Monster Abilities Part 4 – Intelligence

We’re out of the physical abilities now and on to the mental starting with the most “controversial” of the three: Intelligence. I say controversial because it’s somewhat hard to quantify what Intelligence means. Even in the real world, things like IQ scores have an aura of hokum to them. Can you really give a “score” to something so intangible?

Let’s find out!

In this article I cover:

  • What does each point in Intelligence mean?
  • Where do the Monster Manual monsters stand in terms of Intelligence?
  • Observations on 5e Intelligence.
  • Optional rules: takebacks, predictions, and time limits.

What does each point in Intelligence mean?

Intelligence measures mental acuity, memory, and its accuracy, and the ability to reason. Some Dungeon Masters such as myself and Keith Ammann of The Monsters Know What They’re Doing also use it heavily to influence the tactical decision-making process of creature encounters.

You can read more about Intelligence as it relates to encounter in this cool article on Keith’s site: Why These Tactics?

If we go by the traditional scoring for Dungeons & Dragons stats, an Intelligence of 10-11 is human average. 12-15 are typical human limits, with 16-19 being exceptionally rare individuals. 20+ are godlike.

Intelligence: Skills & Checks

Intelligence is tied with Wisdom for the most number of skills directly tied to it: five. Those skills are arcana, history, investigation, nature, and religion. If you’ve ever played the third edition, you might be a fan of this much smaller list or absolutely hate it. Personally, I like it.

Intelligence can also be used to:

  • Emote your intentions to a creature you don’t share a common language with
  • Appraise the value of a precious item
  • Throw together a disguise to sneak past a guard
  • Forgery
  • Win a game of skill
  • Recall facts about a particular craft or profession

Intelligence: Saving Throws

While not one of the “big three,” Intelligence does come into play quite a bit when dealing with psychic attacks and other attacks related to the mind. Interestingly, only three spells in the entire Player’s Handbook require an Intelligence save: phantasmal force, symbol, and feeblemind.

It’s a little ironic that a wizard’s best stat is also the one it will use the least to avoid spell attacks!

Intelligence: Spellcasting

But we all know what Intelligence is really used for, right? Wizards! Intelligence is the spellcasting ability that determines a wizard’s save DCs and attack bonuses for the spells they use.


D&D 5e Monsters by Intelligence

Now that you understand the basics of Intelligence and what it can do for players, let’s take a look at how it relates to monsters. Knowing which monsters have which Intelligence will help us improve our monster designs.

The monsters in bold are those that currently exist in the real world.

Intelligence 1 (-5)
Monsters: ankheg, animated armor, black pudding, carrion crawler, constrictor snake, flying sword, frog, gas spore, gelatinous cube, giant centipede, giant constrictor snake, giant crab, giant fire beetle, giant scorpion, giant shark, giant wasp, hunter shark, lemure, lizard, piercer, poisonous snake, purple worm, quipper, reef shark, rug of smothering, scorpion, sea horse, spider, shrieker, swarm of insects, swarm of poisonous snakes, swarm of quippers, violet fungus

Intelligence 2 (-4)
Monsters: allosaurus, ankylosaurus, axe beak, badger, basilisk, bat, black bear, boar, brown bear, bulette, camel, cockatrice, crocodile, darkmantle, deer, draft horse, eagle, elk, flying snake, giant badger, giant bat, giant boar, giant crocodile, giant frog, giant hyena, giant lizard, giant poisonous snake, giant rat, giant sea horse, giant spider, giant toad, goat, hawk, hyena, gorgon, griffon, hippogriff, hydra, mule, ochre jelly, owl, plesiosaurus, polar bear, pony, pteranodon, quaggoth spore servant, rat, raven, rhinoceros, riding horse, rust monster, stirge, swarm of bats, swarm of rats, triceratops, tyrannosaurus rex, vulture, warhorse, warhorse skeleton, weasel

Intelligence 3 (-4)
Monsters: beholder zombie, blood hawk, cat, chimera, clay golem, death dog, dire wolf, elephant, giant goat, giant wolf spider, gibbering mouther, grick, iron golem, jackal, killer whale, lion, mammoth, mane, mastiff, octopus, panther, ogre zombie, owlbear, roc, saber-toothed tiger, slaad tadpole, swarm of ravens, stone golem, tarrasque, tiger, wolf, young remorhaz, zombie

Intelligence 4 (-3)
Monsters: baboon, giant octopus, giant weasel, grick alpha, monodrone, needle blight, remorhaz, twig blight

Intelligence 5 (-3)
Monsters: chuul, crawling claw, dretch, earth elemental, hezrou, hill giant, mimic, ogre, shambling mound, vine blight, water elemental, white dragon wyrmling, wyvern

Intelligence 6 (-2)
Monsters: air elemental, ape, displacer beast, duodrone, ettin, fire elemental, flesh golem, gargoyle, giant vulture, gnoll, goristo, hell hound, hook horror, minotaur, minotaur skeleton, mummy, otyugh, phase spider, quaggoth, red slaad, shadow, skeleton, troglodyte, young white dragon

Intelligence 7 (-2)
Monsters: barlgura, behir, blue slaad, bullywug, ettercap, fire snake, ghoul, giant ape, giant elk, half-ogre, lizardfolk, manticore, magma mephit, orc, quasit, roper, shield guardian, troll, winter wolf, worg

Intelligence 8 (-1)
Monsters: adult white dragon, bugbear, crab, cyclops, giant eagle, giant owl, gnoll pack lord, kobold, magmin, merrow, myconid, thri-kreen, vrock, winged kobold, yeti

Intelligence 9 (-1)
Monsters: abominable yeti, bearded devil, centaur, dust mephit, fomorian, frost giant, grimlock, ice mephit, mud mephit, orc eye of Gruumsh, peryton, tridrone, umber hulk

Intelligence 10 (+0)
Monsters: ancient white dragon, awakened shrub, awakened tree, black dragon wyrmling, blink dog, brass dragon wyrmling, commoner, dragon turtle, fire giant, ghost, gnoll fang of Yeenoghu, goblin, goblin boss, half-red dragon veteran, helmed horror, hobgoblin, homonculus, lizardfolk shaman, myconid adult, nightmare, pegasus, pentadrone, pixie, pseudodragon, quadrone, scarecrow, smoke mephit, specter, stone giant, wereboar, wererat, weretiger, werewolf, wight

Intelligence 11 (+0)
Monsters: aarakocra, bugbear chief, chain devil, chasme, doppelganger, drow, drow elite warrior, duergar, galeb duhr, ghast, green slaad, imp, invisible stalker, kenku, kuo-toa, lizard king/queen, merfolk, mummy lord, orc war chief, salamander, spined devil, steam mephit, unicorn, vampire spawn, water weird, werebear, xorn

Intelligence 12 (+1)
Monsters: azer, banshee, barbed death, blue dragon wyrmling, bronze dragon wyrmling, cloud giant, dao, death knight, deep gnome, grell, harpy, hobgoblin captain, horned devil, intellect devourer, medusa, kuo-toa whip, orog, nycaloth, red dragon wyrmling, sahuagin, sahuagin priestess, satyr, sea hag, silver dragon wyrmling, treant, wraith, young black dragon, young brass dragon

Intelligence 13 (+1)
Monsters: bone devil, cloaker, drider, drow priestess of Lolth, githzerai monk, githyanki warrior, gray slaad, green hag, jackalwere, kuo-toa archpriest, myconid sovereign, nothic, revenant, spectator, rakshasa, will-o’-wisp, yochlol, yuan-ti pureblood

Intelligence 14 (+2)
Monsters: adult brass dragon, cambion, copper dragon wyrmling, dryad, erinyes, faerie dragon, flumph, githyanki knight, gold dragon wyrmling, green dragon wyrmling, hobgoblin captain, lamia, oni, sahuagin baron, shadow demon, sprite, young bronze dragon, young red shadow dragon, young red dragon, young silver dragon, yuan-ti malison

Intelligence 15 (+2)
Monsters: bone naga, death slaad, djinni, succubus/incubus

Intelligence 16 (+3)
Monsters: adult black dragon, adult blue dracolich, adult blue dragon, adult bronze dragon, adult gold dragon, adult red dragon, adult silver dragon, ancient black dragon, ancient brass dragon, androsphinx, efreeti, flameskull, guardian naga, githzerai zerth, night hag, mezzoloth, spirit naga, storm giant, young copper dragon, young gold dragon, young green dragon

Intelligence 17 (+3)
Monsters: beholder, deva, drow mage, vampire, yuan-ti abomination

Intelligence 18 (+4)
Monsters: aboleth, adult copper dragon, adult green dragon, ancient blue dragon, ancient bronze dragon, ancient gold dragon, ancient red dragon, ancient silver dragon, couatl, gynosphinx, ice devil, kraken, marid, marilith, ultroloth

Intelligence 19 (+4)
Monsters: glabrezu, death tyrant, mind flayer, nalfeshnee, planetar

Intelligence 20 (+5)
Monsters: ancient copper dragon, ancient green dragon, arcanaloth, balor, demilich, lich

Intelligence 21 (+5)
Monsters: empyrean

Intelligence 22 (+6)
Monsters: kraken, pit fiend

Intelligence 25 (+7)
Monsters: solar

Observations on Intelligence in 5e Dungeons & Dragons

Intelligence has a lot of similarities with Dexterity. Both abilities are much more thematic than say, Constitution, and don’t necessarily scale with tougher villains. Granted, the solar is the smartest thing in the universe (at least according to the Monster Manual) and is pretty tough at a Challenge Rating of 21, but the tarrasque–the biggest, meanest beast in the entire book–falls into a lowly 3. Not totally dumb, but definitely bestial in nature.

Here’s how Intelligence breaks down:

1 Intelligence monsters are pure instinct.

Way down at the bottom of the Intelligence scale are creatures that live simply to eat and procreate. Here we find the majority of insects, fish, oozes, lizards, fungi, and basic constructs. You would not be able to train any of these creatures. And if they are designed to take commands (such as animated objects) those commands must be very basic, eg “guard this room” or “kill that dude.”

2 Intelligence monsters are simple beasts.

A step above the 1 Intelligence automatons are the simple beasts. These beasts aren’t too much smarter than those in 1, but they can at least be trained, usually through simpler methods such as fear, pain, and hunger.

Otherwise, these animals and animal-like creatures live to eat and procreate and not much else. This is where most horses, bears, and other bestial brutes fall.

3 Intelligence monsters are beasts that seem clever.

Moving on, are the more clever animals: cats, dogs, wolves, and elephants. Also, we find a majority of the golems here. That makes me think that golems are a step above the single-issue commands of the animated objects, and are actually a bit more clever (even if they are programmable).

These beings are easier to train than those with 2 Intelligence, and can understand multiple simple commands.

4 Intelligence monsters are beasts that are clever.

4 Intelligence monsters have the same level of aptitude as Intelligence 3 monsters, but can actually perform simple tasks such as opening doors, using simple weapons and tools, and solving basic puzzles.

Picture an octopus screwing the top off a jar to let itself out.

5 Intelligence monsters are not completely animalistic, but still very brutish.

5 Intelligence is a weird spot. Here we find hill giants and ogres, earth elementals, and white dragon wyrmlings and wyverns.

These beasts are capable of solving simple puzzles quickly but still live mostly on instinct.

Let’s talk about ogres and hill giants real quick.

It doesn’t really make sense that they have 5 Intelligence for a number of reasons. First, they’re capable of using weapons, armor, and shields. They can speak two languages! And even though they are total instinct monsters, they can follow instructions.

If I were to keep them at 5, I’d rule that nearly half probably don’t even dress and it’s rare they use a weapon that’s better than a club.

They definitely can’t read, and what language they can speak is monosyllabic at best.

In fact, they’re probably much more prone to grunting than actually speaking.

6 Intelligence monsters are close to humanoid intelligence.

6 is the turning point for Intelligence from beastlike to humanoid. Apes make their debut here, which is important to note. The creatures here are capable of understanding language even if they can’t speak it. If they can speak it, it’s quite simple, but still improved over those in 5 (“me no like”, “me hungry”, “you friend”). They might even have very basic counting skills. Finally, they might use tools and possibly even set very rudimentary traps.

7 Intelligence monsters are beasts with fantasy levels of intelligence.

Not quite humanoid but not quite beasts, the creatures at 7 are sort of like the animals that you see in movies that have escaped labs where they were experimented on to be super intelligent. They can read a little, probably understand thousands of spoken words, and may even be able to form full sentences on their own.

Picture a worg growling something along the lines of “this land Fang land not you land” while closing in for a kill.

Tribal humanoids land here, too, such as orcs and bullywugs. Therefore, I suspect this was the Intelligence level of early Homo Sapiens. Picture an archetypical caveman. These humanoids live simple lives, and have no passion for learning much beyond what’s needed for them to survive and thrive.

However, they’ve learned to interconnect with neighboring villages through use of communication and religion.

8 Intelligence monsters possess very dull humanoid Intelligence.

Now we’re moving into the higher levels of thinking. These creatures can speak languages, probably read and write some, do simple mathematics, and set clever traps.

Also, these creatures understand religion, history, and basic economics and trade, too. The world is more than just their territory–it’s much bigger and they are aware of this fact even if they don’t completely understand it.

Also, magic starts to enter the picture, however, it’s based mostly on innate abilities versus learning, ie sorcerers.

9 Intelligence monsters are dim-witted, but capable of learning.

These creatures aren’t winning any awards for brains, but they’re capable of speech, reading, and writing, and understand most elementary subjects. Some might even be capable of magic, although not very well. Their sense of humor is often crude. It’s likely that they are fully aware that they’re not as smart as other creatures around them.

10 Intelligence monsters are human average.

Now we’re totally caught up with real-world parables that we can understand with average human. At 10, these are thinkers capable of speech, reading, writing, and arithmetic. They understand law and order and societal requirements. They might even be able to perform basic magic, too. Nearly 90% of humanoids fall into this category.

Note: from this point on, the only way to determine how “smart” creatures are is by comparing it to Dexterity scaling since there are no real-world animals I can compare Intelligent humans with.

11 Intelligence monsters seem clever.

While there’s no real in-game difference between an 11 and a 10 Intelligence, thematically, these creatures are just a bit more clever. They’ll know an answer a few seconds before an average person or even get a joke that’s intended for an “advanced audience” (like reading a joke in the New Yorker and smirking).

12 Intelligence monsters are clever.

While not total geniuses, these creatures have a better understanding of the world and can draw conclusions a lot quicker than the average person. They may even enjoy puzzles and are capable of performing tasks that average humanoids would find confusing or somewhat difficult.

13 Intelligence monsters possess expert-level smarts.

Moving up the ladder, we now find those with Intelligence capable of performing difficult trades that involve thorough analysis such as engineers, lawyers, probably even most medical doctors. In a fantasy environment, the 13’s are also expert tacticians, priests, and low-level magic users.

14 Intelligence monsters are genius level.

Those with 14’s are in the top 1% of the smartest people in the world. They can solve complex equations that most won’t even dare attempt. The brightest engineers and attorneys fall here, as well as a number of medical doctors with advanced specialties. Tacticians with Intelligence 14 can immediately size up their competition and know whether or not they’re outmatched.

15 Intelligence monsters are high-level geniuses.

The intelligence at this level is beyond what most humans can even comprehend. Only the smartest people in history fall into this category. At times, their way of thinking may even seem alien to those at lesser levels. Think of Sherlock Holmes.

16 Intelligence monsters are beyond real-world capability.

We’ve left behind the human of the real-world and now we’re moving into computer-level logics. Creatures with 16 Intelligence are always multiple steps ahead than most of their peers and enemies. It’s rare you’ll ever catch one off guard; in fact, if you confront someone of this level of Intelligence, it’s likely they’ve already beat you… you just don’t know it yet.

There is very little in the real-world that someone of this level of intelligence is capable of understanding. They can instantly solve riddles without thinking beyond a few mere seconds. They see patterns where others fail to.

Furthermore, the actions of these beings might even seem random or “evil” to others who can’t see the long game.

17 Intelligence monsters are not just many steps ahead… but many years ahead!

While the average person might be able to at least understand a little of what a creature with Intelligence at 16 might be doing (although it might have to be explained to them a few dozen times), those with 17-level Intelligence are so far ahead in their planning that everything they do might seem completely alien to anyone else (even those of genius level).

18 Intelligence monsters are totally alien in their way of thinking.

They can instantly solve riddles without thinking beyond a few mere seconds. They see patterns where others fail to. Every interaction they have is probably not random, but assembled through a carefully crafted design–only divine intervention can catch these beings unaware, and even then they have already thought about at least 100 different exit strategies.

19 Intelligence monsters are almost completely removed from the rest of the material world in terms of thinking.

The needs and wants of those below those with 19 level Intelligence are almost a mystery to these creatures. For someone with Intelligence this high, speaking to a commoner is like a commoner trying to speak to an ant. It takes a concerted effort on the part of a creature with 19 Intelligence to communicate its thoughts and plans to others, and even then it’s not without strain.

20 Intelligence monsters exist on another plane of thought.

There aren’t even real-world computers that can think at this level.

When solving problems, a 20 Intelligence creature takes everything into account: history, psychology, space, time, the weather, literally everything; all in a matter of seconds.

It’s possible that these creatures can even comprehend the plans of divine beings, even if much of it is complicated or alien to them. Plus, they no longer see divinity and immortality as an impossibility, but a riddle to be solved.

There is absolutely no luck involved with these creatures, either. Every outcome has been anticipated, prepared for, and reviewed carefully in their minds.

Given an hour, creatures of this intellectual capacity can solve even some of the greatest riddles of the universe. They can outline the plans of others, make conclusions that even the greatest experts could not arrive at, and might even perceive time and space differently than other mortals.

21 Intelligence monsters are demi-gods.

Truly moving past the intelligence level of mortals comes Intelligence of 21+. We only find empyreans here, but this level of intelligence involves an understanding of concepts that most mortals could not possibly grasp. They understand exactly how the universe functions and how it can be altered. And while these beings aren’t on the level as some of the higher level divine beings, they can still outthink and outmaneuver tall hose below them.

22 Intelligence monsters are interwoven with the fabric of the cosmos.

The creatures in this category are true immortals and have no doubts about their continued existence. In fact, every choice they make is simply the first domino in a long line of long line of dominos reaching back from creation to eternity, echoing throughout the entirety of the planes.

25 Intelligence (and higher) monsters are near-omniscient.

There is nothing that a creature at this level doesn’t understand or couldn’t understand without a few moments thought.

And that’s all there is to say about that.


Optional Rules: Takebacks, Predictions, and Time Limits


One rule I’ve incorporated with my games is that when a player wants to change their mind on an action–although they’ve almost nearly completed said action–I make them roll a flat Intelligence check versus DC 15. If successful, I let them take it back.


For those of especially high levels of Intelligence (18+), they can even go as far as making a check to see what will happen if they do something such as making an attack, moving down a steep hill, or saying something snippy to a beholder.

Here’s how that works:

  • The player declares what action they’d like to foresee: a spell attack, movement over dangerous terrain, etc.
  • They then roll a DC 20 Intelligence check.
  • If successful on the check, I allow them to carry out the action as they would making all requisite rolls.
  • Once the rolls are made, the player can then decide if they’d like to keep that action and subsequent rolls or perform something different based on the results.

Time limits

Next, to keep the game going, I allow a limit on how long players can take to make decisions based on their character’s Intelligence. Those with low Intelligence (9 – 11) have only 30 or seconds or so to make a decision. Furthermore, they can not reference the book for any special rules. Those with mid-level Intelligence (1 3 -17) have a bit more time and can reference books as desired. And then we already discussed how much those with 18+ can do to change the dynamic of the game.


Thanks for reading!

Hopefully, this information on creature Intelligence can help you with your fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons creature creation.

Also, feel free to use the rules above as you like. They really do help keep the game fun and moving at a brisk pace.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Next up: Wisdom!

9 thoughts on “Monster Abilities Part 4 – Intelligence

  1. Reall intereting read, nicely done.

    Q: What qualifies as an “Intelligent Creature”?
    (ie Antipathay Sympathy spell states to “then specify a kind of intelligent creature

  2. A human or hobgoblin character can have an intelligence score of 16 at level one, 17 if you’re a gnome, you’re smart, but not “beyond real-world capability”
    A race-less commoner has an intelligence of 10, with human racial traits they have an average of 11 (10.33 with variant human)

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