Reducing attribute penalties

So negative attributes can suck.
So much so that players reject them frequently if given a choice of 5. Most combat classes run screaming from a negative DEX. So much so that in most modern games we give players 4d6 keep 3 for attributes. Effectively avoiding negatives by giving only positives.
But negative attributes can not suck, many a fun role play has occurred through negative attributes. So what if instead of rolling higher to remove them we changed them?
So one of the problems here is the negative modifiers are symmetrical to the positives, except for INT… Intelligence is asymmetrical. A negative INT does not take away general proficiencies. Yes it takes literacy away, but it doesn’t take as much as it gives.
So what if all attributes were asymmetrical? Rather than giving more attributes to avoid the negatives just give less penalties for negatives.
I haven’t fully fleshed this out but…
Maybe negative strength does not take away damage, just ability to hit (representing armor penetration)
Maybe dexterity doesn’t take all the things it takes, but just makes missile hits harder. (AC negative can be brutal, and initiative is small enough as is)
So your fighter with 18 STR and 3 DEX is no good at range but not worse off on AC and Initiative and gets to role play a clumsy fighter who is a bad shot.
Maybe wisdom stays as spells for penalties but all saves for bonuses. It a common house rule to make all saves impacted by wisdom yet my players rejected it as they dislike the idea of having all throws reduced.


I've not personally tinkered along these lines but I think you might find fruitful ground if you treated each ability point decrease as a "negative proficiency" and then create a series of negative proficiencies for each ability score. 

For example, let's consider STR. At 8 STR, you have one negative strength proficiency, at 5 you have two negative strength proficiencies, and at 3 you have three negative strength proficiencies.

  • Muscle Weakness: -1 bonus to damage with melee weapons
  • Muscle Tremors: -1 bonus to attack with melee weapons
  • Easily Bruised: -4 penalty to proficiency throws to open doors
  • Weak Shoulders: Character is treated as if his ENC were 1 stone higher than it is due to being a weakling

For CHA you might have:

  • Ugly: -2 penalty to Seduction
  • Tactless: -2 penalty to Diplomacy
  • Unassertive: -2 penalty to Intimidation
  • Bad Leader: -1 to number of henchmen and vassals
  • Uninspiring: -2 to morale modifier of mercenaries and followers

And so on.




Oh now that an interesting idea... 

And you could have both a simple version, being one proficiency that can be taken multiple times as a default, and a complex version where you pick a custom selection. 

Eg muscle tremors is the default and can be taken multiple times, the others only once. 

Also theses flaws can lock you out of a proficiency, eg


Lethargy: The character requires twelve hours of sleep to be rested each night. Cannot take Wakefulness proficiency.

ok, working on a list.


Here is constitution pretty much done. It’s negative is pretty much retained. But using this a fighter may be less scared of a low constitution role as they could retain some hit point in exchange for flavour penalties. Thoughts? Additions? Wisdom is going to be fun...

Constitution flaws

The character does not suffer the standard constitution penalty and instead selects a flaw from the following list once for each penalty they would normally suffer. If not custom selected the character is assumed to have taken fragile constitution for each selection.

Fragile constitution (Default): the character lacks fortitude and staying power, -1 to hit points. May be taken multiple times.

Frail health: the character suffers from poor health coming down easily with diseases and ailments. They suffer -2 to saving throws vs disease. They cannot take proficiencies or classes that make them immune to disease such as Divine Health or Paladin.

Laggard: the characters maximum move rate is reduced by 30’ after factoring in encumbrance, to a minimum of 30’. Cannot take running proficiency.

Lethargy: The character requires twelve hours of sleep to be rested each night. Cannot take Wakefulness proficiency.

Sensitive system: the character is susceptible to allergies and toxins. They suffer -2 to saving throws vs poison. They cannot take proficiencies or classes that make them immune to poison.

Weak heart: the character has a weak heart or poor health related to a condition and suffers fatigue poorly. Double the penalty from being fatigued, such as from not resting or force marching. Cannot take endurance proficiency.

Ok, wisdom was interesting, so many debates online as to what it is :) Dexterity next, it was the trigger for this after all, time to confront it.


The character does not suffer the standard wisdom penalty and instead selects a flaw from the following list for each point of window penalty. If not custom selected the character is assumed to have taken weak willed for each selection. The wisdom penalty is still used in the strategic ability score from domains of war.

Weak willed (default): the character receives -1 on saves vs spells. This may be taken multiple time.

Reckless abandon: when in melee the character tends to get caught up in the moment. They may not declare or take defensive movement actions. They may still move away if not engaged. They may not take the skirmishing proficiency.

Gullible: the character is less likely to disbelieve a lie and will take most statements at face value. They receive -4 to saves against illusion or in tests vs disguise. Cannot take illusion resistance.

Oblivious: the character not perceptive of the world around them and often lost in their own thoughts. The character gains -4 on any throws to hear noises and detect secret doors. Cannot take awareness.

Harebrained: the character is flighty and reckless in their thoughts and approach to things. Animals pickup on this and distrust the character who suffers -2 in reactions vs animals. The character cannot take the beast friendship proficiency or classes with the ability.

Impulsive: the character is impatient and tends not to think things through. They suffer a +1 to tests to spring traps when forced to do so. They cannot take the trap finding or trapping proficiency.

Great stuff. 

Now it makes me want to see the same thing done for stat bonuses too!

Maybe it could even be the case you get 1 benefit per point over 10 or 1 flaw per point less than 10.


Hmmm, positive alternatives would not be too far out in concept. Although one per point would require maybe dilution of effect and more options, my mind had not gone there… maybe half the effect they are now and stack them twice would be a simple alignment. let’s say both are stretch goals for now and I need to finish this version first :)

An interesting quirk of these is you know the prime requisite will generally block out classes these are not compatible with. I will still need to do a sweep afterwards to check classes they may impact.

Another interesting issue is the burden of the word, these in effect label your characters negative. It’s a bug and a feature, I wonder how it would play out…

Aligning the word to the intro text and the effect is not easy… so if they are out please feel free to suggest alternatives. Next? Intelligence beckons. I’m not just illiterate it says... I’m...


Anyway time for-


The character does not suffer the standard dexterity penalty and instead selects a flaw from the following list for each point of dexterity penalty. If not custom selected the character is assumed to have taken inaccurate shot for each selection.

Inaccurate shoot (default): the character does not have an eye for range. The receive -1 to all ranged attacks. May be taken multiple times. The character cannot take precise shot.

Butterfingers: the character has poor hand eye coordination or fine motor control. They suffer -4 to save vs paralysis against the combat manures  Disarm, sunder, wrestling. They cannot take arts or performance requiring manual dexterity.

Clumsy: the character moves awkwardly which can hamper them in a melee or a pottery shop. They receive -1 to armor class and cannot take the swashbuckling proficiency. (Note: would anyone take this vs the others?)

Languid: the character is lacking in vigour and vitality. They receive -1 to initiative rolls. The cannot take combat reflexes. May be taken multiple times.

Sluggish: the character has poor reflexes responding slowly to dangers. They receive -2 of saves vs blast in situations where they need to quickly avoid a danger, such as falling objects or breath weapons. They may not take the alertness proficiency.

Stumbling: the character doesn’t look where they are going often tripping or stumbling on the smallest thing. The character surfers -2 to saving throws where agility would help avoid the situation, such as dungeon chases, tilting floors and pit traps. They may not take the acrobatics proficiency.

Unsteady: the character has two left feet which often puts them out of place in combat or dancing. They suffer -4 to save vs paralysis against the combat manures force back, knock down and overrun. They cannot take arts or performance requiring grace or footwork.

These sound good.  I can have a shot at bonuses based around what Chimera has given for the penalities side (as appropiate).

I will list some maximum times these can be taken to co-inside with Alex's idea of them being available for each stat value above 10, so some just dont get vastly out of hand compared to the bonuses we have now.  Typically I'm thinking a max of 3 times for any one.

Lets start with Constitution:
Robust (default): the character is hardy wth good stamina, they gain +1 hit point per level (can be taken up to 3 times)

Healthy: the character is exceptionally healthy rarely suffing from diseases and ailments.  They gain a +2 bonus to saving throws vs disease.

Tough: the character is exceptionally tough, they gain a  a +2 bonus on d20 rolls of the mortally wounded table. Also when rolling for hit points in leveling up any result of one counts as a two (can be taken multiple times). ~ would the ancillary roll minium be better as roll 2 dace and pick the better one?

Sturdy: the character is less hindered by carrying their gear, any movment penalities for encumbrance is reduced by 10 feet (can be taken up to 3 times).

Vigor: The character requires ony 6 hours of sleep to be rested each night.

Hardy: the character is good at resisting poisons and toxins. They gain a +2 to saving throws vs poison.

Resilient: the character has exceptional resiliance. They gain a +2 bonus to savings throws vs petrification or death.

On to Wisdom:

Unyielding (default): the character is able to resist spells more easilly. They gain a +1 bonus to savings throws vs magic spells (can be take up to 3 times).

Incorruptable: The character resists the effect of devices more easilly.  They gain a +1 bonus to savings throws vs the effects of rods, wands, staves, or other magic items (can be taken up to 3 times).

Insightful: the character is more able to decern a lie or untruth.  They gain a +2 bonus to throws to avoid or notice deceit, seduction or otherwise being lied to.

Perceptive: the character is perceptive often noticing small details other miss.  They gain a +2 bonus to hear noises and detect secret doors, also a +1 bonus to finding or spotting traps.

Aware: the character is aware of their enviroment and hard to suprise. They gain a +1 bonus to avoid suprise.

Stalwart: the character is strong willed. They gain a +2 bonus to savings throws to resist fear, intimadation or being charmed.

Precise: the character has a keen eye and able to make precise ranged attacks. They gain a +1 damage bonus to ranged attacks.

Enlightened: the character has a greatter understanding of the powers that be.  They are able to cast one additional first level Divine spell per day. (can be taken multiple times).

Thinking on these, one way to avoid the stacking is to make them not do so and instead have various ways to get a bonus for example Consitiution may have 3 different ability proficiencies that give +1 hit points.  An alternative option on this is that some abilities could offer bonuses thematically similar but not typically offered for example constitution could offer 2 hit point increses while wisdom offer's the third (representing that force of will to survive).  Just some additional food for thought (other thoughts in itallics).

On to Dexterity:

Accurate: the character has an eye for precision ranged attacks.  They gain a +1 bonus to ranged attack rolls (may be taken up to 3 times).

Agile (default): the character is good at avoiding attacks. They gain a +1 bonus to Armour Class vs attacks (may be taken up to 3 times). 
~ agile should likely be seperated into Agile (for melee) and Swift (for ranged) if doing the 1 benefit per point above 10 (the thought being a Dex of 16,  would mean +2 to both AC types and initiative, as a general spread to match what dex gives now).

Quick: the charcter is quick to act and react. They gain a +1 bonus to initiative (may be taken up to 3 times).

Nimble: the character is nimble and reacts quickly to avoid danger.  They gain a +2 bonus to savings throws to where they need to quickly avoid a danger, such as falling objects, traps, blasts or breath weapons.

Deft: the character has good coordination and manual dexterity. They gain a +1 bonus to picking locks, disarming traps and pick pockets, they also gain a +2 bonus to combat maneuver (disarm) attack throws or Performance proficency throws that involve slight of hand or manual dexterity.

Sharp-shooter: the character is very accurate in their ranged attacks, able to better strike their target's weak points.  They gain +1 damage to ranged attacks.

Graceful: the character is graceful. They gain a +2 bonus to savings throws to avoid combat maneuvers (force back, knockdown and overrun) and a +2 bonus to Performance proficency throws involving grace or footwork.

Fleet: the character moves quickly in battle. They gain +10 feet of combat movement (may be taken multiple times.) ~ the weight limit didnt seem prudent but could be limited to up to 7 stone of weight.

Interesting stuff Los, I will need to give it a full read over. I have found this summary by CharlesDM is super useful.

(Very inspired by his material btw and am using a derivative of his tinmen in my home campaign)


The connection between intelligence and wisdom is strong, I wonder if we find it easier to separate physical characteristics as we are better able to describe a feature. In hindsight Gullible in wisdom is INT related, swap it with unobservant below.

I found a common interpretation of low intelligence is mental illness, which caused me to recheck my constitution negatives. Low stats may indicate a susceptibility to a thing, the same as constitution, but it is not a condition itself.

I have focused on Intelligence as the ability to learn and apply knowledge.

Things like the feeblemind spell give good clues. And I’m trying not to penalise survival or navigation as it impacts the party, not just the PC.

Next, back to the beginning, strength.



The character does not suffer the standard intelligence penalty and instead selects a flaw from the following list for each point of intelligence penalty. If not custom selected the character is assumed to have taken illiterate for the first point and incoherent for any remaining points. The intelligence penalty is still used in the strategic ability score from domains of war.

Illiterate (default): the character is unable to read or write. When confronted with text in any language they cannot interpret the meaning. They may not take the knowledge proficiency.

Incoherent (default): the characters use of language is poor and they suffer from a low vocabulary. They receive a cumulative -1 penalty to reaction tests when using language. Can be taken multiple times.

Uneducated: the character lacks formal training, be it from a school or apprenticeship. Each time this is taken they receive a cumulative -1 penalty on proficiency throws and thief skills. They cannot take the the profession proficiency. May be taken multiple times.

(Can be partially mitigated through proficiency choices but may still be used by the judge)

Slow learner: the character is not the sharpest tool in the shed. They receive a -5% experience point penalty penalty. This penalty is subtracted from a prime requisite bonus if they have one. The character cannot take the loremaster proficiency or a class that possesses it.

(Would you take it it you had 10%?)

Fearful: the character has learned that sometimes being scared and running away is more likely to keep them alive. They suffer -4 to saving throws verses fear. They cannot take classes or proficiencies that make them immune or resistant to fear.


Swap Gullible in wisdom to INT related, add to wisdom:

Unobservant: the character often misses small details focusing more on the general environment. Whenever they suffer from cover or blindness penalties they increase them by +2. The character may not take the blind fighting proficiency.

The way I often look at the breakdown between Intelligence and Wisdom is much like the variance between Strength and Dexterity. Wisdom essentially being Mental Strength (intuition and willpower) while Intelligence essentially being Mental Dexterity (reasoning and memory, though ACKS uses it to represent learning and knowledge).  Sure they have overlaps though so does strength and dexterity to an extent (though the bonus/negatives can actually touch on those cross overs where the blanket modifers cause issues there in, much like the way you used incoherant to touch on a traditinally charisma based aspect). 
~ have made a few minor edits to other posts for better clarity

Back to stats: Intelligence:

Skilled (default): the character has had some additional training giving them extra proficiencies. The character gains an additional general proficency (can be taken up to 3 times).

Linguist (default): the character knows how to speak, read and write additional languages. The character can speak, read and write and additional language (can be taken multiple times). ~ interestingly this is a general proficency (Language) anyway, thus covered by trained as well

Savvy: the character is bright and has a much easier time learning and retaining information.  The character gains a +5% bonus to any experience point gain (can be taken multiple times to a maximum of +10% including any bonus from a prime requisite).

Astute: the character is good at descerning discrepencies in visual falsehoods.  The character gains a +2 bonus to savings throws vs illusions (and that ilk) and disguises.

Educated: the character has undertaken some level of formal education.  The character gains a +2 bonus to any Knowledge, Loremastery, Collegiate Wizardry, Naturalism or Theology proficency throws.

Adept: the character is adept at creating mundane things.  The character gains a +2 bonus to any Craft, Dwarven Brewing, Engineering, Labor, Siege Engineering or Trapping proficency throws.

Savant: the character is a savant in their field. The character gains a +2 bonus to any Alchemy, Healing, Land Surveying, Magical Engineering, Navigation, Profession or Survival proficency throws.

Magus: the character is a knowledgeable magician and able to prepare more spells per day. They gain +2 spells to their repertoire per spell level.

Arcanist: the character is able to use more arcane power before tiring.  They are able to cast one additional first level Arcane spell per day. (can be taken multiple times).

Now for Strength:

Might (default): the character is very strong. they gain a +1 bonus to melee attacks or thrown weapon damage (can be taken up to 3 times).

Prowess (default): the character is skilled at melee combat. They gain a +1 bonus to melee attack throws (can be taken up to 3 times)

Brawn: the character has well developed muscles. They gain a +4 bonus to open door throws and gain a +2 bonus to attack throws on combat maneuvers (knock down and sunder).

Brute: the character is large and muscular. They gain a +4 bonus to open door throws and gain a +2 bonus to attack throws on combat maneuvers (forceback and overrun).

Stout: the character is of a solid build with a low center of gravity. They gain a +2 bonus to savings throws to resist being knocked down or forcefully moved (including combat maneuvers (force back, knockdown or overrun) that do so) and can ignore 1 stone of encumbrance.

Wiry: the character has strong but lean muscles.  They gain a +2 bonus to climbing or jumping proficency throws.

Grit: the character is able to shrug off restraints. The gain a +2 bonus to savings throws to avoid being paralyzed or otherwise restrained

Finally Charisma:

Charming (default): the character has a smooth charming demeanor and voice. They gain a +1 bonus to reaction rolls. (can be taken up to 3 times)

Lordly: the character's reputation and ability to inspire othes is well known. They are able to have 1 additional henchman. (can be taken up to 3 times)

Impressive: the character makes for an impressive individual in battle. They give a +1 bonus to the morale of their domain, henchman or any other allies that can see them. (can be take up to 3 times)

Allure: the character has an allure about them. They gain a +1 bonus to reaction rolls for seduction, and gain a +2 bonus to proficency throws on Disguise attempts or to persuade others.

Suave: the character is well spoken and mannered.  They gain +1 to reaction rolls for Diplomacy or Barganing and gain a +2 bonus to proficency throws involving ettiquette or negotiation.

Calm: the character has a calm and soothing demeanor. They gain a +2 bonus to Animal Husbandry, Animal Training or Beast friendship procifency throws and reduce hostile or unfriendly reaction rolls by 1 point (ie reaction rolls are hostle on a 1 or less and unfriendly on a 4 or less).


This is really cool and could be an Axioms article!

This is intersting stuff.  I would suggest that instead of limiting the ability to gain proficiencies, require an ADDITIONAL proficiency to get back up to normal for each limitations.  That give PCs more options and allows them to effect the game world. 

I have found that negative modifiers have changed how my players approach challenges.  They have also motivated my players to find ways to improve their abilities to make up for the negatives.  For example, the thief in my campaign had a -2 to his CON, so he was the first to get a henchman.  The cleric with the -1 to CHA made sure to get leadership and command as he leveled up to improve his ability to get and maintain his henchmen. It also drives them to find or make magic items that make up for their weaknesses and emphasize their strengths. 


Some good points there to ponder on when juggling the negatives.

Some like the immunity to disease but a penality to the saves dont work togeather but a general negative and positive to the number can work well togeather in that aspect of overcoming your weaknesses.


I have not been working on this much the last week or so, work has been busy. But I have been thinking on your post jojodogboy. My goal with this is to make the negative less of a chore and more of an interesting character quality.

So far matching the proficiencies has been an interesting excessive anyway, so I will keep it going, but maybe it’s not a blocker. Maybe we could flip it on its head, maybe taking the proficiency neutralises the flaw. I generally see them as half proficiencies though, not a one for one trade (I’m still not happy with that -1 AC). So maybe the rule could be, if you take the proficiency you gain it’s benefit and remove the flaw. This though rewards removing the flaws, but proficencies are not a common thing so to remove a flaw you take on a reduced choice. Will give it some more thought.

Also I need to post up STR and CHA soon, almost done, and Los and I are chatting Alex, we will see what we come up with.

If the original intent is that for each -1 you take a disadvantage, then one proficiency per disadvantage seems a fair trade.  You don't even need a specific named proficiency, just use the antonym (or even just add the prefix 'anti').  

If you think it is not enough for a proficiency slot to reverse the negative, then name the proficiency after the stat and allow it to cancel two negaties, add two positives, or one of each.  (Say INT prof - e.g. cancels illiterate and gains an additional language).  

Yeah the more I review them the more I see most are really a full proficiency. Also the more I think on it the more fun it is to be able to remove them as you suggest Jo, the original intent here was to lessen the negative after all. My current thinking is keep 1-2 profiencies as the opposites, then add the ability to remove them by taking a proficiency (that doesn’t give you that proficiency). This would be recorded as remove flaw (x).

So to remove uneducated is easy (general proficiency profession or class profession) but removing inaccurate shot is harder as it requires precise shot (class proficiency). I have considered a general remove flaw thing, but I like the flavour element in removing them using a certain thing. Also this tones down on the negatives a lot already so I didn’t want to remove them entirely.