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Replacing "Appearance" with "Presentation"

Everyone hates the "Appearance" attribute, and for good reason. I hate it more than most, because for strange and narcissistic reasons that probably have to do with adolescent power fantasies and complexes, almost all my characters have 4 (except my favourite one, who has 5). Yeah, I know, I'm ridiculous. It's okay, you can call me ridiculous.

You're ridiculous. :) - Falcon
So's your mom, but I don't complain. ~ Shataina

Something must be done. Ideally, I'd do more, but this is the most elegant and least disruptive solution that I've come up with. Yes, this is mostly a matter of semantics ... but in an RPG, where semantics generally translate into systems and thence into actual events in the game, semantics are more important than usual.


Most issues I have with the Appearance Attribute have already been noted by other people and thought of by basically everyone, so I'll try to say all this pretty quickly.

I know the argument that goes, "if it's an Attribute, we should try to make it as useful as any other Attribute." BillGarrett has some thoughts on this that are worth a read if you really think Appearance is totally useless. I'm also aware of the argument that goes, "But even to our modern enlightened perceptions, being beautiful is worth more than we think." I've used it.

But the fact is that (in my experience of course) Appearance is just not on the same scale as the other Attributes. I'd even go so far as to say that roughly 30% of the time it's more of a drawback than an advantage (or is it? -- discuss!), particularly in a world in which an entire subset of the Horrifyingly Dangerous Magical Beings To Be Avoided And / Or Shot On Sight category is specifically known for being beautiful. And even if it's not too much of a drawback, it's still not useful enough to be rated with the other Attributes. Sure, we could try to force Appearance to be as useful as Dexterity, but we shouldn't have to force the game to be unrealistic in order to cater to a broken system. This is also setting aside such arguments as "it's hard to think of ways to raise Appearance by learning the way you'd raise the other Attributes by learning", etc, etc.

I also don't like systems that equate being beautiful and ugly. Being beautiful and being ugly are not the same thing, and they don't do the same thing. Such a solution is too simplistic, in my opinion, and inelegant.

However, Appearance is hugely annoying to totally remove without a giant system revamp. And unpretty in terms of the character sheet ... and God knows I can't have a character sheet that's any less pretty than any of my characters. (Yeah, I'm also one of those people who rewrites her entire sheet if she doesn't like the way she crossed a T. You'd hate to game with me.)

So I replace "Appearance" with "Presentation". It's not perfect, but it works. Presentation does something very similar, but has the important advantage of having very little to do with how a character actually looks (I'm also introducing Merits and Flaws to cover actual prettiness and ugliness). Furthermore, it's something that a character can learn to improve at least as easily as they could learn to improve their Charisma or whatnot. And I can't think of any reason that someone couldn't base Lunar Charms on Presentation, unlike Appearance.

Social statistics are a huge grey area anyway, even more so than most other statistics, so of necessity these categories are going to be imperfect and artificial. Whatever, it's an RPG.

The Presentation Scale

Presentation covers, quite simply, how you present yourself. Your ability to make good first impressions goes here, along with how nice your voice and laugh sound, how well you wear your clothes, and how out-of-place you look. Even pretty people can come across as lackluster ("eh, not my type", say, or, "ugh, just another bimbo"), and even ugly people can come across as not so bad ("but he has such kind eyes ..."). People with low Presentation tend to bother others when they first meet them; even once they get to know them, their friends will wince every now and then, and won't want to introduce them to their parents or superiors or be seen in public places with them.

Charisma is different from Presentation in that an amusing or magnetic personality is not mutually exclusive with someone who comes across badly. There are plenty of people you don't immediately like, or who you don't want to be seen with, who are nevertheless fun to talk to in the end. The reverse also holds true: plenty of people come across as awesome at a glance, but end up being annoying, or boring, or a jerk, or whatever.

Manipulation is different from Presentation in that there are millions of ways to get people to do what you want, and they have more to do with using the right tactic than how they perceive you. You can even manipulate someone who hates you simply by capitalizing on the fact that they hate you.

• : You never make the impressions you want to make. Potential love interests and employers are disgusted by your unblown nose. Your girlfriend gives you a written list of things not to do in front of her parents.
•• : You win some, you lose some.
••• : People trust you "instinctively". You have a firm handshake and a sweet smile. Strangers tend to ask you for directions.
•••• : All eyes turn to you when you walk in, and people are drawn to you from across the room; everyone wants to get to know you. Little kids idolize you openly.
••••• : Every step you take, every move you make, is observed and consciously imitated. You fit in everywhere you go without even trying. Others speak wistfully of your "style", sure they'll never get it.

Example Rolls

Obviously, roll at parties, or when you meet people, to see what they immediately think about you.

Roll Presentation + Presence to talk to that hot chick at the bar.

Roll Presentation + Socialize to come off okay in a foreign court.

Roll Presentation + Stealth to fade into a crowd.

As a rule, people won't be seduced with a simple Presentation + Presence roll if they just met you -- that is, not unless they came out looking for sex, or they're particularly vulnerable, or have particularly loose mores.

New Merits and Flaws

Now, as I've said, being pretty should be useful, and there should be a mechanical reflection of its usefulness. "Seventh Sea", a great game you should play sometime, uses a Meritlike system that simply gives straight-up social bonuses, and I seem to recall that the new World of Darkness does something similar. I like it, and I think it's realistic, so that's what I'll do here.

Pretty (two-point Merit): You're pretty. Add one die to all your social rolls; this may be increased to two dice if you're encountering someone whose "type" you are, or decreased to zero dice if you're encountering someone with an aversion to your "type" or to whom human prettiness doesn't matter (e.g., a squidlike race from under the sea). It should be noted that human prettiness is assumed to matter to practically everyone, unless they've been, like, blinded or something. Storytellers shouldn't be afraid to introduce resultant drawbacks into the game, e.g. jealousy.

Gorgeous (four-point Merit): You're ridiculously pretty. Add two dice to all your social rolls; this may be increased to three dice if you're encountering someone whose "type" you are, or decreased to one die if you're encountering someone with an aversion to your type or to whom prettiness doesn't matter (you still get one die because you're so striking that even people who really hate your hair colour can't help being affected, and even squidlike beings enjoy your general physical harmony). It should be noted that human prettiness is assumed to matter to practically everyone, unless they've been, like, blinded or something. Storytellers shouldn't be afraid to introduce resultant drawbacks into the game, e.g. jealousy.

Unbelievable (five-point Merit): You're at the limits of human potential in terms of beauty (in terms of the old system, Appearance 5). Add three dice to all your social rolls; this may be increased to four dice if you're encountering someone whose "type" you are, or decreased to two dice (never fewer) if you're encountering someone with an aversion to your type or to whom prettiness doesn't normally matter; said aversion or obliviousness must be extreme to merit the reduction. You are so beautiful that people find it hard to think around you; even people who are not normally attracted to your sex are attracted to you, and people fall in love with you with monotonous regularity. You gain the effects of the two-point Flaw "Unusual Appearance" (but you don't get any points for it). If you have a low Presentation score, then you are taken for a magical being fairly frequently, and even with a high score it happens occasionally; such people generally assume you're a raksha, though not always. You also attract the attention of magical beings without trying. Storytellers should definitely introduce resultant drawbacks (take the myths of Psyche or Helen of Troy as great examples). It is worth noting that children with this Merit rarely keep it to adulthood, especially if born into peasant or lower classes; they are often scarred or mutilated by frightened parents trying to protect them, pious townspeople aiming not to offend the gods, or simple jealous peers.

Ugly (one-point Flaw): You're ugly. You lose a die on all your social rolls, including intimidation-related rolls. If you want to gain dice to intimidation-related rolls due to ugliness, then take the "Enchanting Feature" Merit and apply it that way.

Further Notes

Abyssal Exalted are not required to keep Presentation in line with their Essence, or to take any appearance-related Merits or Flaws (because I never liked that rule in the first place). However, they may use raising their Essence as justification to buy Appearance Merits in the middle of play.

Lunar Charms will now be based on Presentation occasionally, but I'm not going to go through them all and list the changes, because that would take forever and I don't care.


An excellent set of house rules, and my personal favourite so far. I've previously been using Appearance as a gauge of how positively inclined NPCs initially are toward a person, but perhaps this calls for a change altogether...DeathBySurfeit

Thanks. I figure this is still a good measure of how positively inclined NPCs are, at least at first.
~ Shataina

Hmm. Nice. Maybe I should revamp my system to look more like yours than Blaque's... --MF

OMG LOLZ I'LL SUE!!!!1111 ... Er ... sorry about that ... I think teh Internets is getting to me. Thanks, and feel free, and let me know if you do.
~ Shataina

Nice take on this. Now I almost want to call it 'Panache', but hey(your the one who mentioned 7th sea :) ). The only one that seemed weird to me was 'Presentation+Stealth' to fade into a crowd. But then I though of detective novels, and it made sense. So its cool. -FlowsLikeBits

Heh. It's not quite Panache, is the thing; it isn't quite how cool you seem, it's more how friendly and at-home you seem. There is a coolness factor, though. Anyway, that's why it helps you fade into a crowd; people who scan a crowd for you are more looking for someone who doesn't seem "right" there than you, specifically, or at least that's my interpretation.
~ Shataina

It might also be worthwhile to look at the ST version of Aberrant, and how it deals with Appearance. If memory serves, the attribute included things like this as well and has a number of abilities analogous to presence, performance, etc., tied to it. White Wolf's Street Fighter RPG also used something similar to what you have here (or, at the least, it was more than Exalted's canon barebones definition of Appearance), again if memory serves, but it added the effect of capping your success at social endeavors. That is, if you had a poor Apperance, it was mechanically impossible to do well at social interactions. The best you could do was perhaps one or two successes at Appearance &bull.

While I think it is entirely reasonable to have some drawbacks to the Unbelievable merit (as the expensive ones in the PG almost always have some negative effect), but for some reason I am unsettled with the idea that the general trend for people with it is to look like Fair Folk. That seems like overkill. ~ Andrew02

I've read Aberrant ... can't say I was too impressed with the system, although the game is awesome and I hope I play someday. I intensely dislike the idea of Appearance capping social success; I think it's ridiculous. Average-looking people do socially well all the time. Take Jon Stewart for example; do you think his social rolls are capped by his Appearance? I much prefer being pretty to just help socially, as I have it above. As for the whole Fair Folk thing, well, perhaps "frequently mistaken" was an overstatement on my part. My main point was that people with the merit are ridiculously beautiful to the point of being unreal, and people are taught from birth that any being that's that beautiful might be Fair. Having high Presentation would help offset that, incidentally; I'll note that further.
~ Shataina

Um, what's up with Unbelievable? It looks like a Flaw to me. - willows

She's punishing herself for her App 4 characters. It's like self flagellation, only with the pretty-stick. - Arafelis
Hmm. I guess I was too enthusiastic about emphasizing the negative bits. I'll tone the language down. I don't think those three extra dice to all social rolls are anything to be sneezed at, though; nor the "people having a massive propensity for falling in love with you" part. As for you, Arafelis, yes, partially, but I'm also just noting some of the punishment my storytellers have levied, so it's not all self-imposed.
~ Shataina
Honestly, it seemed ok to me. 2 dice == 4 dots, 3 dice +disad== 5 dots. Seems cool. It seems odd that really attractive people are more difficult to disquise(in fact, it seems like it would be easy to ruin looks that perfects). But that's not really mechanical, so ok. Mechanicly, it's the same as a Necklace of Solar Charisma, which can also cover for the fact that your a giant carnivorous dinasour lizard, so seems ok to me. -FlowsLikeBits
I was aiming to show how distinctive it is to be so beautiful, but then, saying that you automatically gain "Unusual Appearance" does that anyway. I don't know if it would be easy to ruin such good looks; I do think it would be hard to disguise, but not any harder to disguise than any other unusual set of features.
~ Shataina

Reading a bit more carefully over the description of the stat, I'm a little unclear as to how it's not a combination of Appearance and Charisma into a unified stat. Where would Charisma be appropriate that this stat would not, or vice versa? - Arafelis

Seduction seems likely. Maintaining good relations with the followers who are attracted to you because of Presentation alone seems like another. Oration or verbal persuasion that appeal to logic and intelligence seem more appropriate to Charisma than Presentation (Presentation would make the audience believe you look like you know what you are talking about until you get into your main argument, but then Charisma would be in the roll for whether you delivered it well). Personally, the stat seems clearly distinguished from Charisma and Manipulation. Presentation covers things like NPCs thinking, "aw, shit. That ugly chick is coming my way. I'm not nearly drunk enough to handle this," or if they think, "holy shit. That hot chick is coming my way. Be smooth, man, be smooth." If it has a flaw in being too close other Social Attributes, it appears to me that it lies in Presence being far too supplemental. Presentation might make an audience receptive and more willing to listen to what you have to say (and, on a good roll, even mitigate some of the negative response if you make an ass of yourself), but it will not make the speech or proposition fly or fail. - Andrew02
But Presentation is written to not be simple physical attractiveness- it's not something 'that hot chick' necessarily has. I've never really thought Charisma was a measure of logic... it is explicitly described as a "character's 'force of personality,'" ie, rhetorical appeal. Logic would be something described more by Manipulation and Intelligence ('aggressive persuasiveness' and 'memory, retention, judgement, reasoning and imagination', in the corebook respectively). On the other hand, Presentation does seem to cover style and the desire of others to 'be like' you- they're not persuaded by what you say so much as how you say it (and what you're wearing while you say it). Rhetoric.

A thing I just thought of: Charisma and Appearance together cover how 'cool' your character can make him/herself seem to be. Presentation seems to cover, instead, 'innate cool'... something I think is basically an oxymoron. An innately cool character can only exist in a constructed setting, and is, therefore, inherently artifical. - Arafelis is, indeed, thinking of The Fonz.
Presentation does subsume bits of canon-Charisma. The same goes for canon-Presence. As I stated several times, social statistics are, of necessity, imperfect and artificial. To be honest, I think it's impossible (and misguided) to create a system of "separate" social statistics like this, but as, again, noted, I'm unwilling to completely redo the system.

So. Within this imperfect system, I've tried to create a social statistic that can stack up with the other statistics in the ways that Appearance simply doesn't. To do that, I had to take things from other statistics. I'm okay with taking some functions away from Charisma, and this does, of course, inevitably lessen the value of Charisma. But I don't see the new Charisma as being made too weak at all. In terms of relative usefulness, I now see Presentation as being roughly analogous to Strength, Charisma as being roughly analogous to Stamina, and Manipulation as being roughly analogous to Dexterity.

I'm going to try to create actual examples now, which are doubtless going to only reinforce my hatred of cut-and-dried social statistics, but hey, I'm doing my best. First, persuasion. Let's suppose Solar Bob is trying to convince X to do Y.

High-Manipulation Bob: Finds a similar issue to Y that is near and dear to X's heart; explains to X why her take on the issue translates to agreeing to do Y. Or, say, feeds X a sob story about how, if she doesn't do Y, his family will starve.
High-Charisma Bob: Sits down with X, explains the situation to her in a neutral fashion, puts his cards on the table, and then asks her to do Y without any further frills, hoping she'll do it just because he's so congenial and / or likable or whatever.
High-Presentation Bob: Looks at X, smiles, and says sweetly, "Hey, could you do Y for me?"

Man I hate these stupid categories. But I'm a glutton for punishment, so to try and make this clearer, I'll go again with seduction.

High-Manipulation Bob: Presses X into having a fight with her boyfriend by pointing out how badly he treats her, then comforts her when she runs to him crying.
High-Charisma Bob: Tells X jokes and spends quality time with her, complimenting her hair and stuff.
High-Presentation Bob: Flashes X a devastating smile, leans forward till he's just close enough, and murmurs in her ear, "So how bout it, baby?"

I end (finally!) with this point: I've already explained with my intent was here. If you agree with me that it needs doing but don't agree that Presentation is a separate enough statistic, then feel free to appropriate Presentation and change the definition to suit yourself. Or create a whole new statistic. Whatever. The distinction is clear enough in my head that I'm confident I can play with it, and it seems that I've explained it well enough for a couple of people to agree with me, but I'm not going to fool myself that everyone is going to interpret it the way I'm thinking of it (especially since every gaming group has a different approach to these goddamn social stats anyway, and especially when social activities are simply unstattable in ways that most activities aren't). Particularly since I expect that other people are playing with different definitions of these stats, I really hope that they don't totally go by my definitions here, because that'll just screw up their games.
~ Shataina

These are good rules. My group uses something along the same lines. The new WoD system does too, replacing Appearance with a Presence attribute. - IanPrice

Thank you. Indeed, I mentioned the nWoD once or twice myself, I think. I can't say I love that system, but it fixed a lot of things I hated, so it certainly gets props.
~ Shataina