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


First let me thank everybody who wrote back on part one of this article, the response was overwhelming! In fact, I got so much that this article was nearly postponed for a month so that I could read it all. Fortunately, I had plenty of coffee, so I was able to stay up a little later than usual and write.

Not only was there a great amount of responses there was also a large amount of diversity between them. I heard every aspect of Intelligence in gaming from "This is a huge gaming problem" to "As long as I can swing a sword I'm happy". Which enforces my theory on the different types of gamers. More on that some other month. For now, allow me to concentrate on the gaming attribute that can be as difficult to play as charisma, intelligence.

Of course, as a few people pointed out, there's role-playing (adopting the aspect of another persona, character-based play) and there's roll-playing (hack & slash, stop that pigeon, etc.). I tend not to do a lot of roll-playing, so I don't write about it. Intelligence within roll-playing is quite easy to deal with. It tells you the number of languages you can have, how well you can cast spells, and how good the character might be if performing a technical skill. Within the confines or roll-playing the previous article and this may seem kind of silly. Playing the role of another persona, however, can be much more difficult. Intelligence becomes something much more intangible. And therein the problem lies.

Of course, the simplest solution would be playing characters that aren't smarter than the player. But that would limit the number of roles that one could play; and darn it, I like playing the quirky genius! Limiting what you can role-play takes a lot of the magic (um, that's metaphorical magic...) out of the game. It's only another step between not allowing people to play characters of higher IQ and determining that players can only play themselves. And while that can be fun in a few scenarios, there is more to role-playing than that.

Another possibility is simply limiting the players over-intelligence to particular areas, say for instance the technical wizard who couldn't plot his way out of a paper bag, much less operate a political campaign. This limits the acting of intelligence to the rolling of dice, which is a lot more fun than actually going over the technical diagrams of a star-ship. Not to mention that trying to role-play the engineering/mathematical side of intelligence could be a real pain for the GM.

Social skills, aren't something that can't just be rolled and looked over. Well, they can be, but that takes out a large part of role-playing. Social skills are also coupled with charisma, another attribute that many people have trouble role-playing. For example, a person may roll up an amazingly charismatic and social character, yet play the character as a self-righteous arse, without realizing it. Even if the GM uses reaction-roll charts for NPCs (I only use them for minor NPCs), it does not stop the other players' characters from disliking that character. I normally augment my major NPCs reactions to a character based of the skills and advantages of a PC, but I do not control another PC's reactions to a PC. This may seem unfair to the player, who is trying their hardest to play a socially skilled character. What's a GM to do?

What happens when a player wants their character to "hit on" a charming NPC of the opposite gender? Well, if it's a minor "nameless" NPC, a simple roll of dice should be sufficient enough for the GM to then say, "They agree to go on a date with you and the two of you have a wonderful evening." Of course, with a major NPC or a PC, the roll of the dice can augment the outcome, but the roll shouldn't be the focus, the interaction should have the spotlight. For example, let's say PC Swavero wants to "pick up" the major NPC Cuteynia. Even if the phrases used by Swavero are rather unflattering, a roll can assist in Cuteynia's reaction. A relatively simple affaire (pun not intended), but the same type of solution can be applied when a player wants their character to come up with a giant political scheme. Rolls should augment role-playing, not take over. Nor should a little roll-playing be cast to the side, especially when playing games where attributes and skills are purchased (like GURPS), otherwise the time spent developing the character is wasted.

Let's sum-up. Technical intelligence can simply be rolled and doesn't require a lot of role-play, and social/investigative/scheming intelligence can be role-played and augmented with rolls. At least, that's what all the feedback I got leads me to believe. As I stated earlier I got a lot of responses. The final line in most of my feedback was along the same lines, and of course it's what I feel as well. Do what ever is fun! This is a game, it's entertainment and if it's not entertaining then it's not serving its purpose.

I got a little feedback as to why I didn't discuss people playing characters who aren't as smart as they are. Well, when you've worked in retail as long as I have, you get a lot of ideas as to how to play a complete moron. :)

Happy Gaming!
Shadow Sprite

Feedback encouraged to sprite@rpg.net!

Other columns at RPGnet

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