Feats are a great way to represent a special ability or skill that your character has in D&D 5e. Some focus heavily on combat, others make you more prepared for social encounters, and some are a bit more nuanced.
Today we’re going to be covering a feat that can often be overlooked, the Keen Mind feat.
In talking about how this spell works, we’ll go over some common misconceptions about the feat and some ways that DMs can rule for it to be a bit more powerful than it is at first glance.
What is the Keen Mind feat?
The keen mind feat is an ability that makes you incredibly good at keeping track of time, directions, and information. Specifically, it states the following: you always know which way is north, you always know the number of hours left until sunrise or sunset, you can accurately recall anything you’ve seen or heard in the last month.
You also get +1 to your intelligence, which is a pretty solid bonus. At first glance that’s actually the best thing about this. It’s basically a feat that makes you smarter, or more aware of your surroundings, as if you had temporary eidetic memory.
How does Keen Mind really work?
So that it’s easier to handle, I’m going to talk about each of these abilities separately. In this section I’ll be covering why these abilities are useful.
Knowing where north is can be extremely helpful, that’s a real life skill that we’re talking about here. Before the days of compasses, which encompasses most D&D settings, having a knowledge of the cardinal directions could literally be a lifesaver.
It’s what allowed early explorers and cartographers to not die. Do remember though, we only hear about the explorers that made it.
This feat helps you, and your whole party whenever you’re lost in the woods, stuck in the underground, or anywhere else that you might not be quite sure how to make your way back to safety.
Finding safety does require knowing where that is, but we’ll cover that in the memory section.
There probably aren’t many clocks in your world. While there might be sundials or hourglasses, these aren’t going to be constantly available. The times that we really need to know what time it is are typically going to be when we can’t see the sun.
Waking up in a strange cell or traversing a dungeon might be the scenario where you want to know what time it is and no one’s going to be there to tell you.
There are also plenty of scenarios where time is really of the essence. Some DMs are more gracious in these, letting you know you have x hours until the villain appears or whatever the case may be.
Others will make you squirm, making this feat an excellent opportunity for you to make them squirm back.
Having the ability to remember everything you see or hear for 30 days is frankly insane, and the implications go off the wall here. Some DMs will even rule this as you not having to take notes.
Personally, I see this as a character ability, not a you ability. If your character remembers everything they see and hear you should probably be prepared to at least take some notes.
Of course, if you forget something a DM shouldn’t penalize your character.
It’s an interesting line that really comes down to the ruling at your table. As always, the most important thing is having a clear and open line of communication between you and your DM so no one gets caught up in unrealistic expectations.
As for the ability itself, well it’s pretty dandy. There really aren’t many areas of adventuring that this won’t help you with. There’s so much, I have to put it in list form because otherwise you’d get really tired of reading my words.
- Maps you’ve seen
- Places you’ve been
- Quest Info
- Written Information
- So… much… more
I mean, you should be able to tell the king’s daughter what color shirt she was wearing when you met her (provided it was less than 31 days ago). So that brings up an interesting point. What happens after 30 days, and since when is a month a standard unit of measurement across the multiverse??
Rulings On Memory in 5e
Seriously though. You read an entire book and for the next 30 days you can remember everything about it, word for word. Day 31 happens, where are we at? Do we just forget about it entirely? Or do we now suddenly have an average memory in relation to that book?
According to RAW you just would lose the information, it would no longer be accessible. But that’s not how memory works. Imagine if you get married! You wouldn’t just lose the image of your partner after 30 days.
The wording here creates some interesting dilemmas that we need to really crack down. This is where some DM decision making has to come into play.
Modified Memory for Keen Mind
You can accurately recall anything you have seen or heard within the past month. Your memory past 30 days is no better than average unless you use the following optional rules.
- In order to commit something to memory past that 30 days you must spend time meditating on the information and storing it in your “mind palace.”
- Remembering words requires 5 minutes of meditation per word.
- Remembering an image takes 2 hours.
- You can also write down information or draw images, which takes half the time, but requires the proper materials.
Now this is just my concept of how to improve upon the vague rules set by this interesting feat. This option takes a similar approach in recording information to the wizard and their spellbook.
Information takes time, and if the feat isn’t going to give you full eidetic memory, then we have to deal with that post 30 days area somehow.
Speaking of wizard spellbooks…
Can Keen Mind Replace a Wizard’s Spellbook?
No! (But also yes.) I feel very strongly about this, because I try my best to read the rules of 5e before making assumptions, but there are a lot of people out there with a lot of strange conceptions about how Keen Mind interacts with wizards.
One of the easiest things to shoot down is spell replication. “If a wizard with Keen Mind sees a spell being cast, can they copy it?” The answer here is again, no. The way in which wizards learn spells is very specifically spelled out.
Wizards have to spend time and materials practicing with new spells to understand them, and that’s only after they’ve deciphered the spell instructions.
From our outside perspective, spells are just names and what they do. Add in somatic, verbal, and/or material elements and you have a spell that you can cast.
For a wizard especially, spells are an understanding of how to manipulate magical energy to create a desired effect.
This is why copying a spell into their spellbook requires a lot of time, it’s not just a mechanic that’s thrown in to be annoying. It’s meant to represent real work that wizards put into their impressive magical abilities.
Now what about copying things from one spellbook to another?
Well, that can actually work with Keen Mind, sort of. Normally, you’d have to take the spellbook of another wizard, rip a page out, or have some way of spending the necessary time with their words to be able to decipher and gain your own understanding of the spell.
A Keen Mind wizard could hypothetically flip through the pages and store the information, saving the decoding process for a later time (within 30 days that is).
Yeah, but can’t you just keep your spellbook in your mind?
Well, this is where it gets tricky. A spellbook is a mechanical term for your method of storing spells. Sure, it’s typically an actual book that you write things down in, and more often than not it’s at very least physical.
This is what the rules for the appearance of a spellbook are in the PHB:
“The Book’s Appearance. Your spellbook is a unique compilation of spells, with its own decorative flourishes and margin notes. It might be a plain, functional leather volume that you received as a gift from your master, a finely bound gilt-edged tome you found in an ancient library or even a loose collection of notes scrounged together after you lost your previous spellbook in a mishap.”
In RAW, you need at least some form of written notes. Some tables allow for other options, even tattoos. If you can convince your DM to let you have a spellbook in your mind, then it’s there. It would then be subject to mind spells, and I would 100% allow a Modify Memory spell to change or wipe your spellbook.
So, is the Keen Mind feat a good feat? Yeah, if you play it that way, and if your DM allows it to be useful. If your DM is relaxed with dishing out information like time, directions, and past events, it’s only as good as the +1 to intelligence it gives you.
There are no direct mechanics it affects at the end of the day, so it’s really up to you.