D&D Did You Know’s: Comeliness in AD&D 2E

Charisma measures a character’s personality, personal magnetism, ability to lead, and appearance.

With this sentence, printed in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, Paizo inherited one of the great debates in D&D: Should appearance be something that Charisma measures?

The issue of measuring something that’s highly subjective wasn’t necessarily the problem. After all, things like “willpower” and “intuition” are also incredibly difficult to measure, and yet no one has any problem assigning those to a character’s Wisdom score. Rather, the problem is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, not the beholdee (insert obligatory jokes about eye tyrants here).

Having an objective statistic for something that would vary wildly based on the attitudes and beliefs of other characters tended to be more than a lot of role-players were willing to accept. While the attitude of “low Charisma means being ugly” – and its reverse with regards to high Charisma being beautiful – is still thoroughly enmeshed in the gaming community today, it’s largely treated as a vestigial attitude.

Instead, Charisma is more and more being treated solely as a measurement of force of will and personal magnetism. In fact, the Pathfinder stipulation that it was related to appearance was really the last gasp for the “Charisma is beauty” idea. D&D Fifth Edition struck all references to physical appearance from the entry for Charisma entirely.

Of course, this wasn’t the only attempt to resolve the disparity, however. For many people, the answer was to attempt to break beauty away from Charisma and instead make it its own ability score. This tended to be a bad idea, simply because there were few places to implement the impact of a seventh ability score; for the most part, the game engine already had the main six ability scores apply where they needed to, leaving any new one struggling to define itself.

That said, attempts were still made. E.N. Armoury – Chainmail Bikini added a “Beauty” score, while the infamous Book of Erotic Fantasy had a seventh ability score called “Appearance.” But these third-party products aren’t the attempt that most gamers remember. For that, we turn to the classic AD&D 1E product Unearthed Arcana, which was where most old school gamers came across Gary Gygax’s attempt to resolve this dilemma with a new ability score: Comeliness.

Comeliness was quite wacky, as far as ability scores went. Instead of the usual 1-25 range for AD&D 1E ability scores, it could go as high as 30, and plunge as low as -16 or even further! It also had odd effects, such as acting as an auto-charm on the people around you if high enough, to the point where many of them would start to follow you like love-sick puppies.

The Comeliness statistic didn’t originate in Unearthed Arcana, of course. Like so much of that book, it was compiled from Dragon Magazine, issue #67 in this case. Still, UA was where it reached its widest audience. But for all the attention it drew – a new rule from the co-creator of D&D! – it ultimately failed to find an audience, and by the time AD&D Second Edition came out, Comeliness had been forgotten and quietly slipped into the annals of gaming history.

Or did it?

In fact, Comeliness managed to survive into AD&D 2nd Edition, thanks to the RPGA. You can find intermittent instances of NPCs having Comeliness scores in various issues of Polyhedron Newszine well into the AD&D 2E years, such as in “The Living City: Misti’s Moonlight Pawnshop,” from Polyhedron #105 (March, 1995).

While it would be easy to write this off as a few holdovers from 1E that were being translated into 2E, that wasn’t the case. In fact, rules for the Comeliness score in 2E were tucked away in Polyhedron #89 (November, 1993) in an addendum to the adventure “The Ugly Stick.”

In fact, the 2E Comeliness rules are quite brief, consisting of only three paragraphs and a table:

Comeliness

Much of this scenario relies on the Comeliness rules from the Network’s Living City tournaments. The DM can institute this rule, or the DM can simply substitute Charisma wherever the scenario mentions Comeliness. Here are the Comeliness rules:

Comeliness reflects a character’s physical attractiveness. It can influence the initial reactions NPCs have to a character. Comeliness is not Charisma. The latter score represents a character’s force of personality.

Unlike the original edition of the AD&D game, a character’s Comeliness score is not adjusted based on Charisma, nor can characters with a high Comeliness score “fascinate” others. Comeliness in Living City play affects reaction bonuses that are tied to Charisma. Therefore, a character with a high Charisma and a high Comeliness has a significant reaction bonus.

Comeliness Reaction Adjustment
6 -2
7 -1
8-12 0
13 +1
14 +2
15 +3
16 +5
17 +6
18 +7

That’s all there was. While this doesn’t go below 6 or above 18, it’s fairly easy to calculate what the reaction adjustment would be for such extreme scores; the reaction adjustment listings are identical to those for a Charisma of the same score in the AD&D 2E Player’s Handbook.

While reducing Comeliness to a cut-rate bonus or penalty to one aspect of Charisma might be rather prosaic, it’s also a fairly easy thing to implement. Since reaction adjustment largely only applies to NPCs whose attitude the PCs cared about interacting with, that helped to self-limit the problems of applying beauty to creatures with truly alien standards; such creatures tended to be monsters to be killed, rather than people to be parleyed with.

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2 Responses to “D&D Did You Know’s: Comeliness in AD&D 2E”

  1. krackothunder Says:

    … I did not, as a matter of fact. I’ve only ever known Appearence as a seventh stat (given that Beauty’s Caress is just so OP for Cha-based casters).

    Interesting read.

    • alzrius Says:

      Seventh stats were always rare, but once third-party publishers got in on the act you could find them if you knew where to look, such as the d20 conversion of the old Fighting Fantasy books using a new stat, Luck, to help facilitate viable one-on-one play between a single player and GM.

      But yeah, beauty’s caress is a hideously broken option for Charisma-based spellcasters!

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