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The Baleful and the Beautiful

Although in many role playing games actual physical attractiveness is left out of the characters attributes, at some point or another the PCs start asking the GM the usual set of questions such as; " cute is she?" or "Is My character is better looking than his." Or on other occasions the gamemaster needs to figure out which one of the PCs is actually more physically appealing because the arrogant anima-shadow free spirit is going to have some fun with that character.

The easiest way to deal with this is to use charisma, of course. No new rules need to be applied and the attribute is already inked on the character sheets. But, as gamers go, that usually doesn't cut it. Players want to know, is my character hot or not?

So comeliness is conjured into the picture. It started, in my campaigns, as an arbitrary 1 - 10 scale used in common descriptions of every day life. "Dude, on a scale of one to ten, she was an eleven!" The scale slid higher than ten for particularly gorgeous rockers, stereotypically handsome elves, and other beings like dragons in human form and powerful free spirits. It also fell below a rating of 1 for really gnarly trolls and orks or other humanoids that fail to meet social criteria for beauty (which I will discuss later on). Soon the arbitrary scale became a long standing base for NPCs (since 1994) and so my players wanted to know what their Comeliness was. So the GM was cursed to have a rule on hand (never let them know you make things up on the fly; Players are the enemy after all). After many months, and years, of revision and number tweaking this is the out come.

I based comeliness mainly on Charisma. Charisma being described as: "More than just looks, Charisma represents a character's personal aura, self-image, ego, willingness to find out what people want and give it to them, and ability recognize what he can and can't get out of people."1 Charisma, by these standards, should be the primary element when considering comeliness of a character in Shadowrun. But comeliness is not based on Charisma alone; it is a physical attribute and Charisma is more in the domain of mental attributes2. So it would seem that both Body and Strength are "Physical" attributes that, unlike Quickness, can be viewed by others when the character is not moving. Body represents overall fitness and health; it is commonly accepted that a healthy looking person is much more attractive than a frail, anemic, obese, or sick person. Strength, by default, also is a physical manifestation of health.

I tried adding the three attributes together many different ways but found that only one gave the easiest 1 to 10 scale for humans. I did not want this to be a standard Shadowrun attribute with a scale of 1 to 6 for the average human because I did not want to be lured into letting comeliness be used for dice rolls in social tests and such.

After finalizing the base equation for comeliness I had to deal with racial (sub-species) modifiers because without any, Orks and Trolls became as attractive as elves. And here is the dilemma. Do Orks and Trolls find each other more attractive or are they more attracted to human and elves? I left this answer to society basing it on cultural views of beauty from the Seventeenth & Eighteenth centuries, where in Europe females were view attractive if plump and round and males wore wigs and heavy make-up, and how different that is today. Orks and Trolls, and all other species for that matter, living in a social setting where Homo sapiens-sapiens are in the majority and setting the social codes would find humans and elves more attractive. When you have isolated sub-species, such as the Cascade Ork tribe in the Salish-Shidhe wilderness, they will be more attracted to the same sub-species than others. This, of course, brings up moral, ethical, and aesthetic questions on what is beauty and how can you place a number on something so subjective. My answer: My players were bugging the drek out of me and I had to come up with something quick (bringing out all my social biases in the process!).

Back to the dilemma at hand; I dealt with non sapiens-sapien species by not allowing them their racial bonuses to Body and Strength when figuring comeliness but they did get their Charisma modifiers to Charisma. I also gave them a racial Comeliness modifier that is added on to comeliness after the final score is figured. Comeliness modifiers have no effect on Charisma.

The Base Comeliness equation, round down: [ ( Bod+Str ) / 3 ] + Cha.

Racial Adjustments to Comeliness (separate from racial bonuses to charisma)

Comeliness Minimums, Averages & Maximums3
Sub-speciesMinAvgRacial MaxAttribute MaxCosmetic Max

One other place to look for how the different species view each other in terms of attractiveness is in the Shadowrun novels. 40 in all (published at the time of this writing) a few have dealt with the issue. In Chris Kubasik's Changeling the main character, a troll that goblinized, was more attracted to humans than to himself or other trolls. And in Lisa Smedman's Lucifer Deck you get the view of the main character, a goblinized ork, and how she sees the world. And just what exactly is the troll, on page 56 of the Tir na nOg Sourcebook, doing in front of Ely's Bar? And who is the person with the cred.

The Greatest Pickup Line

Using Comeliness in the game should be handled with great care. Comeliness can modify the target number for opposed Charisma and or negotiation tests that revolve around the attractiveness of the negotiator/seducer. For every 3 points above five that the seducer has in Comeliness, add 1 to the target number of the 'opponent.' For every 3 points below five that the seducer has in Comeliness, subtract 1 from the target number of the 'opponent.' For example, a PC with Charisma of 5 and a Comeliness of 8 is trying to pick up on a guy at a local club. The guy has a willpower of 5. The PC is lucky and rolls her Charisma for 3 successes (TN 5), while the guy rolls no successes (TN 6, 5 + 1 for a Comeliness that is 3 points above 5) with his Willpower. Looks like the PC has a date tonight.

Only under rare occasions, such as the example above, should Comeliness be used. At a normal meet, the PCs would gain any benefit or hindrance due to their appearance when negotiating their fee. Should the Johnson be attracted to one of the PCs, however, a Comeliness modifier might be appropriate.

Technology and Beauty

Shadowrun is, by quick definition, a dark future game. Sure the Big "D" gave everyone some hope but he died. Chicago is still a mess, no matter what Ares says. The Azzies still show no sign of stopping their blood rituals. Corporations are murdering each other as are the organized crime rings and any psycho wage slave can buy a fifteen year old sex slave for 30 in South East Asia. Shadowrun is either a dark future game or it's a game that sheds some light on the darker side of reality.

Either way, dark is a key word and to reflect this, in regards to Comeliness, technology (especially humans merging with technology) for the most part, is not pretty. Sure that datajack looks cool all chromed up and polished but, boy, when you forget to clean it and a rash starts to runs rings around that cute plug hole in your head you aren't looking to good. And yes, being all chromed up brings respect from the kids in the local gang, but try getting a date when that move-by-wire starts acting up and your cyber hand keeps twitching; Not fragging likely it's gonna happen!

Below is a list of all the cyber- and bio- ware that could affect comeliness.

In addition to the standard cyber- and bio- ware, there is a call for cosmetic modifications available on the open, and legal, market. Listed below are three types of generic bioware and cyberware that are geared towards Comeliness. The first type of new bioware is called Cosmetic Modification. Although less invasive than cyberware, Cosmetic Mods. use biological agents, such as fat eating bacteria or rejuvenation "Leonization" like viruses that keep wrinkles from appearing, or in some cases from reappearing. While these procedures do put some strain on the body, reflected by body index cost, it is "looking cool" that counts, after all. The cyber version of Cosmetic Modifications, Cosmetic Surgery, is a more invasive procedure that removes parts of the body and replaces others. Common Cosmetic Surgery applications include lipo-suction, face lifts, "tummy tucks," and other intrusions into the natural body. For a more extreme result there is the cyberware called Body Modification. Body Mods. are replacements of actual body parts to enhance the visual effectiveness of the person. Surgically raising the cheek bones, breast implants, collagen lips and other body parts are all considered Body Modification cyberware. Body Modification is assumed to incorporate aspects of Cosmetic Surgery. When a person has the full treatment, that of Body Mod level 4, the patient often becomes more resistant to damage, such as gun shots and knife wounds (Hence a +1 to Body for damage resistance tests). As one runner said "Boy, that collagen sure absorbs the kinetic energy and by the way nice..."

Adrenal Pump.4 +0 Comliness
Cat's Eyes.5 +0 Com
Chloroplask Skin:5 -1 Com
Clean Metabolism: +1 Com
Cosmetic Modification.6
Level I: +1 Com, BI: 0.1. 10,000
Level II: +2 Com, BI: 0.3. 20,000
Level III: +3 Com, BI: 0.6. +3 Com, +1 Cha. 40,000
Level IV: +4 Com, BI: 0.9. +4 Com, +1 Cha, 75,000
Dietware: +1 Com
Hairgrowth:5 Varies Com
Muscle Augmentation.7 +0 Comeliness
Nephritic Screen:4 +0 Com
Nictitating Membranes:5 +0 Com
Level I: +0 Com
Level II: +0 Com
Level III: -1 Com
Skin Pigmentation:5 Varies Com
Suprathyroid Gland.4 +0 Com
Balance Tail: -2 Com
Biomonitor: -1 Com
Diagnosis Processor: +0 Com
Subdermal Display: +1 Com.8
Body Mod.6
Level I: +2 Com, E: 0.5. 8,000
Level II: +2 Com, +1 Cha, E: 0.9. 16,000
Level III: +3 Com, +2 Cha, E: 1.4. 30,000
Level IV: +4 Com, +2 Cha, +1 Bod (damage resistance tests only). E: 2.0. 60,000
Boosted Reflexes.
Level I: -1 Com
Level II: -1 Com
Level III: -1 Com
Bone Lacing:4 +0 Comeliness
Cosmetic Surgery.6
Level I: +1 Com. E: 0.2. 5,000
Level II: +2 Com. E: 0.4. 10,000
Level III: +3 Com. E: 0.6. 20,000
Cranial Cyberdecks: -1 Com
Cyberarms/ Legs (per arm or leg):4
Obvious Replacement. -1 Com
Synthetic Replacement: +0 Com
Strength Enhancement (1-3)4: +0 Com
Strength Enhancement (4+)4: +0 Com
Cyberarm/ Leg, Strength Enhancement (+4 and up)4: -0.2 + -0.3 Com/str point.
Cyberarm/ Leg, Body Enhancement4. -n(*0.3)
Cyberarm Gyromount: -1 Com
Cyberhand/ Foot, Normal Replacement (up to Str 3)4: -0.1 Com
Cyberhand/ Foot, Strength Enhancement (+4 and up)4: -0.1 + -0.05 Com/str point.
Cyberhand/ Foot, Body Enhancement4: -n(*0.05) Com.
Cyberforearm/ Lower Leg, Normal Replacement (up to Str 3)4: -0.3 Com
Cyberforearm/ Lower Leg, Strength Enhancement (+4 and up)4: -0.3 + -0.1 Com/str point.
Cyberforearm/ Lower Leg, Body Enhancement4: -n(0.1) Com
Cyberfins:5 +0 Com
Obvious: -5 Com
Synthetic: -1 Com
Obvious: -4 Com
Synthetic: -1 Com
Datajack. +0 Com
Dermal Plating:4
Level I: -1 Com
Level II: -2 Com
Level III: -3 Com
Dermal Sheathing: -3 Comeliness
Cosmetic Modification:5 +0 Com
Cyber Replacement:5 +0 Com
Cosmetic Modification:5 +0 Com
Cyber Replacement:5 +0 Com
Datajack:5 -1 Com
Display Link: +0 Com
Eye Dart:5 +0 Com
Eye Gun:5 +0 Co
Independent Cybereyes (pair):5 -2 Com
Independent Cybereyes (single):5 -3 Com
Eye Light System (ELS):5 +0 Com
ELS w/ Brightlight:5 +0 Com
ELS Superflash:5 +0 Com
Laser System (Low):5 +0 Com
Laser System (Med):5 +0 Com
Laser System (High):5 +0 Com
Protective Covers: -1 Com
Tool Laser:5 +0 Com
Vision Magnification, Optical (1-3): -1 Com
Vision Magnification, Electronic (1-3): +0 Com
Foot Anchor:5 +0 Com
Standard: -1 Com
Retractable: +0 Com
Hand Razors (Normal or Improved):
Standard: -1 Com
Retractable: +0 Com
Hydraulic Jacks: -3 Com
Internal Airtank: +0 Com
Tracheal Vent: -1 Com
Magnetic (Cyberlimb) System: -1 Com
Move-By-Wire System: -1 Comeliness
Muscle Replacement.4 +0 Comeliness
Oral Dart:5 +0 Com
Oral Gun:5 +0 Com
Oral Slasher:5 -1 Com
Retractable Climbing Claws:5 +0 Com
Softlink: -0.3 Com
Standard: -1 Com
Retractable. +0 Com
Weapon Mount:
External: -0.3 Com
Tracking: -0.6 Com
Articulate Arm: -1.0 Com
Wired Reflexes:
Level I: -0.5 Com
Level II: -1.0 Com
Level III: -1.5 Com

1 Shadowrun Mainbook, 3rd edition. p. 41.
2 Shadowrun Mainbook, 3rd edition. p. 55.
3 Note that the Body and Strength bonuses for Dwarves, Orks & Trolls are not added into the comeliness equation.
4 Bonuses to Body, and or Strength, from this modification do not modify Comeliness.
5 GM's may apply a Comeliness modifier for these modifications depending on the situation.
6 Body Modification, Cosmetic Modification and Cosmetic Surgery can never be used together on the same person and this is a new, non-canon, modification.
7 Bonuses to Body and or Strength are halved, round down, when calculating Comeliness.
8 Cancles out the -1 Com of the Biomonitor.