Change in Charisma Description

James Gasik

D&D is, in part, a "power fantasy". In D&D you can be the person you want to be, instead of the person you are. That's the essence of roleplaying. If a person wants to play a character who is attractive, lacking flaws they perceive in themselves (whether they exist or not), what business is it of ours to dictate "you must have X Charisma to roleplay this ideal persona?".

See my previous post, it just leads to the same nonsense as being told "your character can't make good plans, you don't have enough Intelligence or Wisdom". In fact, if you go back to the earlier days of the game, you'll find many instances where the players were encouraged, or often had no choice, but to use their own mental faculties in lieu of their character's.

The 1e DMG would insist that the players map, you couldn't just say "our characters make maps" and get the DM to do it for you. Also, when you play a classic adventure like, say, White Plume Mountain, did your characters get Intelligence checks to figure out the riddles and puzzles? Of course not, it was left to the players to figure out.

The game doesn't come with mechanics that innately allow your character, should they be smarter, wiser, or more charismatic than you, to perform beyond your personal limitations.

Oh to be sure, there are DM's who demand checks like that, such as forcing genius Wizards to accurately place their AoE spells in three dimensional space, because "normal" people apparently can't do that, despite the fact that there are people who totally can.

Outside of carry capacity, the only system the game has as to whether or not someone is strong enough, agile enough, or sturdy enough to accomplish a task is whether or not they can successfully make a check. That's it. And thanks to bounded accuracy, Int 8 Barbarians can still hit DC's of 19; maybe not consistently, but it's still possible.

Further, Charisma is long been considered a mental ability score. Why add this physical attribute to it? You might as well say that in order to have sharp vision or hearing, you need a high Wisdom- which a quick look at some races points out isn't true.

This is very deliberate on the part of the PHB, it's not a mistake. Here, from the section on character creation:

Information from Chapter 4. Not Chapter 1, where we determine ability scores. You say we only need to change one word in Charisma, but that's actually not true, consider what else needs to be changed.

Elves, who do not automatically receive any bonus to Charisma, nor are made to have a minimum Charisma "appear hauntingly beautiful to humans and members of many other races". If we change Charisma to encompass beauty, I guess that means Elves can't be pretty anymore, unless they choose to have...some amount of undefined Charisma? How much would that be? 13? 15? 20?

Note also that Elves receive no real benefit to their "haunting beauty" in game. Not a word is said about them gaining advantage on Charisma checks due to it. It's certainly not a racial trait. Further, the PHB also tells us "Elves are slow to make friends", and "reply to petty insults with disdain and serious insults with vengeance". Oh and they're also "haughty".

While I'll grant there are mitigating traits to accompany these, the truth is, I don't particularly find those traits all that Charismatic. Charisma and appearance are not linked by the rules, and to link them would require far more revisions to the game than a single word in the ability score description.

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I would like to add a subjective. An alternative, maybe a broader view if you will.

Here are the women of Critical Role:
View attachment 274165
Three women, and I think we can say they, unified, they are good looking.
Now look at the PHB:View attachment 274166View attachment 274167
My point is: if you think one word... one word in a rulebook that only half the people read in going to make an impact on mental health, then...
I... have no idea what point you're trying to make.

the CR cast is attractive.... therefore Chewbacca lives on Endor?


I have a real hard time with the mental ability scores. Like, sure, it makes sense that you shouldn't roleplay your character being articulate with a low Charisma, or a capable tactician with low Intelligence- and yet, there's no clear threshold of exactly how charismatic or intelligent or wise one needs to be to roleplay their character in a certain fashion.

Worse yet, pop culture is full of characters who are woefully handicapped in some areas, but then have surprising competence in others- a classic example is the shonen protagonist who is totally lacking in book smarts and may even come off as an idiot, but then becomes hyper-competent with regards to strategy in combat.

Given that the 5e system doesn't give some ability scores much to do outside of skill checks, there's no real way to police this sort of thing. Saying "sorry, you can't be Hannibal Barca, you only have Intelligence 12" is completely arbitrary- how much Int does one need to invest to claim to be a mighty general?

Worse, even if one did make an 18 intelligence warrior, the system doesn't give intelligence any real way to benefit a character in combat; they can be no more intelligent or savvy than their player is.

Even when we do have rules for the use of ability checks, like with social rolls, there's still the classic paradox of the charming, articulate player and the introverted shy player- you still get DM's who insist that social rolls be roleplayed (because, I mean, it is a roleplaying game), and are leery of "allowing" a low energy Charisma roll to succeed on the merits.

In short, it's easy to say that someone is playing above ability of their character, and demand higher ability scores, but in some areas, players are not given much leeway if their characters are more capable than they themselves are.
There is a greater issue at hand with ability scores. Modern design has moved towards a SAD state where mechanically, characters really only focus on a primary and secondary. So, most fighters will have X and Y stats pumped. Maybe, there is a variation where they use Z instead of Y, but its pretty tightly locked up. In 3E/PF1 you had a lot of feats that required abilities at certain points so you could build a lot of different fighters. Having a high intelligence definitely helped the warrior there. Of course, 3E/PF1 had its issues too with some classes being SAD anyways, and feats were not always worth taking etc... Not saying that system was perfect, or even good, but the philosophy leaned into what you are thinking about above.

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
I think any issue here is solved by just asking the players:

"Your character has high charisma... How does that manifest?"

"They are stunningly beautiful and know how to use it to manipulate people."

"They are plain looking, but have a powerful voice that can command armies."

"They are hunchbacked and pockmarked, but have an air of mystery that catches your attention and makes you pay attention to their quietest whisperings."

Or even just:

"They're an experienced traveler who is good with people."

Appearance can be a part of it, but doesn't need to be. Leave it up to the player instead of deciding for them.
The OP wants beauty to be part of it. Just a part, and no stat requires you be good at all the things that could go into it to have a good score.

The problem here is strictly social. It makes people uncomfortable to include physical appearance as a factor. Doesn't mean there's no truth to the OPs statement.

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
There's just one problem with what you wrote there...

It seems like you're conflating the fact that numerous species and cultures can manage to coexist in the same communities with somehow having developed a common standard for what constitutes "beauty". You seem to be saying that because there's no official language in the game rules or lore that says "X group finds group Y to be unattractive", it must mean that everyone shares the same ideas of what is attractive.
Which quite simply isn't necessarily true - as they say, "Absence of evidence does not equal evidence of absence"...
I actually see the OP's point that people don't go around in game judging people on their appearance as a social fantasy, not in keeping with human nature, that a lot of folks like and prefer to reality. That's why appearance isn't in the mix.

Charisma CAN include beauty, but it would be a mistake to assume it is fundamental to charisma. Steve Buscemi is as charismatic as anyone, for example (no offense meant to Buscemi).

EDIT to add: also, there are plenty of conventionally attractive folks that have zero charisma.

I don't know what the current description of Charisma is, but this has always been the way I've handled it. It can include beauty, and I wouldn't mind a player explaining their Charisma as largely being a product of physical appearance, but you have to account for the Steve Buscemi's of the world (and to be clear I don't think he is an ugly man but by hollywood standards he is more in the realm of striking than handsome). And Charisma as we use it in the real world usually doesn't address looks that much. It can but it is mostly about a person having a certain presence and ability to captivate others. It is about attractiveness in a very broad sense, not a strictly physical sense. And as you point out, a very good looking person can have a flat, uncharismatic personality (I think we can all conjure up celebrities who fit that description, who most would agree are beautiful or handsome but who don't have attractive personalities or any kind of presence). When I think of great actors and actresses it is the thing that separates them from other people in the profession. Looks may be a factor but it really boils down to their presence that gives them that star power. I would say the same thing about politicians. Looks can certainly be a part of the mix (there is no shortage of politicians with hair that is too perfect and chiseled features) but you can also point to politicians who don't have any of that but somehow can have command over a crowd.

I also think when it comes to charisma, in terms of physical things alone, it isn't just about how attractive a person is. It can also be about how kind a persons eyes are, how they carry themselves, if their expression seems energized or depleted, etc.

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
If OP is suggesting that beauty should be able to be a part of your character’s charisma if you want it to be, but it doesn’t have to, then what they’re suggesting isn’t a change because that’s already the case. If that isn’t what they’re suggesting, then what are they suggesting?
Physical appearance isn't listed as one of the characteristics that goes into Charisma in the description, and the OP thinks it should be. That's what they are suggesting.

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
I can only answer for myself. Why? Because beauty isn't an obvious part of the definition of charisma. (It's not even a small part of charisma by any definition that I've encountered.) And beauty doesn't greatly affect the associated skills. Those two points seem to be your major assumptions that support your case, but I just don't agree with them.
I would argue that appearance can affect any or all Charisma skills. Many people are legitimately more inclined to trust someone they find attractive, for example.


I would argue that appearance can affect any or all Charisma skills. Many people are legitimately more inclined to trust someone they find attractive, for example.
Sure. And some people are less inclined to trust someone they find attractive. Or to dismiss attractive people as vapid and not worth listening to. And none of that usually comes into play at all if a human is trying to trick a goblin or cast a spell.

I'd leave the effect of appearance to be defined by personality traits. I can easily see a character with a flaw that provides disadvantage vs. CHA checks from an attractive person. And if the DM and players have not defined those traits, then I'd leave it to the dice. 1d20 provides plenty of swing to account for varied reactions to any particular appearance without tying that appearance to a CHA score.

James Gasik

I would argue that appearance can affect any or all Charisma skills. Many people are legitimately more inclined to trust someone they find attractive, for example.
This is certainly true, as much as some people hate to admit that they are influenced by good looks. But the way the game is written, this is not true. I was of the mind that you could give out advantage for someone being exceptionally attractive, but given the example of Elves with their "unearthly beauty", I realize I can't do that, because it would, in effect, be giving them another racial trait with nothing to counter balance it.


I'm trying to remember what story I read where the humans, with their bare skin were viewed as exceptionally ugly by one of the other species. I'm guessing that wouldn't be changed by how attractive other humans thought the person in question was.


Arguments from realism fall apart in a game where a gnome can be physically stronger than a goliath. I don't think our culture's preoccupation with appearance is healthy, especially for women, and I don't need it in my fantasy game. If players want to choose to make their character beautiful, more power to 'em. But I ain't gonna mandate it, or even suggest it.
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I always liked the 2E approach. In that is 'is not a reflection of physical attractiveness' but attractiveness plays a role (and what is meant by attractive is pretty open to interpretation I think as that doesn't need to mean beauty). But it is primarily interested in "persuasiveness, personal magnetism, and ability to lead." I remember when I was in highschool we had a history teacher who was very interested in the topic of charisma and used to ask us rhetorically what it meant. From what I remember, pretty much anything we told him, he said was 'wrong'. I think the idea was there was some quality to it you couldn't quite put into words and that it couldn't necessarily be pinned to a list of traits It is about how much you can captivate a crowd, how people respond to you....and that isn't always a product of something as obvious as having nice smile.


Also what CHR does mechanically matters. Obviously this varies by edition but in 2e at least, it is your reaction adjustment, your loyalty base and also your max number of henchmen. The latter isn't just going to be about what you look like (you can make an argument that physical attractiveness might be a factor in reaction rolls, but I think for keeping henchmen over the long term, that is probably going to be about other leadership qualities---attractiveness could be a factor, people might stick with someone they find appealing longer, but I think that is probably lower on the list than other things like how that person makes them feel). When I think of very charismatic leaders one thing they seem to be able to do is make everyone in a crowd feel like they are being spoken to by that person, like this is someone you would want to spend time with. And for you to have that feeling they need to be approachable. Being too attractive could actually be a determinent because people might find that less approachable and more intimidating. I think the bottom line is any of the elements relating to physical appearance in CHR are best left to the player to decide for their character and for the GM to decide for their NPC.

Also some things ought to be contextual. A PC who is a politician or bard might take a penalty to CHR if they gain a facial scar. Someone who leads a troop of hardened soldiers might gain a bonus.


Again, I teach high school students. I don't think they need yet another avenue to be bombarded with the message that "attractiveness certainly plays a role" in how valuable they are or how successful they can be. Can't at least our fantasy worlds offer them a safe space from that constant BS?

Again, I teach high school students. I don't think they need yet another avenue to be bombarded with the message that "attractiveness certainly plays a role" in how valuable they are or how successful they can be. Can't at least our fantasy worlds offer them a safe space from that constant BS?

I don’t know how you got that idea about success from what I said. I you look at my entire post I think you will see that isn’t what I am saying. My point was letting people decide if attractiveness (which I defined quite broadly) was part of their charisma score, but it shouldn’t have to be. I also pointed to where physical beauty could be a minus rather than a plus
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Again, I teach high school students. I don't think they need yet another avenue to be bombarded with the message that "attractiveness certainly plays a role" in how valuable they are or how successful they can be. Can't at least our fantasy worlds offer them a safe space from that constant BS?
The flaw is positioning Charisma as determination of one's value, or success. Not physical attractiveness. Cha is my dump Stat, how will my Orc Barbarian determine his worth?

I mean, and saying an RPG has any bearing in the first's Fantasy.

Now let's get back to kicking in doors and killing people to take loot.

Where's that study correlating height and leadership roles...hmm.


Heretic of The Seventh Circle
No. Completely, absolutely not. Personal appearance should be completely up to the player to decide. Also, history is full of incredibly charismatic people who were not particularly attractive in a conventional way, and incredible jerks who were considered gorgeous.

If Lyle Lovett could marry Julia Roberts back in the day...

Look every nerd I know who watches actual play shows enough to know who he is, is either unambiguously attracted to Brennan Lee Mulligan or is confused about why they’re attracted to Brennan Lee Mulligan.

If he was a bitter little incel dipstick, no one would find him attractive.

Erika Ishii is, if viewed dispassionately, maybe half as hot as she comes across by being such a weird little hot goblin person who can go from sultry to extreme dork energy instantly.

The number of women I know who are into Seth Rogan is wild!

Beauty can help, sure. Chris Pratt is very physically attractive, and that surely plays a part in why he keeps getting big roles and lots of attention in spite of having the personality of a quietly cult-y square of cardboard.

But it definitely doesn’t dominate personality in the “charisma” matrix, and is just frankly problematic for a lot of people to have the game focus on.


Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Attractiveness is subjective. While there are trends, physical traits have different qualities to different people based on their personal experiences, associations, and preferences. Often it's also directly in relationship to themselves, like someone preferring the appearance of women who are taller than themselves, which can rather vary between gnomes and goliaths.
Yeah super symmetrical people tend to sort of just turn into background faces for me, rather than standing out as attractive.

Took me a couple movies to care when Chris Evans was on the screen in a marvel movie, but put Owen Wilson in a movie and I’m buying tickets asap. 🤷‍♂️

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