Charisma – What is it Good For?

 Posted by on September 8, 2010  Filed as: Character-Building  Add comments
Sep 082010
 

Written by Charisma Keller and Dixon Trimline.

Click me, cause I’m better bigger

To quote an article by Dixon Trimline that I love very much (the article, not Dixon Trimline… ok, and Dixon Trimline), “The power gamer is earnest in his approach to the game, in the same way that an evangelical is earnest about saving souls.”

Such a player will look at the stat for Charisma and ask, “What good is it to me?  If this stat isn’t going to help me win the fight, it’s hello dump truck.”  I mentioned power gamers above, but really, this isn’t exclusive to power gamers.  It applies to anyone who doesn’t want to be restricted in their roleplaying effort because of a number score.

I mean, really, what good is it for?  How does the Charisma stat help the game?  I have a ton of role-playing ability – I don’t need a high Charisma score to help me in social situations.  Besides, who is going to judge if I’m true to my Charisma score?  On what scale is that person basing that judgment on – a number scale of 3-18?  I don’t think so.  With so many gamers having so many varying degrees of role-playing ability/comfort, who is going to say that my character would or wouldn’t act that way?

And don’t forget about filters.  “Hey GM, disregard anything I say until the other players can filter it.  My character has a high Charisma score, but we all know that I’m a social stink bug, so that’s why everyone else will be my filters.” I don’t think so.  If you want to play a charismatic character, then role-play the charismatic character.  Don’t hide behind the dice and your filters.

In my opinion, the dice are there for everything that can’t be determined at a table – because we’re sitting at a table.  Yes, I can do the splits, and I can do a back flip, but I’m not going to do that at the table to show that my character’s acrobatic stunt should be successful (well, not again anyway).  That’s what dice are for.  What I can do at the table is role-play, and I don’t need dice or stat scores for that.

Now, Mr. Dixon Trimline, what say you to that?

Click me, cause I’m Bond baby

Yeow, what a great idea for an article!  I love your point about the double standard between physical skills and social skills, where a player doesn’t have to demonstrate his acrobatic skills to verify he deserves a 21 Dexterity.

Believe it or not, the difficult roleplaying decisions you have to make in a game don’t actually impact your real life in any way.  If you’re willing to believe this, why not start stretching your roleplaying muscles, step outside your comfort zone, and act up like a big old salty ham?  Sure, we can all agree that you, personally, don’t wield anything close to an 18 Charisma, but inside the game, your raging insecurities, awkward phrasing, and machinegun stammering all translate into one articulate, sexy, and irresistible bag of pure hotness.

This really is a great opportunity for you to act like the person you’ve always wanted to be, and it’s a situation that can only be bolstered by your character’s ability score when it comes to actually rolling the silly dice.  I feel like all the successful and multi-dimensional games have to include some amount of social interaction, and hopefully it’s quite a lot of it.  Games that are wall-to-wall combat can be thrilling, but ultimately a little flat.

What’s the point of slaying the dragon if you don’t get to ride back to town to comfort all those terrified townspeople?

Sitting at the table, you may wind up sounding like this: “Um, hey, um, guys… um.  I was going… it’s like this… there was this dragon… hey, you know that dragon?  It’s like, totally dead.”  But in-game, your character with her 18 Charisma gets to sound like this: “Good people of Verbobonc, hear my voice!  Your dark days are at an end.  The dragon, the scourge of life and light, is no more! Rejoice!”

sigh– Alright, alright.  You make a good point.  When you put it that way, I have to concede.  Thanks for being the pro to my con!

By the way, bonus points for Verbobonc.

Thanks for the opportunity to play along, Charisma!  And I love the name  🙂

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Charisma Keller

Charisma is a self-proclaimed Gran Tourismo champion, and swears that it’s official (or that it should be). She loves strength and beauty, so she usually tries to combine the two. Her characters are confident, humble, foolish, and heroic, and has named at least two of them after her favorite drink, the Lemon Drop. Oh yeah, her favorite muscle car would be the 67 GT-500E.

  7 Responses to “Charisma – What is it Good For?”

  1. Huh. Interesting, but the argument feels dated, and a bit fallacious. Okay, so now I have a question, how does the Charisma score effect player choice? It’s an interesting question, and it’s at the heart of the matter when it comes to an RPG. Does the Charisma score enable choice, by enabling you to choose to be a character who is a smooth talker or a social misfit? Does it subvert choice by taking the place of your own choice of words, choice of social interaction?

    I’ve run many games that did not have a single die roll, but decisions were made and actions were taken, often completely on the strength of a character,s social standing and a player’s words. Should I call for rolls to determine whether or not what the player said is what the character said.

    I have used social rolls a number of times, I will grant you. Want to buy something? Make a gossip check to find it. Want to pay less for it? Make a barter check. Want to do something that will make random, faceless NPCs swoon or flee? There’s a check for that. Want to shape the history of a city, province, or empire? You’re going to have to do some work for that.

    Essentially, I use social checks when the words don’t matter, when there is information that I or the players could not possibly have (or be expected to have), when playing it out would be an excercise in boredom, or when the intended effect would have a direct and immediate effect upon a combat situation.

    As with all decisions in play, my uses of social mechanics stem from my basic understanding of what a Role-Playing Game is for me. An RPG is a game that centers on role-playing, which means that the most constant sound you should hear from the players is communication, between themselves and me, about what their characters are doing and saying and, in some cases, even thinking. I don’t see the game as a tactical simulation with some talky bits, nor do I see it as a way to simulate video and computer game interactions. If I want a video game, I’ll play a video game, where the only thing that matters is the numbers on your sheet.

  2. Also, what’s Verbobonc?

  3. Nice “argument.” I like the whole “pros and con” thing. I could see you guys doing more of these. When it comes to your Charisma score (or any stat), I think it should matter only occasionally, when the GM needs to be swayed and it can’t be determined otherwise.

    Just having a Charisma score of 8 is not enough to mean that anyone can say, “hey you wouldn’t say that.” An 8 is so close to average that this could never be assumed. The same goes for Intelligence, or Wisdom. I don’t think any stat score should limit your roleplaying.

    I’ve heard people say that if your character’s Intelligence is low, you shouldn’t be able to solve a puzzle. WTF? My character’s Intelligence stat score description doesn’t say anything about how I should roleplay. What it does say is that when I make a roll for an Intelligence-based skill, I get a -1 penalty. That’s the only thing that I need to affect my character’s low Intelligence: a -1 penalty to skill checks.

    Charisma, we need to see more of your articles. Dixon, you’re awesome as always.

    Oh, and bonus points for Verbobonc!

  4. Lol, I love this post, this was kind of the premise for my blog back in the day when I started it. I still have the dump stat poll running – charisma is out in the lead for people’s favorite stat to dump in favor of OPness. Take the poll if you want to send it in the other direction… lol

  5. @Argonnosi:

    At our table, most social interaction is governed by the party’s prior actions, the situation of the moment and the conversation track the party as chosen to pursue. However, there are those times when the party is making a first impression or tries to use its earned influence and chutzpah to sway the other side to do something (cough up info or a resource, forgive a transgression) it might not be in favor of doing. Sometimes the DM just rules in favor of a certain story path, but sometimes he wants to let fate decide which direction the story will take us. It is at those times when the numbers do come into play when skill checks are called for (depending on the system).

    Also don’t forget the times when someone wants to play someone silky smooth but doesn’t have the personal charisma to do so. That’s where your Charisma stat comes in to help you be someone you aren’t – like all the rest of us 23 Strength Warriors and 36 Dex. Ninjas… It does not change or limit or even necessarily open up choice, except I can now feel emboldened enough to say something like this:

    “John, we know that Natasha is a member of the Hong Kong Triad we are trying to infiltrate. I want to go up to the bar and seduce her.”

    “”What do you say?”

    Okay at this point, we have several choices:

    The DM and I can go into a back and forth dialogue for the next 10 minutes, completely roleplaying the seduction while everyone else sits back and twiddles their thumbs.

    Or the DM can just arbitrarily rule success or failure to railroad the story in one direction or the other (not likely to enthuse anyone at the table about making social choices)

    I personally prefer the player throwing out a quick snippet of what they intend to do, how they intend to do it, and some roleplaying flavor to influence the DM’s decision. If a die roll is called for, the stat becomes necessary. We also now have had some insight into the character (and player perhaps), satisfied the DM with our storytelling, and satisified the players but not burning up all of their time.

    Okay, sorry for hijacking the thread.

  6. I can see both sides of this arguement. On one hand, I’m currently reading through DC Adventures/Mutants and Masterminds 3 and contemplating removing the Presence (Charisma) stat and moving the social skills off Deception -> INT, Persuasion -> Awareness, and Intimidation -> Fighting.

    On the other hand, I’m playing in a Pathfinder Game where my Half Orc has maximized charisma and is using it to boost his saves, Armor Class, and Spellcasting via a combination of Oracle and Paladin classes.

    Finally, I’ve contemplated going back to the Old Days where a high stat mostly just improved your XP bonus. A high charisma will likely only mean that when the witch turns your party into farm animals she’ll keep you as a statue so she can look at you.


  7. @Shinobicow

    FTW, the Dump Stat!

    @DarkTouch

    Those are some interesting ideas, though as much as I am (or was) the House-Rule-King, I could never implement the changes you suggest (at one time, sure, but not anymore). [Off topic] I have simply run into too many roblems with house rules, though I’m sure that’s not true for everyone. Good luck! And let us know how it goes.

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