Guide to Roleplaying Ability Scores

Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

So, I've searched the boards and found some helpful advice and opinions on roleplaying ability scores, but there wasn't an obvious, central location for that advice. If such a thread already exists then I ask your forgiveness for diluting the boards.

I get pretty into the characterization of my PCs, but I find the translation of ability scores into roleplayable characteristics to be a little slippery. What does Wisdom really mean on a fleshed-out character? How low does my PCs Intelligence have to be before it really becomes obvious? What would a high Strength, low Constitution person look like?

I have written up some blurbs for each ability score that were originally intended for my own characterization purposes, but I thought that having the collective collective experience of my fellow Paizonians might give me even more to work with. This information is 100% my opinion and I gratefully accept other opinions, as well. I am aware that this topic could be flamewar fodder, but I'm sincerely seeking input and advice…so please keep it civil and constructive.

Without further ado…

Link to Google Doc

This is in the wrong forum... This should be in the Advice forum...

Huh. And I was afraid of being inundated. Bump?

So, I'm going to post the basic stuff from the doc in case some of you are just not wanting to redirect. Again, the point of this is to consider the abilities from a ROLEPLAYING perspective, not mechanics.

Strength is possibly the most obvious of the attributes. Strength represents a character’s physical might, his ability to physically manipulate the world around him. The stronger he is, the easier a physical burden is for him. In the game, a character’s Strength score also represents his stature and musculature. A character with a high Strength score would be bigger, and more muscled. A low Strength score would indicate being small or scrawny. Strength damage would be evidenced by fatigue and/or atrophy of musculature.

Dexterity refers to a range of abilities that essentially all come down to fine motor control. Quickness, reflexes, balance, steadiness, manual adroitness, and flexibility all come from the Dexterity score. A high-Dexterity character would be very quick, nimble, and sure-footed, and possess a steady hand. These abilities make him more deadly with ranged weapons, too. A character with a low Dexterity score might be clumsy, slow to react, and a little bit shaky. Damage to a character’s Dexterity score would cause him to become shaky, sluggish, and perhaps dizzy.

Constitution in the game world represents physical health, stamina, and toughness. The higher a character’s Constitution score, the more gritty, durable, and resistant he is to pain, fatigue, and other physical afflictions. High Constitution characters are not often ill and can carry on under trying conditions far longer than most. A character with a low Constitution score would be more sickly, quick to tire, intolerant to pain and discomfort, and vulnerable to disease and physical affliction. Constitution damage would be evidenced by illness, sensitivity to suffering, and/or fatigue.

Intelligence is the first of the mental attributes, which are a bit harder to explain and apply to a character. Intelligence dictates a character’s problem solving ability, how quickly he thinks, his ability to recognize patterns and to make connections, and it represents how sharp his memory and information recall is. A highly Intelligent character would be a quick-thinking fountain of knowledge, be it the result of intensive study or of simply picking up tidbits of gossip, trivia, and lore wherever he goes. An Intelligent character will recognize patterns easily and devise creative ways to decipher and to apply them to solve a problem or dilemma. A character with low Intelligence would behave more instinctually, because cause and effect is less clear to him, he is literally slow, and he may struggle to recall things that he’s learned. Intelligence damage would be evidenced by more primitive, instinctual thinking, simplemindedness, forgetfulness, and degeneration of skill.

Wisdom is primarily the measure of a character’s focus and intuition. A high Wisdom character would be very perceptive and highly focused, with good instincts and a strong will. He can be counted on to make very solid, well-informed decisions, inasmuch as he understands what he’s seen (which is more a matter of Intelligence), and to stick to them without wavering. A character with a low Wisdom score would be highly distractible, flighty, unobservant, and gullible. Wisdom can also be used to measure one’s grasp on reality. Wisdom damage would be evidenced by distraction and degeneration into insanity.

Charisma, being the final mental attribute, is also difficult to quantify. Charisma represents a character’s confidence, presence, personal magnetism, leadership, and his ability to make his will a reality. In short, it’s his influence. A character with a high Charisma is going to be highly influential wherever he goes and whatever he does. People will follow him, whether out of admiration or fear. Regardless of their feelings for the character, people listen and do what he commands, because people want to be on his good side. He is very persuasive. A character with low Charisma will command no such influence or respect. He may be frequently overlooked, underappreciated, or, at worst, taken advantage of. He’s not necessarily a coward or a fool, at all; people simply don’t look to him for leadership or direction. Charisma damage would be evidenced by a loss of confidence and/or a diminished presence.

A big question I'm hoping for input on is this: At what level (high or low) does an ability become really noticeable as part of the characterization? Is an 11 Strength PC much different than a 12 Strength PC? If not, at what point does it become apparent? How high is noticeably high? How low is noticeably low?

Also, I'd be curious how you would describe different arrangements of abilities. How would you play a PC with high Str, low Dex, low Con? What about low Int, high Wis, low Cha? These are just random examples, but you get the idea.

Wildebob wrote:

A big question I'm hoping for input on is this: At what level (high or low) does an ability become really noticeable as part of the characterization? Is an 11 Strength PC much different than a 12 Strength PC? If not, at what point does it become apparent? How high is noticeably high? How low is noticeably low?

Also, I'd be curious how you would describe different arrangements of abilities. How would you play a PC with high Str, low Dex, low Con? What about low Int, high Wis, low Cha? These are just random examples, but you get the idea.

It sounds like you're looking for a definite, generic answer, and the best anyone can respond is "it depends."

There are many, many ways to role-play your character, and his or her stats are just one component.

Speaking strictly for myself, I tend to include stats in the PC's personality only if they are especially high (16+) or especially low (7 or lower). I look at the character's personality and background as a whole, and will incorporate the stats elements as appropriate, when appropriate. Because, honestly, whether the PC has a 9 or a 14 in a particular stat really won't impact his personality. Having a 6 or a 17 just might.

You could justify a low Dexterity, for example, by saying your PC freezes up under pressure, or has lousy eyesight, or has a mild tremor/palsy, or is a general klutz, or once took an arrow to the knee. You could justify a high Dexterity by saying your PC as having lightning reflexes, or keen senses, or an ability to hyper-focus, or extremely nimble fingers, or being super-coordinated. It really depends on how you want to play your character and his or her background.

For example, I once designed a fighter with a high Strength, high Charisma, low wisdom, and low Dexterity. (Other stats were in the average range). In the appropriate situations, I played him as the "bull in the china shop": someone who often forgot his own strength, failed to notice his surroundings, and blundered into things. The time he ended up ballroom dancing with an aristocratic NPC was a total hoot to roleplay out.

TL;DR: Ability scores can influence role-playing decisions for a specific character, but there's no one-size-fits-all rule of thumb. There are many ways to incorporate stats into your PC's personality.

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I tend to go with describing characters as though the modifiers were sort of like standard deviations.

Basically, just about every single adult human you meet is strength 10 or 11. They can raise a bag of potatoes above their head with minimum difficulty.

A person with str 12 or 13 is surprisingly stronger than you might have guessed. they could raise a small keg of ale above their head with minimal difficulty- something a 10 or 11 could do but should take care, lest they slip and hurt themselves.

A person with str 14 or 15 is likely noticeably stronger than average. You would actually expect above average feats of strength from them. This is my personal limit on what is natural versus what is trained.

Str of 16 or more is a person to whom strength is so important they spend time training it and getting better each day. People who begin each morning dragging logs or are employed removing rocks from fields. As 18 is generally accepted to be the nonmagical Human maximum, people with more than 18 in something register as supernatural.

If you use this basic model with the other abilities, it should be fairly easy to correlate.

Dex: 10/11 Can toss a ball into a barrel from ten feet away.
12/13 can toss a ball into a hat from ten feet away. Surprisingly agile.
14/15 Noticeably quick and nimble.
16/17 Trains daily their acrobatics, aim, or something else dexterity related.
18 or more suggests supernatural dexterity. I'm thinking matrix-style dodging, kung fu movie leaping.

Con: 10/11 Healthy. Can probably stomach a baby's dirty diaper.
12/13 Can stomach the smell of a skunk that had sprayed earlier without heaving.
14/15 Noticeably hearty. Could withstand a skunk spraying with minimal problems
16/17 Trains daily their constitution. Might constantly be looking for new hot things or smelly foods to eat. Likes to test their limits.
18 or more can withstand things on a regular basis that can kill normal people.

Int: 10/11 Remembers most things they learned or did yesterday.
12/13 Remembers most things they learned or did months ago.
14/15 Noticeably good at recalling things. Remembers that you had your blue earrings in last year at the fall festival when you sneezed three times and said "X".
16/17 Probably reads daily. On constant lookout for new knowledge, and remembers it all.
18 or more has the capacity to recall minutiae on many many topics.

Wis: 10/11 Makes decent predictions.
12/13 Has a good gut instinct, usually right about things
14/15 Noticeably bright and wise. With just a single clue, you can draw accurate conclusions
16/17 Spends time meditating each day, honing the mind.
18 or more seems to see beyond what we see, noticing unexpected things. Sherlock Holmes probably has a 19 wisdom.

Cha: 10/11 A decent, average person.
12/13 A warm, person- has a certain something about them.
14/15 Clearly one who is a great person to be around.
16/17 Every day they are spending time socializing and practicing telling stories
18 or more is strangely alluring, so much so that we don't even understand why we're so drawn to them.

Thanks, Haladir. You actually gave me exactly what I was hoping for…ideas of how to play different arrangements of ability scores. I totally agree that there is no "best way" to roleplay ability scores, but ideas like yours are really helpful to me.

Tsoli, I like the idea of a certain level indicating daily practice/training. It's simple, but could be cool for a PC. Every morning while Gandalf prepares spells, Gimli is off lifting rocks over his head and Lelolas target practices. Cool stuff.

For the sake of discussion, not dissension, I'll bring up a small hiccup I have with ability scores and the bonus derived from them. We consider a 10 Dex PC noticeably less dextrous than a 15 Dex PC…but mechanically there's only a +2 bonus, which equates to a 10% better chance of success. The 15 Dex PC will only distinguish himself 1 time in 10 in an archery contest…statistically. Makes me wonder if ability score bonuses shouldn't be more pronounced?

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Alternatively, you could consider that a high ability score isn't really that dramatic. That guy with an 18 intelligence isn't a super genius. He's just pretty smart. Maybe he has the potential to be really good at it one day (increases at levels 4, 8, etc.).

Wildebob, remember, that +2 is not just to one activity, but every single time you shoot a bow, or jump over a fence...etc. Each time you loose, you're more likely to hit. Plus, with a 15, you have the option to take several feats only available to those with high Dex.

When you have high Dex, your character is more likely to use their high Dex to solve problems.

The classic example is a villain has a ring you need to take from them. High Dex might try to slight of hand it, high Cha characters might try to talk it off him; high Str might use their physicality or just pry it off them.

I normally play it as a +2 or -2 representing a standard deviation from the mean. So somebody with a 12 in a stat is in the mid 80s in terms of percentiles for that attribute. Noticeably better than the norm---linguistically we start pulling out the adjectives here, like 'smart', 'strong', 'quick', etc. At 14, we start adding modifiers, like 'very' or 'really'. That's around the 98th percentile, so a lot, if not most, people's social circles will contain somebody at this level. Around 16, people pull out the lesser superlatives, like 'extremely'---you get somebody like this every few hundred. 18 is up at the one in several thousand level.

Also, remember that most people throughout most of their lives 'take 10' almost all the time. The next most common thing, pretty rarely honestly except when you're learning something new, is the repeated trials until you 'learn' or 'accomplish' something---ie an attempt takes x time, keep rolling till you meet the DC. So a +1 or +2 over your competition makes a HUGE difference.

I think it's often forgotten that in this fantastic world, 18 is not the pinnacle of ability. In fact, it's far from it. It may be at the top of 1st level ability, but that's not even counting racial modifiers.

A 1st level character could easily have a 20 score in something.

And by the end of their career, have a 36 or more.

It's trivial for even commoners to get a 15.

Let's say your random human villager puts his or her racial +2 in a random score rather than the best one. That means one in every six people has a 15 in something. And that's just some peasant.

If we move on to the higher array, we start to see 17s pop up with incredible frequency, since it's even less likely that we'll find a skilled individual with stats in the wrong places.

If you have an 18, you're not one in ten thousand. You might not even be one in a thousand. One in a few hundred? Maybe.

It seems to me the examples, while entertaining, are markedly exaggerated one direction or the other. 18 dex=bullet time reaction? Riiight...

Daenar wrote:
It seems to me the examples, while entertaining, are markedly exaggerated one direction or the other. 18 dex=bullet time reaction? Riiight...

In Pathfinder, 12 Dex = bullet reaction! Even the most pitiful Dex bonus applies against a bullet you can see coming! xD

When you start taking penalties from your low ability score it's starting to be apparent. At 8 I would say that most NPCs should note you as weaker than most, not as bright as most etc.etc.
At 6 and less, unless they themselves are very poor observers, they would outright judge you as weak and stupid.

Or 18 strength bordering on super-human? Maybe if the person in question weighs 120 lbs :/

I have about a 12 intelligence(117 I.Q.) and I often remember trivial minutiae ,especially if it's in my areas of interest, I think a 14-15 can do much more than that.

Shadow Lodge

It's a little tricky to come up with a solid guide for what low and high scores mean since modifiers on checks are linear, but frequency of scores presumably follows a rough bell curve (with very high and low scores much less common than slightly low or high scores). That said, here's my take:

Low and High Scores:

5 or lower: Significant weakness. Your area of weakness is glaringly obvious to observers. It is difficult for you to conceal or compensate for and likely has a significant effect on your life and self-identity.

6-7: Noticeable weakness. Your area of weakness is apparent to casual observation. You may feel the need to conceal or compensate for your weakness.

8-13: Average. Careful or extended observation can differentiate between the low and high ends of average (and you'll know where you fall), but casual observers won't notice. Scores in this range don't usually have a significant effect on your identity.

14-15: Noticeable talent. You have a special talent which is apparent to casual observers. You're probably proud of this talent and it affords you minor opportunities. For NPCs this probably defines their career. For a PC it may support their main talent (a strong fighter who is also tough) or add depth to it (a strong fighter with a keen tactical mind or appealing confidence).

16-20: Significant talent. Your talent is obvious and probably worthy of a reputation. Talents of this level generally define a remarkable career (determine PC class).

21-25:Extraordinary talent. The upper range of what can be achieved for most humanoids without magical enhancement or legendary power (level 11+). This level of talent requires experience (levels and/or age) to develop.

26+: Supernatural talent. For most humanoids requires magical enhancement or legendary power.

The effect is relative to racial or cultural surroundings. An elf with a 7 con is not noticeably frail among other elves, while an elf with 12 con would be considered tough compared to his peers. An Int 10 character in a family (or party) of wizards might be ashamed of his/her "stupidity."

Most people are proud of or try to capitalize on their talents, but there are a few different types of general reactions to low scores that are interesting to discuss:

Reaction to Low Scores:
Devaluing (Sour Grapes): Developing the belief that your area of weakness isn't as important or valuable as your strengths. An example would be classic jock/nerd conflicts between people with differing value for and competence in areas of strength and intelligence.

Compensating: Investing resources into being able to do things related to your weakness well despite lacking innate ability. An example would be a low Con character exposing themselves to low doses of toxins or diseases to build up Great Fortitude, or a low Int character diligently studying to place ranks in Knowledge skills.

Concealing / Distracting: Avoiding situations where your weakness might apply and trying to substitute your strengths. A low Str and Con character might avoid combat or defend themselves with spells, while a low int high cha character might fast-talk others into thinking he is smarter or more knowledgeable than he is.

Note that the three are not mutually exclusive, and some build choices may be explainable by multiple motives. For example, a Dervish Dancer might see that combat style as a way to fight despite not being very strong (Compensating) or as a superior style to that of the clumsy greatsword-swingers (Devaluing) - or some combination of the two.

I'll get to stat combinations with another post.

OP wrote:
Intelligence: ...he is literally slow

I would recommend changing your wording to "slow to learn," "slow to solve puzzles," or something similar to distinguish from someone who has slow reflexes or movement speed.

Haven't seen too much here for low scores (except for Weidro's entry). For roleplaying, I've had an easier time hamming up the lower scores.

Played a Halfling rogue back in 3.5 with a ridiculously low Charisma. About every time I went to input his opinion he would make a "snort" sound to catch the drip from his every runny nose then run his hand up across it and through his hair. Suave and sophisticated he was not!

Shadow Lodge

@Carmeilliken - weaknesses can definitely be more interesting than strengths, especially for PCs who are typically above-average in many or most areas.

Actually, a few more general comments on stats and how to look at them holistically, then a few high/low stat combinations I consider interesting (there's too many to discuss them all).

When looking at how your character's stats affect their personality there are a few general questions that can be asked.

1) Are any of my strengths and weaknesses unusual for my class? A wizard with high Int may simply have made a good career decision, but one with a high Con may have a specific commitment to healthy living or a fear of disease.

2) Are my strengths and weaknesses consistent with my race and/or culture? As alluded to in the previous post, an Orc with Int 6, raised among orcs, is not only less noticeably stupid next to their peers than an Int 6 human, but are likely in a culture that tells them intelligence isn't as important as strength. An Int 6 character in a culture of mages is going to have a much harder time and their low intelligence will be a stronger influence on their identity.

3) How do other parts of my character build fit with my ability scores? Is the character compensating for their weaknesses? Is this intentional on the part of the character? If there is a specific area the character is good at despite having a low stat modifier, how did this come about? A character with low Cha but the Diplomacy skill may be shy but empathetic (especially if also trained in Sense Motive), in contrast to a low Cha character with Intimidate who is likely more abrasive.

Note "high" and "low" stats are relative to the rest of the character's stats, particularly those in the same mental/physical category - Int 13 doesn't seem impressive if you have Str 18, but if your Wis and Cha are both 8 then you're relying more heavily on Int in mental situations.


High Str, Low Dex (Big and Clumsy): Mostly interesting because people tend to assume that strong, clumsy people are also stupid. Whether this is true and whether the character resents or takes advantage of it will be major personality points.

High Str, Low Con: This character can dish out hurt, but can't take it. He or she is probably concerned with avoiding hits through some combination of agility, heavy armor, magical defenses, or shock and awe that discourages others from trying to fight back.

High Str, High Wis: The monk or warrior-priest stats, these characters likely have good instincts and a nose for danger. Also a good stat combo for a "gentle giant."

High Str, Low Cha (Big and Ugly/Quiet): Like the Big and Clumsy, will probably assumed to be stupid. Whether this is true and whether the character resents or takes advantage of it will be major personality points.


High Con, low-to-mid Str and Dex: Likely a tenacious character who just does not give up. Might be health-conscious in terms of diet and exercise, or might make use of a hearty constitution to eat and drink heavily. For a support or casting character this might just be about survival, but a martial character with a constitution focus likely defines their identity by that focus. They may take masochistic glee in their injuries, see themselves as a bodyguard or martyr protecting less durable comrades, or may have developed tactics to work around their relative lack of offensive talent trusting their ability to outlast an opponent (or some combination of the above). May see combat as the art of finding others' weaknesses while avoiding presenting any weaknesses yourself.


High Dex, Low Str and/or Con, High Int and/or Cha: This is the stat space of the quick trickster who outsmarts the big dumb brute. The character might aspire to that archetype or find it ridiculous.


High Int, Low Wis: The absent-minded professor. The character is clever and learns and reasons easily, but may be distractable or may focus so heavily on intellectual fields they forget about mundane things. May (but does not necessarily) lack practical expertise in favour of theory. Not necessarily formally educated. Depending on Cha, others may find this behavior annoying or endearing.

High Int, High Wis: The detective. Observant and good at logical reasoning, they notice all the clues and put them together. They see both the forest and the trees.

High Int, Low Cha: The insufferable know-it-all, the bore. The character may be arrogant in displaying their intelligence, may lack confidence, or (particularly if low wis) drone on and on about their area of interest oblivious to others' disinterest. Higher Wis variants might enjoy (and be good at) picking at others' insecurities, while lower Wis variants might have general problems reading, understanding, or relating to others' emotions.

High Int, High Cha: Those who naturally become inspirational experts, master manipulators, and gentleman/lady scholars. Likely to be confident in their own intelligence without being openly arrogant.


High Wis, Low Int: These characters tend to be practical rather than theoretical, and prefer the big picture but get lost in details. They may have good instincts and easily intuit the truth of a situation, but are not good at conscious reasoning - thus may have difficulty justifying their decisions to others. Learn slowly, but may be patient. Might be stubborn, dislike formal logic and argument, or distrust those who "use fancy words to pull the wool over the eyes of us simple folk."

High Wis, Low Int, High Cha: As above, but their confidence and personal magnetism make them natural leaders, preferably when paired with a trusted high-int character as an advisor.

High Wis, High Int: The detective. Observant and good at logical reasoning, they notice all the clues and put them together. They see both the forest and the trees.

High Wis, Low Cha: Insightful and strong-willed but with little presence, this character might be very introverted - that is, they are mostly concerned with their inner world. Alternatively, they may be very blunt about unpleasant truths in a way that makes others uncomfortable.


High Cha, Low Int: Not very intelligent but confident and charming enough to distract from their shortcomings. May be very good at faking expertise. May delegate the thinking to others.

High Cha, Low Wis: This character may be a little self-centered (highly confident but unaware of their surroundings or others' feelings), charmingly impulsive and whimsical, or focused on their goals to the point of disregarding realistic constraints. The last type may be seen as a hero or fool depending on the success of their enterprise.

High Cha, Low Int, High Wis: As High Wis, Low Int, High Cha.

High Cha, High Int: As High Int, high Cha.

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