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What are some strategies and techniques for role playing a character that is more intelligent than you actually are? It's pretty easy to pretend to be someone who is less intelligent, but the reverse seems very difficult.

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  1. As a gamemaster: Cheat. Use out-of-character knowledge. If the players surprise you with a plan, have a contingency plan for the NPC materialize even though you hadn't actually thought about it beforehand. Just make sure that you hide the "seams" caused by these cheats, and that you don't make the NPC seem smarter than they're intended to be.

  2. As a player. Ask to roll for things. You can't come up with a plan better than a plan you can come up with. But the GM has a lot more information than you, and can MAKE plans successful. For the little things, "cheat." You totally knew that was going to happen, so you made sure to take some small precaution to help you. Just make sure the GM is okay with what you're doing.

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I don't think I agree with the "roll for things" idea. As a DM, creating a riddle just to answer it yourself is no fun at all. Giving hints or partial solutions can be fine, though. For example, I once had the characters trying to find out where they had to go next from the half-charred remains of a letter in my hideous handwriting. I refused to read them what I had wrote until one of my players realized that her character could roll Decipher Script for this; then I read them what the pieces had but did NOT tell them how they were pieced together. –  Yandros Mar 10 '12 at 15:00
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1: In a game of Scion I had a custom Epic Intelligence Knack I called (uncreatively) "I knew you'd do that...", where a player could make one retroactive action for an LP based on things they only knew currently. Ex: "I had a feeling you would give me fake money for the hostage, so I gave you a fake hostage", or "I suspected you would try to shoot the mayor so I switched that gun for blanks when I bumped into you." 2: That's 7th Sea's method - they recommend having some stock phrases/actions and rolling to see how successful. –  CatLord Apr 30 '12 at 3:14
    
@Yandros The flip side of that is you can end up punishing a player for not being as smart as his character. (to use the classic example, you don't force the fighter's player to carry 200 lbs before he can use his high STRENGTH) –  Allen Gould Sep 27 '13 at 16:34
    
@AllenGould I understand how that could be a problem (in fact, I remember when a DM of mine expected me to perform the duties of my bard... even though I have zero musical talent), but that's why I suggested giving hints or partial solutions instead. Just giving them the solution is basically a "you don't need to play, just roll a a die to win!", and wouldn't be fun at all. –  Yandros Sep 27 '13 at 20:04
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@AllenGould Which is one of many reasons why it's important to communicate with your players and make sure everyone is having fun. –  Yandros Sep 29 '13 at 16:37
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There is one tool that may help you out if you find yourself havigh remarkably high Int, but not the same real-world Int to play it.

Remarkably low Wisdom.

All the intelligence in the world is for naught if you can't think ahead and plan for it...and your inability to due so, rather than being chalked up to your lack of intelligence, can then be attributed to your lack of foresight instead.

You could also consider ways in which YOU are intelligent, and focus on those aspects of intelligence instead.

Perhaps you aren't as good at solving riddles as you'd like to be. Not everyone is, and certainly not everyone who is 'intelligent' is able to solve every riddle this world has to offer...but maybe your mage (as an example) doesn't actually like riddles at all. Maybe, in fact, they would rather study ancient literature and let their knowledge of the world flourish like a flower, utilizing their powers to crush armies beneath their heels (or develop an efficient method of steam-powered transportation on tracks), rather than focusing on 'trivial things like that'.

The upside to this method is that the 'focus' of your intelligence actually makes for a much more memorable character, dedicated to their way of life rather than 'the way of intellect'.


As per the comments, I should make mention that this is based on a type of system where "intelligence", or the ability to utilize knowledge, is separated into different statistics, and assumes (specifically) that it is separated by "intelligence" and "wisdom". Your own system may not have such a separation (though it may have mental statistics separated in a different way, such as White Wolf's system which splits it in three directions), and even then, you may wish to play a character who IS very learned AND sharp.

If that is the case, this answer unfortunately won't help you much. If it's just a matter of only having one statistic for your 'intelligence', you could still try to play it off this way (since your character would still be greatly intelligent, but perhaps not able to direct it very well), but if you WANT to play a character who is very smart and very good at using their intellect...you either need to get very good at solving problems using the knowledge you have of a situation, or you need to ask your DM for help.

Take notes, ask other players and the DM what information might be useful (doing so out-of-character so that your own character doesn't look like he's grasping at straws), plan ahead for circumstances that would reasonably happen. Of course even the most intelligent person can't plan for everything, but with some help from your fellow players and your DM, you can at least make it seem like your character is quite sharp.

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I have been given this advice over and over again, but fail to see haw is it helpful in any way. An intelligent character with low wisdom still needs to have legendary crisp mind, something that ordinary, earthly people do not have. Besides, what is "Wisdom" - the question is not tagged with a particular system! –  Vorac Sep 27 '13 at 13:15
    
It would vary between systems, but I would argue that they would not in fact have a very 'crisp mind' at all. If anything, they would be remarkably bad at utilizing their own knowledge. This is assuming a certain definition of Wisdom though...and it assumes a system mechanic that delineates different types of intelligence. So I will mention this in my answer. –  Zibbobz Sep 27 '13 at 13:23
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What you can do is generate a convincing facade.

For high intelligence characters you will have fall back on those mechanical crutches to represent things that you can't do or know (like in any system where the character has a skill in something you know nothing about) but you can still represent a convincing impression of high intelligence that the players will associate with you having a huge pulsating brain.

Where I've played high intelligence characters or NPC's I've employed a variety of methods to make the character seem that way, as I certainly can't claim to be a mega-genius myself:

  • Attitude. Attitude is everything. If Cyberpunk teaches anything to any other game system - how you interact and react to everyone else is all important; how you present yourself; if it's that you treat everyone else as a know-nothing ignoramus or that you have to sigh after explaining things and repeat slowly, or ask if they need a diagram, or wait for everyone else to speak so you can use several extremely long words relevant to the topic, you can make them seem mega-intelligent. For NPCs you can grant them breaks; if the party explains something that they've worked out and have surprised you, it's not a bad thing to comment from the NPC "Oh, so you only just realised that?" (Although this can be a pain in the ass if you do it all the time, but then, that's character!)
  • Technobabble I do this a lot when playing high intelligence characters; the GMs usually cut me a break as I don't use it to meta, but more to sound intelligent. But you can explain things (especially in science fiction, but it works in magic worlds too) using words and terms you make up in order to sound like a genius.
  • Quote stuff Intelligence usually means learning; so quote stuff - when the party encounters an Owlbear and makes some comment about it, regail them at length with Grand Mage Nicolas Proon's treatise on the functional compatibility of composite monsters; there are a bajillion books out there, make some up and quote them.
  • Shticks Treat the party as an experiment, name everything in latin, refuse to work in any measurement except cubits, give the character some obscure attitude to the world. Why? Well, that's the kick. Sooner or later someone will ask why cubits are the ideal measurement for absolutely everything, then you can tell them. They should regret asking after the first twenty minutes of explanation ;)
  • Not of this world Speaking of the world, to a mega intelligent character their attitude to life could be wildly alien to that of most people. Almost certainly they will have some grand plan for everyone and everything that will solve all the worlds ills (or bring it under their control) but the way they treat people (back to attitude again) can be wildly wierd. This is best seen in Vampire the Masquerade in exceedingly long lived characters plan intricate plots over centuries, do you have a brain for that level of human chess?
  • Insanity And as a final backstop drop in a few crazy edges; I tend to only use these occasionally (although sociopath does crop up usually) But don't use too much madness, you want intelligence, not lunacy!

With these tricks I've managed to convince people the characters and NPC's I play at least are intelligent ;)

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Pure gold! This winter all of them shall be tested out. –  Vorac Sep 27 '13 at 13:21
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My answer will paraphrase some of the above, but I felt like making one singular post than several comments.

For starters, I agree with the idea that a smart character could make relevant skill checks so the player gets more information than someone else at the table. One big problem I once encountered was during a mystery game where someone made the Sherlock Holmes character (it was Victoriana strangely enough) and expected to be handed everything because his character had investigative abilities far beyond his own. Our GM for the game crafted extra pieces of evidence that only his character put together in his (in character) head but the player still needed to fit it all together.

Another idea is the idiot savant. Let a player act out a stupid idea but for some dumb reason it works. Often times this creates quite a comedic effect at the table. For example, there is an episode of Avatar the Last Airbender where one of the characters, Sokka who is not known for being particularly logical/smart comes up with an idea involving using rotten eggs to find natural gas leaks inadvertently.

One method I used in a game was I allowed each player to roll a relevant skill, and their result was how much time I gave them to come up with an answer/action (it was AEG's roll and keep system, so the average roll was in the high teens, low twenties). Granted this is still limited by the player but a smarter character gives them an edge.

Lastly, in a comment above that I made, I made a special advantage for uber intelligent characters to allow them a free retroactive action to respond to something that had just happened to give the character that genius effect from a TV show when they cut teh rug out from under someone.

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Depends on time commitment and the style of campaign. I'm going to assume that you're willing to devote some out-of-game time to game preparation and that roleplaying is a major focus of the group (as opposed to combat or world-building or something like that).

1) Intelligent people in societies with writing tend to read and write a lot. This is honestly really important. A lot of people seem intelligent merely because they have a vast pool of knowledge to draw from, gained both by memorized knowledge and an understanding of how to use research methods to find the right answer quickly.

You can portray this in-character fairly easily by depicting your character spending time reading, or reciting poetry or whatever is the most common method of passing knowledge from one person to another in the setting. Reading isn't just restricted to wizards. Fighters with a high int might do so too. And the material doesn't even have to be something related to their class--it could just be general knowledge. Have your character spend time writing too, not just consuming knowledge. Maybe they spend some time describing the anatomy of monsters recently fought, or simply summarizing the events of a particular harrowing adventure next time the party has some down time.

You can portray this out-of-character by doing the same; reading setting materials, summarizing them in your own words, and keeping the notes with you. Maybe take some in-setting history and summarize it in (simple) long-format poetry. Even if it's not very good that still usable. Have your character quote relevant portions at times.

2) Intelligent people aren't always right, or have perfect knowledge. A lot of people who seem intelligent are merely confident in their answers. This confidence might well be misplaced. If you want to play a character that seems intelligent, all you really have to do is make some knowledge checks, use the resulting information to come up with a plan of action, then defend that solution. Even if you aren't necessarily right--even if the DM does not 'cheat' for you--you can still seem intelligent if you pull it off right. This is one of the areas of nebulous difference between intelligence and wisdom. A wise character might well simply be someone more willing to spend more time considering options or evaluating the opinions of others.

3) Intelligent people tend to pay attention to the world around them. While it's not perfectly true (absent-minded professor types with high int, low wis, for example), it's generally true that intelligent folks try to learn from the world around them. Have your character do the same. When they make mistakes, have them spend time afterwards trying to figure out how it could have been done better. This is not the same as spotting hidden dangers or concealed ambushes or whatever--it's just an outward focus.

4) It's hard to portray intelligence without goals and opinions. Have your character develop some of them. They don't have to be world-shattering ruthless-acquisition-of-power type goals. Maybe it's as simple as trying to figure out an easier way to do something to avoid work. These goals should also be comprised of some long-term goals and a rotating set of short-term goals. While this is easily interpreted as a suggestion that all intelligent characters be driven and ambitious, that's not the intent here.

5) Don't sell yourself short. For the most part (disorders aside), people have basically the same mental hardware and intellectual capacity. The main difference between people who seem intelligent and people who seem dim comes down to how that hardware gets used. Have your character spend time considering his actions and how to best achieve his objectives. This is as true of fighters, rogues, clerics, etc as it is for stereotypical high-int wizards. Rich Burlew does a great job of portraying a high-int fighter in Order of the Stick, for example. Spend time thinking actions through, considering consequences, etc.

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Doing this by yourself is pretty much impossible, since you can't make your character come up with ideas you didn't come up with yourself. In my experience, it worked quite well to rely on a little subtle help from the Game Master or hints from your group of players. Unfortunately, these little "out of game" moments might annoy you if you'd rather maintain the atmosphere.

In my case, I played a wizard of sorts. (I'm from Germany, where we have our own D&D ripoff named Das Schwarze Auge ["the black eye"]) and he's able to make prophecies. The game master can slip him hints every once in a while, which makes my character able to come up with ideas I wouldn't have thought of all by myself.

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If you have ever seen the show "House," House is very brilliant. I believe there are three factors that make him seem so much smarter than the average person:

  1. Script. Other characters are written to fall into his traps.
  2. A writing staff. Instead of a single person (House) coming up with his lines, the best line is taken from multiple suggestions.
  3. Time. While a single sentence or action may only take a few seconds, much longer was spent writing it.

As a player, I think that the first of these is less useful than the other two.

The second two can definitely come into play, though. If you forget something, ask another player out of character. In a critical situation, ask the DM to pause for a minute so that you can come up with a plan.

These two small changes can make a character seem much more on top of their game. Good luck!

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I would recommend breaking the concept of "intelligence" up into specific faculties which are easier to model individually. As a rough list, I would expect an intelligent character to have: A good memory, a broad base of knowledge about the world around them, good analytical skills, and an active imagination.

1) A good memory can be modeled by taking notes. Choose a method that is the least taxing for you, the player, whether that's taking notes or recording the session (if the other players are cool with it). My recommendation is to avoid long form notes because they're of low reference value.

2) A broad base of knowledge can be handled through two methods. One is to take lots of knowledge skills, and to ask for checks on those skills whenever you think they might be relevant. The second is to talk with the DM, and as another poster mentioned, see if they will allow you to assert your character's knowledge by making up minor or interesting details about the world.

3) Good analytical skills means the ability to break things down into smaller pieces and to see how they fit together. IRL, people who face the kinds of high-stress life-or-death situations that PCs face are trained to follow certain models of thought that compress this process. Studying some of these models will help you to evaluate problems. Here are two simple models:

OODA - Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. This is the decision process taught to fighter pilots. It involves four steps which cycle, one after the other. http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/leadership/ooda.html

Draw, See, Think, Plan. This involves asking and answering four questions:

What does the state I want to be in look like? How does it differ from the state I am in? What specifically must happen to get me from my current state to my ideal state? What resources do I need to get there?

There are tons more of these heuristics you can find for yourself. These are very basic ones, but they give you basic ideas of how to break down complex problems in manageable components. SWOT analysis and SMART goals may also be useful for longer term plans for the character.

4) An active imagination - This is the most difficult to model without having. One simple way to use your imagination well is whenever you find yourself limited or constrained, ask yourself why that limit or constraint exists, and what it would take for the limitation to be true or not. Then gather information about the situation and decide whether the limitation actually exists. This is very similar to DSTP up above.

For example, if you won't attack the evil mastermind because his bodyguards will kill you, ask yourself why and how they will. What would it take for them not to kill you in a fight? e.g. they are only armed with melee weapons so if you could keep them at range you would be fine. What would be needed for them not to close to melee range with you? etc.

These are all ersatz intelligence at best, but they'll help you model the thought processes of a highly intelligent character.

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I love the idea of the GM allowing you to make stuff up because you "know" it. That requires a lot of trust on the GM's part, though.

Beyond the mentioned "make an int check" idea, I have found that collaboration helps. While you may not have the smarts to come up with brilliant ideas on your own, a few people talking together can come up with more ideas than you yourself may have thought of. In my groups, we would sometimes discuss for a short time (out of character) a puzzling situation, and the best idea/thought/strategy that came from this discussion would be presented by the clever character.

This was very helpful when I made a character that had extremely high wisdom and intelligence scores, and then due to a fluke happenstance, my intelligence was raised even higher. Oh man! The only downside is this can encourage out of game chatter and some people really like to discourage that. Personally, I didn't find it distracting, and it didn't require the GM to just hand me information (due to int checks), which personally I found to take away some of the fun and challenge of a difficult scenario.

Another suggestion: never underestimate the power of NOT saying something. Waiting till more facts present themselves and keeping ones peace is the best way not to reveal ones ignorance.

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The word "Obviously" is always helpful at the table. "Obviously Dr Von Brainiac will now bore you all with minute detail about the flux capacitor as we drive to the meeting with Iranium selling terrorists ..." or "Obviously my character would have said that, I'm just to dumb to have thought of it!"

Don't be afraid to let everyone at the table imagine stuff happening based of what your character is capable of. When the herbalist makes potions you all imagine the smell of the cauldron, the mixing of ingrediants, the choosing of sub-ingrediants and this is no different really. A good gaming circle will let you get away with this because it is obvious in the same way its obviously that the brawny character can take that punk half elf because his stats say so!

Also, if you are going to play a smart character (and they don't need to be smarter than you, just smarter in the current feild) then be happy to share the character with the GM. Let him use your character as a mouthpeice when explaining background or theory. This helps both you and him/her. Your character appears smarter and more knolwedgable because of a mix of specific info from the Gm and your general role playing.

GM: "So yeah, Dr Von Brainiac tells you that the car runs on Iraniam because of its unstable matrix. he explains why only mad terrorists use this stuff and why you need to buy it from them because it simply isn't available any other way. [insert more plot specific data]"

Dr VB's player: Yeah and then I drift off into a story about how I once was kidnapped by the IRA and had to brew guiness for them from shoe leather ah those were the days ..."

The same tricks are equally true when playing a character of the same inteligence as you but with specific knowledge you might not have such as Mythos, lores or knowledges.

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There are good ways and bad ways to do this. Never, ever, EVER say "I roll Intelligence to see if I come up with a clever plan". WRONG. Plans are for the PLAYER to come up with, not the CHARACTER. Finch's "Primer on Old School Gaming" describes the player as the character's "guardian angel"; a dumb character may be saved by a smart player, and likewise a smart character is limited by his player.

It is ABSOLUTELY appropriate to roll for things like "Do I understand this inscription?" or "Have I heard of the town this NPC is from?" Absolutely enjoy your bonuses on spells cast per day, number of languages, etc. But don't ask the DM, "OK, my character is smart, what do I do?" The game is played by PLAYERS, not CHARACTERS.

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Well, in old school gaming, this is true. But it seems a rather sweeping statement to apply to all RPGs anywhere, ever. –  Dave Hallett Nov 18 '10 at 17:26
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Not all games have DMs, or even GMs. Not all have survival as the default motive of play. That is to say, not all games are old-school D&D. And those not-D&D games do often have intelligent characters who are a challenge to play. -1 for belligerent absolute statements and an answer that is too self-righteously narrow to be relevant to most games. –  SevenSidedDie Apr 21 '11 at 22:08
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While I agree one shouldn't ask for plans, I don't agree that a dumb character should be saved by a smart player or a smart character being limited by his player. It does happen, yes, but both should be discouraged. If a DM observes a character acting smarter than he should be (because of an intelligent player) then the player should have to roll to see if they continue along the path they are taking. The opposite should be true as well. If you are going to limit a characters intelligence to what the player is capable of, then there is no point in even having an intelligence attribute. –  Arr MiHardies Oct 4 '11 at 20:48
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As others have suggested, as a GM you can "cheat" by using out-of-character knowledge. This is somewhat harder to do as a player, but still possible to a more limited extent.

Study the rules of the game thoroughly. In the real world, few people understand the hidden mechanisms that make things work (physics, mathematics, etc.). In the game, however, you have a the luxury of a rule book that tells you how things work. Most characters would not reasonably know these things, but if your character is extra-smart, he or she has probably figured some of them out. Read the books with an eye toward exploitable rules.

For instance, in many editions of D&D, rolling a natural 20 means an automatic hit regardless of how good a creature's armor class is. In practice this means that 20 completely untrained peasants can fire a bow at a anything and there's a pretty good chance that at least one of them will penetrate its hide no matter how tough it is. A high enough number of opponents can overwhelm nearly enemy this way (things get trickier with damage reduction). This might be unexpected for an average person, but an intelligent character could figure it out.

Some people might call this munchkinism, but as long as it's roleplayed well it can lend an air of authenticity to a high Intelligence score. Just don't do it when you're playing a dumb character.

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Transfer intelligence from players having less smart characters to players having smart characters. For example, if Tim plays Duruk, a dumb half-ogre, and Mark plays Alyssa, a smart mage, any bright idea that Tim proposes is done by Alyssa instead of Duruk.

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If your character is truly Intelligent, then the DM should help that character by offering INT checks and challenges that your character can solve with a DC check (or however that works in your game system).

You should collaborate with your DM and have him/her feed your character solutions to puzzles or extra information that your character can share with the group. If the DM is more flexible, then you can simply invent the information on the spot as if your character figured it out. We use this method particularly as it helps keep the role playing lively. Sometimes the DM will slightly amend the players explanation to fit better with the story.

E.g. You are investigating the ruins of an ancient city with high towers and enormous buildings.

You don't know anything about this, but the DM gives you the nod. You say:

I recognize these ruins! They are from the ancient civilization of the Tromdaurs. They were an advanced group of half-orcs of extraordinary intelligence. They valued artistry in architecture and built massive edifices to their gods. Each architect would pair with a builder who would suggest different ways of increasing the stability and size of their constructions. Over time they began to spend more and more time building and less time on other intellectual or physical pursuits. Their architecture was incredible in size and craftsmanship, but a band of elves came through the land with no respect for the half breeds work and wiped out the last of the Tromdaurs. Rumor has it some of them hid in the hills and their descendants lie in revenge for any elves that ventures near the site.

The DM may amend or change a few points to fit the campaign, but roll with the rest of the story. Similarly for solving a puzzle. The DM can setup a puzzle and give you the solution that amazes the rest of the party with your intelligence.

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The bit about the GM allowing your made up suppositions to be true is super-awesome. –  Bryant Aug 19 '10 at 20:33
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Just make sure other players are aware that's what you're doing - I did this once, and it took many sessions before it came out that the players thought I was playing favorites because random things the "smart" player came up with seemed to be "just right". –  TML Aug 20 '10 at 2:52
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@jonathan-branam - some systems allow for the made up suppositions being true part, but it seems that players and GMs forget about it. This works well for a character that is more intelligent than the player, but also a character that is more charismatic, has more contacts, etc. It is a hard enough thing to add to a system, but equally hard to remember. I like that you pointed this out! –  wraith808 Oct 4 '11 at 15:12
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There are a couple of strategies that come to mind. They represent a strategy of behaving like an intelligent character would, and trusting the game master to represent that in the world

  1. Remember that an intelligent character will want more facts to make decisions with, so concentrate your efforts on collecting data, and them make an informed decision.

  2. Play tactfully. An intelligent character will avoid burning bridges.

  3. It's better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. Don't do obviously stupid things. Everyone even intelligent characters make mistakes, but drinking the cup of fluid on the altar because you are thirsty is beyond a mistake.

  4. Concentrate on coming up with eccentric, or clever solutions to problems. At the very least ask the GM about the potential of various things in your surroundings. These may spark the GM to give you the core of a plan.

Beyond these and other "smart people" behaviors, it's up to the GM to provide you with the epiphanies that your character would have, now that you have laid the ground work to have them.

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Intelligent people burn bridges all the time, it's just that the bridges they burn are ones they don't think will ever provide value again. I don't think 'tact' is necessary for intelligence. Otherwise, I agree with your points. –  foxxtrot Aug 19 '10 at 21:35
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I think an intelligent person would only burn a bridge if there was no other choice. Hence using "avoid" burning bridges. If nothing else, an intelligent person will burn bridges less often than an unintelligent one. –  Präriewolf Aug 19 '10 at 23:08
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@Praeriewolf what you describe as tact is more akin to "Wisdom" than "Intelligence" as normally encompassed by games (i.e. ability to memorize spells, etc). The other advice is good for all players. –  Modern Hacker Aug 20 '10 at 0:38
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@Modern Hacker The question is not specific to D&D, so that's not necessarily correct. As I stated in another comment, the idea of Intelligence and Wisdom in D&D is actually reversed. –  Yandros Mar 10 '12 at 15:11
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Keep copious notes, and convince the GM to let you refer to them in out-of-game time. A good GM will provide you with more information than the other players might have, in order to spur you along somewhat.

One other idea that I've seen that worked really well was an agreement with the GM that you could discuss things with the other players, out-of-game time, and develop ideas as a group of players (rather than characters) that you can then present as the idea your own character had.

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I like it, especially due to the second half. It could slow down the game, which would be like choice paralysis - except that the others aren't just waiting to avoid continuity issues like one character telling the other something while they're not available for conversation - but instead participating. –  Julix Jan 19 at 9:11
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