A Centennial College graduated game artist who loves to write. I blog about games and enjoy working on personal high concept game ideas—heavily informed by relevant societal issues. I am curious and eager to contribute to creative projects.
In a handful of video role-playing games, the player can choose to play a character of low intelligence.
Not only does this allow for greater freedom to the player in building a character, but it also adds another layer of texture to video game dialogue that would otherwise be written properly and sometimes with little humour.
Of the many games developed, off the top of my head, only these titles come to mind whereby it is possible to be play as this specific character build.
The Fallout series of games
Icewind Dale 2
DMs may also opt to ‘force' players to role-play a low intelligence character in PnP should the player allocate an unfortunate dice roll score to the intelligence statistic. My DM in particular explained to one of the players who rolled a minotaur paladin, the consequences of allocating an intelligence score below a threshold-not talking properly throughout the entire campaign.
A limitation of playing a low intelligence character in Fallout is that many side quests will be unavailable to you, and that background information will be withheld. In this case, playing a low intelligence character is not recommended if you want the full experience of the game.
In Neverwinter Nights, skills points are directly related to your intelligence statistic. It is also not possible to play a low intelligence wizard as the lowest statistic in intelligence for this class is 11.
Another limitation is the amount of work and budget game developers must devote to writing all the extra dialogues. This creates a situation where the developer needs to think hard about where to allocate funds. Low intelligence dialogue can be seen as a novelty and can find itself on the low priority list.
That being said, I decided for my personal project to implement low intelligence dialogue. Not only would this allow me to stretch creatively, but it also fit well with the project's premise.
The module is a light hearted adventure story split into three acts about a newly downsized commoner who decides to get into the adventuring business. Full time jobs are scarce and Toril is currently suffering an economic downturn. Adventuring seems to be the player's only way out of long term unemployment. Unless you die, then you won't have to worry. Luckily, a company that specializes in adventure job placement is just a few blocks from your home in the fictional city of Armen. In fact, you have an appointment with their manager. Resumé in hand, you hope they are your solution.
Every character in the module will have specific low intelligence branches. In the first part, there are 43 npcs that need branches for normal and low intelligence dialogues. To give an idea how large individual dialogues can end up, here is a screenshot of the npc Captain Longfellow's conversation.
Each of these branches are scripted to specific journal entries and whether or not the player has an intelligence of at least 10, or if the player has lower than 10 intelligence.
This is what the first branch of dialogue looks in normal intelligence:
This is what the first branch of dialogue looks in low intelligence:
At this point, one might be concerned that is no real individuality to either of them. The low dialogue options are just rewritten to reflect a dumb character. When I decided to write low intelligence dialogues, I didn't want players to play a low intelligence character and find out they couldn't do half the things a normal intelligence character could do. This technique was implemented in Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas, so I am not treading new ground here.
Drilling down further into this dialogue, Longfellow does respond to a low intelligence character by noting the player's less than proper speech. These small modifications are how I individualize a low intelligence character from a normal intelligence character.
Captain Longfellow is not actually a very good example of these small modifications, since he needs to be this ‘one size fits all character' and is pertinent to the main quest. Not all npc dialogues are this large however. Each character has at least 2 dialogues: one for low and one for normal.
This dialogue is with a bunch of children whereby the player gets heckled repeatedly because of the low intelligence statistic. The children acknowledge that the player is a ‘dumb dumb.' It also reinforces the claim that these three are the ‘trifecta of terror.'
The normal intelligence version of this dialogue still has a ton of heckling; however the heckling is more general.
In Fallout 2, there was one conversation where a player with low intelligence could have a decent conversation. This was with Torr, the town fool of Klamath. Torr spoke in broken English which was followed by proper if flowery sentences in parentheses. The player could engage Torr and get an additional quest only if the player had a low intelligence.
In spirit of Torr, the quest I created for low intelligence characters involves four goblins who speak pig Latin. One goblin is mute; two can speak similar to Torr and can teach the player pig Latin and the fourth-the boss can only speak pig Latin. The player must ‘learn' the language. Or not. I give the player the freedom to choose how they want to play the quest out. Players of normal intelligence can also carry out this quest, but it is simpler for them.
I am considering allowing wizards/sorcerers/clerics/bards to cast a plot spell (Comprehend Languages) through dialogue to communicate with the goblins. I'm not sure if I'm willing to do this yet, but it would add another interesting layer to the quest.
Here is a screenshot of one of the goblin's dialogues.
These are examples of the low intelligence dialogues I am implementing in my project. So far, it's been fun writing them and I understand why the increased workload limits statistic specific dialogue implementation in commercial video games. Not only do you need to test the normal intelligence dialogues, but also you'll need to test the low intelligence dialogues. Plus making sure all the scripts fire, the quests don't fail, and the journal entries update properly, and so on. It is a lot of work.
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