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Prompted by a discussion in comments here

The animal type states:

Intelligence score of 1 or 2 (no creature with an Intelligence score of 3 or higher can be an animal).

A headband of intellect adds an intelligence bonus. I don't think the bonus amount matters, but for clarity let's pick a headband +4.

So: I take a surprisingly-cooperative wolverine named Franklin (Animal type; 2 intelligence), and I plop a headband of intellect on him. What happens?

The options I see are:

  1. Nothing. Franklin is an animal; animals have max intelligence 2; the headband has no effect (though may cause weird interactions with ability drain/damage?)

  2. Franklin's intelligence increases to 6. The general rule is animals have max 2 intelligence; the specific rule is that the headband increases that. Franklin remains an animal.

  3. Franklin's intelligence increases to 6. He is now a magical beast ("similar to animals but can have Intelligence scores higher than 2"). I have a vague recollection that it worked this way before 3.5, which doesn't mean a lot for 3.5.

  4. Some other thing?

Unfortunately, while I can come up with arguments for several different outcomes, I have no idea what the correct, rules-as-written interpretation is.

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3 Answers 3

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It becomes a magical beast...

This is a noodly one.

According to Savage Species p.23, in the context of raising an animal's Intelligence score above 2 as a prerequisite to being a player character:

A creature may also circumvent its lack of intelligence with a magic item that boosts Intelligence, such as a headband of intellect. Items that raise Intelligence temporarily (such as a potion of Intelligence) do not remove this obstacle.

When the Intelligence of an animal permanently rises above 3, the creature becomes a magical beast.

The headband of Intellect increases the wearer's Intelligence score, and this says nothing about type. Any creature with an Intelligence score, and who can wear the headband, has it increased. The animal type description doesn't say an animal's Intelligence can't increase above 2, only that a creature with an Intelligence score above 2 can't have the animal type. Savage Species resolves this by saying that type changes to magical beast, which is a category that is already known to include creatures that are just animals but more intelligent, such as by the awaken spell.

...unless it doesn't.

There is potentially some ambiguity as to whether a headband counts as "permanent", since you could take it off. The first paragraph in the quote above suggests that potions are temporary, which implies that the headband counts as permanent.

As commenters have noted, this contradicts the general rule on the D&D 3.5 Player's Handbook p.58, which states that the headband of intellect is temporary, in the context of whether or not it grants additional skill points. This actually changed from the D&D 3.0 PHB p.145, where the headband of intellect did grant skill points if you wore it constantly.

The D&D 3.5 FAQ gives this opinion:

Can an animal increase its Intelligence when it gains an ability score increase at every 4 Hit Dice? If its Int increases beyond 2, does it become a magical beast?

The Sage recommends that the DM not allow an animal (or any nonintelligent creature) to increase its Intelligence via HD advancement except as a very special case. Even the biggest 18-HD viper in the jungle shouldn’t be able to have an Intelligence of 4.

Regardless, an animal’s type doesn’t change simply due to an Intelligence increase.

However, the D&D 3.5 FAQ is not the rules (see What is wrong with the D&D 3.5 FAQ). Savage Species very specifically introduces a rule for animals with permanent Int increases which contradicts the Sage's ruling.

Conclusion

This boils down to noodly interpretations of rules precedence: specific overrides general, primary sources rule, and 3.0 vs 3.5.

We know for certain that an animal can have its Intelligence score increased by a headband of Intellect. But we also know that "no creature with an Intelligence score of 3 or higher can be an animal". It doesn't say an animal can't have 3+ Int, it just says that if it did, it would no longer be an animal.

Dungeon Master Guide p.6, "Adjudicating", notes that in case of things not explicitly covered by the rules, "Look to any similar situation that is covered by a rulebook. Try to extrapolate from what you see presented there and apply it to the current circumstance." In that regard, magical beast type would be a reasonable ruling, since it's what happens in every other situation where an animal gains long-term intelligence. For example, we don't know if the magical beast type change of a familiar is permanent, i.e. whether dismissed familiars retain their intelligence and/or type.

Tome and Blood says a dismissed familiar becomes "a normal creature of its kind", suggesting that even the magical beast type can be reverted when a magical effect ends.

Consider also the exploits possible if an animal PC would be treated as an animal type. An awaken spell maximized by rod would give that PC 18 Int and +3 Charisma for the price of 250 XP.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thus it can see in darkness and understand Common? So weird. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 10:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ The Player's Handbook very clearly distinguishes between permanent and temporary changes to Intelligence (P 58). It explicitly says that a headband of intellect only provides a temporary change... \$\endgroup\$
    – Peregrin
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 14:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ The first sentence of this answer is incorrect. Both a potion and a headband are temporary changes. So it stays an animal. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cœur
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 14:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Cœur It's not incorrect, that's a direct quote from a rulebook. It might be illogical and/or inconsistent, but not incorrect. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 15:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ In the quoted text, the parenthetical reference to a potion, prefixed by the words "such as". is not meant as differentiation, but rather as an example. Wearable (and removable) items are, by their very nature, temporary. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 15:48
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I'm pretty sure that creatures don't change their type unless the effect clearly states that they do (as, for example, the awaken spell or a template does). As headband of intellect does not state that an animal would become a magical beast when wearing it - it stays an animal.

Do note that 3.5 rules on types are a complicated mess. In some cases, a type is treated as a guideline for a DM to use when creating a new type of monster, sometimes - as a modifier to an existing creature. In my opinion, the Int limit for aimals is a case of former, and the intended effect is that animals have the maximum of 2 Int at creation, which then can be increased through bonuses - similar to how base stats for PC are capped at 18.

So Franklin would simply become a very smart animal - and probably would be much less cooperative if you would try to take the headband off. Note that it wouldn't give it any other abilities like knowledge of a language or capability to comprehend abstract concepts, though (like applying the awaken spell would).

P.S. Regarding the linked question - I would like to point out that the reason familiars are magical beasts is not because they are smart, but because of the process that makes them familiars. Increased intelligence is the consequence here, not the reason; pre-ritual familiar is a common animal.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It’s worth noting that (as far as I know, which is pretty far) every single rule element that explicitly considers making an animal smarter, explicitly turns them into magical beasts. Every single time. Including general things that don’t usually change type at all, except in the case of an animal that has been given Int >2, which becomes a magical beast in that case. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence here that “because they are smart” is, by itself, a reason for an animal to become a magical beast (even if familiars are also magical for other reasons). \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 22:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan as far as I know (which, admittedly, seems to be not quite as far as you) most of these elements create a permanent effect, though? Potion of Int, headband of itnellect and casting Fox Cunning all can make an animal break 3 Int limit temporarily, but wouldn't make them a magical beast for the duration of the effect, IMO. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 3:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Right, but the point of the question isn’t to get your opinion. The point is to find out if there’s something the question is missing here, something that definitively resolves the ambiguity in the rules referenced in the question. This answer doesn’t really provide anything new besides your opinion, which isn’t what we’re after. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 4:02
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I want to give full credit to Quadratic Wizard’ answer for finding the relevant rules text here, because I wasn’t aware of it (and frankly didn’t believe it existed), but I have to offer a competing analysis of the text.

Bottom Line Up Front:

With the addition of the statements made in the “Lack of Intelligence” section on page 23 of Savage Species, the question solely comes down to whether or not Savage Species is allowed to establish “core-ish” rules. If yes, then we have an answer (“permanent” increases to Intelligence to 3 or greater turn an animal into a magical beast, temporary increases cannot increase its Intelligence above 2 at all). If no, then we don’t have an answer and I strongly doubt we’d ever be able to establish one (but then again, I was surprised to learn of this section in the first place, so perhaps I’ll be surprised again).

If you really must have “the correct, rules-as-written interpretation” here, unfortunately, it’s “no” to Savage Species, and thus “undefined” to the overall question.

Analysis

First, the text, with a little more context:

Lack of Intelligence: Players who want to play some kind of construct, undead, animal, or plant face this obstacle. […] A creature may also circumvent its lack of Intelligence with a magic item that boosts Intelligence, such as a headband of intellect. Items that raise Intelligence temporarily (such as a potion of Intelligence) do not remove this obstacle.

When the Intelligence of an animal permanently rises above 3, the creature becomes a magical beast.

(Savage Species, pg. 23)

The opening of this section is, I feel, absolutely critical to understanding the rule here, since without it we have a sentence referring to “this obstacle” without being entirely clear what obstacle we’re referring to—some kind of lack of Intelligence, sure, but how far does it go? The full context makes it clear that it goes all the way—Savage Species not only allows a headband of intellect to increase an animal’s Intelligence above 2, but it even allows one to make a mindless creature intelligent!

It is, I think, very clear now that Savage Species is definitely adding new “core” rules here—because under the actual core rules, a headband of intellect couldn’t do that. Mindlessness means having Intelligence as a “nonability,” that is, “These creatures do not have an ability score of 0—they lack the ability altogether,” (Nonability definition, also found in the core Monster Manual). With nothing to add a bonus to, the bonus doesn’t apply—this is explicitly not 0+X, it’s undefined+X (my browser console tells me that equals NaN, short for “not a number,” which I suppose is true enough but is also very much a Javascript wat moment).¹

At this point, I no longer really care about the core definition of a “permanent” bonus or a “temporary” bonus, versus the Savage Species definition. It’s very clear that Savage Species is writing its own new rule here, and the fact that it’s re-using terminology is the least of our concerns. (The fact that the game goes very far out of its way to avoid making the distinction between a permanent and a temporary bonus almost ever matter is a big part of this, too—it’s really easy to not even know about that core rule ’cuz it affects so few things.)

The bigger question is whether or not Savage Species gets to do this. To answer that, you first have to answer whether Rules Compendium gets to do it. To make matters worse, though, Rules Compendium at least explicitly asserts that it is doing that and is supposed to do it: “[The book] updates […] the rules, as well as expanding on them,” (Rules Compendium, pg. 5). Savage Species makes the opposite claim: “this book features several changes to the rules concerning monsters. The changes […] are also reflected in the D&D game’s revised core rulebooks, particularly the revised Monster Manual,” (Savage Species, pg. 4). According to Savage Species, anything you find in that book should be consistent with what winds up in the “revised core rulebooks,” since it was published before the “v.3.5 revised edition” was. And predictably... it didn’t actually turn out that way all of the time.

Ultimately, there are no answers here. Is this a Savage Species-specific rule? A rule that Savage Species thought was going to become core, but never did? A rule that was going to be core, but then was specifically edited out? A straight-up mistake? We’ll never know. By the errata rules, Savage Species doesn’t get to make this rule—the primary source on ability scores, nonabilities, magic items, bonuses, and so on, are the core books, not Savage Species, and Savage Species doesn’t even give us its own assertion of primacy to work with as Rules Compendium does. And this rule is clearly in contradiction with core, at least with respect to mindless creatures. So I guess, RAW, it’s out.

But that leaves us with no answer at all, because absent this claim from Savage Species, the entire situation is unresolvably ambiguous.

  1. Because I know HeyICanChan, at least, will wonder—I do make a distinction here between adding a bonus to a nonability, versus stacking levels, with one’s levels in a class one hasn’t taken. The distinction is akin to that between a numerical sum and a set union. Which is questionable in the extreme, but if push comes to shove, I’m much more likely to give way on the level stacking thing than I am on this nonability plus a bonus thing, so none of that concern is specifically relevant to this question.
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you can read that text so it works normally: "A creature may also circumvent its lack of Intelligence with a magic item that boosts Intelligence, such as a headband of intellect" is the last in a list of options for addressing lack of intelligence, and none of the other options are applicable to every type. So if you read this as a suggestion that only applies to the cross-type set of creatures with <3 int, it gets a lot less surprising. \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 12:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @fectin If that’s so, though, it just means we’re unsure if headband of intellect or similar can raise an animal’s Int above 2 again, though, because you’ve removed the one sentence that possibly addressed that specifically. The whole problem is that we don’t know what “normally” is for this case. But I find that a dubious interpretation in context—without context, I had exactly the same thought, but the context gives us a just of types whose difficulties with Intelligence is most often mindlessness. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 13:04

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