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Character ability v. player volition: INT, WIS, CHA

The Shaman

First Post
It's pretty widely agreed in theory that an RPG player's will should (perhaps with rare exceptions such as a mesmerizing spell) not be infringed upon in choosing a character's actions. However, it's a practical and an aesthetic question just where the line between character ability and player volition lies. For instance, what should be made of "mental abilities" such as intelligence, wisdom and charisma scores?
This is a good question

What are the practical implications of including the "mental abilities" of a character during play? Is it preferable aesthetically for a player to "play the stats" of the character? Or should the player's choices be driven by the practical circumstances of the game and the guided by the player's ability as much as, or more than, what's written on the character sheet?

For example, should a fighter with INT 5 be played as "dumb?" Or should the player play the character to the best of the player's ability with only minimal or no regard to the ability score?
 

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Aus_Snow

First Post
I guess this is where stat-based skills could be seen as helpful. After all, if Intelligence (say) directly affects Int-based skills in actual play - not to mention skill point totals (for example) - well, you can play the character as 'smart' as you like, it's still going to have a real effect.

Not (necessarily) so, if Int is left largely to interpretation, and - at most - Magic User spells available, or what have you.

As a bit of an almost-tangent, I recommend the Dragon Warriors system be played without either the Intelligence stat or the Looks stat. The three remaining work perfectly by themselves; the two named above are totally superfluous. This also leaves the game devoid of any 'social' stats, or indeed 'mental' stats, by normal reckoning.
 
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Thunderfoot

First Post
I'm a bit of purist, so I think, yes if it says dumb, play dumb. When in character, don't over reach. But when there is player interaction outside of the game, ie strategy, consequence discussions, etc.; the player should participate as normal.

I have seen some brilliant people play stupid because it was the right thing to do, and the other players brought a better game to the table for it. (YMMV)

As for infringing upon a character action, it should never happen, though a parting mention of the oddity (ie a reminder) might be in order. However, even in life, the dumbest people have flashes of brilliance, so as long as the INT 3 1/2 orc barbarian isn't quoting Newtonian Physics... I say the DM has to be able to turn a blind eye on occasion.
 

delericho

Legend
What are the practical implications of including the "mental abilities" of a character during play? Is it preferable aesthetically for a player to "play the stats" of the character? Or should the player's choices be driven by the practical circumstances of the game and the guided by the player's ability as much as, or more than, what's written on the character sheet?

I've been backwards and forwards on this a couple of times. At one point, I even rewrote 2nd Edition to remove the 'mental' stats entirely, following one too many instances of players min-maxing and then ignoring them. However, on balance, I feel the game loses more than it gains from this move.

These days, my view is that player's should 'play their stats', but that I won't enforce it. However, I don't let players either handwave or role-play their way around the limitations they have built* into their characters. If the player knows something pertinent, he doesn't get to bring it into the game without the appropriate Knowledge check. The player may be as eloquent or intimidating as he likes, but he still has to make the roll, or his Cha 5 Barbarian won't be intimidating those goblins any time soon.

(I have a player who will ask at the start of every campaign, without fail, whether I'm using his pet House Rule that you can use Str to intimidate. The answer is always 'no'. Presumably, your Cha 5 Barbarian has a squeaky voice, or comes off as oafish, or something. Either way, you don't get to Intimidate without either the score or the skill ranks to back it up.)

This, actually, is why I'm not a fan of giving "role-playing" bonuses to Diplomacy and Intimidate checks. If the player is very slick and eloquent, but the character is not, then giving the bonus allows the player to re-assign those skill points somewhere else for no loss. Conversely, if the player has little social grace to speak of, he shouldn't be automatically be banned from playing a dashing Bard, any more than the inability to cast spells should prevent him from playing a Wizard.

For example, should a fighter with INT 5 be played as "dumb?" Or should the player play the character to the best of the player's ability with only minimal or no regard to the ability score?

For the most part, if the character sheet says the character has low intelligence, low wisdom or low charisma, the player should portray the character as such. The DM may need to occasionally remind the player of this, but shouldn't enforce it. (That said, if a player has a history of min-maxing his character, and then routinely ignoring the low stats, there may be scope for the DM requiring that player to assign a certain minimum value to those stats for future characters.)

However, there is one big exception I make to my "play the numbers" guideline - when the group is engaged in collaborative problem solving, I would argue that all players should be fully engaged. The notion here is that while Genius Bob's character may be an Int 5 barbarian, Nice-but-Dim Tim's character is an Int 18+ Wizard. So, to "make up the gap" between the two, I feel it is okay for Bob and Tim to work together. (It's probably best to assume that Tim's character comes up with the answer, even if it was actually Bob that put it all together.)

* It should be noted: I always use point-buy these days. So, if a character has a 'dump-stat' assigned, this is because the player chose it. If the character doesn't have ranks in a given skill, that's because the player chose to spend them elsewhere. Either way, I don't see a problem with the player having to deal with the consequences of these choices - they do, after all, get the benefits of higher scores in other areas.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
It is a pretty well-agreed upon practice that the player's will in choosing actions should not be infringed upon by the GM. The GM should minimize the amount of action-railroading that takes place, telling players what the PCs do or feel. In accepting to play a character with a given set of stats, the player is exerting their own will, though, and ought to hold to it.

So, yes, if I character has a 5 INT, I'm going to expect the player to play some variation of "dumb". If the player starts to consistently violates that, the GM has tools at their disposal to enforce the issue - Knowledge checks, for example.
 

Mallus

Legend
This is a good question
An old one, too.

Is it preferable aesthetically for a player to "play the stats" of the character?
No.

In fact, I'd say in most cases it's impossible. How do you play the Buddha if you are, in real life, a Bubba?

... should the player's choices be driven by the practical circumstances of the game and the guided by the player's ability as much as, or more than, what's written on the character sheet?
Yes.

D&D is a game about group problem solving. Everyone should meaningfully contribute, even if certain numbers on their character sheet's make meaningful contributions look less than likely.

Or should the player play the character to the best of the player's ability with only minimal or no regard to the ability score?
Yes.

Though for some people, playing to 'the best of their ability' includes reconciling their own problem-solving capabilities through what they imagine their character are ("What would Grod the Unthinking make of this chess board puzzle?").

(This is also why I've come to prefer systems that assign mechanical significance to mental stats like INT/WIS/CHR, which is to say lower mental stats result in penalties that are completely unrelated to the ideas/role-playing contributed during play)
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
In fact, I'd say in most cases it's impossible. How do you play the Buddha if you are, in real life, a Bubba?

I think the operative word is "imagination". People can choose to act like (or represent the actions of) someone rather different than themselves.
 

Mallus

Legend
I think the operative word is "imagination". People can choose to act like (or represent the actions of) someone rather different than themselves.
But a foolish player imagining that they have a Buddha-like 18 WIS --it's the young Buddha-- is still likely to do and say foolish things, right?

I might imagine I play chess as well as Bobby Fisher did in his prime, but that helps my game... not so much.

My point is this: since dumb people aren't going to play geniuses convincingly, we might as well cut smart people playing idiots some slack. In the end, it's just a game. Play your character any way you enjoy.
 
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Henry

Autoexreginated
It's one I've wrestled with a lot, too -- but in the end as a GM I do sometimes look at stats as a determiner of certain activites I take in play. For instance, if a character with a WIS of 16 or higher is about to undertake a monumentally self-destructive action -- say, intentionally opening the lid on the bottle-prison of the evil efreet -- I will remind them of what they are about to do before they do it, whereas I wouldn't likely do that for the person with a lower Wisdom PC. Someone with a very high INT I might give a couple of hints in a logic puzzle if it looks like they're completely stumped.

Thankfully, of social skills their CHA and skill checks speak for them, while adding a small unspoken bonus if the player does a great job of roleplaying it out, or adding something glib that his character would say that entertains the other players and me. Quite frankly, someone should be able to imagine themselves as charismatic as a Dale Carnegie, Abraham Lincoln, or even an Adolph Hitler, instead of letting them belly-flop in the game because they aren't as intelligent, patient, or charming as their characters would be.

If they still want to open the thrice-damned Prison of the Caliph, or still can't figure out a puzzle they've had hints to, or still blow the diplomacy roll, then quite frankly, smart people have done dumb things before; not often, but it happens.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Lately, I've been coming to the conclusion that mental stats should be confined as much as possible to areas that do not impinge upon roleplaying. Much like alignment, concepts that were originally intended to further RPing actually end up hindering it; the player ends up trying to "play my alignment" or "play my Int score" instead of "playing my character."

And well-meaning folks get into a "police the other players" mentality. I'd be pretty irritated if someone told me, or even hinted strongly, that I wasn't playing my stats appropriately - correct me on the rules all you want, but if I'm not disrupting the game and everyone's having fun, who the heck are you to tell me how to play my character?

Finally, it often sets up a conflict between mechanical effectiveness and RP where one must be sacrificed for the good of the other. I don't like systems that pose that choice. I believe that mechanical effectiveness and RP should flow naturally together, or at least not stand in opposition.

So: Intelligence should describe a PC's education and breadth of knowledge, while saying nothing about problem-solving smarts. Wisdom should describe the keenness of the PC's senses, while saying nothing about sagacity. Charisma should describe the PC's innate presence and charm, while saying nothing about appearance or eloquence.

Charisma is probably the trickiest of the three, because Charisma-based checks require the DM to distinguish the player's choices from the player's presentation. I don't care how crazy-good your Bluff skill is, if you try to convince the gate guard that you're a god in disguise, it's going to be a tougher roll than if you want to convince him you're a farmer going about your day. If you insult him, you'll have a harder time making friends than if you smile and offer him a cookie.

My solution is to let the player's choices set the DC of the check, while doing my best not to let presentation color my thinking. If the player tries to give an inspiring speech, hits the right general themes, but just can't deliver it convincingly, I don't adjust the DC for that. A charismatic character can make the speech seem heartfelt and passionate despite, or even because of, its flaws.

But if the player gives a speech about defending truth and justice and virtue to the assembled archdukes of the Nine Hells, well... sorry, dude, but the DC on that Diplomacy check is going to be just a bit higher than if you appealed to their self-interest. (Not impossible, and if you do pull it off the results will be awesome, but I'm not going to make it easy.)
 
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Desdichado

Adventurer
The more interesting challenge than the 5 INT is the 18 INT. Since, by definition, the average wizard player is not nearly as intelligent as his character, it's impossible for him to "play the stats."

Plus; exactly what that means is open to debate. So, for my money, other than occasionally throwing a bone or two towards the altar of "roleplaying", attempting to "play the stats" should be mostly ignored, or at least left in the hands of the player to interpret.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
But a foolish player imagining that they have a Buddha-like 18 WIS --it's the young Buddha-- is still likely to do and say foolish things, right?

He's likely to need more support from his GM to avoid doing and saying foolish things. But he has a stat on a sheet, and mechanics that help with that. Using the mechanics available to him (like, say, frequent Wisdom checks) is part of playing the character.

And, if the smart player needs some mechanical assistance in playing dumb, that's available as well.
 

Voadam

Legend
This is a good question

What are the practical implications of including the "mental abilities" of a character during play? Is it preferable aesthetically for a player to "play the stats" of the character? Or should the player's choices be driven by the practical circumstances of the game and the guided by the player's ability as much as, or more than, what's written on the character sheet?

For example, should a fighter with INT 5 be played as "dumb?" Or should the player play the character to the best of the player's ability with only minimal or no regard to the ability score?

Stats are for mechanics.

An int 5 fighter in 3e has less skills per level, penalties on his int based skills, is foreclosed from taking the combat expertise feat, and would do poorly if he multiclassed into wizard (only able to use wands).

I'd rather a player choose his roleplay based on his own desires for his character rather than be guided by his stats. If he chooses to go with his stats as his guide for how to roleplay his character that is fine, but I could care less what the stats say. Same for alignment.

I have no aesthetic preference for having roleplay try to mimic character stats.

I'd feel offended by a DM telling me I was playing my character wrong or poorly based on the stats on the sheet.

Even when a DM wants to play according to the stats IMO there is plenty of room in any stat, high or low, to justify any behaviour.
 

Voadam

Legend
He's likely to need more support from his GM to avoid doing and saying foolish things. But he has a stat on a sheet, and mechanics that help with that. Using the mechanics available to him (like, say, frequent Wisdom checks) is part of playing the character.

And, if the smart player needs some mechanical assistance in playing dumb, that's available as well.

No. The DM can make up mechanics for that to reinforce his own view of how the player should act, but they are not part of the default game.

I have never made a wisdom check to see if I was doing or saying something too foolish or not foolish enough.

IMO it would be a poor mechanic to have around all the time. IMO it is better to have players simply have their characters act rather than check with or be second guessed by the DM about what they should do in roleplaying situations.
 

Greg K

Hero
For myself, it is about playing the character and mental stats are part of the character. Therefore, if you give your character low Int, Wis, and/or Cha, I expect the character to be played that way or the player making an honest attempt to do so. Treating those abilities as dump stats and ignoring the actual ability scores will get you booted from the table by myself and the rest of the group. YMMV

As for character with Int, Wis, and/or Cha, that is higher than players, we cut some slack. The DM may give extra clues if a skill does not cover it or, for charsima/charisma skills, the basis for what you are trying to get across might be more appropriate than the words used by the player. However, it is still the same message that the player is trying to get across through his character (just assumed to be in a more appropriate form).
 

delericho

Legend
the player ends up trying to "play my alignment" or "play my Int score" instead of "playing my character."

Aren't the characters stats part of the character?

The thing is, in all of the default character creation methods in 3e, 4e and Pathfinder, the player gets to choose where to assign his character's stats. So, if the character has a low Int, it is because the player wants the character to have a low Int. That being the case, shouldn't they be playing the character accordingly?
 

Mallus

Legend
That being the case, shouldn't they be playing the character accordingly?
Who gets to decide what 'accordingly' is?

I sure as Hell don't want the job when I'm DM'ing. I'm happy just to have players participating, contributing and (hopefully) enjoying themselves. I don't want to be put in the position of judging whether Grod the Unthinking is really smart enough to solve that chess board puzzle.

And seeing as I'm the only person who can put myself in that position, in the manner of a certain scrivener, I choose not to...

Honestly, how is the game made more enjyable by trying to limit player contributions --in terms of ideas, speech, general role-playing-- to match the poorly-defined --if at all-- limitations of their characters?
 

Voadam

Legend
Aren't the characters stats part of the character?

The thing is, in all of the default character creation methods in 3e, 4e and Pathfinder, the player gets to choose where to assign his character's stats. So, if the character has a low Int, it is because the player wants the character to have a low Int. That being the case, shouldn't they be playing the character accordingly?

Int, Wis, Cha, have mechanics attached to them.

Str, Dex, Con, do too.

Str, Dex, Con, do not impact how you roleplay your character except through their mechanics.

All six stats come from the same pool of point buy points.

So if mental stats impact roleplay then you have two situations.

If you want a strong mental stat roleplay style you have to put your points in that stat and either play a synergistic class for that stat (wizard for int, cleric for wis, sorcerer for con) or put these points into your roleplay stat and have less for your mechanically appropriate class based stats.

Conversely if you want to play with a low roleplay style in one of the stats you either avoid the synergy classes or gimp yourself (a spellcaster who can't cast spells in 3e or pathfinder, a caster with no bonuses on his powers in 4e).

Roleplay then limits either class choice or effectiveness.
 

ProfessorCirno

Banned
Banned
Int, Wis, Cha, have mechanics attached to them.

Str, Dex, Con, do too.

Str, Dex, Con, do not impact how you roleplay your character except through their mechanics.

Sure they do.

Characters with low strength aren't allowed to win at arm wrestling or kick down doors. Characters with low Con are going to be especially weak and susceptible to poisons.

I expect players to play their stats - they gave themselves those stats, after all. If you just shrug and go "Man whatever" then you're essentially telling the player "No, it's cool, just use those as dump stats - they don't matter at all to you."

In my opinion, the more you divide roleplaying away from stats, the closer you get to the point where you might as well just ditch the dice and freeform until the Final Fantasy-esque combat mode begins.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Roleplay then limits either class choice or effectiveness.

Sounds like that's the way it should be to me. If the role you want to play involves something not directly channeled into your class's main strengths, then of course there will be some trade-offs. That's a good thing. It keeps D&D from just being a numbers game for those of us who don't want it to just be a numbers game.

By the way, I'm also a stat roller, so it's not true that every point spent on a fighter's intelligence is a point taken away from his strength/dex/con.
 

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