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When creating a character we obviously place our stats where they are needed. What I am wondering is how do those stats effect the character itself from a role playing perspective.

I went back and read through the PHB pages 173-178. There was a bit about how the stats effect some parts of the character, but not what I was looking for. What I was thinking of was something along the lines of a range of a stat determines a bit of how the character is role played.

For instance does low intelligence (e.g. < 6) always mean that the character cannot read? Or a low charisma mean the character is a jerk?

Are there rules governing this? Or would this be purely governed by the DM and rules agreed on by the group?

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does low intelligence always mean that the character cannot read? int < 6?

No; playable characters can always read any language they can speak. The game makes no distinction between these two skills; if you have one, you have the other. This is just a simplification to make the game run a little smoother (language doesn’t usually play a particularly large role in most campaigns).

[does] a low charisma mean the character is a jerk?

Not necessarily, it doesn’t; it means he takes a penalty to Charisma checks, including those to deceive, intimidate, or persuade others. Why he or she takes such a penalty is up to you to decide—the character could be shy and nervous, loud and obnoxious, could try to win arguments on technicalities and minutiae, or whatever. Influencing others is hard; there are infinitely-many reasons why you might not be good at it. And someone with low Charisma isn’t even necessarily bad at it—they could have below-average Charisma but be proficient in a particular usage of Charisma, and end up with a sizeable bonus on the whole (just not as high as they would if they also had a high Charisma).

For example, performance is another thing you can use Charisma for. I personally know musicians who are amazing to listen to playing their preferred instrument, but are awkward, shy, obnoxious, or in one case, just a jerk, aside from that musical ability. You would probably model such a thing with low Charisma but proficiency and perhaps other bonuses for performance (and, in reality, I would argue that the ability score system doesn’t handle these kinds of cases all that well, but it’s a simplification just like the reading thing is).

Ultimately, you cannot look at ability scores to deduce a character’s personality. The reverse is more true, but still not entirely true: there is more than enough wiggle room in the definitions of ability scores for a given personality to be portrayed with different arrays of ability scores.

And this is because the definitions of ability scores are vague and overloaded. They might mean too many different things at the same time to categorically state what a high or low score means for a particular character. People are just far too complex to be described in six numbers.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Lots of great answers, but this one seems the best. Since role playing stats may require changes to RAW. Thank you KRyan. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve T Nov 1 '16 at 22:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ With reference to your specific example about musical talent and low charisma: That's what proficiencies are for, especially with instruments. Instead of rolling a Charisma check, you can roll an instrument proficiency check if they're proficient with the instrument. If the player is a master at it, consider granting them advantage on the check. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Nov 2 '16 at 17:35
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This is the text you mean:

(PHB 174)

Personality Traits

A useful place to start thinking about personality traits is to look at your highest and lowest ability scores and define one trait related to each. Either one could be positive or negative: you might work hard to overcome a low score, for example, or be cocky about your high score.

Nowhere in the book does it say that ability scores affect personality; everything is merely a suggestion. Even the characteristics listed in the following pages under backgrounds are labeled "Suggested Characteristics".

For soft things like alignment and personality, the game takes a step back and lets the player have free reign. That is the essence of roleplaying, after all.


That being said, I have personally found that swingy ability score characters are the ones that are most fun (and easiest) to create characteristics for.

If you're looking for some sort of table or a range of "how much of an idiot is X Intelligence" I'm afraid there aren't any. You can go to extremes with any single-digit stat as much as you like (also true if reversed). Nine Hells, I've seen people say that their characters can't read at 8 intelligence, that's on them and their special snowflake character. To each his own.

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The only way to do this is with examples, so let's do charisma:

"Charisma measures your ability to interact effectively with others. It includes such factors as confidence and eloquence, and it can represent a charming or commanding personality."

Charisma, it's important to note, is not just about how you influence others but also your own view of yourself (confidence), which is, for example, why it's the governing stat for sorcerers' spells.

So, what does this mean for your personality? You lack confidence, and tend to be uncertain with your decisions. Alternatively, you have a lot of false confidence: you behave as if you were much more accomplished and able than reality would indicate.

Wherever you lead, no one follows. This means you tend to be either a loner (if you're an introvert) or a follower (if you're an extrovert). You're probably unlucky in love, either because you tend to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, or because after lots of unfortunate experience you're too shy to try anymore.

You might be ugly. Just as likely you're plain. You're almost certainly not beautiful. If you are beautiful, there's something very powerful driving people away from you to counteract the inherent trust people have in attractive people.

You lack eloquence. Either you say very little, you say the wrong thing, or maybe you use words just a little incorrectly and it rubs people wrong.

Having low charisma does not mean you are a jerk (though you could be) just like high charisma doesn't mean you are kind and caring.

Essentially, what I'm doing here is going point-by-point through the description for what the attribute gives you and inverting it. There are many possible paths for why and how one, for instance, lacks eloquence, and that's where you have some decisions to make.

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This is just my personal opinion, but stats and role-playing should NEVER cross paths, unless the PLAYER wants them to. If the player WANTS to say his character can't read because of a low INT score, by all means, I'd roll with it. If he doesn't volunteer for it, though, I won't force it on him.

Role-playing is obviously a big part of RPGs (hence the name), but in my experience you can't really FORCE players to role-play. You can talk to them about it. You can tell them you want them to make an effort. But you can't actually make them do it, so better to lead by example with your NPCs and just leave it be if they don't follow.

As an aside, I also treat alignment the same way. It's a stat that influences some spells and things, but I don't make any strict effort to enforce role-playing your alignment. Unless someone is a Paladin, I don't worry about it too much.

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A character's stats only measure their ability, not their personality. Some are more obvious than others, like Strength or Dexterity. If a character does not have a particularly high score in either of these traits, then they are not particularly strong or dextrous. However this would not rule them out as being a coward in any way.

A character with a low charisma, intelligence, or wisdom however, does not make them a shut-in, absent-minded brute; they can be quite chatty and want to make friends with all the people at a geologist's expo, but only have experience in Minecraft, and somehow see that as relevant.

In short; a character with -

  • Low strength may not fair well in a fist-fight, but it doesn't mean they won't try and start one
  • Low dexterity might not be able to juggle, but that won't stop them from trying to learn.
  • Low constitution will likely be bed ridden for a week from a mild fever, but they will still get out of bed to do what needs to be done
  • Low intelligence won't be able to discover a new alchemical formula for creating gold out of nothing, but they'll still be willing to at least learn
  • Low wisdom might have terrible instincts, but they'll still go hunting
  • Low charisma might think that a comedy skit about death at a funeral is appropriate, but at least they're trying to make friends.
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Some examples I've seen played, in older versions of D&D, but that makes little difference to this:

Hoyou the Barbarian: Intelligence 3, Wisdom 17. He was horribly inarticulate, and could neither make nor follow plans, but he never did anything that was obviously stupid, either. He didn't really think, but he had superb instincts. I don't think we ever learned his real name, if he actually knew it, "Hoyou" was just a worn-down version of "Hey, you?"

Fay was a magic-user, and a knowledgeable one, with Intelligence 18, and, sadly, Wisdom 3. You could talk her into trying anything, since she had no judgement at all, and would fall for any vaguely plausible scheme.

"Hi, there, my name's Richard Head, but you can call me Dick!" He was a priest of a god of stupidity. He had about Intelligence 6-7, and Wisdom maybe 9. He was very articulate, even glib, but you soon learned that what he said made very little sense and wasn't worth paying attention to.

The Town Giant - a town giant is what you get when hill giants have been working as muscle and bouncers in a town for a few generations, and getting bashed on the head regularly. He was another follower of the god of stupidity. He didn't talk much, but you still had to keep an eye on him. He valued things strictly according to their direct usefulness to him, or the amount of beer you'd get if you offered them directly to a bartender. His escapades included using a Crystal Ball as a throwing rock, because it could hit monsters that you needed magic to harm (nobody was brave enough to take it from him, until a wizard used Charm Monster and swapped it for a +2 boulder), and eating a dead PC that he'd been told to carry back to town.

The point of these is that stats are only a starting point for forming a character's personality. The personality needs to be compatible with the stats, but that is the only restriction, and there's a lot of scope for interpreting the stats.

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It boils down to characters needing to be self-aware and having justification for their abilities.

As most answers point out, ability scores are not the best guidelines for a roleplay. That's what the Background system is for.

However ability scores and skills should leave the player with atleast some playstyle or in-world behaviour. You cannot expect to believe that a low-Charisma character goes by with his wit and cunning. Reward players with good consistent character development without limiting the role-play of others who made an avatar with some numbers. It will foster good roleplay if you imply how foolish the character looks if he relies heavily on his weakest skills and abilities.

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