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D&D 5E The Misrepresentation of Charisma

pdzoch

Explorer
I think charisma is a horribly misunderstood ability score in the game. And I think that misunderstanding leads to flawed roll playing.

I understand how the game mechanics compels many players to use Charisma as the dump stat. And I understand how the combat nature of D&D may encourage the favoring of constitution (which influences no skills) to be favored over charisma (which influences four skills – which also makes it the third most influential ability score).

Unfortunately, it is too common a misunderstanding that Charisma equates to beauty, and that is simply not the case. Certainly, attractiveness is a factor, but seldom the entire story. And a character can be described as beautiful but with low charisma.
The mechanics of the game does assert some penalties for having low charisma, affecting charisma saving throws as well as four skill checks: deception, intimidation, performance, and persuasion. Unfortunately, most players dodge those penalties by simply not investing in those skills.

But what of the other consequences not considered?
Is it really plausible that a leader of an adventuring group would have a low charisma? The highest doesn’t seem necessary (Hannibal Smith did have his Faceman – a little 80’s A-team reference there), but it does not seem likely that the leader would have one of the lowest charisma scores in the group.

At what low score is a character’s charisma off-putting enough to counter the social encounter of the group? – you know, that really awkward friend who just says the wrong thing at the wrong time or doing the inappropriate habit in public that betrays the credibility of the group.
Which leads to a question about roleplaying uncharismatic characters. There is more to the trait than beauty, but seems to be the default consideration. I love it when the players role play the gregarious high charisma characters (shouts from the tavern patrons as their favorite person walks into the bar. “Norm!”). I hesitate to encourage any player to role play the low charisma aspects – I mean, we all still want to have fun and enjoy each other’s company during the game. None of us want to be gross out or repulsed by our fellow players. So how is everyone actually roleplaying a low charisma character? Hopefully it is not all beauty based. Even an ugly bard can have a high charisma (because, you know, he is in a band). Which leads to the flip side of the discussion. How many players are roleplaying an ugly character with a high charisma?

It seems natural that bards rely on charisma as a primary ability, which readily reinforces the emphasis of attractiveness (and perhaps charm) for charisma. But Sorcerers and Warlocks rely on charisma also. This highlights and entirely different aspect charisma than attractiveness. The second definition of charisma accounts for why the magic of sorcerers and warlocks are bound to the charisma score: a divinely conferred power or talent. Unfortunately, that talent for magic is divorced from the 1st definition of charisma aligned to attractiveness and presence that influences the four related skills. Perhaps they are still related, just in a different way. Which may be good enough to avoid overcomplicating the rules.

This is not an argument championing the value of Charisma as an ability score. Nor is this a full discussion on charisma. At best, it is a beginning. Instead, it is an argument for better consideration of what the Charisma score means, how it can be roleplayed, and how it affects the game above the superficial understanding of the ability (note the use of the word ability, not trait. Ability suggest something more actively employed than the latent nature of trait).
 

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S

Sunseeker

Guest
I dunno, my typical understanding of Charisma is that it is your ability to be effective in social situations.
IE:
Intelligence is your ability to construct a plan of battle.
Wisdom is your ability to judge how successful it will be.
Charisma is your ability to convince the troops to follow the plan.

IMO: unless your game is running a comeliness score, I have always held that your character is exactly as beautiful or ugly as you want it to be. You may get some points here or there based on your looks....until you open your mouth.
 

Charisma is the force of your personality, which is reflected in the skills and saves associated with it. Beauty would only actually aid in persuasion and deception (possibly performance, depending on specifics). This is why intimidation doesn't go off of strength, despite many players' objections, since this is the threat of force without the actual force. The act of beating the information out of somebody probably shouldn't require a roll by the interrogator (except maybe Medicine to keep from accidentally killing them), but rather a check or save by the victim.

I have a VERY high Charisma party. I have a Paladin, Bard, and Sorceress, and no one used it as a dump stat (I think the lowest is the barbarian at 10 or 11). The Paladin is the leader due to social station (he's a Knight Commander of the Hart), so he's often in social situations when dealing with the upper classes. The Bard is the Face outside of the noble environment, and she is considered a great beauty. The Sorceress's favorite magic item is her Hat of Disguise, so that she can hide what she actually looks like. She wore a deep cowl and did everything she could to hide her skin, since she was a Dragon Sorceress, and her skin was covered in scales. Most folk would find this disturbing at best, and monstrous at worst ("burn her!").
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
This is not an argument championing the value of Charisma as an ability score. Nor is this a full discussion on charisma. At best, it is a beginning. Instead, it is an argument for better consideration of what the Charisma score means, how it can be roleplayed, and how it affects the game above the superficial understanding of the ability (note the use of the word ability, not trait. Ability suggest something more actively employed than the latent nature of trait).

In D&D 5e, Charisma "measures your ability to interact effectively with others. It includes such factors as confidence and eloquence, and it can represent a charming or commanding personality."

It can be "roleplayed" in any manner the player chooses since the player determines how the character thinks, acts, and talks regardless of what the character's Charisma score is.

While beauty is not a part of Charisma as defined by the rules, the DM can decide that beauty does matter in a given social interaction, granting automatic success or failure to a player's stated action on that basis, assigning a higher or lower DC to resolve the task successfully, or granting advantage or disadvantage to the roll.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
But what of the other consequences not considered?
Is it really plausible that a leader of an adventuring group would have a low charisma? The highest doesn’t seem necessary (Hannibal Smith did have his Faceman – a little 80’s A-team reference there), but it does not seem likely that the leader would have one of the lowest charisma scores in the group.

I think it is plausible that a leader of an adventuring group has a low charisma. It is up to the other player characters to decide whether that character is the leader of the group. The Charisma score of the potential leader may inform their decision on this score, but cannot force them to make any particular choice or delegitimize their decision once made. It comes into play only when the DM decides a player's action declaration is uncertain and must be resolved with a Charisma check.

Personally, I think many DMs in my experience ask for too many Charisma checks in social interaction challenges which leads to the phenomenon of the player with the character with the highest Charisma doing all the talking while the rest of the group sits silently by. This is unfortunate in my view. If the "middle path" of handling the role of the dice is used (see the DMG for a discussion on this), then I have found everyone engages in social interaction challenges since they know some efforts achieve automatic success, bypassing an ability check that would otherwise likely result in failure.
 

Henry

Autoexreginated
And I understand how the combat nature of D&D may encourage the favoring of constitution (which influences no skills) to be favored over charisma (which influences four skills – which also makes it the third most influential ability score).
I'm not saying you're wrong, but you can't use charisma if you're dead, hence the valuation of charisma over CON with most players. Once you are sure you'll live through an Orcish axe to the face, then you can think about deception and persuasion. It's an age old argument to be sure - one even Gary Gygax made 40 years ago in the AD&D rules, before Sorcerers or the like (I believe he even used Napoleon and Hitler as examples.) He even introduced Comeliness as a separate stat for a short while; it really didn't take hold, and was dropped when the game was revised by others.

As a side note, my group is playing Hell's Rebels for Pathfinder now, and the nature of the AP series is such that socially-skilled characters are important; we kind of went overboard, and 5 out of 8 PCs have high CHA and social skills, even as we're built to kick butt. It's like a bunch of actors and rock stars banded together to become freedom fighters. :)
 
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Draegn

Explorer
Our game includes a comliness score in addition to the charisma score as social attributes. For us the difference is that comliness is passive, it comes into play simply by walking into a room. Charisma is active, you have to speak, sing, or do something that attracts attention.
 

S

Sunseeker

Guest
Our game includes a comliness score in addition to the charisma score as social attributes. For us the difference is that comliness is passive, it comes into play simply by walking into a room. Charisma is active, you have to speak, sing, or do something that attracts attention.

Hmmmm....passive charisma....that sounds like a useful stat, like passive perception but reversed...how other people see you instead of what you see.

I may have to steal that!
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Hmmmm....passive charisma....that sounds like a useful stat, like passive perception but reversed...how other people see you instead of what you see.

I may have to steal that!

Yeah - psssive charisma is how you carry yourself in the world. Do you attract attention when you enter a room? Do people automatically listen when you start talking?
 


marcelvdpol

Explorer
Charisma represents the force of your personality. It also represents likeability, believability etc.

Intimidation represents threat (not just physical threat) to do something nasty against the person being talked to. This could take the form of beating the person, reveiling a harmful secret or cast a nasty spell ("do this or ill turn you into a newt"). The believability of the threat depends on the strength of your personality, hence depends on charisma.
 

GreenTengu

Adventurer
I understand how the game mechanics compels many players to use Charisma as the dump stat. And I understand how the combat nature of D&D may encourage the favoring of constitution (which influences no skills) to be favored over charisma (which influences four skills – which also makes it the third most influential ability score).

Unfortunately, it is too common a misunderstanding that Charisma equates to beauty, and that is simply not the case. Certainly, attractiveness is a factor, but seldom the entire story. And a character can be described as beautiful but with low charisma.
The mechanics of the game does assert some penalties for having low charisma, affecting charisma saving throws as well as four skill checks: deception, intimidation, performance, and persuasion. Unfortunately, most players dodge those penalties by simply not investing in those skills.

You know, it would be a lot easier to sell that this was a "misconception" if one couldn't open the monster manual and flip through it and see that... well, well... the assigned Charisma stat is directly related to the stated beauty of the creature-- save for cases where all attributes are really, really high in order to avoid them getting destroyed by failing certain saves.

If we see WotC consistently assigning Charisma scores to NPCs, particularly "non-human" NPCs, based on how much a typical human would want to sleep with them rather than accounting for commanding presence, being deviously deceptive or being blustering and scary, well...it kind of sets the precedent for what those stats represent, doesn't it? Do you really suppose an Orc or a Hobgoblin or an Ogre lacks the ability to influence the emotions of others to the extent that the monster manual pegs their Charisma scores?
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
5e has done away with the gather information skill, these are now straight up charisma check. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but it's a big change.
 


I think charisma is a horribly misunderstood ability score in the game. And I think that misunderstanding leads to flawed roll playing.

I understand how the game mechanics compels many players to use Charisma as the dump stat. And I understand how the combat nature of D&D may encourage the favoring of constitution (which influences no skills) to be favored over charisma (which influences four skills – which also makes it the third most influential ability score).

Unfortunately, it is too common a misunderstanding that Charisma equates to beauty, and that is simply not the case. Certainly, attractiveness is a factor, but seldom the entire story. And a character can be described as beautiful but with low charisma...

Who are these people doing this misunderstanding? How has it made their roleplaying flawed? What gave you the insight that lets you see the truth, where so many others have fallen to the wayside of wrong thinking? Do all the half-elf sorcadins know that they should be boosting their charisma instead of constitution?
;)
 

pdzoch

Explorer
You know, it would be a lot easier to sell that this was a "misconception" if one couldn't open the monster manual and flip through it and see that... well, well... the assigned Charisma stat is directly related to the stated beauty of the creature-- save for cases where all attributes are really, really high in order to avoid them getting destroyed by failing certain saves.

If we see WotC consistently assigning Charisma scores to NPCs, particularly "non-human" NPCs, based on how much a typical human would want to sleep with them rather than accounting for commanding presence, being deviously deceptive or being blustering and scary, well...it kind of sets the precedent for what those stats represent, doesn't it? Do you really suppose an Orc or a Hobgoblin or an Ogre lacks the ability to influence the emotions of others to the extent that the monster manual pegs their Charisma scores?

There is a lot of that in the monster manual. Especially in the demons and devils where the charisma score tends to tie in with human sexuality. But the monster manual doesn't ignore the forceful presence or ability to influence others capacity of charisma also. Dragons have high charisma, though it could be argued that they are beautiful in their own way. However, I'm not sure that the same could be said for the Aboleth. I would be hard pressed for an argument that the Aboleth has any attractiveness other than a forceful presence.
 


Yunru

Banned
Banned
Are group checks still a thing?
I could see charisma group checks being a thing to penalise dumping charisma, such as when meeting royalty.
 

GreenTengu

Adventurer
There is a lot of that in the monster manual. Especially in the demons and devils where the charisma score tends to tie in with human sexuality. But the monster manual doesn't ignore the forceful presence or ability to influence others capacity of charisma also. Dragons have high charisma, though it could be argued that they are beautiful in their own way. However, I'm not sure that the same could be said for the Aboleth. I would be hard pressed for an argument that the Aboleth has any attractiveness other than a forceful presence.

But, as I said, those sort of things are generally a case of "it would be too easy to defeat this monster if had any bad attributes". Well, apparently except Dexterity and even their Dexterity is at or slightly above that of an average human.
 


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