I get that, as players, we want our PCs to have to overcome adversity. And there's something appealing about the bumbling character who finally gets it right. But this isn't a novel, where you can script your character's break-out moment. This is a game, which means you have to play by the same rules as everyone else at the table. And if your PC's numbers aren't up to snuff, then they're going to get their teeth kicked-in. Worse, they're going to be a drain on the rest of the team while that happens. As such, you need to make sure your PCs are bringing their A-game when they step out on the path to adventure.
|No Strength, no Dexterity, no Constitution... boy, what kinda fighter are you playing at?|
There Is No Advantage In Shooting Yourself In The Foot
"How do I make a wizard with a low-Int, but not be a burden on the rest of the party?"
If you've ever asked this question, the short answer is that you don't. And you don't for the simple reason that wizards need a high Intelligence in order to function. That attribute determines the power of their magic, and it plays a big role in how effective their spells are. The higher your Intelligence, the more potent you are. Also, if you think it's a fun roleplaying experiment to assemble a wizard who puts their 18 in Strength, and their 11 in Intelligence, there is one question you need to answer. Just one.
Why did anyone pick you for the team?
|"You take Johnny!" "No way, Johnny is useless, YOU take him!"|
It doesn't matter which class you use for this example, whether it's the wheezing, low-Strength barbarian, the ugly sorcerer with a tanked Charisma, or the fighter whose biggest stat is Intelligence while his physical stats are far and away in the rear. If the class you chose requires certain attributes in order to be effective, and you purposefully put small numbers in those abilities, then your character is taking a serious hit in how effective they are. And if you're there to do a job with the rest of your co-adventurers, you need to know what role you're supposed to be fulfilling.
And if you can't fulfill it, then the next question everyone else is going to ask is if they can leave you behind at the tavern. Especially if the numbers you're rocking are less helpful than your average NPC hireling.
You Can Still Be Unusual (Just Think Outside The Box)
With all of that said, it's entirely possible to make any of the concepts I listed as examples work. All you have to do is change the character's actual class so the stats they have allow them to be effective.
|I'm not sure I'm following you here...|
Let's take the example of the stupid wizard. Maybe he's been in school for a while, and he's trying his best to apply the formula and knowledge from his lessons, but it just won't work. He doesn't have the raw force of brain to get the results he wants. Well, what does he do at that point? Well, if he has a high Charisma, you could make him a natural sorcerer who has more luck with intuition and raw power. Alternatively, maybe he is just smart enough to strike a bargain with an eldritch being, giving him the powers of a warlock. All the magic he could ever want, even though there might be a price to pay for taking a "shortcut" to get it.
You can apply this same logic to the other examples, too. If you have someone who was never strong, or fast, then perhaps they had the mental acuity to master tactics, and wizardry. So while this character is still a soldier, and likely an officer, they fight with spells instead of steel (like The Military-Grade Evoker). The physically weak "barbarian" might be smaller and skinnier than other members of his tribe, but he makes up for it in speed and brutality since he's mechanically a rogue. While he can't out-drink anyone, and he'll lose any arm wrestling competition, no one will ever doubt that he is a capable and deadly warrior.
And so on, and so forth.
As I said back in What's In A Name? How Your Character's Class Is Limiting Your Creativity, your class isn't your job. You can be a tribal hunter as a rogue, just as surely as you could be a holy warrior as a sorcerer. What's even better is that by pairing unusual imagery, iconography, or character traits with an unexpected class, you get that same fish-out-of-water style character development, but you don't have the rest of the table taking a vote to abandon your PC the next time you break camp.
Your PC has to have a strength that helps the rest of the group. But that strength doesn't have to come in the form, or shape, that people expect. So stretch your creativity, and ask if your "wizard" is stupid, well, what other qualities does he bring to the table?
If you enjoyed this piece, you might also want to check out You Don't Get Brownie Points For Building Ineffective Characters.
That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday PSA. Hopefully some folks out there found it helpful, as I know a LOT of players out there who want to try this kind of self-mutilation as a way to avoid playing "typical" characters. If you'd like to see more content from yours truly, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio. To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help keep Improved Initiative up-and-running, consider heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or just Buying Me A Ko-Fi. Either way, I'd be happy to send you both my gratitude, and some sweet gaming swag!