Just Pretend - How do you pretend to be smart?

edited March 2012 in Story Games
I mighta used the wrong word in the other topic?
I just want to know about sources of inspiration and approach.
Do you look for other things? Would an actor approach Einstein by not even attempting to act "smart"? Maybe smart would be the last thing they'd try to emulate? Is smart really that typical for protagonists anyway? They mostly seem flawed and stupid. Is Holmes or Bond really protagonists in all their stories? If not, what are they?


  • Not sure if you're approaching the problem from the right angle here? We all know what it is to "be smart" - it is to know stuff other people don't, solve problems they can't or solve them faster than they do, and etcetera. When playing pretend at being smart, we pretend that we're like that *all the time*, instead in very specific fields or very specific, sometimes accidental, times.

    The problem that we actually *don't* know anything most of the time or can't problem-solve our way out of a paper bag can't be solved by anything we do as those who play pretend. Like an actor friend once told me, "the king is played by his retinue."

    Basically, a character's intelligence is best played by the supporting cast (Holmes, when you say it, it sounds so simple!) or even props (Using your vast intelligence you figure out how to land the plane and save everyone!).
  • Have you seen The Big Bang Theory? Just memorize a load of buzz words and act dimissively round everyone else.
  • Why do you think smart people aren't flawed and stupid?
  • An actor who needs to act drunk instead acts like he's trying really, really hard not to act drunk.
  • edited March 2012
    While Holmes in the original stories is kind of a super hero, later works have him being much less so. Iwould unreservedly recommend the Russell/Holmes books by Laurie King (The Beekeepers Apprentice, et al) for a good look at how he might be played as something other than a giant brain. The Seven Percent Solution is also good.

    What both these do is show Holmes as a flawed character. He is gifted, to be sure, but also emotionally crippled, and a drug addict as well, both of which, I would contend, stem from his gifts, and how they have affected him as a character.

    Likewise, Bond, in the original novels, is not particularly heroic. He's mostly just brutal, cut off. This gives him a certain unstoppable sort of character, one who will risk it all at a moments notice. But he's not perfect. He's a huge drunk, too.

    He's the protagonist, but a deeply flawed one.

    What's interesting to me is that the gifts of these two characters are, arguably in the case of the original Holmes novels, not necessarily central to the stories. They're the means by which the character takes action in the world, but not the only thing going on with them.

    So, you want to play Einstein? Great. He has miraculous powers if given some time to think about things, easy enough to RP that. But the game I want to see him in has Marilyn Monroe in it, and it also has him being still upset or sad about failing math way back when.

    So the thing we think about when we think about a smart character informs, but really shouldn't define totally, who that character is. Does that make sense? It's never the stuff you're good at that makes the story. It's the stuff you suck at.
  • So, from a mechanics standpoint, this is my response:

    I played a super megagenius in a supers game once. It was rather silly and fun.

    My character was so smart that he could anticipate what would happen. But the GM didn't share the plot with me, cause that wouldn't be fun. So basically I had the power, after the fact, to say "I knew that would happen" whenever I wanted to, and it would be true. Which made the character seem very alien and remote when he would say that after horrible things would happen to his teammates. They'd say "then why didn't you do something about it" and he'd say "because it would have been worse if I had" or something vague and mysterious like that.

    We even had a character straight up die. The most sympathy my character gave was to sigh and say "yes, a sad necessity". Necessity to what? I didn't know. But I would always just look on as though it was all part of the plan.

    The other power I had was basically at a meta level. When characters were having a scene and my character was not present, I could act in character as though I knew that scene had happened. And I could introduce myself into a scene (like several abilities do in Smallville) by justifying that I knew what was going on and had anticipated my need to be there.

    That meta level "posthumous anticipation" ability was justified by the fact that I had a bunch of skill points dumped into a stat that I very rarely actually rolled.
  • From an acting and playing perspective, my response is different:

    Jason's hit a lot of it. Act smart by not looking like your acting smart. Smart people don't "try" to look smart. Leaders don't "try" to take leadership. Act as though other people already know that you're smart and you have nothing to prove in that regard.

    And be flawed. Pick a way that you're nonfunctional and play that up.

    Some geniuses are amoral - most serial killers, at least the reasonably successful ones, are brilliant, though you don't have to take it that far to play up being amoral.

    Some geniuses struggle with chemical dependency - I've had two brilliant uncles drink themselves to death and a brilliant aunt who started down that path but recovered (my mom is one of 12 and a lot of brains run in the family).

    Many geniuses obsess over something to the point that they cannot act consistently to the best of their ability on other things. Batman, who is clearly a genius level detective of a sort equal to Sherlock Holmes, is an interesting example - he's so obsessed with vigilante justice that he no longer maintains normal social relationships beyond the perfunctory level that is necessary to maintain the fascade. Bruce Wayne is more of a costume that Batman puts on when he needs to make use of it than the other way around. (Of course, that's only based on some interpretations of the character, he's been written by so many that he's hardly easy to talk about authoritatively.)

    Other forms of obsession are often linked to high intellect. OCD is associated with high IQ (and, again, with serial killers, as my OCD brother-in-law has obsessively researched - yeah, it's kinda creepy). Obsession with various forms of vice - gambling disorders, sexual compulsions, etc. - seem to be particularly common among those with high IQ.

    Smart people are often pretty fucked up - often focused in one somewhat spectacular way. Play to that.
  • Last time I played a smart character I went for a trickster. You can do a lot of things that have apparently no sense and look silly... but later bring them all into account for another scene (it doesn't mind if it's important of not) which makes it look like you actually had a plan all the time. The key is that whatever you do, do it like you're convinced it's the right thing to do and don't give any explanation of it at all.

    This character didn't had amazing powers or much to back up on and yet it went boldly to pull the leg of each major villain in the setting. The luck wasn't always with me but then again "that was part of his plan all the time"
  • Oh. And fix the thread title.

    It should read "How do you pretend to be smart", not "Who do you pretend to be smart".

    Smart people tend to be fastidious with their grammar and pronunciation, unless they specifically want to be otherwise.

    And they use big words.

    Which is another thing you can do to pretend to be smart. But you have to do it well, otherwise you look like your trying. And like I said before, smart people don't look like they're trying.
  • If you can have some mechanical leverage, you could retcon so that you have some resources available because you prepared. If the system allows player narrative authority, when you pass an intelligence check you could just make shit up and it would be true.. because of your great deductive power.
  • There also is a big difference in being smart and being clever. I've spent most of my life convincing people I'm more intelligent than I am simply by concealing my own surprise when something I do works.
  • When I'm acting smart, I like to solve equations in my head, while I'm talking.

    Engineers design machines in their head. Psychologists think up experiments. Software engineers write programs.
  • edited March 2012
    I think I might leave the misspelled title! It's kind of funny, and humbling.

    (EDITED: Okay, I've been humbled for a minute.)
  • Perhaps it's just that my english is kinda poor, but first I thought you mispelled it, then I thought: "No wait, it's a clever figure for asking "which kind of character do you pretend to be when you are trying to look smart?" ooh, this guy must be a genius."

    But then you apologized and ruined my fiction :)
  • edited March 2012
    Well, I'm sorry. If it helps I'm somewhat a genius, I'm just not that type of genius.
    I'm the type that confuses how with who... often.
  • It is also is totally cool to say something like,
    "and then I say something brilliant."
  • Take a look at Star Trek: The Next Generation and look at any scene in which the point is to demonstrate that Wesley Crusher is a genius. Then don't do anything remotely resembling what happens in those scenes.
  • Do some research. Find an at least marginally-obscure smart person from history and rip them off nonstop. Every time you read something smart or clever, make a note of it and then have your character muse absently about it during scenes.

    This is especially effective if the smart thought doesn't relate to their area of expertise or to what is actually going on in the game. This implies that your character is so smart that they have all this leftover thinking time to muse about the relationship between power and language, or why it is snail shells are spiral, or what Shakespeare really meant by Sonnet 112, or whatever smart or smart-sounding thing you've stolen from elsewhere. All the other characters are using up all their brainpower thinking about this desperate in-game situation, which is super-immediate and complicated and life-or-death -- but you're so smart that you've already processed all of that stuff. This also works well for the absent-minded-genius and/or vaguely-schizophrenic/autistic/imprecisely-insane PC.

    But yeah, the easiest way to act smart is to do research on your character's behalf and then present the results of that research as though it was just the result of a few minutes' random musings.

    This is all smart-as-colour sort of stuff, mind you -- but actually-smart will hopefully be covered by some of the advice above and also (one would think!) the actual game system you are using. The comment about how the other players need to support/play to your smartness is particularly key, I think.
  • For actual mechanical tips: another way to implement a very smart character is to ensure that their intelligence counts as fictional positioning -- i.e. that it allows them to make rolls or attempt actions that other characters simply cannot attempt, by virtue of their being more perceptive or a better problem solver.

    For example, in AW a very smart character might be able to Read a Situation or Read a Person in circumstances where another PC could not. The thing they need to 'do' to 'do it' is different, because they're so smart, or so good at reading body language, or so well-versed in military history, or whatever. Or maybe they're so smart that when they Open Their Brain it's not even a truly psychic phenomenon, it's just a way of modelling their Holmesian/prophetic-level deductive abilities.
  • To paraphrase author Mervyn Peake, if you know a little bit about every subject - and can stretch that with confidence that seems to reveal a vast repertoire of knowledge behind what you reveal - you can make yourself appear to be an expert in anything.

    Used by the dastardly antagonist of the Gormenghast series, Steerpike, this method helps the villain ascend higher in the castle echelons than he ever imagined.
  • Look thoughtful.
    Nod as if you understand.
    Repeat what they said.

    It works for consultancy!

    Bonus points: +15% to profit margins if you wear glasses.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarAn actor who needs to act drunk instead acts like he's trying really, really hard not to act drunk.
    There's a problem needing to be solved! The car needs to be fixed!
    There's someone in your group who is The Wrench Monkey. You are The Genius.

    Say, "You know, this would be a lot quicker if we just re-routed -" Cut yourself off, like you're doing it again. Look at The Wrench Monkey pointed, put a conflicted smile on your face, and say, "Sorry, continue."

    Constantly make like you're about to say the correct answer, then bashfully cut yourself off and let "them solve it for themselves."

    Whenever someone else says "something smart" or "the right answer," flash them a smile and say, "Good job!" or "Yes, that's totally correct!" in an accidentally patronizing manner.
  • I'm answering my own question, because through the power of time, I can do those kinda things.
    Get everyone else to act dumb.
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