The rules make reference to only rolling when there is a chance of success or failure and that most things will either automatically succeed or automatically fail. It especially calls this out in social interaction by saying let the players role play the encounter and decide based on their role play whether they succeed or not, only rolling if you aren't sure about the result.

So is there a rule that keeps the players role playing their stats? Like the fighter that can barely remember his name and doesn't know any etiquette at all (low Int and Cha) giving a rousing fact filled speech to sway an NPC?

I'm not looking for house rules or DM calls or anything. I'm looking for actual rules.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Let's not use comments to conduct a debate on the nature and meanings of ability score numbers. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ Mar 13, 2016 at 21:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Based on comments on the answers I've removed the [rules-as-written] tag. As this question is asking if there is an explicit rule in existence, it's just a question about the rules, which requires no tag other than the rules tag involved (i.e., [dnd-5e]). The [rules-as-written] tag would only apply if what the question was looking for included answers that show how the rules logically interconnect to require players to play their PCs' stats, which you've explicitly rejected in comments below. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 16, 2016 at 18:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Except that I am specifically asking for any rules that are written in the books. Only one answer has anything close to rules as written and I've selected that answer because of that. Personality and appearance do not equate to ability scores. There is really no simpler way to put it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lokiare
    Mar 17, 2016 at 18:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's still not what the tag is for. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 17, 2016 at 18:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ The tag is not for finding "Rules as Written"? \$\endgroup\$
    – Lokiare
    Mar 17, 2016 at 18:57

5 Answers 5


No rule exactly, but there are things you can do to encourage it.

There is no way that you can force your players into role playing their characters' low stat scores. Any attempt to do so will probably annoy them anyway.

You can however, reward players who do stick to their characters' low stat scores in the same way that you would reward them to sticking to their characters' trait, flaw or bond. This is called Inspiration and is detailed on page 125 of the Player's Handbook and page 240 of the Dungeon Master's Guide.

The general rule is that you award Inspiration when the player role plays well and they can spend it whenever they want to gain Advantage on any Saving Throw, Ability Check or Attack Roll. But you can easily extend this to role playing weak stats too.

From the Player's Handbook:

Inspiration is a rule the Dungeon Master can use to reward you for playing your character in a way that’s true to his or her personality traits, ideal, bond, and flaw.

From the Dungeon Master's Guide:

Using inspiration to reward roleplaying is a good place to start for most groups. Reward a player with inspiration when that player causes his or her character to do something that is consistent with the character's personality trait, flaw or bond.

The rules state that you may only have one point of Inspiration at a time, but I tend to be a little more relaxed and allow my players to build up to a maximum of three or so.

Just remember, role playing a character's weaknesses tends to be far harder than role playing out their strengths. So I tend to reward accordingly.

  • \$\begingroup\$ So far this is the closest to a rules based answer I've seen. If no one else has anything to add, I'll choose this as the answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lokiare
    Mar 13, 2016 at 22:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Doesn't rewarding players who play down to lower stats disadvantage players with high stats that can't play up to those because of the player's limitations? \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Mar 14, 2016 at 1:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Actualy Rules based means exactly what I think it means. It means that its set down clearly in the rule books. In this case the only real rule in the rule book to keep players playing to their ability scores is to encourage them to role play their characters by using inspiration points. The rest of the answers have quite a bit of RAI (rules as interpreted) or reading between the lines. Nothing that jumps out and says "players must play to their ability scores." In many of the answers they try to interpret what those scores mean, but its obvious they are trying to blur the lines \$\endgroup\$
    – Lokiare
    Mar 14, 2016 at 23:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast When I say they blur the lines, its clear that 8 is less than average intelligence or charisma. If you take a look around you in the real world how many of those below average people do you know that could give a rousing fact filled speech at a moments notice? I look around me and the answer is none (and believe me I've seen people try). \$\endgroup\$
    – Lokiare
    Mar 14, 2016 at 23:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Lokiare We have gotten too chatty. The simple answer has been given to you. NO, there is no rule. What you do as a DM is up to you. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 15, 2016 at 1:33

No rule to "keep a player role playing their stats." You are bound to get people who will think more in numbers than good roleplay, but (page 15, Player's Handbook):

take your character's ability scores and race into account as you flesh out his or her appearance and personality

So, it should always be a significant part of the gameplay.

It is also worth noting that RPG systems, like life, work in likelihoods rather than absolutes. So the system will always allow for a possible incredible success or failure.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Appearance and personality have nothing to do with ability scores. You can play a personality of a nerdy bookish wizard with an Int of 8 or 20, the difference would be the what that character knows and how clever they are. In both cases a rousing fact filled speech would still succeed if it addressed all of the target audience's concerns and was well given. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lokiare
    Mar 15, 2016 at 0:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Lokiare That sounds like you want to make it an answer. Do! \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Mar 15, 2016 at 2:10

There are no rules that require it.

This answers the question; feel free to stop here.

Following is a list of reasons why requiring it is a bad idea.

What is normal?

Think about the real people you interact with in the real world. If they could be represented by 6 numerical statistics generated by rolling 3d6 (+1 for being human) then 90% of them would have scores between 7 and 16. Normal is a very broad area; exceptional is very small.

If PCs use a non-rolling method the absolute lowest score than can have as a human is 9; 8 for variant humans and other races. So, think of a random group of 20 people you know. Every D&D PC is smarter, wiser, stronger etc. than at least 3 of those 20 people. That is, the dumbest PC is smarter than a lot of the people you interact with on a daily basis.

How much is luck?

If you choose to make a PC take a skill check, how much is luck, how much is attribute and how much is experience?

Well, barring magic, a human PC can have a stat of between 9 and 20 giving a modifier of -1 to +5; a range of 7. Their proficiency bonus can range from 0 to 6; a range of 7. By the rules, natural talent (ability scores) is given equal weighting to experience (proficiency). Someone who is an expert (i.e. has expertise) gets twice as much benefit from experience.

However, luck as represented by the roll of a d20 has a range of 20 so it is nearly three times more important than talent or skill.

What do the scores represent?

It is absurd to think that 6 numerical scores can in any way represent a person. They are game constructs and exist only for resolving the mechanical aspects of the game.

Let's take intelligence for example. Does it represent an ability to:

  • solve algebra?
  • follow a philosophical argument?
  • recall who won the 1956 World Series?
  • get yourself elected President?
  • determine the optimal time to substitute players in a football match?
  • determine from an X-ray if someone has lung cancer?
  • decide who wins a court case?
  • design a plumbing system?
  • install a plumbing system from someone else's design?

The obvious answer is yes it does but can a person with 20 intelligence do all of this; clearly not. Can a person with 6 intelligence do none of this; also clearly not.

What if the boot is on the other foot?

If you require your players to play down to their scores, how are you going to enable them to play up?

That is, if they have a character that is smarter, wiser or more personable than they are how to you get them to role player being more e.g. insightful than they are in real life?

Who are you to judge?

What guidelines are you going to use to decide that a player is playing outside their character's capabilities? How can this be anything but arbitrary and capricious?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast the main problem with this answer is that after admitting there are no rules, they then go on and describe house rules and DM rulings even though the question specifically asks that those not be included. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lokiare
    Mar 13, 2016 at 22:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ One of the rules of the game is that the DM makes rulings. It's written in the rule books, therefore it is a rule. If all you want is numbers, this isn't the right game for you, and never has been. PC games are all numbers, all the time. Enjoy. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 14, 2016 at 3:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast By this reasoning, all D&D questions could be answered by "use rule 0 to do what you want". When you see a Rules As Written tag, just assume that the querent can make rulings on his own, he just needs to know what the rules say. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Mar 14, 2016 at 20:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Zachiel Nope. I cannot make that assumption based on the questions I have read on this site. (Yes, I have gone back to the beginning and have read them all). In some cases, yes, I agree with you. In others, no. Not to mention the whole issue with dice and bonuses, bounded accuracy, and the bell curve. When the alleged DM obviously does not understand those three basics, I am not sure what to assume. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 14, 2016 at 20:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Lokiare where have I described a house rule or DM ruling? \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Mar 14, 2016 at 20:40

You ask, So is there a rule that keeps the players role playing their stats?


  1. The DM describes the environment.
  2. The players describe what they want to do.
  3. The DM narrates the results of their actions.

(PHB p6 and p181.)

The DM (and the players) use the rest of the rules, for instance, class characteristics and ability-based rules, in determining the results of the characters' actions.

You particularly mentioned a character with low intelligence and charisma giving a fact-filled speech. There might or might not be checks involved in that.

The PHB describes intelligence and charisma checks on pages 177-178:

An Intelligence check comes into play when you need to draw on logic, education, memory, or deductive reasoning. The Arcana, History, Investigation, Nature, and Religion skills reflect aptitude in certain kinds of Intelligence checks.

and also

A Charisma check might arise when you try to influence or entertain others, when you try to make an impression or tell a convincing lie, or when you are navigating a tricky social situation. The Deception, Intimidation, Performance, and Persuasion skills reflect aptitude in certain kinds of Charisma checks.

It is perfectly reasonable for the DM to involve an intelligence check if the character is trying to use logic, education, memory or reason in the speech, or a charisma check if the character is trying to influence a skeptical audience in a tricky social situation.

Even so, it is entirely possible for a character with low intelligence and charisma to give a fact-filled and rousing speech. The guard captain might find "there are thousands of orcs attacking!" pretty persuasive regardless of the speaker's intelligence and charisma.

  • \$\begingroup\$ the problem with this answer is that you don't even roll a check if the outcome of the action is not in question. Your example is when a character tells a rousing fact filled speech to convince the guard captain. Simply shouting "There are thousands of orcs attacking!" is not a fact filled rousing speech. The guard captain might ignore that character as a trouble maker or worse get suspicious that they are trying to raise a false alarm. It doesn't take a check to recite known facts. In the case above it would be either an automatic result depending on if the guard was suspicious or not. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lokiare
    Mar 14, 2016 at 23:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ A situation where you would roll is when the guard is suspicious, knows that you are a trouble maker and that you want past him, yet you manage to list a detailed description of the orc forces as well as bringing the guards attention to the shouts down the street. At that point the DM might make you make a roll because there are enough opposing factors that it could go either way. If the guard has no suspicions and doesn't know the character at all then it would be an automatic success. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lokiare
    Mar 14, 2016 at 23:44

You're basically describing one of the fundamental reasons there is a DM.

It's your world, the players can choose to do anything, you are responsible for keeping the results consistent with that world.

Taking an example from real life, if the 2000 POTUS campaign were a an RPG, the player running Howard Dean can say, "I'm giving a rousing speech, and the crowd is pumped up, so I give a heroic roar at the end of my speech to really pull them in!". That's all well and good, but the Charisma check determines what actually happens. Maybe he rolls high, and it goes viral and turns into positive momentum. Maybe he rolls low, and his voice cracks, ruining the speech and seriously damaging his image.

So get creative and, if it matches the tone of your campaign, even a little silly. Your friend's half-ogre barbarian gets drunk and tries to sucker-punch a camel? Feel free to let it slide by the Rule of Cool, or have him roll to hit with massive penalties for being so drunk he can barely see straight and break his hand when he fumbles and hits a stone wall instead, it's your call.

In the specific case you mentioned, a low Int and Char character giving a fact-filled speech to sway an NPC is an action which has results that are very much in question. Frankly, I'd be shocked if they'd be able to make the two consecutive rolls against weak stats to both recall the facts successfully, and use them effectively.

  • \$\begingroup\$ That's changing the result after the fact. That's bad DMing. The actions the characters describe should be the actions the characters attempt. In D&D you either know a language or you don't. The DMG specifically tells you not to undermine the players actions in this way. If the player gives a rousing speech to get a trade deal, then the DMG says they get it, unless the results are in question (in which case you roll a check), in this case they are not. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lokiare
    Mar 14, 2016 at 23:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Lokiare Giving it another look, those were bad examples for what I was trying to get across. It's not my intent to change things after the fact, or undermine the players, just to point out that what they attempt is what they attempt not what they do. The rest is just flavor text, similar to narrating a 2hp hit as a 'near miss' because hp doesn't always describe how much punishment a character can take, just how hard they are to kill. I stand by the 'Immolate Caster' example, but removed it because attempting that is homebrew territory, and the players would be warned of the dangers. \$\endgroup\$
    – Morgen
    Mar 16, 2016 at 16:18

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