Monday, February 11, 2019

Hunting Will Good and Intelligently

Having some distance on the work I posted late Saturday, I can see I'm not quite there.  Close, but not quite.  Let me explain what I'm trying to accomplish.

The "breakthrough" was the realization that intelligence (and to some extent, all ability stats) needs not to be seen as an enabler but as a ceiling.  We tend to think of a high intelligence as a shortcut to information, circumventing the need to role-play the situation ~ that is, to skip having to play the game.  This should not be the case.

Fundamental to RPGs is the understanding that as players WE do the heavy lifting.  Our strength may give us a bonus to hit, but it shouldn't circumvent the need to step forward and take a chance.  A high dexterity does not guarantee that we'll avoid damage ... only that it should slightly reduces the chance of damage.  If it reduces that chance of damage too much, the game becomes too easy ... and therefore not a good game.

Intelligence and Wisdom are doubly troublesome for several reasons.

The first issue is that no one has a clear and consistent black-and-white concept of either Int or Wis.  The two stats were born out of psychology's erstwhile belief in nurture-vs.-nature, a theory that has since been exploded and which is not discussed much nowadays (except by non-experts who are unable to let a theory die, no matter how much evidence mounts against it).  Though I tried to rigorously define it on Saturday, even as I was writing the entry I kept drifting into concepts that I then realized I had defined as wisdom.  It is pesky problem.

Let's shelve that.

Cognitive stats absolutely should never be allowed to take the place of the players' thoughts and choices.  No matter what the character's intelligence, the player must be and should be the source for action and decision.  DM's that allow players to use their cognitive stats as a stand-in for their own gameplay might just as well be DMing computers.

[And here I will resist going on a tear about perception checks; I am going to address those, but I hope to wait until I arrive at that page of the 5e Handbook]

I propose that when the player asks, "Will my intelligence allow my character to solve the puzzle?"  The answer ought to be a flat, "No."

But if the player proposes, "My character wants to make a puzzle that would be difficult to solve," the answer ought to be, "Maybe."

My thinking starts with, "How much intelligence does it take to create a puzzle?"  We might agree that a meaningful puzzle requires an 8 Int or better.  Then anything proposed by someone with less intelligence ("low" according to the original definitions for intelligence, was 5-7 Int) would be instantly solved by any rational creature (5 Int or better).  This then answers part of our question: a creature with an 8 Int can make a puzzle.  There's no need to make a roll if your Int is above 8.

Next, my thinking asks, "Could a person of 8 Int make a puzzle that a person of 9 Int couldn't solve?"

I find that interesting.  Standard D&D thinking would say no, forever arguing that knowledge is always linear.  This is easily demonstrated as nonsense.  To use an anecdotal example, I was watching this completely moronic video recently [effing youtube feed] and came across the example shown on the right.  I froze completely and did not get it before the reveal.  I have no doubts whatsoever that I'm smarter than the group that proposed the puzzle, and let's face it ... words are my thing.  And still I fell down on this one.

Contrary to what people who continue to be steadfast believers in I.Q. (a group of non-experts who are unable to let a theory die, no matter how much evidence mounts against it), puzzles are not actually a good method for measuring intelligence or ability.  Everyone has, at one moment or another, even the very smart, seen something like this and just choked.  Then we tell ourselves, "Well, I'm stupid" ~ which is, in fact, a socialized prejudice that was hammered into us as children and also has not one thing to do with fact.  Our non-linear development as human beings is part of the reason why the player needs to solve the puzzle, and not the player's intelligence.

From there, my thinking takes me to a place, "How much intelligence is needed to make a puzzle that no one could solve?"

The answer is tricky, and for that I'll return to a comic I wrote two years ago:

I love this comic.  I haven't thought of it in about 15 months and I grinned when I reread it.  But does it demonstrate that Asif (in green) is highly intelligent ... or does it merely prove that he's well-read?  If the latter, that's evidence of his high wisdom and not his intelligence.  It takes far, far less intelligence to repeat something that someone else has already said than to come up with it cold.  For example, I'm smart, but I am not Hegel.  Once Hegel comes up with the concept, however, we must ask the question ... once I've read Hegel, am I as smart as Hegel?

Ah, that's tricky.  Let's go back to our original proposal about intelligence limiting a character.  "Mr. DM, when my character reads Hegel, does he 'get' Hegel?"

And that is an intelligence check.  I've read Hegel.  I get what he's saying, because I've read and listened to people who have tried to explain Hegel to me and others at the same time, but I don't "get" him.  He's over my head.  But then, he's over most people's heads.  To get Hegel, your intellect has to bend a certain way and then you have to spend nearly as long as Hegel spent getting to the place where Hegel arrived.

On the other hand, I've read Christopher Hitchens.  I'm definitely as smart as Christopher Hitchens.

Fundamentally, the point I'm trying to make is this: the game's intelligence stat is not about circumventing, it is about doing.  My character with a 7 Int reads this grade 12 textbook.  That's fair.  I took Grade 12 with others of about that intelligence and they were able to read the book.  Did they read it all the way through?  That's a choice and therefore that's a wisdom check.  Did they "get" the book?  Well, I'd say yes if the character had a 10 intelligence, but with a seven ... I'd say that was a check.

[I need to stress that my 7 Int is NOT based on a 70 I.Q.  Like I said with my last post, my intelligence is independent of I.Q.  A "7" would be a fairly typical person who would make it through high school but score in the bottom of their class]

How about a typical first-year university text ... I read Livy in my 1st year.  It's not nearly as dense as Thucydides or Tacitus, but words are words.  The "get" is different, however; the message is not simply, "This happened and then this happened."  There is a very definite theme at play and I took classical history with a lot of smart people who did not grasp that theme at all.  To be honest, I took courses from some profs who didn't.  I needed the them explained to me ... but once I got it, I saw that theme everywhere.

I'm arguing there's a threshold.  If you're of this intelligence, then there are these things you obviously understand, but there are all these other things you maybe understand.  The intelligence check is for the maybe stuff; it would be stupid to make a person of 15 intelligence roll to see if they could understand a grade-12 textbook [I am looking right at you, 5e].

Admittedly, however, this all gets to be a crap-shoot after the point where I stopped my post yesterday.  That is one of the reasons I petered out.  It is easy to understand low intelligence ... but at what point should a person of 15 Int obviously understand something that a person of 14 Int would have to roll for?

Not a freaking clue.  Not at the moment, anyway.  There ought to be those things, however.  The fact that we can't define them does not make a person of 14 Int equal to 15, and there would be things that all 15 Int persons would get that 14 Int persons might not.  But hey, give me a break.  It's not like this intelligence thing was easy to crack for everyone else who's taken a swing at it.  The very fact that I am taking a swing at it, or that I feel I can, is itself a definition of my intelligence, compared to a lot of readers who might now be thinking, "what the fuck for?"

Because it matters, oh ye who has blown their check.

I wish I could say I was done, but I'm not.  Because self-perception of intelligence is a thing, too.  That forces me to embed this awful, awful video ... which unfortunately makes a brilliant point that utterly, completely, absolutely and with all dispatch was totally missed by the presenter.

The presenter here, and many presenters on the internet who I have seen make many of these same points, thinks he is much more intelligent than he actually is.  His first example out of the gate is one of my favorites ... because it argues against what a stupid person thinks a smart person is doing, while the smart person is doing something totally different.  Right off the bat, 19 seconds in:
Cracked Host Guy: "... I've spent the day memorizing poetry because of this scene from Good Will Hunting."
College Dude: "... As a matter of fact I won't, because Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social~
Will: "~Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social distinction predicated upon wealth, especially inherited wealth.  You got that from Vickers, Work in Essex County, page 98, right?"
Cracked Host Guy: "Because Matt Damon [sic] is a brilliant mathemetician, he has apparently memorized entire history textbooks, right down to the page number of certain important quotes.  Hence."  [shows poetry book]  "I figure if memorizing history textbooks makes you a good mathematician, memorizing romantic poetry will probably help me figure out how to escape from this YouTube bunker."

Face palm.  I've heard so many deconstructions of Good Will Hunting along these same lines that I'm beginning to think the movie itself should be the official I.Q. test.  To begin with, we might start by understanding that Matt Damon is playing a character, he's not a brilliant mathematian; and from there we might move onto the point that a character in a movie being able to do more than one thing is called "depth" ... you know, the thing that a million would-be online critics crave when they talk about how bad the acting in a film is.

Full disclosure: I would rate Good Will Hunting as a 2 out of 4 stars.  That means I'd watch it every three to ten years, but certainly not every year.  It is nowhere near one of my favorite films.  There are problems with it that don't matter here.  But several of the speeches do address intelligence in a way that seems to make people of less than my intelligence truly dumb as posts.

Will's demonstration of intelligence here has nothing whatsoever to do with memory.  The character is not a student.  That means he's reading Vickers for reasons other than, "This is my assigned coursework," which, we know, is why the College Dude is reading it.  Moreover, Will knows beforehand that the Dude is going to quote that part ... because clearly, there's a prof out there somewhere who LOVES that quote and every dumbfuck college student who staggers into Will's bar thinks that quote is a weapon that wins every argument ~ because some prof told them it did.  But unlike the student, Will read the text for reasons of his own; a poor person, reading a book called, "Work in Essex County," about farmers and fishermen from 1630 to 1850.  Will, in the movie, is bitterly hateful of little rich college students who think they can understand what it means to be on the bottom row of society because they read a fucking book; Will reads the book and feels the book, as an actual template of his actual life.

So when Will quotes the book, he's rubbing the Dude's face in the actual text, saying, you dumbshit, if you knew anything about what you were reading, you'd understand what the quote actually says, not what you think the quote says.

Now, compare this to what I was saying about making choices as a writer and presenter.  The writers here, Mr. Damon and Mr. Affleck, had literally millions of possible books they could have pulled out as an example for this scene ... and they picked this one.  Do you, dear reader, think they stumbled across this book from a commercial they saw on television?  This film was released in 1997.  It was probably written by the two five to ten years earlier than that.  No internet.  Given that, they pulled it off a shelf somewhere.  Do you think they walked into a library, went straight to that shelf and found the book there?  Hell no.  Nor did two early twenty-year-olds chance upon a book with the full title of Farmers and Fishermen: Two Centuries of Work in Essex County, Massachusetts, 1630–1850 and think, "Wow, that's going to make a great scene in a movie someday!"

No, they heard of the book because, when Damon was at Harvard in 1992, he heard the College Dude himself make this argument and, because of it, Damon went to the book and found out what the fuck that quote was all about.

And this ... AND THIS ... is what defines intelligence.  The unwillingness to see a presented argument as THE argument, ever.  The will to go and look for the work yourself, to dig, to do MORE than memorize, to demonstrate fact from fallacy by means of full disclosure of all the pertinent facts.  Exactly what the Cracked Host Guy did not do, and what I see every pundit on the internet not do when they discuss this movie.  Which, case in point, is also the goddamn point of the movie.

Sorry.  Went a long way around the barn there.

There is another demonstration of Will's intelligence that is missed by the Cracked Host Guy.  Will response is fast.  Now, this is one thing in a film, where everything is scripted, but wit and repartee has long been a demonstrative facet of intelligence.  Cyrano de Bergerac was right to see the connection between wit and swordplay, that Edmond Rostand reflected in the drama we know better than the real fellow.  Wit is biting, vicious, button-pressing and dangerous to display in common company ... and, as Christopher Hitchens often displayed, highly addictive.  Dumber people make wonderfully marvelous straight-men, which makes not letting free with the sarcastic barb that will get you killed seemingly impossible.  But again, it's wisdom that restrains the cutting tongue, not the intellect.

Hammering this hodge-podge into a rules set is, to say the least, beyond the pale.  But I can tell you clearly that one technique that will not work is to create modifiers and then roll for everything.

It takes a real moron to come up with that plan.


Ozymandias said...

I will not hesitate to say that I am not an intelligent person.

I will hesitate to say I am a wise person.

I love this post, though I wonder exactly how it will affect my thinking in the future...

Oddbit said...

A point of note.
You have already set some ground lines on intelligent people above an intelligence of 7.

Specifically the limitations of a spellcaster.
I wonder if there is grounds in complexity/simplicity of spells and their levels that could represent the ability to GET warping reality.

Also, presumably differentiations provided are due to a need to segregate different creatures of different behaviors.

Perhaps more intelligent creatures have more behaviors that need to be segregating. Getting some innate nature of reality and/or the separation of planes. Getting the ability to manipulate large groups of people. Getting the ability to build insidious traps and/or fortifications...

Alexis Smolensk said...

Oddbit, those are good, solid points.

Suppose we do work backwards ~ what 5th level spells present mental perceptions that a 9 Int can't master, and how does that affect what needs to be an intelligence check and what doesn't?

Then, what 6th level spells help define the difference between 11 Int and 12, what 7th level spells help define the difference between 13 and 14, and so on.

That's a good strategy. I will have to take a close look and see if I can recognize any patterns. We could just take an iconically mental spell of each spell level and use it as a benchmark.

Lance Duncan said...

Just for some clarification, why is being well read evidence of wisdom?

I understand that reading a book doesn't mean you're intelligent, but how does the choice to read a book relate to wisdom? It sounds to me like you're defining wisdom as the ability to recognize when and how to use a character's intelligence. Is that right?

Alexis Smolensk said...


For a host of reasons. Mine is a 17th century world, so being "well-read" is considerably more difficult than it is now. Well read implies permission to study, which would mean hours of building relationships with persons who were willing to let you continue to read, since very few people could afford enough books to be "well read." Such persons would permit your reading because, as it turns out, you've adopted many wise decisions about manners, patience, care for the books, remembering to return them, discussing them and finally, recognizing their worth to yourself and the whole culture. Some of these may sound like charisma, but really they're not.

Additionally, knowledge can be gathered without needing to be particularly intelligent about it. A dogged reader with a good memory, high wisdom, can manage an extraordinary supply of facts that would bore an intelligent flipperty jibbet, again proving that "knowledge" is definitely distinct from intelligence. Where else would we put the accumulation of knowledge except in wisdom?

Reading a lot of things from a lot of points of view does create the ability to see variables in a subject; which encourages one to change one's mind, seeing that the process of reading and accumlation of knowledge is about watching the writer change his mind, or identify the process of his mind, just as you watch me work through my own thoughts with posts like this one.

A key element to wisdom is to CHANGE from bad behaviour to good behaviour. My dictionary defines wisdom as the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgement. Reading enables you to multiply your experiences by letting your live through the experience of other people, with the most important part of their experience distilled into a form that will make YOU wise. If you're the sort able to be wise.

But of course, low wisdom is the sort of person that the more light you shine upon them, the less they can see. They don't read books because they won't read them, or if they read them they steadfastly refuse to get anything out of them, so they never see any opinion but their own or have any experience except their own lives.

Wisdom isn't recognizing how to use your intelligence. Wisdom is relying on others to be intelligent, while you gain their insight and change your manner of living for the betterment of yourself and others.

Ozymandias said...

You've also your development series, which were (at one time) linked to Intelligence. Thus, a 12 Int is necessary to "get" a certain development; not to use or employ it, as you say, because once discovered it can be taught; but that initial discovery cannot be done by someone eiwi less than the requisite score.

Unknown said...

This is very intriguing.
I assume this kind of configuration is very possible for the rest of the stats, yes?

For example, A barbarian tries to move a 60 pound boulder blocking a narrow mountain path.
having 15 constitution does not mean that he grabs it and tosses aside with a finger, it means he can maybe try to do the action safely without breaking his spine. having 15 strenght does not mean he can punch it and reduce it to rubble, it means he has enough force to actually move it around.

It makes me think, maybe we could roll for modifiers under specific circumstances?

If we have a table detailing mass, density and hardness of this boulder vs the detailed charcter sheet of the biological and physiological status of the character,perhaps we can assess that the barbarian can realibly move it for 3 steps, then he starts feeling pain, soreness and tiredness, aflicting his perfomance for a couple of more steps. if he overcomes a check of say, five, then he continues the action normally, but with the colloraly that the stress keeps building, so next check could be 10 and so on.
Of course, he could try to take a rest to kind of reset the stress counter, but that not might me possible if he is being pursued or if an avalanche looms over his head.
Maybe this could lead into more intricate interactions between similar mental and psychological stress counters?, failure and success could impact the first action, as in despair makes him lose his grip momentarially or adrenaline rushed him to haphazardly move the boulder at the cost of injury. both of severity of instances´ severity could be calculated by the sum of all this vectors. All of this of course requires setting, player and narrative context, every challenge should have a logical nuance to it when applied to different circumstances and characters.

Granted, I am very new to the game and I am trying to find a middle road between this insights and the "mainstream approach", so maybe I am either overthinking it or underthinking it, in any case, I thank you for the pondering opportunity.

Alexis Smolensk said...


I generally don't confirm anonymous posts, but your comment was well considered. If you haven't got an I.D. that blogger recognizes, please sign a name at the end of your comment so I know how to recognize you later.

You're spot on as I consider it. Why shouldn't we assume there are things a 13 strength can absolutely do that a 12 strength would have to roll for? Why not a trick that a 9 dexterity could manage ~ say, a card trick ~ that an 8 dexterity wouldn't be enough for? A list like that for every stat could be eventually compiled, then added to as players brought up things in a game that we'd assess in comparison to all else that we'd reasoned out.

To my mind, the problem is the structure of the list; how do we frame the problem initially, to give us a scale; once we had that scale, then all the things in it could be assigned easily and consistently.

Tyler said...

I've reached the same conclusion as this line: "The "breakthrough" was the realization that intelligence (and to some extent, all ability stats) needs not to be seen as an enabler but as a ceiling."

I made a change to the term Ability Score to "Ability Limit" in bold on my character sheets. Within a short time, my players shifted their understanding of what an Ability Check meant, and the flow of the game benefitted greatly.

Now, the players know their characters do what the players say they do, until I say, "This will test your Limits." Then they decide whether to push their luck. The mechanics are the same, but the perception has shifted, especially in terms of what a failed roll means. My groups stay on the same page more consistently now about what can and cannot be done, when checks should be made, and whether the possibility of further checks after failure makes any sense.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Hooray! A victory for semantics.

Brilliant, Tyler. Well played!

Maliloki said...

I have nothing useful to add, but I'll definetely be pondering this idea and look forward to seeing you further develop these ideas.

Fherp said...

Ah right, completely forgot about the acclount name verification, sorry about that.

I am very curious about your rage against perception checks, but at least I more or less see how can it be abused by circumventing logic and context. There is definetly a silent agreement that when a high roll meets a high score something wondrous and literally impossible must happen right out of the bat, usually something spectacularly good for the players just becuase reasons. Granted, I am not against miracles per se, but even in the majority of the holy texts they required a set of understandable circumstances to actually happen, and they were reserved for very special focal points in the narratrive to actually summarize their uniqueness. Not to mention, not all miracles were world shattering events, and more often than not, there was a price to be paid of some kind.

This is just a very prelimary thought, but maybe a percepcition check could be managed under the framing structure you discussed earlier. If I may, I will try to quickly elaborate:

You face a elven warrior and you want to check for weak spots in his armour.
I would tie the check to both intelligence and wisdom because you need to have certain awareness of the variables that comform your space, the elf´s and the piece of equipment you are trying to surveil. You would also need to have knowledge and/or experience about protective gear and about elfs, then understand if you have the means to carry out the action and to what degree, this of course after you have spent at least a round actually battling and assesing the elf´s proficiency. Only after you satisfy these conditions you could attempt to perception check for weaknesses in the armor, but keep in my mind that in the heat of battle your awareness could be hampered by other factors (like the checks for mental and fatigue stress counters mentioned earlier). The better you satisfy the former requirements, the better your chances to success at the check allowing you to gleam quality information. You could maybe argue about an educated guess, so assuming you actually compound the neccessary education, you could go for it with the associated penalties attached, and remember that your information gained will be doubtful and suspicious.

I am even thinking of multi-dimentionalize the basic frame structure, as in a novice fighter could not gleam the same information than a veteran one because experience is a very defining factor in that way of life, even if they both face the same challenge under similar circumstances.

In case my name does not appear again, I will be signing as fherp.
Best regards.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Assumption One: You are able to check an opponent for "weak spots" in their armor simply by looking.

Assumption Two: Already having established an flat ability to hit an opponent due to your level, you somehow predicate this number as NOT already presuming you are using all your skill to achieve THE BEST POSSIBLE chance of hitting.

Therefore, you believe that by "looking" first you can improve a number that should already assume you're looking.

Everything else in your argument is total bullshit. Which is in part evident by how convoluted the sentences and argument becomes as you attempt to suss it out.

Your ability to hit is a number designated by your class, your abilities, your level and your equipment. "Perception" is assumed in that framework.

You sound like someone who is telling me, "If you want to taste the water, you have to really use your tongue to TASTE the water."

Fherp said...

I suppose you may be right. I kind of thought it was very "rules heavy" after I finished sending my commnent, but I still wanted to risk you opinion before I forgot what I was trying to say.

About assupmtion one, at least under my impression, I am sure that I would not be able to check weak spots in any armor because I have never seen one, much less faced somebody wearing it, no matter how much I look at it. Maybe I sort of identify a very basic assumption of tear and wear, but I there is no way I could exploit that. I simply do not know anything about it.

About the second one, I have learned that no matter how good I am at something or how much I try to overcome it by maximaxing the odds of success, there is always a chance to fail and the best possible outcome tends to be a chance.

I agree that a lot things seems very obvious at first glance, I simply thought that in a game with a multitude of stressing factors one can never be too sure, no matter outward appearances. Of course, this could also lead to it´s own problems down road.

But maybe that does not translate well into pure mathematical mechanics.

Best regards.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Because the game MIGHT be a multitude of stressing factors, the point of rules is to limit those factors to things that can be consistently rolled for ~ and not bow to momentary proposals from players that are inconsistent and utterly subjective.