One of the greatest selling points of RPGs is that you can play as anyone or anything. Want to be Frodo on an epic quest? D&D can do that! Want to be Captain America? Lots of superhero games have the stats for you. How about Luke Skywalker? Yep, we’ve got that covered too.
But what if you want to play Tony Stark? Data or Spock? Hermione Granger?
A lot of characteristics can be abstracted by stats. Put all of your points in strength and most of the time when you want something pummeled, it’s going to be smashed. But playing a smart character, especially one that’s smarter than the player is, takes a lot more than just stats.
In our Longshot Numenera game, Miral’s original logline was “the absent-minded professor as a teenage girl.” Theoretically she’s the smartest person in the party; her intellect pool is certainly larger than average. While I’m a smart person, I’m far from a genius. So, what’s the solution?
Look back at the list of pop culture geniuses above. And even Miral. All of them have at least one glaring flaw. Tony Stark is a genius with an alcohol problem and PTSD. Data craves the human experience of emotion, while Spock denies those same emotions. And while Hermione should have been the protagonist of Harry Potter, her Muggle outsider-ness held her back. Translate all of these into game terms, and you have the perfect drawbacks you can fall back on when your character is in deeper than your mortal mind can comprehend.
Miral is absent-minded. Mechanically, this shows up in her inability at detecting danger. But it wouldn’t be much of a character trait if it only showed up occasionally on a perception check. So Miral is easily distracted. Animals. Plants. Philosophy. Shiny armor. Any time I need extra time to figure out how to sound smart, or am just completely lost, I can fall back on Miral’s character flaw.
And of course I play it up lots of times just to have fun (and hopefully entertain all of you!).
All great characters have flaws, of course. Our hapless group of adventurers in the Longshot is filled with great drawbacks! But while in any RPG the flaws open up some of the best opportunities for driving a character’s story, I find it’s especially important as a way to give the player an “out” when they need a break from being the group’s resident genius.
Do you have any strategies for playing a character smarter than you are? Are there any other archetypes you find are more difficult to role play than others?
Fandible.Com is now on Patreon! If you enjoy our weekly blog posts and actual play podcasts, please consider supporting us.