Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Charisma: It's Not (All) About Beauty.

Charisma. Everyone's favorite dump stat. For years I've despaired at lazy players who simply shrug off a low charisma with the explanation that the character is simply ugly. I can't even begin to explain how thrilled I am therefore, when I come across someone who finally gets it. Charisma isn't about how you look, it's about how others perceive your looks.

Of course, charisma is about personality as well, but we're talking more about the "looks" component here (and doesn't how someone looks reflect their personality?). It's rare enough to come across an experienced gamer who understands the concept of charisma, so imagine how chuffed I was when I realised that one of my brand new gamers understood it right off the bat. Charisma is about perception. Other peoples perception that is. Or, to belabour the point a bit, the charisma score measures others people's perception of the character.

One of my players, that is, Elra's player, just sent me a page of background for her character. All good stuff, after four sessions she's clearly starting to think that Elra might "make it" after all. Despite not yet having reached the heady heights of second level in either of her classes. It was a fine page of background, more imaginative and original than I had expected for what amounts to the players third ever RPG character. But what really caught my eye was these passages:

"Elra looked at herself in the mirror and sighed. She was very tall, and when clothed it looked like she was very fat, but instead it was muscle from years of training. She had mousy brown hair and quite a big nose but lovely elvish green eyes. She appeared quite boyish and when she walked it wasn't graceful like Klara. She strutted like a man!

However, Elra was raised like a boy and so beauty [I assume the player is referring to such things as make-up and fashion] was one thing she was never taught about. In fact, if Elra was dressed up in lovely gowns with make-up she would be quite lovely."

Yes! She gets it. I admit the original concept of the character as having inherited all the worst characteristics of man and elf to make her look "wrong" somehow was my idea. An off-the-cuff comment I was unhappy about afterwords, since it seemed to set a bad example regarding what charisma represented. But the player clearly understands anyway. Elra doesn't have low charisma because she's not pretty (quite the opposite in fact). She has low charisma because she walks, talks, dresses and acts like a man in a society where woman are expected to be prim and effeminate. Elra probably belches in public, scratches when she needs to and maybe doesn't wash as often as she should. But underneath all that dirt, she's gorgeous. Other people just don't understand her. They think she's weird and THATS why they don't like her. Hell, given how geeky and "weird" gamers are thought to be, you'd think more of us would be able to grasp this concept. How often have you witnessed someones attitude towards you change when they've found out you're a gamer? That is, when their perception of you changed?

Well done Aimee. Your DM is very chuffed.


Ian Coakley said...

See, running on D&D logic, I always thought Charisma was force of personality - you're so charismatic, you can blow people's faces of with a Magic Missile.

But no, it's not beauty - but an average looking person with high charisma would still be a very attractive prospect.

trollsmyth said...

Gotta love female gamers. They tend to see things from about 45-degrees off from the way most guys do. Vive la différence!

It's really funny how attitudes about Charisma have changed. Back in the day (late '70s and early '80s) Charisma was vital, because it dictated how many retainers you could bring into the dungeon with you, and how loyal they'd be. But that's when it was assumed you'd be hiring such to go with you.

Dangerous Brian said...

That's true from both of you. Also, I've been playing with female gamers for years (ahem) but they never seem to stop surprising me.
And yes, I used to always want a high charisma character for precisely that reason. I wanted to know my retainers and hirelings would stay loyal, even if they missed a meal (or a payday) or two.

Anonymous said...

That's cool, but if she cleans up well and is still beautiful underneath, that's kind of like the old cliche' nerdy girl with glasses who just takes them off and lets down her hair and suddenly she's a babe. It's still treating Charisma as Beauty, ultimately. I'd say a gorgeous person could be uncharismatic (stuck-up or what have you) and an unattractive one could be very charismatic (look at some world leaders from history, after all.)

Dangerous Brian said...

Very true, although I would argue that she would still have certain mannerisms that remain offputting, regardless of how physically attractive she is.
Did you ever see the Bodingtons advert with the stunningly gorgeous woman. She takes a deep gulp of Bodingtons beer, burps loudly, and says in a working mans Manchester accent "Oh that hits the spot like" (or something similar) and suddenly she's not such a stunner anymore.