So you’re playing a character with a really high Intelligence, a really high Wisdom or both. You, on the other hand, are just an average guy who likes to play D&D. Your real-life Intelligence and Wisdom are probably somewhere between 8 and 11 (I’ll be generous). So how do you make the most of a smart character’s best attribute?
This problem has come up in my games many times over the years. One of the guys I played D&D with in high school loved magic users and played Wizards more than any other class. But, he found it frustrating to play a character with a really high Intelligence when he himself was admittedly of average Intelligence. He would often say “My character has 18 Intelligence, I don’t.”
What do you do if you’re a player and you find yourself in this situation? If you’re the DM, how do you try to fix this situation?
This is a tough one. How do you distinguish between what the player knows and what the character knows? And what happens in a scenario where the character absolutely would know the answer but the person playing that character would not? Should the DM hand that player the answer? Should the DM make him roll? It’s a fine line and one that can have very significant impacts on the game.
When a character with a really high Intelligence or Wisdom faces a challenge that requires use of these attributes, I find it’s good to lead the player a little bit. I don’t want to hand them the solution outright, but at the same time I don’t want them to struggle if their character should have the answer. If I feel there is a strong likelihood of the character having knowledge of a particular field or discipline then I provide very specific and useful hints to the player.
This is where I look to the player for guidance. As the DM, I need to know at any given time the likelihood of his character knowing the solution to a problem, or being able to recall some obscure bit of information. The better my understanding of the character, the more help I can provide to the player.
If the player has provided me with a brief description of his character’s background I can use that to everyone’s advantage. If he spent 10 years studying in the great library I can assume he’s very well read on a wide variety of topics. This character is going to have a clear advantage when a challenge relies on straight-up book smarts. If the character travelled a lot as part of his education, then he will have advantages for challenges involving geography, politics, government and local cultures.
The character’s background becomes the most important guide for the DM when trying to determine when the character’s high Intelligence or Wisdom score will provide a clear advantage. If the player hasn’t thought about his character’s background then I often leave the matter to chance. But, I’m more conservative with a catch-all roll then I would be if I have some framework to guide me.
This is a topic that has been around for a long time and will not be resolved easily. Using the guidelines I’ve mentioned above have helped me, but I know this is not a perfect solution.
Tell us how this situation has played out at your gaming table? What steps have DMs taken to give characters with really high Intelligence and Wisdom scores advantages that these abilities deserve?
For the flip side of this problem, check out Playing Characters With Low Ability Scores.