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The following point arose as I granted my D&D group their choice of feats. One of them choose Keen Mind as described in the PHB:

Keen Mind

You have a mind that can track time, direction, and detail with uncanny precision. You gain the following benefits...

You can accurately recall anything you have seen or heard within the past month.

Because I only skimmed the feats beforehand and only blocked the Lucky Feat explicitly, some problems followed right after. As a homebrew rule, I established that the players themselves should (must) take notes on what happened, where, by whom, etc. They are absolute free to just not do it, but I clearly stated that this can have negative effects on the story.

Now they got to the point where it is (or better was) necessary to know certain things that happened to and by my players. As the last benefit states:

You can accurately recall anything you have seen or heard within the past month.

From that a, little problem arose with regards to my DM handling. And therefore some questions:

  • What is the limiting factor on this benefit? (I.e.: does the player recognize any little detail of a room he went through or can he recite word by word a conversation with a major NPC?)
  • Is it reasonable to say: "I got this Feat, so now you (the DM) have to tell me what I heard? If so, how do I put this in balance?

These are the major points that happened last Saturday in our session. I will be honest this broke a part of my narrative because my players didn't recall a major plot point correctly (back from last December) and because of this feat I needed to fumble the reaction of the archmage who asked them what happened.

As far as I see it this really can break some narrative elements of my game even further. So I need some measurements to prevent abuse (or rather a lazy approach) of this benefit.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've removed elements of the feat which were not necessary for this question since that feat has not been released as part of the SRD. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Sep 20 '19 at 1:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi Infinias, welcome to rpg.se! This is a great first question! Take the tour and visit the help center when you get a chance to learn about the site and how we work. Thanks for contributing and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Sep 20 '19 at 2:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't understand the problem, do you want players to not know things, or do you just not like telling them? \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Sep 20 '19 at 8:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you know the reason why the player chose that particular feat? Do you think it has something inherently to do with your policy of making players take notes? \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Sep 20 '19 at 13:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with @SeriousBri, it's not clear what the problem is. You say that your plot got derailed because the players forgot some important details, but it seems like the Keen Mind feat is a solution for that, not a problem. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Sep 20 '19 at 15:04
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You're chasing the wrong problem. This is about the social contract not the feat.

Player notes

Players are human, they forget things and there is also an issue with conservation of detail. Often far more times passes outside of game than in game. It is not unreasonable for player to occasionally need their memory jogged or need an intelligence check to recall something that did not make it into their notes. The issue comes when this happens so often that it begins to take a lot of in game time, breaks immersion, and starts ruining fun. That is why players are supposed to keep notes: to minimize how often this happens. This process is part of the social contract that is intended to help you and the other players get to keep having fun,. You did not agree to be the DM to be everyone's secretary.

Notes are to remember what is important and what is happening from session to session. It is expected of you as a DM to help them with details that may not have been described or if they occasionally omit something. The PC notes may say something like "we spoke to the king about X, Y, Z". It is completely reasonable for the PC's to ask you later what the king was wearing if it becomes relevant, even if you described it. They would have seen it, so they could remember, it just fell by the wayside due to the limits of describing a scene - players are not stenographers. However, If any in game time has passed, you as the DM are completely justified in asking them for an Intelligence check to see how well they remember it. If the roll is too low, the answer is "You don't remember".

It is perfectly fine to tell the players you have to keep notes because explaining what is going on every session takes too long. The feat does not override the social contract.

The feat

The feat lets the player recall what happened in high detail. That does not mean that you have to tell them the meaning of said details. It is up to them to determine the meaning of them. The feat lets a player remember the contents of a book they read perfectly - what it does not do is tell them if the book is relevant, or if there was a hidden meaning behind the contents.

If the player says I read X book with this feat, it would be fine for them to ask you questions about the contents of the book as if they had it in front of them even a month later. It would let them remember the exact path they took in a dungeon even without a map - it won't tell them the layout of the rest of the dungeon.

It is reasonable for a PC to ask you what Duncan the Archduke looked like when they met him last week or what exact words he used. Practically, the feat means that you as the DM shouldn't ask them for an Intelligence check to see if they remember. Without their own notes however, they player may not know to ask you the question because they don't remember who they met or if they met them, and that's fine, that is on them. That is also what player notes are for.

You as a DM can veto feats, and if it is being used in the way you describe it should be. If the player is using the feat as an excuse to get you to take notes for them just tell them the feat is vetoed for that exact reason, you are not their secretary. You should be having fun too. The player does not get to offload more work on you without your consent. It sounds like the player is the problem, they don't want to do the minimum effort needed to keep participating and that is not OK, they are not upholding their part of the social contract.

I'll repeat, it is perfectly fine to tell the players you have to keep notes because explaining what is going on every session takes too long, the feat does not override the social contract.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm also a bit confused why you tie out-of-game memory/social contract issues to in-game mechanics. Why does it make sense to make a character roll for something they would reasonably already remember when the player forgets? For a character they might only be remembering something that happened a moment ago but for players it could be weeks. And why INT? Doesn't tying this rule to only INT specifically put every PC that doesn't invest in INT at a disadvantage? Can you explain more about how this works? \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Sep 20 '19 at 13:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose the penalty is only if the player refused to take notes. I use INT because that is explicitly what an intelligence checks is for. one aspect of the Intelligence score is how good the characters memory is. Making a player roll INT to see if they remember something is no different than making them roll STR to see if they can lift something. Any low score has disadvantages. \$\endgroup\$ – John Sep 20 '19 at 14:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose This is a lot like how I handle things, with case-by-case judgement. If the PC would almost certainly remember (what they had for breakfast), there's no required roll. For a more precise detail (the exact symbol on the Queen's brooch after a 90-second interaction), the roll may be necessary. For details their character may have noted but were not described in the scene, a Perception check might be more appropriate to see if they did notice. PCs already benefit from players' meta knowledge of the game and campaign, it's fine to not gift all of them perfect memory as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Sep 20 '19 at 16:33

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