I am playing in a campaign I made myself using homebrewed rules based on a German pen-and-paper RPG called Das Schwarze Auge (DSA; The Dark Eye in English).

My Problem

I have a very intelligent character in my group, who easily outsmarts any other player characters, but can't do much with his intelligence.

Failed Solutions

  • I have tried to limit certain riddles/tasks to a minimum intelligence, but that feels extremely bad for other players, who have to stand by and watch. (None of my player characters are really stupid, but there still is a huge gap between let's say a pirate and scholar)
  • I have tried to give the guy playing the smart character a note with hints when the group faces a difficult riddle, but aside from opening the note and reading the hints there won't be any sense of pride and accomplishment (hah, accidental EA) for the player, because he didn't actually do something but pass my notes.
  • I have tried to make him speak more 'learned' than other characters, but this was extreme hard for my group to role play.
  • I have tried to give him bonuses like being able to ask me for knowledge on certain things (like vague monster stats, weak points of armor etc.), but there were very few thing this character should know better than another character (e.g our blacksmith or our hunter) in this group, just because he is more intelligence, but not familiar with the profession.

My Question

How can I help a smart character to put his intelligence to a good use without forcing my other players to 'act stupid' simply because their chars only have average intelligence?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Isn't your intelligent player better at skills with an intelligence component? Do those just not come up often? \$\endgroup\$
    – Glazius
    Commented Jan 18, 2019 at 23:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ What version of DSA did you base your homebrew on? \$\endgroup\$
    – Boulash
    Commented Jan 19, 2019 at 12:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Glazius Unfortuantely there weren't many situations, where he could use his skills yet (they currently are in a rural village. Peasants can be outwitted by any of our chars, no need for the super smart guy). In most social interactions our noble knight and brute barbarian - both very savy players - manage to handle things without depending on his intelligence, while he also lacks behind in combat. I don't want to restrict my players for too good in-character roleplaying, but punching people because of high strenght is easier to play than being just super intelligent. \$\endgroup\$
    – Azzarrel
    Commented Jan 19, 2019 at 13:14

3 Answers 3

  • Give the player a chance to reconsider his actions if they are unintelligent, given what the character knows and the player does not. (A similar rule would apply to wisdom in those game systems where it is a stat.)
  • Have non-player characters react as if they respect the intelligence of the player character.
    • If the player of a less intelligent character says something stupid at the court of the duke, or in the town council, NPCs react with "that's silly!"
    • If the player of the more intelligent character says something stupid, it will be "you'll have to explain that to my court magician" -- also a no, but much more polite.
  • Have more intelligent non-player characters associate with the intelligent player character.
    Say the party is in a castle. They want to pick up clues to survive their quest.
    • The bard who happens to be visiting will speak to the most charismatic player character, and deliver clues.
    • The head huntsman will speak to the most "outdoorsy" player character, and deliver clues.
    • The scribe will speak to the most intelligent player character, and deliver clues.
  • \$\begingroup\$ These are quite helpful advices. I especually like your idea about allowing more intelligent characters to reconsider their actions. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$
    – Azzarrel
    Commented Jan 19, 2019 at 13:27

I'll assume that by "intelligence" you mean "Cleverness, abreviated as "CL" in TDE

Whatever solution you choose, avoid mixing player skills and character skills

In all the solutions you described, you're trying to mix what the player can with what the character can. For numerous reasons, I'd say it's not a good idea. There are enough mechanical advantages to having high CL, especially when you start using talents whose score depend on it

One way to distinguish : player skill for granular actions, character skill for abstracted sequences

If you're giving a riddle to your group, or asking them to make sense of a bunch of clues, or crack a code, it's likely you know your players like this kind of things and they should all be able to enjoy it. That is granular play and you can ignore any kind of mechanics while playing it.

On the other hand, if the character spends days in a library trying to skim through old books to find information, if they locked themselves up in a lab to figure out a secret formula, if they want to invent a special weapon or if they are trying to translate an ancient slab, this is an abstracted sequence. It's more than likely that you are going to make an ellipse out of it and narrate the whole with a few impressions. That's the perfect occasion to use talents and take advantage of a high CL score. That's when they'll shine "mechanically" (while the rogue will do so when picking a lock, the fighter while fighting or bending bars, etc)

If you rely mostly on attribute checks and not talents, there is another way : go further down into the narrative rabbit hole.

Let your players decide what attribute they want to use to resolve a situation, as long as they can justify it in the fiction. An example: A trap was triggered in a corridor, bladed discs start moving through it preventing progression.

  • Use AG to somersault your way through the blades
  • Use ST to push some stones to block the blades
  • Use DE to disarm the mechanism
  • Use CL to analyse the movement patterns and cross safely

A smart person doesn't usually outsmart others in casual conversation. The mechanical benefits in most systems are sufficient to account for intelligence as far as it really should be shown (I don't know about the system you're using). It's hard to quantify the differences even between people I know are very smart and people I think are below average.

It's much more noticeable for people of low intelligence to not follow. Actually, the biggest noticeable difference in a conversation (or other situation) is that someone with high intelligence will move between topics faster (not necessarily like someone with ADD; they'll reach the logical conclusions of an argument first and move on to discussing them) and make larger jumps than the person with low intelligence. Roleplaying this difference is nigh impossible, and I wouldn't recommend it.

If you really want a significant mechanical difference, try memory. Give the player notes about things that his character remembers (from previous sessions, etc).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Making a character more useful by giving him certain hints (like memory) won't help their player, maybe even have the converse effect. Instead of helping the player to roleplay his smart character, I'll just use the character to convey important information. I also thought about giving him a bonus like allowing him to write down important information, so he can review it, when it becomes important again later on, but a high level of intelligence doesn't come with a photographic memory \$\endgroup\$
    – Azzarrel
    Commented Jan 19, 2019 at 13:25

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