Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about Charisma’s role as a social state.
The comic strip that I posted to the right is from Order of the Stick, arguably the most famous D&D-related comic. Period. You can learn a lot from Order of the Stick as both a player and GM, and today I want to use this strip in particular to talk about my thoughts regarding a topic that Dungeons and Dragon gamers have been talking about FOREVER—the role of Charisma as it pertains to attractiveness.
Personally, I don’t think that Charisma should have ANYTHING to do with beauty, for reasons I’m going to lay out today. But before I do that, let’s do a brief history on Charisma as its been portrayed throughout Dungeons & Dragons.
History of Charisma
Charisma has been long-referred to as the “attribute of physical beauty / attractiveness,” and it makes sense as to why that’s been the case—its literally been in the rules for a LONG time. But it hasn’t always been this way. So let’s take a quick road trip down memory lane and see for ourselves how Charisma has changed over the years. I will do this by taking the initial description of Charisma from every Dungeons and Dragons rules book from every edition I can find. So, let’s get started!
- 5th Edition (Source, 5E Basic Rules Set): Measures: Confidence, eloquence, leadership. A character with high Charisma exudes confidence, which is usually mixed with a graceful or intimidating presence. A character with a low Charisma might come across as abrasive, inarticulate, or timid.
- Pathfinder (Source, PRD): Charisma measures a character’s personality, personal magnetism, ability to lead, and appearance. It is the most important ability for paladins, sorcerers, and bards. It is also important for clerics, since it affects their ability to channel energy. For undead creatures, Charisma is a measure of their unnatural “lifeforce.” Every creature has a Charisma score. A character with a Charisma score of 0 is not able to exert himself in any way and is unconscious.
- 4th Edition (Source, 4E Player’s Handbook): Charisma (Cha) measures your force of personality, persuasiveness, and leadership. Many paladin and warlock powers are based on Charisma. Your Charisma might contribute to your Will defense. Charisma is the key ability for Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, and Streetwise skill checks.
- 3.5 (Source, d20SRD): Charisma measures a character’s force of personality, persuasiveness, personal magnetism, ability to lead, and physical attractiveness. This ability represents actual strength of personality, not merely how one is perceived by others in a social setting. Charisma is most important forpaladins, sorcerers, and bards. It is also important for clerics, since it affects their ability to turn undead. Every creature has a Charisma score.
- I was unable to find credible sources for editions older than 3.5, sadly.
So, if we assume that 3.5 is like 3rd Edition, then it becomes clear that the “change” to Charisma not involving physical attractiveness didn’t happen until the early 2000s, with the advent of 4th Edition. As a result, it makes sense as to why so many people think Charisma determines how hot you are—it was literally in the rules until recently.
That said, while I was unable to find any information regarding Charisma’s role in AD&D or earlier (or confirm that 3.0 uses the same wording as 3.5), I did stumble across a nifty little tidbit in the AD&D Unearthed Arcana product that I think is worth talking about—comeliness.
Never Looked So Comely
So based upon what I’ve managed to dig up, during AD&D a book called Unearthed Arcana was published. This book was monstrously successful, so much so that Unearthed Arcana would continue to be a product title that Wizards of the Coast would reuse every edition up until 4th Edition, similar to Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide. One part of Unearthed Arcana that seems to be somewhat lukewarm in its reception is the Comeliness attribute—a seventh ability score that measured your character’s physical attractiveness that existed alongside the others. Honestly, I found an old copy of Unearthed Arcana, and in reading it I can see why Comeliness never made it far in the game—it was an ability score that depended upon another ability score to prop it up (Charisma) and its effects ranged from pointless to overpowered, all while seeming INCREDIBLY creepy and straight privileged. Don’t believe me? Allow me to reproduce the comeliness rules below:
Comeliness: Comeliness reflects physical attractiveness, social grace, and personal beauty of the character. It is used to determine initial reactions to the character, and characters with a high comeliness may affect the wills and actions of others. While charisma deals specifically with leadership and interactions between characters,
comeliness deals with attractiveness and first impressions. Comeliness is not charisma. Charisma, however, can affect comeliness. After the first six attributes of a character are determined, his or h er looks must be determined. Is the character ugly, homely, plain, or pretty? This characteristic is determined by the comeliness roll. 3d6 are rolled and totalled. The resulting number, between 3 and 18 inclusive, is modified:
Characters with a charisma of less than 3 will have an adjustment of -8 on comeliness, so that it will fall in the range of -5 to + 10. For charisma of 3, the adjustment is -5; charisma of 4-5, -3; for 6-8, -1; for 9-1 2, no adjustment; for 13-15, + 1 ; for 16-1 7, + 2; for 18, + 3; and for charisma of more than 18, +5. As charisma is raised or lowered, whether by disease, disfigurement, aging, or artifacts, comeliness
should be similarly affected on a point-for-point basis (a loss of one point of charisma equals one point of comeliness equally lost). In addition to the adjustment to comeliness based on charisma score, characters of certain races must take an additional adjustment to their comeliness scores. This racial adjustment applies only when the reaction of characters of other races is concerned, in similar fashion to the way that racial adjustments for charisma apply only to those of other races. The penalties and bonuses are these:
Dwarves, gnomes: -1
’Halflings, humans: 0
*Half-elves, sylvan elves: + 1
*Gray elves, high elves: + 2
– Treat these pairs as being of the same race for purposes of effective comeliness; e.g., halflings are just as attractive (or repulsive) to humans as humans are to each other, and vice versa.
Comeliness will have the following effects on creatures of human sort. (This category includes, but is not necessarily limited to, humans, demi-humans, humanoids, giant-class, and bipedal creatures of human-like form and motivation.)
-16 or lower: Those viewing a character with comeliness this low are repulsed and horrified, so as to turn away or attempt to destroy the creature so offensive to the sight. If the individual with low comeliness is powerful, the reaction will tend toward escape, or reinforcement of previously determined awe (horror) reaction. If both viewer and creature are of evil alignment, the effect is that of a positive comeliness of the same total.
-15 to -9: Disgust, evidenced by a tendency to look away, revile the individual, and act hostile in general. Under no circumstances will this character be accepted by the viewers unless all are of evil alignment, so that the negative comeliness can be regarded as positive.
-8 to 0: Aversion and a desire to be away from so ugly a creature will be evidenced by all viewers. If given an excuse, those near the individual will be hostile and openly aggressive; otherwise they will merely tend toward rejection.
+1 to + 6: As such an individual is simply ugly, the reaction evidenced will tend toward unease and a desire to get away from such brutishness as quickly as possible. If given the opportunity, the character’s charisma can offset ugliness, but this requires a fair amount of conversation and interaction to take place.
+7 to + 9: The homeliness of the individual will be such that initial contact will be of a negative sort. This negative feeling will not be strongly evidenced. High charisma will quickly overcome it if any conversation and interpersonal interaction transpires. (Consider a dwarf with 16 charisma and a base comeliness roll of 9; he or she will be at 8 when viewed by all creatures except other dwarves – who will see him or her with comeliness adjusted by + 2 for charisma.)
+10 to + 13: Plain to average comeliness; no effect on the viewer.
+14 to +17: Interest in viewing the individual is evidenced by those in contact, as he or she is good-looking. The reaction adjustment is increased by a percentage equal to the comeliness score of the character. Individuals of the opposite sex will seek out such characters, and they will be affected as if under a fascinate spell unless wisdom of such individuals exceeds 50% of the character’s comeliness total.
+18 to + 21: The beauty of the character will cause heads to turn and hearts to race. Reaction for initial contact is at a percent equal to 150% of comeliness score. Individuals of the opposite sex will be affected as if under a fascinate spell unless their wisdom exceeds twothirds of the character’s comeliness total. Individuals of the same sex will do likewise unless wisdom totals at least 50% of the other character’s comeliness score. Rejection of harsh nature can cause the individual rejected to have a reaction as if the character had a negative comeliness of half the actual (positive) score.
+ 22 to + 25: The stunning beauty and gorgeous looks of a character with so high a comeliness will be similar to that of those of lesser beauty (17-21), but individuals will actually flock arpund the character, follow him or her, and generally behave so foolishly or in some manner so as to attract the attention of the character. The reaction adjustment is double the score of comeliness: Le., 22 comeliness equals + 44%. Fascinate-like power will affect all those with wisdom of less than two-thirds the comeliness score of the character. If an individual of the opposite sex is actually consciously sought by a character with comeliness of 22-25, that individual will be effectively fascinated unless his or her wisdom is 18 or higher. Rejection is as above.
+ 26 to + 30: Unearthly beauty of this sort can be possessed only by creatures from other planes – demi-gods and demi-goddesses and deities of unusual sort. Reaction adjustment is double comeliness score. Fascinate-like power is effective on all except those with wisdom equal to at least 75% of comeliness, except that 19 or higher wisdom always allows a saving throw versus the power. An individual of the opposite sex who is consciously sought by the possessor of such unearthly beauty and comeliness will always be under the “spell” of the individual with such beauty unless he or she has wisdom of 20 or more. The fascinate-like power of high comeliness is similar to the 2nd-level illusionist spell of the same name. Those subject to this power will be captivated by the user, and treat him or her as a trusted friend, mentor, and companion. A saving throw versus spell will negate the effect but if the comeliness is not magical in nature, then dispel magic, antimagic spells, and similar spells will not affect the fascination effect.
Fascinated creatures will follow the orders of characters with high comeliness, provided a roll of 3d6 does not exceed the comeliness of the character. Requests that are not in the best interest of the creature get a + 1 to the die, while those that are hazardous can gain up to + 6 or higher on the die roll. If the roll is higher than the user’s comeliness, the fascinate-effect is broken.
If a once-fascinated creature has been badly treated and breaks free of this enrapturement, the creature will react as if the character’s comeliness was a negative amount. If the creature has been well treated, it may still be friendly to the character even after the fascination has worn off.
The effect of one’s comeliness upon others is temporary; once a character is known to other characters or creatures, its effect is negated, and charisma is used to determine reactions and followers. In this way characters of high comeliness and low charisma may attract interest, but not long-term followers and allies (beauty being only skin deep).
The effects of the fascinate power do not affect the abilities of the individual with respect to fighting, casting of spells, etc., and in no way reduces the subject character to a zombie-like state, a puppet for the high-comeliness character. Actions performed by a character while fascinated may affect alignment (though they would have a good addition to the comeliness check, say + 3 or + 4).
Magic can mildly and temporarily affect the comeliness of a creature. Illusion-based spells such as change self and alter self will raise or lower comeliness by a maximum of 1 point, no matter what the final
Creepy, right? But this is important, because Unearthed Arcana is copyright 1985, which means that Gary Gygax himself noted that Charisma isn’t the same thing as being hot as early as 1985, and attempted to remedy the situation. However, we can see that the rules he created for Comeliness are, to put it bluntly, creepy as $#@, which is likely why they were discarded for future editions.
But just because the rules sucked in 1985 doesn’t mean that the entire concept of Charisma not being attractiveness doesn’t.
Rules As Needed (RAN)
Dungeons & Dragons is a game of rules, an idea that Pathfinder has inherited. Most of the time, rules are a good thing. They let us do things. By its very nature, Pathfinder is an exclusion-based game system—you cannot do anything unless the rules say you can. (Note how the rules always say, “You can” or “You may.” If the rules don’t say you CAN, you CANNOT unless your GM says otherwise.)
In my opinion, the rules are very clear—Charisma does NOT determine physical attractiveness because Pathfinder’s rules don’t say that it does. And let’s be honest—Charisma is defined as a mental ability score, not a physical one. It determines your appearance in the sense that it determines the way you carry yourself. Pathfinder itself isn’t always clear that this is the case (plenty of things that do Charisma damage or drain say that they “physically disfigure you” after all), but we should always be mindful of what the game says Charisma is and what it does not say that it is.
Comeliness (and attribute-based attractiveness in general) does not often work well in games. It tends to get creepy fast, and generally how pretty your character is should be something that’s determined by the player, not the rules. It’s the same idea that got ability score modifiers for men vs. women removed from the early versions of the game—its unneeded and it often causes more uncomfortable situations at the table than beneficial ones. Not to mention that it pushes the stereotype that beautiful people can’t be shy, or that unattractive people can’t have a powerful presence about them. There are plenty of places throughout history that prove such thinking false, and its even creepier when you consider that attaching physical attractiveness to Charisma sort of takes away NPC and PC’s agency to decide for themselves whether a given character is attractive or not. Most elves probably wouldn’t find a 18 Charisma gnome as attractive as an 18 Charisma elf, but tying Charisma and attractiveness together changes the narrative to, “These two people are equally attractive to everyone,” which is lame. (I personally don’t like GMs telling me how my character feels about someone—I would prefer the character be described to me so I can have my character react as I feel is appropriate.)
So lets drop the “18 Charisma Under the Hood” talk and just let people be as ugly or as beautiful as their players (or GMs) made them!
Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.