About two months ago, I got an interesting query from reader Nick Seigal, asking about how to run a monster or villain more intelligent than oneself. When you think about it, it’s a challenge that runs throughout Dungeons & Dragons and every other roleplaying game that quantifies mental capacities: How do you roleplay any character or creature with greater intelligence, wisdom or charisma than you yourself possess? (For that matter, how do you play having significantly less? I’m reminded of the one good bit in the otherwise godawful Robert A. Heinlein book Friday, in which the main character, a covert agent, has to take an IQ test and hit a predetermined score exactly.) In social interaction skill checks, it can be handwaved—and often is—with a die roll in lieu of roleplaying. But combat, with its round-by-round mechanical decision-making, requires something more.
With respect to Intelligence (the ability) in particular, it behooves us to think about what we mean when we talk about intelligence (in general), and one important aspect of intelligence is something we might call “quickness of apprehension”: the ability to rapidly recognize the importance of what one sees or hears. This quality is one we see in great detectives of literature, such as Sherlock Holmes, who hoovers up every visual detail at a crime scene in moments, or Nero Wolfe, who pounces on an out-of-place phrase in a conversation which signifies consciousness of guilt. Any detective of ordinary or slightly above-average intelligence could find the same clues, but it would take hours of examining the crime scene or poring over a verbatim transcript of the conversation, and most would give up long before then.
In a D&D combat situation, this manifests in a highly intelligent creature’s being able to “read the room.” It can tell a fighter from a paladin, a wizard from a sorcerer, or a Life Domain cleric from a Light Domain cleric. It can get a sense of a character’s Strength by observing the force of their weapon strikes, their Dexterity by watching them dodge attacks, their Constitution by watching them take hits, their Intelligence and Wisdom by listening to them call out to their allies. It notes who’s got magical weapons and what they do. It pays attention to how badly injured its opponents are. It observes the opponents’ positioning, notices when someone has made a blunder and capitalizes on it. It’s mindful of its own weaknesses and the need to avoid, neutralize or eliminate opponents who might target those weaknesses. (more…)