This question is for the first edition since the site tags do not yet differentiate between the two.

I am struggling with the Elves of Mirkwood - Cultural Virtue The Speakers on page 109 of the core rules.

You have learnt how to communicate with almost everything, from any living being to grass, stone and water. This means, for example, that you can hear from the stones in a path who trod it recently, or sing to soothe an unquiet animal.
To use this gift you must make an appropriate skill roll. Which skill you use depends on what you are trying to do and is at the Loremaster’s discretion, but here are a few examples: to interpret the words of the stones in a path requires a roll of Riddle; to restrain a scared horse requires a roll of Song; to listen to the voice of a river requires a roll of Insight.

This will be the second time that this has appeared in a game I am running. The first time it came up, I spent hours after the session creating a complex documents for handling the speaking to anything and what kind of information could come from it. First I went over each skill and illustrated what I expected to fall under it. So for example under battle, I decided that only things meant for battle would work, a kitchen knife that happened to have killed someone would not work, because that was not the items true intent. I then went and dealt with the elements, stone, water, wood, air. Next I worked on animals, on how size and function (prey, hunter, domestic, pet, ...) would impact it. Then I went over objects. I was also careful in how the item was addressed could affect its outcome. Speaking to a house as a whole was very different than speaking to the boards it was made of (this actually happened, and every board in the house started screaming in pain at the elf...it was a little bit of a traumatic experience for her).

It worked for that first game, but I was never sure if I went and did the right thing. This lead to some funny examples of the skill in use, such as they stole a handful of dirt from a farmers field, instead of talking to the entire field. Since it was only a piece of the whole, the dirt was basically lobotomized and unhelpful. They did almost the same thing to a river by speaking to a handful of the river instead of to the river which was right there.

It was both fun and frustrating attempting to RP as every little item they wanted to talk with. Ive asked some friends and one of the suggestions that was made was instead of everything just being awake, instead things have to have been talked to for awhile in order to bring it awake. It was an interesting idea that would help prevent constant use, but at the same time, I worry that it could prevent them from talking to something they really wanted to.

The reason why I am wanting to possibly alter how this ability will work in my next game, is its taking place in the Mines of Moria, and while I have something in place to prevent speaking to the mountain to find out where someone might be in it, that isnt true for speaking to a more distinct tunnel.

Is the way I set up the usage of this ability good? How have others handled working with this ability? Are there better ways or more correct ways to handle the ability?

  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't have the rulebook at hand right now to check for myself, but is this about the 1st edition of The One Ring (published by Cubicle 7 Games), or the 2nd edition (released by Free League Publishing)? You should edit that clarification into the post. (Judging from the answer, it's about TOR 1e – is that right?) \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Sep 14, 2022 at 16:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast Wouldnt the tag be responsible for letting people know which version it is? Or are both being grouped under the same tag? \$\endgroup\$
    – Fering
    Sep 14, 2022 at 18:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Right now, nobody's created a tag for the 2nd edition. The few TOR questions that have been posted since TOR 2e came out have all used the existing tag, and at least one of them is specifically about 2e. I posted a note in chat that we should probably have a discussion on meta about it (partly in the hope that someone else would start that discussion :P). \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Sep 14, 2022 at 23:05

1 Answer 1


"Communicate" doesn't have to mean "converse".

First, I should mention, in the Free League edition of The One Ring, they've dropped The Speakers as an elven cultural virtue. (I'm just going to call using The Speakers capital-S Speaking, for ease of language.) It's a slightly different Elven culture, but I can see why they might have done it - there isn't really a clear benefit to having it, unlike getting +1 Hope because you appreciate the works of Varda, Starkindler. There aren't any pre-baked uses of it -- a GM has to create situations where Speaking would be useful, where it would be an easier or the only path forward.

But assuming you want to stick with your current version of the game, here's a good start point - you don't want to create 1500 secret elf-only NPCs as part of your scene description, most of whom are just useless nothings, but any of whom might have vital secret information so your elf feels compelled to interact with them anyways. When you create a scene, you want it to contain the NPCs and the knowledge that you want it to contain. With that in mind, here's how you might frame Speaking in order to do that:

  • Not a secret. How Speaking works is not supposed to be a secret once you've unlocked it as a cultural virtue. As a GM and the person responsible for playing the remainder of elven culture, you're free to define how much of a thing an elf needs to Speak to at once, but you should also just tell your Speaker how much of a thing they need to talk to, instead of making them guess.
  • Not an interrogation. Speaking as used in canon doesn't favor pointed interrogation. Or even a normal conversational flow. I'll detail this a little later, but what it means is that you don't need to prep a big possible range of topics for an elf to ask questions about. Most inanimate objects will just "say" what they want to say, and animals, while they can be swayed to emotions, can't necessarily be reasoned with.
  • Not a quotation. You can "sum up the conversation" and tell your elf about the sense impressions and emotions they get from what they're Speaking to, in your standard neutral narrative voice. You don't need to invent a vocabulary and a grammar for something that doesn't even have a language.

Pop all those together, and you give yourself a minimum amount of additional work to do during scene prep, at least if you're not planning for there to be some signposted vital information there a Speaker could pick up on. In the natural caverns under Moria? Sure, that unworked stone all just considers itself part of the mountain and keeps singing the mountainsong, old and deep, with little care for recent events or the passing of time.

Additional Commentary

If you want to leave it at that, great. Here are the bits I trimmed off of those bullet points if you want a little more elaboration.

Speaking isn't a secret. It isn't some mystery power that an elf is discovering for the first time, it's a common practice among their people and there are others who know how it's done. Have you, you the human person reading these words, ever seriously tried to hold a conversation with someone else's hand? Have you ever stolen someone's shoe because you could learn as much by talking with it as you could with them? No, because as part of human culture, people learn how to have conversations with other people. It shouldn't be a mystery to an elf with The Speakers what you can talk with and how.

Speaking isn't an interrogation, because it's very likely that most things simply can't hear you. The pull quote they give for The Speakers is a nice little bit where Legolas and them were taking the Ring south through Hollin, where Legolas remarks that the trees and grass don't remember the elves but the stone ruins still mourn them. You may also remember Hollin as that region adjoining the Mines of Moria, with that door with the moonsilver script on where everyone was trying to work out the password. Somehow nobody turns to Legolas and says "hey Legolas, ask the door what the password is". This suggests that elves don't talk to inanimate things like rivers and trees and stone columns as much as listen to them, and it can be entirely your call as GM what an inanimate thing is repeating and how -- though, again, the general types of things inanimate objects remember should be a known part of the cultural practice when an elf picks it up. A little brook isn't going to remember a goblin raider leaping over it. A wide stream may more likely remember the raiding party that splashed through it, dragging a sledge heavy with spoils and scraping its bed.

Though now that I've dragged rivers into it, you can make some allowances for things that aren't alive but could be considered animate, like rivers, or wind, or fire. They could be as receptive to emotion as animals, but with an almost suicidally strong set of instincts to overcome.

Speaking doesn't need to be quoted. Note -- doesn't need to be. If you arrange things for your PC to Speak to, say, Shadowfax, lord of all horses, he's probably going to be a more important conversation than the four or five randos hitched outside the Prancing Pony on any given day and you might want to play that out. It's like how if there's somebody important to talk to in the Prancing Pony, you put on the full conversation for them and not so much for the forty or fifty randos in the taproom, even though the PCs are just as capable of talking to any of them.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ In the movie, didnt the female elf who was carrying Frodo when he was stabbed/poisoned ask the river to aid them? Until I played this game I had assumed she used magic, or it was an elven trap, but one of my players said she had just asked. \$\endgroup\$
    – Fering
    Apr 13, 2022 at 15:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Fering In the book, that's Elrond, aware of the intrusion into his lands and making demands of the river as something he rules. To be fair to the movie, Arwen's relationship to it isn't that much different. I don't think the PCs are ever going to find themselves with a geographical feature somewhere down their chain of command, but I have edited to make some allowances for wind, flame, and water. \$\endgroup\$
    – Glazius
    Apr 13, 2022 at 23:53

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