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I'm having trouble with something. In a ADnD 2e campaign how should a low Strength translate into the narrative/roleplay of the campaign? It's easy to figure out how high Strength would work when narrating or roleplaying, but I can't quite figure out low Strength scores. I like to narrate what's happening like a story with as much detail as I can to really paint a picture for the players. This is throwing a wrench into that.

For example, characters can end up with an effective Strength of 5 if they get hit by a ray of enfeeblement spell. Though the spell says what this means for game mechanics it states "Your DM will determine any other effects appropriate to the affected creature." and I've got no idea what sort of effects it may have. I know, according to the Player's Handbook, that a Strength of 5 offers only a ten pound weight allowance with a twenty-five pounds Maximum Press so a fighter would likely end up dropping their weapon and shield but what about the armour they're wearing or the other stuff they may be carrying? They can't just drop that stuff so, what, can they just not move or something? What would a character with a Strength of 5 be capable of? How should a DM or Player portray such a character?

What would a character with a Strength of 1 be capable of? From a narrative stand-point, not just a mechanical one.

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Anything 3 and up is in the realm of normal function.

The range for PC strength is 3-18. Thus a character with a strength of 3 might be a weakling who cannot effectively wield a weapon or move with any speed in armor, but they are capable of normal human function. In other words, dressed in normal clothing, such a character can move around without difficulty and manipulate lightweight objects without any trouble. Such a character might even be incredibly healthy (high Constitution). Imagine a very short, very petite person who does no strength training. They might struggle to lift a 10 pound barbel off the ground (10 pounds is severe encumbrance for strength 3 in AD&D 2e), but still might be capable of running a marathon. The strength stat means brute muscle power only--there are simply things that the character cannot lift, push, wield, or wear. They can try, but they'll fail. The narrative ramifications don't really go beyond that.

Someone who was wearing armor and got reduced to a Strength score that would not permit them to bear a load as heavy as the armor itself would probably collapse and then have to struggle out of the armor. If they had a heavy sack over their shoulder, they'd likely drop it or it might even pull them backwards off balance and cause them to fall. Someone who had a natural strength so low would never have put the amor on or hefted the sack to begin with. Regardless, once the sword or sack was dropped and the armor was shed, the character would be able to move and act normally, but they'd just be less capable of lifting, pushing, dragging, etc. Since Constitution covers stamina and Dexterity covers agility, the narrative implications end at these simple limitations on brute strength.

2 and lower gets into the realm of abnormally weak and not being able to function.

Barring magical or other such effects, strength scores below 3 are indicative of some kind of physical abnormality--not possible in a Player Character. Once a strength score drops this low, you, as the DM, need to start considering more severe implications, like the character's legs no longer being able to support their weight or the character being unable to effectively use even light weapons or tools. As DM it's up to you exactly how the character is impacted, but the AD&D 2e Encumbrance Tables should be your guide. A character with a strength of 2 cannot carry more than 6 pounds and the rules assume that clothes weigh 5 pounds. Clothes alone put a character with a strength of 2 into the severe encumbrance category--movement reduced to 1, To Hit penalized at -4 (stacking with low strength penalty) and AC penalized at +3... basically helpless. A character with a strength of 1 is not even accounted for on the encumbrance tables, which could mean they can barely function at all beyond lying in a bed.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Using point buy, you can only go down to the STR 6, including --2 racial modifier. And chance of 4d6 drop lowest generating 3 is one in 1296, or 0.077%. Calling 3 normal is a stretch. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Feb 12 at 9:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have to agree with Molot. I know what the book has highlighted but I would never call 3 "normal". Maybe for a young child but not for an adult human. Many house cats weigh around 10 pounds and most people can carry said cats with ease. Most children can carry said cats with ease. Typically being able to lift or carry around 30 to 40 pounds in addition to the clothes on your back is what's considered "normal" for an adult human these days which would mean that a "normal" Strength score would be more like 6 or 7 at least. With a setting like the medieval times it would likely be higher. \$\endgroup\$
    – Demon
    Feb 12 at 10:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not unreasonable objections. I have changed the wording. My point was that at strength 3, the character would still be able to move and perform normal physical functions as long as they did not require lifting or wielding something beyond the weight limit. A character with a 3 strength can still have a high Constitution and Dexterity. \$\endgroup\$
    – ruffdove
    Feb 12 at 15:33
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(This is homebrew, so take this with caution — we've used this homebrew with success in our home games)

What to do with low ability stats?

It is generally a more interesting narrative technique to have an exaggerated thing, vs many finely granular distinctions detailed.

What is a low stat?

By long convention, an ability score of 10 or 11 is considered average for the general popultion, although adventurers would typically have one or two stats of at least 15. Different ability scores have penalties starting at about 7 or 8, with the mid-range offering neither bonus nor penalty.

Flaws for low stats

For every point below 9 in an ability, the player chooses a flaw from the list below — this is the manner in which that low stat manifests itself for that PC. The player is encouraged to play up the flaw in role-play, these are meant to be hyperbolic exaggerations. Normal ability check rolls occur as usual.

Strength

  • Puny: You are treated as though you are one size category smaller than your racial norm with regards to weapon proficiencies.

  • Weak Grip: Any time you miss with a melee attack your opponent has the opportunity to make an attempt to disarm you.

  • Bad Swimmer: You cannot be proficient in the Swimming NonWeapon Proficiency, and must make a Swimming NWP check to even dog paddle in the best of conditions.

  • Bad Climber: You cannot be proficient in the Mountaineering NonWeapon Proficiency.

  • Insufficient Block: You cannot use a shield.

  • Blown over: any prevailing wind greater than a light breeze will knock you prone.

[repeat similarly for other abilities]

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is an interesting approach, though I wonder if you're penalizing characters too much for something that is already a penalty. Out of curiosity, do you have similar penalties for every ability? \$\endgroup\$
    – ruffdove
    Feb 18 at 17:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Implied in this approach is that the DM should not be testing the PCs low-ability in every instance. If the player has selected Puny and Weak Grip then the DM should not be saying "oh, there's a strong breeze, make a STR check". The player chooses in what situations their low-stat PC would be tested, and further has agency to avoid those specific situations (e.g. climb the rigging to act as spotter, not fight boarders below decks). \$\endgroup\$
    – Erics
    Feb 19 at 10:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ And yes, I have rough lists for every ability (cheap drunk, bad with names, butterfingers, day dreamer, outdoor voice only, etc) — too long to repeat here. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erics
    Feb 19 at 10:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, but this isn't at all what I'm looking for and it also doesn't really answer the question. 2e already has Disadvantages and your answer has to do with mechanics not how to translate said mechanics into the narrative. \$\endgroup\$
    – Demon
    Feb 22 at 9:19

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