[RPG] What classes are based on intelligence but not reliant on magic/supernatural power


My knowledge of 5th edition's class options is far from exhaustive. I want to play an intelligence-based class whose class features are not centered on magic, alchemy, or psychic powers. Does such a class exist?

I enjoy playing a “nerd”, but was looking for something to be other than a magical nerd. If weapon-focused classes are the only alternative to magical classes, then that's the direction I'm trying to go in, but I want to leave open the possibility of a character whose focus is neither weapons nor magic, in case such exists. To be clear, I'm fine with finding and using magic items — I'm just looking to break the wall that seems to exist between mental stats and contributing in nonmagical ways.

Simply, I want to contribute to the party in a manner that frequently leverages a high intelligence score, without having to use magic as a means by which to apply that mental ability score to practical situations. Whether that means attacks in combat, skills, etc. isn't as important as a) being smart & clever, b) not needing magic to contribute.

Applicable material is anything 1st-party, including UA and anything else of comparable official-ness. I don't know what the campaign will consist of, but I suspect that it will be high-RP with fewer but more challenging combats.

Best Answer

Reflavor an existing class instead

I'd like to suggest a major change to how you approach this problem. Rather than saying you want high INT and no magic, here's the process I'd take:

  • Start with a clear vision of what you want your character to do
  • Re-flavor an existing class to match that vision

Here's why - as discussed, there aren't really any existing classes that rely on intelligence without any magical effects. That's not how the world of DnD typically works. Characters are largely either good at fighting or good at magic.

Developing a vision

Focusing on being smart doesn't give a clear vision of what you want your character to do. I'm guessing you don't want to play Stephen Hawking, but he fits all of the criteria you've given us (high INT, no magic). Before you can build a character, it's essential to formulate an idea of how your intelligence would actually manifest in combat & non-combat actions. I can think of a few examples of how that might look:

  • Commander: You use your superior intelligence to spot weak points and generate tactics. You help your team fight and attack more effectively by telling them how and where to hit the enemy to do the most damage.
  • Mentalist: You use abilities of non-magical hypnosis and suggestion to control or slow down enemies, to detect their fears and send them running, and to create openings for your allies.
  • Sherlock Holmes: You use your superior intellect to become an incredible detective and have find hidden clues. You could play this as a more non-combat focused, or you could use your knowledge of human anatomy and ability to predict your foes' attacks to take your enemies apart.
  • Engineer: You use your brains to build a variety of steampunky gadgets and gizmos to assist you in and out of a fight.
  • Trickster/Saboteur: You use your superior understanding of tactics and enemy weaknesses to trip them up, deceive them, distract them, keep them guessing, etc. You'd probably also be good at putting the knife in as needed.

There are plenty of other ways you could take an intelligent character, but I'd say that before you can build anything you need a clear vision of how your character will play. It's nigh impossible to build a character off of "high int stat, no magic". It's very possible to come up with a reasonable sherlock holmes, or steampunk engineer, or whatever other playstyle you are looking for.

Building a character from that vision

For each of the archetypes I listed above, I'm confident you could get the effect you need either with some creative use of a martial class, or re-flavoring of a magic class. There are several different viable ways you could build each of those characters, with different strengths and weaknesses.

The key principle here is that it's almost universally easier to re-flavor an existing class (potentially with a few tweaks) than it is to create a whole new playstyle. Most DMs are okay with re-flavoring as long as it's not widely off-base for the world their building. Re-flavoring removes concerns of class balance, because you're using a class that is already accepted as balanced.

I'll provide one example to illustrate the point. You could play a bard (any college) to get a battle-commander, mentalist, or saboteur playstyle. Reflavor bardic inspiration to giving commands/advice to your allies, spotting weak spots in your enemies, distracting your enemies, etc. Song of rest becomes skilled first-aid care. The expertise, jack of all trades, and lots of proficiencies are a great match with your encyclopedic knowledge of everything. Countercharm becomes counter-hypnosis.

You can still use many bard spells and re-flavor them as non-magical effects. For example, Suggestion is now powered by hypnosis. Faerie Fire becomes phosphorous powder. Tongues is just a genius-level grasp of language. This could be especially effective if you focus on enchantment-type spells. Some spells wouldn't work, but there are lots of spells that can be re-flavored for the same effect. As long as you follow all of the rules and limitations of magic, this won't cause any balance problems.

This gives you a cohesive, balanced class with a distinctly non-magic playstyle. You're still useful to the party and have plenty of options, but you fit within the rules and don't require a whole host of homebrew or special exceptions. I'm confident that you could do something similar with any of the other playstyles that I listed above, or just about anything you can come up with. Re-flavoring existing classes without changing balance is one of my favorite things to do in DnD.