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This question is tangential to the (good) question how to role-play an intelligent character. Say you have a system that differentiates between intelligence and wisdom (dd4.0 being the obvious example; or a different mental stat - like the White Wolf game seireS).

How do you play characters with a large disparity between the two mental stats? What are common pitfalls and solutions?

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up vote 20 down vote accepted

A character with a High Intelligence but Low Wisdom might be incredibly book smart, but continually makes poor decisions, is absent-minded in the extreme, and tends to miss "little picture" stuff in favor of "big picture" stuff. This is the incredibly learned wizard who basically needs a handler wherever he goes due to his eccentricity. One example might be Walter Bishop from the TV show Fringe, if that makes sense.

A character with Low Intelligence but High Wisdom might be considered a dullard by society's standards, but has some matter of insight, or might be very attuned to the smaller things in life. This person might be illiterate or might be an idiot savant, but they have a way of picking up on the simple, straightforward solutions that other people miss, perhaps because they're going for the "big picture" stuff.

Those are just two popular ways to interpret the disparity in those two stats. I'm sure you could come up with other examples as well.

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I see intelligence as the ability to analyze and process data. Wisdom is one's sense of self-awareness and external pattern recognition (intuition). They are both tools for learning, though the learning is different.

High intelligence should be reflected in the ability to study something, whether it is a skill or profession. They are all about learning the nuances of the task at hand, and thus are not only able to perform, but find shortcuts and alterations that allow for an even higher degree of performance. This kind of learning is active and intentional. It takes work.

High wisdom should be reflected in the ability to recall past experience and project a multiplicity of possible futures based on that. So (if I may use Colonel Sponsz' example) the street urchin (who has considerable experience in the environment) will notice patterns of behavior around her that signal the possibility of an ambush in the ally up ahead, or may notice a certain hesitancy in the bartender's negative response that indicates that a bribe may change his mind. This kind of learning is passive and unintentional. It just happens.

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Low intelligence but high wisdom could be someone like a street urchin: never been formally educated but very street smart.

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This depends on how you interpret both the Intelligence and Wisdom stats. Intelligence could be both what it seems like on the surface, how naturally or intuitively smart the character is, or it could represent knowledge - as it is used, it usually represents knowledge. Wisdom could also mean your intuition due to experience, or it could represent force of will - again how it is usually used.

If you have Intelligence = Knowledge and Wisdom = Willpower, it's quite easy - the high Intelligence and low Wisdom character knows a lot of facts, but is something of a mental pushover. The low Intelligence high Wisdom character doesn't know many facts at all, but is mentally very tough. In this case Wisdom would be the more important stat for social interactions, so you wouldn't just rely on Charisma.

There are several more sets of combinations you could have, such as Intelligence = Natural Smarts and Wisdom = Experience, or even Intelligence = Knowledge and Wisdom = Experience, in which case they're both different sides of the same coin. That latter case, you could have someone who knows a lot of things theoretically (high Intelligence) but can't apply anything in practice (low Wisdom).

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I'm most familiar with the White Wolf systems, so I'll start there:

  • In the older Storyteller games, the three mental stats are Perception, Intelligence, and Wits. The distinction between Int and Wits is a fine one — I often use Wits for solutions or questions that must be addressed on the spur of the moment. Someone with a high Int but low Wits is great at solving hard problems but gets flustered easily or spends too much time on the details before getting a useful answer. Less good in a crisis.
  • The newer Storytelling games have Wits, Int, and Resolve. Resolve is a great roleplaying stat, because it plays a role in how dedicated or lazy one's character's inclinations are to be. How many people out there have brilliant minds but no motivation, or are hard workers to overcome being just a little slower? It's nicely done.
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