Saying Goodbye to Charisma

By | March 2, 2013

Hello again!  This week we have a double treat.  Chapter 3: Attributes and Levels is now available for download.  Additionally, Ray will be discussing our decision to change the names of the Attributes.  This decision originated with a choice to change the classic OGL/D&D Charisma to Presence.  I’ll let him have the rest of the say:

I have a confession to make:  I’ve never liked Charisma as an Attribute in game systems.

There are a couple of reasons, but the main one is the sheer number of times I’ve seen the Charisma number reduced to the score of a beauty pageant.  The debates I’ve heard about why this statistic ultimately represents comeliness rarely seemed to be concerned with the rules that would help tell an engaging story.  The focus often was on restricting social options for Players who choose not to be “pretty” while increasing options for players who did choose to be pretty.

“Just like real life” is usually the argument made to support such ideas.

This ignores the fact that the notion of beauty for humans changes from culture to culture, from person to person and from year to year.  It makes even less sense when you remember that fantasy roleplaying games include multiple races of creatures, all of which would have different ideas about what is ideal.

The result of Charisma is often just another reinforcement of the idea that all the Player races are attractive and good people, especially when the traditional enemies that are meant for Players to slaughter have innate penalties to Charisma built into their race descriptions.

We’ve already covered why Infinite Earths is not built on the assumption that if something is green it needs to die in Color Coded for Destruction, so today I’m going to talk about one of the changes that resulted from this chain of decisions.

There is one quality that always has been considered impressive and attractive in people of all types:  confidence.  An individual who seems sure of himself often is assumed to be more capable, more trustworthy and even more attractive than someone who seems unsure.

With that in mind, we gave the boot to Charisma and replaced it with Presence.  This is a measure of how much people will pay attention to what a character says and how likely they are to agree with that character’s point of view.  It also influences a character’s own Will score to determine how easily persuaded he is by conversations with others.

This change to the basic Attribute comes with a couple of advantages.

First off, this allows Players to describe their characters however they want.  Great beauty, horrible scars or an otherworldly appearance will still attract attention, but they don’t guarantee the outcome of a conversation.  Switching to Presence means that personal appearance has no impact on dice rolls.

Secondly, a switch to Presence opens up more storytelling options for Players and Guides.  An attractive person who just can’t seem to get unwanted suitors to leave him or her alone makes much more sense when beauty is not the gauge of how well a person can influence others.  And the obese merchant who seems to be able to talk his way into every noble house in the land is more believable when we consider a broader range for the powers of persuasion.

High Presence reflect strength of personality, which makes it a quality that’s admired by all sentient creatures.  That allows Presence to work equally well in conversations with all peoples, no matter how different or alien.  It also means that Players aren’t penalized in social interactions for playing a race that isn’t “Hollywood Beautiful.”  As I said earlier, we have no interest in using an Attribute that would prevent a Player from making a character who is the next great orcish orator.

And that’s the really great thing about Presence as an Attribute: it is just a measure of a character’s persuasiveness.  That leaves a Player free to decide exactly how he wants to describe his use of the Attribute. The conniving con man, the flashy salesman, the aloof nobleman and the ardent follower of god all have the ability to convince others to listen to them through different ways of talking.

Player characters are often larger-than-life in any number of ways, and we’ve worked hard to make rules that accommodate a wide range of play styles.  The switch to Presence allows Players to make a strong, silent character who speaks very little, but whose words carry great weight.  It fits well with a Paladin who only speaks the truth, a regular Joe who is just trying to make a point and a thief willing to tell any lie imaginable to cover up his crimes.

At this point, you might be wondering why I haven’t talked about the other Attributes.  Well, Presence is an Attribute that all characters in the Infinite Earths roleplaying game use.  Every sentient being has a Persona.  Persona is one of the three roles chosen by Players during character creation.  The other two, Fighting Styles and Vocation, use different Attributes depending on what they try to accomplish.  But all Personas use Presence to modify their Speech Rolls.

Speech Rolls, in turn, influence all forms of social interaction.  We’ll cover more about what Presence, Personas and social interactions mean in Infinite Earths next week, when we post Chapter 4: Personas.  Until then, we invite you to look at all the chapters we’ve released so far and let us know what you think.  We’ve enabled comments on this post and look forward to your feedback!

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