In 5e D&D, the spell Enhance Ability provides a buff: one of six ability scores gains advantage on ability's checks. Perk also happen: buffed-Con grants hit points, buffed-Strength grants double carrying capacity.

Previous versions of this spell directly increased ability scores. This meant characters would become near-godlike, so this confounded game balance. 5e mostly solved this problem. That said, it is unclear how a person performs 'at advantage'. How does it look to others?

Let us take a buffed intelligence score using this spell:

Fox's Cunning: The target has advantage on Intelligence checks.

Imagine an ogre and an illithid (or 'mind flayer') are having a conversation. Both gain the Fox's Cunning transmutation-effect via spell, scroll, potion or what-have-you. They are both somewhat 'smarter' - but how much? How does this present, how does this work and how does this play out in a role-playing situation? Let us examine further.

All mind flayers gain +7 or more on their intelligence rolls. This gain of advantage means almost nothing to such a creature: They go from being amazingly brilliant to being, well, amazingly brilliant. Possibly no real noticeable change at all - not even to the Mind Flayer.

Now let us look at this poor ogre:

Having a -3 intelligence modifier thanks to their 5 base-int ability really hurts. One would assume that even daily basic life skills are a genuine challenge for this creature. That said, this intelligence double-check applies on ALL tasks performed - with a re-try every six seconds. Suddenly life is stunningly easy. Even nigh-impossible things ('nat 20 only') happen 9.75% ('2 x 5% = 9.75%') and every six seconds at that.

How does this role-play itself out? Wild ideas abound. Should a DM just go with some statistical variance and figure out what those rolls kind of resemble or match as an equivalent of? Would this 'super-shmaht yet kinda shtupid wiseguy' just think about it again and now gets it the second time through? Possibly like a stutter that keeps getting smarter with each guess. You might suggest he or she presents as... a bit slow... but sorta... deep... and thorough... somehow? Others might feel this ogre is obviously cheating - it is as if someone, somehow, somewhere is whispering all the correct answers directly into his mind! Now he can even answer totally impossible questions with weird yet astounding accuracy - almost double that of the average person.

Question repeated: In any given role-playing situation, how does intelligence-at-advantage present &/or function in-game?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you interested only in INT checks? Because from the title and from the last sentece it seems so, but in your second paragraph seems you want to cover a more general sight. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Feb 1, 2021 at 15:29

2 Answers 2


Advantage is doing better with what you have, bonuses actually improve what you have.

First, there are some properties of advantage and bonuses that we can observe. Our Ogre has -3 to Intelligence checks. The best we can ever roll is 17. Now we get advantage. The best we can ever roll is 17. Advantage doesn't make me able to do anything I could not do before, it just increases my chance of performing to the best of my ability.

Bonuses on the other hand, actually improve our maximum ability. Say I am under the effect of guidance. With a -3 to my roll, my best roll without guidance is 17, but with guidance, my maximum roll is 21 (guidance adds a d4). This is an actual improvement of my ability. Under guidance I can actually do things I couldn't do before.

You are describing an Ogre able to do things it could not do before:

Now he can even answer totally impossible questions with weird yet astounding accuracy - almost double that of the average person.

This isn't really what advantage does. Advantage on Intelligence (statistically) makes the Ogre just a little bit sharper than it was before. It can't do anything it couldn't do before, but it will more consistently perform well at what it was already capable of.


Ability Scores are not your character and having a given value in a score or (dis)advantage on checks does not have a clear, in-universe description

Some related questions:

To quote an answer from that last question:

[...] [low Charisma] means he takes a penalty to Charisma checks, including those to deceive, intimidate, or persuade others. Why he or she takes such a penalty is up to you to decide—the character could be shy and nervous, loud and obnoxious, could try to win arguments on technicalities and minutiae, or whatever. Influencing others is hard; there are infinitely-many reasons why you might not be good at it. And someone with low Charisma isn’t even necessarily bad at it—they could have below-average Charisma but be proficient in a particular usage of Charisma, and end up with a sizeable bonus on the whole (just not as high as they would if they also had a high Charisma). [...]

What advantage on an Intelligence check looks like, how this is manifested, or any other sort of specifics about the spell that are not mentioned in the spell's description are going to be entirely up to the GM (and perhaps the player as well, if this is something the GM lets the player narrate/dictate/decide).


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