June 29, 2011

Low Ability Scores are Cool Again

I've always had a soft spot for characters with low ability scores.  They usually end up with a lot more more personality than the cookie-cutter superdudes who have multiple 18s.  The abrasive cut-purse, dumb warrior, or weak and sickly wizard are all welcome in my games, tragically stereotyped or not.

The real challenge has always been convincing the players that these characters are worthwhile.  Rolling a bunch of low scores can make a player feel defeated before they even begin to play.  No one likes starting out with negative modifiers, especially when compared to some "better" character at the table.  I hate starting a session when someone is disappointed with their character.  It kills the mood for everyone.  I don't like point-buy systems, or re-rolls, so I used to try bribery.  I'd give out magic items to these characters, family heirlooms that only worked for members of their bloodline.  It helped to remove some of the sting, but wasn't an ideal solution.

Recently, Roger the GS showed me a better way.

Non-humans as consolation!  I should have been doing this ages ago.  No better time to start than the present.  I've been dragging my feet about which species are playable for my Ezzin setting, but I can at least lay out some groundwork and plug in the Ezzin races later.

Ability Scores  ___  Modifier
  • 3  __________  -3
  • 4-5  ________  -2
  • 6-8  ________  -1
  • 9-12  _______  0
  • 13-15  ______  +1
  • 16-17  ______  +2
  • 18  _________  +3

The basic idea here is that all characters default to human.  Other species become available if you roll some low ability scores and end up with a negative modifier.

Species  _________  Requirements

Halfling  _________  Str of 8 or less
Half-Orc  ________  Int of 8 or less
Gnome  _________  Wis of 8 or less
Dwarf  __________  Dex of 8 or less
Elf  _____________  Con of 8 or less
Tiefling  _________  Cha of 8 or less
Goblin/Kobald  ____  2 Scores below 6

These aren't all going to be available options in my Ezzin setting.  Some of them will end up getting replaced by more exotic choices like cyclops and lizardmen, I'm still pondering the setting.  Still, I think that this chart is a good place to start.


  1. Okay, that's pretty dang brilliant.

  2. Thanks all :-)

    I feel like Roger should be the one getting credit though. To me this just seemed like the obvious next step from his flash of genius.

  3. Genius!

    This also works as a nice balance to the fact that demi-humans are pretty tough at low levels, compared to humans.