Sunday, August 6, 2017

So You Rolled a 3: Charisma

A pitiful and smelly Aghar family. Their Charisma may surprise you!

Charisma.  The Big Cheese in old-school games.  Nothing is more important than Charisma.  Let me tell you why.

Charisma determines how many loyal assistants your character has.  Do you need a squire? You want a Yolus or a Gabby?  A Dr. Watson?  Would you like to be able to call on Gentle Ben? Gosh, Doc Savage could call on like ten different NPCs, all experts in their discipline. Loyal sidekicks are great to have, and Charisma tells you how many you can have. 

Then there are hired hands. Are you hiring out a cadre of bodyguards and attendants to help you and your party on their way?  Charisma determines how loyal those hapless sods are, and how often you will have to worry about them running away or stabbing you in the face.  

Finally, Charisma will help parley with monsters and enemies - a higher Charisma score means less fighting, and less fighting means less dying.  All in all, Charisma is the "god" stat of old-school play.

In the old-school game, characters start out as an adventuring party.  They are mostly cooperative because each of them is a squishy weakling.  After all, they don't have to outrun the owlbear; they only have to outrun the fighter in full plate mail! As they level, they will acquire both hirelings and loyal assistants.  Each man is like a miniature party in and of himself, and the group will be able to accomplish more, both together and individually.   Finally each man who has lived to Name level (around 9th) will build himself a castle and clear the land, starting his own barony. Then it's on, brother. Every man for himself! War and peace, civil and otherwise. Even then, to the degree that politics and intrigue enter the campaign, Charisma and reaction checks are going to be very important.

So now we know what Charisma does do.  But let me talk about what low Charisma doesn't do.
  • Low Charisma  doesn't make you stutter.  It doesn't make you a mush-mouth. You can have a low Charisma and also be able to speak properly, even speak well.
  • Low Charisma doesn't mean you are ugly.  You can be quite pleasant to look at and still have a low Charisma.
  • Low Charisma doesn't mean you are smelly or have bad breath or wheeze or snore.  It doesn't mean that people don't want to be around you!

All a low Charisma score says is that you are not an inspiring leader and you are not very persuasive! Even a celebrity or politician can get by with a low Charisma!

So out of all the six character stats, Charisma is the most elusive.  It is slippery - you can't necessarily point to some quality of a character and attribute to that low Charisma.  It's just one of those things that you know it when you see it - and you might only "see" it on the character sheet.


  1. Charisma is the only stat I allow people to change - through "buying" by using other stat points. That's because it seems to me to permanently impact your self-worth in an annoying way (or not, people are different).

    The books always say that it's different than, or more than, mere physical attractiveness. That helps a little but. it's is still weird. So you're beautiful, but in terms of personality you're a bead curtain that people just walk through?

    And of course, it may conflict with your personality as a player. Some players are natural leaders, which I think is fine. Can someone with a charisma of 3 be a caller?

    You're absolutely right that the positive effects of charisma are one of the most important (and neglected) things in the game. In my experience, players often use charisma only as a chance to do goofy role-playing - you're irresistible sexy or a hunchback or whatever. And of course hirelings and henchmen (in terms of numbers and loyalty) can be incredibly important, especially at low-levels with few players. My anecdotal impression is that this - taking extra people into the dungeon with you - was emphasized more in the early years. I suppose the trick is making the mechanic more interesting than just "the more meat shields the better." Emphasizing the importance of charisma is one way to do that.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experiences with role-playing. I didn't really address that part of the experience. In fact, I don't generally address the role-playing part of the hobby. That stuff happens more or less by itself. That is true - much of the time people will look at the Charisma number on their sheet to give them a clue to how their man's personality might be.


      Charisma, like INT and WIS, do not have to impact how you play your man. They should not limit the player, and they should not necessarily limit the character in any non-mechanical way. A player can be the caller or party leader at the table even if his man is not much of a leader in his own fictional world.

    2. Yeah, agreed, I think.

      By the way, I think "your man" is great. For some bizarre reason, it reminds of of that scene in Firefly where the snobby girls are snarking at Kaylee: "Look to your girl. She really isn't very good. She made you a dress that looks like it was made in s store." Weird connection, I know.