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Friday, 24 January 2014

Getting Over Charisma as "Dump Stat"

There’s this sensation, particularly in old-school play, that Charisma is the one irrelevant stat; that if you have a choice (often in old-school you don’t, depending on how your GM makes you roll things up), its the one you’ll put your lowest score into. In newer-school design, there is an attempt to solve this problem with having CHA related to certain powers, or to resisting certain effects.

But in fact, this is not necessary.  I argue that if you are running your D&D game with 3 particular details intact, then Charisma is in fact the one ability score that can theoretically be important for any class (maybe along with Constitution):

1. You use NPC Retainer and Morale rules.  In my Albion game (likewise Arrows of Indra), if someone has servants, henchmen, or followers of any kind, or if he is a commander in battle; its his CHA modifier that affects “his” NPCs’ loyalty or morale.  This means that the guy who wants to be a great general will probably need a good Cha bonus more than a good attack bonus, even.  It also means its your manservants who will be the least likely to screw you over, or run like morons when the first bugbear attacks.

2. Monster Reaction Tables: When first encountered, not all creatures are automatically hostile, or automatically not; for the vast majority you check on a reaction roll. If your PC is alone, or the forward scout, or the party leader, or some other way prominent, his CHA modifier should affect that roll. It might make the difference between a monster that charges right at you, and one that hesitates for a round; or one that would just hesitate and one that might try to parley rather than attack.  That can make a huge difference in a game, when you’re literally not someone who “looks like bad news” and will be more likely to not be ambushed by paranoid humanoids.

3. NPC Reaction Tables: the big one, of course.  Your Charisma should affect all NPC reactions; affecting everything from whether you’ll get the best deal selling your treasure in the market, to whether you will be well-treated by the nobility or the clergy, whether you will be able to talk your way out of a tight spot with nothing more than excuses or promises, even whether you will be granted an audience, or a stay of execution, from the King.

I would go one further on this: character with the highest charisma attribute should be seen by NPCs, at least ones who have no other thing to go on, as the “leaders” of the party. They should be the one the NPCs want to see, want to talk to, and think are in charge (again, assuming things like social class or fame being equal).  The GM should make sure to make it clear to his group that generally speaking things go better for them when Character A with his +2 Cha bonus is doing the talking for them, than when they’re all trying to speak at once, or definitely better than when Character B with his -2 Cha penalty is the one trying to speak.

Now, you’ve heard me before argue about the virtues of avoiding “social skills” and social mechanics.  For sure. To me Charisma represents your raw likeability.  The guy with the +2 Cha bonus in the above example still has to be able to know what’s the right or wrong thing to say, and when and how to say it; the +2 Cha bonus just means that if he does act like a boor or say the worst possible thing, he’s more likely to be forgiven than the guy with a Charisma penalty.  On the other hand, its up to the PLAYER to know what the right thing at the right time is.  And if Character A’s player is a fucking idiot who always sticks his foot in his mouth, the party may decide they’re better off choosing to have Character B speak for them, even with the -2, because at least his player will know enough to say the right thing, and then have a CHANCE of succeeding.  While Character A wouldn’t, if he says the wrong things, no matter what his Cha modifier is.


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(originally posted December 4, 2012; on the old blog)


  1. Pretty much my thoughts on what charisma should do. Though I plan to give fighter types and magical types more of reason why they want to have high charisma. Yeah I am working on a OSR idea and it won't be social skills.

  2. Great post. These are things I generally to keep in mind in my games as well. I don't care for the idea of a stat just 'being there'. It was put there for a reason, and I think you hit the nail on the head with this article.

  3. Think of charisma not as 'likability' but *PRESENCE*... a Demon Lord would have a high charisma, but it doesn't make him likable, it makes him terrifying.... because it is really about presence. A high charisma allows you to radiate your persona and influence people. A fighter with a high charisma is far more intimidating than one without... being in his presence fills his foes with dread.

  4. From a 'modelling' perspective, Charisma as a single stat has some problems. Just as 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder,' so must Charisma. What one being perceives as witty and charming, or disarming and accessible may appear the opposite to another being. So to treat Charisma as a single, objective stat (like Strength or Dexterity) is an inaccurate way of modelling what is really a far more complex set of traits.

  5. JD, I don't think its very problematic. Its how Impressive you are. In what form you end up being impressive isn't all that important.