Monster Abilities Part 5 – Wisdom

Now in the home stretch for the monster abilities series, it’s time to look at Intelligence’s “partner-in-crime”, Wisdom. Wisdom is unique, as it’s mostly a defensive ability, used to power clerical magic, monk armor class, and buff up mental saving throws.

In this article I cover:

  • What does each point in Wisdom mean?
  • Where do the Monster Manual monsters stand in terms of Wisdom?
  • Observations on 5e Wisdom.
  • Optional rules: Dungeon Master suggestions and monsters making bad decisions.

What does each point of Wisdom mean?

Wisdom reflects how attuned one is to the world around them and represents perceptiveness and intuition. For some Dungeon Masters (myself included), Wisdom is the “common sense” power. It’s what keeps monsters from killing themselves when faced against the insurmountable odds of a kill-thirsty party of adventurers. It’s also what allows them to go against their base instincts.

For a little more information on how Wisdom relates to encounters, be sure to read Keith Ammann’s article Why These Tactics?

If we go by the Player’s Handbook tells us about ability scores, then 10-11 should be “normal human average”. 18 is the highest a person normally reaches, and anything above 20 is considered “divine” or “epic.”

Wisdom: Skills & Checks

Wisdom is tied with Intelligence for the most number of skills directly tied to it. Those skills are Animal Handling, Insight, Medicine, Perception, and Survival.

Wisdom also handles:

  • Whether or not a creature gets a gut feeling about a course of action to follow.
  • Discern whether or not a dead or living creature is undead.

Wisdom: Saving Throws

Wisdom is part of the “big three” saves (the other two being Dexterity and Constitution). Typically, Wisdom prevents mental-affects such as fear, some charm effects, or falling asleep.

Wisdom: Spellcasting

Wisdom powers the spells of clerics, druids, and rangers. These classes use Wisdom to determine their spell save DCs and spell attack bonuses. Unlike Intelligence, Wisdom-based casters tend to be much more utilitarian and defensive in their spellcasting repertoire.

Wisdom: the Bullshit Detector

The one area where Wisdom really shines is in its passive abilities, both with Insight and Perception. It’s what helps observant adventurers notice secret doors, tracks in the forest, or blood stains on an NPC’s boots. And when someone is lying, a wise PC might pick up on it right away.

The Trouble with Wisdom

What’s most frustrating about modern iterations of Wisdom is how it’s starting to feel like a developmental dump stat. In other words, it seems like any ability, feature, or power that didn’t fit neatly into another category falls into Wisdom. For example, why is Medicine in Wisdom and not Intelligence? I get that it’s meant for Clerics to use who might see Intelligence as a dump stat (since they’re going to have to buff up Strength, Con, and Wisdom to be effective), but that doesn’t really make sense. And is it for picking up on secret hidden things or is it for knowing the best course of action?

D&D 5e Monsters by Wisdom

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

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

Wisdom 1 (-5)
Monsters: flying sword, rug of smothering

Wisdom 3 (-4)
Monsters: animated armor, manes

Wisdom 5 (-2)
Monsters: slaad tadpole

Wisdom 6 (-2)
Monsters: black pudding, cyclops, flesh golem, gelatinous cube, gray cube, ochre jelly, ogre zombie, red slaad, zombie

Wisdom 7 (-2)
Monsters: blue slaad, giant boar, giant centipede, giant fire beetle, kobold, mezzoloth, ogre, piercer, quipper, swarm of insects, swarm of quippers, winged kobold

Wisdom 8 (-1)
Monsters: basilisk, beholder zombie, camel, clay golem, crab, dretch, frog, goblin, goblin boss, gray slaad, green slaad, grimlock, lizard, minotaur skeleton, needle blight, purple worm, scorpion, skeleton, stirge, twig blight, warhorse skeleton

Wisdom 9 (-1)
Monsters: boar, giant crab, half-ogre, hill giant, giant scorpion, pteranodon

Wisdom 10 (+0)
Monsters: air elemental, awakened shrub, awakened tree, axe beak, bulette, bullywug, commoner, constrictor snake, crawling claw, crocodile, dark mantle, death slaad, deep gnome, duergar, duodrone, earth elemental, elk, ettin, giant constrictor snake, giant frog, giant poisonous snake, giant rat, goat, frost giant, fire elemental, fire snake, flame dragon, ghast, ghoul, giant crocodile, giant octopus, giant shark, giant toad, gibbering mouther, gnoll, harpy, helmed horror, hobgoblin, hobgoblin captain, hunter shark, hydra, kenku, kuo-toa, magma mephit, merrow, monodrone, mule, mummy, nothic, nycaloth, octopus, pentadrone, phase spider, poisonous snake, quadrone, quasit, rat, reef shark, remorhaz, roc, salamander, satyr, scarecrow, sea horse, spider, shadow, shambling mound, shield guardian, smoke mephit, specter, steam mephit, swarm of rats, swarm of poisonous snakes, tridrone, troglodyte, umber hulk, vampire spawn, vine blight, water elemental, water weird, wererat, white dragon wyrmling, young remorhaz, xorn

Wisdom 11 (+0)
Monsters: banshee, bearded devil, black dragon wyrmling, blue dragon wyrmling, brass dragon wyrmling, bronze dragon wyrmling, bugbear, chain devil, chuul, copper dragon wyrmling, draft horse, drow, dust mephit, elephant, gargoyle, gold dragon wyrmling, green dragon wyrmling, dust mephit, giant spider, grell, gnoll pack lord, gnoll fang of Yeenoghu, half-dragon veteran, hobgoblin warlord, homonculus, ice mephit, intellect devourer, iron golem, ice mephit, jackalwere, lemure, magmin, mammoth, merfolk, mud mephit, myconid sprout, orc, orc war chief, orog, pony, red dragon wyrmling, riding horse, silver dragon wyrmling, stone golem, tarrasque, triceratops, troll, young black dragon, young brass dragon, young red dragon, young red shadow dragon, young silver dragon, young white dragon, wereboar, weretiger, worg

Wisdom 12 (+1)
Monsters: aarakocra, adult white dragon, allosaurus, ankylosaurus, ape, baboon, badger, bat, black bear, bugbear chief, cambion, carrion crawler, cat, cloaker, dire wolf, displacer beast, doppelganger, dragon turtle, ettercap, faerie dragon, flying snake, galeb duhr, ghost, giant ape, giant badger, giant bat, giant goat, giant sea horse, giant vulture, giant wasp, giant weasel, giant wolf spider, gorgon, herzou, hippogriff, hook horror, hyena, imp, jackal, killer whale, lion, lizardfolk, manticore, mastiff, nalfeshnee, oni, owl, owlbear, peryton, plesiosaurus, pseudodragon, quaggoth, raven, rhinoceros, saber-toothed tiger, sea hag, stone giant, succubus/incubus, swarm of bats, thri-kreen, tiger, tyrannosaurus rex, vulture, warhorse, weasel, werebear, winter wolf, wolf, wyvern, yeti, yuan-ti malison, yuan-ti pureblood

Wisdom 13 (+1)
Monsters: abominable yeti, adult black dragon, adult brass dragon, adult red dragon, adult silver dragon, ancient white dragon, ankheg, azer, blink dog, brown bear, centaur, cockatrice, dao, death dog, giant owl, githyanki warrior, griffon, goristro, hell hound, medusa, mimic, myconid adult, nightmare, orc eye of Gruumsh, otyugh, polar bear, rust monster, sahuagin, sahuagin baron, shadow demon, sprite, vrock, weretiger, wight, young blue dragon, young bronze dragon, young copper dragon, young gold dragon, young green dragon

Wisdom 14 (+2)
Monsters: balgura, barbed devil, behir, blood hawk, bone devil, chasme, chimera, deer, drider, eagle, erinyes, fire giant, giant eagle, giant elk, githyanki knight, githzerai monk, green hag, grick, grick alpha, flumph, fomorian, hawk, kuo-toa whip, lich, night hag, panther, pixie, sahuagin priestess, spectator, spined devil, will-o-wisp, wraith

Wisdom 15 (+2)
Monsters: aboleth, adult blue dragon, adult bronze dragon, adult copper dragon, adult gold dragon, adult green dragon, ancient black dragon, ancient brass dragon, ancient red dragon, ancient silver dragon, beholder, bone naga, death tyrant, dracolich, dryad, efreeti, ice devil, invisible stalker, kuo-toa archpriest, lamia, lizardfolk shaman, lizard king/queen, myconid sovereign, pegasus, spirit naga, ultroloth, vampire, yochlol

Wisdom 16 (+3)
Monsters: arcanaloth, balor, cloud giant, death knight, djinni, horned devil, kuo-toa, marilith, minotaur, rakshasa, revenant, roper, treant

Wisdom 17 (+3)
Monsters: ancient blue dragon, ancient bronze dragon, ancient copper dragon, ancient gold dragon, ancient green dragon, demilich, githzerai zerth, glabrezu, marid, mind flayer, unicorn

Wisdom 18 (+4)
Monsters: androsphinx, gynosphinx, kraken, mummy lord, pit fiend, storm giant

Wisdom 19 (+4)
Monsters: guardian naga

Wisdom 20 (+5)
Monsters: couatl, deva

Wisdom 22 (+6)
Monsters: empyrean, planetar

Wisdom 25 (+7)
Monsters: solar


Observations on 5e Monster Wisdom

Wisdom is a bizarre ability. But I have a few ideas about what it means more than anything.

Wisdom is a creature’s attention span.

More than anything, I think Wisdom represents how much attention a creature can pay towards its current situation. This is most obvious with things like zombies and oozes which tend to be towards the low end of the spectrum. Additionally, ogres are pretty low, as are slaad, which may be too chaotic to focus on what’s going on at any moment. On the high end of the spectrum, we have almost exclusively angels and high-level fiends.

Wisdom is a creature’s sense of self-preservation.

This is an idea that Keith Ammann of seems to share a lot. Wisdom represents how good a creature is at knowing when it’s time to split. Zombies, oozes, and especially animated objects have almost zero sense of self-preservation. They’ll fight until they’re dead. On the other hand, creatures with high Wisdom are likely to run if they even get the hint that they might not win a battle. For example, a solar would probably avoid something with strong anti-outside spells. Of course, this may crossover a bit with Intelligence.

Wisdom stays pretty flat regardless of Challenge Rating.

The biggest eye-opener I see here is that Wisdom doesn’t really move much with challenge rating. For example, everyone’s favorite city-crusher, the tarrasque, has a low, low Wisdom of 11. Another example includes the lich, which only has a Wisdom of 14, despite being a classic BBEG. Of course, this is often offset by high saving throws for these creatures. My thought is that while the creatures are stylistically imperceptive and make poor choices, the designers didn’t want them falling to every Wisdom saving throw spell in the book.

Optional Rules: Dungeon Master Suggestions

In my Saturday campaign, I’ve got a few characters that have super high Wisdom. Despite their high Wisdom, their players sometimes make some doo-doo moves that would conflict with their high Wisdom scores (ie, being “Leroy Jenkins”). While I don’t totally guide their movement, sometimes I made “weal/woe” type suggestions on things that would most likely get them killed.

It may not be for you–you might like to let your players do doo-doo moves–but, it is an option you have at your disposal.

Also, I highly recommend using passive Perception whenever you can. Not only is it a time saver, but it just plain makes sense.

Let me know what you think!

Again, Wisdom is a weird ability. I’d say it’s the one stat that’s most argued about among fans of the game, probably even more than Charisma (which I’ll soon show you is even more of a mess than Charisma).

Let me know down in the comments what you think.

See you soon!

3 thoughts on “Monster Abilities Part 5 – Wisdom

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: