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?"
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.