prefer to do less planning, but he can plan almost as well as a normal human (int 10) and exactly as well as a normal orc (int 8). The other characters may have more knowledge and do longer term planning, but "my character wouldn't do that" simply doesn't apply to making tactical combat suggestions in your case.

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This is not a constructive answer--he's asking for help playing his character in a specific way and instead of providing advice, you're telling him "you're doing it wrong". –  cr0m Mar 13 at 17:35
+1. @crom "You're doing it wrong" is advice. The reality is, almost every answer here describes a character with Int between 3 and 6, with more towards the lower end of that range than towards the higher. –  Matthew Najmon May 21 at 17:43
The question is about how to play a dumb character, and you are using a technicality to avoid the question. A constructive answer would propose some useful advice about playing dumb, while noting that these stats are actually not all that dumb compared to an average character. –  cr0m Jun 11 at 20:57
@cr0m No, the question actually is quite clearly about playing a very specific character (an Int 8, Wis 13 half-orc barbarian) that according to the original poster is "not very smart", i.e., nothing special and less educated than the other in-game characters. That doesn't imply dumb in any conventional sense of that word. –  Peteris Jun 12 at 7:31
From the OP: "How can I contribute usefully to strategy discussions we have in-character, while faithfully role-playing a stupid character?" To me, this reads as a question about role-playing unintelligent characters generally, and his character specifically. –  cr0m Jun 12 at 18:38
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