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Does attractiveness as a stat or attribute work in an RPG setting? I know it was included in oWoD, but then was trashed later on in nWoD. Why?

What effect does it have on player choices? Are they positive or negative?

Objective bullet point pros and cons prefered, i.e.

  • Pros: Character have another tool to use in roleplay; [example]
  • Cons: Cheapens roleplay, because [example]

Does it serve a purpose in any system, or is it largely defunct?

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Appearance is often useful to define an NPCs inital reaction to encountering the player. Additional benefits can be acquired by beautiful players while introducing themselves to new people, and penalties could be applied to particularly ugly characters in those same situations. Of course if your character lacks substance, those initial benefits won't last very long. –  Joshua Shane Liberman Jan 3 '12 at 18:50
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7 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Some form of attractiveness is extremely common in games:

  • Pendragon uses Appearance; it has little mechanical impact in that game, and when using the point buy option in 3rd/4th ed tends to be used as a "Dump Stat" - fairly low so as to leave more points for the other 4 attributes. The one campaign of 5th ed I ran, almost everyone used it as a dump stat - highest was an 8 (on a 5-19 starting scale)... excepting the one player who had a beautiful girl concept in mind.

    That said, it's been strongly influential in some players play, but not others.

  • In Cyberpunk and other interlock games, due to the task system (1d10 +stat +skill vs TN), the mechanical impact is present. The impact on play tends to still not be terribly high - most social resolution is done with other attributes.

  • In 2300AD, the attractiveness attribute is not numerical, but merely a label/descriptor. The scale is Unattractive, Plain, Good Looking, Attractive, and Exceptional. It has no direct mechanical effect, but did mildly affect player roleplay in all groups I've it for.

  • Palladium uses Physical Beauty as an attribute in almost all of their games, and gives it a chance of charm/impress. Attributes in Palladium games tend to be ignored by the players I have seen playing it, save for in character generation where a high score in certain attributes gives skill bonuses.

  • It was an optional attribute in AD&D 1E, introduced in Unearthed Arcana. It was linked to charisma, and usualy wound up reinforcing charisma modifiers to reactions. It was a poor implementation, but not a bad idea. Many DM's dropped the linkage between the two, and used one for initial reactions, the other for interaction based reactions, for which it worked well.

I've found, despite some bad implementations, that it's a very useful tool for a GM who needs inspiration. Since, fundamentally, it is an index of what "reproductively healthy" should look like (barring surgical, chemical, or other interventions), it's just as easily subsumed into a Health attribute, directly or with allowed modifiers.

Pros:

  • GM inspiration
  • Some players use it in developing their image of the character
  • Some systems allow its use to be mechanized

Cons:

  • Tendency to be used as a dump stat
  • Tendency to be ignored for PC's
  • Numbers tend to be useful for mechanized uses only and ignored otherwise

Mixed blessings:

  • Attractiveness in the real world ties to symmetry and other indicators of reproductive and physical health. Often not true in games with appearance attributes.
  • Label systems are easier to help conceptualize characters, but are not be as readily mechanically used
  • Mixed number/label systems (like AD&D+UA) add complexity, but tend to have both good impact on play and visualization
  • There is a tendency to link attractiveness to charisma, when, in reality, many charismatic individuals have been physically moderate in appearance. On the other hand, truly ugly appearances prevent rising to leadership in most cases, making charisma worth limiting by appearance in some way.
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Positive Aspects

  • Adds to verisimilitude. People who know how to use their looks effectively and make solid first impressions are quite effective at handling social challenges.
  • Reinforces the idea that a game is going to address interpersonal issues. Being the best-looking Space Marine in the troop doesn't help you much.

Negative Aspects

  • Assumes a universal standard for attractiveness that can be rated. As a merit or other benefit, "striking looks" can be used as any other modifier, rather than trying to gauge the breakpoints on a Comeliness score.
  • Adds a cost to something that would otherwise be simply part of a character concept.
  • In our mind's eye, all our heroes and heroines are attractive; it's part of the Hollywood legacy. So much so, in fact, that the James Bond 007 RPG used to charge points for being ordinary looking, as being nondescript is a benefit to a spy.
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I Really like this answer, but I've got to give it to aramis as he covers so many systems and still covers pros and cons. –  Pureferret Jan 5 '12 at 23:30
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As something of an addendum to Jadasc's answer:

'Stat' (short for statistic) can mean different things to different gamers. For some it's the set of numbers with the most significant impact (usually attributes). For others, its anything with a numerical value on the character sheet - that's the definition I'm trying to use here.

Situations Where Stat X Works Well

  1. The stat's primary usage is called on often. Eg: Potentially Vampire: the Masquerade, where appearance was part of the first check of a 'seduction action'.
  2. The stat has an effect in a variety of situations. Eg: The 'Striking Looks' merit from nWoD.
  3. The stat isn't used often but has a significant effect when used.
  4. The stat has a high relevance to the setting. Eg: Scion (by White Wolf) features an 'Epic Appearance' stat which may represent attractive (Aphrodite) or terrifying (Medusa) looks. Since this the main shtick of some gods, it becomes very relevant. The 'Epic Appearance; stat also allows 'Knacks' which are more widely usable than the stat itself.

Situations Where Stat X Does Not Work

  1. The stat does not have a clear use case.
  2. The stat is precluded by another stat except in very specific cases. This is where I usually see Attractiveness falling, as in oWoD, where it is outclassed by Charisma and Manipulation.
  3. The stat acts as a 'super-stat' allowing one to do any of the things that the other stats could do (usually at some cost). That one might just be personal preference but, personally, I think its just poor game design.
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An interesting take. Although I agree that I tend to view "stat" as a synonym for "attribute," it's not because of importance, but ubiquity. A stat is a rating that every character has -- every D&D character has a Charisma score, even if it's low. –  Jadasc Jan 3 '12 at 17:47
    
I'll assume that's a compliment and thank you. :-) Ubiquity would allow for Skills as stats (in D&D, since they are the same for all characters even if they are at a zero value). So if you, personally, allow for skills under the heading of stats, I'd agree with you that that is a fair assessment of what qualifies. –  Wesley Obenshain Jan 3 '12 at 18:02
    
I like this very clear approach to the value of stats/atts in general. I think some people get hung up on the idea of physical appearance in games because of how our societies deal with it in real life. –  Iain Anderson Jan 4 '12 at 20:26
    
+1 for a good 'meta' break down on stats in general. I thnk this is the clincher in favour of Attractiveness: The stat has a high relevance to the setting. –  Pureferret Jan 5 '12 at 18:20
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Attractiveness is a stat in Cyberpunk 2.0.2.0. As someone who has run that game for years, I can state that it never came up, and it never evoked any kind of positive or negative response from anyone playing the game. The character portraits or even simple verbal descriptions were much better in forming a measure of attractiveness.

To be fair, it did serve as a rough guideline when we were drawing the character portraits :)

As it seems, attractiveness is hard to model on a linear scale with numbers. Though I have less experience with it, I can say that attractiveness-related "aspects" in the FATE system (my new favorite) which are just short phrases about a character, do a much better job of portraying that special quality a character has.

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It always came up in games I was part: put your lowest rolled score in it since it's so cheap to have it upped via minor surgery -- there are no ugly people (unless by choice) in Cyberpunk! –  Sardathrion Jan 3 '12 at 14:08
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I made them endure increasing levels of surgery for more attractiveness, that is +1 is Negligible surgery but +4 is CRitical, and they don't stack. And I made them roll their stats rather than assign, so there was supposedly enough variation, but nobody including I, seemed to notice :) –  edgerunner Jan 3 '12 at 14:40
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Wasn't going to add, but there was a point I thought unmade.

One of the secondary benefits of having a stat dealing with Appearance is removing that aspect from the 'charisma-style' stat. Without removing that aspect, the 'charisma-style' stat amalgamates many other social skills with the quite separate outer appearance.
To some extent, all stats are such multiples, but the this separation is better suited to a game with a high social component and less important to a combat-centric game.

For example, I do run a social heavy, skill based game, so I purposely made Charisma and Appearance two of the 7 stats. We have only 4 savings rolls, but one is a 'social reaction roll' made every time a new perosn is met. Appearance is very important for this and similar skills that deal with impressions. This frees Charisma to be more about actual social skills and magnetism.

But what do you expect from a guy who has a skill tree uner "Basic Carnal"

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has "appearance," which can be raised by spending character points or lowered to give back character points.

Appearance contributes to a PC's reaction modifier, which affects reaction rolls.

  • Additional purchasable reaction modifiers include Rank, Reputation, Status, and Charisma.

  • Reaction rolls take place only when meeting an NPC that does not already have a predetermined disposition toward the PCs. As an example, the PC's best friend will not require a reaction roll. An enemy soldier will engage the PC in combat regardless of how attractive the PC is. A random shop vendor, however, will probably have reaction rolled.

  • Reaction results vary from (paraphrasing) "will attempt to kill or sabotage the PC" to "will join the PC in combat or provide requested aid."

  • Other personal and environmental factors also contribute to reaction modifiers. A fellow knight may react at +2 without knowing the PC. A member of a rival house may react at -3. Another baseball fan may react at +1. It's been raining for three weeks, so everyone in the town reacts to everything at -1.

  • Relationships change over time and through play. The reaction roll is only the starting point. Being a sexy jerk will still make NPCs dislike you eventually.

In my experience, this actually plays very well.

Pros:

  • Storyline NPCs still react as expected
  • Transient NPCs are nicer to the attractive, fashionable, well-respected noble than the dirty, unkempt adventurer.
  • The roll adds randomness so that not every religious person will fawn over a paladin, and not every nerd will react poorly to every jock.

Cons:

  • Some GMs might not like to give up any control over how NPCs react.
  • Requires embracing the system of reaction rolls.
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Because the cultural attractiveness standards differs between cultures and within a culture's different times so much, it is not a good metric.

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