Sorcerers use Charisma as their primary Ability Score for spell-casting in Dungeons and Dragons. Wizards use Intelligence to cast, and Clerics use Wisdom. Intelligence and Wisdom make sense for the respective character classes, both mechanically and flavor-wise.

Why do Sorcerers use Charisma? What is the reasoning from a mechanical, a class flavor, and/or D&D historical sense?

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    \$\begingroup\$ For newcomers, a little helping word: This Question is not asking about only the latest edition of D&D, it asks about how this content did develop to be as it is now from its inception to now. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Nov 19 '18 at 11:23

My first encounter with a D&D sorcerer class was 3E. The 3E PHB says on p51:

Sorcerers create magic the way a poet creates poems, with inborn talent honed by practice. They have no books, no mentors, no theories -- just raw power that they direct at will.

In religious studies, "charisma" sometimes refers to the inner personal power in an individual, divinely conferred. I had to read endless writings about it in college, especially Max Weber, who described it as:

Charisma is a certain quality of a individual by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These ... are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader.

This is the aspect of Charisma often underplayed. (Also, I am not suggesting that anybody involved in writing D&D had to have read Weber, only that he's a good source for reading about this aspect of it.)

Charisma isn't just good looks or even greatness of personality. There is a sense of transcendent greatness about highly charismatic people.

You'll find more references to this sort of meaning of Charisma on the Wikipedia page for Charisma.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I completely agree with this definition. A charismatic magic user might not understand what force they posses. Since childhood they have been able to manipulate things, just like some of their friends might swim like a fish or take to woodwork. It's not likely that they would attend a conventional school; why spend hours in a dusty old library when you can just play with it until it works? \$\endgroup\$ May 31 '11 at 4:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Great answer. The d20 SRD notes "This ability [Charisma] represents actual strength of personality, not merely how one is perceived by others in a social setting." Wizards engage in study and make their magic through careful scholarship; clerics pray and get in tune with their god's will; sorcerers have innate magical powers that manifest themselves upon the world through pure strength of spirit. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    May 31 '11 at 12:32

Mechanically, if the game's mechanics center around combat, it's good for all stats to be useful for that purpose. Otherwise you get dump stats that nobody wants, and you may as well not have the stat at all and just let people roleplay that aspect of their characters however they want.

In D&D 4e, they continued this trend with the wider spread of primary character stats (although this made the stats themselves less distinct). It's possible to find a class that's good for almost any two main stats in the particular role you want to play, which makes it easier to design a character with particular strengths and weaknesses in mind and who can still be useful in a fight.

As far as I know, many other RPGs don't have this problem because they aren't oriented around killing monsters the same way that D&D is, but other systems will still have forms of spellcasting based on force of personality because it's flavorful.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Where does 4E use CHA for physical abilities? \$\endgroup\$ May 31 '11 at 15:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Adriano: Frequently. Every stat is used somewhere for any given type of attack. For example, two out of the four Paladin at-will melee attacks and many of the encounter and daily melee powers use Charisma for their bonuses to attack and damage - and no, you do not get a bonus to these attacks based on Strength. I seem to recall that many Rogue melee attacks also use Charisma as a bonus to damage. \$\endgroup\$
    – jprete
    May 31 '11 at 16:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just as HP don't represent literally flesh wounds, but general wellbeing, both mental and physical, those powers are usually interpreted as "Because the presence of the character is so imposing, the monsters suffer more from his attack because they are more afraid, distracted, seduced, subdued.". Think Monkey Island swordfighting. To me, it makes perfect gamesense. \$\endgroup\$ May 31 '11 at 16:40

I generally look at charisma as related to emotion. Think of raven from teen titans her powers are natural and ruled by her emotions. As a master of emotion you also tend to be a master with dealing with people. So I believe that charisma based casting is related to emotion which makes perfect sense to me, as sorcerers have natural powers gifted to them from birth which are ruled buy their emotions. Also people fail to realize that the charisma based skills are incredibly powerful. You can damn near alter reality with a good bluff. You can become rich beyond all reason with diplomacy as well as save your ass from sticky situations. You can also scare the crap out of people. The only useful encounter skills in the game are charisma based.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Personality has to do with individual differences among people in behavior patterns, cognition and emotion. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruut
    Dec 1 '14 at 4:12

Sorcerers use Charisma, because later on in 2e's life people weren't using NPC reaction tables or henchmen very much, so its original purpose dropped off and everything was almost entirely roleplaying. It had to have some purpose to avoid being a dump stat for everyone, so Sorcerers were powered off Charisma simply for the sake of giving Charisma something important to do.

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    \$\begingroup\$ And to not overlap with how Clerics use Wisdom as their caster stat. Wisdom has traditionally been interpreted to cover willpower in D&D, so it would be a natural fit for a Sorcerer—except they appeared to want to distinguish them from Wis-centric Clerics. Personally, I never liked the retconning of Charisma to include "force of personality verging on supernatural force". If D&D had had distinct Wisdom and Willpower stats, I'd bet Sorcerers would have been Willpower-based while Clerics would have been Wisdom-based. \$\endgroup\$ May 31 '11 at 16:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Regarding "the retconning of Charisma," I don't think it's a retcon. White-box era Supplement I introduced Paladins for the first time. The only prereq is Charisma 17. (Greyhawk, p8) It doesn't say why, but I think that "closeness to the Divine" is more likely than "people really like him." \$\endgroup\$
    – rjbs
    Nov 30 '11 at 19:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @rjbs: Mechanically, the white box and greyhawk era included henchmen and followers (by intent) which could be positively influenced in loyalty and morale checks by the player's charisma score. Once arriving at Lord, level 9, and the building of a stronghold how loyal your followers were, or how well you could get others to follow your lead would be important as part of a campaign. (IIRC, white box included the word "campaign" on the cover). \$\endgroup\$ Jun 2 '15 at 12:14

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