"That which does not kill us makes us stronger."
- Friedrich Nietzsche
Those of us who play Dungeons and Dragons to create fantastic and wonderful characters are often paralyzed with fear during character creation when we realize that one of our characters Ability Scores will give us a negative modifier. "Oh no!" we think. "How can I have a character who is not perfect?" As I've spent time converting characters from my past into D&D playable characters, I've come across the same issues and sometimes have the same thoughts. However, if you take a moment and think, it's possible that the score of 8 your character has in Intelligence doesn't make him an idiot at all, just a different form of intelligent. As the title suggests, this article will take a look at weaknesses, like puny little Bruce Banner, and turn them into powerful storytelling agents, like the transformation into the Incredible Hulk.
I never really liked the way the Player's Handbook would talk about what being bad in every category meant, as it always made me worry about having some majorly flawed character. Every hero we read about in the stories we love isn't perfect. Neither are our D&D characters. However, these flaws ultimately make them better characters. Let's dive into the six ability scores and talk about what a negative ability modifier means.
STRENGTH: I don't always see a low Strength score representing a character as weak or non-athletic. In fact, I take this to be quite literal. The character simply isn't a huge, bulky figure. In high school, I ran cross country, average about 8 miles of running a day. I was lean, I was mean, and I was fit. But I wasn't strong. In D&D terms, I probably have a Strength of 8. To offset this, I probably had some nice skill bonuses to Althetics, or Climbing, or however skills are broken down. I could still accomplish tasks/be physical. Those things just weren't as easy for me as others.
DEXTERITY: Low Dexterity just means the character isn't nimble. That isn't always a bad thing. Maybe they have big hands, so picking locks is a difficult task for them. Maybe being sneaky is hard because their body is too big that they always knock something over. Low Dexterity shouldn't always mean that a character trips over their own two feet. It just means they're not as good at maneuvering it. I don't see Chewbacca or the Incredible Hulk being very dextrous. Their Strengths lie in other areas.
CONSTITUTION: A character with low Constitution is generally described as sickly and weak. Not always the case. Maybe this just means they get winded quicker. Maybe they're from a different location in your campaign world, and a lower Constitution represents them being unaccustomed to whatever the living conditions are like where your campaign is starting at. Maybe they aren't very good at pushing their body through the pain.
INTELLIGENCE: A character with low Intelligence can still be smart. To me, Intelligence always represents book smarts, while Wisdom represents street smarts. My druid Ragnarok has low Intelligence, simply because he has spent so much of his time outdoors and training other skills. He knows little about history, the various kingdoms, and the wider world at large. However, he is able to track food and tell all about nature. He's still a smart character, just not in the educated sense.
WISDOM: As I mentioned above in Intelligence, Wisdom represents street smarts to me. A character with low Wisdom isn't always great a thinking on their feet, or using logic and reading signs to make assumptions. They can still be quite intellectual, but those gifts do not like in common sense and piecing things together.
CHARISMA: Low Charisma sometimes meant the character was ugly. While that may be the case, I also feel like it could do with arrogance and maybe a sarcastic demeanor, making it so that people have hard time dealing with them. Perhaps it represents one of those people who you can't always tell if they are joking or not. I think there are a lot of reasons why a character might have a low Charisma, and it's not always about making it the dump stat.
I hope this article gave a few more brainstorming ideas for players to consider as they create characters. It's not always the most fun to have a negative ability modifier, but rationalizing it and applying a solid story component to it will make it less of a bad thing, and more of a good storytelling hook.
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