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Hey! You're Not Smart Enough to Play that Character!


Let's face it. You're only as smart as you are, and no smarter. It's easy to lower your own intelligence, common sense, and awareness, but raising them within a second's notice? Forget about it. Since that's the case, why even bother putting in an Intelligence/IQ/Smarts/etc. stat?

GURPS (Steve Jackson Games) defines the IQ attribute as intelligence and experience, however they describe an IQ of 15 as genius-minus. Does this mean that genius is also defined by experience? The attribute is used as a basis for mental skills, psionics, magic, will power, awareness, and quite a bit more; which is fine and dandy, but if this character is smarter than the player, how do they act it?

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (TSR/WoTC) uses the Intelligence stat as a basis for a mage's spell-casting ability, as well as the number of languages a character might learn. Okay, the spell-casting ability I can understand, but I know a great deal of intelligent people who don't have a grasp on languages (the GURPS Incompetence disadvantage for languages, perhaps?).

While it's possible to put on an aire of superior intelligence it's quite impossible to actually be more intelligent and therefore impossible for a character to think more intelligently than their player. While it's easy to make skill roles (provided your system utilizes skill roles) to perform tasks that require intelligence, like fixing a security lock, it's another thing entirely when more role-play intelligence, such as when playing a deductive detective, is needed.

Of course, the easiest ways to overcome this problem are to simply not play smarter characters or have the GM give the player extra clues and information when in the game and making lots of skill roles. The problem with the not playing smarter characters is the fact that it limits the types of character a player can play (it limits even more for others, trust me). The main hinderance of the GM dishing out hints and allowing for lots of skill roles is the fact that a lot of the fun of role-playing is simply washed away with rolls - that and the fact that overbearing GMs will end up giving so many clues and suggestions that the character becomes nothing more than an NPC that the player rolled up.

The worst-case scenario is when the lovable lunkhead of the group wants to play a character whose main abilities are those of a brain-child, like the politicking aid of a king, or a wheeling-dealing mobster. For most, it is only a matter of time before the player will become disenchanted with the character, and either request a new character or simply persevere, despite the fact that little fun is being had. Should the group tell the player "Hey! You're not smart enough to play that character!" first, or should they offer the chance, in the chance that it turns out the player was smart (or at least wily) enough to play the character?

Should the intelligence stat simply be thrown out of the character sheet? If so, what happens to all the intelligence-based skills? The physical aspects of a character are pretty easy to understand and deal with, but the mental aspects boy can they be a challenge!

You (the reader) may have noticed that this is "Part 1". I'd like to hear your opinions on the Intelligence attribute in general, as well as well as what your group does when it comes to playing characters that are smarter than their own players. Please submit all your replies within the first two weeks after this column is posted, so that I can type up "Part 2" for the following month. If I don't feel I have gotten a suitable amount of replies I will post a column pertaining to a different gaming subject in March, and post "Part 2" in May.

Happy Gaming!
Shadow Sprite

Feedback encouraged to sprite@rpg.net!

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