Behind The Screens – Intellect Points

There are two types of ability scores in Pathfinder: those you aren’t expected to act out at the table and those you might be expected to act out at the table.

Related imageMy patent-pending fitness program where players get bonuses to rolls for exercising aside, players aren’t expected to demonstrate feats of physical might, agility, or endurance to make Strength-, Dexterity, or Constitution-based checks, and yet there is an expectation that players can think like Intellectly-gifted adventurers. Characters so smart they learned to defy the laws of physics, or so smooth they stumbled upon the same power. Characters so wise a god has granted them power over life and death. I don’t care how many college degrees you have, player, until you can turn bat poop into explosions, you’re not as smart as even an average wizard.

To some groups, this is not an issue. The mechanics supported by ability scores are all that matter to them, and a character can be played as smart, wise, and charismatic as the player. However, my definition of peak roleplaying is when all of a character’s statistics factor into who they are and how they’re played. In every edition of D&D and Pathfinder, there is a lack of rules that support players playing characters who are more intellectual than they are.

Thus, Intellect Points, a new resource system to help players with mortal levels of intelligence, wisdom, and charisma simulate the relative genius intellect of the characters they play.

Intellect Points

Intellect Points are resource pools, similar to Hero Points, that come in three types: Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. An Intellect Point can be spent to reverse the effect of a roleplaying choice related to the Intellect Point’s type, or to gain a hint for how a character of that Intellect capacity would approach a situation that has the player stumped. Intellect Points can only be used in situations that are divorced from game mechanics.

Using Intellect Points: A player can choose to spend an Intellect Point to re-evaluate a poorly thought out decision or rephrase a poorly worded sentence to better reflect their character’s intellect without suffering the consequences of their original decision or phrasing, as long as no roll was involved in the choice being reversed.

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For example, if a player addresses a noble NPC by the wrong honourific, the player could argue that someone of their character’s Charisma (or Intelligence or Wisdom, it could also be argued) wouldn’t make that mistake. If the GM agrees, the player can spent an Intellect Point of the appropriate type to either have their character use the correct title or have the character correct themselves in a way that neutralizes any insult. If using the wrong title would result in a Diplomacy check or, worse, an Initiative roll, such consequences do not prevent a player from spending an Intellect Point. It is the character’s actions that must be divorced from game mechanics, not the consequences of their actions.  

Additionally, if a player is stumped for a course of actions to take, they can choose to spend an appropriate Intellect Point to gain a hint as to what someone of their character’s intellect would think to do in that situation.

Conversely, a player could not use an Intellect Point to reroll a failed Int-, Wis-, or Cha-based check or a Concentration check, as the character’s aptitude with the relevant ability score is already factored into that roll. Intellect Points can only be used when the character’s intellect is being tested in a way that the player can only use their own intellect to resolve.

Gaining Intellect Points: To gain Intellect Points, a character must first sleep for 8 hours, or rest for 8 hours if they do not sleep. A character gains a number of Intellect Points of each type equal to the associated ability score modifier. A character can have a maximum number of Intellect Points equal to their Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma ability modifiers combined.

If a character has an ability score penalty in any of the three Intellect ability scores, they choose which Intellect Points they gain of those they are entitled to. For example, a character with Int 18, Wis 8, and Cha 15 could receive up to 4 Intelligence Intellect Points and up to 2 Charisma Intellect Points. However, because of their -1 Wisdom modifier, they can only have 5 Intellect Points total. They must choose to have 4 Intelligence Points and 1 Charisma Intellect Point or 3 Intelligence Intellect Points and 2 Charisma Intellect Points.

Temporary ability score grant temporary Intellect Points of the appropriate type, and a temporary increase to a character’s maximum number of Intellect Points. These temporary Intellect Points are spent first.

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Longtime readers know where I stand on awarding players mechanically for their roleplaying choices. I am against allowing players to circumvent their ability scores (usually Charisma) with engagement at the table, doubly so with rewarding them mechanically for it. This is different. This is a system that supports a player’s ability to roleplay aspects of their character that might be beyond their means. Similar to how how the magic rules allow an intellectual character to cast complex magic magic,  Intellect Points allow an intellectual character to outthink less intellectual characters. It also gives mechanical benefits to players who might want to play a smart fighter, cunning paladin, or other unusually intellectual version of a traditionally unintellectual class. If your stats say you’re the smartest person in the room, Intellect Points let you act like it.

Ryan Costello

What started as one gamer wanting to talk about his love of a game has turned into an empire of gamers talking about their games. Ryan founded what would become the Know Direction Podcast network with Jason "Jay" Dubsky, his friend and fellow 3.5 enthusiast. They and their game group moved on to Pathfinder, and the Know Direction podcast network was born. Now married and a father, Ryan continues to serve the network as a co-host of the flagship podcast, Know Direction. You can find out more about Ryan and the history of the network in this episode of Presenting: