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My players recently requested some way of adding physical appearance and attractiveness to an upcoming campaign in which it's reasonably relevant. I want to accommodate that, but without just adding a seventh ability score to their sheets.

I'm accustomed to running Pathfinder and D&D 3.x games using the default ruleset or with a sprinkling of house-rules to fix some... buggy rules (like multiclass penalties). I'm also used to using several splatbooks in my games for almost every aspect the players want to play.

Recently my players asked me for a more mature game. This game is supposed to be basically Pathfinder reskinned to be a bit sci-fi, something not far from a "Phantasy Star" feel. As part of this feel, two of my players want to keep track of something akin to Appearance from WoD. They want to create more "social" characters, and being able to track how "good looking" they are is, in a way, essential to them. The other two players agreed that this might be fun. Okay, they have consensus, so now it leaves me (the DM) to create something that can... well, work with it.

What I need: A way to track how good-looking a character is.

What I don't want: a seventh ability score. I know that the BoEF have an Appearance stat and some older editions have Comeliness, but really, I don't want to rebuild the whole system on top of appearance.

Is there a good ruleset for this, that doesn't rely on a new ability score?

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CHA can represent this to a degree. If you think about the fact that you have Skills like Diplomacy and Bluff those are how Charismatic you are when you talk. CHA could represent your looks. Most people are much more likely to like and believe someone who is pretty than someone who is ugly. It doesn't add to the game like you are asking which is why I made this a comment. –  Aaron Aug 5 at 19:20
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The Attributes are meant for a broader interpretation. A character with high Cha can be role-played as either an ugly character that speaks well and is charming or a very attractive character who can't. Bluff, Diplomacy, and Intimidate checks don't always necessarily have to do with what you say. Perhaps you seduce them with body movements? Bottom line: you don't need anything other than Charisma for looks. –  Jason_c_o Aug 5 at 20:18

6 Answers 6

up vote 38 down vote accepted

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

I’ve always found that the most difficult problem with appearance stats is that it’s supposed to be one single stat, that applies to all people. Even within the human race, there are people attracted to others that I’d personally find ugly, even repulsive, and people who would find those I am attracted to just as off-putting. That’s not even getting into sexuality, and then on top of that you have the issue of very different races with potentially massively different standards of beauty.

And then different appearances can be positive or negative depending on context. A drop-dead gorgeous person (for your own definition of drop-dead gorgeous) can be intimidating, scary, threatening. Particularly if that person seems to be using their appearance to their advantage. When you want someone to give you good advice, you want someone who is older, who appears to have been through a lot. When you just want comfort, someone older, but warmer and friendlier, like a kindly grandparent, is what you want to see. And these qualities are not what most people are looking for in those they’d take a sexual interest in.

We expect doctors, lawyers, and businesspeople to look certain ways. We expect models and such to look very different ways. One of the former looking like the latter makes us take them (unfairly) less seriously; one of the latter looking like the former (even if they are still attractive) often damages their allure.

And all of this is cultural as well as personal.

So it’s really, really hard to quantify all that. You cannot apply a single number to be someone’s appearance. You can’t even apply a single number to a given sex, or one for those who are sexually attracted to your sex and another for those who are not. Because sex isn’t always what appearance is about. You need a different number for every different context and for every different observer.

You cannot run all those different numbers; it wouldn’t just dominate a character sheet, or require a separate sheet to itself, it would require several separate sheets, one for each race, perhaps. And would probably still be lacking.

You can, obviously, choose to abstract away a lot of this. After all, d20 combat is massively abstract, and that’s a lot of the premise of the game. But perhaps because I have no combat skills or experience, but lots of social experience, I have never found such abstractions satisfying.

A series of conditional bonuses and penalties

Not written down, not specifically recorded, but literally what I have described: the d20 system encourages the use of “Circumstance” bonuses or penalties, to be adjudicated by the DM on the fly. Use these to determine how much someone’s appearance matches what the target wants from them. If you’re seducing them, you get a bonus if your body is one they find sexually appealing. But if you’re trying to give them advice, that’s not the issue at all; you instead get a bonus for appearing knowledgeable, sincere, and honest.

And these bonuses can apply to Bluff, Diplomacy, Disguise, and Intimidate. Being gorgeous might distract one person, and give you a bonus to Bluff, while it makes another suspicious and actually gives you a penalty. The key, as DM, is to be fair and consistent – give the appropriate bonus or penalties for a particular NPC.

The books recommend values from −2 to +2. That may not be sufficient to describe what you want. But I would caution against making appearance dominate the conversation: even when it is fitting, how you use it tends to matter more than the simple fact that you do appear a given way.

Expanded skill usages

Knowledge (local) can give you an idea of what a particular culture wants to see. It doesn’t always help – plenty of people eschew “standards” of beauty – but it can help.

Sense motive can give you a more personal sense of how a person reacts to different examples of beauty.

Low-DC (10-12) disguise checks can be used to match that standard. Higher-DC checks can progressively maximize that effect, or allow you to match more exotic tastes. Humans, we know, can use disguise to make themselves appear to be elves, but perhaps they can also use disguise to take on elven fashions and tastefully and skillfully make them their own, to make themselves look appealing – possibly even more so than actual elves, by dint of being exotic – to elves. Or to match, but make your own, the orcish markings and trophies of chieftains or shamans: not trying to fool them into thinking you are an orc, but to demonstrate gravitas and importance on a level they may not even consciously notice, but will give perhaps undue weight to.

Stock, mutually-exclusive descriptions

These can be freely chosen, to give players options and keep you clear on what they are going for. Basically, everyone can freely choose to describe themselves according to these terms, and you will use that to drive the conditional bonuses. Helpful for making things a little more “mechanical,” which many players find comforting and interpret as that aspect being taken seriously.

For examples, your appearance might be one of, say, sexy, elegant, ugly, frightening, serious, or silly, in particular by the standards of some race. Usually your own, but perhaps you are specifically gearing yourself towards the standards of some other race (maybe one where you were raised, or have trained to be an ambassador to, or to infiltrate and spy on). There are no numbers associated with this, just stock terms that can be used in a description, with examples of cases where that works for you and when it works against you.

Or you could let players choose multiple descriptors, but the more they have the more muted the effect is. Someone who puts just sexy as a descriptor would be able to seriously derail and distract those who are attracted, but would have a hard time “turning the sexy off” when it was inappropriate, and may find that some assume they are nothing more than a pretty face and take them less seriously. Someone who puts both elegant and serious would be able to turn on the charm and run a bit of seduction quite well, while also being able to turn around and lead a negotiation, but won’t have the sheer head-turning, mouth-dropping impact of the one who chose just sexy.

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I amped up yout idea for descriptors and revamped the entire social system. I created a small, auxiliary character sheet (just a half page) and, based on your Idea, let the players describe "aspects" vaguely similar to FATE - "Serious", "Beautiful Smile", "Piercing eyes", "Curvaceous Legs", etc. When social encounters happen and those aspects are relevant, I throw in an circunstance bonus. When those aspects are detrimental, I also throw in a penalty, and so on. Thanks for your time! –  Thales Sarczuk Aug 7 at 17:33

How about customizing the Honor system from PathFinder?

One of the additional rule systems in PF is the Honor System. It may seem unrelated at first, but, re-skinned may get you exactly what you want:

  1. The system allocates Honor Points to every PC and NPC
    (starting value for PCs equals level + Charisma)
  2. A character can "spend" Honor Points for the following:
    • Favor: You call upon an allied NPC for a favor.
      (access to private resources, unhindered passage through enemy territory, an audience with an important person etc.).
    • Gift or Loan: You ask an NPC ally to give or loan you something of value (wealth or a single item).
    • Skill Bonus: Choose Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate. You gain a +5 circumstance bonus on checks for that skill for the rest of the game session.
  3. You gain and lose honor points through events - the rules provide different event tables with positive and negative adjustments for Samurai, Ninja, Knights, Politicians and Tribal Societies.
    This is where you can easily customize the system to represent attractiveness, fame and allure rather than honor and respect.

Additionally or Alternatively

  • You can also treat trying to manipulate someone through attractiveness as either a standard Diplomacy or Bluff check.
  • Treat attractiveness as a new skill equivalent to Intimidate - which in PF changes the other person's attitude for a short time and only while you are present.

  • To give tempting someone even more weight, you can treat this as an on-going task similar to Crafting - define a target number for tempting a person (equivalent to the item's price in crafting), and have each check score some points (Check DC x Check Result), until enough points are achieved to have the other person "wrapped around your finger"...

Hope any of this helps...

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The concept of "spending" appearance is interesting; By limiting the frequency with which a character can use their looks in a sort of times-per-day way, it models how appearance doesn't necessarily factor meaningfully into every interaction, while allowing players to freely interpret how and when their appearance affects their interactions, which is nice flexibility - but it'd be hard to justify why someone could "run out" of good looks and charm. Hmm. Maybe combining it with the "appearance type" descriptor idea that KRyan suggested would be good? –  GMJoe Aug 6 at 5:46
    
@GMJoe - while appearance is essentially passive and continuous, utilizing your looks and attractiveness to manipulate others ("turning the sexy on" as KRyan phrased it), is not - it demands attention, maintaining a certain look and poise, and active interaction - these are all things which can justifiably be limited and become "spent". (This will limit "cheesy" effects such as a stow-away using her looks to charm literally everyone on an Imperial Dreadnaught...) –  G0BLiN Aug 6 at 6:52
    
@GMJoe - It all comes done to what kind of event table you are using - allowing events such as Mingle in a social event (to grasp the local social and esthetic trends) or Spend time & money to maintain your look as minor positive events and treat stuff like Crawl through sewage ducts as major negative ones - you get a much more refined and thematically appropriate means of limiting the use of attractiveness - compared to merely allowing it to work N times per day... You can even model fairly complex effects by adding events such as Be seen with a very popular/attractive partner –  G0BLiN Aug 6 at 7:16
    
@GoBLiN Interesting... In effect, you're limiting the ability to "turn on the charm" by limiting the player's ability to recharge the ability, and by having certain events drain charges, so to speak. I'll have to think bout the implications of this, as I imagine you'd need some way of deciding what is and isn't possible in downtime and "off-camera time," whether events that "restore" appearance but depend on social context work when the social context of a character changes between scenes, and how different types of appearance should be affected differently without it getting too complicated. –  GMJoe Aug 6 at 7:49
    
There's also the complication that having a "limited use" abstraction in a game that usually reserves limited uses for its supernatural elements might seem a bit odd to players... Maybe something like allowing additional appearance uses when "out of charm" but having them cause some penalty such as fatigue might work? But that could introduce weird consequences of its own. Hmm... Maybe a "karmic" balance system, where every benefit gained by appearance must be paid for by a penalty also caused by it? –  GMJoe Aug 6 at 7:56

Appearance(Cha, trained only)

Appearance is a measure of several factors—natural appearance, preparation, and species.

Once an appearance check has been rolled, it is opposed by spot checks.

Modifiers

Races considered particularly attractive (relative to the viewer) grant a +2 bonus to the result of your appearance check.

Races considered particularly unattractive incur a -2 penalty on the check.

Both of the above penalties may be negated through a successful disguise check.

Making an appearance check without proper tools (such as a Disguise Kit) incurs a -2 penalty on the check.

Success

Success on an appearance check raises the attitude of nonhostile, newly met NPCs by one stage. They take a -2 penalty to all sense motive checks while in your presence.

Failure

If a creature wins the opposed check and finds flaws in your appearance, you take a penalty to diplomacy against it equal to the difference between your appearance check and its spot check, with a minimum penalty of -5.

Action

Altering one's appearance takes 1d3×10 minutes of work.

Synergy

If you have 5 or more ranks in Disguise or Diplomacy, you gain a +2 bonus to Appearance checks.

Skill Tricks

Social Recovery: Appearance may be used in place of bluff for the social recovery skill trick.

Feats

Beguiling Appearance

You're so beautiful, it's positively...magical.

Prerequisite: Appearance 6 ranks,

Benefit: Once a day you may use Suggestion as an extraordinary ability. You may only target creatures that failed their opposed spot check.

Quickchange

You can change extremely quickly

Prerequisite: Disguise 4 ranks, Appearance 4 ranks

Benefit: You may make a Disguise check and an Appearance check as part of the same action. You may use either skill as a full-round action, but you take a -5 penalty to the check.

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Just a rough hack of an appearance skill. I don't think that this sort of thing really needs to be modeled, but if it did then this is how I would implement it. –  Arkhaic Aug 5 at 20:26
    
I'm...not sure if there is such thing as Sinergy on Pathfinder. Anyway, this answer is good too. I will put some thinking to it! –  Thales Sarczuk Aug 5 at 20:42
    
Yeah, this thing was just cobbled together real quick using d20srd as a reference. I wouldn't use these particular rules as written, though they might be interesting in conjunction with that first answer. (The intent for this was to use the disguise skill as a basis, since I think it really resembles appearance most in the methods used) –  Arkhaic Aug 5 at 21:09
    
Personally, I feel this is the best answer. +1 –  Mala Aug 7 at 23:24

If only Pathfinder had some way to "measure a character's personality, personal magnetism, ability to lead, and appearance." without adding a 7th ability score.

http://www.d20pfsrd.com/basics-ability-scores/ability-scores#TOC-Charisma-Cha-

Charisma includes physical attractiveness.

As others have mentioned, it is a subjective quality, and the DM could easily tell people to add modifiers to their cha modifier based on str/dex/con/height/weight/race/clothing

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-1 for snark and for really not delivering the request for a larger system that doesn't boil down to a single stat. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 5 at 23:38
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Actually, the request was to avoid using a 7th stat and the reason given was "I don't want to rebuild the whole system on top of appearance." My solution does not introduce a 7th stat, and does not require the whole system to be rebuilt. I'll take the -1 for snark though. –  Scott Aug 5 at 23:53
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The players want something new that is just appearance, not just same ol' "it's part of Charisma." –  SevenSidedDie Aug 6 at 0:08
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What they want is probably ill-advised. –  mxyzplk Aug 6 at 2:11
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@mxyzplk For a normal dungeon cranwling game, yes, I agree. However, our D&D campaings are absurdely more social than anything else. My players love the d20 system but also really like the social mechanics of WoD, so this is kinda of a hunting for a compromise... –  Thales Sarczuk Aug 6 at 11:37

People differ in what they find attractive. Some of these are mostly binary, and subject to DM adjudication. For example, whether an NPC is attracted to males, or whether the NPC is attracted to dwarves should be entirely in the realm of DM fiat.

However, even within groups that people are attracted to, they tend to find certain attributes more or less attractive. Fortunately, D&D already has attributes. For example, one stereotypical woman might be attracted to large, physically imposing men- in other words, a high strength score. I go to a geek college, and most people are attracted to smart, high GPA people- also known as an intelligence score. Your question specifies a physical score, which wouldn't include Int and Wis, and probably wouldn't include Cha. Fair enough, though I would argue that first impressions are often also reliant on these things.

I could easily see people being attracted by other things- musical ability is usually a surefire way to pick up partners (perform checks anyone?) and I could see a martial society placing a large cultural value on fighting prowess (basic attack bonus) or maybe on valuable status markers like expensive suits that players can buy.

And of course, all of these can also be unattractive. You can get a date while in ripped up jeans just as easily as in a tailor made suit, but you have to ask different members of society. There was a decent period in western history were low constitution was an attractive feature in high class women, and having survived a modern high school I can tell you that a good intelligence modifier often feels like an albatross around your neck romantically.

I would recommend choosing two or three "attractiveness scores" for each culture, varying them depending on how different the cultures are. (Maybe high strength is always valued, but dex or con is preferred depending on which of two nearby villages you're in.) Put some thought into why the society values what it does, but don't be afraid to put something kind of strange in; there's certainly precedent of society valuing seemingly strange things in romantic partners. If you're feeling brave and your players approve, make the traits different for men or women (or whatever other sexes/genders you've got going on in your world) but skipping that is entirely reasonable.

Your players should know the values of whatever culture they come from, and possibly any immediately neighboring cultures. (Different cultures might be the Elves and the Orks, or it might be the skatepunks and the honor students. Even if your plot will never leave the one city, there should be at least three or four different groups with their own norms and values.) When moving into a new culture, Sense Motive, Diplomacy,Perception, and appropriate Knowledge skills would probably be useful for figuring out what they value, while Diplomacy and Sense Motive should be generically useful in social interactions. (Diplomacy is used "to negotiate conflicts by using the proper etiquette and manners suitable to the problem." The proper etiquette in a street gang is curse words and belligerent demeanor.)

As a final note, I would ask your players what their characters find attractive, and be sure to add that into your descriptions. Nothing like luring a PC into a bad situation because they were following a gorgeous redhead!

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Hm... This is not quite it. You can be very strong and ugly or very strong and good looking. Also, atractiveness is not the point: its appearence. One can easily be attracted to low appearence people, for example. –  Thales Sarczuk Aug 5 at 22:25
    
I guess? Though if there is going to be no mechanical effect and no definition of attractive, I'd suggest just having the players describe their characters. –  IgneusJotunn Aug 5 at 22:47
    
Oh, I never said that we wont have any mechanical effect. There will be - I just dont know at which extent, but it will exists. –  Thales Sarczuk Aug 5 at 22:55

Something you might be able to draw inspiration from

I remember as a child playing some DnD where each of the 6 attribute were split into two for more realism. You rolled as normal, but could take a + on one aspect of dex to get a minus on the other.

A ballerina and a wicket keeper (catcher in baseball) both need amazing dexterity, but someone who is good at one is not necessarily good at the other, as one relies on co-ordination and one relies on reflexes.

Constitution covers both resistance to disease and ability to run long distance. I can run amazing distances, but am sick as often as anyone.

I believe the splits were something along the lines of

Str: ?

Dex: Co-ord and reflexes

Con - Health and Fitness?

Int: Intelligence and memory

Wis: ?

Cha: Appearance and Personailty

It seems like this must have come from the ADnD "Players Option: skills and Powers" book.

Currently, Charisma (by RaW) covers 3 completely unrelated things - how good you are at talking to people, how attractive you are, and how good you are at casting spontaneous spells, and yet we have 1 stat for it for ease of play/balance reasons.

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This... is really interesting. I will look up for that book! –  Thales Sarczuk Aug 7 at 14:03
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This is from the AD&D 2e "Player's Option" series - Skills & Powers I believe. –  mxyzplk Aug 7 at 22:15

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