Wisdom, Charisma, and Roleplay

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Gegenwart
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Wisdom, Charisma, and Roleplay

Post by Gegenwart »

Building on the work done by IrishBastard (read this first if you're totally new to RP), and following a conversation in the Discord, I'm taking the liberty of writing up this short introduction to why Wisdom (WIS) and Charisma (CHA) are important stats to play and how playing them can make your experience and that of those you play with even better. Particular thanks to Chops, Elena, TallDrake, Jval, and Murray. I hope this can be an ongoing discussion and a live document so please continue to contribute to the discussion.

Why 'Mental Statistics' Matter

Along with Intelligence, WIS and CHA are what is sometimes called mental stats. For most, but not all, characters you will probably consider making one or more of these their lowest stat, in order to raise Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution. This is a consequential decision, because these stats have a major part to play in who your character is when it comes to roleplay, in addition to their mechanical function. While Intelligence is pretty straightforward, WIS and CHA can be harder to play well at low scores and it can be tempting to ignore the -1 on your character sheet especially because these stats can be hard to define.

However, playing out the consequences of these low stats can be incredibly rewarding and help make your characters unique both in themselves and from any subsequent characters you play. Poor and inefficient decisions are the spice of roleplay and RPing the stats your on character sheet is a great way to start pushing your play to the next level.

WIS in the Game

This is how the 3.5 SRD describes WIS:
Wisdom describes a character’s willpower, common sense, perception, and intuition. While Intelligence represents one’s ability to analyze information, Wisdom represents being in tune with and aware of one’s surroundings. Wisdom is the most important ability for clerics and druids, and it is also important for paladins and rangers. If you want your character to have acute senses, put a high score in Wisdom.

You apply your character’s Wisdom modifier to:

Will saving throws (for negating the effect of charm person and other spells).
Heal, Listen, Profession, Sense Motive, Spot, and Survival checks. These are the skills that have Wisdom as their key ability.
The kinds of characters that have high WIS are pretty clear from what this implies mechanically: A Ranger who can follow a trail on a mountain, a Druid who can tell what a shrub is thinking, or a Cleric who can perceive a dishonest man at a hundred yards.

What about low WIS? Someone who needs two pairs of glasses to see their own nose, or a person who could walk into a bank that was being robbed and try to make a withdrawal. In game, this might play out as someone who overlooks an obvious trail, who doesn't pick up on the danger of the situation they're in, or who has a very weak sense of self. Maybe all of the above!

CHA in the Game

This is how the 3.5 SRD describes CHA:
Charisma measures a character’s force of personality, persuasiveness, personal magnetism, ability to lead, and physical attractiveness. This ability represents actual strength of personality, not merely how one is perceived by others in a social setting. Charisma is most important for paladins, sorcerers, and bards. It is also important for clerics, since it affects their ability to turn undead. Every creature has a Charisma score.

You apply your character’s Charisma modifier to:

Bluff, Diplomacy, Disguise, Gather Information, Handle Animal, Intimidate, Perform, and Use Magic Device checks. These are the skills that have Charisma as their key ability.
Checks that represent attempts to influence others.
Again, high CHA characters are pretty clear. A clever spy who can make themselves look like anyone, a dashing Bard who can hold the attention of a whole room with a tale, or a Paladin whose words can inspire his followers to throw themselves into danger. These aren't necessarily beautiful people but they use their force of personality to draw in those around them.

Low CHA can be as simple as very ugly person, but it is definitely not limited to this. Someone with low CHA would also not be very intimidating or persuasive, such as a high Strength Fighter who comes across as a joke. Taking this further, someone with low CHA might also be hesitant to speak up in a group or in front of a confident person. They might be more of a follower than a leader, contributing to but dependant on a more charismatic leader to give orders that will be followed. They might also be gross or off-putting, picking their nose or staring, missing important social cues or being put off by some or many kinds of particularly group situations.

Why Playing Bad Stats is Good

At this point you might be thinking, 'This sounds terrible. I don't want to be a booger-eating chump getting conned by halflings!' That's OK - you're free to play how you want within the vision of the server. However, you will quickly find that playing out all your stats, and accepting that bad things might happen to your character because of it, will actually lead to really fun interactions and many more ways of playing characters who feel different from each other. RPing low WIS and CHA makes your character a more flawed and thus more fully realized person in the game. It will create new and different opportunities for engagement in the game for you and those with whom you're playing.

Consider a few comparative examples:

Robert Baraetheon [High CHA] and Ned Stark [Low CHA]: A charismatic, persuasive king who can get his way but is largely ignorant of the dangers around him and an out-of-his-depth warrior lord who can't navigate court.

A thoughtful tactician [Low CHA, high WIS] and a charismatic battle leader [High CHA, low WIS]: Ideally they'd work together, with one planning and one leading, but just it's down to the tactician to try to reign in the leader who might otherwise lead a suicidal charge.

A strong but simple soldier [Low CHA, low WIS] and a crafty but sickly thief [High CHA, low WIS]: Being able to lift an anvil isn't much good if you can't tell right from wrong, but lucky your good buddy is there to get you involved in completely legitimate schemes.

A Cleric of Tyr fresh from seminary [High WIS, low CHA] and his Paladin companion [High CHA, low WIS]: The Cleric might be able to fill you in on the finer points of Tyr's soteriology and why it will change your life, but they're terrified of public speaking and rely on their Paladin buddy to do the talking and the real leadership.

Most importantly, remember - spicing up your RP with flaws, errors, and bad decisions doesn't reflect badly on you as a player. On the contrary, it's about making your character a more believable, fully realized figure in the world.
Last edited by Gegenwart on January 26th, 2022, 3:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Jval
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Re: Wisdom, Charisma, and Roleplay

Post by Jval »

To understand wisdom and charisma look at what mechanical effects it has. The skills (and saves) that it touches.

A common mistake is to play Wisdom as Intelligence. In fact, the cleric who can discuss the finer points of Tyr's dogma, but not present it well has a high intelligence. Likewise, wisdom will not make you a good tactician - I would argue that this again is intelligence.

Wisdom in D&D has nothing to do with how smart or "wise" you are. It is your physical and spiritual senses (and stability). Think of your sense of sight, hearing, taste, touch... along with your sense (and resistance) to spirit-affecting powers.

Another common mistake is to play Wisdom as Charisma. No, a high wisdom does not give you "common sense" to handle social situations. Conversely, having a low wisdom does not make you socially awkward or inept at reading people (that's a low Charisma!). If you read Haze's "Influence" skill you will see that the skill is used to counter itself. For example, Influence is used to see through deceptions - so charisma, not wisdom.

Two people playing poker: A high Spot would notice the other person's face twitch. A high Influence would let you know that this is a fake tell and that they are bluffing.
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Re: Wisdom, Charisma, and Roleplay

Post by Gegenwart »

I'd be inclined to say that truly great tactician would have to have both high INT and WIS. Reading the flow of a battle effectively would be WIS, writing treatise on it or preparing a coherent battle plan would be INT. Almost all of the examples above assume at least an average or above average INT paired with high or very high WIS.

I would disagree that WIS doesn't equate to common sense and to a lesser extent being 'wise'. I quoted the 3.5 SRD because the common sense question can be contentious and maybe we just won't agree on it! I do think it needs to be sharply distinguished from INT and CHA, though and agree no one mental stat should be assumed to sub in for an area covered by another stat. A guru on the mountain who has pondered the secrets of the universe may be very wise, know themselves completely, and have figured out the secrets of the universe but be totally unable to articulate them to another person.

Your point about opposed influence checks and the role of CHA in seeing through social deceptions is a great one that I'm happy to grant! It is absolutely inherently CHA. I've changed the above post to reflect the point and would be happy to receive more notes.
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Re: Wisdom, Charisma, and Roleplay

Post by Irishbastard »

Very informative Gen and great insight!
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Re: Wisdom, Charisma, and Roleplay

Post by Elena »

I love the wisdom explanation part, because that's how I DM it myself. When a party of people venture into the wild, I might let them make a wisdom roll, and when someone does a decent number, I'll let them have a hint or two, once in a while, when they get a feeling of safety or a feeling of danger. Because wisdom to mee is something you can't grasp. It's nothing "real". It's the "I just know, believe me".

So as clerics maybe can't explain how they talk to their gods, but feel connected. Or Rangers have that awareness to details in the wild, and Druids feel connected to the nature around them.

Very informative thread and a great read.
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Krivoklat
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Re: Wisdom, Charisma, and Roleplay

Post by Krivoklat »

Gegenwart wrote: January 26th, 2022, 1:50 pm Consider a few comparative examples:

Robert Baraetheon [High CHA] and Ned Stark [Low CHA]: A charismatic, persuasive king who can get his way but is largely ignorant of the dangers around him and an out-of-his-depth warrior lord who can't navigate court.
Don't want to put a damper on a good discussion, but... *whips out a damp rag*

I would disagree that Ned Stark had low charisma. He had the undying loyalty of his men and only perished because of his dedication to doing the right thing. He met his end by the hands of the Lannisters who were willing to break the rules which Ned Stark refused to.

Ned ruled the north in a just and fair way and when it came time for him to speak publically he was confident and well-spoken and showed tremendous honor and devotion to his family. Even after his death the other noble houses always spoke highly of him, and the reputation of his house was renowned. You can't keep a rep like that if you have low charisma.
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Re: Wisdom, Charisma, and Roleplay

Post by Dingot0m »

Krivoklat wrote: February 1st, 2022, 1:52 am Don't want to put a damper on a good discussion, but... *whips out a damp rag*

I would disagree that Ned Stark had low charisma. He had the undying loyalty of his men and only perished because of his dedication to doing the right thing. He met his end by the hands of the Lannisters who were willing to break the rules which Ned Stark refused to.

Ned ruled the north in a just and fair way and when it came time for him to speak publically he was confident and well-spoken and showed tremendous honor and devotion to his family. Even after his death the other noble houses always spoke highly of him, and the reputation of his house was renowned. You can't keep a rep like that if you have low charisma.
This one puzzled me too. I always considered Ned Stark quite charismatic.
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Re: Wisdom, Charisma, and Roleplay

Post by Gegenwart »

I don’t think this dampens the discussion at all! That example wasn’t mine, but I did extrapolate it with stats since I think it creates an interesting thought experiment about how mechanics and character personalities interact.

For my part, I’d say someone with low charisma (for the avoidance of doubt I have 8 in mind with ‘low’) can still have people who are loyal to them because of their actions - adherence to a code isn’t CHA after all. A reliable, thoughtful leader who people take time to warm up to seems a good example of this to me but I can definitely see other angles on it.

I’d be really interested to hear either of your thoughts on this, though.
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Re: Wisdom, Charisma, and Roleplay

Post by Chops »

I would think this could be a confusing topic for new role-players and even old hands alike.

I tend to simply roll up a concept and approximate the stats as I think they'd be. Getting too bogged down in the numbers is a means to stifle a character, I think, personally. These are very arbitrary ways of denoting personalities that are not so easily defined. People, characters, are much more than 14 STR, 8 WIS, etc.

I would only take issue where these are in the extremes and obviously just dumps for power-gaming.

I'm paraphrasing because I can't find the Gygax quote: "Don't be afraid to break character if it makes it more fun."

In other words, sometimes smart people do dumb things. Sometimes dumb people do smart things. At the end of the day it's all a game and we're all here to have fun, so do what seems the most fun! :D
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Re: Wisdom, Charisma, and Roleplay

Post by Krivoklat »

This is a good little video summary.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpBAdkgeJyY
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