Monday, 12 March 2012

Sentience Vs Intelligence Vs Instinct

In the course of my designs on society, I have been musing on how to portray various species' societies.

Obviously at a settlement level, the differences between intelligences can be shown by clumping into technological groups can be made explicitly clear. The wild creatures live in rough family groups and make their homes in natural formations such as caves. At a primitive level, when intelligence becomes apparent, the groups consist of multiple families who make their own habitat. This can be fashioning nests to building rudimentary structures. Once classified as a sentient species, an appreciation of aesthetics develops and so more ornate architecture or art or mythology is present around usually (though by no means exclusively) permanant structures of some kind. Communication is also probably more concrete at this point between individuals rather than just signals to a group.

However, what I have been struggling with is how to make the players aware of whether they are dealing with animal cunning or intelligent planning when they encounter members of other species. While I appreciate that it may be beneficial to keep the players unaware as to whether the lizard-man they've just encountered is a slavering animal or a plotting genius, from a roleplaying perspective it would be helpful to have something to go on. Though I could go the traditional route and just give all the evil genius lizard-men English accents...

Behaviourally, I think the key is scale. While wild creatures may make posturing roars and swipes, a more calculated and subtle approach is a strong sign of not acting on the first instinctual impulse. Speech is not necessary, though some attempt at communication is probably another good indication of self-awareness and intelligence. Unless there has been some background event or provocation, a sentient creature is unlikely to strike out for no reason. Though if the adventurers are being actively threatening then the base reaction from most things is going to be to retaliate purely for self-preservation. As such it is also important to note that higher intelligence is not a sign that they have no impulses, even the most collected human can strike out like a snake if they are scared or annoyed.

If anyone has any tips on representing intelligence in non-humans I'd be very glad to hear them.

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