In this thread, we had several examples of many ways to role-play a character that's smarter than its player. Many suggested letting the DM give information to the player that the character could reasonably be able to have/figure out.

However, how far is too far?

Letting a character figure out a puzzle or two seems reasonable, but what about someone coming up with an advanced algorithm that continuously predicts how long any given quest will take to within a few hours? I mean, I have no idea if something like that would even be possible, but as characters are capable of attaining levels of intelligence that are far beyond what could be expected of a human, how can we tell what they'd be possible of?

Assuming a base 18, +2 racial bonus, +5 from 20 levels, +3 from age, then the max non-magical intelligence for a human would be 28 in Pathfinder. Assuming this number represent an IQ of 200 with the maximum amount of life experience and advanced academic training, and assuming that an intelligence of 10 would be average human without anything but basic knowledge, then what would a character with an intelligence of 39 (same as previous, with +5 from wish and +6 from magic items) be capable of? Personally, I couldn't comprehend what it would be like to live in the head of the first person, let alone someone who could outwit him.

So, getting back to the question;

Has anyone had any experience with this? If you have given players access to knowledge the character 'should' have, then what kind of information did you give them, and do you feel that it was too much? If it was too much, was it because it disrupted the game, or because you felt that such a character wouldn't able to come up with such things?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Is your intention to make this specific to d20? I tried and succeeded reading it both ways: as a system-specific question about high INT scores; and as a system-agnostic question about where to draw the line with what players do with genius characters. Which is it actually? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 2 '13 at 18:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I'd like a more system-agnostic version of this question; when tied to a system it becomes more uninteresting. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Mar 2 '13 at 22:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie It's meant to be specific to d20, (D&D3.5 and pathfinder, specifically) thus the tags. I tried to word it that way as best I could, if only because those are the only games I've really played, but by its nature I could see the question being applicable to any game where genius characters are allowed. \$\endgroup\$ – Zach Mar 3 '13 at 21:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk I could reword the question to make it more system-agnostic, but I don't know if it applies in any other game (save for maybe mutants and masterminds, where one of your Powers can be 'super genius'). Or, for that matter, if my specific issue (i.e. if an int. stat higher than could be obtained by an actual human should grant some kind of bonus to help accurately depict the character) is even possible in other games, as I don't know if other games allow a way to reach that high a level of intelligence. \$\endgroup\$ – Zach Mar 3 '13 at 21:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ "How do I play someone super smart" is interesting. "Well duh give them +10 skill points per level" because that's the mechanic for INT is lame. Pretty much every game out there with an INT stat can have one so way high it's hard to play from a story/RP POV. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Mar 4 '13 at 2:10

Depends on what improves the fun of the table

For a fairly trivial example, contact other plane plus some really basic statistics should be capable of knowing anything with high degrees of accuracy. Someone with 30+ Intelligence and maxed ranks in Spellcraft should probably not have any trouble figuring it out.

But not only is this unfun, if the player knows everything, it’s almost impossible for the DM to handle. He has to come up with answers to all these questions, even things that he never planned on fleshing out (or, at least, expected prior warning if it were likely to become necessary to flesh out).

So there are limits on how smart your character can be before it starts getting in the way of the table. Where that limit is, however, depends largely on the tables itself. I actually know people who actually have characters that do statistical analysis of contact other plane responses, and their DM is ready for that. I think that’s crazy, but they enjoy the game. I wouldn’t allow it at my table, nor would I enjoy it if I were another player in a game where that kind of thing was going on.

But I think it is impossible to generalize this across all tables.


Let the system mechanics handle it, I say.

In my humble opinion, intelligence (or lack thereof) tends to be vastly overplayed in RPGs.

I happen to know quite a few geniuses. They aren't any different from the rest of us. They forget their keys, laugh when someone farts, and have no idea what to do when they fall in love. They just also happen to assimilate information very quickly and in great amounts (Knowledge), they can solve complex puzzles more quickly (Disable Device), and they have a comparatively easy time learning new languages (starting languages). They do not have mythical abilities to predict, analyze, and understand anything and everything the way fiction frequently has them do, especially when given incomplete information.

Given that geniuses (Int 16-18 or so in d20 terms) aren't very different from ordinary folk, I'd guess that superhuman geniuses aren't very different from ordinary geniuses, which in term makes them not that different from us normal humans.

As for the question of what a superintelligent d20 academic would be doing... I imagine they'd be at the core of spell research teams, or be the ones obtaining the information other characters can later access through their knowledge skills (be that through field work or analyzing existing data). They'd be doing the same thing a less intelligent character would be doing, they'd just be better at it (more results, more quickly) and more likely to produce a breakthrough.

So. While I do like that popular figures like Einstein have brought about a certain general respect for intellectuals, I don't like how genius-level intellect tends to be talked about as if it were some kind of superpower. I'm pretty sure super-genius Lauren Marbe doesn't have any, at least.

That being said, if you want to portray a character that has "know anything ever" as a superpower, I'd suggest a Seer Psion. Now those guys know algorithms to figure their way out of mazes and guess what the BBEG is wearing today.


Something that could never be fully adapted is that the higher a given intelligence is, the more mental disorders that are present on average. A character can have the ability to work things like that out, but they can never truly know all of the chaos factors. Therefore for exceedingly intelligent characters I personally tend to fall back to the mechanical effects of the intelligence once the proverbial shark has been jumped for any ability score.

The system D&D gives tries to portray an 18 (or twenty depending on the race) as a natural limit and thus only things that players shouldn't be can have a higher score... Until you hit those Epic Levels where they expect a character to have its class' key trait(s) at or greater than their level to access different features. D&D 3.5's Epic Level Handbook merely passes off these high scores as rites and stops trying to quantify it as an RP characteristic because they assume you already know how to RP your character. At this point they just tend to lob new abilities at you because every level is a greater uphill struggle if you face an opponent built as well as you were.


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