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5E Weird Interpretations for High/Low Ability Scores

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Perhaps Spiderman is a bad example then.

Let me rephrase the question:
Without the intervention of magic, can a high Strength character appear normal (instead of burly or athletic or the like)?
I think maybe as high as 14 or 15, but 16 pro
probably not. 18-20 would need some explanation other than wirey.
 

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Yardiff

Adventurer
Perhaps Spiderman is a bad example then.

Let me rephrase the question:
Without the intervention of magic, can a high Strength character appear normal (instead of burly or athletic or the like)?
What does normal look like? Someone who is 'in shape' does look different than someone who is not, also someone who is not 'in shape' looks different than someone who is completely out of shape.
 

What does normal look like? Someone who is 'in shape' does look different than someone who is not, also someone who is not 'in shape' looks different than someone who is completely out of shape.
Particularly if they are wearing clothes. While actors often wear clothes tailored to accentuate their bodies, it isn't always easy to tell who is athletic and who isn't if they're just standing around. Particularly now that Str is less about huge muscles and more about power and athleticism.
Your standard Str 8 person could be quite large, but out of condition: a bit of a couch potato. Stand them next to Bruce Lee (high, but not max Str) and you would probably think that they might be stronger. Until Bruce took his shirt off.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Supporter
It's not exact science. It just the general principle that the muscle mass is related to strength so really strong people can be visually be recognised as such. This of course mostly matters for describing NPCs.
What does normal look like? Someone who is 'in shape' does look different than someone who is not, also someone who is not 'in shape' looks different than someone who is completely out of shape.
Not to mention the range of "normal" in a D&D world that has plenty of characters with supernatural origins.
 

DM Dave1

Adventurer
It's not exact science. It just the general principle that the muscle mass is related to strength so really strong people can be visually be recognised as such. This of course mostly matters for describing NPCs.
What does normal look like? Someone who is 'in shape' does look different than someone who is not, also someone who is not 'in shape' looks different than someone who is completely out of shape.
I think maybe as high as 14 or 15, but 16 pro
probably not. 18-20 would need some explanation other than wirey.
Particularly if they are wearing clothes. While actors often wear clothes tailored to accentuate their bodies, it isn't always easy to tell who is athletic and who isn't if they're just standing around. Particularly now that Str is less about huge muscles and more about power and athleticism.
Your standard Str 8 person could be quite large, but out of condition: a bit of a couch potato. Stand them next to Bruce Lee (high, but not max Str) and you would probably think that they might be stronger. Until Bruce took his shirt off.
Not to mention the range of "normal" in a D&D world that has plenty of characters with supernatural origins.
It seems like many would agree that that there is no precise way to define what someone who has a particular Strength stat necessarily looks like. The book intentionally uses loose language (i.e "might", "usually", "probably") when describing high and low stats because they are not details that are, or even can be, definitively prescribed. Who then determines what a particular stat looks (or sounds, or moves, or thinks) like? Perhaps the table. Perhaps the DM. Perhaps the player. Real world common sense or expectations may prevail. Or game world creativity may prevail. As long as it is not detracting from the fun being had or the memorable stories being woven, I don't see the issue in anyone at the table deciding what the fluff of a stat looks like.
 

People started dumping CHA because it didn't have a non-mechanical effect (at least in AD&D times), but rather than simply use more Charisma checks, people started gating character concepts by ability score instead.
That's some nice historical revisionism you've got there!

No. That is not what happened. Concepts have always been gated by ability scores. In 1E/2E (and probably 3E/4E, I haven't checked), the text made it a lot clearer that stats actually meant something, and weren't entirely abstract. This wasn't something that "started" in 5E or whenever.

It's a matter of honest RP, i.e. people actually playing their characters, vs. some people who just decide that they can basically cheat and play some sort of psychic ubermensch, despite their stats. Trying to invalidate my experience of this actually happening with vague handwaving is not very impressive.

You're coming up with this totally nonsensical approach where the DM is dictating what stats mean (never seen that happen), but the reality I've seen for decades is that the group, as a whole, has a shared idea of what stats mean, and a shared idea of when it's okay to use OOC knowledge (rarely, and sparingly, is what I've usually seen), and some people violate that unspoken contract.

The smart play at that point, of course, is to avoid rolling whenever you can and to stack the deck in your favor when you might have to (working together, Inspiration, bardic inspiration, portent, guidance, etc.). But this is smart play even with a high ability score because the d20 is really swingy so what's the meaningful difference at the table? None, I say. Let people pretend to be Int-5 Sherlock how they want to and you portray Int-5 Sherlock how you want. If you somehow can't bring yourself to do that, there's always table rules, I suppose. (Here I'm using the universal "you.")
This sounds to me very much like you're engaging in exactly the kind of system-exploitation I'm talking about, and having @TwoSix deny people can use this to powergame, and you agree with him, then explain how to use it to powergame is pretty hilarious.

"Smart play" here looks awfully similar to "to hell with RP and characters, let's just powergame/exploit things to the max!".
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Supporter
This sounds to me very much like you're engaging in exactly the kind of system-exploitation I'm talking about, and having @TwoSix deny people can use this to powergame, and you agree with him, then explain how to use it to powergame is pretty hilarious.
That's some nice historical revionism you got going on there, since I said it yesterday. I said the issue being discussed wasn't about powergaming. I never said powergaming couldn't be a factor.

But I'm going to let it go, since you seem to be in one of your churlish moods.
 

But I'm going to let it go, since you seem to be in one of your churlish moods.
Me, surly? Why I never sir! ;)

If you're not saying powergaming can't be a factor, fair enough - by my experience of this sort of approach to mental stats being used to try and cheese stuff is a big part of why I'm allergic to it (that and that it's solely used with mental stats), and @iserith seems to be describing doing precisely that, as justified as he might feel about it.

@iserith - I kind of get where you're coming from re: stacking the deck and avoiding rolls, because the binary d20 stat check/skill check in 5E is absolutely obnoxious outside combat, but I've seen too much bad behaviour with that too really support it. It is however part of why I no longer run 5E much and mostly play.

I've also seen DMs respond to concerns about it by just making people make practically-constant CHA checks and the like (not me), and that is pretty awful as a solution. I guess the problem is fundamentally with 5E and the wide variance combined with the binary success/fail, and lack of mitigating factors (like Take 10/Take 20) outside of specific class/subclass features.
 

DM Dave1

Adventurer
Me, surly? Why I never sir! ;)

If you're not saying powergaming can't be a factor, fair enough - by my experience of this sort of approach to mental stats being used to try and cheese stuff is a big part of why I'm allergic to it (that and that it's solely used with mental stats), and @iserith seems to be describing doing precisely that, as justified as he might feel about it.

@iserith - I kind of get where you're coming from re: stacking the deck and avoiding rolls, because the binary d20 stat check/skill check in 5E is absolutely obnoxious outside combat, but I've seen too much bad behaviour with that too really support it. It is however part of why I no longer run 5E much and mostly play.

I've also seen DMs respond to concerns about it by just making people make practically-constant CHA checks and the like (not me), and that is pretty awful as a solution. I guess the problem is fundamentally with 5E and the wide variance combined with the binary success/fail, and lack of mitigating factors (like Take 10/Take 20) outside of specific class/subclass features.
Bad behavior of jerks can mess up anything. That should absolutely be dealt with away from the table. Assuming a jerk-free table, these methods work really well to promote the goals of play.

Rolls don’t need to be thought of as binary Success/Fail all the time. Success with a setback often makes an appearance in games in which I DM. Failing forward can also be employed. Even degrees of success/failure can be used. The adjudication of rolls becomes much more of a continuum this way.
 

Bad behavior of jerks can mess up anything. That should absolutely be dealt with away from the table. Assuming a jerk-free table, these methods work really well to promote the goals of play.
I'm pretty sure the people being jerks here don't think there are, though, and further, this particular problem only manifests when people decide stats don't mean anything (or actively don't exist).

I've played TTRPGs since 1988, and the idea that there's a clear line between "jerks" and everyone else is not one I can support, on that basis. There are some players who are always jerks, and yes, it's easy to get rid of them. But there are also rules-approaches and rules-systems and so on which can temporarily turn otherwise-nice players into jerks. It's even happened to me, and as annoying as I may be here, I'm usually pretty good player I think! (Castle Falkenstein was what temporarily made me a jerk, largely because I hated the setting's assumptions so much - at 42 I would have just said "I'm not playing that", but I wasn't 42).

Rolls don’t need to be thought of as binary Success/Fail all the time. Success with a setback often makes an appearance in games in which I DM. Failing forward can also be employed. Even degrees of success/failure can be used. The adjudication of rolls becomes much more of a continuum this way.
RAW they are pretty much treated as binary success/fail, but even if you don't, you have to make up house rules to do so (failing forward has nothing to do with success/fail binaries, and you see it in games where that isn't the case, it just has to do with planning for the consequences of failed rolls), and the extreme variance of the d20 mechanic remains a problem.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
This sounds to me very much like you're engaging in exactly the kind of system-exploitation I'm talking about, and having @TwoSix deny people can use this to powergame, and you agree with him, then explain how to use it to powergame is pretty hilarious.

"Smart play" here looks awfully similar to "to hell with RP and characters, let's just powergame/exploit things to the max!".
This isn't power gaming. It's just smart play. Automatic success is better than leaving it to the dice to decide, which is why something like portent is a good character option. Getting automatic success without something like portent requires engaging with the environment or the NPC in a way that removes uncertainty as to the outcome and/or the meaningful consequence for failure which by any reasonable standard is "good roleplaying."
 
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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
@iserith - I kind of get where you're coming from re: stacking the deck and avoiding rolls, because the binary d20 stat check/skill check in 5E is absolutely obnoxious outside combat, but I've seen too much bad behaviour with that too really support it. It is however part of why I no longer run 5E much and mostly play.

I've also seen DMs respond to concerns about it by just making people make practically-constant CHA checks and the like (not me), and that is pretty awful as a solution. I guess the problem is fundamentally with 5E and the wide variance combined with the binary success/fail, and lack of mitigating factors (like Take 10/Take 20) outside of specific class/subclass features.
What sort of bad behavior have you seen?
 

This isn't power gaming. It's just smart play. Automatic success is better than leaving it to the dice to decide, which is why something like portent is a good character option.
Literally every element of power-gaming can also be described as "smart play" (or "smart character building" or the like). So that's meaningless.

Getting automatic success without something like portent requires engaging with the environment or the NPC in a way that removes uncertainty as to the outcome and/or the meaningful consequence for failure which by any reasonable standard is "good roleplaying."
Disagree. It's only good roleplaying if it's plausible for the overall character you have. If you go out of character, or just don't even have a character, no matter how much you "engage with the environment or NPC", that's not "good" roleplaying, that successfully manipulating the DM.

My personal experience is that the kind of people who want stats to mean absolutely nothing tend to have characters who have absolutely no discernable personality, motivation, goals, or the like - they may have a backstory, even a detailed one, but in-game they just say/do whatever they think is going to be most successful, even if it makes zero sense for the character they seem to have.

If you never don't say/do something because your character wouldn't do that, or wouldn't know that, you're definitely this interesting species of power-gamer, potentially even a munchkin if it extends into making the game boring or annoying for others, no matter how effective it is (which is largely up to how well you can make the DM do what you want).

What sort of bad behavior have you seen?
Largely two things:

1) People not role-playing their character at all, or just stopping RPing their actual character at times, because it might hold them back, in groups where most people do RP, even if sometimes that means their character doesn't make the most optimal possible decision (which, in my experience, and YMMV, is most groups). There's always going to be a little bit of this, and that's fine, but I'm talking about when it's extreme/constant. As I noted before, I've seen characters with detailed backstories, and in a couple of cases, even written personalities, but then the guy just doesn't RP it at all, and ignores his stats too (and alignment, of course), and just tries to manipulate the DM into letting him not roll (which again, I can sympathize with, but only up to a point), and basically plays an emotionless (or fake-emotion) psychopath who will say/do anything to further the party's goal. They're not necessarily causing problems for the other players directly (though this is prone to steal spotlights and invalidate skills that other players too), and may well be on-goal, unlike say, a munchkin who tries to turn everything into combat, but over a few sessions it can really stand out that everyone is RPing, except the dude who is just "playing to win" and has basically forgotten his character even theoretically has a personality.

And if you point out that this is going, the person tends to get very defensive, no matter how politely it's done, because you're calling them on not RPing, which people tend to see as impugning their honour.

2) People bringing in OOC information of all kinds, sometimes basically entire scientific treatises, with absolutely no attempt to justify it via skills/stats/etc. possessed by the actual PC (sometimes not even their background). This is more common in modern games than D&D, but in D&D I've seen it a bit. Again, some limited amount of this is to be expected, but you run into situations where, for example, a character with zero science background and low mind-related stats is explaining in detail how to make gunpowder - in a fantasy setting, especially a wacky one where the elements might not even be real things, you may be able to futz with that by having them be wrong - not so in a non-fantasy setting, if they have the correct information (in my experience, players often have the advantage of the DM here).

It often feels particularly dubious because in practical terms it's generally only possible to do this with stuff covered by INT/CHA, and 5E highlights this by these being the key dumpstats for 5E

Separate from all that my personal feeling is that if your stats are high or low, you should explain it in some way, and RP it in some way, not just flatly ignore it except mechanically. It doesn't have to be some pre-determined, DM-specific way - if you have a creative explanation for 5 INT that isn't "I R DUMB", like the alien-mindset lizardman mentioned earlier, that's awesome, and probably makes for a memorable game. But when you pick 8 CHA and just act like your character is charismatic, and RP on that basis, without the slightest hint as to why they have 8 CHA (it could be a lack of self-worth, or just a lack of presence despite being perfectly nice or whatever), I feel like at best that's lazy or weak RPing, and at worst, it's trying to get around a dumpstat in a dodgy way.

This is one of the issues I have with 5E, note, and indeed D&D in general. I feel like there are various approaches other games use that work better, and D&D could work a lot better with a few changes (mostly to make the d20 variance less of an issue, but also to boost the value to investing in a stat, outside of to hit/damage/saves), because currently there's a huge premium on just avoiding rolling if you possibly can.
 
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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Literally every element of power-gaming can also be described as "smart play" (or "smart character building" or the like). So that's meaningless.
Player skill matters in any game that isn't entirely random.

Disagree. It's only good roleplaying if it's plausible for the overall character you have. If you go out of character, or just don't even have a character, no matter how much you "engage with the environment or NPC", that's not "good" roleplaying, that successfully manipulating the DM.

My personal experience is that the kind of people who want stats to mean absolutely nothing tend to have characters who have absolutely no discernable personality, motivation, goals, or the like - they may have a backstory, even a detailed one, but in-game they just say/do whatever they think is going to be most successful, even if it makes zero sense for the character they seem to have.

If you never don't say/do something because your character wouldn't do that, or wouldn't know that, you're definitely this interesting species of power-gamer, potentially even a munchkin if it extends into making the game boring or annoying for others, no matter how effective it is (which is largely up to how well you can make the DM do what you want).
Roleplaying is just saying what your character does, thinks, or says. It can be done actively (1st person) or descriptively (3rd person). By those definitions provided by the game, anyone who does that is a good roleplayer. What you're referring to is portrayal of the character according to established characterization. This is incentivized by way of the Inspiration mechanics (personality traits, ideal, bond, flaw). A good roleplayer - that is, a player who is good at establishing what the character does, thinks, or says - can also be good at portraying the character and can receive a mechanical benefit for doing so. Those personality traits, ideal, bond, and flaw say way more about how a character is portrayed than a character's ability scores. Being a good roleplayer, a skilled player, and good at portraying the character are not mutually exclusive traits, particularly given that for however many ways you can think of why a character wouldn't do or know something, I can think of reasonable ways they could.
 


Roleplaying is just saying what your character does, thinks, or says. It can be done actively (1st person) or descriptively (3rd person). By those definitions provided by the game, anyone who does that is a good roleplayer.
Ok, but that's total bullshit, isn't it? "By those definitions" is some weasely politician nonsense.

Being a good roleplayer, a skilled player, and good at portraying the character are not mutually exclusive traits, particularly given that for however many ways you can think of why a character wouldn't do or know something, I can think of reasonable ways they could.
If you always work out could, and never RP to your own disadvantage, you're a massive power-gamer, possibly bordering on a munchkin (depending on how you impact the game and other players), and denying it at that point just makes you disingenuous.

I feel like this is an entirely theoretical discussion for you though. The total lack of actual examples you've given, your complete inability to provide details about how "your" game runs (just generalities) and so on makes me wonder if either you play totally differently from this, in practice, or you don't play at all. It wouldn't be the first time I had a multi-page discussion with someone on an RPG forum who, it turned out, hadn't played the game for a long time (or in one memorable case, had never played the game, despite having acted like a venerable and experienced GM for it, for years).
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
A difficulty in some cases seems to be that reasonable is in the eye of the beholder.

But that's what table rules in 5e, to put back in things 1e and 2e had, are for.
Sure, table rules can set a reasonable standard for the given group. But that standard cannot be applied to other tables, nor can they be said to be part of the actual rules of the game.
 

Voadam

Hero
I played a viking wizard concept 5e character using a valor bard chasis. I believe I had a 14 Strength and and an 18 Charisma at one point.

I described it as think of a professional wrestler, 18 Charisma means I look like I have an 18 strength.
 

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