Thursday, April 25, 2013

Charisma Reconsidered - Dump stat no more

Charisma has ever been the red-haired stepchild of the 6 attributes of classic D&D. Part of the reason for this, I suspect, is that more than any other attribute, Charisma needs a fully fleshed game world full of realistic NPCs to really shine. In the LBBs, Charisma determined both the number of hirelings and their loyalty (p 11), while in the Rulescyclopedia it also affected NPC reaction (p 9), both mechanical facts that confirm this view. On the other hand, Strength, Constitution and Dexterity have always affected dealing, resisting, and avoiding damage respectively, universals in even the least-defined setting, while Intelligence is similarly useful in exploiting the exponential power of spells and using player logic. Wisdom, which was arguably as useless as Charisma in hack-n-slash sessions of early D&D, was later amped up as the key to accessing Cleric skills, with saving throw bonuses also adding to its value.

But in real life, Charisma is one of the most important things you can have. Ask any politician or actor – it trumps Strength or Dexterity, and arguably even Intelligence, in earning power any day, and a charismatic VIP can hire any number of witless bruisers or brilliant scholars to make up for his shortcomings in those areas.

I humbly propose, then, two added rules that should ensure players feel lucky to have a charismatic PC.

First, the Charisma score itself could be used to equal the maximum number of Allies a PC can have. Allies are NPCs that are favourably inclined to the PC in question, who can call upon one Ally for assistance once a session. Allies can also be used by the DM as recurring characters and convenient mouthpieces. Players should define the role of each Ally as they are made, which will determine how they can assist the PC. Example roles can include Informant, Brother (or Sister) at Arms, Lover, Drinking Buddy, Investor, Moneychanger, Fence (as in buyer of stolen goods), Wholesaler, Healer, Priest, Fortuneteller, Trainer, Teacher, Gossip, etcetera. Conversely, Charisma can also be used as the number of Archenemies a PC can make, as charismatic people also have a habit of causing jealousy or disdain in others. The inclusion of Allies in a game gives a great sword & sorcery literary feel, and adds depth and emotional investment to any setting if kept up over time.

Characters can make a new Ally in three ways. First, a maximum roll on the Reaction table should allow them the choice to make the NPC an Ally if so desired. Next, they may choose to make one Ally every time they level up. Last, good roleplaying should naturally present situations where an Ally can be obtained. Conversely, Allies can be lost if their trust is betrayed or they are misused or abused. Allies are not slaves, and will abandon or even attack a PC if misused or abused, which could include a PC stealing or not repaying an Ally money, putting an Ally in danger, or attacking them. In extreme cases, they may become Archenemies bent on destroying the PC.

Second, if Charisma were used as a bonus to natural Charm attacks, its perceived value would increase. If we use fairytale logic, the Charismatic PC would be so charming that he outshines the attempt to influence his emotions, and the DM might even allow him to charm the charmer in case of a natural 1. A handsome knight PC charming a harpy or siren would add great narrative drama to a game, and players would certainly welcome to turn the tables on dreaded charm attacks.

Any thoughts? If you try these rules in your game, please drop us a line and tell us how they went.


  1. The first proposed rule still really depends on a fledged-out setting, doesn't it?

  2. Yves - I don't see how the addition of henchmen is a full-fleshed world. Maybe I should have phrased it that Charisma has a smaller effect on the world than other stats. The Strength bonus applies to all physical attacks - that basically gives it limitless applications. Charisma is henchmen, that's it. Get past level 5 or so and who needs those anyway?

  3. You wrote "Charisma needs a fully fleshed game world" and found it problematic. I merely pointed out that the first proposed additional rule (the one about Allies) still depends on a game world full of NPCs, thus not actually "solving" the problem. It makes CHA an even more useful stat, nevertheless.

  4. Ynas - yep, things seem to sound clearer / better in my head then when they come out on the interwebs. Thanks for the insight.

  5. Hey, that's what's sharing is good for - feedback (and gathering some self-esteem, hehe).

  6. There was a serious inversion of this problem in 3e, where a high Charisma and ranks in either (or both) of the Bluff and Diplomacy skills would effectively allow a player to mind control and brainwash NPCs.

    I've been trying to come up with similar such uses for Charisma, and I'm rather fond of using Charisma as the "last line of defense" when a PC faces not only Certain Death, but Deader Than Dead attacks like Disintegration. 3e deities used Charisma as the basis for their Divine AC, which reinforces Charisma as being The Single Most Important Ability Score of all, since it means that Force of Personality can literally turn aside attacks.

    For that reason, I like using Charisma as a defense against "total annihilation, destruction, or universal unmaking" ... kind of like how I imagine the functioning of the A.T. Fields from Neon Genesis Evangelion.