Monday, May 11, 2015

Scars and Stuff

Well, here's something.

Setting aside the content of the post, which is cute and silly and I really don't care, my attention is drawn to the first comment below.  This paints a pretty picture of how poorly people understand charisma:

I remember a GM being a little surprised when another player and I started commenting on an NPC. He said, “But this guy has a charisma of like 9, he’s all scarred and stuff."
One of us said, "what’s his strength score?"
"Um, 18?"
"See, he’s buff. Our characters appreciate a buff guy with scars. Shows he’s worthy mate material, a good warrior. We think he’s hot."

Is this the fault of the DM or the player?  A little of both, actually.  It wouldn't be the first DM who rushed to the conclusion that someone with a 9 charisma had scars and stuff.  Nor would it be the first player who made the conclusion that an 18 strength = buff.  Truth is, most people don't have a clear idea of what these numbers mean, except as generalities . . . that are in turn tremendously affected by what they see on film or television.

There's a speech I used to give wannabes I met in theatre and the arts.  I would pedantically explain how no one in the movies is ugly.  This is terrifically difficult for people to understand or believe . . . because their conception of 'ugly' has been adjusted radically upwards.  Actors are, at worst, comparably ugly.  Compared to you or I, none of them are.

Consider, first, that you're in a theatre seeing the head shot of someone on screen.  That head is eight to twelve feet high - at least.  Next time you're in a bad movie, look at the 'ugly' actor's skin.  Look at their teeth.  Look at the hairline, the shape of the brow or the eyes.  Face-to-face, in real life this 'ugly' actor would look amazing.  This is a necessity.  No one wants to see an ordinary person's face blown up to 12 feet high.

Occasionally, someone will turn up in a film with bad teeth.  Or scarred skin.  One of my favorites for this is Dan Hedaya, who began playing rats, crumbs, jerks and blue collar guys.  On screen, he's 'ugly.'  But through his career, slowly, he worked his way up to playing likable characters.  Check him out on Conan.  He's plainly very charismatic.

Here's a shock for some readers.  A charisma of 9 isn't scars and stuff . . . it's normal.  It's probably YOU.  If you can bear to look at yourself in a mirror and make a guess at your own charisma, that is.  Here's a hint.  If you can spend a whole day in public and no one approaches you, starts a non-business related conversation with you or remarks on your appearance, you're absolutely less than a 13.  If any of the above happens regularly but not every time, you're probably a 12.  Otherwise, time to face reality: you're an 11 or lower.

The reverse is true.  You're nowhere near an 8 unless you're used to people changing tables or seats after sitting down near you.  It's not your face or your scars and stuff, it's the way you smell.  It's your teeth.  It's the apparent presence/probability of lice in your hair or your clothes.  If you don't see people wince as you talk to them or deliberately interact with you while plainly not looking at you, you're probably at least a 9 charisma.

I'm saying that this 9 charisma guy is painfully average.  His defining features are not the scars on his face, it's the way you have trouble remembering what he looks like.  It's his unpleasantly recessed eyes or the way his beard grows in, the slight waxiness of his skin or the receding hair line.  You know . . . like you and I have.

Is an 18 strength 'buff'?  You mean, like these guys?

Totally buff.
The problem is that all too often we associate 'strength' with 'cut.'  That's a Hollywood thing, again. Those guys with the abs and the definition?  They're fragile and prone to injuries:  lower back, tendonitis, torn muscles, other soft tissue damage, sprains, slipped discs, the list is long and painful.

So that guy with the 18 strength and the 9 charisma . . . is he hot?  Well, he may have some scars, but probably not 'hot' ones.  Let's start with the gut, the man-breasts, the hair that's falling out from overexertion (even without steroid use), the shortened arms or legs, the lack of a chin or the ears that no well-meaning physician pins back, this not being the modern era.  Let's add in the 'scars' from the last time he was burned, his broken nose, the jaw that healed improperly, the lope he has from an bone injury that fused because one leg is shorter than the other . . . none of these things being enough to make him look especially ugly.  No, he's just an average massive mountain that's been beat up a few hundred times.

Without having a consciousness about the human body, however - or rather, having a consciousness that tells you that a 'scar' equals charisma 9 and vice versa.  Instead, we should realize that it isn't having a scar, it's what scar you have.

Charisma 9?  Let's start with the 18 strength mountain looking too fucking scary - in armor and massive two-handed weapon - to be hot.


Barrow said...

Yes, interesting read. I often chuckle to my self about how an NPC's stats can drastically effect how I describe them to players. For example, I could roll a 13 strength and 15 charisma for an attractive man with the strength of a competitive sportsman. Then I roll a 6 for constitution and my description changes to, attractive man with the strength of a competitive sportsman who has sunken eyes and a pailness to his complexion that comes from sickness or nutritional deficiencies.

However I haven't yet put a lot of energy into preparing or compiling descriptions. I sort of have always done so on the fly.

Matt said...

I've always found the classic 6 ability scores to be inadequate at describing actual people. They are too broad. Without context there are a limited number of assumptions you can make about a character based solely on their ability scores.

In most editions of D&D you see Dexterity become an incredibly broad stat. Dexterity means better AC, so a dexterous person is agile and able to avoid blows. Dexterity increases ranged attack, so a dexterous person has good depth perception, and great hand-eye coordination. In some editions of the game dexterity improves initiative, so a dexterous person is alert and ready to act. In some editions dexterity improves saving throws, so a dexterous person has the reflexes to avoid dragon's fire. In some editions of the game dexterity is applied to lock picking and pick pocketing, stealth, tumbling, and acrobatics, so a dexterous person has manual dexterity, environmental awareness, and gymnastic capability.

On the other hand you have wisdom, which is ... what exactly? In older editions it is a saving throw bonus if it is exceptionally high, and maybe some bonus spells if you are cleric. Since it applies to all saves, wisdom is knowing when to get out of the way? Understanding the magic being worked against you? Piety to the gods who will protect you from harm? In 3rd edition and later Wisdom is tied to the perception skill, but is not tied to ranged combat, so it means you are good at seeing things, but does not mean you have depth perception or hand-eye coordination.

I've heard the distinction made between intelligence and wisdom that intelligence is book smarts, and wisdom is street smarts. Except in early editions only half of that was true, and wisdom didn't improve your thief abilities, nor did it do much to help you navigate a city carefully. In later editions it's doubly untrue, as the above still stands, and on top of that intelligence gets you more skills (of which many can be considered street-smarts) and the streetwise was governed by charisma instead.

You also have the case of characters that are supposed to be smart, wise, or charismatic being played by people who are not, but I suppose that's not really a fault of the ability scores themselves.

I've seen game systems that try to fix these issues by having 10 or more ability scores. They include things like size, agility, perception, willpower, and so on. I've never seen a system with all of those stats not then take them, pair them up with another stat and take averages to get 4-6 numbers that actually matter in play.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I have no trouble at all with the stat system as is.

Oddbit said...

I guess I'm curious...
If a high charisma person gets a lot of conversations in real life day to day, how do you think that applies to the game?

I'm guessing xenophobia and lack of mass transit have an effect, but when 'shopping around town' do they still 'just happen to talk to so and so' or have to beat off people with a stick? (figuratively)

Alexis Smolensk said...

Has human biology changed since the 15th century?

Jomo Rising said...

From the example, it looks like the players - finding the strong man hot - are having a go at the GM.

Mujadaddy said...

Is this the fault of the DM or the player?

The DM shouldn't be giving out ability score values as game description.

Nine is not a low Charisma, either; certainly not low enough to stand out as mentionable.

I couldn't shake the feeling that you may've conflated Charisma with Comeliness, though. Maybe you do in your campaign.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Comeliness does not exist as a stat in my world.

Mujadaddy said...

Oh, I knew that; I was referring to the idea that pure physical beauty is only, in my view, a very small part of what goes into a Charisma score.

What does Charisma affect, mechanically? Reactions of hirelings, monsters and other NPC encounters. This doesn't mean that kobolds have the same standards of attractiveness as humans; it means that Charisma is the expression of leadership.

Charisma is an ineffable quality which, oh I don't know, Mussolini and Rasputin both had in quantity. Charisma makes one attractive; being attractive only goes so far in making one charismatic.

Alexis Smolensk said...

It is clear in the DMG that charisma comprises of personal magnetism, persuasiveness and physical attraction.

Mujadaddy said...

My position is simply that Charisma can be expressed over the radio (through a closed door, etc) without a concrete notion of the speaker's appearance. Physical considerations are at most a two-point swing of the underlying anima which produces a Charisma score.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I still can't agree, Mujadaddy.

If you're talking to me through a door, and I know you, then my image of you is going to compliment what I hear. If I don't know what you look like, then the effectiveness of your speech is GREATLY reduced by the mistrust I feel at not being able to read your face. You may still convince me to open the door, but your chance to convince me to do something BIG is massively reduced.

As well, since you bring up radio, there were many radio stars of the era who did not dare allow themselves to be seen, since their appearance would quickly smash the imaginary appearance people built up over the hours they spent listening.

I think it has to be understood that yes, while there IS a difference between magnetism and appearance, when we address others we are STUCK with the whole package. Note how "ugly charismatic" individuals of the early 20th century disappeared when television made visual assessment far, far easier.

At any rate, since the actual question was "Is he hot," I concentrated largely on appearance for this post. Debates about the personal ability to persuade vs. appearance belong on some other post.

Mujadaddy said...

Well, then there's the consideration of him being "hot until he opens his mouth"...

Anyway, you're probably right in that I have taken a small aspect of the original post and run off in my own direction with it.

Zrog (ESR) said...

I just found this (old) post, and I liked where you were going with it, especially when it comes to how today's perceptions are highly influenced by media and movies.

The main problem I find with the whole concept of applying a standard system to attractiveness, is that it's truly in the eye of the beholder. There was a time when very fat women were considered beautiful, but now they typically aren't considered so. Different races and nations may also have different concepts or standards of beauty - does that merit a nation/racial adjustment or some such?

Also - in your year-1650 setting, I believe that the standard for beauty is probably far lower than today's, especially among the lower classes, where inadequate nutrition, disease, and hard living conditions would take their toll on one's physical appearance. Not to mention that they don't have dentists, orthodontics, fitness coaches, access to make-up (except the upper classes), showers, or automatic washers.

In game terms, as a player, I've been severely penalized by some GMs for having a PC with Cha 7 or 8, where I literally couldn't get a drink from the barmaid! Thus, I'm very interested in how you deal with these interpretations, because you seem very much interested in "codifying" these types of rules so everyone can be on the same page.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I draw your attention to Muckle-Mouth Meg, famous ugly woman of the 19th century:

". . . the handsome young William Scott, Lord of Harden, who was . . . taken prisoner by Sir Gideon Murray of Elibank, who ordered him to the gallows. But the Laird's dame interposed, asking grace for the callant if he married "our Muckle-mouthed Meg." The young fellow said he preferred the gallows to the wide-mouthed monster. He was sent to the dungeon for a week; after seven days of cold and darkness he was asked to reconsider his decision. he found life sweet and embraced the ill-favoured maiden."

What bartender would refuse money??

I do not like to punish characters for their low stats; if it affects combat or an actual roll to achieve something, then it is taken into account with an ability check. But getting a drink from the bar is not an ability check premise, so that sort of thing is a typical example of reprehensible DM fiat in action.