I'm playing D&D 5e with a group of friends, and for most of us (me included) it is our first time. We rolled for ability scores, and as luck would have it, on one of my rolls I got all ones (which gave me a 3 for one of my ability scores). I decided to be a human (to bump that 3 to a 4) cleric, and put the 4 into intelligence (I had no idea how bad of a mistake that was at the time). Combat hasn't been an issue yet, just everything else. For example, while everyone was off gathering information at an inn, my cleric had to sit in the corner and "behave" because he could barely speak or put thoughts together. I'm essentially barred from doing anything other than combat.

If this helps, here's a list of all my human cleric's ability scores:

  • Strength: 9
  • Dexterity: 9
  • Constitution: 10
  • Intelligence: 4
  • Wisdom: 16
  • Charisma: 10

(We used the standard 4d6 keep best 3 and assign how you want method, I just got really really bad rolls. Everyone else in the group had much better ability scores (rolls) than me. I didn't realize how much of a problem 4 intelligence would be, otherwise I would have put the 4 into a different ability score.)

My question is, should my characters low intelligence give me less control (agency) of him during non-combat sections in a campaign, in this case lack of action?

Please leave some examples of NPCs or creatures with low intelligence that don't just sit around and watch other characters "do stuff" to compare my character with. How should I explain to my group that I can do more actions during non-combat sections? Should I give up and give him an adventurers death the next battle we encounter and hope for better rolls on abilities for my next character?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Where is your Agency in this game? What are you as a player able to make your character do? Does the character decide courses of action or do the players? This question may be a valid question if you focus more on the agency problem. \$\endgroup\$
    – daze413
    Commented Jul 2, 2016 at 4:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well done on keeping to your roll. It is a great opportunity for role-playing even if just a little bit. You could liken your character to a wise farmer. No use for complex maths or ideas, speaks plainly and direct, but knows more about how the world operates than most people. Just doesnt get asked often. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nupraptor
    Commented Jul 4, 2016 at 15:20
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ related: How do I roleplay a character more intelligent than I am? \$\endgroup\$
    – daze413
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 3:11
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Watch Travis from Critical Role play Grog. He has a very low Int, and does it marvelously. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 16:09

6 Answers 6


How intelligent is your character

Basically you can compare your Intelligence with the following (according to MM):

  • Baboon
  • Giant Octopus
  • Giant Weasel

There are more creatures with an Intelligence score of 4, but those are some examples. More importantly, what does the Intelligence score mean?

What Intelligence means in 5e

Intelligence measures mental acuity, accuracy of recall, and the ability to reason.

Your character is more like a child, which does not really concentrate, unable to support arguments in discussions and is badly educated.

Also intelligence (in D&D 5e) is in no way related to things like languages etc., so you can fluently speak your languages.

With a wisdom score of 16 he has decent "intuition" and "instinct" and can read body language and emotions pretty well, he can handle animals etc.

All in all it seems like the counterpart of whatever 'Sheldon Cooper' has/is.

Regarding rolling your ability scores

I know you didn't ask about this, but I just want to mention that in games like D&D or Pathfinder our group had the rule "when you roll stats, the sum of ability modifiers have to be at least +3", to prevent such a bad array.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This rule is actually from pathfinder, and was converted (I'm playing in his group) to 5e, and it works absolutely fine. \$\endgroup\$
    – Patta
    Commented Jul 2, 2016 at 11:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Patta There was similar rule of at least +2 in D&D 3.0 (3.5 used +0, way too cruel), so it isn't anything new from Pathfinder apart from the increased sum of the modifiers. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 10:55

It's bad...

An intelligence score of 4 is really, abysmally stupid - barely over the threshold to be affected by spells that affect intelligent minds rather than animals (see Detect Thoughts vs. Animal Friendship.) It could be a fun exercise to play a character like that, but it doesn't sound like you're having fun and I don't blame you. So I would talk to your GM and see about a re-roll or using point buy instead. (And maybe check your dice while you're at it.)

...but not that bad

If you don't change anything about the character, though, it still doesn't have to be as bad as your players are suggesting. As others pointed out you can still speak just fine (if not about complex concepts), and your high wisdom means you may often be able to cut through situations where others are overcomplicating things. Picture a 3-4 year old who's not particularly bright - you can still definitely start conversations with people, and I would allow a Charisma check to see if they find you weird or disarmingly straightforward. You may have a short attention span and be unlikely to solve puzzles or identify monsters, but even animals have more agency than what you're describing.


Should my characters low intelligence give me less control (agency) of him during non-combat sections in a campaign?

Firstly, no, no number can tell you what you can and cannot make your character do, except if you're having fun with it.

I can understand if you wanted to investigate with your group to find out the latest rumors, but you rolled low so you're sitting in the corner eating glue. That's fun; that's funny, right? But if you wanted to investigate and you're basically told that your character wouldn't do that because "he can barely comprehend words", that's less fun.

Secondly, even with your low intelligence, you'd still be a valuable asset to the party in non-combat situations. This all depends on your roles, see D&D assumes that the players are working together to achieve a common goal, and that these players have specialties that is needed that makes the cumulative whole greater than the sum of its parts.

So, what is your cleric's role in social encounters? While the bard is charming it up with the patrons, or the wizard is following up on clues, you and your Cleric and his high wisdom(insight) score is making sure that no one is lying or withholding information from your party.

Thirdly, if you are genuinely not having fun with this character, tell your GM. A good GM will know that you're not having fun even before hand, and a decent GM will be awakened and be willing to address the issue; nothing will make the GM stop and think about the game he's running more than when a player tells him outright that he/she's not having fun.

In my game, there was a player with almost as bad rolls as you (if I remember, he had no after-racial ability score of over 14, and a couple of 10s). I knew he wasn't having fun so I gave him some outs. I basically gave him freehand on how he would like his character to retire then I let him roll a new one.

Bonus for reading this far. An example of a Character with low intelligence score but role-played well is Grog Strongjaw from Geek and Sundry's Critical Role RPG Show. He is often depicted as not being able to count past 4 but that doesn't stop him from haggling up the merchant in that one episode, Patrick style.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for point 2. Having someone in the party with Insight is huge, strategically. He just needs to be the strong, looming dude who doesn't say anything to the NPCs and whispers to party members every so often. psst "He does not believe what he say." \$\endgroup\$
    – Carduus
    Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 12:21

" are we exaggerating how unintelligent my cleric is based on his intelligence stat?", not really. But you are underestimating the moderately high wisdom of the character!

"my cleric had to sit in the corner and "behave" because he could barely speak or put thoughts together" doesn't sound like what an Int 4 chatacter with high will power (wisdom) would do. They'd get bored and start to do something fun or "useful" (from an Int 4 character point of view), such as intuitively decide that someone in the room is suspcious and go pestering them with out-of-context questions (possibly questions your character has heard someone else ask in a different situation).

So I would say, your group treats your character like they should, but you should start playing your character more like an Int 4/Wisdom 16 character. Short attention span, intuitively mimicing what more intelligent characters do without understanding why they do it, forgetting orders, trusting the first intuition they get...

Your character is not a dog who just obeys. Think of a head-strong child, and play your character accordingly. If rest of the group want to boss you around, they'll have to gain your characters trust (and even then, unless they manage to motivate your character to want to do what they want, as soon as they're not watching, your character will find something they want to do and forget what they were told to do).

Now, this can be somewhat disruptive to the playing, so if rest of the group doesn't like this, just roll a new character. Or, if you don't think this kind of role playing (of, essentially, a head-strong toddler in adult's body, with clerical spells!) is your cup of tea, then roll a new character.

On the flip side, a loony character like that can be incredibly fun role playing experience. It depends on the player, the other players, the campaign style and atmosphere, and the DM. If all are on board with the occasionall disruption and sillyness, the go for it!

As a side note, if you want to get rid of the character in-character, with that kind of Int and Wisdom, the character could just disagree with something the group does, and then storm off when the rest of the group doesn't agree, never to be seen again. Or just be gone one morning, no explanation really needed.


I would say that nothing in the rules prohibits your character from actively trying to do intelligent things. One way to think about an intelligence score is in terms of aptitude or potential rather than "sentience". In other words, there isn't any reason that a character with a 3 intelligence can't do math or solve problems. It just means that he isn't good at things that require him to know things or make calculations.

For example, consider the paradox of the cleric with a 3 intelligence and the Religion knowledge skill. If you argue that a character with 3 intelligence is stupid, then you might have a difficult time explaining how he came to have an abundance of religious knowledge. The problem is precisely that we interpret a 3 intelligence as meaning an inability to think. And that just isn't so. Choosing to play your character as if he is an ignoramus is a player choice. It's how a player may choose to express his character's low intelligence score.

So I think what needs to be figured out is how you want to express your character's low intelligence score. There isn't a single way to do that. It's up to you to figure that out. But if you are sitting in a corner of the inn because your character is stupid, then that's a player choice - not something that is imposed on you because your character has a low intelligence score.

Talk with your GM and discuss what your character is actually capable of: reread the rules on ability checks in the PHB p.177 carefully to understand that low intelligence doesn't prevent your character from having meaningful non-combat interactions. It doesn't prevent you from being able to solve puzzles (it just makes it more difficult for you to obtain the information necessary to solve puzzles), and it doesn't affect your character's charisma (which is the primary ability used for social interactions). Come up with your own way to express your character's low intelligence instead of assuming that the way other players have chosen to do it is the only way to do it.


The key is to play to your strengths, rather than focus on the weakness.

Then, it makes sense to imagine a manner in which the exceptionally low intelligence manifests itself, but that's mostly to give your character some personality. For example, perhaps he gets confused easily when people are talking fast, using big flowery words, etc. He likes to mull things over in his "slow mind". Maybe he tends to repeat cliches that sound like wise advise, and he bases his life around those principles, usually following them quite literally rather than abstracting them to general situations or understanding the nuance of when they apply and when they don't apply. In fact, a major character development may occur when he DOES see how advice like "look before you leap" applies in a situation in which he is not actually about to physically leap. But this manifests as insight, rather than intelligence, thus further enhancing his general wisdom.

With high Wisdom, you want to play to that strength by having proficiency in as many Wisdom-based skills as possible. So, let's say you have proficiency with the Insight, Perception, and Survival skills, and the following non-combat encounter occurs:

Your party is chasing an NPC who escaped in the previous encounter. They get to a crossroads where they meet an old crone. The Bard (Charisma-based) PC starts chatting her up, asking about whether they've seen the NPC you're after. The Wizard (Intelligence-based) is making Arcana checks to figure out if the crone is some creature he recognizes and what are it's weaknesses. The crone is saying that the NPC went "thataway" pointing down the road heading to the east.

Meanwhile, your cleric is getting confused by all of the talking. It's giving him a headeache. He gives his face a rub to try and mute the talky talky. Then he studies the crone for a moment. Ignoring her words, he listens more to the sound of her voice, the way her words trail off. He studies her body language, her facial expressions and gestures. He doesn't like her - she makes him feel icky - and he doesn't trust her. (Insight)

Losing interesting in the conversation, he glances around, and notices something a few feet down the road to the west. (Perception)

While the loud talky talkies keep making their noise, he wanders off in that direction. Taking a closer look, he notices footprints that match the quarry and determines that the NPC went in this direction. (Survival).

"She's lying," he whispers to himself. Then he turns to his companions and says in a louder voice: "She's lying." Without further explanation (words aren't his strength), he turns and wanders off down the road to the west, eyes down as he follows the tracks of his quarry.

The party can ignore him for his stupidity, or learn to trust his instincts. That's their choice, but you have the agency to make your character into whatever you want - the ability scores are a suggestion for what will be more successful.

When it comes to making a cleric, consider what the scores mean. In my experience with religious communities, there tend to be those who are academically inclined - e.g. reading the bible regularly and contemplating what it means for their lives - and those who are more faith-based - often devout without ever spending much time reading the bible. Your cleric would fall toward the extreme end of the spectrum on the faith-based side. Perhaps he had a spiritual encounter and "just knows" what his chosen god would want him to do in most situations. He prays out of pure faith and he follows the most basic tenets of the faith literally and religiously. Perhaps this is exactly what his god favours in him - faith and obedience rather than pontification and second-guessing the will of the gods. And he is rewarded with supernatural powers.

Anyway, there's plenty of room for action rather than sitting in a corner.

To me, high Wisdom suggests "I have a hunch" in non-combat situations; the low intelligence just reinforces this as the only real method of solving problems, rather than combining it with something like Investigation.


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