The Joys of Having Poor Stats

Right. I have an intelligence of 6. I know what I’m doing.” –Grog Strongjaw

So you’ve rolled a terrible score. No, I don’t mean that fancy ten the Paladin is sporting as his Intelligence “dump” stat. What about the Wizard with a nine in Strength, you say? Ha! Don’t make me laugh. The Druid has a Charisma score of eight? That’s great, but still pretty standard. You need to think lower. Lower. Keep going. Now we’re talking. Oh boy, that’s low, but you can still go lower. You’ve got a three? Heck yeah! That’s the lowest possible stat! You’ve just rolled a statistical improbability that will make for quite a fun challenge to portray at the gaming table.

Rolling abysmal ability scores can feel like bad luck to a lot of players, especially ones that are newer to the hobby, but I’m here to argue otherwise. A low ability score is often a blessing in disguise, one that can lead to hundreds of unforgettable moments in your Dungeons & Dragons game if you are open to it. No matter what character you are trying to build there will always be at least one ability score you can safely sink a stinker into. Deciding which one gets to be your “fun” stat can require a bit of finesse (and we’ll talk about that later), but once you’ve figured it out the real excitement begins. Anything lower than an eight is starting to get pretty comically low, and as long as you’re keeping your eye open for the opportunities it won’t be long before your special stat lands you in some hilarious roleplaying situations.

“What would my character do?”

When roleplaying, you are often placed in situations where you have to ask yourself the question “What would my character do?” Asking that question can be a great place to start building an idea of who your character is at the table. D&D provides helpful hints for how to define your character in the form of personality traits, bonds, ideals, and flaws. These details put into words your character’s core values, but then your ability scores help you to interpret how to best display those values in the game world. A lot of players tend to look to their best stat for help in this regard; “My highest stat is Strength, so I portray my values with a firm, unwavering confidence,” for example. There’s nothing wrong with doing it this way, but I prefer to look to my lowest stat for inspiration.

Say my character has a bond of “My allies are my family, I would die before I let anything bad happen to them.” Sounds like a pretty courageous self-sacrificing kind of guy, right? Now his highest stat is Dexterity, but what is his lowest stat? In this case, I’ve decided to put my lowest ability score into Constitution, making him very frail for a would-be adventurer. How would this character portray his bond? Certainly not by throwing himself between his allies and danger. He has the agility to be that heroic, but should his evasion ever fail him he’ll be turned to paste on the dungeon room floor! And then what good is he? No, this character would protect his allies from harm by becoming the groups’ mother hen, always checking to make sure they are as prepared as possible before going out on an adventure. “Do we have enough potions? Check. Did you sharpen your sword? Check. Don’t forget your spell components this time! Oh, and I packed everyone a lunch.” He knows he’s one strong punch away from dropping at any point in time, so he wants to make sure that punch never connects to him or his party, by being ready for anything.

Already I am way more excited to play this example character than I would be if he remained that two-dimensional self-sacrificing human shield for his party. This character has a personality, one that I would enjoy playing and whom others would enjoy playing with. He’s become a character who might get himself into comical situations should he, I don’t know, lose his lunch at the first sight of blood (low Constitution, remember?), or insists everyone eats a balanced breakfast before venturing out for the day, or refuses to press on because his ally has been poisoned and he thinks “you should be in bed resting!” This is just one example of how you can take your lowest stat and use it to make your character more interesting and dynamic at the roleplaying table. There are many more. Use your imagination, take some risks, and before you know it your character won’t just be a cardboard cutout, but an original person with their own quirks and style.

But won’t that make my character suck?

Of course not! Few characters really need more than two or three of their stats to operate efficiently. Even if you’ve built a heavily specialized character that for some reason makes use of four, five, or even all six stats to some degree, I guarantee you are using at least one of them way less than the others. D&D is a team-based game, and more often than not other members of your party will be able to make up for your weaknesses in a given area. The number of times where you’ll need to make use of your lowest stat will be few and far between, and on the off chance it does come up, you can use it as an opportunity to roleplay your character in a situation where you’re out of your depth. Remember that D&D is a cooperative storytelling game, and sometimes the better story is about an unlikely hero with weaknesses and flaws and who makes mistakes, rather than a perfect one.

How do I know which stat to dump?

No stat is sacred. Even the all-important Constitution, which determines how much health you have, can be safely dumped if you plan around it (Tough feat, anyone?). The first thing to do is to build a solid basis for understanding which stats are important to your character and which ones aren’t. Not every D&D game is combat heavy, but a lot are, so you’ll want to figure out which stat is your primary attack stat and make that high. If you are a spellcasting class you’ll probably want to make your spellcasting stat a high one, but that can depend on spell choice. If you’re a Ranger (who uses Wisdom as its spellcasting stat), and you’ve exclusively selected utility spells like Longstrider (improves your speed), then you might be able to get away with a low Wisdom score anyway. For many characters, that’s it! Once you’ve ensured your spells are good and you can attack well enough, you can put your dump stat anywhere you like. In fact, with a bit of finessing, you can even ensure your dump stat is less of a detriment to you by building your character around it. For those munchkins among you who want to maximize their in-game potential, I’ve included some tips to dumping every single stat in the game below. You’re welcome.

Your Guide to Dumping Stats:

Strength. Strength affects your ability to fight with melee weapons, a seldom-used saving throw, the athletics skill, and maybe a few class abilities. If you’re planning to dump this stat, the easiest solution is just to stay out of melee combat! Problem solved. Want to fight in melee anyway? Use a finesse weapon that lets you use Dexterity instead. Or are you afraid you’ll fall to your death because of an abysmal athletics check while climbing a cliff? Take a background that provides training in athletics so your proficiency bonus can pick up the slack, or the magic initiate feat in order to learn Feather Fall.

Dexterity. This is a harder one to dump without feeling the effects. It controls your ability to fight with ranged weapons and avoid getting hit in combat, a slew of skills, your initiative, and arguably the most important saving throw in the game (perhaps second to Wisdom). But where there’s a will, there’s a way! Heavy thrown ranged weapons use Strength instead of Dexterity, so javelins and the like will be your go-to ranged attack here. Can’t dodge? Wear amor; the heavier the better. A set of full-plate and a shield will make you harder to hit than a Monk with a 20 in Dexterity. Choosing a class that grants proficiency in Dexterity saving throws, or a feature such as Evasion can help to ensure you’re not on the receiving end of a powerful Fireball spell. And, of course, backgrounds can help pick up the slack for Dexterity based skills.

Constitution. Because it directly impacts your hit points this stat is important for everyone. Many players would call you insane for choosing to place your lowest score in Constitution, but there are ways to do it safely (-ish). I already mentioned the Tough feat, for one, but there are other ways to mitigate a low Constitution score. Maybe you’re a sniper who stays far from his enemies and picks them off from a distance. Perhaps you’re a stealthy assassin who creeps in the shadows and takes out his enemies without ever being spotted. If you have access to spells, look for things like Shield or False Life that can help bolster your AC or hit points against attacks. Remember that Constitution also affects your ability to maintain concentration on some spells, so selecting spells that don’t require your continued focus also helps to avoid the perils of dumping this stat. And above all else, don’t play a Barbarian; while everyone needs Constitution to some degree, Barbarians need it most of all. If you are a Barbarian, look elsewhere for what stat to dump.

Intelligence. Depending on which class you picked, your Intelligence score might not contribute to anything more than a few skills and a seldom-used saving throw. It is clearly the most easily dumped stat in the game (what are the developers trying to say here?) unless you are a Wizard. Wizards need Intelligence like a Fighter needs Strength or a Bard needs Charisma. It directly improves the potency of almost all of your spells, and a lot of your class features key off it as well. Needless to say, don’t dump this stat if you’re a Wizard. The Fighter and Rogue each have a spellcasting subclass that is Intelligence based so if you plan to be an Eldritch Knight or Arcane Trickster don’t dump this either. But otherwise, feel free. You’re never going to really use that History skill anyway.

Wisdom. Having a low Wisdom can really hurt. A lot of enchantment spells require a Wisdom saving throw, and if you’re running around with a Wisdom dump stat better expect your DM will force you to betray your party at some point. A good way around this is to play an Elf, since they get advantage on all Wisdom saving throws against charm effects. But Wisdom can also be important for a lot of classes, including the Cleric, Druid, Monk, and Ranger, and directly controls your ability to remain alert to hidden danger (perception and insight skills). As previously mentioned, careful spell selection can bypass a need for Wisdom if it is your spellcasting stat, and backgrounds can pick up the slack in the skills department, but you should also keep an eye on what your class can do. Many class features like the Cleric’s channel divinity or the Druid’s wild shape or the Monk’s unarmored defense are directly impacted by your Wisdom score; so much so that if it is your dump stat I wouldn’t recommend picking these classes. But by far the best advice I can give if you’re really going to dump on Wisdom is to stick close to the person in your party with the highest Wisdom stat, that way they can see the traps for you and stop you from stepping into them.

Charisma. Last but not least, Charisma – the social ability score. Bards, Paladins, Sorcerers, and Warlocks all lean pretty heavily on Charisma, taking both their spellcasting strength and not a few class features from its power. Even if you’re not playing one of those classes, Charisma can at times become critically important. A strong Charisma can mean the difference between winning the favor of a local Baron, or winding up in his dungeon. All too often I have witnessed players dump this stat en mass because it wasn’t “important” for their character classes, only to find themselves quickly in a pickle when they couldn’t convince the Troll to let them pass his bridge without a fight. Fortunately, the fix for this one is simple: make someone else take it. As long as you’ve got one great diplomat in the party to lead your ragtag group through social situations, that’s usually enough. But if you look around and see everyone else foolishly dumping this stat, perhaps you should put your lowest score somewhere else.

Not so bad after all.

At the end of the day, D&D is ultimately a game made for having fun with your friends. If you think the idea of having some abysmally low stats is truly detrimental to your enjoyment of the game, talk to your DM about it. Ask if you can reroll, or switch to point buy. But if this article has inspired you, and you’re feeling a little adventurous, then grab hold of those poor stats and ride them into the sunset. As I mentioned before, D&D is at its core a cooperative storytelling game, and your “fun” stats will, in my experience, often make those stories better. If you require anymore proof, just watch Critical Role. Travis Willingham’s character Grog has an Intelligence score of 6, and I would argue he’s all the more endearing because of it. Be the Grog of your D&D group; take that dump stat and wear it proud!

 

By Any Means Necessary (BAMN!) is a weekly blog where we try our very best to bring more fun to your Dungeons & Dragons games #ByAnyMeansNecessary!

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4 thoughts on “The Joys of Having Poor Stats

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  1. The truth of many Rpg’s including Dungeons and Dragons is that player creativity is the balance to any problem. Have a low score? Roleplay a creative workaround. Have a crippling flaw? Be creatively paranoid about avoid situations that would provoke it. Wondering what else an Immovable Rod is good for? Watch Critical Role… In any case, take time with your character or commonly used items and just see what possibilities there are to ‘break the mold’, and I assure you that is when your party will be breaking their ribs with laughter. I once tied a rope noose to a Shrieking Shroom and leapt down a small cliff to use it as an escape route. Turns out they are soft creatures as I severed its ‘head’ and proceeded to nearly die from the fall…

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  2. I still think my character with no wisdom and no intelligence was the most fun that I’ve played, and I think trying to have a balanced character in my most recent game has made it that much harder to roleplay. From now on, I’m all for having at least one bad stat!

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    1. Oh, Bardo. 🙂

      You’ll just have to find something in the game that drains one of your stats. Have your brain eaten by a Mind Flayer, that messes with your Int Stat real fast. 😛

      In all seriousness, though, having a low stat doesn’t just make the character easier and more fun to roleplay, it also makes the character more entertaining for those who roleplay with that character. Do you want to be the most memorable character in your group? Being really bad at something is often the best way to do that. Nobody likes a character who is too good at something, but everyone likes the underdog.

      And Bardo was quite an underdog. He constantly brought a smile to everyone’s faces in the gloomy, dreary land of Lordran.

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