The Intelligence Check: or “When do I think of that?”

One of the joys of role playing games (RPGs) in general and Victorious in particular is that you can make characters to play that are unlike you. Perhaps you’re a couch potato; you could create an outdoorsman hunter for your character. Another could play someone charismatic with personal magnetism, whereas in real life that player could be a shy person. This is the beauty of RPGs.

Yet in some circumstances this runs into trouble. Most especially if the player is using what is called ‘player knowledge’ to help his character solve a problem. This is usually something that the player knows but there is no way the character can know the bit of knowledge the player uses. It is often rules related, using the info a player has from reading the rules or the setting to give them an edge. A lot of times there’s nothing wrong with that, other times it damages the suspension of disbelief a RPG tries to create.

But this article is talking about the other end of this problem: the point where a character, due to supernatural powers or training, should know far more than the player does on a given subject. In Victorious, this is handled by an attribute check on the Intelligence attribute with suitable modifiers based on skills or powers or whatnot as the situation requires.

Yet when does a Genteel Magistrate (GM) require the player to make such a roll? A GM could require it for any problem that the character is good at, but this means the player just rolls for insights and doesn’t have to try to think their way to a solution. This removes the “play” for the player, and is often called ‘Roll Playing’ in the hobby.

***Please note that what I’m suggesting here is not ‘canonical’, or official rules. This is simply how I deal with such things at my table, and your Genteel Magistrate (as always) is the final arbiter of such games.

What I do is the following: say a player is running a character that’s a Contraptionist. The group of heroes is confronted with a problem, say a steam powered warship engine that’s powering the Evil Leader’s™ airship. They want to slow it down, but don’t want to simply turn it off as they would then be immobilized along with the airship. The player of the Contraptionist doesn’t know hydraulic science, so I give the player an Intelligence check. With a success I tell the player that ‘What she knows about steam technology tells her that causing the boiler to vent most of the steam from a side pipe should do the job.’ Solution!

A harder one is when the player character is a Magician and is asking how to resolve something, such as what is the meaning of the widget they found on the occult altar underneath the Hellfire Club’s premises. The whole adventure is based on the player going to locations and finding out details on the widget. When the player makes their Intelligence check and succeeds, I give a hint such as ‘You recall a mention of this item in the library of the O.T.O. lodge in the German Empire.’ Thus there is a success and a hint is given, but the adventure setup is still secure. You can even use it to lead them to the next encounter. Just be sure to let the players make the decisions of what to do and where to go; else you’re guilty of railroading your players. Which most players of RPGs resent in my experience.

The final use of the Intelligence check is on the part of the Genteel Magistrate. If players are sitting around the table and simply can’t resolve the clues you’ve given them about the plot resolution, then arbitrarily ask for an Intelligence check from the smartest or most experienced (in the field at hand) character. Depending on the success, and level of success, you as GM can drop more clues or give a push in providing the relationship of the clues that they’re missing.

At NO time should the GM simply tell them the full resolution. This seems like the easier course for everyone, but players like to feel that they were the ones who came up with the right idea, or the right connections, or whatever to succeed at the scenario. Genteel Magistrates who just give their players everything they need to know on a successful Intelligence check removes that feeling of success from the players, and boredom with the game may ensue.

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