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My knowledge of 5th edition's class options is far from exhaustive. I want to play an intelligence-based class whose class features are not centered on magic, alchemy, or psychic powers. Does such a class exist?

I enjoy playing a “nerd”, but was looking for something to be other than a magical nerd. If weapon-focused classes are the only alternative to magical classes, then that's the direction I'm trying to go in, but I want to leave open the possibility of a character whose focus is neither weapons nor magic, in case such exists. To be clear, I'm fine with finding and using magic items — I'm just looking to break the wall that seems to exist between mental stats and contributing in nonmagical ways.

Simply, I want to contribute to the party in a manner that frequently leverages a high intelligence score, without having to use magic as a means by which to apply that mental ability score to practical situations. Whether that means attacks in combat, skills, etc. isn't as important as a) being smart & clever, b) not needing magic to contribute.

Applicable material is anything 1st-party, including UA and anything else of comparable official-ness. I don't know what the campaign will consist of, but I suspect that it will be high-RP with fewer but more challenging combats.

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    \$\begingroup\$ ♦ Reminder: comments are for clarifying content, not posting small or incomplete answers. We do not support answers in comments because comments do not support features like proper voting and the wiki-style editing that allow us to vet, correct, and improve the content. Please only use answer posts to submit answers on the site. Prior comments containing answers have been removed. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 21 '17 at 14:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Would alchemy be fine if it's described as advanced chemistry rather than being based on magic? Or is advanced technology/science too much like magic? \$\endgroup\$ – Nat Dec 21 '17 at 19:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Paladin852 Does at least one of the below answer currently fit your requirements ? If not, what's missing ? \$\endgroup\$ – Gael L Dec 22 '17 at 17:14
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Reflavor an existing class instead

I'd like to suggest a major change to how you approach this problem. Rather than saying you want high INT and no magic, here's the process I'd take:

  • Start with a clear vision of what you want your character to do
  • Re-flavor an existing class to match that vision

Here's why - as discussed, there aren't really any existing classes that rely on intelligence without any magical effects. That's not how the world of DnD typically works. Characters are largely either good at fighting or good at magic.

Developing a vision

Focusing on being smart doesn't give a clear vision of what you want your character to do. I'm guessing you don't want to play Stephen Hawking, but he fits all of the criteria you've given us (high INT, no magic). Before you can build a character, it's essential to formulate an idea of how your intelligence would actually manifest in combat & non-combat actions. I can think of a few examples of how that might look:

  • Commander: You use your superior intelligence to spot weak points and generate tactics. You help your team fight and attack more effectively by telling them how and where to hit the enemy to do the most damage.
  • Mentalist: You use abilities of non-magical hypnosis and suggestion to control or slow down enemies, to detect their fears and send them running, and to create openings for your allies.
  • Sherlock Holmes: You use your superior intellect to become an incredible detective and have find hidden clues. You could play this as a more non-combat focused, or you could use your knowledge of human anatomy and ability to predict your foes' attacks to take your enemies apart.
  • Engineer: You use your brains to build a variety of steampunky gadgets and gizmos to assist you in and out of a fight.
  • Trickster/Saboteur: You use your superior understanding of tactics and enemy weaknesses to trip them up, deceive them, distract them, keep them guessing, etc. You'd probably also be good at putting the knife in as needed.

There are plenty of other ways you could take an intelligent character, but I'd say that before you can build anything you need a clear vision of how your character will play. It's nigh impossible to build a character off of "high int stat, no magic". It's very possible to come up with a reasonable sherlock holmes, or steampunk engineer, or whatever other playstyle you are looking for.

Building a character from that vision

For each of the archetypes I listed above, I'm confident you could get the effect you need either with some creative use of a martial class, or re-flavoring of a magic class. There are several different viable ways you could build each of those characters, with different strengths and weaknesses.

The key principle here is that it's almost universally easier to re-flavor an existing class (potentially with a few tweaks) than it is to create a whole new playstyle. Most DMs are okay with re-flavoring as long as it's not widely off-base for the world their building. Re-flavoring removes concerns of class balance, because you're using a class that is already accepted as balanced.

I'll provide one example to illustrate the point. You could play a bard (any college) to get a battle-commander, mentalist, or saboteur playstyle. Reflavor bardic inspiration to giving commands/advice to your allies, spotting weak spots in your enemies, distracting your enemies, etc. Song of rest becomes skilled first-aid care. The expertise, jack of all trades, and lots of proficiencies are a great match with your encyclopedic knowledge of everything. Countercharm becomes counter-hypnosis.

You can still use many bard spells and re-flavor them as non-magical effects. For example, Suggestion is now powered by hypnosis. Faerie Fire becomes phosphorous powder. Tongues is just a genius-level grasp of language. This could be especially effective if you focus on enchantment-type spells. Some spells wouldn't work, but there are lots of spells that can be re-flavored for the same effect. As long as you follow all of the rules and limitations of magic, this won't cause any balance problems.

This gives you a cohesive, balanced class with a distinctly non-magic playstyle. You're still useful to the party and have plenty of options, but you fit within the rules and don't require a whole host of homebrew or special exceptions. I'm confident that you could do something similar with any of the other playstyles that I listed above, or just about anything you can come up with. Re-flavoring existing classes without changing balance is one of my favorite things to do in DnD.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Dec 22 '17 at 13:50
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There are no current classes like this

You can have options within other classes (like Rogue) that offer a lot of non-combat utility, but those skills are not based off of Intelligence. If you're looking for an Intelligence based class, your options are very limited and all encompass the things you don't love about them.

Sadly, the only Intelligence based classes are Wizard and the UA Mystic and Artificer.

The Artificer gives some good INT-focused utility even though it is still somewhat magical.

Published in a January 2017 Unearthed Arcana, the Artificer provides a couple options, but not all of it's combat is INT based (some are DEX). While still relying on magic to either concoct alchemical compounds, create magic-infused bullets, or make magical engineering marvels, the Artificer does give some different options than being a wizard.

Another option: skill focus

With ideas like Rogue, or even other classes, you can still focus and pick INT-based skills. The nice thing with Rogue (or Bard) is the ability to gain expertise in a lot of skills that really put you over the top in doing well when it's time to roll. It may mean sacrificing other stats that may be more core to the class, but it will let you turn it into the type of character you want to play.

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There are currently no classes than rely on Intelligence in combat beyond the Wizard (or Artificer) and the Eldritch Knight / Arcane Trickster options, which all fall into the "Magic" category than you wish to avoid.

The best available option then is the Inquisitive rogue subclass. Although this class would still focus on Dexterity in combat, it receives several bonus directly linked to Wisdom and Intellect checks used (both in and out of combat).

This subclass would allow you to focus on intellect and have it make a tangible increase to your characters usefulness to the party. However the majority of its use would be outside of combat and focusing on intellect could reduce combat effectiveness. Wisdom gets even more bonuses from this class, and while thats not what your after it might fill the niche your looking for.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Both the Mastermind and Inquisitive heavily key off of Charisma and Wisdom (either through persuasion, deception, or perception). You can have a dump stat in INT and still excel in either of those classes. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Dec 20 '17 at 21:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ The Inquisitive is the only subclass that offers non-magical class features that key off of Intelligence, even if they also have features that key off of Wisdom. \$\endgroup\$ – nick012000 Dec 21 '17 at 8:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ The mastermind heavily uses Charisma but the Inquisitive has no direct bonuses to it. Inquisitive favours wisdom more than Intellect but it remains the only option that gives tangible bonuses to non-magical Intellect uses. Inquisitive is more about finding clues or seeing lies than about persuasion. Edited to reflect OPs revision. \$\endgroup\$ – Baergren Dec 21 '17 at 14:41
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(Battle Master) Fighters can make good Intelligence based characters

Disclaimer : this answer presents you with one option, but there are other (maybe better) possiblities. This option requires DM collaboration, as it's a non-standard way of playing.

Your goal is to play a character who focuses on Intelligence without being an actual spellcaster. A high Intelligence, when not used for spellcasting, gives better Investigation, History, Nature, Arcana and Religion checks (and better Intelligence saving throws, but these are rather rare). It also gives a better chance to remember details from previous sessions ("Memory" checks). Your goal is to have a more-than-roleplay-only purpose, so you probably want to make a use of these skills for combat-related purposes. In other words, you want a mechanical, non-magical advantage to having a high INT score.

So, of the 12 classes, we can eliminate those with spellcasting or other supernatural power : Bards, Clerics, Druids, Paladins, Rangers, Sorcerers, Warlocks and Wizards. We can also eliminate Barbarians, whose general playstyle is often considered "mindless", especially when they rage. Monks can be discarded as well, as they mainly focus on the Wisdom mental ability, which is not what you seek there. This leaves us with Fighters and Rogues. Another answer already focuses on Rogue archetypes that would fit your needs, so let's focus on Fighters here.

I am aware that Fighters in general don't have class features that use Intelligence per say. However, Fighters, unlike Barbarians, focus on tactics more than brute strength to win fights, and as explained below, a good Intelligence can give you better tactics, thus befitting the class's efficiency.

There are currently 7 Fighter Archetypes : Champion, Battle Master, Eldritch Knight, Purple Dragon Knight, Arcane Archer, Cavalier and Samurai. Eliminating Eldritch Knight and Arcane Archer because of their supernatural powers, that leaves us with 5 choices. This answer focuses on Battle Masters, which are, by definition, specialized in controlling the battlefield, and thus more fit to command, lead and make tactical decisions, all of which can benefit from a good Intelligence.

Skill checks

Below are ways for a (Battle Master) Fighter to benefit from good Intelligence checks in (preparation of a) battle :

  • History : Study the tactics of previous commanders in order to apply them in your own encounters. (the Art of War by Sun Tzu is a great example)

  • Nature : Study the geographical advantages of different terrain types in order to better position your troops and make better ambushes

  • Investigation : While in combat, analyze the situation to find weaknesses in the enemy's defenses in order to give better orders to your troops to exploit said weaknesses

  • Arcana : Know about the magical properties of creatures in order to better plan against them

  • Religion : Know the values of certain deities in order to better convince faithful NPCs to join you into battle; Get to exploit divine properties, such as holy water, to your advantage

There is also an optional rule for a DM to use a different ability bonus than the traditional one for the existing skill checks, when the situation may call for it. These skills can be instead used with Intelligence with clever roleplay and DM approval :

  • (INT) Intimidation : Explain to your enemy how he is tactically overpowered and should surrender before getting crushed in battle.

  • (INT) Persuasion/Deception : Using information about the target (possibly obtained by an Intelligence skill check like Investigation, History or Religion) to sway him in your favor in a clever, well-structured way

  • And more, up to your imagination !

By focusing on Intelligence, you will not do as much damage as other martial classes, but you will be able to place your party in advantageous scenarios where they will be more efficient thanks to you. You will probably want to take 1 level of Rogue, 3 levels of Bard and/or the Prodigy feat [Xanathar's Guide to Everything] to benefit from Expertise on one or more of these skills.

Synergy with (Battle Master) Fighter features

Some skill checks require a full action to use. With the Fighter's Action Surge, you can spend your regular action to Investigate something critical for your success on the battlefield, then spend the Surge action to act in response to the investigation's results.

The Protection Fighting style, for example, is the most useful when you are placed properly on the battlefield (beside an attacked ally). A previously successful intelligence check might have given you the perfect spot (ex: tunnel) to set up your troops.

The level 7 "Know your enemy" feature in particular combines very well with Investigation checks to get extra information on your enemies. Also, intelligence checks enable you to memorize information obtained in the past, so you can better retain enemy info you get by the "Know your enemy" feature.

Below are also some combat maneuvers that benefit from a good Intelligence :

  • Commander's Strike : your prior battlefield placement will be even more beneficial to your damage dealing teammates, as you will allow one of them to strike once more per turn with the possible Surprise you inflicted on your enemies thanks to your Intelligence-planned ambushes.

  • Maneuvering Strike : if an Intelligence check makes you see a breach in the enemy's defense, you will probably want to move your damage dealers towards the best spot to exploit it. This maneuver allows you to do exactly that.

  • Precision Attack : Many tactical possibilities here, especially if you have weapons who deal effects on a hit, like a net.

  • Pushing Attack : If you have cleverly prepared the battlefield with artificial or natural traps (Nature check?), this maneuver makes you benefit from it by moving the enemies in disastrous positions.

  • And more, up to your imagination !

Going further : Siege tactician

It may sometimes happen that combat won't happen in an empty field, but rather with defensive fortifications for one (or both) sides. History checks might give you info about ancient secret passages leading right behind the enemy's walls. Nature checks might let you know that the natural foundations of the enemy's castle are unstable and could be impared (ex: digging under). Investigation checks might help you understand the mechanism of complex siege weapons, or even build/repair said mechanism. All of these options pair nicely with Commander-like characters, and therefore can synergize well with (Battle Master) Fighters.

Conclusion

So, with all that said, you have a perfectly viable way to focus on Intelligence while playing a martial class like a Battle Master Fighter, even if, by default, Intelligence was not used in the class's features per say. Dungeons and Dragons is and should not be limited to what's written in the core features : if you want to go further and be a "martial nerd", this option is for you. I don't expect this answer to be the accepted one, but it can still be useful for the eventual reader.

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If your DM is okay with porting stuff across from previous editions, 3.5's Factotum (found in the Dungeonscape enhancement) sounds pretty much what you want.

It's an INT-based class that could do a little of everything - fight, sneak, skillmonkey, heal and cast - but much worse than all of the dedicated classes could. The trick was to use your talents were they were needed most.

Now, sure, the class does have a small amount of magical ability. Key word here being small - having those spells was another case of "only what you need, when you need it most".

The flavour of the class was that of a self-taught know-it-all who needed to plan ahead to make the most of his/her shallow mastery, so even if you don't end up using the class directly you might use it as the base for a reflavour of another class.

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I am not certain if this is what you're looking for but I've seen people play rangers using their spells as special skills or training for the Rp but still used the same spells and everything when it came to combat and skill checks.

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