Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Charisma as Divine Favor

Charisma is probably the most misunderstood and abused of D&D's six ability scores. When I was a younger man, Charima was widely misunderstood to be a synonym for "physical attractiveness," a claim belied by Unearthed Arcana's later introduction of a seventh ability score, Comeliness. To be fair, this misunderstanding was widespread and abetted to varying degrees by various D&D products, such Deities & Demigods, where very high or very low Charisma scores inspired worship and fear respectively, not to mention untold numbers of beautiful or handsome NPCs who possessed concomitantly high Charisma scores. Later, as the importance of henchmen and hirelings was downplayed, Charisma came increasingly to be viewed as a "dump stat" without much mechanical utility in the game.

Charisma is, of course, a transliteration of the Greek word χαρισμα, which means something like "gift of grace." It's an old word sometimes used in pagan contexts but that gained new life and depth of meaning when it was used by the Greek translators of the Hebrew scriptures known to history as the Septuagint. In that context, charisma came to mean "divine favor" and is usually applied to someone whom God has blessed in a unique and powerful way. This meaning was one shared by the writers of the New Testament, who, of course, were familiar with the Septuagint.

This prolog is intended to lay the groundwork for an odd thought I had today. In Greyhawk, paladins have only two requirements: they must be of Lawful alignment and they must have 17 Charisma. There are no other expectations about an OD&D paladin, in contrast to AD&D's much more strenuous ones (five out of the six ability scores have minimums). I'll admit that that sometimes seems odd to me, even though I adopted it in my Dwimmermount campaign. Of all the ability scores to have as an entry requirement, why Charisma? Why not, say, Wisdom? What exactly does Charisma represent that makes it a particularly good determinant of what character qualifies as a paladin?

That's when the notion of Charisma as divine favor struck me as a possible explanation. Now, it's not a perfect explanation by any means. There are lots of problems with it, chief being how divine favor ties into being a good leader of mercenary hirelings. On the other hand, high Charisma does make monsters less likely to attack you on sight, too, and that I can buy as a sign of godly influence. Of course, part of me then starts to wonder about how this divine favor might manifest more generally (or not). What about a character with only 15 Charisma who's not a Lawful fighter? Does he get some benefit, too, and, if so, what is it?

And that's where my train of thought derails and I decide not to think any more about this topic -- even though I know I will.


  1. There is also another element after the Biblical sense : Max Weber's theory of Charisma as one of the origins of authority. Charisma is religious grace because it is the quality of Prophets, Gurus, Sect Founders. Paladins need this aura of authority as a sign of being chosen by their God(s).

    I guess LG characters who have very high Charisma could also have a halo or nimbus as a manifestation.

  2. @Phersv: In fact my LL campaign doesn't use Paladins. Any class can be a Paladin by swearing holy oaths and being accepted as a champion by a god. Once they do it, they will get gifts (something like class abilities) -- and the first one of these is a halo. :)

    As for Charisma, I'm using it as "ability to lead" and that saves me from the connundrum of figuring out what non LG charismatig characters do. They are still great leaders although not necessarily smart nor wise.

    The ability to lead is also sort of compatible with Greyhawk's paladin, I'd say. Are paladins loners? Was Paksenarrion a loner? I don't know for sure. I guess even great leaders don't necessarily have to lead a lot of henchmen at all times.

  3. 3e made a move-- occasionally-- to address Charisma as the root of confidence & willpower. Of self-image & assurance. I thought it was a decent move.

    & not for nothing, but while followers may have dimmed, the "roleplaying" dice rolls have risen. Persuasion & bluff checks & all that rot.

  4. I've always considered it a measure of "magnetic personality," of a type one often sees in Hollywood stars who are not necessarily physically attractive but are nonetheless compelling.

    It's opposite would be "repellent personality," and--again--there are many people in this world who are physically attractive but are insufferable to be near.

  5. I've recently come to think of Charisma as "force of personality".

    People with a great force of personality tend to have a lot of friends and influence, can more easily get what they want, are difficult to cow or daunt.

    Sometimes being good looking will help someone develop a strong force of personality, but not always.

  6. >>3e made a move-- occasionally-- to address Charisma as the root of confidence & willpower. Of self-image & assurance. I thought it was a decent move<<

    This is where it's at in the 3rd ed. inspired Star Wars Saga Edition I'm campaigning with right now. For Jedi, Charisma is what is needed to be powerful in the force. While it should probably be more based on Wisdom, I think they were pretty much just trying to keep away from the dump stat mentality. It's all very weird, because that numbnuts Anakin Skywalker was a pretty good example of how you can be strong in the force without a high charisma (I think we can all agree that it was the choice of actor that was poor in this case, but still he was written as an angry, bellyaching character).

    I think with the 1st edition Paladin they were aiming more for a superhero type of thing. The requirements for the Paladin has Captain America written all over it.

  7. FrDave had a nice post on charisma back in July.

  8. I've always used Charisma as a mixture of physical beauty, glibness, leadership ability, and that certain I-don't-know-what that makes some people special.

    I had been thinking about secretly rolling up a luck score for each of my players, but this post makes me think I'll use their charisma score instead.

    Side note: Is anyone else now using the captcha as a name generator? Try it, you'll like it.

  9. Microlite uses 3 stats: Strength, Dexterity and Mind , but I was thinking that the Prime Requisite for Clerics could also be a mix Wisdom and Charisma, akin to the POWer of RuneQuest. Just need a catchy name : Presence? Aura?

  10. I always found it funny how Wisdom was the prerequisite for Clerics, when it makes sense for it to be Charisma. I always seen Charisma as the perfect prerequisite for Clerics, as they have to deal with worshipers and their own gods.

    The smartest thing I have seen was how the DCC RPG combine Wisdom and Charisma into a single score called Personality. The name outright states its more about force of personality (charm and willfulness) then physical appeal. I also find that it also works to keep both from becoming a dump-stat - A Fighter player would find good use for high Charisma (avoids fights or bolster ones' numbers), but Wisdom is only useful for resisting certain types of magic.

  11. "Command" might be a good way of imaging CHA, too. Money always buys lackeys, but CHA might keep them hanging on and fighting strong after the money and morale runs out. Certainly Caesar had some kind of moxie in this regard.

  12. The Doctor's ability to walk into a situation and get a roomful of complete strangers of any species to pay attention and take orders, put their lives in danger, while he gibbers like a scatterbrained twit suggest he has a CHA of around 25 or so.

  13. Ferris Bueller: Another high CHA character.

  14. Makes sense, Druid's need Wis 12, Cha 14(OD&D) or 15(AD&D).

    Make normal Clerics Wis 9, Cha 12 or 13, simple enough house rules.

  15. You already mention why charisma is useful in leading people when you mention it is the gift of grace. It is no mistake that dukes and bishops are referred to as your grace. Or kings as your majesty. And that being gracious is something that one with higher social standing shows for ones of lesser social standing. In a sense they are trying to cultivate charisma, even if they don't possess it themselves.

    I've always used charisma as an important stat for influencing and leading people, commanding attention, and oration,* especially when you get into domain management and politics (I don't use skills in my old D&D game but rather tests against stats).

    I've always considered comeliness to be based on the characters stats, modified by the reaction roll (essentially another 3d6 roll). Thus CON is often an important characteristic (for how healthy a character is). Add DEX for how well they move. A lot of my female players liked referencing STR first. Asking players to rate the stats in order of appearance can get interesting results. But it's always affected by CHA.

    Actually I like your idea of Charisma representing divine favour. Previously I had it as a natural attribute of a person - the external manifestation of their strength of will. So consider it stolen for my next campaign. <grin>

  16. Charisma in the original books pretty clearly does mean physical attractiveness, or at least that + likeability.

    I suspect Paladins have Charisma as their Prime Requisite mainly because that and CON were the only ones not already used.

  17. This is actually an argument one of my players made a few days ago while we were discussing the issue: Charisma is something you want to achieve while playing the character. It's something the player does, not an attribute.

    It is due to the fact that Charisma is defined by several aspects already present in the other abilities.

    I dumped it and tried to explain my reasoning:

  18. PS One of the conventions of D&D is that everyone looks like what they are: good wizards have pointy hats and robes covered in stars, assassins wear a 'ninja costume' even during the day - the Dragon article about anti-paladins suggests they have a black horse, black armour, black sword, a thin, black mustache and a monocle.

    In that context, why is 'high Charisma = good looking' so ridiculous?

  19. Re: the Doctor, his charisma is not entirely natural. It's pretty clear that like the Master, he studied the Gallifreyan semi-telepathic "hypnotism", although he does seem more interested in using it for good (breaking mind control, helping people to do what they didn't think they could do) rather than just mind controlling people. (Although these last few Doctors aren't written as having a firm grip on the distinction, on the few occasions when I've tuned in.)

    Re: charisma vs comeliness, it's just not. Command presence isn't a comeliness thing, even in fairy tales. (Given how many ugly monsters have it.) I've seen famous actors go from zero to seeming spotlit, just by turning on the charisma, and many of them weren't pretty. I've dealt with people trying to charm me, and even trying to seduce me; and again, comeliness and attractiveness had very little to do with it.

    There's a sort of implicit command to "pay attention to me and what I say, do what I want you to do, and don't think about it first."

    Re: wisdom and clerics, the point is that most people working in the religious field are not people with command presence or any sort of charisma. Some high-up religious leaders are like that, yes. But most of your amazing saints in real life, and even in song and story, are not people you would look at. They are humble and don't want people to look at them; or they want people to look past them to their God or gods. Eventually, if they become very wise or do amazing things, they may accrue followers or a sort of charisma; but just as often, they're the last person you'd think of as "charismatic leaders."

  20. I always thought of Charisma as the same as the Presence attribute in the Hero System. The concept of the Presence Attack was a great one in that system, and I always tried to figure out ways to bring it outside of the superhero setting.

  21. I like this a lot. Especially if you're playing a campaign without a lot of henchmen and CHA is being used as a dump stat, it might be nice to attach an additional benefit to CHA, making it double as a "luck" attribute. I know that some systems replace CHA with Luck, but this idea allows you to keep both.

    In Jungian psychology, charisma/presence is often related to the term "mana", which, as used by Jung, refers to the assimilation of certain powerful subconscious arhetypes into an individual personality, granting them both social presence but also less well-defined mystical powers. A shaman or a powerful leader would be considered a mana personality, having both an uncanny social presence allowing them to command other people but also other abilities. The "divine grace" approach could be seen as just a subset of this concept; Jung makes it clear that mana is not by any means a benign force, and powerful mana personalities are acutely vulnerable to magalomania and other malignant personality traits.

    Obviously, using "mana" this way would be confusing in an RPG context. But the framework is a good one for mixing "force of personality" and "mystical power/luck/divine favour/demonic favour". Essentially, a person with high CHA is perceived as IMPORTANT, both by other mortals and by the unseen forces that influence their lives. So, if your players are using CHA as a dump stat, in addition to the henchmen/follower/morale benefits you could throw in some Luck-related bonuses, like a saving throw bonus or the ability to re-roll once per session for people with high CHA (and corresponding penalties for low CHA).

    One further thought: if we run with the "mana" concept, then high CHA is tied to alignment with specific archetypes. I wonder if you could have some fun with tying CHA closely to alignment, so that those with higher CHA are more tightly constrained by their alignment, or gain more benefits from being LG/CE rather than the more neutral or mixed alignments. This fits with the Paladin/anti-Paladin concept well, at least. For example, you could hand out luck-related bonuses for people who adhere to their alignment in play: these bonuses would be higher for people with high CHA, but lower (or nonexistent) for people with very low CHA.

  22. "Presence" is a great word for it!

    I should also add, on the cleric front, that the vast majority of those people in the Catholic Church who had a reputation for miracleworking during their lifetimes have been total anonymous schmoes in personal appearance. Often, they were deemed almost too lacking in intelligence for the religious life, but managed to get in through persistence and the pity of others. Often they worked the most menial jobs. They only became famous in most cases, because after a while people noticed that the natural laws just didn't work normally around these people, and what they prayed for would happen. Even in totally ridiculous ways. They had a lot of virtues and wisdom buried under their schmo-ness, it usually turned out. But they are such schmoes anyway, that they usually irritate the heck out of a lot of otherwise decent bosses and fellow religious. It just doesn't seem fair that they're all holy and God likes them, when they are such total schmoes. (And in the case of Brother Solanus Casey, because he played the fiddle not quite on key, and sang enthusiastically the same way, but took the name of a Franciscan saint/composer/musician.) For some reason, the way such "holy fools" totally don't have charisma worries some people a lot.

    Some founders of religious orders are charismatic. (Francis was a would-be poet. Ignatius Loyola was a military commander.) But most are simply persistent, unashamed to beg, and totally focused on getting the mission done. An astounding number of religious founders are such schmoes that, as with founders of conventions and companies, somebody else with more savvy comes along and takes over later. (An astounding number of religious order founders have spent their closing years kicked out of their orders by such latecomers, or sent to some lonely place to be forgotten.) These folks with savvy usually get their comeuppance later; but they're the folks with the high charisma scores, not the saintly schmoes.

    Having a high charisma score should sometimes be a detriment to a D&D religious career. (Because so many clergy and religious have been known to misuse their charisma, or end up with stalker followers.) It can also cause envy or resistance to one's new ideas, or even fear from laypeople of a ruling class.

  23. +1 to everything Suburbanbanshee wrote.

    I would also like to reiterate the point that has been made here many times in the past: the cleric started life out not as a priest with a flock, but as a crusader and demon hunter.

  24. the cleric started life out not as a priest with a flock, but as a crusader and demon hunter.

    This point cannot be stressed enough.

  25. OTOH, those religious or civil figures who seem paladin-like are often very charismatic. Joan of Arc, for instance. Sure, there was an existing prophecy of a Chosen One and all that; but frankly, the aristocracy and royalty of France didn't have any particular drive to do anything about France's situation or charisma to attract followers and obedience. Joan had both, which was part of why she got so much done in so few months. She had a certain amount of wisdom, a certain amount of intelligence (she was great at placing artillery), but she didn't actually swing a sword to hurt anybody. Everything she did, she did through pure leadership.

    Most of the other paladin types I can think of are either fictional, or fictionalized history (like Godfrey of Bouillon in the Jerusalem poetry cycles, or some of Charlemagne's guys, or Sir Galahad).

    But yeah, the Paksenarrion books worked on the theory that paladins are sent by the gods as much to put heart into good people to keep fighting, as to fight evil and slay Bad Things. Weber's paladins seem a bit similar.

  26. (sort of on topic)
    On Fat Paladins

  27. Looks like I'm joining the chorus for mana/force of personality. Here's my post from a while back on CHA as interpreted by Malinowski and Wolters.

    Short form: it has been observed by church fathers, witchsniffers and political commentators in Europe and Southeast Asia that some people seem to be able to get the universe to go along with their schemes. For a Christian inflection, assume that the source of this power comes from outside the person. For an "Indianized" Southeast Asian/Oceanian inflection, assume it comes from inside the person (and may be linked to their bodily fluids).

    One nice side-effect of the Malinowksi/Mauss interpretation - CHA-power can be given out by those who have a lot of it through gifts/favour. That is, you can level up as a reward for achieving things and/or getting closer to the people in power and/or getting followers by distributing largesse. Which maps neatly onto Rients' theory of carousing. I don't know how you make all that fit together in the Christian inflection, although coincidentally there seem to be a lot of Northern European Christian figures on the Good King Wenceslas model who just happen to combine generosity with wisdom, charisma and divine favour.

  28. I've always, since the early 80's, understood charisma to be a combination of influence, comeliness, persuasion and when (if) we ever used it, it was to that end. Wanna haggle? CHR check! Wanna talk the fool out of the tree to come follow you? CHR check! Think you can calm down a bunch of ugly cusses looking for a fight? CHR check!

  29. Surprised no one here has mentioned the canonical source for the paladin class, viz., Three Hearts and Three Lions. Anderson spends a bit of text emphasizing how classically hunky Holger Carlsen is, and the swanmay Alianora couldn't resist him. I don't see that as excluding the CHA-as-grace or aura approach, but it is not ungrounded to see it as related to physical attractiveness.

  30. Speaking of Weber, you should definitely read George P. Hansen's "Max Weber, Charisma,
    and the Disenchantment of the World"
    for the background on this.

  31. Why is it a "misunderstanding" to take Holmes at his word when he tells us what Charisma represents in D&D?