Brain Stew… (The Art of Playing Dumb-INT Dump Stats)

After our diversion to into genius with the investigator yesterday, it seems only fitting to check the other end of the dipstick: Playing dumb.

Dump Stat: Intelligence

Many have toyed with it. Often, due to point buy or bad rolls, we are left with a nasty shade of single digit staring at us and sometimes we choose to to drop that into the character’s bone box.  So she’ll be a little slow we will tell ourselves.  He will be a little forgetful we promise.

And yet sometimes this initially benign roleplaying choice can become a source of consternation, hammy roleplaying and worst of all party endangering tactical gaff blamed on being stupid. Getting a good grasp on being a bit slow is vital to choosing this satisfying but occasionally dangerous roleplaying option.

How Bad is Bad

As we currently assess intelligence in States most folks clock within ten points of an IQ of 100. Note: Both IQ and the INT score are arbitrary scales at best used to estimate intellect and “real” intelligence is probably way too complex to score but if we assume 10 INT roughly approximates 100 IQ then I can say fairly confidently I have met very few people in my life below an 8. Most people I assume are stupid are probably suffering low Charisma.

But a vast majority of the “dump stat intelligence crowd” may not really require a ton of roleplaying adjustment. So why comment on it?

Checklist of Dumb-en-ing-er

  1. Check the Severity: A lot of INT dump stat’ers go WAY too far – If I had a quarter for everytime I have heard an 8 INT character be described as possessed of a speech impediment, mentally handicapped, or incapable of remembering the names of other party members (or even their own!). Its frustrating, iritant and keys in to a social construct of the “fall guy” who is often stupid. Why is this a problem? Most heroic fantasy games are not intended as a comedic exercise and you might be seriously disappointing your friends by injecting their “Ring of the Nibelung” with a bit too much “Hee-Haw.” Ask yourself is this character REALLY that far off from normal?
  2. Check the Regularity: Fact is most people who aren’t feeling very smart DO NOT call attention to it. Banging on your 7 INT score by roleplaying every conversation like your warrior is “Nell” is not going to be less disruptive than making unexpected loud noises. Have fun with it but interjecting dumb every 30 seconds is likely to once more have the comedic trigger effect. Ask yourself how often are you letting it impact game play?
  3. Check the Synergy: While the term gets thrown around a lot, synergy between mental stats probably covers up quite a bit in roleplaying. If your wisdom (intuition) and charisma (social grace/EQ) are relatively decent, your character probably compensates for his mental shortcomings fairly well. Figuring out a slow minded but quick tongued character can be a lot more interesting challenge to play than attempting to write dialogue for a dirt clod. Ask yourself how deficient the other attributes of the character are?

When Dumb is Dumb

So you have looked it over and your character’s score really IS that bad and your other attributes aren’t coming to the rescue. How then should you approach that 5 INT show-pony?

Severity Tip – Certain levels of INT mean specific things for your character:

  • 1-2 INT: This character operates off of instinct and probably is not a viable player character. Consider GM approval before ever generating a result that will lead to scores in this range.
  • 3 INT: Congratulations! Your character can now talk, sort of. This is the bottom of the bottom of playable considerations, it WILL likely mean persistent dumb roleplaying, risk comedic interpretation and hamper interactions.
  • 7 INT: By older and relatively antiquated standards this was the highest an INT score could have been and still qualified a character as “mentally handicapped.” Consider it as a benchmark before attempting to roleplay such a challenge and consider that many of your friends may have real world relations or friends with autism or other mental spectrum disorders and not only is playing your 8 INT dwarf as handicapped offensive, its pretty unnecessary.
  • The dumber you are, the more likely you are to act on instinct and the most basic instinct is SURVIVAL, don’t endanger the party casually for your roleplaying, even animals are smarter than that.

Regularity Tip – Easy facts have a DC of 10 for a specific field of knowledge, try rolling a dice during significant or even common sense moments to see if your characters “dumb” comes into play. Moderate the result by the severity of failure:

  • -1 to -4: Close but no cigar.  Misunderstood concept. Slight effort by other party members to correct.
  • -5 to -9: Just plain wrong. Missed or wrong concept. Effort requiring illustration may be necessary. Consider roleplaying this until Diplomacy is used to correct or censure the behavior or you level, again consider realistic regularity. May develop superstition or use “magical thinking” to arrive at a correct conclusion.
  • -10 or greater: Detrimentally wrong. May impact survivability or game significant consequences. 

Synergy Tip – Most people will hide a mental deficiency if they can. Evaluate the other mental attributes and skills of your character. Mentally challenged people regularly become gifted specialists in their fields of study, consider:

  • Do you have positive modifiers in CHA or WIS?
  • Do you have skill ranks that represent specialized or focused learning?
  • Do you have feats that required talent or specific skill sets?

Comedy of Errors

It is entirely possible your group doesn’t take gaming as “serious” tone event. Great. Make sure that’s the case and if it is, discuss your desire to ham up an idiot and make sure no one is upset or has an issue. IF that is the case, go to town.

However you choose to be dumb, be smart about it. The goal is NOT to punish your group for your low rolls or even worse, because you bought up a high strength or other statistic. Dumb characters can be a lot of fun if done well but if it is executed in a lazy, sloppy manner they are not just stupid… they can be offensive and dangerous. Enjoy figuring it out, even if your character never can.

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