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Roleplaying Intelligent Creatures in D&D 5e, P2: Hyper-Intelligence20 min read

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Monstrous Mindscapes. Have you ever struggled to roleplay intelligent creatures and NPCs in Dungeons & Dragons, or to fully understand their thought processes and strategies? After a brief detour in Tactical Roles & Creature Niches, this week I finish my D&D 5e series tackling guidelines for running hyper-intelligence. I detail various aspects of that and articulate how behavioral traits emerge as INT scores progress, concluding with my Intelligence Index graphic. And I flesh out my Intellect Archetypes system more, beginning to envision monstrous mindsets in detail. Using real D&D 5e creatures, not just conjecture. Let’s dive in!

To start, for this post I’ve drawn heavily on concepts from the Orion’s Arm Universe Project, a collaborative online science-fiction worldbuilding endeavor. Though they have several extremely complex scales of intelligence, I will borrow three simply categories to start with in discussing the topic of Hyper-Intelligence:
1. Non-Sapient, INT 1-5 in my 5e indexing, features “cognition, sensation, emotion”.
2. Sapient, INT 6-19 in my 5e indexing, features “s
elf awareness, language, rationality, abstractness, numeracy”.
3. Transapient, INT 20-29 in my 5e indexing, features
foresight, oversight, ideogenesis, translogic, autoscience”

I’ll unpack what that all means shortly. For now, recall that in Part One, I identified fourteen Intellect Archetypes for D&D 5e: Architect, Artist, Historian, Inventor, Investigator, Linguist, Logician, Naturalist, Mathematician, Philosopher, Sage, Strategist, Tradecrafter, and Visionary. Let’s start putting all this together into a coherent progression, including the behavioral traits, Intellect Archetypes, and strategies by tier, featuring actual D&D 5e creature examples.

(Note: take these guidelines as optional rules that would certainly change Monster Challenge Ratings, as I mentioned in my piece, Beyond D&D 5e Challenge Rating: 20 Traits of Difficulty, Danger, and Death.)

Intelligence Score 14-15: Gifted

Example D&D 5e Creatures: Cloud Giant Smiling One, Deathlock, Djinni, Erinyes, Faerie Dragon, Gauth, Hobgoblin Warlord, Oni, Sacred Statue, Sprite, Swarm of Cranium Rats, Yuan-Ti Malison.

At this tier, creatures begin to present a bit more eccentrically, perhaps with idiosyncratic speech patterns, or the clever use of irony. They can sometimes make solid deductions based on many seemingly unrelated details. Occasionally, the Gifted may have flashes of insight on novel systems, which they can put to good use with a strong working memory. Notably, creatures of this intellectual level may begin to attempt a simple skill transference, filling skill gaps with a reliance on wit. For example, using war stratagem instead of raw Deception, recalling exact physical instructions instead of raw Sleight of Hand, or achieving Intimidation via mind games. Finally, they can display background multitasking of more moderate tasks – but somewhat inefficiently – without requiring focus. Such as slowly doodling simple math proofs while carrying on an unrelated conversation.

Consider the ways a Swarm of Cranium Rats might overcome an obstacle more unusually, a Hobgoblin Warlord’s ingenuity in battle transferring into political maneuvers, a Yuan-Ti Malison’s attention to subtle details and the answers that arrive from that. Or a Faerie Dragon’s irony. Or how a Gauth might subconsciously re-position itself for its incoming death throes. These Gifted creatures become proficient an an Intellect Archetype. Ponder the competent Sprite Naturalist, the Oni Tradecrafter, the Djinni Mathematician.

An example combat approach for the Gifted: a gambit based on ambushes and feints.

Intelligence Score 16-17: Genius

Example D&D 5e Creatures: Androsphinx, Beholder, Deva, Drow Matron Mother, Efreeti, Night Hag, Storm Giant, Vampire, Young Green Dragon.

At this tier, creatures develop arbitrary mnemonics, meaning linguistic or visualization techniques that enhance memorization through methods of imagination, association, or location, which can free up Working Memory and increase recollection. For instance, the classic phrase “Roy G. Biv” to recall the order of a rainbow’s colors (red, orange, green, blue, indigo, violet). This can also include useful acronyms and adages, or mapping unrelated names onto spaces within one’s navigational visualization. Additionally, they can show a stellar grasp on induction and formal logic, as well as a strong reflex for analogy, simile, and metaphor. And a related aspect, the Genius’ ability for complex simulation, allows improved forecasting of probabilities. Now, rather than just an occasional flash of insight, these creatures’ demeanor changes toward recurring inspiration, frequently devising new techniques. They develop unique personalities because of this.

In terms of memory, they experience highly detailed Flashbulb Memories, recalling moments of shocking and consequential news in more vivid detail, not just simple “snapshots” but as largely coherent extended flashbacks. At this tier creatures also experiment with complex skill transference, perhaps using their History knowledge to sample templates from famous speeches for use in Social Checks, or using Investigation to glean information on animal behavior for Animal Handling. With their enhanced memory abilities through features like mnemonics or visualization, they occasionally achieve a minimally functional multi-track thinking, meaning they can at times layer a simple line of thought such as a memorization mantra or mental video inside a greater focus on a more complex and engaging train of thought, say, explaining an unrelated topic.

What mental shortcuts might a Beholder weave into its fearsome analytic approach? Consider how an Androsphinx’s ability to spin riddles depends on its grasp of logic and narrative technique. Imagine a Vampire’s vivid chronicle of memories, its predatory forecasting. Or a cunning Drow Matron Mother, using her Religion skill for an ancient rite that creates an implement of physical leverage. These Genius creatures may become proficient in a second Intellect Archetype, or master their existing one. Ponder the masterful Deva Artist, Storm Giant Visionary, or Efreeti Philosopher.

An example combat approach for the Genius: a gambit based on a set of recursively-improving baseline starting moves, like Chess openers.

Intelligence Score 18-19: Prodigy

Example D&D 5e Creatures: Adult Oblex, Ancient Bronze Dragon, Death Tyrant, Githzerai Anarch, Gynosphinx, Marilith, Marid, Marut, Mind Flayer, Planetar, Winter Eladrin.

Creatures at this tier begin to reach the threshold of Hyper-Intelligence. They may develop practical mnemonics, where the mnemonic mechanism itself becomes practical rather than arbitrary. For instance, they may imprint terms to memorize onto physical routines that require many tasks but little specific order, like varied cleaning tasks, allowing for planned, multi-faceted productivity both mental and physical at once. They often also exhibit an uncanny ability to deduce accurate conclusions using a very minimal number of related details. Likewise, the Prodigy’s capacity for Sublitizing, meaning the number of objects they can immediately group to count or estimate with, increases significantly beyond the normal 2-5 items at once range. Additionally, they exhibit recurring inspiration on novel processes, as well as extreme breadth of stored memory. Overall, creatures at this tier become stunningly agile or methodical learners. They can reliably distinguish between a vast array of alternatives in problem-solving, memorize long lists in short windows of time, and use active sequential multitasking fairly efficiently, overcoming the normal limit of 5-9 items in one’s Working Memory.

Imagine the productive mnemonic routines a Marilith could develop using all seven limbs, or likewise a Death Tyrant’s eyestalks. The Marut, as an enforcer of cosmic law, likely puts its intense accounting capacity to good use. An Adult Oblex has consumed so many memories that it has become in some ways a living encyclopedia. A Mind Flayer perhaps mines the brains it devours for new methodologies to acquire. And a Githzerai Anarch manipulates matter with scientific precision, constantly experimenting and recalibrating its psionic terraforming. These Prodigy creatures may hold several Intellect Archetype proficiencies, or add a new proficiency to the one they’ve already mastered. Ponder the Gynosphinx master Logician and budding Linguist. The Planetar Investigator, Sage, and Strategist. The Winter Eladrin master Artist and fledgling Historian.

An example combat approach for the Prodigy: a gambit based on further Chess maneuvers like pins (immobilizing an opponent defender), or forks and skewers (threatening multiple enemies at once to force a sacrifice).

Intelligence Score 2021: Mastermind

Example D&D 5e Creatures: Ancient Copper Dragon, Balor, Elder Brain, Empyrean, Lich.

At this tier, creatures reach Hyper-Intelligence proper, demonstrating “Transapient” behavior. To start, their Echoic (auditory) memory functions more like lower tiers’ Iconic (visual) memory, with the ability to recall, playback, and loop sounds. They likely have audiographic memory, with perfect vocal memory, able to instantly replicate sounds they’ve heard only once. Their minds can do passively more than most can ever reach actively, including running Conditional Probability Algorithms without active scrutiny. Yes, the Mastermind lives in a state of recurring inspiration, contemplating and devising whole systems. This sometimes reaches Ideogenesis, or continuous creativity with no intermediate steps or withdrawal periods.

And rather than just a broad memory, they also have efficient memory as well, with rapid recollection and increased mental initiative. Their Working Memory has an amazing ability to efficiently multitask moderate tasks sequentially in the background while they concentrate on a main focus. And this can also include employing synesthesia, where one sensory or cognitive stimulation triggers another simultaneously, for their learning. Because of this, their minds deal with spatial thinking like dimensionality, orientation, and movement in more complex ways, and incorporate multiple sensory inputs into visualizations and memories more seamlessly.

Imagine the multitasking required for an Elder Brain to rapidly balance its telepathic hub, psychic link, and sense thoughts features, and the brainstorming that could arise from that. Contemplate the terrifying Balor, acting as the general of a demon army as it uses sophisticated spatial thinking to oversees the battlefield. Imagine the Lich looping back old conversations, sifting and analyzing them across vast distances of time while it simultaneously manages manuscripts. Might not an Ancient Copper Dragon periodically leave its hill across its extensive years to shapeshift for cross-species Synesthetic Learning? These Mastermind creatures develop a dual Intellect Archetype Mastery, or wield numerous proficiencies. Ponder the Empyrean master Inventor and Visionary, the Lich master Historian and Sage, the Elder Brain balancing Architect, Investigator, Linguist, Philosopher, and Strategist roles all at once.

An example combat approach for the Mastermind: the Batman Gambit, a maneuver requiring solid intel and skilled scheming, which depends on accurate predictions of enemy behavior. It works if everyone stays true to character!

Intelligence Score 2223: Psychometer

Example D&D 5e Creatures: Elder Oblex, Kraken, Nagpa, Pit Fiend.

At this tier, creatures’ mindsets take on a more mystical character in the eyes of lower tier beings. To illustrate, they can speak proficiently with Pataphors, using extended metaphors that diverge from metaphorical reality to the same extent that normal metaphors diverge from non-figurative language. This can function as nested metaphors that work at multiple levels, and package smaller metaphors within them. They can also make impressive deductions from even a minimal number of unrelated details. These creatures have a powerful reflex for Lateral Thinking, and may optimize designs based on their own unique systemic analysis tools. Psychometers also demonstrate an Eidetic Memory, albeit an inefficient one, able to slowly recall even trivial memories photographically. They can apply this for various lingering afterimage effects, or as priming images to stimulate contemplation. Otherwise, they display dramatically accelerated reasoning. The same way that lower tiers may experience epiphanies and bouts of creativity, Psychometers sometimes achieve a volatile sort of Parallel Focus, running similarly large trains of thought simultaneously.

These Psychometers have achieved triple mastery in Intellect Archetypes, or else become a jack of all trades. Imagine the complex maneuverings of devil legions commanded by a Pit Fiend general able to strategize swiftly and sometimes with side-by-side coordination of battalions, an accomplished Linguist, Strategist, and Tradecrafter. The way a conspiratorial Nagpa uses its baseline Lateral Thinking and optimized analysis and application of Pataphors to spin plots and puppetmastery, master Investigator, Sage, and Tradecrafter alike. The way an Elder Oblex patiently amasses its Eidetic Memory, swallowing consciousnesses and upgrading the 2d6+1 impersonations it cultivates into diverse Intellect Archetype proficiencies. How a Kraken, that ancient force of nature, grinds through prophetic information for eons, simulating and perfecting countless battle gambits in its mind while it awaits the catalyst, the call to deliver ruin upon the world, a Historian, Logician, and Strategist all in one.

An example combat approach for the Psychometer: using a personalized war manual complete with codified strategem, like The Art of War or Thirty-Six Strategems.

Intelligence Score 2425: Parallel Hypermind

Example D&D 5e Creatures: Sibriex, Solar, Titivilus.

At this tier, creatures reach the pinnacle of complexity possible with the existing mental architecture of lower tiers. They can accomplish extraordinary feats, like simultaneous vocal and non-verbal language, communicating potentially unrelated messages. Their subconscious minds can perform advanced mathematical functions, and their conscious minds can run through calculations that seem incomprehensible to lower tier creatures. These creatures’ capacities for self-awareness and self-reflection reaches the level of Autoscience, or comprehension in which they can transparently witness their own mental structures and processes. Parallel Hyperminds experience nearly continuous epiphanies, and recurring Ideogenesis. And their memory bears extreme breadth, spinning like an immense Rolodex that may efficiently conjure up helpful Retrocognitive Flashbacks. Not just that, but their processing and learning capacity demonstrates Oversight, indicating procedural awareness that can detect patterns in seemingly unrelated or random data, perceiving properties and connections of extraordinary complexity. This couples with a stable parallel focus, allowing the active operation of multiple trains of thought in tandem.

These Parallel Hyperminds become polymaths, blending various Intellect Archetypes together and retaining nothing less than proficiency. Imagine the Solar sitting in contemplative computation, churning out epiphanies until called upon as a divine messenger, having mastered the Linguist, Logician, Mathematician, and Strategist roles among others. Imagine the intellect required for Titivulus to manipulate and outsmart the archdevil Dispater, weaving plots and power plays, projecting ventriloquism while processing life-like flashbacks, part Historian, part Philosopher, part Tradecrafter, part Visionary. Or Sibriex, that ancient pollutive horror, continuously augmenting demonic breeding programs while amassing forbidden lore inside its monstrously powerful mind, having mastered at least the Architect, Inventor, Sage, and Visionary aspects.

An example combat approach for the Parallel Hypermind: the Xanatos Gambit, a plan where they anticipate and benefit from all foreseeable outcomes, even apparent failures.

Intelligence Score 26-27: Polymorphic Metamind

Example D&D 5e Creatures: Fraz-Urb’luu, Zariel.

At this tier, creatures wield unfathomable intelligence. Within their mindset they can form Mentality Avatars which allow them to empathize and communicate effectively with beings of lower intelligence. And they can conceptualize Meta-Tokens that precisely describe any concept a Non-Transapient (INT 1-19) can conceive of, comparable to how sapient creatures can articulate the flavor of a pickle to the poor heathens who have never had one. Even more, their ability for foresight holds increasingly accurate, complex, and subtle levels of anticipation, beginning to grasp “Translogic”, as big a leap over traditional logic as Quantum Mechanics to Newtonian Physics, or Non-Euclidean Geometry to Euclidean Geometry. Masters of concision, the Polymorphic Metamind can often articulate instructions in terms of Kolmogorov Complexity, as seen in XKCD’s example navigational directions “…take every left that doesn’t put you on a prime-numbered highway or street named for a president“. A totally different form of conceptualization. And they might express this in a manner that emotionally overwhelms less intelligent creatures. Words that sound prophetic.

To reiterate, rather than a mind of parallelism and breadth, they have a polymorphic mind structure, which contains a complicated, non-linear format of extreme depth. Not only does this bear perpetual Ideogenesis, but also Meta-Visualization, the ability to willfully project conceptualizations onto experienced reality in a fashion similar to Augmented Reality. The extreme depth of their essentially multidimensional memory indicates a polyhedric, fractal nature. What does that mean? It means they innately store complete mental models of objects or environments under branching levels of complexity, able to smoothly transition between accessing, for example, an apparent view of a thing, a schematic view of a thing, or an evaluated view of a thing, all of which index into a coherent hierarchy comparable to a webpage. Through this, they possess Autosentience, the ability to painstakingly reform their own cognitive structures. And that intentionality enables a type of neural networking that further enhances Working Memory significantly.

So far in D&D 5e only two non-deities have reached this threshold: Fraz-Urb’luu, and Zariel. These Polymorphic Metaminds become nearly incomprehensible in their merging and mastery of various Intellect Archetypes. Fraz-Urb’luu, the Prince of Deception and Demon Lord of Illusions, who delights in tricking and corrupting demon hunters. Imagine the illusions he can perpetrate using Mentality Avatars and Meta-Tokens, enticing with sinister Kolmogorov shortcuts then befuddling with webs of prophetic Translogic, constantly rewiring his mind to avoid scrutiny and keep track of countless layers of deceit. Just to start, his Artist and Philosopher, Mathematician and Sage, Tradecrafter and Visionary domains would prove legendary. And then Zariel, the fallen angel and archdevil overlooking Avernus, that passageway into the Nine Hells where the Blood War rages intensely. Imagine how she who has seen both Heavens and Hells must use her foresight to anticipate demon incursions, or her Translogic to contend with even the likes of Asmodeus. How her polyhedric mind scrutinizes a sea of souls to bargain with, to recruit the worthy as warriors. Her Historian, Inventor, and Logician personas, not to mention Linguist and Strategist, among others, must shine.

An example combat approach for the Polymorphic Metamind: Xanatos Speed Chess, as with the previous Xanatos Gambit, but using continual revisions and improvements to account for newly-emerging conditions.

Intelligence Score 28-29: Gestalt Hivemind

Example D&D 5e Creatures: None written.

Creatures at this level of mental acuity have quite simply gone off the charts. One may only speculate as to the nature of the minds of such deities and demigods. Nevertheless, we have indications from those who have interacted with such entities that they likely possess Panlinguism, as well as a volatile form of omniscience, foretelling the apparent future with decent precision in rare moments of inspiration. Their mindsets may operate on a level of Quantum Computing, no longer restricted by mortal logic at all. Rumors suggest these entities can even imagine functional realities in more complex detail than actually exists, fully simulating it inside their minds. And as any Elf or Dwarf can tell you, these beings act as living Cultural Progenitors, potentially awakening a species into a new era of ascension. Perhaps they Uplift a species’ consciousness, by magnifying its learning and memory capacities.

One wonders too if they have actually achieved Panmnesia, the total recall of the entirety of one’s thoughts, feelings, and interactions. Controversially, perhaps looking at them as collectivities instead of as individuals makes more sense, for what else accounts for the avatars they can dispatch to the world? Such a theory would also indicate the possibility of networked avatars for these Gestalt Hiveminds, and thus the optimization of all manner of indexing and evaluation. Taking this to its conclusion, the gods’ apparent reliance on mortals may suggest their comprehension exceeds even their agency. But beyond all that, what powers they keep to themselves, we may never know. And these entities seemingly transcend archetype altogether.

An example combat approach for the Gestalt Hivemind: nothing less than the stuff of Miracles – a Wish, or Divine Intervention. Truly the stuff of Wrath!

D&D 5E INT TIERS & TRAITS SUMMARY INDEX P2

INTELLIGENCE SCORELANGUAGELOGIC & CALCULATIONIMAGINATION & CONCEPTUALIZATIONMEMORY & KNOWLEDGEPROCESSING & LEARNINGWORKING MEMORY
14-15: GiftedOften Idiosyncratic or IronicDeduction Via Many Unrelated DetailsFlashes of Insight - SystemsStrong Working MemorySimple Skill TransferenceInefficient Background Sequential Multitasking
16-17: GeniusArbitrary MnemonicsReflexive Inductive ReasoningComplex Simulation - Forecasting; Recurring Inspiration - TechniquesExtended Flashbulb MemoryComplex Skill TransferenceOccasional Multi-Track Thinking
18-19: ProdigyPractical MnemonicsDeduction Via Minimal Related Details; Enhanced SublitizingRecurring Inspiration - ProcessesBroad Memory StorageAgile or Methodical LearningEfficient Active Sequential Multitasking
20-21: MastermindAudiographic MemoryBackground Conditional Probability AlgorithmsRecurring Inspiration - Systems; Occasional IdeogenesisEfficient Memory StorageRapid Recollection; Synesthesic LearningEfficient Background Sequential Multitasking
22-23: PsychometerPataphorsDeduction Via Minimal Unrelated DetailsReflexive Lateral Thinking; Design Optimization Via Unique Systemic Analysis ToolsInefficient Eidetic Memory + Afterimages & PrimingDramatically Accelerated ReasoningVolatile Parallel Focus
24-25: Parallel HypermindParallel Vocal, Non-Verbal Language UseAdvanced Subconscious Calculation; Incomprehensible Conscious CalculationAutoscience; Continuous Epiphanies; Recurring IdeogenesisExtreme Breadth - Rolodex Memory; Retrocognitive FlashbacksProcedural Awareness (Oversight)Stable Parallel Focus
26-27: Polymorphic MetamindMentality Avatars; Meta-TokensCunning Foresight; Rudimentary Translogic; Kolmogorov Complexity ProphecyPolymorphic Mind Structure; Volatile Precognition; Constant Ideogenesis; Meta-VisualizationExtreme Depth - Polyhedric / Fractal MemoryAutosentience (Cognitive Structure Self-Reformation)Enhanced Neural Networking
28-29: Gestalt HivemindPanlinguismVolatile Omniscience; Quantum ComputingMeta-Reality Projection; Living Cultural ProgenitorPanmnesia; Memory Capacity UpliftOptimal Indexing; Learning Capacity UpliftAuto-Networking Avatars; Working Memory Uplift

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed this piece on Roleplaying Intelligence in D&D 5e. Share it if you liked it, and let me know in the comments what you thought. I publish new posts each Tuesday (though I’m taking Christmas Eve off). In the meantime, I post original D&D memes and writing updates daily over on my site’s Facebook Page. Also, if you want to keep up-to-date on all my posts, check the finally functional sign-up widget at the bottom to receive email notifications when I release new posts. A big thanks as always to my Patrons on Patreon, helping keep this project going: Anthony, Geoff, Kelly, Micah, and Rudy. Thanks for your support!

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Tril

D&D 5e blogger.

This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. With the release of the two latest books from WotC (Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica and Dungeon of the Mad Mage), we received two new noteworthy intelligent creatures.

    In Ravnica, we got Niv-Mizzet, a ‘dracogenius’ with an astonishing 30 Intelligence (something not accounted for in this article), and Halaster Blackcloak, the titular Mad Mage with an Intelligence of 24.

    I am extremely curious to hear your thoughts on a 30 Int creature. Godlike I expect, though that description seems like it fit the Gestalt Hivemind. Is a 30 radically different from a 28-29? Is it something fathomable?

    Oh, and I believe there is a third Polymorphic Metamind. Tomb of Annihilation’s version of Acererak had a 27 Intelligence. The Polymorphic Metamind description fits well I believe, what with the way he devises his traps and tombs and means of outsmarting countless adventurers and raising creatures to deific status – and the creation of the Soulmongerer, which stole souls away from reaching their gods’ side.

    1. Thanks for the comment, I just got the Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica book recently myself and am playing in that setting currently. I’d love to revisit this series down the line, I think 30 would really be unfathomable on the existing scale, but it would be interesting to try to see what I would come up with. There’s a lot of sci-fi material to think about, particularly the Orion’s Arm frameworks I drew upon that could scale further. Though I don’t know if D&D 5e would really be capable of mechanically supporting stretching it, it could be a “war of the Gods” type scenario as a world background. Good catch on Acererak!

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