The Problem with Charisma Checks

I’ve always loved that Tabletop RPG’s let you spend some time in someone else’s shoes, experiencing something you haven’t ever gotten a chance to do before. It lets you become a different person for a few hours. Someone who can be incredibly strong, fast, stealthy, smart, or influential. However, in most games one of these factors resolves differently than the others, influence. This is the problem with Charisma checks.

High-charisma characters usually have skills that are used to convince, manipulate or deceive others. However, unlike other in-game skills, players can practice these skills without needing the dice to back them up! Let’s say a player has a Barbarian character with low Intelligence and abysmal Charisma. However, during a siege on a city, the Barbarian’s player gives an impassioned speech, perhaps written by the player ahead of time, to call the common people to arms to defend their home! 

How would you resolve this situation? It’s a great bit of roleplaying, and the player obviously spent time deciding on what to say, so you should reward that! If it’s left up to a dice roll all of that prepping and work could have been wasted. For most Game Master’s this may be an easy decision. The player is active, and involved in the story, and spent time on their solution. It was well thought out and creative, therefore it should work, with the roll determining how well.

The Problem with Charisma Checks

However, this is the only set of skills that regularly function this way, where the players’ influence can repeatedly help the character’s outcome. You can’t get a bonus on an Animal Handling check by bringing in your pet hamster. And I’m sure the Game Master would have to exchange some words with you if you broke down his door to prove that it’s all in the technique so you can roll advantage. These things are left to dice rolls, and dice rolls alone!

Sure, you could argue that how you’re doing something should logically give you advantage on the roll. Intelligence and Wisdom may have skills that the Players can use to their advantage, but these situations are not regular, and in almost all cases would still require a roll. With charisma based skills, this can happen on any encounter if the players can think of a good solution.

High Charisma Characters

OK, I admit it. I went a bit overboard, but stay with me, this does come to a point (I swear!). Game Masters will often reward clever roleplaying and creative thinking, but how does that translate to characters that are better than their words than the players that play them? In Charisma Checks are Backwards we describe how Game Masters will frequently ask players to explain their argument in character. 

Characters are normally the pinnacle in their respective field, much more so than the players that control them. This should be no different for high-charisma characters than it is for high-strength characters, having the result being based entirely on a skill roll and then going from there. This can also add a lot of fun to the mix with a technique we call Roll-playing. However, this is inherently stifling something that the players can use to their advantage. If the player doesn’t have an idea on how to give themselves advantage, then this is how the roll should be resolved. But they should always have the opportunity. 

Call for Help

Even though having rolls resolved in this order will help in this capacity, it also hinders other players capacity for creating their own advantage. It can stifle the creative thinking that leads to the amazing world of collaborative storytelling. And this is when players should feel comfortable asking for help.

Any player is one person, one brain, that’s controlling another person. However, most RPG’s are played in groups. There are multiple brains, all with their own unique experiences. If someone is playing a high-charisma character, and one of the other players can think of a good way to relay that information, they can help provide input.

An Example

Say there’s the high-charisma character, we’ll call her Mira, that’s trying to sneak onto a cargo ship. Her player decides to get in using a bluff check, but can’t think of a convincing lie. The Game Master can call for a d20 roll and base the amount of time she’s allowed on deck based on the check, but if the group can come up with a convincing lie they would be allowed to view the cargo and have more time available to them.

Mira’s player is stumped. “I really can’t think of one, does anyone else have an idea?” The Game Master should allow them to continue out of character for a little bit. This is an idea that a character would have, not the player themselves. Another player jumps in with a tidbit of information.

“My character knows the Admiral’s assistant’s name. You should pretend to be them doing a surprise inspection! Carry an official looking scroll, we can steal a uniform, it will be perfect!”

Final Thoughts

Not only does this create a more collaborative space, it allows for players to create interesting and unique ways to give themselves an advantage. In our opinion, players should always have an option to drive the story in their direction, and the players should do it collaboratively, with themselves as well as the game master. If there happens to be an in-game benefit, so be it!

What are your thoughts? How do you handle Charisma Checks? Let us know in the comments below!