Monday, December 9, 2013

The Reaction Table, One Reason Why Charisma isn’t a “Dump Stat”

The reaction roll (and related tables) is a useful, underplayed, and even maligned mechanic that can do much for your game play. It’s been true for decades that many a player and DM has treated Charisma as a dump stat (assuming one can choose where their dice rolls go) and this is in part due to the application of the reaction roll/reaction table.

Firstly I’m going to go over how a few different oldschool rules handle the reaction roll: 

Swords and wizardy complete buries it in this paragraph in the combat section “Take note: Monsters do not always leap to the attack. Unless they are on the alert for intruders, the Referee may roll 2d6 to determine whether the monsters will attack if they surprise the adventurers. On a roll of 2-6, the monsters will be hostile and attack; on a roll of 7-9, the monsters will withhold judgment and wait to see if the adventurers are hostile; on a roll of 10-12, the monsters will have a positive initial reaction to seeing the adventurers, and might even be convinced to offer some help – if they are well paid, of course”

No Charisma modifier mentioned in S&W however we do see in the description of Charisma that “Highly charismatic characters have a better chance to talk their way out of trouble”.. so neophytes may miss the subtleties and usefulness of charisma by the book. The rules also caution us against using dice over player skill to resolve diplomacy and negotiations but using them to set the initial situation is fine.

Mutant Future has the reaction roll in higher regard with modifiers noted in the description of the Charisma attribute and the relatve effect of character race in regards to NPC Race. The modifiers are low being good vs a high roll being good which is a tad annoying, Labyrinth Lord does the same thing The utility shows up in Hiring Retainers with a Reaction to Hiring Offer table, and in the Monster reaction Table. Encounters can swing from bad to goods based on the action and interactions of characters and NPCS. IF followed slavishly (which the rules mention do not encourage) however and   one gets a very different world from that many RPG campaigns present: There’s but a 1 in 36 chance of immediate hostility everything else is up to what the PCs are doing and the die roll.

Going a bit more obscure here in John Stater’s Pars Fortuna we find the Initial Monster Reaction  table in under a paragraph for  Negotiation and Diplomacy it’s made clear the scenario situations shouldn’t be overridden by dice rolls and player skill is encouraged over character skill with the initial reaction roll meant to be used to determine the initial stance of monsters (which will be hostile 15 times in 36). The description for Charisma in these rules states “A highly charismatic character has a better chance to talk his way out of trouble’ but no hard modifier to the reaction rolls is given.

In Basic Fantasy roleplaying we have reaction rolls mentioned in charisma. There is a retainer hiring table in the section for retainers, specialists and mercenaries and a Reaction Roll Table with rare chance for immediate attack (1 in 36 base chance).  I like the expression of reactions mentioned on this table we have : Immediate Attack, Unfavorable, Favorable, and Very Favorable over the “Friendly” and “Very Friendly” sort of reactions one may find listed in other rules. There’s flexibility in this while still relying on mechanics to assist the DM in adding flavor (and options) to encounters.
In ACKS the reaction roll is mentioned early in the section of using dice and in  charisma the modifier based on the charisma score is indicated as a modifier to the reaction roll. There is a hireling reaction to hiring offer table . The reaction roll and actions that would modify it are mentioned at many points in the rules and when we finally get to the section on reactions the table is indicated to be used only in those situations where monster reactions to a party are not obvious and here there is a base 1 in 36 chance of immediate hostilities or friendly/helpful monsters. The reaction role gets plenty of attention in ACKS and is mentioned the most in the rules of any of the old-school style games I’m mentioning here. There is also a hireling reaction to offer table as well.

So there we go a few different games and how they deal with a mechanic that has been in D&D and related game systems since initial release.  For some reason it isn’t popular in many circles. It’s recommended one avoid using it in obvious situations; like how we just kill PCs when a monster would obviously win a fight…

Despite that snide jab I just raised I do think player action and skill should be significant and telling in resolution of monster/npc resolution but leaving it too deep in the realm of DM fiat weakens one of the six core attributes of the game and forces play in specific directions. If players don’t see the utility and use of rules they will ignore actions related to those rules.  For every encounter I’ve heard described where players actually negotiate or bribe monsters/nps are dozens or more where it’s simply a fight the rules the DM has chosen to deploy or enforce has limited the utility of Charisma.

Let’s face it a 240 pound guy with a greasy pony-tail and Cheeto dust in his beard isn’t going to have as good a chance of seducing me as Vainglourious the dashing Half-Elf  Magic-User/Fighter with a Charisma of 17 would a pair of impressionable village girls. The reaction roll serves to separate the fantasy from the reality, it defines the impact of the fantastic within the game and the utility of one of six (just six) attributes that define characters across thousands of campaigns, dozens of game rules and decades of game play.

Give the reaction roll/reaction table a little more attention and Charisma stops being a barely relevant dump-stat. 


  1. Agreed, on pretty much all counts. Which is why, in my own house rules document, under Charisma, I include the line "Charisma modifiers apply to NPC reaction rolls and retainers' morale checks." (NPC, in this context, means any encountered being with whom communication is possible.)

    In the games I run, Charisma is also very important for determining the loyalty of retainers. Reliable retainers enhance a party's firepower and soak up damage. They can make the difference between life and death for the PCs. In this respect, for low-level dungeon-crawling characters, it's almost the most important stat there is.

  2. Thanks for pointing out the poor Reaction Table, all lonely because it has been forgotten. I'm definitely including a reaction table and encouraging its use in my OSR Tekumel game. Probably have to add a modifier for relative social class.