I finally figured out how to play my character

I won’t bore you with the details of my Teifling Psion character, but I did want to mention an issue I’m having role playing to his ability scores. In attempt to min/max the character, he wound up with a really high Intelligence and Charisma, average Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution, and pretty low Wisdom. Sine super-human intelligence and charisma generally don’t go with substandard wisdom, and I have been struggling with what this means to role play. When I created the character I imagined a too-cool Psi-Cop like Bester from Babylon 5…a character that comes in to a scene make everybody nervous with his creepy and unflappable demeanor. However Bester was quite perceptive and empathic (but not very sympathetic), which means that kind of character needs a good wisdom to go along with the brains and personality.

If you were a fan of Bablyon 5 I hope you’ll follow me to my point, and that is, I think I should play my character more like Emperor Cartagia. The Emperor was cunning (high Int) and a natural leader (high Cha), but a touch mad, refused to listen to reason, and didn’t have of a lot of “street smarts.” I don’t want to play my character exactly like the evil emperor, because he’s not chaotic, but there are definitely some lessons I’ve learned. To play to my character’s low Wis, I am going to make him more trusting and naive (grew up sheltered by a magical organization). On the battlefield, I will have him make less optimal choices…. but more importantly, he’ll be less flexible. Since he’s smart and lawful, it’s in his nature to plan a few rounds ahead, but with a low wisdom and high charisma, he’ll be too self-sure and self-absorbed to doubt his plans, even in the face of contrary evidence…. But not too much, since he is a Hero.

In my experience low scores in the “soft” abilities are much harder to role-play than high ones. When I play a character with a much higher Charisma than me, I can still try to make an impassioned speech and let the ability bonus make up for my own shortcoming. With Intelligence, I can just assume that the character can figure out a puzzle or translate some old runes. And with Wisdom, a good Sense Motive check can see through a NPC plot better than I could on my own. But when the scores are low, that means I have to limit what I do and the types of conclusions my character arrives at. It’s hard enough keeping meta-game knowledge out, but pretending not to know something is tough.

What strategies have you guys found useful for playing slow-witted characters? Are there any fast rules? With strength it’s easy… there’s only a certain amount the character can lift.


5 thoughts on “I finally figured out how to play my character

  1. This is a great topic. Currently, I’m playing in three games and my characters’ lowest stats are often an area that I take joy in playing out. Slide my rogue has a low Charisma (for a halfling) and this is the result of abandonment issues. So he’s a bit out of sorts around people often poking fun at friends and calling out their mistakes.

    Batalash my Artificer is especially slight of build and often reminds our Half-Orc Ranger that he’s not used to rugged travel and appreciates the softer side of things.

    And Noyade my Assassin was raised as a sociapath so he often just is ignorant of people’s concerns and issues since he has little ability to empathize with people.

    Anarkieth posted on this very subject over at https://www.f1337command.com/PlayingYourDumpStat

  2. I’m having a similar problem. My Sorcerer has low Inteligence and Wisdom because she doesn’t need it for her spells, she has high Charisma and Dexterity. The way I decided to play her is a lack of education (left home at a young age). She’s a con artist and has street smarts but relies on her charm to get her out of situations instead of reason or logic. She’s a little impulsive and doesn’t usually think her choices all the way through to the end.

    Hopefully that makes sense! Thanks for posting this, it’s something that’s been on my mind for a while.

  3. I think playing low int/wis characters can sometimes be a challenge. Simply because you likely have to handwave your way through most NPC interactions, where you as a player can read between the lines, but your character will be clueless. Sometimes it can be hard to play a dolt when you can metagame.

    I think a good way to play a low wisdom character is either go with someone that is a little rash and impulsive, or go with someone that is socially clueless. Being completely unable to read people, social situations, and state whatever is in your head, is a great way to play a low wisdom character.

  4. One of my favorite characters was a Duskling (beastmen) with an 20 Wisdom and 8 Intelligence. I played him as a tribal shaman, who didn’t know common. Limiting the length of words you use is a strong way to show limited intellect, and cryptic shamanistic speech can give the sense that you’re wise but don’t understand machines or civilization.

  5. @Dave,

    Thanks for that link. That was a useful post, I find low Charisma characters as fun to play as high ones.

    @Lauren, @Ken, @Enchelion,

    Thanks for the advice and anecdotes. I tried this week to play my character as a little more naive, and I think I am starting to figure him out now that I’ve written this post and had a chance to read your comments and tweet with various people.

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