Something I noticed after several games of D&D using the 5e ruleset along with observations made by one of my players. In previous editions, the Intelligence ability score served as a modifier for not spellcasters such as Wizards but also a significant stat when considering the rate of skill growth under a skill-point system. After several years, the game design has shifted for more streamlined approaches and less on multiple ability dependence (or MAD) with the advent of the proficiency bonus and static skill proficiencies defined by background and class choices. All in all, the changes served to improved character creation and level up progression as well.
Regarding what can be done to reinvigorate Intelligence to be less of a dump stat or reward players for having a high Intelligence (other than being a Wizard), it’s necessary to consider what sort of purpose and interactions we want to achieve with Intelligence.
- We want Intelligence (positive/negative) to have meaningful impact on the game mechanics
- We want to avoid too much regression to older system mechanics
- We aim to implement Intelligence in a satisfactory manner or ways to use the existing system to showcase it better
Intelligence and Skill Acquisition
One idea I’ve been toying around for a while was implemented Intelligence into bonus skills acquired at character creation. I do not wish to punish characters with negative Intelligence modifiers, but it does reward players with higher than average Intelligence modifiers (of course Wizards will receive the most boon out this arrangement). In other words, it would infringe on the current character creation of skill proficiencies from picking a character’s background and class. By adding on this additional house rule, characters with positive Intelligence modifiers can acquire other skills. The most a Wizard should be able to obtain is 4 additional skills (which ironically enough, there are six skills to choose from their class skills).
Another variant is to have the positive Intelligence modifier be used as a limiter for characters to acquire additional skill proficiencies through downtime activities. This does not include or count against class features that grant skill proficiencies. If the character has a +0 or negative modifier, the character cannot acquire new skills except through class features.
Using Intelligence in Cross Skill Checks
This isn’t really a homebrew or new idea. This is something that is presented in the 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide. You can cross ability score traits with Skills to have things like Dexterity (Arcana) checks or Strength (Intimidate) checks for example. So next time you’re considering to impose a skill check on your players, consider whether or not it requires any mental acuteness to achieve. Such as stepping on the right symbols on a floor to avoid activating a trap, that might be an Intelligence (Acrobatics) check. I personally enjoy this optional rule and employ it often in my own games, it definitely changes and expands the variety of interpretations of skills. If you’re just starting out or if you have players are fairly new the game, this is an option that should use sparingly or until they are comfortable with their character sheets.
Using Intelligence to acquire new skills
In Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, we have tips and suggestions on running training as a downtime activity. While it only mentions languages or tools, I do not see why we cannot expand it into skills. Using the metric of 10,000 hours to be skilled or at least a mild expert in a skill (along with the Adventurer’s League chart for acquiring skills through downtime), we set the starting value at 200 days to become proficient at a skill, a better benchmark would be 30 workweeks. Characters can reduce the number of workweeks equal to their Intelligence modifier but not increase the time for negative penalties. You could also set an Intelligence ability check prior or during the training to possibly signify quick advancements or complications.
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