Do you have a question that ONLY The Angry GM is smart enough and sexy enough to answer? E-mail the question to TheAngryGameMaster@gmail.com. Put ‘Ask Angry’ in the subject and tell me how the f$&% to credit you.
The Mildly Disgruntled Newbie DM Asks:
Intelligence and Charisma. You hate them, I also hate them and want to get some ideas on how to fix them. How can you quantify them impartially or adjust them for contextual inflation? And how can they actually make sense in the way of manipulating magic? How can the shittiest rogue to ever exist (one of my players who antagonized a baron to the point that the baron personally and quite purposefully broke the rogue’s legs) have a Charisma score of 17? And no he’s not hiding great charm and wit, he’s just a dumb f$%&. Should there be an arbitrary “magic” stat?
So the question is, what would the Angry GM do in a perfect and utterly hypothetical Angry RPG to combat the problems posed by INT and CHA? (no need to answer all of the sentences ending with question-marks, only this last one.)
I like that you specified that I don’t have to answer all of the questions, only the last one. I wish you had STARTED with that line though so that I wouldn’t have had to read all the excess crap. It’s not like the question NEEDS a whole lot of context. But I’m going to address that first paragraph anyway. Why? Because I like to rip things apart.
First of all, mental stats problematic in role-playing games because the whole point of a role-playing game is for the player to make choices and solve problems. A character’s Intelligence is almost never used and one ever wants to use it. No one wants to be told “your character is too dumb to figure that out.” No one wants to be told “your character is too smart to make that choice.” And no one wants to have the answer to a puzzle handed to them. If you’re going to run a puzzle, you run it because your players like solving puzzles. “Roll die to get answer,” is not a puzzle. Don’t f$&%ing bother. And the “get a hint” roll doesn’t change anything. F$&% that noise.
All Intelligence does is start fights about how you are allowed to play your character. And I say let people play their character as smart or as dumb as they want. If someone really wants to sit at the table and fail to solve a puzzle because they don’t think their character is smart enough, that’s their own stupid problem, but no GM should be mandating that bulls$&%. Nor should the alternative be mandated.
Here’s the deal: you can’t play a character smarter than you are. You absolutely cannot. Because you can’t come up with ideas and connections you can’t come up with. Unless the GM is going to just give you answers for die rolls. And in that case, you can’t play a character smarter than the GM. I don’t want to hear any arguments. You’re wrong. You can’t pretend to be smarter because your brain is literally incapable of being smarter than it is. And ultimately, YOU’RE making the choices for your character.
Now, Charisma sucks for different reasons. Well, actually, it sucks for some different reasons and some similar reasons. And your example is a perfect example. “How can Rogue who insults and degrades people and acts like an a$&hole have a Charisma of 17?” And I have a lot of answers.
First of all, just like Strength, Charisma represents a raw ability to do something. But if you don’t apply it the right way, it won’t do you any good. Someone can have a Strength score of 18, but if they don’t bother trying to kick down a door, it doesn’t do them any good. Or if they choose to try to bust down a steel door by slapping it, that Strength 18 isn’t going to help. Charisma is not a magical aura. It’s the ability to project your will onto others. To make people listen and pay attention. To be hard to ignore.
Second of all, just like Strength, you can use Charisma to be an a$&hole. I can punch and bully people very effectively with a Strength of 18. And I can be a major a$&hole very effectively with a Charisma of 18. The ability to make people listen and pay attention means that if I choose to be an a$&hole, people are REALLY going to hate me. Having a high Charisma doesn’t mean people like you. It just means you can get reactions from people. And HATE is a reaction too.
And, honestly, if people USED IT like that, Charisma wouldn’t be as much a problem. But they don’t. Here’s where it all falls down.
When I use my Strength to break open a door, I only have to say “I break down the door” and roll a die. But when I’m interacting with someone, most GMs expect – nay, demand – that you describe exactly what you are saying and how you are saying it. And that’s kind of unfair. If you want to rely on Charisma the way you rely on Strength, then all they should have to say is “I want to persuade the king to see my side.” Maybe adding “I’ll use the evidence we found” in the same way the muscle-head would say “I’ll use my crowbar.”
And that’s only the beginning of the problems.
See, the other problem is that Charisma has become the “Interaction skill.” No matter what I’m doing – whether I’m performing a dance, engaging in intellectual debate, trying to con someone, or whatever – it always comes back to Charisma. Now, it is fair that “force of personality” is a determining factor in interactions, it’s a problem that it’s the exclusive determining factor. A gymnast doesn’t have to be commanding to be impressive. If he’s got an audience, they are already watching and it’s going to be technical proficiency plus physical prowess that wow the crowd. Likewise, in an intellectual debate between two experts, social niceties are rarely as important as knowing your stuff. And, when you get down to it, you can question how Charisma is really different from willpower if they are both just force of personality. Why is Intimidation NEVER based on Strength? Or a really good deception never based on Intelligence?
Now, you can make lots of arguments for using Charisma or some other ability in these sorts of tests, which just proves Charisma is kind of arbitrary anyway. The only reason it’s ever Charisma is because two people are talking. It’s a catchall for “interaction.” And that means, no matter what approach you take to interaction, it’s always Charisma.
When the party faces a locked door, they can finesse it open with lockpicks and Dexterity. They can smash it open with Strength. Hell, they can even magic it open with Willpower or whatever. But when they encounter a guard, whether they lie, threaten, persuade, seduce, con, bluster, or confuse, it’s ALWAYS Charisma. And that limits who can be effective. That’s a problem. And that’s the best argument for why Charisma sucks. It creates a bad gameplay experience.
A hypothetical Angry RPG would not have Charisma. It’d just be gone. If it were D&D, for example, Interactions would use Strength or Dexterity or Intelligence or Wisdom and have the social skills like Persuasion, Deception, Intimidation as bonuses just like any other check. Threatening to kill someone? Roll Strength + Intimidation skill. Whatever. Easy. Charisma is just f$&%ing redundant anyway.
As far as “how likeable someone is?” Well, that will depend entirely on the choices the players make about their characters. If you make a$&hole choices, the world will treat you like an a$&hole. End of story.
The hypothetical Angry RPG also would not have Intelligence. It adds literally nothing to the game and gets in the way of letting people just play their f$&%ing characters and make choices.
Of course, that just leads to further questions. Like: “if you don’t have Intelligence, how do you resolve intellectual debate interactions?” And the answer is: well, I’d design the system not to need those stats. For example, D&D doesn’t have “reflexes” or “beauty” as stats. It resolves those questions in other ways. Reflexes becomes Initiative, which is a Dexterity check. Beauty is just never used as a determining factor for anything.
As for how to resolve magic? Well, that’s a dumb question. You can resolve magic however you want. It depends on how you describe it. Why IS magic based on Intelligence? But sometimes Wisdom? But sometimes Charisma? Because the system decided it was. You could argue all magic is based on Force of Will and therefore call it all Wisdom. Or Charisma. Hell, you could argue all magic is based on using your body as a conduit for mana and therefore, the determining factor is Constitution. Or have physical and mental spells be Constitution and Wisdom respectively. There’s no reason it HAS to be Intelligence. It only has to be Intelligence because D&D decided magic is like physics. If magic were like Bending from the Avatar: Korra the Airbender or whatever the f$&%ing it’s called, magic would be Dexterity based, wouldn’t it?
Or you COULD have a separate stat for JUST magic.
As for how you can fix this in D&D? BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! You can’t. Seriously. You MIGHT be able to get rid of Charisma as I described above, but D&D has this weird thing where the Ability Score is always based on the Skill, not the task. My assumption would be that tasks can combine Ability Scores and Skills any which way you want so MY Intimidation could be Strength and YOUR Intimidation could be Wisdom. And then you could just give the Charisma spellcasters a different casting stat. Sorcerers might use Wisdom. Bards might use Intelligence. Warlocks might use Constitution. Or whatever. Who the f$&% knows?
But to fix both Intelligence AND Charisma in D&D might be pushing the system too damned hard. I don’t know. You can try it. I wouldn’t. Honestly, I’d either learn to live with Intelligence and Charisma, play a different game, or keep pushing me with these hypothetical questions until I finally have a nervous breakdown and actually just write a goddamned RPG.