|Cover, Unearthed Arcana, ©1981 TSR
For those of you who missed Comeliness (COM), it was a seventh ability score added to AD&D in Unearthed Arcana, and then republished in Oriental Adventures shortly thereafter. It was a stat meant to evaluate the physical beauty and attractiveness of a character. In the OA version, evil creatures that loathed all things divine and beautiful often had negative COM, and responded to good creatures as if their COM was inverted.
COM disappeared after the initial experiment with it. It never made a showing in BD&D and was left entirely out of AD&D2e (excepting a few odd showings in Polyhedron). It made a brief appearance in the infamous 3rd party D&D3e sourcebook The Valar Project: Book of Erotic Fantasy, but was pretty roundly rejected by the D&D community of the time.
There were two lines of reasoning for this division:
1. In many mythologies, beauty and divinity are interlinked. Creating a stat where we could play with the idwa of monsters repelled by beauty and that revel in the hideous, filthy, and unclean had an appeal.
2. The ideological belief that "beauty is only skin deep, and it is what's inside that counts" that was a driving part of the 1980s zeitgeist encouraged the devs at TSR at the time to divide the two in Dungeons and Dragons at the time. COM and CHA as divided stats allowed AD&D to make Charisma exclusively about influence, leadership, and presence.
I am going to leave the first point alone; it was a mechanical nightmare to execute, and tying whether a creature used regular or inverted Comeliness based on the two-axis alignment misses a lot of nuance about the mythologies that inspired it.
The second point is far more interesting to unpack.
80s Zeitgeist: Misfits and Beauty
Dungeons and Dragons, at the time, was a fringe hobby when the pressure to conform was high. Being interested in "weird" games like D&D could brand you as a social outcast, especially if you didn't balance it with interests popular with your peers. Which often was hard for generally cetebral D&D players of the time. Dungeons and Dragons was a game that both attracted and branded misfits. It was hard to be widely popular and play D&D at the same time. And Gen-X kids and Baby Boomer authority figures in particular could be pretty harsh with misfits.
A younger D&D playing nerd could feel absolutely embattled at school, work, church, and possibly among family. Bullying, snide remarks, a push to engage in "normal" activities, concerned talks from your family pastor all were a part of the experience. The absolute rejection of the value of "fitting in" was a pretty common response.
Thanks to the messaging in media, academia, and culture at the time, certain assumptions could easily be picked up by social misfits:
- The people rejecting me are stupid.
- I am being rejected more because I don't look and dress like Them, than because I don't act like Them.
- I have inner beauty that comes from my intelligence and creativity.
- They are therefore shallow and obsessed with fashion and beauty to the point of being blind to my better qualities.
- A smart person would see past my non-conformity and like who I am.
- I don't want to- and shouldn't have to- play into Their "popularity contest" to be appreciated.
- Beauty and fashion are therefore clearly shallow pursuits of an inferior mind; I therefore reject them.
- The world would be a better place if we focused on Inner Beauty.
This was borne out constantly by a certain subset of our cultural messaging at the time. I certainly knew dozens of young men who thought, to some degree or another, in this manner. The problem is that these ideas are largely wrong, destructive, and self-defeating.
It feels very pat to say that likability, influence, poise, and charm are totally separate from beauty, fitness, and poise. Unfortunately, it isn't true.
Let me share with you, as a professional who has taught people how to impress, attract, and persuade for a decade, what the reality of beauty and what it is.
First Impressions Are Critical
|Infographic courtesy of The Art of Manliness
That's it. Five seconds.
Once you have made that first impression it will colour your interactions with the other person not just for the first few minutes, but unless you do something remarkable, that impression will determine how that person treats you for the rest of your interactions. If you made a good first impression in those five seconds, every interaction you have will be easier. If you make a bad impression, you will be swimming upstream against it for the entire time you deal with that person.
This means that a huge amount of what Charisma is supposed to be doing happens in that first five seconds, and much of it happens non-verbally.
Beauty is Barometric
No person's objective beauty is completely fixed. There are certain traits that are more attractive than others for objective reasons, and others we have control over.
On the objective side:
- Large, light-coloured eyes make it easier for others to read our attention and emotions, so we are more attracted to them.
- Skin tones that make blushing more apparent both make a person seem more open and easy to read. They can also make a person seem more young and vital.
- Full lips make facial expressions more communicative, enhance the visibility of blushing, and offer some of the few signals women give of ovulation.
- Symmetry is an indicator of good genetic health.
- In men, broad shoulders are an indicator of greater potential for upper body strength, which makes them better protectors.
- There are a range of breast-to-hip-to-waist ratios in women that are an indicator of high fertility and a high likelihood of surviving childbirth.
- High cheekbones, high foreheads, and strong jaws all make for more easily read and communicative faces.
- Some combinations of hair and skin tone create better contrast for reading facial expressions.
- V shaped body geometry from shoulders to groin on men is a indicator of fitness.
- Rounded buttocks on women are an indicator of fertility.
- The appearance of youth is critical to a woman's sexual attractivenes. The closer she looks to prime marriageable (see below) age, the better.
These are all things that it is human nature to find appealing, and that we have zero control over. And they are part of the things we look for in that five second scan that shapes our first impression, which sets the tone for an entire relationship.
It is worth noting as well that many of these beauty markers are about making a person easy to read, and making blushing more apparent. The rest is reproductive.
However, these traits can be muted or enhanced with other factors that we can control:
- Clear, luminous skin makes blushing and facial expressions more apparent and shows good health. In women it can also indicate fertility.
- Well-groomed facial hair can enhance a man's jawline and make him appear more masculine, that is, we subconsciously associate facial hair with strength, protection and provision.
- Being within about 15lbs of your ideal body weight (with some variances, see below) signal good health a good sef-care.
- Hairstyles can emphasize the best facial features we have and give us a more open and attractive appearance.
- Straight, healthy white teeth make smiles and other toothy facial expressions more readable, and indicate goof health.
|The Breakfast Club established several film
tropes about presentation and female beauty
that elegantly illustrated how beauty is
as much technique as natural gift.
If first impressions are critical to setting the tone of relationships, and beauty plays a part in creating that first impression, and using one's faculties can affect beauty, it is reasonable to state that care of one's beauty is a part of the overall faculty of building relationships, and therefore influence and persuasion. (i.e.: "Charisma" as formulated in Dungeons and Dragons.)
Some parts of beauty are also informed by cultural values and norms. For example:
- During times of scarcity, men prefer (and art produced at the time favours) women who are fuller bodied, within around 15lbs over what our current medical ideals would call "ideal body weight.
- Conversely, during times of great affluence, men (and art) favour women around 10lbs. underweight.
- The amount of body hair acceptable on both men and women varies widely by culture.
- The importance of breasts to a woman's sex appeal is often inversely related to how much casual toplessness occurs in that culture: in places where women go topless on a day-to-day basis, they are less important to a woman's attractiveness.
- Open displays of body hair on men are considered attractive or repulsive in wide variance by culture.
- There has been a radical shift in Western culture in just two generations about how body art and piercings look on the human body: they have moved from repellent to generally tolerated, to mildly fetishised.
- What is considered the prime age for sexual attractiveness in a girl varies radically across cultures between 15 in relatively poverty-stricken developing nations to 21 in wealthy, egalitarian, Western ones.
- For men, physical attractiveness is bound up in showing wealth and status as much as physical fitness. A man who looks, dresses, and carries himself as high status will be rated as more physically attractive by most women. What constitutes the markers high status is wildly variable and can include features such as bodyweight and the greying of hair as much as clothing and carriage.
Literacy in the milieu of a culture in order to best be considered beautiful is a use of a cognitive faculty, not a function of physical geometry.
Appearance is Communication
|Two radically diffetent impressions can be made with the same features,
depending on how they are maintained.
The Unfairness of the Genetic Lottery
|"Homunculus" from the D&D 3e
Monster Manual; ©2000,
Wizards of the Coast
Isn't This Supposed to Relate to D&D?
|Persuasion tables from D&D 3e's OGL SRD
|B/X Monster Reaction Table, NPCs counted
as "Monsters," too.