Friday, July 29, 2011

Why D&D Does Not Need a Comeliness Score

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.

I recently had a thought relevant to the addition of Comeliness as an optional ability score for D&D (Unearthed Arcana 1985) and the subsequent rejection of that addition by the majority of the D&D tradition (2e - Pathfinder and the retro-clones, inclusive).*  Whatever your persuasion here, the impulses seem to fall out along distinguishing how attractive a character's looks are from Charisma, folding them into Charisma, or simply not giving looks a score and letting this be decided by the player, GM, or by dice rolls on a case-by-case basis.

I have concluded that aside from player freedom and the provision for individual tastes and circumstances by reaction (or skill) checks, there is a good reason for not having a Comeliness score.  My reason is derived from the light that evolutionary science shines on physical attractiveness and the completeness of the standard six ability scores as they stand.  If physical attraction is explainable in terms of the biological advantages of sexual reproduction, then attractive features (both physical and personality-wise) attract mates because they represent good genes to pass on. The PC's genes find expression in the ability scores: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.  No one ability score, not even Charisma, can represent the total number of features that lead to sexual attraction.  In a nutshell, the reason D&D does not need a Comeliness score is because attraction realistically would be dependent on more than one attribute and a character's attributes are already accounted for by the six ability scores.

Therefore, if you run a game where determining attraction is desirable in role-play, one would need a formula for taking all the scores into account to arrive at a representation of a character's overall desirability.  Thinking about such formulas quickly gets into the realm of minutia.  Men and women may, for example, give different attributes different weight (I'm betting a woman with STR 25 is going to repulse rather than attract most men.)  This kind of thing will make a GM pull his hair out and is beyond the level of abstraction that the game system needs to both represent and run.  Further, GMs don't need to dictate how a player character's face is symmetrical or the healthy glow of skin or the hip-to-chest ratio or any such things.  Let players use their imagination and have their druthers.

To keep it simple, the GM needs a holistic abstraction if she wants to have a score that gives this element in the game a level of independence.  I'm suggesting therefore that the GM simply add the ability scores and note them on the reference card where she keeps the player's stats.  Below is a table that would allow for an attraction roll based on a character's overall attractiveness.  The columns to the left are for old style reaction rolls, those on the right for new style skill checks.  The GM and player then can interpret the rolls to fit the characters and the situation.

Ability Score Total 2d6 Reaction Roll Ability Score Total 1d20 Skill Check
18-23 -3 12-23 -4
24-35 -2 24-35 -3
36-53 -1 36-47 -2
54-77 0 48-59 -1
78-95 +1 60-71 0
96-107 +2 72-83 +1
108 +3 84-95 +2

96-107 +3

108-119 +4

As always, happy rolling!

*Aside from the (again, optional) rule in 2e Player's Options: Skills & Powers for an Appearance score.

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