Intelligence Versus Wisdom: Roleplaying The Difference
In game systems with both intelligence and wisdom as ability scores, the player is presented with several challenges. First and foremost among these is the challenge of playing a character with a higher intelligence or wisdom than the player. I don't know the answer to this question, but I have a few ideas about "how do I roleplay a discernable difference between the two abilities?"
In game systems with both intelligence and wisdom as ability scores, the player is presented with several challenges. First and foremost among these is the challenge of playing a character with a higher intelligence or wisdom than the player. Personally, I don't know the answer to this question. But I have a few ideas about the second most important question, "How do I roleplay a discernable difference between the two abilities?"
As has been expressed in other articles, everything in a roleplaying game can be boiled down to a problem. This is true from a trap, a monster, or an NPC. I will attempt to explain my perception of the difference between intelligence and wisdom by describing a scene where four characters approach a trap and try to decide the best way around the problem. The four characters in the party have varying levels of intelligence and wisdom; low intelligence and low wisdom (in this example, the Fighter), high intelligence and low wisdom (the Thief), low intelligence and high wisdom (the Priest), and high intelligence and high wisdom (the Wizard).
So, our party of four noble heroes is traveling in the woods. Suddenly the thief spots a trip wire across the path."Everyone stop where you are, there's a tripwire across the path." Okay, so the point here isn't the dialogue. The thief goes on to explore and reveals the tripwire leads to a primitive trap that could seriously wound commoners but not do much damage to powerful people such as themselves.
The fighter approaches the trap and comes up with three options, bash the trap, go around the trap, or set off the trap (figuring they'll all be fine). The fighter's low intelligence is reflected in the limited number of options he can come up with to deal with the practical dimension of the trap. His low intelligence is reflected in his lack of care for the reason the trap is there, the purpose of the trap, or the trap's connection to the party, if any. In general, his low wisdom prevents him from making connections between the object of his attention and larger contexts. Secondly, his low wisdom prevents him from considering the consequences of each option. Thus he does not consider bashing the trap might set it off, and he does not consider the possibility they would all be 'fine' by setting it off.
Intelligence tells you what the problem is and how to solve it, wisdom tells you whether or not you should.
Now when the thief approaches the trap, he sees several options immediately. In addition to the three presented by the fighter, he comes up with some additional non-mechanical options: including going back the way they came and lying in wait for the owner of the trap. His higher intelligence, without consideration of his skill with traps, allows him a couple of more options than those presented by the Fighter. I mention these options to demonstrate intelligence is a dimension independent of skill. With intelligence and skill, the thief presents a variety of additional options, including setting the trap off in a way that won't hurt anyone, disable the trap in a subtle way that won't look like sabotage, trap the trap so the owner is nabbed when she comes to maintain or check it, et cetera... you get the idea. These ideas involve understanding of the mechanism, cunning, and ingenuity. There is more awareness of the trap being in a context since some of these plans involve the understanding that someone set the trap. Extremely high intelligence might peer into the broader contexts of time, location, interpersonal conflict to discern the nature of the trap. However, even these broader contexts will only present options for dealing with the trap; they will not assist in discerning the best course of action. Intelligence presents ways of solving problems, wisdom helps discern how or if to solve a problem and why. Let's move on to the Priest to see this principle in action.
The cleric in our example has high wisdom but low intelligence. He sees the same options for dealing with the trap the fighter sees. But, he isn't really concerned about these options. He figures the thief will come up with more options than he does. The cleric's mind starts seeking the meaning of the trap immediately. At first this might be in the form of questions: "Who set this trap? Why did they place it here? Is it intended for us or for someone else? Is the trap's purpose to delay / kill / capture / distract?" In order to answer these questions, the cleric considers the information available to him. It is crude, so it probably wasn't their nemesis Morta, as he would try more elaborate and deadly traps. It's able is to wound several weaker people, so this is set with malicious intent. We are traveling on a road used very often, so it probably isn't for us specifically. In the end, the cleric decides this trap's context indicates it is probably set to ambush a random group of travelers. But he still doesn't have a clue on what to do about the trap!
Now enter the wizard, in this example the only one in the party with both a high wisdom and a high intelligence. He makes all of the assessments of the others, but goes further: the wizard finds the best way of tying both the need for a solution to the trap and an understanding of the context. He decides, based on the information provided by the thief that they should leave and return in disguise a little later. When they return, they will set off the trap, make it look like it wounded them and wait for the trapper(s), to teach them a lesson.
In the end, the group follows the wizard's plan and everyone's skills are used: the thief's in finding and setting off the trap, the fighter's in dealing with the trapper(s), the cleric's defensive spells and healing are used when the dust settles, and the wizard's both for the plan and a few flashes to make sure the battle tips in the right direction.
In conclusion, when roleplaying wisdom and intelligence, here are my handy rules of thumb, paraphrased from a professor of mine: "Intelligence tells you what the problem is and how to solve it, wisdom tells you whether or not you should." Here's another one for good measure: "Intelligence asks, 'What?' Wisdom asks, 'Why?'"