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What is the intelligence requirements to waking up allies?

I recently ran a D&D 5e game where wolves attacked the party. They were put to sleep using the sleep spell. When the wolves went to wake up the other wolves, one of the players said they couldn't do that since they have an intelligence of three. Then when the wolves started to retreat the same player said that the wolves couldn't wake up the rest of the sleeping pack since they have an intelligence of three.

What is the intelligence required for creatures to wake up allies?

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The sleep spell says:

each creature affected by this spell falls unconscious until the spell ends, the sleeper takes damage, or someone uses an action to shake or slap the sleeper awake.

Intelligence is not a factor. The spell indicates how a creature can be awoken. Wolves can shake someone awake using their action. So mechanically it is possible.

But if you did want to reference intelligence...As a dog owner I can tell you that they can and will wake you up if they want something.

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    \$\begingroup\$ My dog definitely knows how to wake me up if I don't let him out of the house early enough in the morning. More impressively, he's figured out to do it by nuzzling me instead of barking so he only wakes me up and doesn't wake up my wife. (Or perhaps more technically, he figured out that she yells at him if he barks but no one yells at him if he nuzzles me.) \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Jun 15 at 16:13
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As Sam pointed out the sleep spell has no requirement of intelligence. That being said, neither do thieves tools or cutting a bridge to stop an enemy crossing - that doesn't mean you can't bring intelligence into it.

You can make checks for enemies to see whether they figure something out.

Perhaps its whether they've realised a battle is unwinable and they should retreat or maybe its to see whether they can figure out they should wake their companions. For sleep I'd probably make that a wisdom check to see whether they know their fellow wolves are just sleeping, rather than dead, and choosing a DC based on things like how close they are to their ally or their emotions - an infuriated enemy may make more rash decisions, a terrified one may be more likely to flee.

A low intelligence or wisdom score may give a lower chance of an enemy putting the pieces together but doesn't mean they can't do it. (Though, for reference, I wouldn't roll for a wolf figuring out how to use theives tools - as a DM you get to decide what may be possible.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer better addresses the real problem. I doubt the player was referencing any peculiar in-game rule. Only that it's really weird that a wolf would understand that their allies are put under sleep, neither dead nor stunned, and would try to wake them up in the middle of a fight. It implies high level of cognition and some knowledge of the Sleep spell, I'm not even sure goblins should pull that out. \$\endgroup\$ – Echox Jun 14 at 12:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ What DC do I have the players roll to see if their characters are smart enough to figure out their actions then? \$\endgroup\$ – Charlie Hershberger Jun 14 at 17:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @CharlieHershberger The players are in control of what their characters do - they just have to roleplay in terms of what their character would know and try not to bring too much metagaming into it. You can call them out on it if you think they're acting out of character, just ask "So how would [character] know that?" \$\endgroup\$ – Lio Elbammalf Jun 14 at 18:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Echox It's not unreasonable for a creature to investigate the sate of another fallen creature with which they are familiar, including interacting sufficiently with the fallen creature's body to constitute an attempt to wake them, or even a direct and specific attempt to awaken the fallen creature. It does take more intelligence to go directly from seeing a spell, knowing "sleep spell", and working to wake all affected creatures, but it's not a stretch that a creature would investigate a fallen pack-mate. For an evil-aligned creatures, it could just be they are looking to loot their fallen. \$\endgroup\$ – Makyen Jun 16 at 0:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Makyen I've never yet seen a DM make a beast investigate on another beast that I'd killed in the middle of a fight. And even if it happened, would the newly awoken creature go and wake another ? It's clearly the DM metagaming. \$\endgroup\$ – Echox Jun 16 at 7:26
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Intelligence score is secondary to DM adjudication here

Sam has helpfully pointed out that there are no rules which stop creatures with low intelligence from shaking their allies awake.

There is scope, however, for a DM to decide that a creature is incapable of knowing that they can shake an ally awake. I agree with Sam's judgement that this is something a wolf would do in real life, and thus in the game also.

Ability scores can be helpful clues when considering how a creature might respond to a particular event, but they are only part of the picture. However these scores are very abstract and don't map perfectly on to real life aptitudes.

A wolf has the same intelligence score as a zombie, but the two creatures react very differently to threats: a DM might reasonably decide that a wolf can awaken a slumbering ally and a zombie cannot. This is because the two creatures behave differently in ways that are related to the world's lore and their creature descriptions, and do not depend on ability scores.

If the rules do not explicitly reference an ability score, it can still be useful as a clue but has no explicit effect on the game.

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See the PHB, p177.

Arcana. Your Intelligence (Arcana) check measures your ability to recall lore about spells, magic items, eldritch symbols, magical traditions, the planes of existence, and the inhabitants of those planes.

Xanthar on p85 has a guide to this. It's optional, but it's what I would do for identifying a spell.

Identifying A Spell

Sometimes a character wants to identify a spell that someone else is casting or that was already cast. To do so, a character can use their reaction to identify a spell as it's being cast, or they can use an action on their turn to identify a spell by its effect after it is cast.

If the character perceived the casting, the spell's effect, or both, the character can make an Intelligence (Arcana) check with the reaction or action. The DC equals 15 + the spell's level. If the spell is cast as a class spell and the character is a member of that class, the check is made with advantage. For example, if the spellcaster casts a spell as a cleric, another cleric has advantage on the check to identify the spell. Some spells aren't associated with any class when they're cast, such as when a monster uses its Innate Spellcasting trait.

This Intelligence (Arcana) check represents the fact that identifying a spell requires a quick mind and familiarity with the theory and practice of casting. This is true even for a character whose spellcasting ability is Wisdom or Charisma. Being able to cast spells doesn't by itself make you adept at deducing exactly what others are doing when they cast their spells

As such, the DC is 16.

A wolf, at -4 int, would need to roll 20 to recall how to handle sleep, as such. It's possible, but at the edge of plausibility.

In terms of in game stuff, I'd consider several things.

  1. Do you routinely tell your players what spells enemies are casting? Do they have an expectation that everyone will know what spells are being thrown around? If they feel that wolves get meta knowledge that players don't, they may feel the game is unfair and adversarial as the enemy gets info they do not.

  2. Do you give players information for free without knowledge rolls, well above their passive knowledge? If not, they may feel these wolves are unfairly knowledgeable.

  3. Do your enemies routinely show the tactical awareness and skill of highly trained combatants, and not need intellect or wisdom to do so? If so, they may feel the game is adversarial.

In the future if you get into this situation, I recommend rolling their arcana to see if they know, rather than having them simply know spells. In addition, if they question it, turn the question back on them.

"It is weird that they know what sleep does. You wonder who taught them." Because then you can use that as a plot thread, with a werewolf master or some hostile caster using sleep on them.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think I'm a bit confused. Is your idea to use the optional rule and that's it?Have you used the rule? We've opted not to for several reasons that we encountered when trying it. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jun 14 at 15:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Great catch on the rule - a good one in many situations. However for this case I read the question as less "do the wolves recognise that a particular magic spell has occurred" and more "can the wolf figure out that his companions are only sleeping and that he needs to wake them". Knowing the spell would definitely be one way of getting to that plan but it isn't the only way. \$\endgroup\$ – Ludo Jun 14 at 15:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure attempting to wake a member of your team in a fight requires a great deal of tactical awareness. Definitely requires some tactics but wolves are used to fighting in packs - they must have some ability there. All I'm saying is that the requirement shouldn't be that they need to know how their friends fell asleep, only that they are asleep and that larger numbers help. \$\endgroup\$ – Ludo Jun 14 at 16:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NepeneNep don't most players know that a player is sleeping due to the spell without a check? most people who get slept just wake up team mates. \$\endgroup\$ – Charlie Hershberger Jun 14 at 18:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Dogs and wolves can certainly recognize when someone is sleeping. Understanding that a spell was responsible for the sleeping state is not a requirement for waking up the rest of the pack. At best this would be a low DC perception check to see if they can tell their companions are asleep. \$\endgroup\$ – BprDM Jun 15 at 1:27

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