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Recently I had a minor discussion with our DM about whether my character knows that he is not charismatic or not.

I believe that my character should know that he is not charismatic, our DM however asks that I do not base my decisions on the fact that I know that my character is uncharismatic.

I was unsuccessful in searching for an answer to this question. Now, this might possibly be because I'm fairly new role-playing games. I also don't own any Dungeons and Dragons book, so I couldn't look there, please excuse this. I hope that this question is not opinion based and answers can be supported by official rules/texts/rulings or the sort.

The reason I believe that my character should know (not that he has a -x MOD on CHA but that he is uncharismatic) is experience, in his life he should have had more than enough situations to be sure that convincing or rallying others is not his strength. Just like a strong character knows they can lift heavy objects.

Which brings me to the above question: Do the rules state that a PC knows their (rough) stats or is there developer commentary whether a PC should know their stats? Not as numbers as written on the character sheet, but as personal strengths and weaknesses?

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    \$\begingroup\$ ♦ Just a note: there have been many chatty comments on this question. If tempted to comment, consider whether it's constructive feedback intended to help improve the question. If not, it's probably best to leave it un-written at this point. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 8 '18 at 8:19

11 Answers 11

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Honestly, it depends. If we're talking vague things like "he is/isn't charismatic", it would depend on his personality. For example, Johnny Bravo thinks he has high Charisma. He doesn't, but he was convinced he did because of how he saw himself. If you're playing an egocentric character, this may be the case for him as well. If your character is down-to-earth and grounded, then it would make sense for him to know he is uncharismatic. If your character is very technical and calculated, he may even be able to, within a couple points of error, figure out approximately how charismatic he actually is according to his character sheet despite not knowing there is a character sheet for him.

In short, it depends on the situation and your character. Maybe he knows based off of how he is, or maybe he's clueless. What makes the most sense for him?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 8 '18 at 14:08
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I would differentiate between objective Reality and subjective Realization (sorry if there is better English for that, second language).

The Stats as numbers are precise, objective representations of your (insert Attribute) as compared to every other creatures. Your Character can not know those, as he has no chance to have compared himself against everyone ... they are an abstraction over the whole world.

What a character can (and in most cases should) have, to operate in his everyday world, is a basic understanding of his Attributes in comparison to the local average.

Say you are a Goliath among Goliaths ... you might think you are weak, because you wrestled your whole Tribe and lost to every one of them, but you could still have quite a high strength in terms of stats.

To me, there are two Factors to consider: 1) What do you compare against? 2) How good is your Character at reflecting (honestly!) his own weaknesses.

1) You can only ever know relatives. Thats easier to gauge if you compared against more different people.

2) How prideful or humble are you? Being less charismatic than X and accepting that fact are two very different things.

Long story short, a character can know his weaknesses, if he had time to learn them and humility to accept them. So as long as you don´t use your (Player-knowledge) of the specific numbers to your advantage, i think you are in the right.

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It's up to you

The rules dictate your character's attributes, but not perception of them. There is no "self-awareness" stat.

In life, I've met people who vastly overestimate their inherent attributes, people who vastly underestimate their inherent attributes, and everything in between. A D&D character likewise can lie anywhere on that spectrum of self-awareness, and it doesn't have to be the same for all attributes.

This has deep implications for the psyche and core personality of the character. This is a role-playing decision, and should be left to the player.

Of course, the DM is empowered to override anything about the game, but should be very reluctant to remove player agency, particularly regarding the core personality of their characters. A DM should weigh carefully how making this choice for the players will benefit the game and the enjoyment of all involved.

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An easy way to figure out what your characters knows is to ask if you know your own stats as a person.

Of course the answer is "sort of."

The way we determine whether we are attractive, charismatic, wise, etc. is by taking actions and observing the feedback. People who are attractive discover this when many people proposition them. People who are "funny" believe this because often enough they say or do things and people laugh, and so on and so forth for intelligence, dexterity, strength, etc.

An interesting side effect of this is that if for example a member of the party has an above average intelligence but is surrounded by wizards they might get the impression they aren't very intelligent at all because they are constantly receiving feedback that the other members of the party are more intelligent.

And of course the opposite could happen if you have one mildly intelligent (by wizarding standards) wizard surrounded by barbarians.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I +1ed this but basically the only part I disagree with is "sort of". I think the answer is "no". I've seen the 2 different people give the same joke, one gets laughs the other doesn't. Is that charisma? Or is that timing (int?)? Knowing the folks (wis?)? Profession:Comedian (wis?)? I'm not sold that any of the non-physical stats can be "known" of your own (self). I've heard Int can be compared to IQ but not even sure I buy that or that's someone's easy out. Even if true, I've never heard a relative "attribute" for cha or wis. \$\endgroup\$ – joedragons Jan 5 '18 at 20:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sure, you can't know absolutely, the main point to take away is in the real world you base your assumptions off feedback and so your character would do the same. \$\endgroup\$ – Jane Panda Jan 6 '18 at 16:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, exactly. A character would never know that (say) they have an Int score of 18. What they'd know was that they were doing trigonometry while their playmates were in diapers, and that's what people call intelligence. They wouldn't know that they had a high charisma - they'd just know that they were very good at convincing people to do things their way. They wouldn't know that they had high Wisdom, but they might know that it was hard to get things past them. \$\endgroup\$ – Obie 2.0 Jan 8 '18 at 0:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @joedragons I think the point is that \$\endgroup\$ – DaveMongoose Jan 8 '18 at 14:25
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At the intersection of personality and mechanics

The Player's Handbook on Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma says

You can use your character’s Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores to guide you in roleplaying your character. Here is some background (just guidelines) about what these scores can mean. (10)

(Emphasis mine.) Then the Player's Handbook details what possible effects those high and low scores in each mental ability may have on a character's personality. In this DM's case, when players were creating characters, it sounds as if players were supposed to ignore their characters' ability scores because their PCs don't know their ability scores. While the game says that's fine—it says right there in the quotation that you can rather than you must—, totally ignoring ability scores when creating a character is difficult because the character should already know at least some of her strengths and weaknesses. Further, ignoring ability scores when playing a character means the character is, to some degree, actively denying reality.

Most characters should have some sense of their relative scores

This DM thinks he understands what that DM is aiming for when that DM asks that players avoid making role-playing decisions for their PCs based on the player's knowledge of the PC's ability scores: that DM wants the role-playing experience to be more organic, focusing more on narrative than numbers. For example, this DM suspects that DM wants PCs to act and react according to the PCs' personalities and positions rather than their character sheets. And, to a degree, that's legit.

But a character with, for example, a low Charisma score really should know that some folks that possess greater force of personality—y'know, actual and for-real-in-the-campaign-world charisma—are just better at some things than she is. Although she may or may not be aware of her actual Charisma score, all but the most oblivious character would probably know the following:

…And that's only skills and only some skills that have as their key ability Charisma! Of course, there's certainly a role-playing opportunity to be had that involves playing a self-deluded character that can't put two and two together and fails to take into account a lifetime of such realities, but that's an extremely specific role-playing opportunity. Mandating such ignorance among the entire campaign's populace generally seems—to this DM, anyway—a very difficult challenge.

However, this doesn't mean this DM is wholly unsympathetic to your DM's mandate! Verisimilitude in a fantasy campaign is difficult to achieve, and a DM that says, "Play the character not the sheet!" is making a relatively reasonable demand if that demand is then unaffected by mechanics.

I mean, for example, it may rub the DM wrong to have players determine whose PC has the highest Charisma then have their PCs pick that PC to address the king because that PC has the highest Charisma! The DM may feel like the story would be better—or, at least, that it would possess greater verisimilitude—were the PCs to decide that the Charisma 6 dwarf fighter who's a knight of the realm from a family with deep roots in the campaign world should address the king rather than the Charisma 18 sorcerer who's the vagabond offspring of a charming beggar and wayward, outcast half-eladrin.

So, under such a character-not-sheet! mandate, in the previous example the players may have their PCs pick to have the dwarf knight address the king rather than the aasimar sorcerer because, frankly, that makes sense to the PCs. Then if the king says, "Ah, a noble knight of the realm and a member of House Beardaxe! Your renown and lineage precede you! Request granted!" then the players'll have their PCs do that more often. And if the king says, "Wow, aren't you a terrible knight! Gruff, unpleasant, and possessed of terrible personal hygiene! Request denied!" then the players won't. But that kind of trust is usually earned rather than mandated.


Note: Ability score loss alone convinces this DM that a character-not-sheet! mandate would likely very quickly cause controversy among his players. Mandating players make decisions for their PCs based on the belief that PCs have no concept of their own ability scores means overruling players' decisions about their PCs' actions in favor of what the DM thinks is more believable, plausible, or true, and that's something this DM tries hard to avoid. Seriously, I already get to play the rest of the universe so I tend to let players play their PCs however they want.

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Your character sheet determines how your character really is. How he thinks he is is part of the "Role-playing" aspect of the game. It's up to you (and maybe the DM) to decide how your character is, how he feels, and whether he knows he is not charismatic.

My point is that there is no rule to tell exactly you how you should role-play your character; that's part of the fun!

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I believe other answers cover the question of "should a character know their stats". However, the question also provides some context of what brought this up, specifically that a DM said "you're only making that decision because of your stats". I'd like to address that situation a bit more.

First things first, I don't know of any official rules at all regarding how much characters know about their stats. Even if there was, the absolute most core rule of D&D is that the DM is allowed to ignore or change all other rules if they choose. That doesn't mean there's nothing you can do though. So, in the situation that your DM adamantly states that your characters aren't allowed to estimate their stats then you'll need to work with that. I have some suggestions:

Roleplay it

I can't go too far into specifics here without knowing the character and the situation, but often a character's stats and personality are intertwined. For example, a hermit Druid or Ranger that barely tolerates the presence of other people would have low Charisma, and wouldn't want to talk to people. A brusque knight might try to get out of a fancy dinner party because he doesn't enjoy trying to fit in, regardless of whether he would succeed.

Rather than making decisions based on "what roll would be required and how well I would expect to do?" you could instead look at "what would my character be doing and what would they feel about that situation?" It's possible that this is all your DM wants, even if the decision does indirectly involve considerations about stats. Opinions do vary, but it's not uncommon for DMs or players to want more emphasis on roleplaying rather than treating D&D a set of rules to "win" with.

Compare to other situations

Does your DM also require characters to attempt to pick a lock themselves before asking the Rogue to do it? Do Barbarians attempt to cast magic frequently because they're "don't know" that they can't? While there certainly are some less black-and-white situations, the idea that characters absolutely aren't allowed to know what they're good or bad at can lead to some silly situations. You could certainly argue motivation in either direction (are Wizards bad at melee combat because they avoid it, or do they avoid it because they're bad at it?) but a blanket ruling that characters are not allowed to act based on their own capabilities would be very frustrating if universally applied. At the very least, mentioning this might get your DM to give you a more specific reason why THIS situation is special.

Make sure it's a pattern

It's possible that there really is some reason that the DM wants you to try. Maybe they're trying to use a light touch to steer you in a desired direction. I don't necessarily approve, but it's possible that this will be a rare occurrence and minimally affect gameplay in the future. I would still recommend telling them that you didn't like it, but if it doesn't become a recurring problem then I wouldn't let one event get in the way of enjoying the rest of the game.

Ask directly

Even if you don't have an in-universe rationale for why your character knows that they wouldn't do well, just letting your DM know that overruling your decisions like that makes it harder for you to enjoy the game can do more than you might think. Although the DM is the final rules arbiter, every player is there to enjoy the game and if they only made the call off-the-cuff then a simple statement that it isn't fun for you can be more effective than trying to debate the logic; this is especially true if other players agree with you.

On the other hand, if this doesn't especially impact your enjoyment and is just a question of whether he is "right" then I wouldn't argue the point too much. A few sentences about why you believe your character would have at least some notion of whether they would succeed would be sufficient, and any debate beyond that is more likely to just disrupt the game. Whether it's a worthy discussion to have depends on your play group, but keep in mind that, as mentioned earlier, the DM has the final say regardless.

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I remember reading an article (Called the Dunning-Kruger effect, Thank you doppelgreener), about how smart people know how smart they are (or more likely, how much they don't know), while dumb people think they are smart, because they are not smart enough to know better.

Surely this would/could apply to all stats, in the sense, that while I'm not so strong, as a general rule, I think I'm pretty average, but maybe, if I bothered to find out, I'm probably not even half as strong as I think I am, yet a strong man, having checked on a regular basis, will know how strong he is, because people keep asking him to lift things to show how strong he is.

Explains Johnny Bravo.

So, while I don't remember seeing any rule to this effect in D&D (I know of other systems), I'd house rule it, I'd say, for every 2 points below 16, you add 1 to your stat as your perception of your stat: You don't know how much you are, but would guess the higher value, unless proven otherwise:

*i.e. Charisma 10, thinks he has a 13, Strength 3, thinks he has a 9, Intelligence 19, thinks he has a 17 (above 16, reverse the math)

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    \$\begingroup\$ The article you read was about the Dunning-Kruger effect, about perceived vs actual competence and the former being consistently high across any competency group. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 8 '18 at 13:51
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Would a character know their stats? No

Would a character know the effect of their stats? Probably

Does it matter? No

Simply put, a character's stats are a numeric value to simplify math and determining ranges. But you still play the character how you want.

  • A person with a low STR score can be strong if they know how to apply leverage to a situation.
  • Someone can have a terrible CHA score, but think themselves desirable to everyone
  • By the same token, a person with a high CHA score can drive people away with their manners and attitude
  • Steve Rogers, pre-serum, had a terrible CON store (weak, scrawny, short) but had a never-give-up attitude so he could "do this all day"

So while a character would not know their exact IQ score, they can realize that they are smarter than everyone they meet. They may not know how much they can bench press, they can keep pushing themselves to appear strong.

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If you know your charisma is 3, then you will compensate for it, and then your charisma won't be 3, so obviously you do not know.

But if your charisma is 7, perhaps that's because you are more self-aware, and realize that you need to bathe more often than others because you are a great sweaty blacksmith (just an example). You're still a 7 because you are just as ugly and screechy as that guy with charisma 3, but you have compensated a bit for your ugly mug and harsh vocal timbre by smelling nicer. Get it?

If your intelligence is 5 you don't get to use your higher player intelligence to figure things out and compensate for your stupidity. If your charisma is low you don't get to use your higher player charisma to figure ways to compensate for your ugliness. It's already taken care of in the stats you have, play the stats, that's what they are for. Play the game straight or don't play at all, it's the challenge that makes the game fun.

A player could use intelligence or wisdom to counter the effects of low charisma in a specific unique encounter, but any scheme you come up with to use on an ongoing basis is already accounted for in the stat. The score you have is the score you play. It's a game. :)

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    \$\begingroup\$ OP clearly knows it is a game. I think you're being a tad judgmental of Nacroid's intention. Read at face value, this comes across as a simple meta analysis of "How well can people gauge their own 'stats',: which is how I think it may be best to tackle the question. Just my thought and suggestion. \$\endgroup\$ – Sora Tamashii Jan 5 '18 at 16:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ No judgement of intent intended. How well people can judge their own stats is not a constant, as others have pointed out, according to current research (see cultural differences in the Dunning-Krueger effect at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…, for example) so players should play to the numbers they have, not to numbers modified by meatspace compensations. Enjoy the game, play the numbers as a challenge! \$\endgroup\$ – medievalist Jan 5 '18 at 17:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ But, that's then irrelevant to the question being asked. The question asked basically amounts to "Can my character reasonably know he is not charismatic." Your answer then gives him the run-around saying, "it's a game, so just play it with the numbers you have..." The question and your answer are then completely disjointed and unrelated in this case. \$\endgroup\$ – Sora Tamashii Jan 5 '18 at 17:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ I tried to answer the question as fully stated - context was provided, so I provided context. The answer could be "there is no single answer, it depends on the character, culture, and other details that are determined by the DM, so do what the DM says" but that answer is already provided by other posters. If it is possible to answer the question as a universal yes/no, then the answer is no, because it's a game, and that's the best answer for gameplay in all possible situations. Is that any clearer? \$\endgroup\$ – medievalist Jan 5 '18 at 18:59
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It is possible, and such already exists in-game.

In a world where effects such as the Status spell and Detect Life power, other Detect type powers and spells, not to mention other such information gathering power, spells and abilities, (such as the using skills to determine approximate opponent power level from Tome of Battle), it is possible to get rough estimations of power level for everyone, self included. These aforementioned effects already exist in-game.

With the rules in 3.x for developing new powers and spells, it would be entirely possible to develop new Detect type powers and spells that give a more granular and specific feedback on stats. Combine with illusion effects as a graphical user interface for your newly invented power/spell, and you are well on your way to having a world such as is portrayed in various Asian light novels of "Reincarnation into an RPG-esque world".

Some scientifically-minded individual could even take a Holmesian approach and cast or manifest ability draining/damaging powers against volunteers (or victims) who have a Damp Power effect running on them, thus reducing the ability drain / damage to 1 point per casting/manifesting; and then record how many times until they faint or become immobile (reaching 0, or die, in the case of CON loss). This would give a clear numerical indication of "how strong" a given ability is. Using this experimental data, developing a more precise effect than Status is only a matter of time. Maybe call it Stats. ^^

Even for people who aren't able to magically or psionically perform this assessment themselves, they could go to a local priest, wizard, or psionicist for the assessment.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jan 8 '18 at 17:56

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