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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Halfling in the Playground
     
    OldWizardGuy

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    Default How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    I'm wondering what techniques/mechanisms people use to DM NPCs and monsters more intelligent and/or wise than themselves? Obviously good tactics make any creature more dangerous. It's easy to play kobolds stupidly, or give them an intelligent leader to justify them using better tactics. But what do you do when you are trying to DM a monster considerably more intelligent than you?

    For example, mind flayers. Now I'm a pretty smart guy . I think beyond my own conceit I can point to test scores and academic accomplishments to claim high intelligence. But even in my more arrogant moments I have to admit that I am not transcendentally super-human.

    One thing I do is throw out the prepped spells given by the MM. I pick the best spells for them to use against the particular party. This goes somewhat against my general rule that DMs should stick to the rules and not metagame against the PCs. However, I lack the intelligence to adequately represent the insight and tactics of a 19 intelligence creature, not to mention a 19 intelligence hive mind. I don't do this for average intelligence creatures with spellcasting ability. Only those with intelligence greater than what I think I possess myself.

    What techniques do you all use to represent the advantages of high intelligence creatures?

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    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Zombie

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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    I do the best I can.

    Beyond that, I assume that they'll have knowledge a little or a lot beyond what others have. They'll know obscure histories and facts for intelligence or they'll have awareness of things others don't perceive for wisdom. I may give them an attribute check to make a leap of logic or intuition that will give them an advantage.
    I am the flush of excitement. The blush on the cheek. I am the Rouge!

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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    I don't necessarily pick spells based on how effective they are against the party (unless the specific thing in question has knowledge of the party and their tactics specifically, like a Diviner Wizard), but I do tend to make more intelligent creatures more optimized in a general sense.

    This allows their tactics to have more oomph than the standard NPC. A 15 Int Fighter, for example, might know that Vital Strike line is suboptimal, and trade it for Intimidating Prowess, Cornugon Smash and Hurtful instead.

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    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    Luckily I'm pretty smart.

    They usually know more than they should. They know who the PCs are, where their weaknesses lie, what their options are, etc. Why? Because they're very smart and have contingencies and a profound understanding of the situation that other NPCs wouldn't have.

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    Pixie in the Playground
     
    Beholder

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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    One way to reflect super-high intelligence in a monster is to have it recognize the party's abilities, possibly before the first round of combat is over, and have it target weaknesses (or at least not target strengths). Also, you can pre-plan responses to likely party actions, which would convey either "I thought you might do that" or "Oh, you're doing *that*."

    If it's a monster published by WotC (or similar to one) you can try looking at the blog The Monsters Know What They're Doing (I'm too new yet to post a link, apparently) to see what tactics are suggested there. Even if you don't agree with them, pre-deciding tactics, or even just priorities, will make your foes seem more intelligent.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    High AC or defenses justified as predicting moves. Any fight including them has traps, position, and other advantages inherent because of planning. If they have knowledge of the party, tailor abilities against them.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Flumph

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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    It's also worth considering having a high intelligence doesn't necessarily make them good at fighting or planning out fights.

    They may be too busy thinking up schemes of how to set in motion an economic collapse which will weaken an empire allowing them to take control behind the scheme and...wait did we barbarian proof the doARGH.

    Their intelligence gives them a higher attack roll and spell save DC. I would worry about it too much outside of that. Just play em smart

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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    Sit down before the session and think about what the players are likely to do. Write up a set of tactics to employ, with a few "if->then" adjustments, like "If the enemy gets low on hit points, then instruct my minions to kill the cleric." Have several plans to refer to, and a larger set of goals so that the high-INT enemy is not just thinking about this round, but also about the next two or three rounds where he can lure the barbarian to a Glyph of Warding or split the party.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    Things I do...

    • Plan. You can spend an hour preplanning tactics, escape routes, spells, situations, etc. Players typically only have a few seconds.
    • Limit Player Knowledge. Foes feel smarter when players don't know what's going on. Illusions, sounds, tricks, mirrors, attacking from hidden areas, etc.
    • Have the opponent scout, follow, spy, etc. on the party. Do this days or weeks if possible.
    • Have the opponent initiate attacks. Instead of waiting for the PCs... have them go after the PCs when not ready. Attack them at night, while in a market, while separated, going to the bathroom, etc.
    • Have the opponent 'attack' in non-direct ways. Have them steal the PCs equipment, murder friends, send them on wild goose chases, set them up for a crime, etc.
    • Have their intelligence displayed through previous actions. Have them blackmailing a noble family, tricking a horde of orcs into supporting him, make him a popular 'hero' for a village, etc. I.e. they've used their intelligence to gain power, protection, and abilities which they can use against the PCs.
    • Not face-to-face. Notes, letters, shadowy communications, rumors, or the opponent repeatedly escapes. A foe which keeps coming back is more memorable.
    • Non-combat encounters. The battle doesn't need to be a fight. It could be they simply trick the PCs, blackmail them, threaten something against a town, etc. and the PCs need to outsmart him because fighting isn't an option. "I have six barrels of plague-infested venom ready to be released in the cities aqueduct. Shall we talk about how you can get me the Wand of Sinco from the temple?"

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    Orc in the Playground
     
    Beholder

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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    Quote Originally Posted by Contrast View Post
    It's also worth considering having a high intelligence doesn't necessarily make them good at fighting or planning out fights.

    They may be too busy thinking up schemes of how to set in motion an economic collapse which will weaken an empire allowing them to take control behind the scheme and...wait did we barbarian proof the doARGH.

    Their intelligence gives them a higher attack roll and spell save DC. I would worry about it too much outside of that. Just play em smart
    I think this is an important thing to consider.

    Planning is a good approach. Smarter enemies may also be better at reading what a party is doing. But also, more intelligent doesn't necessarily translate to more dangerous. Experience is tremendously important; would a bookish wizard necessarily know the first thing about tactics? Even if he's smarter than his enemy, he might make moves that are ultimately predictable and easily countered by an average person who has simply seen a lot play out before. So really, beyond small tweaks that show that they've planned or have some clever way of dealing with a problem thrown their way, I might not give them any real advantage at all.

    Now, if you want an enemy with layers of planning, that might reflect a very specific kind of intelligent enemy. An intelligent enemy probably has intelligent and/or reliable allies, has a home turf that they are better at navigating, has escape plans, and probably has a sense of who their enemy is before the real fight starts. If you think about it, most modules include dungeons with layers of monsters, with the biggest and baddest of them at the heart of a dungeon, with some stupid goblins or whatever near the topside; sentries and alarm systems are really useful, and upper levels of these dungeons might give a smart enemy a chance to spy on an invader.

    More broadly, smart enemies can probably identify when they're outmatched, and they may be keen enough to sense weaknesses in the party. They might have a good sense of when to negotiate, bluff, deceive, or intimidate their enemy, or even when to surrender or run away. They probably exercise better judgment, see through more ruses, have more tools at their disposal, and maybe have one or two clever tricks up their sleeve that probably rely on their strengths, whether it be magic, trap-making, or manipulation.

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    NecromancerGuy

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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    Depending on the level and type of intelligence I try to pull out things players have never seen before such as novel uses for old spells or funky and unexpected combinations of spells or enemies.

    I also avoid all the brute force and simplistic tactics that most enemies tend to employ (fighting on even terms, fighting to the death, direct contact, etc.) and strive to give the opponent advantage without railroading the players.

    If opponents are superhuman or godlike in intelligence (I try to avoid using them altogether but when I do use them) I consider that regardless of the outcome some or all things will work out in their favor. For example, if BBEG wants to release a demon to wreck a city using an ancient tome that binds it then the party may try to steal that tome; only the act of stealing the tome from its safe releases the demon or at least begins the process (stolen or not BBEG wins). If they are that smart then no matter what happens they win until something they cannot outsmart occurs such as: brute force, sheer luck, fate/destiny/prophesy, an equal or greater counter-intelligence, etc.

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    Imbalance's Avatar

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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    I mean, it's a challenge, but I think I managed to do a decent job of holding up the players' disbelief well enough to scheme believably as a goblin should.

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    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Zombie

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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    I'd actually worry more about Wisdom than Intelligence as wisdom would do more to keep your ego in check and help you not over step or over look important possibilities. It's pretty easy to screw everything up when you're too convinced that you're oh so much smarter than everyone else (even if it's true).
    I am the flush of excitement. The blush on the cheek. I am the Rouge!

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    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    There are a lot of good points here, but the answer might be more simple.

    Do you usually roleplay your goblins on their turn? Do they talk to their teammates or taunt the players? Often we DMs forget to do that.
    Now if were to start roleplaying your Illithid on his turn, the players will be startled if they are not used to it. It will clearly set apart your clever baddies from the single-goaled ones. Have him mention all kinds of things about the players or their plans. Don't treat encounters with this guy as fast pased combat. Treat it more like a social encounter with spells. The smart monster knows you can just as well attack the confidence of the enemy as well as his it points. Have him say things like.

    - Huh, I didn't account for that. But no matter! You probably haven't accounted for THIS <hold person on cleric>
    - Oh, you poor thing. You don't even have the brains to realize what's about to happen <triggers trap>
    - I knew you would come in close. Please, indulge me, charge at me with your axe. <cast's shield, misty step, and gestures his minions to take some specific action>
    - Did you really think I'd only bring four goblins? Maybe your mind is just to simple to see the rest of my guardians <statues become alive>

    A hidden attacker that always uses his action to prepare "I shoot at the spellcaster when he attempts to cast a spell" is also a very scary thing. This will trigger a concentration save for your player which determines whether the spell is cast successfully or not (or at a disadvantage, if you prefer).

    When the players strategize at the table, roll a dice behind the screen and answer with "The Mind Flayer hears your plan and immediately starts gesturing his minions around to counteract it". Your players will freak, guaranteed xD

    Just remember to roll for everything. He might be smart, but nobody executes everything perfectly always.
    Last edited by Bjarkmundur; 2019-09-23 at 04:13 AM.

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    HalfOrcPirate

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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    Simply put, fudge things.
    I'm not talking about dice rolls. I'm talking about spell lists, pre-fight buffs etc.

    Chess is one method through which we humans might "measure" intelligence. The ability to predict another person's moves many steps ahead. Thus, give yourself permission to "cheat" to represent this super-human intellect that neither you nor I have.

    Also, don't be afraid to give your big bads abilities the players don't have access to. Legendary Actions are an example of how such things might work but aren't prescriptive, make up your own, even do it on-the-fly if you need to to make things more dramatic.

    If your bad-guy is super-intelligent and the heroes haven't been very subtle in their pursuit of the big bad, it's very likely to have done research. Don't be afraid to target their weaknesses, pick an advantageous battleground and thwart their favourite tactics. Even better if it might have had an opportunity to use someone they care about as a body shield. It may even just straight-up lie that said person is in danger, even if it isn't untrue, just to throw them off. Maybe even have it stoke the fires of any inter-party tension and offer a solution if X defects to it's side.
    78% of DM's started their first campaign in a tavern. If you're one of the 22% that didn't, copy and paste this into your signature.

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    The PCs, walk into a town they've never before visited together, all the villagers stop & stare at them. The PCs realise why when they get to the fountain at the centre of town, there are accurate statues of each of them, even down to the gear they currently carry. The statues have been here for generations...

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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bjarkmundur View Post
    A hidden attacker that always uses his action to prepare "I shoot at the spellcaster when he attempts to cast a spell" is also a very scary thing. This will trigger a concentration save for your player which determines whether the spell is cast successfully or not (or at a disadvantage, if you prefer).
    Does this work on non-concentration spells? If no, you might not force many concentration checks.

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    Titan in the Playground
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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    Quote Originally Posted by Randomthom View Post
    Simply put, fudge things.
    I'm not talking about dice rolls. I'm talking about spell lists, pre-fight buffs etc.

    Chess is one method through which we humans might "measure" intelligence. The ability to predict another person's moves many steps ahead. Thus, give yourself permission to "cheat" to represent this super-human intellect that neither you nor I have. *snip*
    I agree, but with a caveat: super-intelligence scales better in chess than in combat (real or D&D) because chess is highly-constrained a game of total information. A super-genius can predict your moves in chess based on your current position, but they can't necessarily predict your moves in poker or Stratego because they don't KNOW your current position unless you give it away.

    What this means in practice is that you should avoid going overboard with genius villains unless they have superb information too. Maybe allow them one or two "cheats" in response to information that they should have been able to deduce, but don't no-sell everything wacky that the players attempt unless the villain is constantly scrying on them. Don't do anything remotely like this stuff: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwJUuN3JUPE

    BTW, Larry Niven's Protector and related books are good inspiration for any writer trying to depict a conflict between a protagonist and an adversary much smarter than the writer. (It's hard!)
    Last edited by MaxWilson; 2019-09-23 at 01:47 PM.

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    RangerGuy

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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    Mostly it's a matter of pre-planning, and methodical thinking. The super-genius nemesis can think of a solution faster than I can, but I can take a week between sessions to figure out what he should do.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    The most intelligent move you can make as a BBEG ..

    - If they know that they are going to lose, they leave. An intelligent BBEG would never fight to the death unless they have an over-riding reason to stay (and completing an evil plan is not such a reason since if they fail today they might succeed tomorrow and a very intelligent opponent would be able to accurately gauge the odds of winning any particular encounter).

    Intelligent enemies have a plan ..

    - If they know the party is coming then they have been scouted, observed by scrying spells, weaknesses identified and spells, equipment and traps chosen and designed to defeat the party

    - If they know the party is coming and they can't win with the minions available then they send out some to delay the party while they leave. (Sorry ... big boss fights against intelligent enemies really shouldn't happen unless the party does something to trap them ... which is very difficult against an intelligent enemy)

    - The intelligent BBEG always has a contingency plan. If they are losing they trigger a magic item and leave. A single use magic item with Teleport for example or a ring of spell storing with Dimension Door and a good location within 500' and out of sight of the party for them to use to escape. They do NOT rely on spell casting that could be counterspelled for their escape ... because they are smart.

    - If you are fighting in their base/lair then it may well have a mechanism to destroy the base in the event of being overrun. Earthquake spells set on a contingency for example. Large amounts of explosive material set to bring the roof down.

    - they operate a distributed network of agents in cells with limited contact and communications where cells are not aware of each other and don't have sufficient information to work up the chain of command. There is some command overhead but they get the tasks done without leading back to the person in charge. This is made even easier with spellcasting. A caster using the message cantrip can convey orders within 120' - line of sight not needed - without the person receiving the orders having ever seen or met the caster (the caster needs to have seen them at least once).

    Intelligent enemies can deal with anything -

    - this is a DM call but when the party comes up with something unexpected, the DM gives the NPC some special ability/magic item/contingency spell which mitigates or prevents the effect while the NPC gloats a bit at the stupidity of the players. You could call it Legendary Intelligence and it is a Legendary ability to thwart unexpected events. Use sparingly but the really intelligent opponent should rarely be surprised by any turn of events even when the DM goes WTF.
    Last edited by Keravath; 2019-09-23 at 02:05 PM.

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    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    I just play them as smart as I can. I have them use knowledge they have gained to their best advantage.

    If someone were really smart, they wouldn't fight the party unless they knew they could win, or at least have a good shot at it. So I don't typically put the party up against odds like that. If they start to lose, they would try to escape or negotiate.

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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    Quote Originally Posted by Keravath View Post
    The most intelligent move you can make as a BBEG ..

    - If they know that they are going to lose, they leave. An intelligent BBEG would never fight to the death unless they have an over-riding reason to stay (and completing an evil plan is not such a reason since if they fail today they might succeed tomorrow and a very intelligent opponent would be able to accurately gauge the odds of winning any particular encounter).
    Ah, but what you didn't know was it was just a Doombot Simulacrum!

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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    Quote Originally Posted by Yunru View Post
    Ah, but what you didn't know was it was just a Doombot Simulacrum!
    Or they have a clone :)

    P.S. They don't need to be a caster for this ... they just need enough money and a high enough level wizard to cast it. There are probably wizards out there in the business of setting up clones for anyone who can pay. Consider that a 15th level wizard could clone one person a day while a 17th could clone two (one of which would have no material costs). It could be a VERY lucrative business.
    Last edited by Keravath; 2019-09-23 at 02:20 PM.

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    AssassinGuy

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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    I’ve heard of DMs, and maybe even officially published adventures, using a kind of pool of contingency points, or a contingency save or something. So when the PCs execute their awesome plan and succeeds it turns out that the 28 intelligence bad guy actually expected all this and by some fiat retroactively fails, but burns several of the BBEG’s contingency points, which you as the DM can use any time you feel appropriate like legendary saves. If their plan succeeds and no points are left, they’ve finally outwitted the supreme mind of the enemy.

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    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    Thanks guys. There's some good ideas in here. Some chunk of it I have thought of and categorize as tactics of INT 12+, not ultra-high INT. But there are some novel ideas in here. I really hate metagaming as the DM and have been looking for ways to simulate high INT without metagaming.

  25. - Top - End - #25
    Titan in the Playground
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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    Quote Originally Posted by Keravath View Post
    The most intelligent move you can make as a BBEG ..

    - If they know that they are going to lose, they leave. An intelligent BBEG would never fight to the death unless they have an over-riding reason to stay (and completing an evil plan is not such a reason since if they fail today they might succeed tomorrow and a very intelligent opponent would be able to accurately gauge the odds of winning any particular encounter).
    This is true not just for BBEGs, but for almost everything you face.

    Unfortunately the game is designed around the assumption that enemies will fight to the death in order to inflict minor HP damage on PCs and use up some spell slots, instead of behaving rationally. So you have to either make fights deadly enough that the monsters can realistically expect to win (given what they know of the PCs), or make the monsters dumb enough not to notice or suicidal enough not to care.

    The game just isn't fun for players when "you are ambushed by 20 goblins" turns immediately into "the Alert wizard chucks a Fireball, killing 4 closely-spaced goblins, and the other goblins scream in panic and all start running away (during the surprise round, no less)*." It feels unsatisfying for monsters to give up after only 20% casualties, but from the goblins' perspective it is totally rational.

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    Yes, yes, I know, "surprise round" isn't a technical term in 5E. We all know what it means: a round during which some or all of the PCs or monsters are surprised.


    ================================

    Quote Originally Posted by Keravath View Post
    Or they have a clone :)

    P.S. They don't need to be a caster for this ... they just need enough money and a high enough level wizard to cast it. There are probably wizards out there in the business of setting up clones for anyone who can pay. Consider that a 15th level wizard could clone one person a day while a 17th could clone two (one of which would have no material costs). It could be a VERY lucrative business.
    "For an extra 10,000 gp per year, I'll sell you the extra-secure life insurance rider, which is that I'll contact you by Sending every year to make sure you're still alive, and if you're not I'll Teleport to wherever your bodily remains are and Wish for your Resurrection! For 30,000 per year I'll check up on you every month!"

    Resurrection is cheap in 5E, but there's no reason why PCs should be the only ones to take advantage. <evil DM grin>

    Adventure hook: PCs are contacted by this enterprising wizard, via Project Image, and in the course of his sales pitch they learn that several of their old nemeses are alive again and presumably looking for revenge.
    Last edited by MaxWilson; 2019-09-23 at 04:53 PM.

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    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    Luckily, there's no "imaginary number to IQ" –ratio.

    In other words, there's no way of telling how much 'D&D Intelligence X' is in 'IQ'. Don't worry about it. You DM as you do. Don't dwell in self-pity if you made a supposedly smart creature make a silly tactical decision. We all make mistakes in our lives.

    Besides, even Da Vinci, Einstein, and Newton made many mistakes themselves; whole bunches of them.

    Plato, one of the greatest thinkers and philosophers in our history — perhaps one of the most intelligent people who have ever lived — admitted to the greatest wisdom of mankind:
    "I know I know nothing".

    You'll be fine!
    Last edited by Arkhios; 2019-09-24 at 11:27 PM.

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    AssassinGuy

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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    Borrow/steal from other games and mechanics within the game.

    Give them "Intelligence" or "Plan" points (like Fate Points) to account for sudden twists.

    Give them the Lucky feat and/or the Diviner's Portent ability.

    Do they have Lair or Legendary Actions yet? If they are the big bad and the answer is no, consider adding appropriate ones.

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    NinjaGuy

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    Default Re: How do you DM creatures more intelligent than yourself?

    Using the "Know your Enemy" feature from the Battlemaster fighter as a model, a high-intelligence creature would know things like:
    • Approximate scores or modifiers
    • Armor Classes
    • Approximate hit points
    • Class Level combinations
    • Magic/buff durations
    • Countertactics, such as knowing who to, and who not to, banish, et cetera

    I'd also give a look at the Is Legendary Resistance a Lazy Mechanic? thread from last month for some other non-LR ideas to give your high-intelligent creatures a way to counter the party. This could include:
    • Shield Guardians & Caster minions packing Counterspells
    • Portent-style replacement die
    • Abilities such as Indominable, Regeneration, or Relentless
    • More actions during the round, such as Faux-Lair actions or having an entire second turn
    • MMO-Style Enrage Timers
    • More esoteric mechanics, such as Damage Reduction (either type-specific or across the board), or a Rakshasa-style ability to simply ignore certain spell levels or being immune to certain styles of damage.


    Quote Originally Posted by Shabbazar View Post
    I really hate metagaming as the DM and have been looking for ways to simulate high INT without metagaming.
    Note you can also give them a chance to "metagame" without actually metagaming. One of the main reasons a BBEG may throw progressively stronger minions at a party is to observe their tactics - You can make this more obvious by having the party recognize the scrying sensor, or have them see the BBEG (or their familiar) observing them, then soaring away when noticed.
    Always looking for critique of my 5E homebrew!
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    ... does this stuff just come naturally to you? Do you even have to try anymore xD
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