Salutations, nerds! Today we’re coming at fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons from a player’s perspective looking specifically at how to play to your dump stat in a way that doesn’t ruin your fun. If we’re doing standard array for ability scores everybody has an 8 they must put somewhere. If we’re doing point buy it’s totally possible to have no dump stat at all but I’ve found in my experience more often than not you end up with more dump stats than you would have otherwise because people will sacrifice points out of more things to get those sweet 18’s out of the gate. The thing is, very rarely do you actually see people playing to the ability score they’ve dumped. I’m sure you’ve seen this too, where someone takes 8 in Intelligence and Wisdom so they can have good Strength and Dexterity but they never show the drawbacks of those low ability score in action. So today we’re going to talk about little ways you can show your 5E D&D dump stat through your roleplaying. Ready? Buckle up, let’s go.
Roleplaying ability scores and dump stats in 5E D&D
You’re playing a character with a Strength below 10. All right, this isn’t the end of the world. There are a lot of 5E D&D character builds leaning more heavily on Dexterity and a lot of Dex builds shove Strength aside because most of the other ability scores are more useful for roleplaying purposes. This is also a particularly hard one to showcase because if you’re a low Strength character you’re probably not going to be in a lot of situations where anyone is asking you to, you know, lift.
This means you’re going to have to create opportunities for yourself. The Dungeon Master gave the party some time to make camp and talk to each other? Have your character ask someone else to help them lift something. Show them struggling with a load of logs. Walking through the wilderness? Complain about the heavy weight of your pack. Show your character shifting it and trying not to complain if that’s the kind of person they are.
A really good example of a character who clearly dumped Strength is Rhys from Tales from the Borderlands. There are a lot of excellent moments in the game where he tries to pick something up that wouldn’t be a problem for somebody else and he just whiffs it. It’s hilarious and a constant reminder this guy is kind of a wimp in that regard.
You don’t see this one super often but if you happen to be the person bold enough to dump Dexterity (and hats off to you, my friend, this is a particularly difficult one to play with) it’s pretty easy to show this in play. Have your character drop things. If you’re walking on slick terrain make it a point to mention how you’re slipping and sliding. Grab the barbarian for support. Fumble with your keys.
For good examples of this in action I direct you to none other than Bella Swan from Twilight. Yes, yes, I know but bear with me. Her one flaw is being accident prone to the point this particular example has become a bit of a meme in recent times.
Ah, you’ve dumped Constitution. I see you too like to live dangerously. [NERDITOR’S NOTE: Everyone was certain my 6 Constitution sorcerer would never survive Nerdarchist Ted’s 10th level one shot. They were wrong.]
This one’s pretty easy. If there’s a cold going around, your character catches it. They’re always sneezing and coughing. They probably can’t hold their liquor and if there’s a particularly pungent smell going on they have a good chance of losing their lunch.
And the example? Do I really have to say this one? Raistlin Majere of course. The sardonic wizard with the constant cough and tendency to brew himself teas to help with his persistent sicknesses. A+. Moving right along.
I’ve seen a lot of characters dump Intelligence and I know a lot of you have too. Tell me you haven’t seen the barbarian who doesn’t use the Queen’s English and can’t read? Well, illiteracy isn’t a terrible way to showcase Intelligence as a dump stat, sure, but there are other ways. I have a friend in a text based RPG I play with who has a character who isn’t stupid per se but she’s definitely not intelligent. She’s always trying to use long words and using the wrong ones.
She’s always getting people’s names wrong and just making things up to go in their place because the girl is confident as heck, but she’s been hit in the head a few too many times. And she knows the important words. She knows “recon” and “maim” but sometimes says “genurine” instead of “genuine.”
At no point does she ever seem like she thinks she’s got it wrong and I adore this.
We’re going to go with Mugen from Samurai Champloo as the example here. He never claimed to be a smart man, he’s an example who can’t read and he’s always getting into nonsense but nothing you can say will ever convince me he’s not a well rounded character.
I have a special love for low Wisdom characters, particularly because I am one. You can be an absolute genius and still have no common sense to speak of.
These are the people who can be in a room having a conversation and just not notice there’s a bandit robbing them blind. They’re the ones who don’t think things all the way through and have to be told no, actually everyone standing on each other’s shoulders probably isn’t the best way to climb this wall.
Flat out missing things, missing the subtext of a conversation, blurting something out when the person you’re trying to keep it from is standing right there and just getting excited and suggesting a very foolish idea are all things low Wisdom characters do.
Patrick Star from Spongebob is very much a low Wisdom character. He’s low Intelligence too but the line, “How about we take the town and push it somewhere else” stands out to me.
There are a lot of ways to play low Charisma and I am saddened greatly this is as underdone as it is. For one thing you can be blunt as a roofing tile. I once got inspiration from a DM because I was playing a character that had dumped Charisma who just walked into a room and told an NPC her husband wasn’t dead without any preamble when she thought he’d been dead for decades. Skipping the niceties works very well here.
Low Charisma characters might point out the flaws of others freely without considering how this might make them feel or they might just have really bad breath, which you then proceed to describe any time someone is standing too close to them.
Think about the little things that get under your skin when you’re interacting with other people and cherry pick a couple of them for your low Charisma character. Maybe they can’t wait more than 10 minutes at a restaurant without being waited on before they start loudly complaining about it. Arrogance is a great way to go about this.
I’m going to pin Farengar Secret-Fire as my example here. He’s a smart mage, you meet him right in the beginning of Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, and he’s incredibly rude and acts like the player character is stupid when you first speak to him. I have never wanted to kill an NPC so badly after two lines.
So there you have it, a couple of ways to go about roleplaying to your dump stat in 5E D&D. I’m highly interested in any stories y’all have about that. A time it mattered in the plot? Things you like to do for flavor? Some point you saw this done particularly well? Please let me know in the comments below and as always, stay nerdy!