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A Different Way to Play Low-Stat Characters

I’m playing in a Dungeon World game, and my ranger/cleric has a low Intelligence and low Charisma. But somehow, I’ve become the face of our adventuring party (which I’m calling the Maestros of Failure). Now, I don’t want to play someone who is stupid/clueless or bad at talking with people, because that would bore me, but I needed to choose two meh stats, and those were the least useful in my mind.

I didn’t then know I would be the fast-talker of the group. :) That all started when I had to talk the town watch into gently throwing only one of us in the drunk tank, instead of doing something dumb that would’ve resulted in homicide and well, that’s just a bad day for everyone.

An idea clicked as I was playing this: low stats can mean you choke under pressure rather than inherently lacking competence. Here’s an example of each stat rated at just 8:

  • Strength: You got some good overall strength, but with a bad back and wrecked shoulders you can’t strain yourself.
  • Dexterity: You’re pretty nimble, but your sense of timing is pretty off.
  • Constitution: It’s not that you can’t hold your breath underwater or brace for damage… except you kinda panic easy and don’t keep your focus up.
  • Intelligence: You actually know a bunch of stuff, but when a demand is made of you, your anxiety kicks in and you lock up.
  • Wisdom: On one hand, you have a lot of awareness—situational, cultural, etc. On the other hand, you’re easily distracted by other random things you notice that aren’t relevant to the impending peril.
  • Charisma: You’re personable and chatty, getting along with people when it doesn’t matter. But when you need to try, you try too hard, and put your foot in your mouth. Then you try to recover by continuing to talk, which just digs you further in that hole.

Maybe this reframing will help you in your games. Most adventure games have a low-stat choice for balance reasons, but that doesn’t mean you have to play your character in ways that don’t resonate with you. Competent-except-when-it-counts has been pretty fun for me. :)

Edit to add a good observation on Twitter:

—Ryan

(I’m continuing to have my head buried in Katanas & Trenchcoats, so I’m not likely to make blog post often, but I needed to note this idea down somewhere.)

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3 Responses to A Different Way to Play Low-Stat Characters

  1. Fnorder says:

    Yup. This is how I try to describe most failures in heroic-fiction orientated games. Unless the player willingly plays a character with certain inabilities and problems I try to shift the blame and explain failure as being due to external or unforseen circumstances, or in many cases (especially information-gathering rolls for investigation, empathy, searching and the likes) being a success in what the character set out to do but with a nasty complication (revealing information of upcoming badness, revealing the information gathering attempt to the opposition, complicating issues on another front).

    It’s what Fate Core taught ma about making failure awesome :)

    And in case of Charisma rolls, I found that some of my players (and myself as well when playing) prefer to describe their goal and roll the trait *before* roleplaying it out, so that if they roll low they can choose to play out *how* they bitched their attempt. This takes the pressure of people accustomed to “I’ll give you a bonus for roleplaying”-philosophy which leads even the crassest of barbarians to be very reserved and careful when talking to His Lordship Enpecetus. If they roll first, they have a clear indication to how to portray their victory/failure and have fun doing it.

  2. Teramis says:

    Nice angle on the low stat thing. Thanks for sharing this idea!

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