[RPG] How should a DM resolve a smooth-talking player with a weak Charisma score PC?


If a player is naturally a smooth-talker, does well with on-the-spot dialogue, is instinctively persuasive, and is overall great in social situations, but role-plays a character with a poor Charisma score, what is the advised course of action to handle a situation like this?

Is there a RAW, RAI, or SageAdvice answer to this dilemma, or is it solely on a DM/table basis?

Any experienced DM's out there that have witnessed this particular issue would have their advice on the matter greatly appreciated.

Best Answer

This is a delicate thing to pull off as a GM, because it involves finessing the subtle aspects of a player's agency vs the rest of the imagined world.

The usual model of player agency is that the player has agency as far as their character and character actions are concerned, while the GM has agency for everything else in the world. It's a good model and very rarely needs to be more sophisticated than that. But that simple model pointedly ignores the character statistics, which I think are best conceived as an interface between the character and the rest of the world.

For physical stats (strength, or combat skill) this is obvious, easy, and uncontroversial: If a player tries to do something absurd, the GM need not even roll. If a player tries to do ordinary things that are out of his class, the GM can simply roll and the dice will enforce things.

The social or mental stats are tougher, but it is perfectly legitimate in my view for a GM to interpret the combination of a character's low charisma and a player's silver tongue as "That sounded better in your head than it did out loud." Or specifically, the player's words may sound great, but they are just as aspirational as the player of a low strength character resolving to break down a sturdy door. The character's words are filtered through low charisma and come out less effectively for whatever reason.

(This is directly inspired by the Amber DRPG concept of "good stuff" and "bad stuff" but I have found it works just as well in D&D type systems. I am quite sure other people have arrived at this approach without ever having seen Amber DRPG.)

There are several pitfalls:

First: It takes consistency. If, as a GM, you half-ass it, you will just confuse your players.

Second: It helps a great deal to explain this technique to the players the first few times it comes into play, and to remind them occasionally. If you don't, you can be perceived as a total flake of a GM, or worse, be perceived as playing favorites.

Third: It can be jarring or grating to players who aren't used to it, especially if they are in the habit of treating some of those stats as 'dump stats.' It also, to be fair, steps up real close to the agency boundary surrounding the characters, which is often very sensitive.

Fourth: The players may want to turn everything into a die roll, instead of letting the GM more flexibly and creatively apply his or her interpretations. Resist this; the GM is under no obligation to let the players call the shots for when dice are rolled.

Fifth: I shouldn't have to say this, and it is directed to the ghosts of my gaming past more than anything else, but-- resist also the urge to humiliate your players. A charisma of 9 or a penalty of 1 is not crippling. Even a stat that genuinely is crippling is often best glossed over rather than rubbing the player's nose in it.