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Ask a Dungeon Master: Charisma-based Encounters

Written by Darkwarren - Published on September 18, 2013

Can you point me in the direction of some literature, sites, movies or whatever tickles my imagination to create quests where charisma based characters can be useful during the sessions?”  ~Chris Zantboer from Holland

It is most important for you, as the DM, to know what type of campaign that your players want. My players like the social intrigue but also like combat, so I need to give them both to satisfy their gaming itch.

It sounds like you have players who would also be into the social intrigue because they created characters with higher charisma scores. Characters whose charisma is stronger than their strength can pose unique challenges to both the player and the DM. If you’re looking for inspiration in literature I suggest you start with the rulebook. I know this seems rudimentary but bear with me here.

Using the rule book one can find out which skills are modified by the Charisma statistic. For example, in Pathfinder, the Charisma skills are:

  • Bluff
  • Diplomacy
  • Disguise
  • Handle Animal
  • Intimidate
  • Perform
  • Use Magic Device

This invites you to create encounters based on using these skills alone. This hopefully gets us out of our default setting of combat. Many times both players and DM’s see every encounter as combat-waiting-to-happen so these skills go unused and this leads to atrophied roleplaying. But just looking at the above skills any number of possibilities come to the forefront. Now that orc standing guard over the treasure chest can be lied to, reasoned with, tricked, scared away, distracted, or cut in half.

There is any number of reasonable situations where violence and combat would be inappropriate and, in many cases, have grave consequences. Just using Diplomacy as an example here are some possible encounters: negotiating a peace treaty, haggling with merchants, arguing a legal case, calming a nervous NPC, negotiating a hostage crisis, pleading for mercy before the throne, etc. All of these require the PC or PC’s to “win” against their competing NPC’s but not one bit of blood is shed (we hope!). That’s not to say that there is not competition between PC’s and NPC’s. These skills open the door to many other non-standard encounters. All it would require is a series of opposed rolls between PC’s and NPC’s.

Taking a page out of Keith Baker’s book I would give modifiers if they can compose a poem, rhyme, or mount a logical argument based on words/evidence I have given them. For example, if I tell them that the innkeeper appreciates bawdy tunes or a magistrate appreciates a good haiku and owns orchids and the player makes one up on the spot, it definitely increases their chances of success – in some cases critical success.

Once you have an idea of what type of encounters you wish to incorporate find novels and movies that fit that type of adventure. If you’re looking for court intrigue I suggest George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and the Game of Thrones series on HBO. Nobody does backstabbing like Martin. If espionage is your game John Le Carre’s Karla series (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, A Delicate Truth, and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold), while not fantasy, is top notch. Plus, there are movies based on the books. Legal and police dramas like Law and Order, CSI, and Sherlock offer all sorts of charisma-based encounters using diplomacy and intimidation in the interrogation room or in trying to ply information from a witness.

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Written by Darkwarren

Matt W., aka Darkwarren, has been roleplaying ever since his older brother introduced him to the red box set when he was 7 years old. Since then he has game-mastered SSDC’s Battleords of the Twenty-third Century, WEG’s Shadowrun and Star Wars, and of course Dungeons & Dragons in a variety of forms. At thirty-four years old he takes turns on both sides of the screen with the group that he helped found in 2000 when 3.0 hit the stands and has met every week fairly regularly ever since. Currently they have been running a variety of the Paizo Adventure Path scenarios, so that’s his wheelhouse. He was almost famous when two of his adventures were green-lighted for possible publication right before Paizo relinquished the rights to publish Dungeon magazine.

Matt also has years if experience in improvisational comedy, fiction, and non-fiction writing. He is currently working and studying to attain a master’s degree in theology, to enhance his career as a religious studies teacher. Lastly, his greatest passion is his family, especially the three sons and dog that he shares with his wife in upstate New York.

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