Charisma and Renaming D&D Stats
I seem to remember at one point some OSR blogs were doing an exercise in renaming D&D's stats. I did not participate then, but I have long been a fan of trying to do so. What the stat is named causes a certain perception of how that stat works, what it is in it's essence. Each D&D stat has certain preconceived notions about it that are not necessarily accurate to how the stat works. I got to thinking about this again because of today's Bat in the Attic post, which I have not yet read, but the title got me to thinking. Charisma is one of the most problematic stats. It is the only social stat and the only one that I can't think of a different name for that still doesn't change the perception of how it works. It's mechanical effect in game, pretty much regardless of edition, is easily ignored. It has such an under used mechanical effect that most people just roleplay through that part*.
Charisma is the universal dump stat. I am pretty sure that if the rules didn't say you needed at least a 17 charisma to be a Paladin that it would be their dump stat too. What does charisma do for you? Charisma gives you your maximum number of henchman. How often is that maximum a problem? I have never seen a PC run out of henchman slots. Charisma affects the loyalty of henchmen and hirelings, but how often does that come in to play? Reaction modifiers? When was the last time your adventurers decided to negotiate in the dungeon? I wish it would happen more often, but the "see strangers, kill strangers" meme** runs strong in D&D. 3e at least added the tie in to turning undead, which changed it's dump stat status for Clerics.
In short, charisma can't be faked. It's not the only stat that that problem, all the mental stats do. However, given the effects of the other two (Intelligence and Wisdom), they can be easily renamed so you don't have to. Intelligence could be renamed "Magic" or "Magical Aptitude" and no one would be able to complain that their 18 intelligence Magic-User should have been able to figure out the clues, and no one would have to try to "dumb" their character down***. A simple name change keeps the mechanical aspects of the stat, but changes the perception. Wisdom could be renamed "Piety" or "Willpower", both of those names contain part of the mechanical aspect of the stat. If you rename wisdom to either of them, then you wouldn't have people begging for a "do-over****" because of whatever impulsive or foolish thing they just did based on their high wisdom score. It removes much of the personality modifying nature of the stat, which role players should like because then they can play their character how they want rather than being restricted by the stat. In my experience wisdom is often used as a secondary dump stat.
So, if I were to rename the standard D&D stats, maybe for a retro-clone, I'd go with:
Strength would stay the same.
Intelligence would become Magical Aptitude. I try to stick with one word, but if I just name it magic it changes the perception of what it is to something I don't want. I want the player to see that they have an aptitude for magic, not an innate magical power.
Wisdom would become Piety. I am not 100% satisfied with that, because it still has a role-playing aspect to it, but I can't think of a better name for a "God-Power Channeling Aptitude" stat.
Dexterity would become Agility. This is another one I am not fully behind, but dexterity as a name for the stat doesn't really encompass all of the mechanical aspects of the stat either and agility comes closer in my opinion.
Constitution would become Endurance. Not because constitution is such a bad word for what the sat is, but because when most people hear the word constitution they think of the document or maybe the ship. General vigorousness of health isn't the first thing to spring to mind unless you are already a D&D player.
Charisma would become Influence. My wife Mona came up with that, in her capacity of living thesaurus, when I walked into the living room and started talking about this whole renaming stats exercise. I like to use my wife and kids as a sounding board for my RPG ideas. Anyway, influence pretty accurately covers the entire extent of what the stat is and what it does mechanically, plus it has a more neutral sounding perception. That is to say Charisma implies a magnetic personality, the word itself implies a high stat; influence is neutrally perceived. A high influence score shows that you can easily influence people where the opposite is true of a low score. Unfortunately it still has a role-playing negatable affect. Mechanically it is unchanged. How it is used (or ignored) in play is unchanged. The perception of the stat is changed though, clarified somewhat.
*The caveat here is that people will use a high charisma score as a reason why they should be able to get their own way in social situations, whether it's "Lay down your arms and the king will grant pardons to all" or "I seduce the princess"; high charisma isn't really a charm person effect. Also note that no one ever wants to suffer the consequences of low charisma by having a reasonable request denied or argument lost just because they lack the charisma to convince people to listen.
**This applies mainly in uncivilized areas like wilderness and dungeon environments. When back in town adventurers are generally on their best behavior, with some exceptions for carousing.
***Or worse, not dumb their character down. The 5 intelligence Fighter should not be the guy solving all the riddles and figuring out the mystery. Much like charisma, intelligence is tough to roleplay and people want the bonus for a high intelligence score, but not the penalties associated with a low one.
****Again, no one ever wants to be penalized for a bad wisdom score by making their character do unwise or foolhardy actions, but they expect a high wisdom to act as a safety net against ill advised player decisions.