The Bullshit of Role Playing Charisma Checks
We’ve all been there when a player asks to roll a Persuasion check to seduce a waitress or get a bigger reward from the crime boss, and we’ve all answered with: “Tell me what you say.”
And frankly, that’s bullshit for your players.
Now, I understand the other side of this argument:
“We’re playing a role playing game! They have to role play!” Yeah, that’s great and all, but not every player can come up with eloquence at the drop of a hat, but their character can because their character has a 20 in Charisma. On the other hand, how many times have you asked your barbarian to role play lifting up a heavy boulder? They are still playing a role playing game, but they get to skip past the bullshit of coming up with a huge speech.
But now, some might point out, what are we supposed to role play if we don’t role play? If we get rid of the speeches, we will just be reduced to rolling dice and only saying numbers. Where is the tension!
And to that I say: You’re doing role playing wrong.
When a player tells me that they want to persuade a King to give them a larger reward, I won’t ask them to give me a play-by-play of what they want to say, but rather ask what are the key points?
This method not only gives you that role playing nature we all love in our RPGs, but helps the player give me an idea as to what their character might say, and I can then work with that based off the roll they get on their dice. Knowing the bullet points of what they use to persuade the King gives you, as a GM, more freedom when it comes to the outcome of the dice.
For an example, let’s take Chris, a completely random person who definitely doesn’t write articles telling me to give him a war elephant. Now Chris gives me this huge monologue for 20 minutes entreating the king to give them an extra 500 gp for taking care of that old hag (read: the King’s Mother) in the tallest tower of the lowest dungeon. Now this speech has everything, tears, laughter and some people’s hearts were literally shattered with the amount of emotions going through them. While a nicer GM may have auto-succeeded him on that Persuasion roll, I’m not that nice, and neither should you be, but I’ll leave that for another article.
So now Chris, with his amazing story, has a small problem in front of him. While Chris, the player, choose Intelligence as his dump stat, his character is a bard and choose Charisma as his dump stat. This bard has a -1 to his persuasion rolls, but that’s not a big deal, the dice goes all the way up to 20! So Chris rolls… and gets a natural 1… followed by a minus 1 from his Persuasion skill, which gives him a total of 0.
Sigh… What do you do now? How do you justify a failed dice roll when the role play is that good? Before we answer that, lets try another situation.
Let’s pick another random player, Chris Jr. Now Chris Jr. also wants 500gp from the king, and gives a simple speech to persuade the King: “Fuck You, Pay Me.” He then rolls a natural 20 with a +5 persuasion roll for a total of 25 on an ability check.
Now, with these two very different, and frankly absurd, approaches to role playing and persuading a King, who succeeds? Who fails? At my table, both people will fail. When making any type of check the dice have all the power at the end of the game.
The problem here is, we are playing a role playing game. The game works off of dice, but we can’t ignore the role play, cause then we are just a bunch of nerds rolling dice and doing math, and how could that possibly be fun? When we combine the two elements of role play and dice, each element is working in tandem to succeed on ability checks. Role play helps adjust the difficulty, and the dice are the final say.
So what do we do for our role player if we aren’t forcing players to put on silly hats and make huge speeches? I have my players give me bullet points on how they convince a king for more money, and if the points they give makes sense to me, I move the DC lower. If they give me bullet points that would upset a king, I move the DC higher.
Their words have power, and their dice decide the outcome. The two main elements of our RPG are working in tandem to create a living world.
Now, during this whole article I’m only talking about Charisma rolls and how people use them, but this method is also used for my players who wish to move a boulder or pop out huge adamantine bolts from a door hinge. When they describe how they go about doing it, they are fulfilling the role playing aspect of an RPG, and when they roll the dice, they fulfill the game part of our RPG.
If all they do is roll dice, they are missing out on half of the elements of an RPG!
Based off the bullet points they give me for their ability checks, I lower or raise the Difficulty. This creates a world where the players can’t just hide behind a sheet of numbers and roll a dice to fix their problems. The players are forced to put themselves in the shoes of the characters, and when that happens they don’t see their character as a bunch of stats and numbers, but as a living creature that can use their abilities smartly in a living world.
At the end of the day, I don’t follow all of my advice above. Sometimes I forget to ask how they do it, sometimes a player wouldn’t know, but their character would. Every table and every session is different, and all we can do as GMs is make sure that no one is being forced to live out their character’s high Charisma score when we don’t make the barbarians live out their high Strength scores.