An issue came up in the game I GM last session. One of the Elf Rangers in the group had acquired the Injured Condition. In camp she wanted to heal herself but does not have the Healer skill. She rolled Nature then. The issue is that she described healing herself by recalling how another party member (with the Healer skill) healed a similar wound (from the same weapon type, narratively speaking), intent on working within her Nature descriptor of Remembering. On top of that, she tapped Nature (so, double tap), trying to take double advantage of the descriptor.
As GM, I try to reward creative game play as best I can, but this seemed a stretch to me. I called the test outside of the elf’s Nature, but my player balked. They claimed that Remembering means Elves have phenomenal memory, almost photographic, which would allow the character to recall exactly how to bind/stitch the wound. Furthermore, they suggested that they had witnessed the very same healing process in camp previously performed by an actual healer, so they could recall all the necessary and gory details to effectively heal. In my perspective, Remembering applies more to recalling historical knowledge (p. 120 Remembering allows elves to recall ages past in a scholarly manner…) of past events, as in “this” happened (Could include when, why, where, how, and to whom). Also on p. 120 there’s this, “However, don’t let the elves make up too much remembered nonsense. When they want to recall something that hasn’t happened in your game, make sure it fits with your setting. If it does, write it down. It’s now a fact. Reincorporate it later in another adventure and you’ll enrich your world.” which really seems to support my interpretation of the descriptor being related to events, no recalling knowledge of an executed skill and then applying it to yourself.
My player(s) have argued time and again that the descriptors, like traits, are open to interpretation and I should encourage creative usage. However, this seems like a very slippery slope to me in this case. If an elf an “remember” any action they witness performed by someone who is skilled, then they could use Nature for anything.
I would much appreciate opinions on this. Is my interpretation of Remembering okay, or am I just being a GM-curmudgeon?
I would allow it, depending on the detail and confidence of the roleplay.
Once. Each successive time they try the same thing, I raise my standards.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes the GM has to say “no”. But it’s not as though this is a flimsy case they’re presenting. My reading of page 120 doesn’t refute this application, because they’re remembering something that did happen in the game.
This kind of thing happens a lot at my table. Someone wants to accomplish something mechanically, so they sketch out the roleplay reason for it. Often, the GM or the other players will push back on the initial suggestion, forcing the player to revise their statements slightly – usually expanding them, or adding a bit of in-character flavor. This back-and-forth routinely leads us to some of the best developments in the game. As GM, you can use the followup to guide the player toward your vision of the setting.
For instance, if remembering how to heal struck me as “off”, I might immediately start coaxing the player toward a wistful, Highlander-style flashback to an earlier era in which they lived as a healer. That, I think, is a totally legitimate application of the nature descriptor, along the lines of what the player was suggesting; you could even incorporate their “photographic memory” case as the trigger for the flashback.
Or, you could say “no”. But I try to leave that as a last, worst option. In the end, what people may dismiss as test-mongering can sometimes be a key to the roleplay aspects of the mechanics. If someone is making an attempt in good faith, try to work with it.
I did ask for more detail, which is what I mentioned above. There was no deep flashback, only recalling the last camp phase. Maybe saying, “this is a pretty big stretch, you are goi g to have to come up with something really good”?
Still, what about another example. The ranger witnesses his dwarf friend climb a sheer cliff face, a difficult Dumgeoneer test. Later in the game the ranger attempts to climb a similar obstacle, maybe another cliff face. Untrained they opt to test Nature and describe how they remember the climbing technique of the dwarf. Does that fall into Remembering Nature?
I guess my hang up is recalling information (Remembering something) and then applying it to a physical action(dungeoneer, Healer, Fighter, whatever). for example, building a bridge (carpenter) and remembering having seen one being built is not the same thing as fleeing an enemy on foot and being a naturally good runner.
Remembering is history, legends, songs, events, the plot of The Silmarillion. Like, back 100+ years. Not last session.
I can watch someone climb a mountain and it doesn’t matter how good my memories are, that’s not going to help me.*
I’m sure the elf also watched someone disarm a trap, pick a lock, repair armour and create a poultice. But watching an expert at work once does not give you his expert knowledge. At best you can imitate that specific instance under these specific circumstances.
I think the description of remembering is pretty clear: it “allows elves to recall ages past in a scholarly manner”. In other words, it grants elf players access to some deep historical background for their characters – it allows them to enrich the game with epic deeds and tragic tales from ancient times, long, long ago. It’s the Silmarillion spice you cannot do without if you want proper elves. Using Nature, an elf player can say “this hairy situation we’re in reminds me of the last desperate stand of the elves of the Shining City of the Mountain in the Second Age of the world, when …”, or “I remember well the tales told in our citadel of the fight against one dragon of old, who was finally defeated by …”.
You get to make something up and turn it into a bit of “lore”, some legend or epic deed out of elvish history, or just a bit of trivia. And you get to apply that legendary or trivial whatever to your current situation and grow beyond your ordinary skills and your everyday stature, for a moment. The game takes on epic proportions, just for a minute.
Example: In our game, the players got trapped by a big horde of kobolds. Desparate, the elf player “remembered” an epic stand of some elf hero and had his character start singing that hero’s song. Funny? Why, yes, a bit – an epic last stand against kobolds is not exactly epic. But it was a great moment in game, and really fun at the table.
Another example: Fighting against a spider, the elf player “remembered” the fights of his people against the gigantic spiders of old. In short, he brought all those Tolkien spider moments into the game: “Hey, that’s exactly like that one passage, with Sam and Shelob? Well, my guy remembers …” and then he stabbed the spider from beneath in the soft underbelly, “just like the hero in the tale”.
This is how I think of Elf Nature in Torchbearer. It’s ok, of course, to get creative and inventive and stretch things a bit; Nature is a valuable resource and wants to be used in game, but turning Remembering into a generic all-purpose replacement skill really stretches things. It’s reaching.
[Edit: Beaten by Jared. And he needed only two lines.]
Well, in fairness, if remembering is thus defined, it isn’t done anywhere in the book. Not everyone digs Tolkien, and if people draw their inspiration from, say, the madness of the Nonmen in R. Scott Bakker instead, well…
Then all sorts of weird interpretations are possible.
Leaving aside the implicit definitions, there are many rules in Torchbearer that require this sort of negotiation. It’s important, I feel, not to shut things down just because, but to give players a chance to unpack things. Not everyone says the clever thing on the first try. We’ve worked our way to some pretty awesome interpretations of nature, wises and traits, just by giving it a minute for the group to collectively apply the Rule of Cool.
Test mongering and stretching the rules are both annoying, but in the end it is a game designed to crush the players. I have sympathy for that, and if they want to try an approach that seems even remotely reasonable, I’m inclined to let it.
A single stretch doesn’t bother me much, it’s repeating a stretch that gets the ban hammer.
Part of it is the Tolkien-via-D&D-emulated-by-Torchbearer bits and pieces baked into the game, mostly in the rules for Nature and character creation – the whole quasi-generic EDO thing that has become part of the genre.
Other parts we decided to bring into the fiction. There is only a rather limited amount of Tolkien DNA in Torchbearer, and what your Elf actually remembers is, of course, completely up to you and your group. We decided to have fun with bits of the Silmarillion.