Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tech & Intelligence

I want to consider racial intelligence for a moment. How exactly is it defined?

The only example of racial intelligence is given in the Monster Manual, where humans, gnolls, gnomes, orcs and so on are given an average intelligence meant to convey a characteristic of their race. Troglodytes are very stupid (low), goblins a little smarter (low to average), elves are quite bright (high) and titans are ridiculously gifted (genius to supra-genius).

Why ‘average’ intelligence as defined by the manual is not 10 to 11, the most common results on 3d6, continues to baffle me. But average is defined as 8 to 10, and very intelligent as 11 to 12. Thus humans are necessarily “average to very” in intelligence, in order to fit the character generation model.

In terms of race, humans are not restricted to intelligences of 8 to 12. Humans may be either geniuses or very stupid; but these extremes are meant to be rare. In terms of racial intelligence, humans are presumed to be in the range where most would not make good magic users.

Obviously, however, the technology used by humans is not limited to the intelligence of most of the population. Technological leaps are created by those who have extraordinary or genius intelligences, who then make those technologies available to the lesser gifted. Thus, although humans may be of average intelligence, they have access to virtually every technology known.

This creates a difficult problem. If elves have a high intelligence, and are thus more clever than humans, can we assume that particular elves have a ‘higher than genius’ intelligence – in the range of 19 to 22? And if that is so, why is it that this higher intelligence has only been used to address the qualities of magic and peculiar intoxicating beverages? Why is it that the elves have not also invented mechanical flight, or superior weapons of destruction, or mass production? Where are the technologies that intelligent humans were able to create, but which elves seem unwilling to explore?

Naturally, it is presumed that elves aren’t interested in such things, for reasons pertaining to the goodness of the earth and for pure knowledge and blah blah blah. But why do dwarves also eschew the same advancements? Why is it that night hags, with exceptional intelligences, do not bring their enormous knowledge from the lower planes in the form of gas grenades, along with their other magics? Why do mind flayers not have wire-guided missiles in their arsenal? If the average for a mind flayer is 17, couldn’t a gifted mind flayer have an intelligence of 25? And if humans were able to invent these things, and to teach average intelligence humans how to use them, they why do mind flayers not do the same, using orcs?

Obviously, because the game would cease to be D&D.

Let us postulate, therefore, that humans (and possibly other character races) are fairly unique with regards to the spread of intellectual prowess. Perhaps mind flayers and night hags, in the upper ranges, are as bright as they get. Perhaps they don’t know anything more than what humans know because when all is said and done, the average mind flayer and the smartest mind flayer are hard to tell apart ... and neither is any smarter than the smartest human.

After all, there’s no rule that the spread must be applied to every race.

The reverse then might also be true ... that the smartest troglodyte has a 7 intelligence, because that is the maximum of that race’s intelligence spread. There are no genius goblins wandering about – or if there are, they are extremely rare mutants, like the Mule of Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. Still, a goblin Mule may not be any smarter than a player character’s mage, but still – that particular village might be a bit better outfitted than the average goblin lair.

I want to define how better outfitted, but for the moment let’s put it on the shelf and take up another part of the question.

At different points in human history, extraordinary intelligence can be defined as leading to different levels of technology. It depends on what template for intelligence you care to use. Me, I’ve always favoured the argument that intelligence is a genetic trait – but if left in a box, without stimuli, there isn’t much it can do. The smartest human on the planet 18,000 years ago might have made the leap forward in order to design a bow, but he or she wasn’t postulating upon the theory of relativity. Einstein may have been able to do that, but he had the benefit of some education regarding Newtonian physics and mathematics. If his intelligence had been reversed with the first inventor of the bow, perhaps both would have still achieved either leap forward.

Therefore, we cannot define technology strictly in terms of intelligence. No matter what sort of genius Einstein may have been, his accomplishments were limited to whatever pre-existing technology was already available. As such, intelligence can only be used as a measure to determine how much of a population might have been able to grasp a particular principle, once it was defined.

In other words ... Einstein was the only genius to have comprehended Relativity at the point of its inception – but right now, there are hundreds of physicists able to grasp the concept, and millions of individuals able to do the mathematics, even if they can’t explain how they work.

The first potter was a genius. His son was clever. His grandson was talented and his later descendants were capable. But with each passing generation, the practitioners of a particular technology slide down the scale towards stupid.

All right, we are getting the meat and potatoes of this post.

If we select a given point in history, say the late Renaissance and the Elizabethan period, we might say that a genius intelligence had created all the technology that was available on the Earth at that time. We can then use the scale of racial intelligences to determine how technologically advanced each of the other races are. We can award elves, dwarves, gnomes and halflings with a slightly superior development in the form of technologies reaching into the Age of Enlightenment, and judge every other race according to its limitation as listed in the book.

Which would mean that, in fact, a Shedu (extraordinary intelligence) was actually slightly less advanced than human culture, except where it had made use of those technologies provided by humans. It would not fully understand the pinnacle of those technologies (Newtonian physics and Keplarian astronomy being produced late in that period), but it would do better than, say, an orc.

Postulated, then, if we rank the technologies discussed so far as part of this intelligence scale, we can produce a technology limitation for each racial intelligence to be found in the book. We can even do one better, by dividing the general descriptions of ‘low’, ‘average’, ‘very intelligent’ and so on into exact numeric descriptions.

Thus, consider a low intelligence culture, the aforementioned troglodytes. We can presuppose three different troglodyte cultures, based on intelligences of 5, 6 and 7. For simplicity, we can call them trog-5, trog-6 and trog-7.

Trog-5 cultures have managed to invent the wheel and have undertaken primitive mining for flint. Their food production includes fishing, agriculture and hunting, and their perception of the universe is based upon mysticism.

Trog-6 cultures have augmented their fishing though the production of fishing boats and rudimentary sailing; they’ve adapted the wheel to the cart, and have developed animal husbandry. They’ve also mastered pottery. While still fundamentally mystics, they have developed aesthetically towards the carving of bone, horn, ivory and wood, and are raising menhirs for the purpose of defining their importance.

Trog-7 cultures have developed masonry, using mortar now to bind together their stonework and brick, along with crude bronze casting (arsenic and copper). While metal weapons are limited (metal casting hasn’t been invented, so neither has forging), these cultures have developed archery and horseback riding. Trog-7a has moved forward into meditation as a religious practice, while Trog-7b has developed polytheism.

Obviously, using the template you can mix and match the technologies as you wish. But you see how this allows you to devise a complicated association between different troglodyte tribes. For one thing, you can see how Trog-7 cultures prey upon or manipulate Trog-5 cultures, and how both groups might represent an aristocratic/slave class system, particularly with the more advanced troglodytes accepting the existence of a particular early pantheon compared to the lower troglodytes who still fear many elements of nature they don’t understand.

Thus, the next group of posts I’ll be doing would apply to cultures of 8 intelligence. A few of the things I’ve written about already do, such as priesthood and monotheism. Tentatively, I would judge 8 intelligence technologies as including writing, mathematics, alphabet, metal casting, and iron working.


JB said...

This would be an exceptionally interesting group of posts. If I'm understanding your intent, I'll be very interested to see the postulated technologies present when you get up to the higher end of the scale (illithid, fo instance).

Oz RPG said...

Let us not forget that necessity is the mother of invention. If all those races had no need of what we perceive as technology, they would not develop it, no matter how smart they are. Remember that the Incans were very smart people, but didn't have the wheel because it was less useful in their mountainous territories.

satyre said...

A great post - thought provoking and encourages people to step out the usual boxes for monsters and other races.

One point to consider is what the impact of culture is on individual intellect. Who is valued more to a martial culture - a potter or a swordsmith?

If you run a game where skills are based on profession or race this may also inform current advances - mind flayers that rival Cicero for oratory for example...

Yahzi said...

The reason the monsters don't develop technology is because, in classic fantasy, the monsters are merely reflections of humanity.

Angels and demons are not actual, biological creatures, but expressions of an abstract ideal. Goblins in orcs, in antiquity, were the same. Check out the Beastairies - the monsters are presented as moral exemplars and lessons, not breeding creatures. It's only our modern mind that applies biology to Purple Worms and Dragons.

In my world, my excuse for why tech is so low is because all the smart people are researching magic. The first musket was pretty lame, not even as good as a longbow in trained hands. In a heroic culture where investing in one badass really is better than raising an army, I'm not sure muskets would ever be bothered with.

Anyway, I share your simulationist obsession. I've got a world-book and a fantasy novel that scratches that itch. I'd love to know what you think of them.

Alexis said...

I use your same logic with regards to muskets. I have black powder and various weapons of mass destruction in my world, but they are dangerous, very expensive and therefore not as cost-effective as magic.