Systems Of Attraction: The Interpretation And Roleplay Of Charisma – Part II

From Mike Bourke

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0271

A Brief Word From Johnn

Last Week For The Expeditious Retreat Press Monster Tips Contest

There’s only one more week left in the Monster Tips Contest, and if you haven’t entered yet you should consider it because your odds of winning are excellent. There are 11 prizes and, so far, about 40 entries: a 4 in 1 chance of winning!

If you’re stumped for monster-type tip ideas, check out the two entries in the Readers’ Tips section and the two published in last week’s issue.

Contest Details:

It’s contest time again and Expeditious Retreat Press has kindly agreed to sponsor! Entry is easy; just send in a monster, alien, or critter-related tip: how to build, how to roleplay, tweak tips, combat tips, encounter tips, and so on.

Multiple entries are allowed, and each tip you send in (in a single e-mail or multiple) counts as an entry, so feel free to send in as many tips as you like. Publishable tips will all be posted in this e-zine, so everyone will benefit.

Contest Deadline: Sunday, July 3, 2005

Contest Entry: e-mail your monster tips to me at:

[email protected] (Multiple entries are allowed.)

Sweet Prizes:

Good luck and feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions.

Have a game-full weekend!


Johnn Four,
[email protected]

Systems Of Attraction: The Interpretation And Roleplay Of Charisma – Part II

Last week, Mike shared with us part one of his analysis of charisma. Below are the final two interpretations for charisma followed by a summary and re-calculation system for D&D. [If you missed the first part of the article you can read it on the website. ]

Personal Impact

Some people have what is called “personal magnetism.” People are naturally drawn to them when they enter the room; people notice them, not because of anything they are doing or because of a particularly noteworthy appearance, but simply because of who they are. Charles Bronson, who would never become a leading man on looks alone, is a prime example.

It can be something as trivial as the way they look at you, the way they hold their head, or the amount of attention they appear to pay to the people around them in conversation (giving people the impression that whatever they want to talk about is the most important thing in the world to you because _they_ are talking about it, can be tremendously attractive to some).

At the same time, there are unfortunates who are always on the fringe, ignored and left out if possible and abandoned if it’s not. Perhaps their nostrils flare unpleasantly when they smile, their eyes are set a little too close together, they have the disconcerting habit of asking awkward questions, they dig their earwax out with their fingers, or they have a whine for a voice. Or perhaps they are their own favorite topic of conversation, or have a gloomy disposition.

These are all statements of personal impact. A character with impact makes a splash; heads turn when they enter the room, they make friends easily and effortlessly. People make extra efforts for them. A character at the opposite end of the spectrum are ignored and abandoned. Those who must deal with them do as little as possible and delay doing it for as long as possible (or even a little longer).

Impact is a function of charisma and it is possible to argue that when all the ingredients are boiled down and summed up, impact is the ultimate summation of the effects of having charisma. Some game systems have even discarded charisma entirely in favour of Impact as a characteristic, describing the effect and not the cause.

All this gives rise to yet another general principle:

  • Some people have an undefinable “extra” that enhances, or restricts, their charisma.

Social Acceptability / Acceptance

The final interpretation I’ve seen applied to charisma scores is perhaps the most global and encompassing of them all. If charisma means “social acceptability,” then it not only encompasses all the criteria and concepts that have been discussed so far, it also encompasses such matters as marital eligibility/desirability, income, general behaviour, reputation, and attractiveness.

To be honest, I’ve never entirely approved of the idea. While the various alternatives discussed previously allow for complex characterizations, some aspects high and others low in the average person, putting all the eggs into this one basket “presets” the significance of each element and interprets it within one very narrow focus.

A character can be Adonis personified and not be acceptable as a Royal Consort because of his lineage. The Crown Prince can be ugly, uncouth, inelegant, and arrogant, and still be the most eligible bachelor in the Kingdom. Both of these characterizations would be prohibited under this concept of charisma.

That’s not to say that social acceptability is not part of charisma, or rather, that many of the criteria that determine social acceptability are also part of charisma.

Summary Of Key Points

(In D&D terms.)

  • Anyphysical characteristic less than 10 detracts from Beauty.
  • Any physical characteristic greater than 15 adds to Beauty.
  • STR contributes physical build.
  • DEX contributes graceful movement.
  • CON contributes health and general fitness.
  • Comeliness is whatever aspects of beauty are not accounted for by these contributions.
  • The physical manifestation of health must be viewed in a cultural/social context.
  • There’s more to charisma than physical attractiveness.
  • INT contributes persuasiveness.
  • Wisdom contributes earnestness of faith.
  • Self-confidence is equivalent to earnestness of faith.
  • Better clothing should give a charisma bonus.
  • Better manners should give a charisma bonus.
  • Social skills (i.e. etiquette, oratory) should give a charisma bonus.
  • Social rank should give a charisma bonus.
  • Some people have an undefinable “extra” that enhances or restricts their charisma.

Interpreting Charisma: One System

So, there you have it. Five different interpretations of charisma that, after a little digging, did not turn out to be quite so different after all. Physical, behavioural, and social attractiveness, all compounded with that extra “something” to define the “X factor” that is charisma.

But wait, that’s not all there is to say on the subject. We haven’t talked at all about how all these different factors combine to give a particular charisma score. Can a high value in one compensate for a low value in another? Or is it that a low score needs _everything_ else to be one step higher to compensate? Is there such a thing as an un- charismatic deity, and if so, what should their charisma be? Should different social classes be judged on the same charisma scales, or are charisma scores relative?

There is no stat for social class in AD&D. That alone is enough to state that charisma should be fixed on an absolute scale: two different characters with the same charisma are as attractive as each other. One might have better social skills, the other more grace and poise (or whatever), but when all the pluses and minuses are added up, they come to the same total.

The implication is that, for the sake of playability, only this total is considered in most charisma-related situations. Cohort numbers, for example, are determined by overall charisma, not by considering an appropriate sub- component of the charisma score. This is absurd in many ways. Can two people attract the same size army of followers because one is sexier while the other is a better leader? That doesn’t make much sense, does it?

It is the sub-aspects of charisma that determine how the charisma score will affect others and how the character should be roleplayed. This seems to contradict the notion of one score tells all. So how can these two concepts be reconciled to give one overall interpretation of a charisma score?

Well, we have the contributions from other stats; we have the character’s expenditure of skill points on ranks in appropriate skills; and we have a couple of factors whose contributions can be whatever seems appropriate. We also have one that states a character’s ability to attract followers as a result of these various attributes of charisma must exactly match their charisma score. If we can devise some system where this takes place, we can start interpreting charisma scores for individual characters.

How about if we add up the stat bonuses from the non-charisma stats and compare the total with the charisma bonus? Everything else that contributes to charisma must make up the difference! We can then use the skill ranks in a similar way to determine the breakup of those differences into the undefined ingredients. This sounds promising.

  1. Start with the bonuses from the STR and CON. Add those up to get _part_ of the total charisma bonus from beauty.
  2. The bonus from DEX is the charisma bonus from grace.
  3. The bonus from INT is the charisma bonus from wit and persuasiveness.
  4. The bonus from WIS is the charisma bonus from self- confidence.
  5. Add these up and subtract from the actual charisma bonus. This gives the charisma bonus that has to come from other factors: social rank, manners & etiquette, leadership, impact, clothing, and the rest of beauty, i.e. comeliness.
  6. Assign a charisma Bonus from Social Rank:
    • Peasant = -1
    • Commoner = +0
    • Minor Noble or Professional = +1
    • Middle Noble or Senior Professional = +2
    • Higher Nobility = +3
    • Subtract this from the shortfall.
  7. The number of whole ranks in Diplomacy is the “charisma bonus” from manners and etiquette. Subtract this from the remaining shortfall.
  8. Look up the characteristic bonus that derives from a stat of the same value as the Character’s level. Use the result as the character’s charisma bonus from leadership and subtract it from the shortfall.
  9. That leaves only three elements: Clothing, Comeliness, and Impact. The exact breakdown of these three factors is completely up to the person creating the character, but the total charisma bonus from these two sources has to be whatever shortfall is unaccounted for.
  10. Here’s the important part: determine what bonuses the character _expects_ to have in _all_ these various areas and determine where the character falls short or exceeds expectation.

With this “charisma Breakdown” complete, you have the basis for assigning personality traits and roleplaying the character. A character who expects a high beauty component, and achieves it, may well be vain, and will (necessarily) be deficient in other areas. If they fail to achieve it, they will probably have spent extra (_lots_ extra) on their wardrobe, by way of compensating. A character who has a high leadership component, born of harsh experience, has probably achieved it at the expense of marring what beauty they had through battle scars.

For example, Here’s a 1st level character:

STR +3
DEX +4
CON +1
INT +1
WIS +1
CHA +2

0 ranks in Diplomacy

For a start, STR and DEX are both higher than CHA, so the character has a high base beauty; at first level, there hasn’t been a lot of time for scarring. The character is muscular, athletic, and graceful.

  1. Beauty: +3+1=+4. This is quite a good start for beauty.
  2. Grace: +4. Also high.
  3. Wit: +1.
  4. Self-confidence: +1.
  5. Shortfall: +4+4+1+1=+10; +2-(+10) = -8
  6. Social Rank +0, +1 for Elf*. This leaves -9 to be allocated.
  7. Diplomacy +0. -9 to be allocated.
  8. Leadership at first level: A stat of 1 would give a stat bonus of -5. This leaves -4 to be allocated.
  9. So Clothing + Rest Of Beauty + Impact = -4 Bonus.
    • This character is to be garbed in Elven chain: +1 bonus.
    • This character is to be intense, even obsessed, in ways that are not welcome in society in general. This will ensure that the character is all but shunned, socially. Impact -5.
    • So the Comeliness is -4-(+1)-(-5) = 0
  10. The character is graceful and strong beyond racial norms, and his wit and confidence are fairly typical for his race. He is slightly ugly for an elf. So, what we end up with is a particularly athletic and graceful elf, well-dressed, intelligent to talk to, reasonably confident, with no skill in diplomacy, whose obsession leads to him being socially outcast. For that to be the case, there must be something that colours his every statement and is socially unacceptable. Maybe he’s a drow sympathizer or sees conspiracies everywhere. Note that, in this case, the decisive personality aspect is the impact.

What if the character’s impact was something more reasonable, say -1? To achieve the same effective charisma, the character would have to find -4 in comeliness. Perhaps his face has been scarred by some childhood disease, or he has some unsavoury personal habit, or has an offensive body odour.

This technique of characterizing charisma has two big advantages: by focusing on what makes the character distinctive, it focuses quickly in on the traits that need to be roleplayed. By integrating all the other stats, it presents a holistic character description, building all the character’s traits into the one description.

Although not discussed, this shows how the referee can build general perceptions of a race or class into a social structure. In the example, +1 is added simply because the character is an elf, showing that elves are generally respected and are _expected_ to have a +1 charisma bonus. Thus, any attribute of the charisma breakdown which achieves this is not all that noteworthy, any anything that doesn’t is noteworthy (in comparison to the “typical” elf).

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Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks

Monster Tips Contest Entry: Zombies in 7th Sea

From Jim B.

The zombies in 7th Sea are more of a puppet master. They absorb the knowledge and skills of their victims, and afterwards, the victims become their loyal slaves. With that ability, there is no reason for the zombie to sit in ruins waiting for heroes to show up, hack through its slaves, and finally kill it.

The zombie should become a villain and mastermind. Sure, its mind is alien to the humans’, but it has the knowledge of its victims and can work for more power and more juicy knowledge. It might even become a leader of a cult where willing sacrifices “join” the zombie for closer communion.

If the heroes should somehow manage to foil it once and the zombie escapes, then they would have an enemy with new slaves coming at them that they would not know of. Maybe even an old friend that the zombie had taken.

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Monster Tips Contest Entry: Frozen Planet Predator

From Jim B.

On a frozen planet large, slow-walking creatures are able to create blasts of heat that melt the frozen crust to reveal the liquid that truly covers the whole planet. These warmed holes draw small swimmers to the opening to be eaten by the surface walker. But this predator is itself prey to a larger swimmer that detects the heat and breaks the frozen crust to entrap the surface walker and devour it.

A small spacecraft landing on the frozen surface might attract the large swimming predators looking for this day’s meal. Now you have a partially or fully submerged and probably trapped spacecraft.

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Importance of Slowing Down

From Kit Reshawn

People talk constantly about how to make things exciting. However, it should be pointed out that not everything in an RPG can be exciting, nor should it be. Slower paced sections, even downright boring ones, are needed both to give your players a rest and to make parts you truly want to be exciting seem more exciting.

As a result, if your players have just gotten through a high tension and fast paced scene, make the next scene one in which they can wind down a bit. This allows time to reflect on what just happened, and also lets them relax. You can only keep your players excited for a certain period of time and you should not expect them to be able to be enthusiastic all of the time.

There is another pitfall to trying to make everything too exciting. One way people measure their current experience is by contrasting to past ones. If everything your players are doing is supposed to be exciting, not only will the emotional fever tire them out (especially if your sessions are longer), but eventually things will seem less exciting simply because everything they have done has been that way.

This is actually something that you can use to your advantage, however. If you have an exciting scene planned out, try to place a boring one before it if that is logical. So much the better if you actually switch mid-scene from something that is slow and boring to something that is exciting and full of tension once your players have let themselves relax. By doing this you make the scene that is supposed to be exciting seem more so just by virtue of the comparison to the previous boring scene.

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Character Growth, Evolution, and Retirement

From Strider Starslayer

There have been more than a few articles dealing with retiring high level characters, and I thought I’d contribute my thoughts into the equation. Being an avid loather of level based systems, every article I see referring to retiring high level characters reinforces that opinion. It just seems too static to me, that once a character has ascended to a lofty level they become too good at everything.

As a player of point based systems (I’m going to use GURPS for my examples), I find that even after characters have doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled the starting number of points, they just become better at what they do, rather than becoming better at everything.

The young but competent (DX 14, a single sword skill at 15) swordsman evolves into a revered master (DX 15, several related sword skills at 20- 25+, backed up by several related skills, like tactics, acrobatics, and smithing). The junior magus with a lot of potential (IQ 14, magery 3, and a small list of spells) blossoms into a wise sage (IQ 15, magery 3, increased fatigue reserves, and most spells in the game, many regular- use spells at a high level), but the mage never becomes exceptional at fighting with his staff, and the warrior never excels at working with magic or dealing with obscure arcane puzzles.

(They may develop _some_ of those skills, but they can always rely on the others to handle it, so upgrading their already good skills to make themselves more effective at the role they fill is a more attractive way to spend their points).

A character who is good at what he does, even extremely good, has no need for retirement because he still can’t do everything. Of course, when you’ve ascended to being one of the top swordsmen on the planet, or among the most knowledgeable mages, there are some fun changes to how your world will work.

Enemies no longer scoff at your presence and dispatch mooks; they cower, flee, and switch from close combat to devious traps and tactics. (As GM, you should give players who have advanced their characters’ skills free levels of fame as people will know them.)

Of course, being well known doesn’t always work in the party’s favor. A mission to dispatch a group of bandits that have been raiding caravans becomes much harder when the whole group runs screaming for their lives at the party’s approach; what looked like a single bout of combat changes to a few hours of chasing down and dispatching each bandit individually.

Not only do enemies react to the party differently, NPCs do too. Where the bartender would normally say, “Room’s 5 gold,” to a party of well known adventurers his sneer turns into a smile and he bellows, “You want to stay in _my_ inn! No charge my good sirs so long as I can get you to sign the guest book and hang around the bar a bit.

Drinks are on the house! Knowing that such worldly gentlemen as yourselves have stayed here will boost my business tenfold!” Or, for a party of looser morals, the massive bartender’s eyes go wide, and he all but ducks behind the bar for safety. “You want to stay here? No charge sirs, please, just don’t hurt me!”

Highly skilled individuals also have a tendency to attract pupils. The party may find itself forever beating off a string of young, wide-eyed adventurers that want to learn a thing of two from a ‘real master’. Kindly or enterprising parties might find a lot more use for off-time by training students a premium. Knightly sorts might find themselves able to take the pick of the litter as a new NPC squire/apprentice after the last one became experienced enough to leave or got killed.

Also, there is a certain GMing freedom in having characters be so extremely good at what they do that failure is all but impossible. Why bother playing out a fight that is likely boring for the players since its outcome is known and also most likely boring for the PC as well.


“You’ve tracked down 4 of the bandits holed up in a cave. Seeing you are still wounded by their traps, the bandits take heart for a final charge. It’s over in less then 8 seconds–the bandits were no match for your combined might and you emerge unscathed. The battle was uneventful, and the only thing of note you find in their belongings is one of the old, meagerly enchanted short swords you used to use years ago, evidently lovingly cared for by whoever purchased it from that old pawn shop.”

Finally, in point based systems at least, the _player_ should be the ultimate judge of when to actually retire a character. They’ll know when playing someone who is the ‘master of his realm’ is no longer fun and that PC will probably find a place to settle down and teach a myriad of new adventurers the skills of the trade, or seclude himself like a hermit to further hone his craft.

Also, they should feel free to have the character come out of retirement whenever it’s fun. (Though a shrewd GM might want to apply stat and skill penalties due to lack of use until the character ‘works those adventuring muscles’ again.)