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Mastering Intrigue

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Any adventure can contain elements of intrigue, and even the most combat-filled dungeon crawl often benefits from breaking up the action with more nuanced encounters as a change of pace. Because it’s less confrontational than physical combat, intrigue acts as a counterpoint to battles, and serves to highlight and strengthen a campaign’s high-octane moments, helping tension to build slowly and naturally and creating satisfying storytelling moments.

All references to “an intrigue-based game” in the following section apply to a game that incorporates any amount of intrigue, from one with a splash of deviousness to a full-on political thriller.

Intrigue Systems

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This chapter consists of new subsystems, new rules, and advice to add robust elements of intrigue to your game.

Influence: This rules system measures how characters gain influence and reputation with various organizations. Rather than boiling a social interaction down to just a skill check or two, influence creates a back-and-forth that plays out over a longer scene. It provides concrete rewards for engaging with such groups, which can be customized to fit your game.

Heists: This sections presents tips on organizing and running heists, such as running a con or penetrating a set of complex defenses to steal an object, rescue a person, or attain some other goal. This section also discusses the similar topic of infiltration.

Leadership: Expanding upon the Leadership feat, this section offers ways to incorporate leadership into the game so the PCs can attract hirelings and other followers. Discover advice on how leadership works in an intriguebased game, and the role that cohorts and followers can take on in such campaigns.

Nemeses: To amp up the dramatic thrusts and parries of an adversarial relationship, the nemesis system adds nasty stratagems an enemy can employ against the party. This section also includes suggestions for how to escalate the animosity, as well as specific strategies and XP rewards.

Pursuit: For long-lasting chases that take several days, these new pursuit rules make the back-and-forth of such engagements fun and strategic, offering opportunities to gain edges over your pursuers or quarries.

Research: Obscure information lies hidden within great libraries and other repositories of knowledge. The research system gives a procedure for digging into the ancient tomes and gleaning those rare pieces of information.

Spells of Intrigue: Many spells cause problems with an intrigue-based game by enabling characters to easily detect lies, charm creatures who have needed knowledge, or otherwise bypass social interactions. This section talks about these spells both in general terms and in specifics for certain prominent spells.

Intrigue Elements

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The following elements are ingredients that can help add intrigue to your game. You can use a single element to introduce complications into an otherwise low-intrigue game or session, or put several of them together to weave a complex web of intrigue throughout your campaign.

Even a group that’s primarily involved in dungeon-delving might get embroiled in a power struggle back in the town where they make their home base, or be stuck between two rivals who attempt to use the PCs as cat’s-paws. In a campaign that uses just one element for a bit of flavor, it’s important to incorporate that element on a regular basis—but not necessarily every session.

Relationships and Loyalty

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In an intrigue-based game, interpersonal relationships are spotlighted, and serve a variety of different roles and purposes. The way that people’s reactions and feelings change with time and interaction is central to the plot in such a game, rather than something to ignore or skip through with a single roll. Relationships and loyalty can make their marks in a campaign in many ways.

Nonmonetary Rewards: Relationships with other characters and the perks and privileges granted by those relationships are fundamental rewards, equally or even more valuable than simple coin. The right friends can grant access to social events, give gifts, provide information, make problems go away, or perform various other favors on a character’s behalf. Sometimes, a friendship can blossom into something more, and that can be its own reward.

Loyalties and Tension: All characters have their own agenda and loyalties, even those allied with the PCs. Characters act and respond to the events in the world around them in ways that serve their interests and match their worldviews. Some of the tension in such games comes from the uncertainty of how others will act, particularly at a decisive moment when conflicting loyalties clash. Can the PC thieves trust their friend in the guard not to crack when her commanding officer puts pressure on her, or will she reveal what she knows? Will the princess the PCs assisted in gaining the throne keep her promise to the PCs to grant asylum to witches now that she’s queen, or will she backpedal to the more popular stance when the dukes threaten to secede? Will a PC’s steward cave to the crime boss’s threats against his kidnapped family and secretly embezzle from the PCs, or will he inform them and risk his family?

How NPCs react in these high-pressure situations also serves to characterize and humanize them. If an NPC sides with the PCs in any of these example situations, that NPC has made a powerful demonstration of loyalty to the PCs. If the PCs have been earning that loyalty as a reward, it will serve as reinforcement of the PCs’ accomplishments. Either way, it’s likely to impress the PCs and bring them closer to the NPC. Even if the NPC buckles, it doesn’t make her a villain, and it could catapult her role into that of a reluctant adversary to the PCs with significant pathos.

Betrayal: In contrast to a former ally being forced by circumstances and conflicting loyalties to act against the PCs’ interests, nothing inspires hatred for an NPC quite like a good old-fashioned betrayal. Whether it’s an NPC who hires the PCs under false pretenses as a means of setting them up or a seeming ally who is providing information to the enemy, a traitor ups the stakes and provides a powerful emotional response.

Of course, betrayal is much more interesting if it’s the exception, rather than the rule. If NPCs betray the PCs too often, you undermine the campaign’s focus on relationships by making the PCs regret the efforts they took to build up alliances with NPCs and earn their loyalty. The exception to this guideline is in a grittier, more cynical game where alliances are necessary to even survive but betrayal is the status quo. When you’re running such a game, it is critical that the players know this in advance, or at least shortly after the first time they deal with the cynical and treacherous aspects of society. Even in such games, though the possibility of betrayal is ubiquitous and constantly on both the players’ and characters’ minds, not every relationship should end in betrayal, or it quickly loses its impact.

Hierarchies: Hierarchies are a structured system of loyalties, whether political, social, military, or another sort entirely. Progression up a hierarchy is a great way to track the nonmonetary rewards in an intriguebased game. Hierarchies are also an excellent source of interesting plotlines and conflicting loyalties, from either direction on the hierarchy. Becoming a member of a hierarchy gives PCs a strong sense of belonging and reason to take actions and pursue an intrigue adventure. Enemies operating within a hierarchy make great opponents, as their membership in the hierarchy can be alternately a source of strength and a vulnerability. If the enemy and a PC are both members of the same hierarchy, things can become particularly interesting, as both characters are empowered and constrained by their places in the system.

Measure and Countermeasure

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In intrigue-themed games, adversaries engage in clandestine activities and seek to prevent each other’s actions. Just like in the real world, the invention of new measures and countermeasures leads to secretive and escalating clashes that roil under the surface, as each side seeks to exploit the other’s vulnerabilities or shore up its own. In a fantasy world, these advancements can be both magical and mundane, from a new way of encoding information to a spell that bypasses the enemy’s security. In this regard, it can be fun to include new spells, perhaps from an obscure spellbook, or even invented by a PC. After the PCs’ adversaries catch on, though, they eventually devise a counter for it, and the cycle continues.

Be careful when using this element. Ideally, you want to have the PCs’ adversaries participate in this intrigue arms race at about the same pace as the PCs do so that they seem like credible rivals, rather than incompetent pushovers. If the PCs aren’t interested in this aspect at all, though, don’t have the NPCs keep escalating. This advice is even true for the basic spells from the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook. The PCs and the precautions they take and expect are a bellwether of the approximate precautions the NPCs should be taking.

The exception is when trying to introduce the notion of measures and countermeasures to a play group that doesn’t typically use them or that consists of new players who aren’t familiar with all the spells and tools at their disposal. For such a group, the first time they learn about using basic countermeasures might be when an NPC has used them. For example, say the PCs begin an investigation of a crime at the request of an NPC; the NPC could start by telling the PCs what investigative measures he has already taken—and thus what countermeasures he suspects the perpetrator might have used. This introduces the PCs to those measures and countermeasures seamlessly as an established element of the game world, rather than an obstacle that comes out of the blue during play. With this sort of introduction planned, you can design a plot revolving around bypassing or exploiting those countermeasures from the outset.

The Importance of Appearances

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In some games, success and failure are measured in the court of public opinion, and appearing to be a certain way is often more important than being that way. This leads to plenty of deception and betrayal, and can also lead to wars of popular belief, wherein both sides seek to paint the other as evil and subjective opinions hold sway over the truth of the matter. In these situations, it is important to be able to keep up appearances, which is a key skill set in an intrigue-focused adventuring party. The necessity of appearances often restricts certain actions a group can take, resulting in indirect, discreet, and unusual tactics, rather than rushing into an adversary’s home and annihilating everyone with steel and spells. Using social pressure to restrict the actions under consideration is a great way to highlight the varied skills and abilities of each party member, as long as these restrictions make sense and fit into the way the situation is structured. For instance, if the PCs want to help the evil duke’s younger sister stir up dissent against the duke by proving that the duke was guilty of murdering his majordomo, murdering the duke’s loyal retainers and new majordomo would make the PCs look hypocritical (as well as like desperate maniacs), and so isn’t a wise tactic. Similarly, if a certain type of magic, such as necromancy or compulsions, is illegal in a society, then it makes sense that the PCs must use those tactics sparingly to avoid their deeds being overshadowed by their unlawful uses of magic.

Bargains and Compromise

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In a campaign revolving around physical combat between good and evil, there’s little room for compromise. But in an intrigue-based game, where each character acts according to her interests and loyalties, there comes a point where the writing is on the wall, at which a reasonable opponent offers a bargain rather than follow the struggle all the way through to destruction. These compromises might even offer the PCs more than they would get for destroying their foe, while allowing the foe to keep what’s most important to her. In most campaigns, the PCs are going to win, but this sort of offer is a great opportunity for the PCs to establish their priorities and make a real decision about how they win. For example, suppose the PCs have a main goal of emancipating enslaved halflings, and during this conflict, the proslavery faction bribes an influential magistrate to make life difficult for the PCs. The PCs are able to turn the tables and discover damning evidence that could destroy the magistrate’s career forever, so the magistrate offers the PCs a deal: if they withhold the evidence and allow her to keep her job, she’ll use her influence to assist in halfling emancipation and give the PCs a strong advantage. Can the PCs trust her? Which is stronger, their desire to help the halflings, or their desire to see the magistrate get her just desserts?

The Power of Secrets

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Secrets are powerful in any Pathfinder game, even ones entirely focused on combat, since discovering secrets enables characters to learn an enemy’s strengths and weaknesses and plan accordingly. However, when you’re using intrigue in your game, secrets are even more significant. In fact, a truly powerful secret can be a far greater reward than even a dragon’s hoard. Secrets are tied into all the other elements of an intrigue-based game. They can destroy relationships and change loyalties, often to the advantage of the one who holds or releases the secret. Disclosing a secret can shatter someone’s false appearance. For instance, no matter how high the PCs roll on Diplomacy, their words alone can’t persuade the kind and faithful queen to help assassinate or oust her husband, an evil king who has convinced everyone—even his wife, whom he truly loves—that he is a good man. But if the PCs expose the king’s dark secrets in a convincing way, then pull off a skilled effort to influence the queen, they just might succeed. Secrets are also part and parcel of blackmail plots, which can lead to fascinating bargains and backroom deals. Of course, though using extortion might earn you an ally of sorts, such alliances are built on ill will. Because of the dangers of leaked secrets, protecting secrets is a main impetus of the arms race of measures and countermeasures mentioned earlier. And, of course, sometimes the most dangerous thing a character can do is discover a secret that someone powerful doesn’t want anyone to know.

Intrigue Themes

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If intrigue elements are ingredients, then the following intrigue themes are sample recipes that combine those components in various specific ways, opening the door to adventures and campaigns that delve deeper into the world of intrigue than ones that contain a mere sprinkling of elements here and there.

A Game of Nobles

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Adventuring among the double-dealing and self-serving schemes of the nobility combines the Relationships and Loyalty, The Importance of Appearances, Bargains and Compromise, and The Power of Secrets elements. Whether the PCs start off as members of the nobility, guards and servants seeking to improve their status and fortune, illegitimate children hoping to claim their noble parents’ titles, or simply adventurers hired by the wrong noble house, they quickly become tangled up in a tapestry of power and betrayal. In this theme, since the major players exercise great influence, the stakes are extremely high, allowing even lower-level PCs to become big movers and shakers as long as they are experts at playing along. When using this theme, it is understood that everyone has their own agendas and attempts to increase their personal standing, so self-serving actions are the status quo, whereas moments of true sacrifice and loyalty are rare and touching. With the shifting tides of politics, an enemy today can be a friend tomorrow, and it’s likely that many characters will be neutral on the good/evil axis, or at least only mildly good or evil, muddying the waters and making the choice of whom to support less obvious.

The Criminal Underworld

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Though it can benefit from the use of other elements, a campaign set in the criminal underworld is fundamentally built around the tensions from the Relationships and Loyalty, Measures and Countermeasures, and Bargains and Compromise elements. The importance of maintaining a positive public appearance keeps a noble from engaging in too many illicit activities, but a crime boss isn’t limited in this way. In the criminal underworld, the relationships a character builds and her loyalties and reputations are the main things keeping her alive. Adventures exploring the criminal underworld tend to involve nongood PCs with a central goal of acquiring money and power. However, it is certainly possible to have a group of well-intentioned outlaws in the vein of Robin Hood fighting against a corrupt government or trying to aid the oppressed. In this case, navigating the criminal underworld is even more challenging and dangerous, as the PCs might find that their moral qualms make bargaining and building trust and reputations among other criminals more difficult.

An engaging criminal campaign often involves heists, cons, and other underhanded antics. In these cases, the Measures and Countermeasures element rises to the forefront, and the PCs must scout adversaries’ defenses and come up with a plan to circumvent them or exploit their flaws and weaknesses.

In a campaign with this theme, the hidden world of criminals lurks under the surface of even the most harmless places and people. A benevolent group of healers who cross national borders to help cure disease outbreaks might contain an element that smuggles in illegal alchemical substances. A sheriff renowned for eliminating most of the gangs in a city might have been working under the patronage and assistance of the gang that stood to gain by taking over its rivals’ territory and operations. The PCs, as people in the know, experience this secret underbelly wherever they go and live in this shadowy realm of murky morals. Even if they start with good intentions, it is easy for them to become cynical about the world around them.

War of Propaganda

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A campaign that features wars of propaganda and public opinion centers on The Importance of Appearance, flavored with the Bargains and Compromise and The Power of Secrets elements. In a game using this theme, the PCs seek to influence public opinion in a particular way. They might be political fixers who seek to improve their clients’ image, or they might be lobbyists for a particular political movement attempting to build and garner support for that movement. Either way, the PCs become involved in managing information (particularly damaging secrets) and forging temporary bargains and alliances in order to further their cause. Unlike many other types of adventures that involve PCs discovering a secret and nefarious plot, in a propaganda war, the PCs must uncover and decide how to use damaging secrets about the opposite side. They must also bury their own secrets and those of their allies. Despite being politically damaging, these secrets usually arise from humanizing flaws or lapses in judgment in an otherwise respectable ally, rather than from the ally being actively nefarious. However, the PCs might have to make a hard choice if a legitimately despicable character offers them the support they need or retains their services. In a war of propaganda, social conflict is nearly a given, and since the battlefield is in the court of public opinion, influence and verbal duels are likely to play a part as well.

Law and Order

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In a campaign where characters serve as part of the criminal justice system, such as detectives or lawyers, Measures and Countermeasures and The Power of Secrets are the two most important intrigue elements. Much like investigative or courtroom TV shows, games using this theme tend to be somewhat episodic in nature, with a “mystery of the week” or “case of the week,” though they still likely carry a significant plotline that keeps popping up over the course of the campaign.

For a group of detectives, mysteries involve unraveling the holes in the criminals’ countermeasures against detection, mirroring the way criminals seek to defeat the countermeasures defending their targets. Each mystery might draw the detectives deeper into a web of intrigue and connected plots, and they might be forced to make a hard decision when their investigations unearth disturbing truths about those around them.

Lawyer characters often also dip into investigation as well, but they focus on finding the vulnerabilities in their opposition’s case. A court proceeding before a magistrate or jury might involve one or more verbal duels between the attorneys, interspersed with investigation and interactions between the characters involved, with the case itself being a larger social conflict.

Ultimate Intrigue

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In a campaign that fully embraces all the diverse elements of intrigue, all of the above themes come together. On the one side, there are scheming nobles seeking to gain advantage, and on the other side, the underbelly of the criminal underworld, with people like political fixers, lobbyists, and law enforcement all caught in between—supporting, using, and being used in turn by both sides. The PCs must navigate these treacherous worlds, facing difficult decisions about how to deal with their divided loyalties or putting aside their differences to deal with a common threat. For instance, suppose that an evil duchess, eager to usurp the throne from her older brother, enlists the aid of a major crime family, offering magical assistance to the malefactors so that they can murder a series of nobles without leaving evidence. The party might consist of the unlikely alliance of the detective assigned to investigate the murders, the son of one of the murdered nobles, and the daughter of a rival crime boss. All three of them would be determined to traverse the web of intrigue for their own reasons, but each comes from such a different world that there’s bound to be tension and conflict when those worlds collide. Each would have a different set of resources and contacts, all of which would be necessary to unearth the duchess’s involvement and then cut through her lies and propaganda to prove what she did to the people and to her brother, the king.


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Jockeying for position and favor is natural part of human social dynamics, as common in the armies of high-minded crusaders as in the courts of wicked nobles. The resulting web of allegiances lies at the heart of any intrigue-focused campaign, with individuals scheming to gain allies while undermining their enemies’ support. To represent these machinations, this section introduces two influence systems: one for individual influence and one for organizational influence. The first system provides a dynamic framework for social encounters in which the PCs gain or lose the favor of key NPCs, as well as a mechanic for calling in debts. The second system models the way the PCs’ actions affect their clout within allied organizations, and how far organizations at cross-purposes with the PCs will go to undermine them.

Individual Influence

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The most common model for social encounters involves a single exchange involving a Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate check. The following influence system serves as a more robust replacement for that basic system. It also encourages the entire party to participate in a social encounter, and can be used in encounters with multiple NPCs. In the individual influence system, participants try to change the targets’ opinions or court favor by succeeding at a variety of checks unique to each individual target. Known as influence checks, these are usually skill checks, though other types of checks may suffice, as an NPC may be especially impressed by other qualities, such as drinking ability or martial prowess.

In this system, a social encounter is divided into one or more phases. The length of a phase is flexible, and typically lasts 15 minutes to 1 hour—long enough for each PC to perform several minutes’ worth of actions per phase that are unrelated to influence checks (such as investigating a murder scene or surreptitiously defeating an assassin) without forgoing their chances to participate in the social encounter. GMs should determine beforehand how many phases a social encounter will last, thus determining how many chances the PCs will have to influence or learn about their targets—generally two to six. The GM should also determine whether the PCs’ actions can win them additional phases. For example, seducing a baroness or forestalling her carriage may both earn the PCs an extra phase in which to win her favor.

At the beginning of a phase, each PC selects an NPC. During each phase, a PC can either try to directly influence the NPC via an influence check, or attempt to learn more about that NPC with a discovery check—a check to learn about an NPC that can help with future influence checks during the same social encounter. The kinds of checks required for an influence check or a discovery check, known as influence skills, are unique to each individual. The PCs can learn an NPC’s influence skills through successful discovery checks (see Discovery Checks); otherwise, they must guess.

Discovery and Influence Check DCs

The appropriate DC for an influence check depends upon several factors. The table of standard influence DCs listed below provides a baseline for DCs for each average party level (APL). These DCs should be relatively easy for the PCs as a group (particularly those with access to aid another and the benefits from discovery), and they are generally appropriate for the skill that is most effective at influencing an NPC. To generate a typical influence check DC, add 5 to the base DC; add 10 to generate a difficult influence check DC. The DCs for skills in which many PCs have extremely high bonuses, such as Diplomacy and Perception, should be increased further to compensate. An NPC who is hard to influence might use the typical and difficult DCs for her influence skills, or possibly even higher DCs.

If a major event takes place during the social encounter, consider whether any of the NPCs’ influence DCs should change in response to the event. For example, if someone breaks into a sealed vault containing priceless treasures during the social encounter, law-abiding NPCs who suspect the PCs committed that crime become harder to influence.


Discovery Check

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Each PC who attempts a discovery check rolls separately, even if multiple PCs attempt to discover information about the same NPC during the same phase. This represents the PCs forming their own separate opinions and analyses.

At the beginning of the social encounter, each PC can attempt a relevant Knowledge check to recognize particularly prominent NPCs (see Discover and Influence Check DCs under Individual Infleunce). If any PC succeeds at this check for an NPC, then all PCs gain a +4 bonus on their discovery checks involving that NPC. Before attempting a discovery check, a PC chooses whether to try to learn the NPC’s strengths, the NPC’s weaknesses, or the skills that can be used to influence him. Each type of discovery check has its own requisite skill and DC. Sense Motive often works as a discovery skill, but it may not be the best choice because it’s so general. When a PC chooses to attempt a discovery check, the GM should tell the player the possible types of skill checks for each kind of discovery check (though not the DCs), and let her pick which to attempt. If a discovery check relies on a Knowledge skill, it requires observation in the current moment, not static knowledge.

A PC who succeeds at a discovery check learns one of the skills that can influence the NPC (starting with the skill with the lowest DC), one of his strengths, or one of his weaknesses. For every 5 by which the PC exceeds the DC, she learns an additional influence skill, strength, or weakness. Thus, a withdrawn but observant character can provide allies with a significant bonus (or help them avoid significant penalties) on future influence checks, making her as important to the group’s success as PCs who prefer the spotlight.

Influence Check

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Without a successful discovery check, a PC attempting an influence check must guess what an NPC’s influence skills are. A PC generally gains no benefit or hindrance when using a skill that cannot influence the NPC, though the GM may rule that multiple fumblings annoy the target and impose penalties on future rolls. Guidelines for setting influence check DCs appear Discover and Influence Check DCs under Individual Infleunce.

The PCs usually must succeed at more than one influence check to sway an NPC. No matter how many PCs speak to the same NPC, only one check to influence that NPC can be attempted during that phase. Additional checks serve as aid another attempts tied to the principal check. Succeeding at an influence check by a substantial margin provides additional benefits. Succeeding at an influence check by 5 or more counts as succeeding at an influence check and a discovery check (the PC chooses whether to learn one of the skills that influences the NPC, one of the NPC’s strengths, or one of the NPC’s weaknesses after the check is rolled instead of before the check, but the check otherwise functions as a successful discovery check). Succeeding at an influence check by 10 or more allows the PC to choose between gaining the benefit of succeeding at two influence checks or the benefits of an influence check and a discovery check (as if she had succeeded by only 5 or more).

Failing an influence check by a substantial margin makes it harder to influence the target in the future. If a PC fails an influence check by 5 or more, she cannot attempt to influence that NPC using the same skill for the remainder of that social encounter. A PC who fails an influence check by 10 or more cannot influence that NPC for the rest of the social encounter at all. For example, if the NPC’s influence skills are Diplomacy and Knowledge (arcana), a PC who fails a Diplomacy check against that NPC by 5 or more can still attempt to influence the NPC with Knowledge (arcana). These restrictions also apply to aiding another—a PC who fails by 10 or more irritates the NPC to the point that the party can no longer take advantage of her assistance.

A PC doesn’t necessarily realize whether or not she has succeeded at an influence check unless she succeeds by at least 5, but a character always knows when she has achieved the maximum possible influence over an NPC. Some NPCs might act as if they were being influenced even if they have no intention of listening to the PCs.

The GM may wish to limit the number of PCs who can interact with a single NPC during a phase. After all, the NPC can hold a conversation with only so many people at once, and if six characters cluster around, the interaction may seem more ominous than intended. Limiting the number of PCs who can simultaneously interact with an NPC to two or three (with the other PCs attempting discovery checks or focusing on other NPCs), helps the encounter flow briskly and prevents a single PC from taking too much of the spotlight.

Once the PCs succeed at a certain number of influence checks, they gain sway over that NPC, changing his opinion on an issue, earning a favor, or otherwise gaining some benefit or removing an obstacle.

Before a Social Event

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If the PCs know which NPCs they need to influence in advance, they can seek out information to assist them in doing so ahead of time, potentially gaining information from the social stat block before the encounter. To represent the results of such preparations, each PC can attempt one Knowledge-based discovery check in advance with a – 5 penalty. The GM can allow other discovery skills to work, but Sense Motive should never work in advance unless the PC is actively stalking the NPC, which might require additional Disguise or Stealth checks and could lead to negative consequences. If the PCs attempt a discovery check against a particularly prominent NPC in advance, the PCs can attempt the Knowledge check to receive a +4 on the discovery check in advance, as well (see Discovery Checks).

Active Opponents

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The PCs may not be the only ones seeking to influence prominent NPCs. An opposing party of NPCs at the same event can place additional pressure on the PCs to complete their task. Once either the PCs or the opposing party gain sway over an NPC (see Benefits of Influence), the other group can’t attempt further influence checks during that event. If the two groups are actively opposed, one group’s successful check causes the other group to take a cumulative –2 penalty on subsequent influence checks against that NPC, which can change the strategies the PCs might use. For instance, if the PCs notice the other group talking with a particular NPC, they have to decide whether to try to influence that NPC (thus foiling their rivals) or to yield that NPC to the other group and focus on influencing other NPCs.

Influence and Magic

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PCs can also use magic to assist in gaining influence over key NPCs. In most cases, casting mind-affecting or other intrusive spells is socially unacceptable or even criminal, so PCs who wish to use such magic should use discretion. Whenever a PC (or NPC) casts a spell, NPCs with the Spellcraft skill attempt to identify that spell. Even NPCs unfamiliar with magic are likely to assume that spells are intended for mischief, unnatural control, or other selfish ends. The most common schools of magic used in social situations are divination, enchantment, and illusion.

Divination spells can assist the PCs in similar ways to a discovery check. Spells such as detect magic and identify reveal active spells and magic items. Spells and items far beyond the reasonable means of an NPC may indicate that NPC is hiding something, or is more than she seems. Alignment-detecting spells reveal whether someone has an unusually strong or unexpected aura. Other divination spells, such as detect thoughts, pry directly into a target’s mind, and can provide valuable clues at the GM’s discretion, most commonly replicating a successful discovery check.

Enchantment spells and effects are extremely effective tools for increasing influence, but their use is dangerous. When cast during a social encounter, spells such as charm person grant a +5 circumstance bonus on influence checks in place of their normal spell effects, as long as the target fails the saving throw and remains unaware that she is under an enchantment effect. More powerful enchantments such as suggestion are unhelpful for gaining influence, since they compel limited actions for a time and then stop. Spells such as geas/quest or dominate person might obviate the need to sway an NPC, but the magical influence is obvious to many people interacting with the NPC. People typically react poorly to realizing that enchantment magic has been used on them. The consequences of getting caught range from the offending PC being unable to attempt further influence checks against that NPC at that social event, to the whole party being unable to attempt further influence checks against that NPC during that event, up to the party being kicked out of the event entirely or charged with a crime.

From innocuous glamers—such as magic that sustains illusory finery—to spells disguising an individual as a different person, illusion spells are versatile tools of deception. Many illusions that allow a saving throw require the viewers to study the illusion carefully or interact with it before they attempt a saving throw. In the context of the influence system, the first time a PC interacts with an NPC during a phase, the PC and the NPC each receive a saving throw against the other’s relevant illusions, as they are assumed to be studying each other carefully at some point during the first exchange. After that, participants generally become more complacent in the way they examine each other, so they receive saving throws against only illusions dealing with particularly specific aspects of their interaction. For example, a glamer to make a dress look nicer would grant a saving throw during the first phase of interaction, but it usually wouldn’t recur in later phases unless the topic of the dress came up in conversation.

Secret Identities and Hidden Allegiences

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When an NPC is being deceptive, it is possible that the PCs never discover the NPC’s true allegiance—even in the case of a recurring villain, as such an NPC’s exceptional skills may render his deceptions undetectable until later in the campaign. While Perception and Sense Motive checks are often used to oppose Disguise and Bluff checks, sometimes another skill might be more useful in discerning an impostor. For example, someone pretending to be a noble of a certain house could accidentally reveal his deception through his ignorance of facts that the noble should know.

The PCs themselves may also be interested in using secrecy and trickery. A PC may even be present at a large social event under more than one identity at the same time. All participants each typically attempt a Sense Motive and Perception check upon first encountering a deception and can attempt another check only if new lies or disguises are introduced during the event. However, each time a PC makes a claim or takes an action that seems implausible for the person she claims to be, nearby opponents can attempt another opposed check.

Divided Parties

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In general, this influence system assumes that the PCs share roughly the same goals, and that the party shares the total number of successful influence checks. Games developed around intrigue can produce unusual situations, though, and it is possible that the PCs may be split into groups working at cross-purposes, or, more likely, toward unrelated goals, where each purpose is separate but not in direct conflict. For example, Valeros and Seelah may want to influence the NPCs in the king’s court to support a war against the necromancer queen of a neighboring land, while Kyra and Ezren want to influence those same NPCs to gain support for Kyra to marry the princess. In such cases, each groups’ number of successful influence checks should be tracked separately; if their goals are unrelated rather than conflicting, one group’s influence over an NPC doesn’t take that NPC out of play for the others, as it would for an opposing group.

Benefits of Influence

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In a single encounter, the goal is often to convince an NPC to perform a specific favor. In longer-term social engagements, the PCs may need to build toward larger goals. Each time the PCs sway an NPC using the influence rules (gaining the number of successes listed in the NPC’s social stat block), they increase their influence level over that NPC by one step. For instance, if the PCs are unknown to an NPC who requires 3 successes to influence, after 3 successes, the PCs succeed in winning some of their target’s trust and thus increase their influence level from no sway to minor sway. An NPC the PCs have not yet influenced typically treats them as strangers.

No Sway: The NPC treats the PCs as any group of strangers.

Minor Sway: The NPC might perform small favors for the PCs that do not involve a significant expenditure of resources. The NPC speaks favorably about the PCs to others. The NPC does not interfere in the PCs’ plans unless they conflict with her goals.

Moderate Sway: The NPC might perform favors for the PCs that require some of her own resources or are time-consuming, as long as they do not threaten the NPC’s overall interests. The NPC actively seeks to convince people to work with the PCs. If the NPC’s plans conflict with the PCs’ goals, the NPC tries to work with the PCs to find a mutually acceptable resolution to the conflict.

Major Sway: The NPC assists the PCs with tasks that pose a significant risk to her position or status, and depending upon the circumstances, may risk her safety for them. The NPC advocates for the PCs, even when doing so is unpopular, and she undermines the PCs’ enemies. The NPC concedes a personal goal in order to allow the PCs to move forward with one of their plans, as long as they provide a suitable alternative.

Not all favors are reasonable, no matter how much sway the PCs gain over an NPC. For example, asking a cleric to betray her deity typically falls outside of the bounds of influence. Similarly, reaching the higher levels of influence should become increasingly difficult; the check DCs and the number of successes required increases by 2 for each progressive level of influence. Just as some NPCs are impossible to influence in a certain encounter, some NPCs will never become particularly friendly with the PCs, who cannot exercise more than moderate or even minor sway over them.

GMs also can use the influence system instead of Diplomacy to modify NPC attitudes. In this case, rather than using influence levels, each time the PCs successfully sway an NPC, the NPC’s attitude toward the PCs improves by one step. Most NPCs start at indifferent or unfriendly. An NPC whose attitude is not at least indifferent will always refuse requests for aid.

Countering Influence

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A character can attempt an influence check with the goal of lowering an enemy’s influence level over an NPC rather than raising her own. The DC for this kind of influence check is based on the enemy’s influence level with the NPC in question. The sabotaging character gains a +2 bonus on these checks if she has minor sway over that NPC, a +4 bonus if she has moderate sway, or a +6 bonus if she has major sway. Sabotaging an NPC’s influence level requires as many successes as the enemy would need to increase his influence level with that NPC. A sabotaging character who knows of an NPC’s strengths can use that knowledge to ascribe unfavorable characteristics to the enemy she hopes to sabotage. If these disparaging descriptions are true (or if the NPC believes them to be true), the saboteur gains a +2 bonus per strength on influence checks to counter the enemy’s influence.

This mechanic is appropriate when the saboteur and the enemy she is trying to sabotage are on roughly equal footing, or when the saboteur has a higher level of influence. A saboteur wishing to erode the influence of a far more trusted individual, such as a group seeking to convince a queen that her closest advisor is betraying her, either cannot attempt to lower the trusted individual’s influence level without first gathering substantial evidence against the advisor, or might not be able to lower the advisor’s influence level at all in some circumstances.

For example, suppose Merisiel has achieved moderate sway over the mayor, and Ezren has achieved minor sway over the mayor. The DC for Ezren to influence the mayor with Diplomacy is 23, with two successful checks required, and the DC for Merisiel to influence the mayor with Diplomacy is 27, with three successful checks required (since it is harder for her to move from holding moderate sway to major sway). If Merisiel wanted to lower Ezren’s influence over the mayor from minor sway to no sway, she would need to succeed at two DC 23 Diplomacy checks, with a +4 bonus from her moderate sway, to make a persuasive case that Ezren should not be trusted. Since the mayor is deeply religious, Merisiel reminds the mayor of Ezren’s detachment from religion to gain another +2 bonus. On the other hand, if Ezren wanted to lower Merisiel’s influence level with the mayor, he would need to succeed at three DC 27 Diplomacy checks, with a +2 bonus from his minor sway.


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Over time, a PC’s influence over an NPC is likely to wane if the PC doesn’t keep in contact with her (and continue making influence checks every once in a while), depending on the influence’s nature. Generally, the higher the influence level, the more effort the PC must commit and thus the faster the influence degrades with neglect. However, if the PCs achieve major sway over an NPC because she becomes deeply indebted to them, at the GM’s discretion their influence level may not degrade until the NPC feels she has repaid that debt, making it a matter of favors rather than time.

Social Stat Block

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For social encounters, GMs should build social stat blocks for important NPCs. Social stat blocks are very flexible, and can include any information relevant to the encounter, though most include the information below. Examples are listed here.

Name: The NPCs’ name, alignment, and established class.

Affiliation: This notes the NPC’s loyalties.

Secret Identity: Some NPCs have secret identities. There may not be any skill checks that would allow the PCs to detect such a secret identity (in which case no checks are listed), but if the NPC is disguised or the PCs have met this NPC before under another name, the skill check necessary to uncover the truth is listed here.

Background: This is a brief description of this NPC’s history and how she is relevant to the PCs.

Recognize: This is the check required to recognize the NPC by reputation or fame.

Appearance: This is a description of the NPC, including any characteristic features.

Introduction: This section describes how the NPC introduces herself to the PCs (or perhaps, how a herald or mutual acquaintance introduces them). The introduction should generally include hints about which skills are used for influence checks against this NPC, and may include an in-character quote, if that is helpful.

Personality: This is a short description of the NPC’s personality and demeanor or a list of adjectives that describe the NPC’s behavior. The more NPCs are present in a social encounter, the more important it is to make them distinctive so that the players can keep them straight.

Goals: This is a list of the NPC’s public goals.

Hidden Agenda: If your game utilizes intrigue, it’s unlikely that all NPCs are entirely up front about their goals. Any particularly secret objectives are found in this section, rather than in the goals entry.

Biases: Some NPCs have biases—subtle attitudes that influence an encounter. For example, an NPC may think favorably of half-orcs and be suspicious of elves. If the NPC’s biases affect a PC, apply a +2 or –2 circumstance modifier on that PC’s influence checks, depending on whether the bias is in the PC’s favor or not. If an NPC is strongly biased for or against a PC, the modifier may be even greater, but such strong biases are readily apparent. PCs can detect a bias with a successful DC 20 Sense Motive check.

Skills and Saves: Only a few of the NPC’s skills are likely to be relevant. Sense Motive and Perception are almost always necessary. If the NPC is hiding something major from the PCs, Bluff and Disguise are also important. This section should also include Spellcraft and likely saving throw modifiers if the spellcasting might occur during the event; Will saving throws are the most common for intrigue-related spells such as charm person or detect thoughts.

Analyze: A PC who succeeds at the listed check learns details about what skills or checks can influence the NPC. Each sentence should contain the information a single successful discovery check reveals.

Strengths: An NPC may be particularly resistant to certain tactics; such tactics are referred to as that NPC’s strengths. For example, a person with little patience for flattery may think less favorably of someone who showers her with compliments. The skills and DCs required to discover these strengths are listed here. A PC who incorporates an NPC’s strength into an influence check takes a –4 penalty on the check. Knowledge of an NPC’s strengths can be a powerful tool for sabotaging someone else’s attempt to gain influence over her—see the <%Countering Influence&Category=Individual Influence">Countering Influence section for more information.

Weaknesses: Most NPCs have at least one weakness. A weakness could be a deep-seated secret or insecurity, or a hobby that the NPC can talk about for days on end. The skills and DCs needed to discover these weaknesses are listed here. For each weakness a PC incorporates into her influence check, she gains a cumulative +2 bonus.

Influence Skills: The skills and DCs for each influence check are listed here. If a skill isn’t listed, it normally doesn’t work at all, but if a player presents a strong narrative reason why a skill should work, his GM can add it to the list. Diplomacy and Bluff are usually on the list of possible skills. If Diplomacy isn’t on the list of skills, there should be a reason in the NPC’s personality. For example, an NPC who intensely dislikes small talk and only wishes to converse only about arcane theory may not respond to Diplomacy. However, Diplomacy is rarely the best skill with which to influence someone; the DC of Diplomacy checks to influence an NPC is typically higher than the DC when using skills tailored to the NPC’s personality or interests. GMs should keep the PCs’ skills in mind when designing a social encounter so each PC has a way to contribute. Not every NPC can necessarily be influenced, in which case discovery checks reveal that the NPC is a lost cause.

Successes Needed: This lists the number of successful skill checks the PCs need to sway an NPC’s opinion.

Favor: The NPC might ask a favor of those he trusts. If so, a short description of the favor and what the PCs must do to accomplish it is listed here, as well as the benefit the PCs gain from successfully performing the favor.

Events: This is the place to describe external events that affect the PCs’ ability to influence this NPC, anything from the NPC leaving an event early to the NPC becoming suspicious of the PCs after someone robs her manor.

Benefit: This section details what the PCs gain if they sway this NPC.

Penalty: This section details what the PCs lose if they antagonize this NPC (if antagonizing her is possible).

Using the Individual Influence System

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Individual influence is great for situations such as high-stakes auctions, political lobbying, or convincing a guard to let the PCs go after they are framed and imprisoned. The following example uses the influence rules as the framework for a classic murder mystery.

Setting the Scene

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The PCs have been invited to a day of festivities at the estate of the hostess to discuss trade agreements and access to exotic markets. The hostess meets the PCs when they arrive late at night, sharing a drink with them before asking a servant to show them to their rooms in the nearby guest house (allow a single phase of influence or discovery checks against her during this time for the ostensible purpose of trade agreements). However, by the start of festivities the next morning, disaster strikes. A few minutes after the PCs and other guests begin arriving for breakfast, greeted by the hostess’s second husband, the butler discovers the hostess’s body. A brief argument ensues, with all the NPCs (and possibly the PCs as well) bickering about who should investigate and who might just be trying to hide evidence of the crime. Eventually, the NPCs agree that guards should accompany every person who leaves the drawing room, and the opportunity for influence begins. The PCs have a total of four phases in which to influence the NPCs and conduct their own investigations (under the guards’ watchful eyes).

What Happened

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The hostess’s close friend is in serious financial trouble, which she has hidden, continuing to present a veneer of wealth. To fund her continued lifestyle, she began to steal from the hostess. When the hostess caught her in the act, the close friend lashed out with a nearby object and accidentally killed the hostess. Horrified at what she had done and afraid of being caught, the close friend cleaned up the blood, then activated a scroll of dress corpse (see page 212) from the hostess’s first husband’s supply of scrolls, applied poison stolen from the butler’s supplies, and moved the body to the bedroom, all while avoiding the night guards through her careful study of their patterns used to assist her previous larceny.

The Value of Influence

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Influenced NPCs allow the PCs access to additional clues or restricted areas, as mentioned in their social stat blocks.

Dramatis Personae

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The following characters are available for influence during the murder mystery (the hostess is not available, as she is dead): the spy, the butler, the close friend, the rival investigator, and the second husband. The spy is the most complicated (since she has a secret identity), and her social stat block can be found below. The others have descriptions to assist in building their social stat blocks.

The Spy

CN female human rogue
Affiliation The spy is ostensibly a minor member of a littleknown noble house.
Secret Identity The spy is really an agent for a morally dubious merchant consortium.
Background The spy claims to be a representative of a fictitious noble house that she invented to gain access to the hostess’s estate and gather information for her patron. Although she was spying on the hostess’s house, she views her actions as strictly professional. She bore no ill will toward the lady of the house, and is horrified by her death.
Recognize Knowledge (nobility) DC 20 to recognize her noble cover identity (as she has been seeding stories about her cover identity and the family she invented).


Appearance This middle-aged human woman wears a rich green noble’s gown, a set of valuable but tasteful emerald-and- gold jewelry, and a pair of gold-filigreed shoes. She carries a silk fan that matches her gown.
Introduction If at least one of the PCs appears to be a noble, she introduces herself to that PC the morning after the murder. She is visibly distraught at the hostess’s death, and waves her fan briskly in an attempt to get more air. She (truthfully) explains to the PCs that she has been to several of the hostess’s parties, and was looking forward to furthering the alliance between their houses. If none of the PCs appears to be a noble, she remains aloof until a PC approaches her.
Personality The spy is cunning, haughty, and secretive.
Goal Ensure that the murderer is found guilty.
Hidden Agenda Ensure that her own snooping in the house’s records does not come to light, and if it does, that she does not take the fall for the murder.
Biases The spy has a bias toward merchants and nobles (+2) and a bias against agents of law, such as paladins, lawyers, and guards (–2).
Skills Bluff +16, Disguise +16, Perception +15, Sense Motive +15, Sleight of Hand +12


Analyze (Sense Motive DC 20) The fastest way to gain the spy’s respect is to demonstrate skill at trade (Profession [merchant]). PCs who succeed at a Knowledge (nobility) or Bluff check to impress her with their civility can influence her. She is impressed by dexterous parlor tricks and skilled legerdemain involving Sleight of Hand. Finally, the spy is well versed in persuasive arguments and sweet-talking, so Diplomacy is the most difficult way to influence her.
Strengths (Sense Motive DC 20) The spy does not appreciate being intimidated or threatened, and her training as a spy has prepared her to deflect these approaches. A PC who includes a threat in an influence check against her takes a –4 penalty on the check.
Weaknesses (Sense Motive DC 20) The spy appreciates those who are not sticklers for the rules and who understand that business flourishes in gray areas. She also appreciates those who truthfully (or with a believable lie) claim that they don’t suspect her of the murder.


Influence Checks Profession (merchant) DC 15; Bluff, Knowledge (nobility), or Sleight of Hand DC 20; Diplomacy DC 25
Successes Needed 3 checks
Benefit If the PCs influence the spy, she tells the PCs she heard a crashing sound from the direction of the drawing room on the night of the murder. She says she was having trouble sleeping that night, and was awake in her room. If the PCs present proof that she is lying about her whereabouts, she admits that she was in the records room—though she does not admit to her allegiance or what she was searching for in particular—and offers to aid the PCs in their investigation in exchange for their agreement not to disclose her activities that night.
Penalty If the spy learns that the PCs have discovered her snooping and that they are telling other NPCs, she plants a clue that implicates the PCs in the murder.

The Butler

The butler is actually an accomplished alchemist, and thus also serves as a doctor. If influenced, she allows the PCs to search her private research room while she observes. The butler keeps poisons for medicinal purposes. The poison the real murderer used as a cover came from the butler’s supply. The butler claims that some of her poisons and medicines have gone missing, however (which is true, since the close friend has been stealing medical supplies to sell). Until the PCs influence her, she suspects that the thief might have been the PCs.

The Close Friend

As mentioned earlier, the close friend is the murderer. She is genuinely distraught about the situation and full of grief over her friend’s death. However, she does her best to avoid being caught. She feigns being influenced quickly (after one apparent success) and offers to help the PCs investigate or influence others.

The Rival Investigator

The hostess’s accountant is also a fan of detective stories and fancies herself an amateur investigator. Extremely detail-oriented, she noticed the use of dress corpse, keeping it to herself. She suspects the PCs because no one else present should have had access to the sort of magic adventurers do, and adventurers are known to kill people with weapons, rather than expensive poison. She is extremely antagonistic toward the PCs, attempting to deny them access at every turn. They can’t influence her without sufficient evidence that they have been framed (evidence that they conclusively didn’t plant), but once they do, she allows them access to the records room and shares the clues she has discovered so far (including the remains of the bloodstain at the true murder scene, if the PCs haven’t noticed it yet).

The Second Husband

The second husband stands to inherit the hostess’s vast fortune because she never had children. He is legitimately distraught by her death. The second husband is known to have insomnia and was out of his bedroom for the entire night. He was in the garden at the time of the murder, so he didn’t notice anything. If the PCs gain sway over him, he allows them full access to the bedroom (the apparent murder scene).

Organizational Influence

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The organizational influence system provides the GM with tools to track the PCs’ social cachet within organizations. Small organizations seeking to make their mark on society may allow the PCs a great deal of clout within them, but are limited in what they can offer. Large organizations, on the other hand, are typically more difficult to influence, but can bring much more power to bear on an area at large.

Influence Points and Ranks

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The organizational influence system uses influence points to track the opinion of an organization concerning the PCs. When the PCs first interact with an organization, they typically start with 0 influence points, and hold no control over the organization’s actions. If the PCs demonstrate their value to the organization, they can gain influence points, representing their growing ability to call in favors. If the PCs repeatedly fail or work against an organization, they lose influence points (see Gaining Influence Points and Losing Influence Points). The PCs’ influence point total with an organization can be a negative number—the lower the total, the more resources the organization is willing to commit to actively oppose the PCs.

The PCs’ influence points help determine the number of resources an organization is willing to commit to help or hinder them, but it is not the only component of that calculation. If the PCs seek to build a positive relationship with an organization, they may find themselves limited in what benefits they can gain until they perform certain tasks. For example, most organizations limit the number of resources they commit to nonmembers, so PCs may need to officially join to gain access. On the other hand, an organization at odds with the PCs should not provide the same response to minor insults from the PCs as it does to the PCs crippling one of its major operations. The nine influence ranks presented below take into account tasks that the PCs may accomplish to pass to fundamentally alter their relationship with an organization (see Table 3–1 under Favors for examples). To reach a new influence rank, the PCs must accumulate (or lose) a certain number of influence points, as decided by the GM, and perform any required tasks that the GM sets. See the sidebar Influence Thresholds below for guidelines on setting the required number of influence points for each rank. The possible influence ranks, and their meanings, are presented below.

Influence Thresholds

The number of influence points required to shift from one influence rank to the next sets the pace for how quickly the PCs’ power in organizations can change. The three main factors that play into setting influence thresholds are the length of the campaign, the interest level of the players in exploring their interactions with organizations, and the power and personality of the organization itself. Short story arcs generally require lower thresholds than long campaigns. Some groups of players would rather slowly earn influence within a difficult organization, while others would rather see how quickly their PCs can become powerful in multiple organizations. Finally, within a campaign, weaker organizations typically allow the PCs to gain influence ranks more quickly than prominent ones.

With all of these factors in mind, the following ranges provide guidelines for determining the number of total influence points a character must gain to reach positive ranks, or lose to reach negative ranks. These thresholds are for a weak organization. For a moderately prominent organization, multiply the numbers by 2. For a strong organization, multiply by 3, and for a preeminent organization, multiply by 4. For more details on deciding the prominence of an organization, see Prominence.

Rank 1 or –1: From 1 to 5 total influence points.

Rank 2 or –2: From 3 to 8 total influence points.

Rank 3 or –3: From 7 to 12 total influence points.

Rank 4 or –4: From 13 to 18 total influence points.

NPC Attitudes

The PCs’ influence rank with an organization determines the typical starting attitude of members who have heard of the PCs. The starting attitudes of individual members may vary.

Hunted, Hated, or Disliked (Rank –2 or below): Hostile.

Known Opponent (Rank –1): Unfriendly.

Unknown (Rank 0): Indifferent.

Known Ally (Rank 1): Friendly.

Respected, Admired, or Revered (Rank 2 or above): Helpful.

Positive Ranks

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At these ranks, an organization either doesn’t care about the PCs or considers them allies.

Unknown (Rank 0): The organization either doesn’t know who the PCs are, or does not believe they are relevant.

Known Ally (Rank 1): The PCs’ actions have proven that they are aligned with the organization’s goals. One or more PCs may be low-ranking members.

Respected (Rank 2): The PCs have performed significant services for the organization. Some low-ranking members of the organization look up to the PCs. One or more PCs are members of the organization in good standing.

Admired (Rank 3): Average organization members admire the PCs. Some low-ranking members may have strong loyalties to the PCs. The PCs have notable positions within the organization.

Revered (Rank 4): While the PCs are not the official leaders of the organization, they are key members. The PCs can direct and shape policy.

Negative Ranks

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At these ranks, an organization actively opposes the PCs.

Known Opponent (Rank –1): The organization’s opinion of the PCs is unfavorable. It may act against the PCs if they are interfering in its affairs, but the organization mostly focuses on its own goals.

Disliked (Rank –2): The organization commits some resources to targeting the PCs even when the PCs are not actively interfering with its goals, and retaliates when the PCs acts against it.

Hated (Rank –3): The organization seeks to discredit, humiliate, or kill the PCs, and commits substantial resources to doing so. However, the organization ultimately prioritizes its long-term power and stability over harming the PCs.

Hunted (Rank –4): The organization seeks to discredit, humiliate, or kill the PCs, and is willing to sacrifice enough time, resources, and lives to markedly weaken itself in the pursuit of this goal. Even the organization’s leaders may risk their lives in pursuit of the PCs’ downfall.

Gaining Influence Points

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As the PCs perform tasks that benefit an organization, they gain influence points. Performing favors requested by an organization is the most effective way for the PCs to accrue influence points with that organization. A typical favor earns the PCs from 2 to 5 influence points, depending upon how difficult and dangerous the favor is to complete. See the Favors section for more details. The PCs can also accrue influence points with an organization by taking actions that coincidentally further the organization’s interests. Such actions typically earn the PCs 1 or 2 influence points. For example, if the PCs apprehend a notorious jewel thief who has been stealing from their own coffers (as well as those of local nobles), they may gain an influence point with the local nobility. The PCs can also gain influence points by building trust with a member of the organization. The personal influence system found at the beginning of this section is one good way to create an encounter based around improving this NPC’s opinion of the PCs, while the verbal dueling system on pages 176–181 is another. The number of organizational influence points that the PCs can earn from gaining the approval of a single NPC within the organization typically ranges from 1 to 5. Backing a rank-and-file member of the organization is worth at most 1 influence point, while the backing of one of an organization’s leaders is worth 5 influence points, and may be worth more in extraordinary circumstances, at the GM’s discretion.

Losing Influence Points

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The PCs generally won’t actively seek to lose influence points with an organization. However, the PCs’ actions over the course of a campaign are likely to put them at odds with one or more organizations, and the PCs may inadvertently harm organizations that they do not wish to antagonize. Whenever the PCs actively sabotage an organization’s interests, they lose from 2 to 5 influence points with the organization. If the PCs take actions that coincidentally work against the organization’s interests, they instead lose 1 or 2 influence points. If the PCs horribly botch an attempt to perform a favor for an organization, they may similarly lose 1 or 2 influence points. If the PCs damage a prominent member’s reputation or finances, they lose from 1 to 3 influence points, depending on the extent of the damage and the power that member wields within the organization. The PCs also lose influence points if they harm a prominent member of the organization. Killing members of any organization is a particularly effective way to lose influence. For most organizations, any time the PCs kill one or more members of an organization, they lose at least 5 influence points per incident. If the organization is a primary antagonist of the campaign or story arc, the GM may consider using the nemesis system on pages 136–141 to complement the organization influence rules, particularly if the organization is led by a single individual.

The most crippling blow to the PCs’ reputation with organization is betrayal. To be considered traitors to the organization, the PCs must violate the organization’s fundamental tenets while using the organization’s own resources against it. If an organization that favors the PCs becomes convinced of the PCs’ betrayal, the PCs immediately lose a number of influence points equal to twice their current total, essentially reversing their standing with the group. In general, the higher the PCs’ influence rank, the more evidence the organization requires before it considers any accusations of treachery credible. If an organization declares the PCs traitors, it is possible (though difficult) for them to redeem their reputation. In general, this process requires the PCs to track down and discredit the source of the slanderous evidence. Doing so restores the PCs’ original influence point total, and likely earns them additional rewards from the organization for unmasking the true threat against it. If they only partially exonerate themselves, they may regain some but not all of their influence points.

Organization Interactions

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The PCs’ interactions with organizations are often only a piece of a larger political tapestry. Alliances and rivalries between organizations shape how each organization reacts to the PCs’ actions. If two organizations are rivals, they typically require the PCs to choose a side. The PCs may automatically lose influence points with one for supporting the other. For example, if the PCs perform a favor for one faction during a war and gain influence points with that faction, they lose an equal number of influence points with that faction’s rivals. In less extreme circumstances, the PCs may lose half as many influence points as they gain.

While rivalries between organizations make holding split loyalties difficult, allegiances between multiple organizations can help the PCs accrue influence faster than they could otherwise, and provide the PCs with access to additional resources. If the PCs help or harm one of two allied organizations, treat them as coincidentally working for or against the second organization’s interests for the purposes of the number of influence points the PCs gain or lose.

As the campaign unfolds, the web of alliances and rivalries between organizations may shift. A sudden shift in allegiances does not retroactively adjust the PCs’ influence point total.


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An organization’s prominence represents the political and social power of that organization in its home community or area of influence. The categories of prominence are weak, moderate, strong, and preeminent. In general, a weak organization can provide only simple assistance within its limited area of concern. Most weak organizations are eager to recruit new members to increase their prominence, though some appreciate the lack of attention they draw from outside forces. A gang of pickpockets is an example of a weak organization. In comparison, a moderate organization holds an established place in the power structure of its local area, and has some connections and contacts with other local organizations. A thieves’ guild is likely to be a moderate organization. A strong organization, on the other hand, may be at the top of the power structure for its area of concern, or it may be one of several organizations that hold power on a regional or national scale. The cathedral of a major deity in a state with multiple religious traditions is likely to be a strong organization. Finally, a preeminent organization is the undisputed head of the power structure in its sizable area of concern—the ruling body of a nation is an example of a preeminent organization, as is a merchants’ guild that effectively controls trade in a large region.


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Favors lie at the heart of the organizational influence system. When the PCs perform a favor for an organization, they can either gain influence points, or they can earn a favor from the organization in return. The PCs can spend favors that they have earned to gain benefits from the organization. The PCs can slowly earn favors over time, after a certain number of sessions or amount of in-game time that is appropriate for the campaign. This rate also provides a guideline for modeling the behavior of organizations.

Typically, this rate is an appropriate benchmark for how often allied organizations approach the PCs with requests, as well as how often opposed organizations act against them. In general, if an organization is willing to grant a benefit to the PCs when they have a positive rank with that organization, it is willing to grant that same benefit to someone acting against the PCs should they attain the corresponding negative rank.

Favors: Sometimes, tasks for the PCs to complete as favors to an organization arise naturally out of the events of the campaign. However, at other times, the PCs may actively seek to assist an organization at a time when such tasks are not so forthcoming. The 28 favors on Table 3–1 are generic enough to apply to almost any organization. Some of the tasks near the top of the chart are too inconsequential for established members, while the tasks at the bottom of the chart are too significant for initiates. To use this chart, roll a d20, and add twice the PCs’ influence rank to the result.

Benefits: Each organization provides its own unique set of possible benefits to the PCs based on their influence rank. The PCs can spend a favor that they have earned to gain one of the benefits that they have unlocked. Some benefits become free once the PCs become sufficiently influential in an organization, allowing the PCs to make use of them without expending a favor (see Benefits under Organization Stat Block).

Table 3-1: Favors

1Deliver a message to a member of the organization.
2Perform a disgusting or unpleasant chore for the organization.
3Assist the organization in gathering information in preparation for an upcoming mission.
4Purchase and deliver supplies to a member of the organization.
5Carry out the duties of a specific low-ranking member of the organization for 1 week.
6Produce verbal or written propaganda in favor of the organization.
7Mediate a disagreement between members of the organization.
8Provide spellcasting services or other specialized tasks to the organization for several days.
9Credit the organization for your own publicly popular actions.
10Collect money for the organization.
11Assist in the construction or renovation of a building for the organization’s use.
12Investigate the disappearance of an ally of the organization.
13Donate a substantial amount of money to the organization.
14Recruit a new member to the organization.
15Obtain a significant item for the organization.
16Defeat a challenging foe of the organization. The foe’s CR must be equal to or greater than the party’s APL + 2.
17Help a member of the organization escape a dangerous situation.
18Collect valuable information for the organization.
19Mentor a new member of the organization.
20Convince a powerful individual to cooperate with the organization.
21Cover up evidence of an indiscretion tied to the organization.
22Plan and execute a dangerous operation to achieve a difficult goal.
23Sabotage an organization with opposing goals.
24Repay the organization’s debts by performing a challenging task for another organization.
25Investigate a possible traitor within the organization.
26Establish a branch of the organization in a new district or city.
27Represent the organization in a meeting with extraordinary stakes.
28Carry out the duties of a key member of the organization for 1 week.

Clandestine Operations

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The base organizational influence system assumes that the PCs act as a unified group and do not take extraordinary effort to conceal their identities and activities. In an intrigue-based campaign, these assumptions are not always accurate. The simplest type of clandestine operation to adjudicate is a single secret favor. If the PCs perform a favor for an organization and conceal their actions, do not decrease the PCs’ influence points with that organization’s enemies. The PCs can use secret identities to perform more complicated maneuvers, such as playing multiple sides of a conflict, or perhaps even infiltrating an organization as spies. As long as an organization knows that the PCs are infiltrating its rivals, that organization’s members continue to believe that they have the PCs’ loyalty; they typically overlook minor actions that the PCs take against the organization, so long as the PCs provide a plausible justification for their misdeeds.

If the PCs use secret identities, track their influence under each set of identities separately as long as they maintain the ruse. Maintaining two distinct sets of identities over a long period of time should be challenging, but not impossible if the PCs are careful. Common features between the identities—anything from physical features or mannerisms to equipment, fighting style, or associates— present the threat of exposure. If the PCs rise to high influence ranks in two opposing organizations, their risk of being caught increases significantly. The vigilante class is particularly well suited to the challenge of maintaining multiple identities.

If an organization figures out that the PCs are maintaining two separate identities, the PCs’ influence point total for that organization may change drastically. If both sets of the PCs’ identities are aligned with an organization, the PCs’ influence point total may go as high as the sum of the points they earned under both identities. Conversely, if both sets of the PCs’ identities are aligned against an organization, the PCs’ influence point total may go as low as a negative number equal to the sum of the two. Adding the two values sometimes allows a single action to count twice—this reflects that the organization may either respect the PCs’ dedication to their cause, or revile the PCs for their dedication to opposing it. In most cases, however, the resulting change in influence should be less extreme than a direct sum, even if the organization has a favorable opinion of both identities. If the PCs are working for two opposed organizations, see the last paragraph of Losing Influence for details on how an organization responds to being betrayed.

Organization Stat Block

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An organization’s stat block is arranged as follows.

Name: The organization’s name.

Alignment and Prominence: An organization’s alignment is the alignment that most closely represents its policies and actions. While individual members of an organization may be of any alignment, an organization’s key NPCs are typically within one step of the organization’s overall alignment. An organization’s prominence may be weak, moderate, strong, or preeminent. More details on prominence appear under Prominence.

Size: An organization’s size is an approximation of its number of active members.

Key Members: Key members of an organization are both visible leaders and shadowy schemers who have significant pull.

Values: An organization may value any number of traits in its members, such as creativity, generosity, dependability, skill at particular tasks, or social station.

Public Goals: All but the most clandestine organizations share some of their goals with the general public.

Private Goals: These are the private goals both of the organization as a whole and of key members. Sometimes, the private goal of a key member might conflict with the private goal of the organization.

Allies and Enemies: Organizations do not exist in a vacuum. An organization’s prominent allies and enemies are noted here. PCs can gain or lose influence with an organization based on their interactions with its allied or opposed organizations.

Membership Requirements: Most organizations have a procedure for officially joining them, and expect their members to satisfy ongoing commitments (like paying dues).

Influence Limitations: Often, the PCs need to perform a specific task for an organization before they can raise their influence past a certain threshold. The most common requirement is for the PCs to join an organization, but organizations may require more complicated tasks or favors before counting the PCs among their most trusted allies.

Benefits: This section lists favors that the PCs can call in based on their influence rank with the organization. The PCs can always choose benefits on the available list for their current rank or a lower rank within the organization, and, at the GM’s discretion, the PCs might be able to access the benefits for lower ranks for a decreased number of favors, or even for free, if the PCs request the benefit a reasonable number of times. To approximate the benefits that the PCs can gain from an organization outside of its base of operations, the GM should decrease the PCs’ effective influence rank appropriately, to a minimum of Rank 0 if the PCs are entirely beyond the organization’s reach.

New Benefits: This section details the benefits the PCs can earn from the organization beyond those listed in the Common Benefits section.

Common Benefits

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The following benefits appear in many organizations’ stat blocks, and are defined below.

Borrow Resources: Many organizations allow members in good standing to borrow money or items for short periods of time. PCs can borrow money or items worth a total amount listed in parentheses. If the PCs do not repay the loan in a timely manner, they risk losing influence points. Typically, the PCs cannot borrow resources from an organization if they have outstanding debts, and some organizations require collateral. Organizations are more likely to have items that are relevant to their own interests—a mercenary group might loan weapons and armor, but not holy symbols or arcane books, for example.

Command Team: When the PCs reach a high influence rank within an organization, the organization typically allows the PCs to lead a team of its members on a mission. The PCs are expected to protect this team and bring the members back alive. PCs can lead groups of the size and strength listed in each favor’s entry.

Gather Information: The PCs can ask several members of the organization to assist them in gathering information about a particular subject, and gain a +4 circumstance bonus on all Diplomacy checks to gather such information.

Put in a Good Word: The organization promotes the PCs’ reputation among its allies. The PCs gain a number of influence points equal to their rank with the organization with one of the group’s allied organizations.

Reciprocal Benefits: The organization leverages its ties to one of its closest allies for the PCs’ gain. The PCs can purchase a benefit from the benefits list of a closely allied organization by expending two favors. Treat the PCs’ influence rank with the allied organization as 1 lower than their rank with the initial organization.

Sample Organizations

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The sample organizations in this section span all possible levels of influence. The organizations that are relevant to each GM depend upon the campaign.

Other ideas for organizations that are not detailed below include an assassin’s guild, a bardic college, a merchant’s guild, a museum, a secret society, and a university.

Small-Time Gang

CN weak organization
Size 15 members
Key members
Greedy Jenny (LE female human sorcerer 1)
Martin Quickfingers (CN male halfling rogue 2)
Values This small-time gang of petty crooks is always willing to accept new members who prove their skills.
Public Goals When caught, these criminals claim that they only steal enough to survive.
Private Goals Martin would like to recruit other down-on-their luck individuals to join the growing organization, while Jenny cares only about her own profits.
Allies The small-time gang is allied with local beggars, who provide them with information in exchange for small amounts of food and clothing.
Enemies The town guard has not yet caught wind of these thieves, but it would oppose them if it knew of their activities.
Membership Requirements The PCs must steal an item worth at least 20 gp, and donate half the value of the item to the small-time gang.
Influence Limitations A PC must join the thieves formally to rise above Rank 1. If a PC rises to Rank 3, Martin sees that PC as a threat and tries to eliminate her. Defeating Martin makes that PC the leader of the organization, and increases her rank to 4.
Benefits These petty thieves band together to help each other survive and profit.
Rank 1: borrow resources (10 gp), case (+6), lookout (1 way, +6)
Rank 2: borrow resources (50 gp), diversion (+6), gather information, pickpocket (+8), put in a good word
Rank 3: borrow resources (250 gp), reciprocal benefits
Rank 4: borrow resources (500 gp), command team (1d4 1st-level rogues)
New Benefits The petty thieves grant the following unusual benefits.
Case: A group of thieves cases an area, searching for guards, hiding places, and entrances. The thieves’ total Perception skill bonus is +6.
Diversion: A group of thieves creates a diversion to allow the PCs to sneak past guards or other watchful eyes. The thieves’ total Bluff skill bonus is +6.
Lookout: A thief acts as a lookout, monitoring one direction for oncoming guards or witnesses. The thief’s total Perception skill bonus is +6.
Pickpocket: A thief attempts to take a specific item from a specific person. The thief’s total Sleight of Hand skill bonus is +8. If the thief believes the situation is too dangerous, she informs the PCs and refuses to attempt the task—in this case, the favor is not expended.

Thieves' Guild

LE moderate organization
Size 200 members
Key members
Chief (LE male half-orc ranger 7)
Kalgeen (LE female human wererat rogue 5)
Values This thieves’ guild has a strict code of conduct for its members, who must look out for each other at all times and may never steal from each other’s friends or relatives. The guild values loyalty and resourcefulness.
Public Goals The guild has no publicly stated goals.
Private Goals The guild seeks to expand its reach into additional settlements.
Allies The guild is allied with a local group of merchants.
Enemies The thieves’ guild has made enemies among the organizations that it regularly targets and local law enforcement officials.
Membership Requirements The PCs must steal an item worth at least 250 gp, and donate half the value of the item to the thieves’ guild.
Influence Limitations A PC must formally join the thieves’ guild to rise to Rank 2. To rise to Rank 4, the PCs must execute a complex heist (see pages 118–129).
Benefits While this thieves’ guild cannot operate openly, it helps its members scope out potential jobs.
Rank 1: borrow resources (100 gp), case (+10), lookout (2 ways, +10)
Rank 2: borrow resources (500 gp), diversion (+10), gather information, pickpocket (+12), put in a good word
Rank 3: borrow resources (2,500 gp), reciprocal benefits, remove evidence, rob, search black market
Rank 4: borrow resources (5,000 gp), command team (1d4 3rd-level rogues or 3d4 1st-level rogues)
New Benefits The thieves’ guild grants the following unusual benefits.
Case: Per the benefit under small-time gang above, except the thieves’ total Perception skill bonus is +10.
Diversion: Per the benefit under small-time gang above, except the thieves’ total Bluff skill bonus is +10.
Lookout: A pair of thieves act as lookouts, monitoring up to two directions for oncoming guards or witnesses. The thieves’ total Perception skill bonuses are +10.
Pickpocket: Per the benefit under small-time gang above, except the thief’s total Sleight of Hand skill bonus is +12.
Remove Evidence: A group of thieves carefully enters a scene where the PCs committed a crime and removes evidence. This eliminates any obvious clues, such as the body of a victim or notes the PCs left at the scene, and increases the Perception DC to find more subtle clues by 5.
Rob: The thieves’ guild sends an agent to steal a specific item from a secured location. The agent has a +10 total skill bonus on Stealth checks and a +12 total skill bonus on Disable Device checks. This benefit costs from 1 to 3 favors, depending upon the danger involved. The thief expects the PCs to pay half the value of the stolen item.
Search Black Market: The thieves’ guild locates any type of item whose value is up to the base value of the settlement, even if the item is illegal in that settlement, and arranges for the PCs to purchase it.

Mage's Guild

N strong organization
Size 520 members
Key members
Archmage Theona Tethril (N female human diviner 9)
Master of Wards Falariel (NG male elf abjurer 7)
Values The mages’ guild values curiosity, creativity, and magical aptitude.
Public Goals To regulate the use of magic for the public good.
Private Goals The mages’ guild seeks out arcane knowledge that it deems too dangerous and stores such information in its heavily secured secret library. The master of wards protects the books from public access, while the archmage uses them to learn more about the people who would abuse the dangerous knowledge contained within the tomes.
Allies The mages’ guild is on good terms with several nearby universities and the alchemists’ union.
Enemies The mages’ guild has made several enemies among evil cults and other organizations that make use of profane knowledge.
Membership Requirements To join the mages’ guild, a PC must spend 1 week teaching spells to guild members, or bring a spell or bit of arcane knowledge to the guild that it does not already possess in its libraries.
Influence Limitations The PCs must all join the mages’ guild before they can reach Rank 2.
Benefits This guild of mages provides training to its members, and casts spells for them.
Rank 1: borrow resources (100 gp), spell library (Core Rulebook spells only)
Rank 2: arcane library, borrow resources (750 gp), gather information, item crafting, put in a good word, spell library spellcasting (1st- and 2nd-level spells)
Rank 3: borrow resources (1,500 gp), reciprocal benefits, spellcasting (3rd- and 4th-level spells)
Rank 4: borrow resources (4,000 gp), spellcasting (5th-level spells)
New Benefits The mages’ guild grants the following unusual benefits.
Arcane Library: The PCs gain access to the guild’s library, allowing them to potentially learn secrets relevant to their current adventures (consider using the research system on pages 148–153 to handle research in the arcane library).
Item Crafting: The mages’ guild crafts a custom-ordered collection of scrolls, potions, or wondrous items for the PCs. The items cost their usual market value in gold pieces plus 1 favor for every 2 days of crafting required.
Spell Library: The mages’ guild provides the PCs with access to its extensive library of spells. The PCs can learn a spell in the library. Spells from the Core Rulebook cost 1 favor, and all other spells that are available cost 2 favors.
Spellcasting: The PCs can expend favors instead of paying the typical cost for spellcasting services. A 1st- or 2nd-level spell costs 1 favor, a 3rd- or 4th-level spell costs 2 favors, and a 5th-level spell costs 3 favors. The cost and availability of spellcasting is based upon the levels of the guild’s members (in this guild, a 5th-level spell always comes from the archmage herself, and consequently is quite expensive).

Crime Syndicate

NE preeminent organization
Size 15,000 members
Key members
Lady Alixis Drosain/Lyra (N/NE female human vigilante 12)
Nikolas Trivoy (N male human investigator 7)
Whisper (NE female human slayer 10)
Zadreni (N male human bard 9)
Values The syndicate values skill and ambition, but also discretion and loyalty.
Public Goals The crime syndicate’s public goals are to manage and regulate crime, to deliver valuable goods and services, and to invigorate the local economy.
Private Goals Overall, the syndicate’s members seek wealth, power, and prestige. While Lyra has emerged as the undisputed leader of the syndicate, the vigilante will not be satisfied until she controls the open market as well, under her social identity of Lady Drosain. Nikolas is growing increasingly suspicious of Lyra, and he painstakingly seeks material he could leverage against her.
Allies While few organizations would publicly admit to an alliance with the crime syndicate, many groups benefit from under-the-table dealings.
Enemies The crime syndicate has made enemies of several prominent organizations in nearby nations, including the royal house of a neighboring kingdom.
Membership Requirements Steal a unique and iconic item, such as the prize painting in a museum’s collection. Alternatively, establish a legal business whose illegal side dealings provide the PCs with a net profit of at least 100 gp per month.
Influence Limitations Each time the PCs wish to reach a new rank, they must prove their worth to the organization, with a task more spectacular than their last demonstration. The syndicate has plenty of members, and does not spare time for those who are unwilling to prove their worth. PCs must declare their allegiance to reach Rank 1, and they must become full members before they can reach Rank 2.
Benefits This crime syndicate can protect its members from the consequences of all but the most heinous crimes.
Rank 1: borrow resources (100 gp), case (+15), diversion (+15), gather information, lookout (4 ways, +15)
Rank 2: borrow resources (1,000 gp), put in a good word, remove evidence, rob, search black market
Rank 3: borrow resources (5,000 gp), command team (1d4 NPCs of 3rd level, or 3d4 NPCs of 1st level), destroy evidence, market manipulation, reciprocal benefits
Rank 4: black market mastery, borrow resources (15,000 gp), command team (1d4 NPCs of 6th level, or 5d4 NPCs of 3rd level)
New Benefits The crime syndicate grants the following unusual benefits.
Black Market Mastery: The crime syndicate explores the full extent of its black-market contacts to find an item for the PCs. It can locate almost any type of item whose value is below the settlement’s base value. The PCs can use black market mastery to search for one item below the settlement’s base value per favor they expend. Alternatively, the PCs can use black market mastery to search for a single item above the settlement’s base value, at the cost of 3 favors. There is a 50% chance each month that the syndicate locates the requested item. If the PCs seek a unique item, the syndicate may be able to provide the PCs with the location of that item for the cost of 2 favors.
Case: Per the benefit under small-time gang, except the thieves’ total Perception skill bonus is +15.
Destroy Evidence: The crime syndicate makes evidence of a crime that the PCs committed disappear. This ability functions as remove evidence (see thieves' guild above), except that the Perception DC to find any evidence at the crime scene increases to 30 (or by 10, whichever is higher). The syndicate also discourages witnesses from testifying against the PCs, using a combination of intimidation, bribery, and even memory-altering magic. This benefit costs 3 favors.
Diversion: Per the benefit under small-time gang, except the thieves’ total Bluff skill bonus is +15.
Lookout: A group of thieves act as a lookouts, monitoring up to four directions for oncoming guards or witnesses. The thieves’ total Perception skill bonuses are +15. This ability costs 2 favors. Alternatively, the PCs can purchase the lookout ability as listed under the thieves’ guild for 1 favor.
Market Manipulation: The crime syndicate can manipulate market forces to drive business away from the PCs’ rivals and toward any businesses the PCs own. This ability produces an amount of additional money for the PCs that depends upon the extent of the manipulation. This windfall comes in the form of increased results using whichever rules you are using to determine the success of the PCs’ businesses (such as the downtime rules). For each favor spent, the PCs can earn at most 1,000 gp (to a maximum of 5,000 gp).
Remove Evidence: Per the benefit under thieves’ guild.
Rob: Per the benefit under thieves’ guild.
Search Black Market: Per the benefit under thieves’ guild.

National Military

LN preeminent organization
Size 18,000 members
Key members
General Agnar (LG female dwarf fighter 10)
General Rortian (LN male human cavalier 12)
Values The military values order, discipline, loyalty, and service.
Public Goals The military’s goal is to protect the people of its nation and to fight against its enemies.
Private Goals General Rortian seeks to enhance his personal glory by embarking on a campaign to expand his home nation’s territory.
Allies The military of this nation is on good terms with most political organizations within the nation. It is formally allied with the militaries of allied nations.
Enemies The enemies of this military are the political and military organizations within enemy nations. Membership Requirements Joining the military as a recruit requires the PCs to undergo training and prove their ability to follow orders.
Influence Limitations Most militaries maintain a strict hierarchy of command. The PCs must be promoted to a higher military rank before they can increase their influence rank within the military.
Benefits This military force takes pride in its highly trained and well-equipped soldiers.
Rank 1: acquire arms (350 gp), borrow resources (100 gp)
Rank 2: acquire arms (750 gp), borrow resources (750 gp), command team (1d4 1st-level warriors), gather information, put in a good word, retrain
Rank 3: acquire arms (magic), borrow resources (2,500 gp), command team (5d4 3rd-level martial NPCs), reciprocal benefits
Rank 4: borrow resources (18,500 gp), command legion, command team (70 HD worth of NPCs, none of which can be more than 7th level)
New Benefits The national military grants the following uncommon benefits.
Acquire Arms: The national military gathers a collection of mundane weapons and gear from its armory for the PCs. The PCs can purchase this collection for 1 favor or its standard market price. At Rank 1, the combined value us 350 gp or less. At Rank 2, the value of this collection increases to 750 gp. At Rank 3, the PCs can purchase magic weapons and armor from the military at a 10% discount by spending 2 favors. For the purposes of item availability, the military counts as a metropolis.
Command Legion: The national military grants the PCs command of a medium army for 1 week per favor expended. This force comprises 100 2nd-level fighters who follow the PCs loyally. If the PCs do not clearly use this force to further the military’s goals or the PCs are reckless with the soldiers’ lives, the PCs’ influence rank is reduced to 3. Bringing the soldiers into a dungeon that is level-appropriate for the PCs counts as reckless endangerment.
Retrain: Military trainers work together with the PCs, allowing them to retrain archetypes, class features, feats, or skill ranks, as per the retraining rules. At Rank 2, each week of retraining costs 1 favor and the standard cost in gold pieces. At Rank 3, the military covers the gold piece cost. At Rank 4, the PCs can retrain without expending favors or money.


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Movies, television series, and novels frequently depict the same scenario: a team of experts, each of its members able to contribute a specific and unique skill set, tries to pull off a complex heist. Whether it’s jewelry thieves breaking into the diamond exchange, a rescue team extracting a high-value target from a maximum-security prison, or even former convicts hired to find and report on vulnerabilities in a bank’s vault security, detailed and hair-raising tales of carefully planned heists (often gone awry with thrilling twists and turns) abound in popular storytelling. It only stands to reason, then, that GMs running a game based on intrigue and subterfuge might want to introduce the excitement and thrills of a complex heist scenario.

Running a successful heist requires the GM to understand of the strengths and weaknesses of the participants, and to grasp how to build challenges for them that play to their strengths.

An ideal heist allows every character in the party a chance to shine, making it fun for everyone involved.

What is Different?

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Adventuring is about overcoming obstacles to achieve a goal. Normally, PCs react to whatever impediments are set before them—kick in a door, disarm the traps, or slay the monsters. Heists flip this familiar script: the PCs carefully research everything that might stand between them and their goal, and construct plans to disrupt the status quo, while the GM must determine how the monsters and NPCs react to the PCs’ machinations. In essence, when planning a heist, the PCs write an adventure and the GM reacts.

Parties will often split up for a heist. The GM should treat each member of the party (or subgroups of two or three) as if she were an individual adventuring group, and provide opportunities for all characters to showcase their respective skills. Working backward, consider each hero’s strengths and each player’s interests, and then present an obstacle against which that hero is most likely to excel. In a well-planned heist, every character (and by extension, player) needs an opportunity to take center stage—PCs will naturally gravitate toward activities at which they excel, and will want to build their heist schemes around those skills. Making sure the pieces of the heist interconnect—that many goals can be achieved only by characters working on different tasks in tandem—ensures that each player has a stake in what the others are doing. This sense of teamwork is the driving force behind making a heist rewarding for everyone involved.

Building a Heist

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Build your heist encounters using the following four steps.

Other Factors

Limitations and betrayal aren’t part of every heist, but they are common enough to be addressed here. Use them with discretion—particularly betrayal.

Inhibitions and Limitations: Every heist should have consequences for both failure and success. On top of the consequences of succeeding or failing to complete the heist, work layers of consequences into the steps of the adventure, tying them to certain obstacles. If you suspect the PCs will be tempted to just bull their way through a heist (maiming or killing foes who get in their way or damaging property indiscriminately), those consequences should be severe, and can even cause them to lose or damage the goal.

For example, perhaps the female heir to a noble house wishes to discredit her foppish brother and prevent him from claiming rulership over the family, so she hires the characters to steal the family will. She does not wish to see any harm come to the family or its servants, nor does she want any damage done to the property. The heroes now have a motivation of restraint, so they must come up with a stealthy, nonviolent means of pulling off the heist.

Betrayal: Sometimes a heist is just a feint or a con game itself. Someone wants the characters out of the way, so she arranges for the group to get caught while trying to pull off a bogus heist. This kind of double-cross can typically be used only once (possibly twice, if the reasons are vastly varied). If used effectively, it can make for a real thrill of an adventure, as the characters are forced to adjust their plans and wing it, or talk their way out of the predicament. Leave a few loose ends in the betrayer’s plans so that an especially savvy group can figure out the scheme and turn the tables.

Small Encounters

In a heist, often only two characters work together, and single characters may work alone, independently of the rest of the party. In this case, the subgroup or individual functions as a separate adventuring party with its own Average Party Level (APL). GMs can judge how difficult to make an individual task by applying an appropriate Challenge Rating to it. In the Designing Encounters section of the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook recommends subtracting 1 from the APL for a group of three or fewer players. When considering how many guards a single character should be able to take out, or how difficult a trap a thief should be able to disarm, GMs should set the Challenge Rating according to this formula. Every character should be handling tasks that play to his or her strengths, so the challenge ought to be appropriate despite operating alone. Easy and average encounters should make up the bulk of heist obstacles, since a single character or a duo is already behind the curve for the expected power of a three-person party.

Step 1: Establish a Goal

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Objectives for a heist come in many shapes and sizes. Some heists might even have a combined goal or multiple goals.

Steal an Item: Such items could include a priceless work of art such as a statue or painting, a magic item such as a ring or sword, or a collection of gemstones, jewelry, or rare coins. Most often, pulling off a successful heist of this type relies more on stealth and misdirection than violence and destruction. An especially large item (like a safe, vault, or vehicle) adds a logistical complication—trying to move the larger item increases the heist’s difficulty.

Steal Information: This is similar to stealing an item, but involves swiping information, such as an ancient tome, legal documents, or scrolls. This goal might require memorizing or copying the information rather than absconding with a physical item.

Retrieve a Creature: Such a caper might involve stealing a rare or exotic animal or pet, kidnapping an unwilling victim, or rescuing an imprisoned target. Sometimes information possessed by the target is the true object of the heist, rather than the person himself. The heist proceeds far differently depending on whether the target is a willing accomplice or a kidnapping victim. Either way, dealing with an NPC who might not be as skilled as the PCs makes escaping the more difficult part of the heist, rather than reaching the prize in the first place.

Escape: Rather than trying to gain entry to a forbidden locale, the PCs begin trapped somewhere, and must escape. If some PCs are detained and others are free, they can all still participate, though communicating plans back and forth presents its own challenge.

Replace an Item with a Forgery: This type of heist requires the PCs to steal something and put a forgery in its place. They will need to successfully create the forgery, steal the original, and plant the forgery, all without being detected. There are numerous reasons to perform this goal, rather than simply steal the item. For instance, the PCs might do this if there would be dire consequences were the item to go missing entirely, possibly leading to innocents facing punishment, and they might also do this to make the item easier to fence without the authorities searching for it. In many cases, the forgery is difficult to create because the forger doesn’t have access to the original. In rarer cases, the PCs might have a brief period after acquiring the item in which they can create the forgery before putting the fake in the original’s place.

Destroy Property: Incriminating evidence, a priceless artifact, or even an entire prison might need to be destroyed in order to further someone’s goals. Heists of this nature are less subtle than most, though sabotaging a piece of machinery or using timed explosives or spells might allow the PCs to avoid tipping their hand until they’ve had time for a clean escape.

Snatch and Return: Sometimes, it might be necessary to perform a heist twice: once to steal an object, and a second time to return it. This type of heist is similar to replacing an item with a forgery, and effectively involves two separate heists.

Test Security: This type of heist is really a trial or practice run designed to test existing security systems. The owners of the target hire the PCs to fake a heist in order to expose any weaknesses in the security. A security test can bring a big payout or earn valuable favors. Alternatively, the hiring party might not want the weaknesses of its security system known, and might turn to lethal tactics to keep the PCs silent. However, it might make a good single-session palate cleanser between adventures with higher stakes. In this type of heist, a valueless object typically serves as a stand-in for the goal.

Step 2: Determine Scope

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When figuring out how large and involved the heist will be, a GM should consider how much time she wants to invest in the encounter, both in preparation and at the table. The relative importance the heist plays in the group’s ongoing adventures also affects the scope, as does, in most cases, the value of their goal. A minor goal that should take only a day or less to achieve should be a simple heist, and one that’s vital to the campaign’s progress should be complex.

Simple: A simple heist usually requires one to two obstacles per person and can typically be planned and pulled off in a single day. Simple heists require little work in advance, and generally don’t derail the larger storyline for long. They are also quick and manageable as a first introduction to using heists in a campaign. Examples include breaking someone out of a town jail, a spur-ofthe- moment theft from a merchant’s shop, or stealing documents from a low-level government bureaucrat.

Moderate: A moderate heist typically includes three to four obstacles per person and is likely to require several days to complete. Moderate heists function well as a main feature of a single game session or two, and require at least a few hours to plan. They are most suitable for players already familiar with how to plan and execute a heist, who can handle more complexity. Some examples include replacing a signet ring with a forgery long enough to craft fake documents (and then returning the original), rescuing a prisoner from solitary confinement in a well-guarded prison, or stealing a valuable item from a keep.

Complex: A complex heist includes five or more obstacles per person and could take a week, a month, or even longer to complete. This is the centerpiece of a major campaign arc and requires planning over an extended period of time. The heist itself will likely dominate multiple gaming sessions and drive a central plot thread in the campaign. Examples of major heist arcs include stealing the crown jewels from a heavily guarded castle or smuggling a political prisoner and his family out of enemy territory. Large, complex heists require days or weeks of reconnaissance, placing people on the “inside” in trusted roles, side adventures to acquire detailed floor plans, timed practice runs, and intimate knowledge of traps, tricks, and spells. This is the kind of intricate thievery around which entire movies or thriller novels are built.

Step 3: Devise Obstacles

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Even the most complex heist can and should be broken down into smaller, more manageable chunks of work that eliminate obstacles standing between the crew and their goal. Most should be suitable for an individual or a team of two or three, using their skills and knowledge. They are usually dependent on a tight time frame or a particular sequence, giving each member a moment of glory. A GM should consider what sorts of challenges her players will enjoy playing out and the types of NPCs they love to thwart.

GMs should focus on challenges that test the skills and resources a party already possesses; alternate challenges may exist, but PCs are less likely to investigate leads they can’t accomplish. Each obstacle should challenge one or two characters, with roughly an equal number of challenges for each character. If some characters have similar abilities (such as two combat-focused characters with few skills), remember they’ll be competing for the same pool of obstacles and might want to work together on them.

Obstacles should have at least two solutions to prevent the game from grinding to a halt and to encourage group cooperation to overcome the challenges before them. Don’t just look at the group’s skill bonuses and give them challenges that only one character can meet. Rather, start by thinking of the types of challenges a character likes to take on and set the difficulty based on what makes sense for the circumstances. The level of difficulty—and even the skills used—can easily change while you’re running the heist.

For example, the party needs to swap the magical ring on a nobleman’s finger with a fake. The rogue in the group is good at impersonation and smuggling, so challenges that emphasize those talents may include posing as the nobleman’s manservant to convince a jeweler to craft a cheap replacement gem, then later sneaking a sleeping potion into the manor so another character (who has gained an audience with the nobleman, but only after being carefully searched) can slip it into his host’s food.

Number of Obstacles: A heist’s scope determines the number of challenges each PC should face. For a moderate or complex heist, work in stages so that there are break points in the heist. There could be several obstacles the PCs can overcome during a noble’s banquet, several more to face in town using what they’ve gained during the banquet, and another set once they’re ready to go into the fortress using what they picked up in town. A heist might even become extended if one member of the party gets captured and the rest want to rescue him.

Not every task needs to be mandatory for the PCs. GMs should have some idea which tasks are essential and which provide advantages but aren’t strictly necessary. The scale listed in Step 3 provides a starting point, with the minimum number of tasks (three per person for a moderate heist, for example) as the necessary obstacles to overcome. Optional obstacles or multiple paths with varying obstacles help flesh out the rest of the heist. When the PCs overcome smaller obstacles, they’re steadily advancing toward their ultimate goal.

Flaws: Heists work because of flaws in defenses. For most of the obstacles described here, the rules have builtin weaknesses—spells specify ways to circumvent them or can be dispelled, locks can be overcome with tools and skill, and traps can be spotted and disarmed. For intelligent opposition, like guards or NPCs the characters will need to interact with, have some vulnerabilities and vices in mind, and allow the PCs to discover them. For instance, a group of guards might be vulnerable to flattery, be overzealous in their patrols and therefore prone to diversions, or just not be very bright.


The most effective security set-ups employ multiple, mixed elements of the following obstacle categories. The list is intended as a starting point. PCs will likely want to exploit strange abilities or focused skills, and may offer GMs inspiration for new obstacles. Each obstacle category’s entry offers tactics that are typically strongest against those types of obstacles. Details about those tactics appear in the Running a Heist section. Alarms and Divinations: Passive in nature, alarms and divinations do nothing to stop would-be thieves from executing the heist, but do help other forms of defense, like guardians, to stay aware, and might reveal the identity of the PCs, potentially adding a complication even after the heist is complete. Alarms can include mechanical devices like tripwires attached to ringing bells, barking dogs (see Guardians below), or magical effects such as alarm or any of a number of sensing and scrying spells. A key advantage of this kind of defense is ease of concealment—if would-be thieves don’t know an alarm is there, it might be too late by the time they figure it out. The disadvantage, of course, is that it is fairly easy to circumvent passive systems with a little preparation. If the party fails to overcome an alarm or divination, it typically makes the other obstacles (usually guardians) stronger rather than putting up a barrier to the PCs’ progress. Stealth and countermagic can foil alarms and divinations, as can disguises in some circumstances.

Barriers: Barred doors, castle moats, gates, locks, and thick stone walls are useful in preventing a heist. Some barriers are simple but take time to penetrate (like walls). Special tools might be required to get through good-quality locks, and magic might counter a hallway filled with poisonous gas. Barriers are cheap and not designed to function effectively on their own, because given enough time, any barrier can be overcome. Force and finesse work best against barriers, though observation can clue a PC into a secret bypass. Barriers that normally require force to overcome might be bypassed by spells like gaseous form, phase door, or stone shape, or by teleportation spells. Defeating some magical barriers requires dispelling or a specific type of countermagic.

Guardians: Some obstacles take the form of intelligent guards who patrol an area and keep watch, dangerous beasts that attack intruders (trained dogs, giant snakes, great cats, or even abominations or planar creatures with preternaturally keen senses), or magical beings and constructs (gargoyles, golems, or animated suits of armor). Guards are proactive and often skilled in spotting intruders or unusual activity. Diverse tactics work against guardians. They’re especially vulnerable to diversions and bribery, but can also be bypassed by stealth or disguise or defeated through force. Sometimes, guards can be dispatched quickly with spells like sleep or deep slumber instead of a battle. Smuggling can be used to make a PC appear as though she’s not a threat, allowing her to bypass guardians while still carrying hidden weapons or tools.

Hazards: Dangerous obstacles that directly harm intruders rather than warning guardians or preventing entry fall into the hazards category. Hazards include mundane dangers like mechanical traps, as well as abjuration magic such as glyphs and other triggered defensive spells. Spells like explosive runes can be used to trap documents, adding a hazard that can have an effect late in the heist—or even after it’s over. Their advantage is that they are usually less expensive to create and put into place, but they are also typically easier to overcome, provided the infiltrators are aware of them and can plan ahead. Finesse and observation are the best tools against hazards, and some require dispelling to bypass.

Misdirection and Hidden Items: A well-secured fortress might appear to hold a modest treasure, when in reality the true prize is somewhere else entirely. Magical invisibility or illusions can aid in concealing an item. Extradimensional magic can secure a valuable item far from reach. Misdirection can be overcome with bribery, observation, or divination spells, any of which might allow the PCs to find the goal’s true location.

Step 4: Diagram the Heist

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The last step before running a heist requires the GM to organize the obstacles into a cohesive set of defenses. Imagine the goal in the middle of a series of rings, each of which represents a layer of obstacles the PCs must overcome. The innermost ring is the last obstacle or set of obstacles that must be bypassed to reach the goal. The obstacles on the outside ring are the challenges most obvious to the PCs at the start. Overcoming these obstacles brings the PCs to the next ring, and so on. GMs may wish to diagram the obstacles in a heist by drawing dashed lines between elements to detail their connections, and flagging different items and pieces of information as belonging to certain obstacles.

A clear chain of cause and effect makes a heist feel right in play, and the players should see all the pieces moving as they make their way through the obstacles. GMs should include more than one way to overcome the same obstacle, or be receptive to player input during play. This could mean creating a diversion to redirect guards or silently dispatching them with stealth attacks. It could mean climbing over a wall or bypassing it with a hidden tunnel. The best obstacles can be overcome by multiple skill sets or clever schemes.

Don’t Overplan: A heist should be fairly loose and forgiving for the PCs. GMs should make some obstacles optional and provide flexibility in finding solutions. No GM can anticipate for every possible approach players may attempt, and GMs should try to leave room for the players to bring their own ideas to the table. No defense is forever or totally impregnable—and no NPC is perfect in their power or position. Allow the players to discover gaps in the defenses and exploit them in new and inventive ways rather than creating a rigid structure they must tackle exactly as planned. The heist diagram serves as a good tool, but as with a dungeon map, GMs should always be prepared to revise it or throw the whole thing out as unexpected events crop up.

Running a Heist

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With the preparations complete, it’s time for the heist itself. There are two main parts to this process: planning and execution.


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Running a heist involves players becoming more proactive about the adventure, and just as a GM needs time to plan the game, the members of the party need time to figure out how they want to execute the heist. A team typically spends as much time—or more—scouting, reviewing, and refining the different facets of the heist plan as it does actually pulling it off. The teammates sort out and account for every point of the plan, to the best of their ability, well before the moment of execution.

Every heist starts with a goal. Perhaps an NPC hires the characters to do the job and leaves how to proceed up to them. Perhaps a veteran thief needs a few extra members for his crew for a one-time gig. Maybe the characters conceive of the heist on their own, because it’s the only way to further their aims.

Once they decide upon a goal, properly planning a heist takes reconnaissance and research. The characters must learn everything they can about the location and defenses of the object or person they have chosen to acquire. They could watch and observe the patterns of guards. They might find NPCs who know important information about the goal’s location, such as its layout, or special guardians or magical protection. Only once they have assembled all the information can the true heist planning begin.

A GM’s primary role in this planning stage is to be the PCs’ eyes and ears, answering questions, introducing plot twists, and describing the details of their target’s status quo, so the players can best plan to disrupt it. A GM should avoid the temptation to lead her players as she might with a more traditional adventure, instead taking notes and planning to adapt any obstacles she prepared ahead of time to the PCs’ scheme. Much of the fun in a heist lies in problem-solving and taking control, and while some GMs and players love the heist’s planning stages, others will find them dull. A GM should strive to keep all her players engaged, and if one or two players seem distracted, pulling them aside to run a short reconnaissance encounter while the rest of the party continues planning can help them contribute in ways they will enjoy.

GMs may wish to include an NPC as the initiator of the heist or a knowledgeable ally who can help the PCs develop their plan. This allows the GM to provide the players with information about the defenses they’ll be going up against and potentially steer them away from obsessing over truly trivial details or ambitious plans they could never pull off. Such NPCs should serve as advisors rather than leaders, and never railroad the characters directly, especially if they show the confidence to handle things on their own. The NPC’s role is to nudge the PCs in the right direction if they seem unsure of themselves.

Planning at the Table: The process of planning out the heist might take up the majority of a game session. GMs should let the players do most of the talking, while answering questions and roleplaying NPCs. The players should be fully invested in this phase and refining ideas as they go, but if player interest begins to lag, the GM can prod the PCs forward with suggestions and deadlines or convince them they’re ready. In the end, though, it’s up to the players how involved they want their planning to be and how many contingencies they want to cover. If they choose to go in with limited information or a loose plan, there could naturally be consequences, but a GM should never unduly punish her players just because she thinks they could have planned better or because they didn’t consider everything she thought of. Because of the nature of the GM’s very personal oversight of the game world, it can be easy for her to get the false idea that certain parts of the situation she has erected are obvious to the players.

Simple heists involve shorter planning sessions, with most of the information the PCs require available immediately. For a moderate or complex heist, the planning stage might involve some small scenes, including interacting with NPCs, gathering information from a community, or scouting out the location where the heist will take place.

Executing the Heist

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Once the planning is finished, it’s time to actually play out the heist. For a complex heist (or if the players have come up with an excessively convoluted plan), GMs might consider splitting this portion off as another game session. This allows time to sit down with the PCs’ plan and sort through how to respond to it, how security and defenses will react, and so on. Even if the GM doesn’t want to separate the planning and the execution segments into two different game sessions, she should take a moment (perhaps a 15-minute break) to review notes and decide how things will develop, given the most likely actions and outcomes.

Step by Step: A game session featuring a heist can be tricky. The GM must run several encounters simultaneously and should take the time to track each round if necessary, take notes, and map out characters’ and NPCs’ movements. Being diligent helps maintain the big picture.

Splitting the Group: One of the trickiest parts of running a heist is overcoming the reluctance of players to split the party. As mentioned before, giving the characters reasons to split up is vital. Much of this comes down to timing, and impressing on the players how important it is that their characters keep to a tight schedule as they execute their plans. Multiple parts of the plan need to happen at the same time, so everybody staying together is rarely an option. Though keeping the group together usually helps in a task, sometimes having a crowd is detrimental. This is easiest to see with Stealth, where the lowest roll can expose the party, but social interaction can also be fraught since a group can appear more suspicious, some party members may be poor at Bluff and give the others away, and disguising an entire group is far more difficult than just disguising one person. Combats pose the greatest challenge, since few characters want to go into a fight without backup. Fortunately, in most heists combat is better used as a diversion. Heists may run slowly at the table when the PCs split up, and the GM may wish to let players not participating in the scene to control friendly NPCs to keep them involved.

Once a heist begins, PCs realistically have little knowledge of how their teammates are doing. Using an in-game means of communication can help reduce the temptation to act on knowledge a character wouldn’t have. These can include communication spells like message and sending, sending secret messages using Bluff (though this usually requires a close range), and magic items like bird feather tokens. It’s also helpful to create a set of common signals for the group before they go in. Bird calls, graffiti, and other relatively subtle signals can help communicate a PC’s success or failure to other members of the party. In extreme cases, some players might need to step outside when it’s not their characters’ turns. If this becomes necessary, GMs should keep the action moving so no one stays out of the game too long.

Complications and Contingencies: Inevitably, some aspect of a heist goes wrong, adding interest and tension without immediately ending the heist. In a game setting, the GM should specifically plan for fun twists by examining every phase and step of a heist that a group puts together, and figure out what might go wrong and how NPCs would react. In many instances in which a single die roll might make or break a task, consider treating a failure as a lesser degree of success, a time delay, or a success that comes at a heavy cost. As always, GMs should reward smart thinking and good roleplaying by the characters over punishing them for bad die rolls.

For example, if a task requires a character with a high Diplomacy skill to lure a guard away to a game of cards so that his confederates can sneak into the vault, a failed check may mean the guard wants to get other guards in on the game, too, forcing the character to really pour on the charm to the whole lot of them, rather than having the guard adamantly refuse and detect the effort.

The players might come up with their own contingency plans during the planning stage. Because heists in fiction tend to have twists and turns that require the crew to be cleverer than their opposition, be forgiving with the details when contingencies come up. Assume that the characters did have some ideas in their back pockets, and play a little loose with the rules if necessary. GMs might allow each player one contingency they have set up for the heist (typically for a moderate or complex heist). When the plan hits a snag, the characters involved can call in their contingency—turns out they had planned for just such a situation, and had the proper tools, documents, or knowledge at hand to meet the challenge. This doesn’t let them overcome an obstacle automatically, but might let them try again after a failure or attempt a check they wouldn’t have been able to even try without the advantage they revealed with their contingency.


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These are the most common tactics PCs will likely employ when executing heists. Each one has a general description, but also lists the skills commonly used as a part of that tactic. Not every attempt at one of these tactics will use those skills, and in many cases, you can simply adjudicate success or failure without a roll if a character does exactly the right thing or exactly the wrong one.

Bribery: Sometimes it’s easier to appeal to an opponent’s greed than it is to trick or overpower him. The two key elements of this kind of task are persuasion and the currency to back it up. A team planning a heist might bribe a guard to look the other way during a break-in, a master architect to reveal where the secret sally port is, a powerful wizard to craft a scroll of nondetection with no questions asked, or even a random stranger who happens upon a heist mid-execution to keep quiet. Bribing semi-intelligent creatures (such as a dog with fresh meat, or some kind of guardian creature with a few flashy but cheap objects) counts as the bribery tactic as well. To determine the value that will make an effective bribe for an intelligent creature, use that creature’s CR (or the group’s total CR) as the Heroic Level value on Table 14–9: NPC Gear. Use the total gp value as a basis. An appropriate bribe can range from 5% for a minor favor (like taking the briber to the guard captain) to 10% for a larger one (like revealing a secret) to 25% or more for simply letting the PCs pass and looking the other way, risking their jobs and reputations if their employer discovers this treachery. A PC usually determines an appropriate bribe using Appraise or Sense Motive, and might need to use Diplomacy (or, rarely, Intimidate) to convince the target to take the bribe.

Disguise and Impersonation: When a PC needs to make an obstacle think she’s someone else, it falls under the category of disguise and impersonation. Some team members use makeup, prosthetics, and guile, while others rely on magic. Disguise and Bluff are the crucial elements of disguise and impersonation, though Linguistics might help imitate speech patterns and Knowledge or Profession skills might be required to simulate a specific person’s abilities. Disguise self, polymorph, and seeming spells can improve a PC’s disguise. Spells like mind blank, nondetection, and undetectable alignment offer partial protection against some divination spells, but can tip off a nearby caster that a disguised PC isn’t who she seems.

Dispelling and Countermagic: This very specific task requires a spellcaster or someone with the ability to use certain magical devices. Any sort of defense that includes divinations, passive alarms, and protective spells might require a magical solution. Knowledge (arcana) and Spellcraft are important for the process of dispelling or using countermagic, as they help to ascertain what sorts of spells are active and what the appropriate countermeasures might be.

Diversion: A diversion can draw someone or something away from another critical feature of the defenses. A diversion might be needed to distract a single individual, a small group of people, or an entire community, and becomes more difficult the greater the scale. Diversions might consist of actual skirmishes between opposing groups (a rival group of thieves and the local watch patrol), brilliant displays of magic, or outrageous flirting (this is particularly valuable at court). Though Bluff is the most common skill used in diversions, Perform and Intimidate can also help draw attention, and many diversions require little skill at all. Spells useful for creating diversions include dancing lights, flashy attack evocations, illusions (especially figments and patterns), and summoning spells.

Finesse: Activities that require physical skill (and typically high Dexterity) fall under finesse. This includes acrobatic stunts, picking locks, and so forth. Acrobatics and Disable Device help with finesse. A spellcaster who’s weak at finesse can still attempt to overcome locks with the knock spell.

Force: This kind of task is the easiest to complete, because most characters are very good at overcoming enemies with violence. This obviously focuses on combat, but other elements of force can include carrying a large piece of equipment, hoisting the gate blocking ingress to the castle, or smashing in a door.

Observation: In most heists, there is usually a call for at least one member to hang back and keep a watch on things for the rest of the group. This might include looking out for approaching guards, using scrying magic to observe where a specific individual is or whether a room is truly empty, or simply keeping different teams on task and their actions coordinated. The observer might also take on the role of a backup to other tasks or a means of rescue if things go off track. Perception is the most commonly used skill for observation, though assessing the necessary information acquired through observation requires Sense Motive, an appropriate Knowledge skill, Spellcraft, or a Profession skill related to the people being observed.

Persuasion: Attempting to use social skills such as Diplomacy or Intimidate can be an uphill battle against suspicious guards, as the guards’ job depends on keeping the wrong people out. Enchantment spells and spells like innocence or glibness can help a PC overcome this natural wariness.

Smuggling: The complexity of smuggling can have an enormous range. It could be as simple as slipping a weapon inside a well-guarded parlay chamber or as complex as getting an entire team of acrobats past the duke’s throne room unnoticed and unharmed. Smuggling falls under Sleight of Hand, but Bluff or Disguise might be useful to maintain a facade while smuggling something or someone valuable.

Stealth and Subterfuge: Though sneaking past enemies and wards is a major part of stealth and subterfuge, this category also includes other tasks that require discretion. Example tasks include scaling a wall and slipping through a window, surreptitiously adding a sleeping potion to a courtier’s drink, lifting the prison key off the captain of the guard, and sneaking through the sleeping quarters of the guards. Stealth and Sleight of Hand are the main skills used in such situations. Spells like invisibility, silence, polymorph spells, and darkness (if used carefully) make a PC much stealthier.


Diversions are well suited to characters who aren’t stealthy themselves and are attempting to aid their sneakier allies. Here are a few specific types of diversions.

Double Bluff: This ploy is useful when multiple subgroups of the party attempt to sneak into a place. Less stealthy members go in together, so that if they get caught they can instead create a diversion to help their stealthier allies. This trick can backfire if the guards react by raising the alarm.

Harrying: If the enemy has a defensive position or superior numbers, some of the PCs can attack them anyway, not to defeat them, but to draw their attention. The skirmish must be credible enough to draw attention, but not so much that the enemy retaliates en masse.

Puppet Brawl: In an urban setting, some of the PCs can start a brawl with random locals or each other in order to draw guards away from their post.

Razzle-Dazzle: The most common way to use social skills for a diversion, the razzle-dazzle entices guards to engage in an interesting conversation or engaging performance and shirk their duties. Group Stealth and Disguise Sneaking around and using disguises can be difficult when operating as a group. Though one person might be highly skilled and specialized, it’s often the party member with the worst Stealth or weakest disguise who causes the whole group to get caught. Though the most effective tactic is to assign those characters to different tasks, that’s not always possible. Here are a few ways to help mitigate this risk.

Unseen Numbers

More people require more or larger places to conceal themselves, and even then the group is only as stealthy as its clumsiest member. Using aid another on an ally’s Stealth check is often infeasible. It’s useful when attempting to sneak as a group to have the stealthier or more perceptive characters move ahead of the rest of the party. The job of the forward characters is to spot guards or traps before the rest of the party can stumble into them. Once warned of the danger, other party members can either change their route or use their own talents to handle the situation. Characters farther back are harder to perceive because of distance and possibly doors or walls.

Characters with the teamwork feat Stealth Synergy can use the highest Stealth check roll among them (though they still use their own skill modifiers). A few archetypes have abilities to boost their allies’ Stealth checks, including the daring infiltrator swashbuckler, the guide ranger, and the warden ranger.

Armored Subterfuge

Medium and heavy armor are vital to the survival of many characters, yet often counterproductive when sneaking past guards or disguising oneself. Though lighter armor is always an option, there are a number of ways to reduce the penalties associated with heavier armor. Masterwork armor and those made from special materials such as mithral have lower armor check penalties. A number of magic armor special abilities improve skills normally penalized by armor, including creeping (Ultimate Equipment 116), shadow, and slick. The glamered armor special ability allows even a heavily armored character to blend into a crowd. Any armor’s penalty can be reduced with the Armor Expert trait or the fighter’s armor training ability. Applying armor ointment or casting effortless armor also reduces armor check penalty.

Group Disguises

Disguise has an advantage over stealth, as sometimes not everyone in the party needs to be disguised for a plan to work. For instance, one or more characters might disguise themselves as bounty hunters or guards bringing in the others in chains. Breakaway chains and false manacles allow PCs to appear chained while able to easily free themselves. Even a good disguise fails, however, if the character can’t play the assumed persona convincingly. The best disguises are often as people unlikely to be questioned or engaged in conversation—servants, laborers, and guards. A brazen infiltrator might pretend to be someone in authority, such as a foreign noble or a military officer, relying on aloofness or brusqueness to avoid questions. For a group, one character can be disguised as an authority figure while the rest play her servants. This provides a built-in excuse for party members to defer to the PC with the best social skills.

Example Heist

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The following example illustrates the step-by-step process of building a heist, and how a group might tackle the heist during a game session.

The GM decides she wants the next big encounter in her campaign to be a heist, in order to add some new intrigue elements to the table. The PCs have been enjoying their ongoing struggles against a rival merchant lord who has been making life difficult for them. The GM plans out a quick encounter with an NPC who suggests that the best way to get leverage on the merchant lord is to steal the records of his illicit dealings with the local thieves’ guild that he keeps in a locked safe in his workshop.

The goal is “Steal an Item,” and the GM decides she wants a heist of moderate scope, so each character should have three mandatory obstacles to overcome in order to pull it off. She begins to compile a list of each character’s strengths. The four characters are Valeros the fighter, Ezren the wizard, Merisiel the rogue, and Kyra the cleric.

Valeros is, of course, very good at fighting and breaking things, but also happens to be good at carousing. Ezren likes to fling powerful magic around every chance he gets. Merisiel is great at skulking about, and she makes a good flanking partner for Valeros. Finally, Kyra is wise and observant and somewhat skilled at interpersonal tasks. The GM chooses a variety of obstacles that she thinks will be fun for these characters to overcome by using their strong suits.

The GM decides to include several guardians that block the path and will likely need to be defeated by force, including front-gate guards and a guardian gargoyle that Valeros and Merisiel might be able to fight together. Figuring the party will gather information before the heist, she seeds information on the tavern where the guards like to carouse, expecting Valeros might join them for a drink and try something there before the main heist, potentially asking to join as a new guard. She also includes information about an old priest who used to serve the merchant lord for many years and knows the full layout of the manor house, unlike most guards who don’t have access to the inner areas; the GM thinks Kyra might want to use her status as a fellow cleric to convince the priest to help the PCs in some way.

Anticipating that Ezren might enjoy doing something flashy, she decides that the final obstacle of escaping with their prize will involve a rival gang of thieves disguised as manor house servants, giving Ezren a chance to make a distraction so the others can slip away. She continues setting these obstacles and opportunities for the PCs, filled with chances for the PCs to use abilities, character personalities, and background tidbits the players would likely enjoy.

When the group decides in the course of the game that they want to break into the merchant’s manor and steal his ledgers, they begin gathering information just as the GM planned. However, there’s a slight alteration to the GM’s plans because, instead of having Valeros join the guards, they decide that a careful application of magic could take out the guards quietly. Also, playing slightly differently from normal, the group decides to use Ezren as an observer, drawing on his little-used scrying magic to assist in penetrating the grounds with little notice, leaving Kyra to put on a light show with her sun magic and make the final distraction to aid the escape.

And so it goes, as the Game Master reveals the manor’s defenses and the players figure out their way of dealing with them. The heist that the group plans and executes is different from what the GM guessed it might be. However, the whole group still has a good time pulling off the heist and the players all get a chance for their characters to shine.


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An infiltration requires stealth and discretion to win the day. Unlike a heist, infiltration is typically limited to a smaller set of skills, and suited for one or two PCs rather than utilizing the whole group.

Infiltration covers both a direct infiltration with a single, set goal (similar to a heist) and long-term espionage that requires living a double life and has a less specific goal. Infiltration ranges from breaking and entering to using social skills to get inside a location. Infiltration usually requires the Stealth and Disguise skills, and often social skills and Sleight of Hand as well.

Alternate Goals

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An infiltration might have one of the same goals as a normal heist, or it could aim at one of the following goals instead. Because it is less complicated than a heist, an infiltration is typically suited to smaller and more immediate goals rather than campaign-changing ones.

Assassinate or Kidnap a Creature: The object of this infiltration is to kill or capture one or a small number of targets. It’s natural for a creature to let its guard down in the safety of its home or base, allowing you to catch it at its weakest. In many cases, striking at the leader will cause followers to flee or fall into infighting, thus removing the threat they present without direct conflict.

Spreading Propaganda: In this infiltration, the PC blends in with a population in order to spread misinformation. This sort of infiltration is particularly dangerous because, although the PC is in disguise, she needs to actively engage with people, often in public places. Usually this is done on behalf of a rival nation or organization in order to reduce morale and turn the populace against their leaders in preparation for a political or military takeover. Alternatively, the PC might act as an agent provocateur, urging the populace to rise up against their leaders, or inciting the leaders to attack another group. Spreading propaganda could involve placing posters, making graffiti, or otherwise conveying the propagandist’s message through art rather than interaction. This requires applying an appropriate Craft skill. To be truly effective, artistic propaganda still requires the infiltrator to interact with other people—though creating a massive work of propagandist art that requires multiple people to carry out could do the trick.

Perform Reconnaissance: The infiltrator is attempting to gather information about a location and its inhabitants. Details of the location’s defenses and defenders, as well as its strategic targets, allow her and her allies to be prepared for subsequent assaults, heists, or investigations against that location. Eavesdropping on a suspected criminal could allow the PC to catch him red-handed at his next crime or reveal the identities of others involved in the criminal operation. A less scrupulous character might use reconnaissance to blackmail a target by threatening to exploit or expose the secrets she discovers.


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An infiltration has a scope just like a heist, though it functions a little differently. The GM is typically dealing with a smaller number of characters at a time and doesn’t need to provide as many obstacles. In addition, an infiltration always has a specific scope. There are two possible scopes for infiltration: fast or long-term.

Fast: The PC or PCs need to get in quickly and take care of their task. The infiltration usually takes no more than a few hours in game time and 10–15 minutes or so at the game table. This requires one to three obstacles for a single PC or one obstacle per PC if multiple PCs are involved. If you find yourself needing more than three obstacles, use a heist instead so all the characters get involved.

Long-Term: This covers long-term espionage, and requires the PC to create a cover story or alternate identity. It plays out over the course of several sessions, but usually takes up 10 minutes or less per session. Rather than having a set number of obstacles to obtain a single goal, put two obstacles in front of the PC as she tries to infiltrate the organization or befriend the target. Then provide a single obstacle or two each session in which the PC attempts to get something out of the infiltration. Provide a minor piece of useful information for each obstacle overcome, or a more important piece at certain intervals (typically after the PC has overcome four or five obstacles). Structure the secrets of the organization in layers from the least secret to the most secret, so the PC gets closer and closer to the innermost levels of the organization. People from the organization the PC is infiltrating might encounter the PC elsewhere, in which case she might need to quickly adopt her cover or avoid being noticed. Long-term espionage can go on indefinitely, but each time the PC fails to overcome an obstacle, the organization or target becomes more suspicious of her true agenda. After three failures (or one egregious failure), the interloping character’s motivation is revealed unless she takes extraordinary steps to repair her reputation.

Covers and Personas

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 128
During a heist, and especially in an infiltration, a character might need to assume a cover: a false identity. This identity needs only a few details, like the person’s name, profession, and recent history. The most important aspect of a cover is consistency—the PC needs to keep any details straight so she doesn’t contradict herself later. A cover identity might involve an accent, mannerisms, a style of dress, and other quirks.

Much more involved than a cover, a persona is a fully fleshed-out identity crafted over months or years. The infiltrator needs to know every single detail about the persona, and might live as that persona for weeks at a time in order to keep up the charade. A long-term infiltration might require a persona rather than a cover.

A persona is thematically similar to a vigilante’s multiple identities, and the player of an infiltrator attempting long-term espionage should put as much effort into the details of the persona as she does into the backstory of her actual character. Though a character adopting a cover identity likely uses Bluff to fake any areas of expertise her cover identity is supposed to know, a character living as a persona picks up actual skills related to that persona over time, and might spend skill ranks in Craft, Knowledge, and Profession skills appropriate to her persona.

Quick Covers: The following list gives some examples of covers that characters might adopt and pretenses for why they’re entering the location they’re infiltrating. If a player is having trouble coming up with a cover identity on short notice, you can use the following suggestions directly or as inspiration. They are broken out by their social role, but many cover identities apply to multiple roles.

Average Person: Beggar, looking for a place to find shelter; chambermaid, coming to sweep the halls; rat catcher, hired after someone heard squeaking; shopkeeper, delivering an urgent order; herbalist, selling poultices and tinctures door to door.

Entertainer: Bard-for-hire, come to perform a song at the bidding of a secret admirer; jester, looking for a noble in need of her antics; painter, in need of a patron and a location to create beautiful murals; big-city theatrical producer, searching for the next big star.

Holy Visitor: Traveling priest, spreading the good word; soothsayer, come to deliver a dire warning; religious scholar, arriving to do research in the library.

Important Noble: Child of a prominent duchess, in town to attend a falconry competition; veteran knight, visiting the countryside after a hard-won victory in a jousting competition; advisor to a desert prince, traveling to find new trading partners; herald, bringing news of the imminent arrival of his lord.

Officer of the Law: Constable, coming to search for an escaped prisoner; barrister, investigating one of the property owner’s business rivals; tax collector, assessing the value of the establishment.

Wealthy Visitor: Self-made merchant, seeking employees to buy and sell goods for her; hedonistic socialite, looking to hire locals to throw a big party; vacuous heir, looking for property to buy; gambler, trying to find players for a high-stakes game.

Maintaining the Charade

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 129
When carrying out a long-term infiltration, characters should strive to keep their personas as easy to maintain as possible, and shouldn’t rely on disguises or magic to alter their appearance, instead using relative anonymity to avoid recognition. An infamous face might eliminate this option, however, and necessitate a long-term disguise. Adjusting mannerisms, modes of dress, and speech are all easier than maintaining physical disguises. Using spells to maintain a persona is particularly risky—longlasting spells are generally needed, and the longer the charade goes on, the more likely a spy is to encounter someone who can see through an illusion or detect the magical effect.


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 130
Social interactions and the bonds between people are some of the most important elements in any story. One of the best ways to portray those ties and bring a supporting cast of NPCs to life is through the Leadership feat, though getting the most out of it can sometimes be a challenge for both players and GMs. This section offers an in-depth overview of the Leadership feat, presenting suggestions for how to include cohorts and followers in your game and incorporate them into various rules systems found in Pathfinder RPG Ultimate Campaign.

Leadership Modifiers

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 130
The leadership modifiers in the description of the Leadership feat are concise, so some GMs may appreciate more guidance on adjudicating them. With the reputation and fame system from Pathfinder RPG Ultimate Campaign, or the new influence system, it is possible to create a more detailed framework to determine when those modifiers apply.

Great Renown: If using the reputation and fame system from Ultimate Campaign, a character gains a +1 bonus to her Leadership score if she has at least 30 Fame and a +2 bonus if she has at least 55 Fame. Alternatively, if using the organizational influence system and recruiting cohorts or followers from an organization, a character gains a +1 bonus to her Leadership score for those cohorts and followers if she is Rank 2 or 3 with that organization and a +2 bonus if she is Rank 4.

Generosity and Stinginess: To receive a +1 bonus from fairness and generosity, a character must provide above-average remuneration to her cohort and followers. In the case of an adventuring cohort, an average amount of remuneration would be an equal or slightly less than equal cut of the treasure. If a leader provides her cohort and followers with poor remuneration, she still retains the loyalty of her cohort and followers, but she takes a – 1 penalty to her Leadership score. If she doesn’t pay them enough to subsist (or provide subsistence for them), she takes a –2 penalty and risks double or even triple that penalty if such behavior lasts more than a week.

Special Power: This refers to something beyond the typical power that a character gains from increasing in level (which is already reflected in her Leadership score by the inclusion of character level). A mythic character would definitely gain the +1 bonus to her Leadership score, as would one who possesses an artifact or knows a number of powerful and rare occult rituals.

Success and Failure: A character who achieves a significant string of successes gains a +1 bonus to her Leadership score, and a character who meets with a significant string of failures takes a –1 penalty to her Leadership score. If using social conflicts, a character who wins a significant long-term social conflict might gain a permanent +1 bonus to her Leadership score each time she does so, and one who loses such a conflict might instead take a permanent –1 penalty to her Leadership score.

Aloofness and Camaraderie: A character who is aloof and elitist takes a –1 penalty to her Leadership score, while a character who is friendly, supportive, and accessible gains a +1 bonus to her Leadership score. If using the relationships system, a character instead gains a +1 bonus for camaraderie with a cohort if their Relationship Level is fellowship, which increases to +2 if their Relationship Level is devotion; this bonus doesn’t stack with modifiers incurred for aloofness or camaraderie toward other characters.

Cruelty: A character who is cruel and callous toward her cohorts and followers takes a –2 penalty to her Leadership score. In the case of a particularly evil character whose cruelty is part of her legend and who is recruiting equally horrific individuals, this penalty might not apply, but she might take a similar penalty if she performs too many acts of kindness, ruining her reputation for cruelty. This is not to say that most evil leaders work this way, however, as kindness can be an exceptionally useful tool for a manipulative leader.

Other Modifiers from the Core Rulebook: The other modifiers from the Core Rulebook, such as having a familiar, recruiting a cohort of a different alignment, or causing deaths, are simpler to adjudicate. Many characters qualify for having a guildhouse or base of operations, gaining a +2 bonus to their Leadership scores specifically for the purpose of followers.

High Leadership Scores and Followers

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 130
Some characters might have a Leadership score well above 25, and a GM can allow such characters to have more followers. For every 2 points by which a character’s Leadership score exceeds 25, multiply the number of 1st-level followers gained by 1–1/2 (round down); the character gains 1/10 that many 2nd-level followers (round down), 1/2 as many 3rd-level followers as 2nd-level followers (round up), 1/2 as many 4th-level followers as 3rd-level followers (round up), and so on up to 6th-level followers. To calculate the number of 1st-level followers gained at an even Leadership score beyond 25, take the average of the number of 1st-level followers gained for the two nearest odd Leadership scores, and round down. Then calculate the remaining followers in the same way as for odd Leadership scores (with one exception: a character with a Leadership score of 26 has two 6th-level followers).

For example, a character with a Leadership score of 27 would have 202 1st-level followers, 20 2nd-level followers, 10 3rd-level followers, five 4th-level followers, three 5thlevel followers, and two 6th-level followers. Meanwhile, a character with a Leadership score of 26 would have 168 1st-level followers, 16 2nd-level followers, eight 3rd-level followers, four 4th-level followers, two 5th-level followers, and two 6th-level followers (due to the exception).

Loyalty and the Leadership Feat

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 131
Conflicting loyalties and potential betrayals are part of the excitement of the Leadership feat. Having fully loyal followers weakens the tension of the game—imagine if all the PCs and NPCs used Leadership to surround themselves with implacably loyal allies who neither side could subvert, trick, or recruit. Cohorts and followers begin genuinely loyal to their leaders, but they aren’t immune to bribery, blackmail, replacement with an impostor, and other manners of threats and enticements.

On the other hand, players like to receive a more concrete benefit from their feats—the benefits of Toughness and Skill Focus, for example, can’t be reduced by bribes or chicanery. For that reason, as well as to balance the spotlight, consider making the Leadership feat free in an intrigue-focused campaign, with the caveat that players’ cohorts and followers may change their loyalties in certain circumstances. Sometimes, a little warning is all it takes to avoid an unpleasant clash of expectations later in the game.

Some groups have players with the Leadership feat run their cohorts during combat to take the burden of running additional NPCs off the GM. This method can still be used in a campaign where cohorts and followers might betray the PCs, but the GM should remind players that she might make adjustments to a cohort’s proposed actions every once in a while. For more advice on running cohorts, see the companions system.

The Role of Cohorts and Followers

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 131
Cohorts traditionally function as fellow adventurers, and followers function as background characters who perform tasks to help the PCs behind the scenes. There are plenty of other things for these characters to do, however, such as aiding in downtime activities or kingdom-building. The options below make followers more involved in campaigns, and also provide alternatives for groups that want to enjoy the character interaction from having cohorts but don’t want more characters in combat.

Contacts: When using the contacts rules, a cohort or a follower can act as a contact. Followers typically have a Trust score of 3 or 4, whereas a cohort always has a Trust score of 5. Using followers and cohorts as contacts is a good way to keep them in the background and away from the direct spotlight.

Downtime: The downtime system in Ultimate Campaign already interfaces with the Leadership feat. A character can use followers as labor or organize them into teams, and can appoint a cohort or a notable follower to serve as a manager for her business. See Using Followers for more details.

Heists: Followers can aid in overcoming the obstacles of a heist. They can help distract guards, help foil barriers, and even brave hazards. Cohorts can act as if they were additional PCs during the heist, allowing the group to do more to achieve the heist’s goals.

Influence: When using the influence system, cohorts can potentially help the party gain influence at a social event, allowing more discovery or influence checks. A character could also offer the service of her cohorts and followers to curry favor with an organization, and if the organization is the source of these followers or cohorts, the character can gain additional Leadership bonuses from having high influence (see the Great Renown section on page 130).

Kingdoms: When using the kingdom-building rules from Ultimate Campaign, a cohort—or, in rare cases, an extremely skilled follower— can serve as a kingdom leader.

Mass Combat: When using the mass combat rules from Ultimate Campaign, cohorts or notable followers can act as commanders for armies, and a numerous group of like-leveled followers (such as the 1st-level followers at extremely high levels of Leadership) can combine to form their own army.

Reputation: When using the reputation and fame system from Ultimate Campaign, a character could have her followers or cohort perform impressive actions to enhance her reputation. Fame also provides a good measure of how famous the character is for the purpose of Leadership bonuses (see the Great Renown section).

Social Conflicts: A party engaged in a social conflict can use cohorts or followers as agents to attempt to perform goals during challenges, potentially increasing the party’s reach and allowing them to participate in multiple engagements simultaneously. Sneaky, personable, or knowledgeable cohorts and followers can aid in discovery challenges or even take on the challenges themselves.

Verbal Duels: A clever PC can stack the deck in her favor by seeding followers into an audience before a verbal duel in an attempt to gain an edge or at least counter negative biases.

Monstrous Allies

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 132
Sometimes befriending a monster instead of relying on force can lead to a particularly satisfying experience. On the next page is a list of potential monster cohorts linked to their monster entry.

On occasion, a monster’s cohort level has been adjusted from previous publications because its abilities have the potential to be extremely disruptive. Use the cohort levels presented here instead of those provided in earlier publications.

Variant Leadership

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 132
While the Leadership feat excels at granting the widest variety of cohorts and followers, there are a number of other ways is which you can introduce Leadership into your campaign. The following are a few different forms of Leadership, most of which can be taken at a lower level and then upgraded to the full Leadership feat at some later point in the campaign, if so desired. All of the variant feats in this section are optional, and Vile Leadership is suited only for evil characters. A player should get her GM’s permission before selecting any of these feats.


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 136
Over the course of their adventuring careers, player characters face many obstacles and enemies. Only a true nemesis, though, continually tests the PCs, seeking to foil them at every turn. Whether it’s a corrupt magistrate thwarting the PCs’ efforts to bring order to a town, or a fellow adventurer sabotaging their attempts to curry favor with the king, a nemesis can be the PCs’ most memorable foe—particularly if he’s an adversary they’ve made through their own choices. This section provides detailed guidelines to help GMs create recurring villains who are memorable and who possess recourses beyond normal foes. A system of escalating nemesis stratagems helps rivalries intensify over multiple engagements. It also presents suggestions for encounter adjustments and increased XP rewards you might provide to make facing a nemesis deadlier, but also more rewarding. Each foiled strategem should provide the PCs with an opportunity to strike back against their foe, potentially launching into new adventures plotted to go along with the PCs’ schemes. These new adventures are also almost certain to deepen the grudge between the characters and their nemesis.

Provoking a Nemesis

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 136
The tale of a character and her nemesis is a back-and-forth exchange in which both always try to gain the upper hand. This leads to the nemesis plotting stratagems of escalating severity until one individual decisively defeats the other—often by killing or otherwise ruining the foe. Likewise, nemeses actively strive to foil, sabotage, and otherwise hinder the PCs by employing stratagems—a representation of the plans they implement and resources they possess.

Each stratagem is an event, an encounter, or an adventure in which the nemesis takes action against the PCs. If there is a social aspect to the situation, consider making the struggle between the PCs and their nemesis a social conflict. After each stratagem plays out, the PCs might exploit an opportunity, allowing them to strike back against their foe. This exchange might occur numerous times over the course of a long-term campaign.

To reflect the intensity of his rivalry with the PCs, every nemesis has a Nemesis Score. This score measures the number of setbacks that the PCs have inflicted upon their nemesis (such as by exploiting an opportunity successfully; see the Opportunities section), and it determines the severity of the nemesis’s stratagems against the PCs. Even if the PCs don’t realize why they’ve earned a nemesis’s initial enmity, a particular nemesis’s score always starts at 1 or higher; if the nemesis has no reason to be upset with the PCs’ actions, he wouldn’t waste resources on stratagems against the PCs. Particularly spectacular setbacks might increase the Nemesis Score by 2. The PCs can have multiple nemeses, but the ongoing back-and-forth struggle between the PCs and each individual nemesis has its own separate score.

As a rivalry matures, the Nemesis Level of the PCs’ foe increases. The nemesis’s opposition of the PCs progresses through three levels, as described below.

Simmering: The PCs have come to the attention of the nemesis, who considers them a threat that’s minor but nonetheless needs to be resolved. The nemesis begins to collect information on the PCs and utilize stratagems, but he isn’t yet deeply invested in the rivalry.

Engaged: The PCs have clashed with the nemesis often enough that he considers them a significant problem. The nemesis knows the PCs’ abilities and goes out of his way to tailor stratagems specifically to hinder them when his plans oppose theirs.

Intense: The PCs and their rival have foiled each other so often that the nemesis knows the PCs’ capabilities in intimate detail. He is now willing to use whatever means necessary to end their meddling, once and for all. This means the PCs’ defeat has become one of the nemesis’s main goals, potentially secondary only to the main goal that the PCs keep foiling.

Nemesis ScoreNemesis Level
4 or lowerSimmering
9 or higherIntense


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 136
An opportunity is the PCs’ chance to strike back at their nemesis. Each time you choose a stratagem, decide what sort of opportunity, vulnerability, or clue the PCs might be able to discover as a result of either foiling or enduring the stratagem. The descriptions of the strategems in the following section include the kinds of opportunities each might expose; these optional plot hooks are meant to give the PCs more influence over the sorts of the adventures they undertake, and they can help the PCs feel like they’re guiding the campaign’s story based on their reactions to the nemesis’s schemes. Opportunities lend themselves to player-devised counter-stratagems, which might take the form of single encounters or whole adventures (see Heists and Infiltration). While the Stratagems section has many options for nemeses, the opportunities listed along with each strategem are merely some of the possibilities. You should feel free to guide the PCs toward other opportunities that match your nemesis’s modus operandi and that mesh better with the campaign. Of course, each opportunity the PCs take likely encourages their nemesis to continue his antagonism, continuing— and likely intensifying—the rivalry.

This back and forth between the PCs and their nemesis should culminate in a natural, plot-driven conclusion— such as a dramatic final encounter or the end of a campaign arc. Such interplay works best if there is a reason that the nemesis and PCs haven’t faced one another in combat until this climax. PCs tend to find ways to kill enemies with even the most foolproof-seeming escape plans, and using storytelling tricks to save the nemesis can breed resentment among players. Nonetheless, if a nemesis somehow dies early but still has plenty of resources, the nemesis may be able to manage a resurrection—just like the PCs would if one of their own died in the struggle. Unless special events (or even deliberately laid stratagems) deem otherwise, a nemesis likely continues to antagonize the PCs until either he dies or somehow reconciles with his foes.


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 137
A nemesis typically only employs one stratagem at a time. Only if the PCs continually cause the nemesis major setbacks will he use two stratagems simultaneously. A nemesis typically employs stratagems appropriate for his current Nemesis Level and that tie into the archetype or modus operandi that you’ve chosen for the villain (see Nemesis Personas). Occasionally a lesser strategy might make sense for a nemesis after he’s endured a lesser setback, but he should never employ a stratagem meant for a higher Nemesis Level.

Stratagem Rewards

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 137
The PCs receive an XP reward when engaging a nemesis’s stratagem, regardless of whether they emerge victorious. When the PCs gain this XP is up to you. It may make sense to award this XP at the end of an encounter, whether it’s a single combat or interaction with the nemesis’s agents, or it might come at the end of a larger adventure influenced by the strategem’s benefits or theme. The PCs do not gain the XP if they avoid or ignore the stratagem. This XP reward is in addition to any XP the PCs receive for overcoming encounters as the stratagem plays out. Stratagem XP rewards are relative to the PCs’ Average Party Level. After engaging a nemesis’s strategem, the PCs should never receive less than the amount they’d receive for defeating a CR 1 encounter.

Low: The PCs gain XP as if they had defeated an encounter with a CR equal to their APL – 3.

Medium: The PCs gain XP as if they had defeated an encounter with a CR equal to their APL – 2.

High: The PCs gain XP as if they had defeated an encounter with a CR equal to their APL – 1.

Simmering Stratagems

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 137
These stratagems tend to be simple, as well as less costly and vicious. They are perfect for fledgling nemeses who simply don’t yet have enough reason to expend vast resources against PCs or to make things extremely personal.


XP Reward low

The nemesis uses extra resources against the PCs. In either a combat with the nemesis or against a group the nemesis supports, the nemesis or group receives a 25% increase in their wealth per level, typically applied to consumable gear that the opposition uses before the fight to bolster their abilities. In a noncombat encounter, the affluence stratagem grants the nemesis or a group the nemesis supports a modest advantage at a task in which they are competing against the PCs. For example, if a PC and the nemesis are engaged in a verbal duel, the nemesis gains 3 edges (representing access to better training, ringers in the audience, or bribes).


The nemesis accidently reveals something personal about his background, where his wealth comes from, who manages his money, or that it comes from an illicit source.

Counterfeit Goods

XP Reward low

The nemesis plants a counterfeit magic item at a shop he anticipates the PCs will patronize. The item the PCs purchase is actually cursed. It appears to function normally according to all tests, and the GM can either select a curse or roll on Table 15–27: Common Item Curses.


Tracing the cursed item back to a shop reveals someone who works with or who was bought off by the nemesis. It might also reveal a trove of other magic items (cursed or otherwise).

False Witness

XP Reward low

The nemesis accuses the PCs of some minor crime or other misdeed, either directly or by way of a proxy he manipulated to provide false witness. The PCs must either avoid the authorities or spend time proving their innocence, often through some form of social challenge, and maybe by engaging in a verbal duel during some form of legal proceeding. Avoiding the authorities or failing to clear their names may have more drastic consequences, such as harsh fines, imprisonment, a decrease in influence, or even some form of corporal punishment.


The nemesis’s witness can’t keep her story straight or proves that she knows something she shouldn’t. This not only undermines her lies, but also likely implicates the nemesis in some wrongdoing.

Refusal of Service

XP Reward low

The nemesis uses coercion to force a group of other NPCs to no longer associate with or conduct business with the PCs (since PCs often exchange vast quantities of wealth, merchants are a particularly effective group to pick for this stratagem). Members of that group of NPCs refuse to assist or discuss anything with the PCs unless the PCs succeed at a Diplomacy or Intimidate check. The DC is equal to 20 + the group’s APL.


Once the nemesis’s scheme is revealed, the coerced group proves that it doesn’t appreciate being bullied. Perhaps they deny the nemesis future aid or give the PCs a 10% discount on their services.

Scandalous Subversion

XP Reward low

The nemesis engages in a campaign to spread rumors that impugn the PCs’ reputation. These rumors aren’t ubiquitous, but they are just believable enough to cause others to have doubts about the PCs. This stratagem decreases the characters’ Leadership score, contact trust, Fame, honor points, and total influence points with organizations by 1. Alternatively, the nemesis can target a single character and double the decrease.


Tracing the rumors back to the nemesis counters the lies and potentially negates the losses the PCs suffered. Going forward, members of the community in which the nemesis spread his lies are less likely to believe his claims.


XP Reward low

The nemesis sends an agent to follow the PCs from a distance. This tail is an NPC or creature (typically one whose CR is equal to the group’s APL –3). While they have a tail, the tail relays the PCs’ activities and general plans to the nemesis. The tail follows the PCs in urban and wilderness areas, but will not enter dangerous locations (such as a dungeon or tomb). The tail makes daily reports on the PCs’ activities. If the PCs split up, the tail follows one PC—either the one who seems to be doing something interesting or who’s easiest to follow. The tail uses its own Perception and Stealth skills but attempts to remain hidden, using cover and crowds to hide its presence and staying at a distance to increase the Perception DC to notice it. The tail always attempts to flee if discovered or engaged.


If the PCs discover the tail, they might trick it into reporting false information to the nemesis. Alternatively, they might capture or have their tracker arrested, denying their enemy a useful ally.

Engaged Stratagems

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 138
Engaged stratagems are more personal and costly than simmering stratagems, evidencing the nemesis’s attention and a growing, vicious grudge.

Allies in Peril

XP Reward medium

The nemesis takes an ally of the PCs hostage while they’re away or otherwise distracted. Removing the ally proves to be a boon for the nemesis and a detriment to the PCs. The PCs might be forced to decide whether to spend their efforts locating their ally and attempting a rescue, or opposing the nemesis’s goal.


The captured ally learns a considerable amount during her imprisonment, such as the location of the nemesis’s lair, its interior layout, or the movements of guards.

Call on Dark Power

XP Reward medium

The nemesis makes a pact with a fiend or other dark force to thwart the PCs. He gains the temporary service of a powerful evil outsider (with a CR no higher than the party’s APL + 3), but forfeits something significant in the process. This could include the nemesis taking a penalty to an ability score while the creature is in his service. Or, maybe the pact requires him to make a monthly sacrifice of intelligent creatures (usually a number equal to the evil outsider’s Hit Dice).


The PCs discover the price the nemesis paid to summon the dark power, perhaps revealing some manner of infernal contract. Others groups might also condemn him for his dark dealings.

Contingency Plan

XP Reward medium

The nemesis has become accustomed to the PCs’ interference and has developed a contingency plan. When the PCs are about to foil his current scheme, he either instantly benefits from an effect of a 1st- through 4th-level spell, as the spell contingency. Alternatively, he might unleash some nonmagical contingency, such as collapsing the ceiling or opening a floodgate.


In his rush, the nemesis leaves behind some evidence of his hideout’s location or compromising secret. Also, others might be harmed by his dramatic escape, leading them to help the PCs.

Half Time

XP Reward medium

In the wake of the last setback the PCs caused, the nemesis works harder to attain his goals. He completes one of his current projects (such as a ritual, research, influence, construction, or any other task) in half the usual time required. In exchange, he is fatigued when the PCs exploit their next opportunity. Or, if the PCs face him in a noncombat situation, his work proves shoddy, and this provides the PCs with a small advantage against him.


The PCs notice where the nemesis cut corners on this and other schemes, revealing vulnerabilities in his new weaponry, magical defenses, or hideout.

No Prize for Second Place

XP Reward medium

The nemesis discovers the PCs’ eventual destination while they are on a quest, whether through spying or divination, and gets there ahead of them. He might alert those at their destination and explain the PCs’ strengths and weaknesses (giving the denizens time to flee or set an ambush) or slaughter the guardians and pillage the place, leaving behind only traps for the PCs.


The nemesis’s attempt to rob the destination reveals an unexplored section rife with greater treasures. Alternatively, the nemesis might trigger some curse or defense that targets him rather than the PCs.

Nowhere is Safe

XP Reward low or medium

The nemesis sends one or more agents ahead of the PCs as they are traveling or resting, tasking them with manufacturing obstacles to slow the PCs down. Simple dangers that the agents might devise, and that provide a low XP reward, include obstructing the PCs’ travels by destroying a bridge, stealing the PCs’ mounts, or luring ordinary animals to the PCs’ camp to cause havoc. More threatening obstacles that provide a medium XP reward include locking the PCs inside a building and setting it on fire, triggering an avalanche, or provoking a dangerous creature to attack the PCs. To use this stratagem, the nemesis must have already used a tail stratagem against the PCs at least once (or have another way of knowing where the PCs are going, such as if the PCs are pursuing the nemesis; see Pursuit).


The trap the nemesis’s agents set up reveal a threat that might be used against the nemesis on the return trip. Tempting creatures into the PCs’ camp might also give those beasts the scent of the nemesis and his agents, with unintended consequences.

Powerful Allies

XP Reward medium

The nemesis strikes a temporary agreement with another group. This grants him the services of a number of allies equal to the number of PCs, though the CR of each ally should usually be no greater than the party’s APL – 1. These allies assist the nemesis with whatever he requires, whether directly confronting the PCs or assisting him with aid and resources. The alliance lasts a number of days equal to the nemesis’s Hit Dice.


The PCs might discover the points of contention between the nemesis and his new allies, potentially using their knowledge to turn them against each other. Also, the PCs might bring the nemesis to the attention of a larger, more dangerous group or individual that doesn’t appreciate an outsider manipulating her pawns.


XP Reward medium

The nemesis attempts to steal something of value from the PCs. If they have stored valuable items at a particular location, the nemesis or his servants attempt a heist, typically stealing between 10% and 100% of the value stored at that location. If the PCs carry all of their wealth with them, the nemesis instead sends pickpockets to steal items from the PCs, using Sleight of Hand and Stealth to purloin what they can and retreat.


The PCs find evidence pointing back to the nemesis, giving them an opportunity to retrieve what they lost with interest in a counter-heist.


XP Reward medium

The nemesis launches a surprise attack against the PCs at an inopportune time. The nemesis could send a powerful agent or team of agents against the PCs while they are already in combat, or when they are resting after running out of resources for the day. The surprise might also be an unsuspected sabotage of a plan or project the PCs are pursuing.


Intending to use it to overbear the unprepared PCs, the nemesis’s agents possessed more valuable treasure than usual or had one of the nemesis’s useful magic items in their possession. Upon defeating their foes, the PCs gain a useful treasure for themselves.

Intense Stratagems

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 140
Intense stratagems are desperate, costly, personal, or perhaps all three. Only a nemesis with a profound need to avenge the numerous setbacks the PCs have inflicted on him is capable of such extremes.

Backed into a Corner

XP Reward high

The nemesis liquidates assets and calls in debts to gain additional finances equal to his normal wealth by level. He may spend this wealth on any resources he pleases or to gain a significant advantage in an endeavor in which he is in direct competition with the PCs. The nemesis’s liquidations might provide wealth in the short term, but they are deleterious to his long-term financial solvency.


The nemesis has exhausted his resources and is without many of the magical and mundane defenses his wealth normally provides. Or, one of the PCs’ allies takes it upon themselves to check the accounting of whoever granted the nemesis his additional wealth. The ally finds errors or lies that infuriate the nemesis’s backers, causing them to cut ties with him or seek to call back their loan.

Death of an Ally

XP Reward high

The nemesis callously slays a close ally of the PCs. The ally should be one who offers significant aid to the PCs or with whom they have a close personal connection. The method of the murder should provide the PCs a solid opportunity to strike back at the nemesis, since after this stratagem, it’s likely the PCs will be out for blood.


This might not be the first time the nemesis has resorted to murder. A public death brings the nemesis’s other foes to light, and in their sympathy they ally with the PCs.

Enemy of the State

XP Reward high

A more severe version of the false witness stratagem, the nemesis has persuaded the local government that the PCs have committed treason. The PCs must not only contend with the nemesis’s antics, but must also escape the state authorities’ hounding and possible criminal charges. The PCs can still attempt to prove their innocence, but doing so is extremely difficult, taxing the PCs’ time and resources. Also, proving their innocence may not be enough, and the PCs may have to work on the fringes of society to achieve their other goals.


The nemesis’s lies are themselves a crime and, upon redeeming themselves, the PCs shift the eyes of the law to their foe.

Ghostly Cathexis

XP Reward high

The PCs have killed their nemesis, but his obsession causes him to rise from death as a ghost with the unfinished business of defeating the PCs. His spirit rises 1d4 days after his death, and his ghost is tied to his possessions from life. He can use locate object at will as a spell-like ability to locate any of those objects, and once per day, he can use greater scrying to spy upon a creature carrying them as if he were familiar with that creature (even if the object itself is in an extradimensional space). If he successfully locates an object with either effect, he can transport himself to its location once per day, as per word of recall, merging his incorporeal form with the object and moving with it. While he inhabits the object, he can use his malevolence ability to possess creatures nearby; a creature wearing or wielding one of the ghost’s former possessions takes a – 4 penalty on saving throws against this malevolence. Becoming a ghost limits the nemesis, as well, and represents a new opportunity for the PCs to strike back.


The nemesis’s refusal to pass into death draws the attention of some dangerous creature, such as a night hag or psychopomp. They seek to claim the nemesis’s soul, but also draw the PCs into new, otherworldly adventures.

Loyalty Beyond Death

XP Reward high

The PCs kill a fanatic follower of the nemesis, who returns from death as a revenant. For higher-level parties, multiple slain associates might come back as a group of revenants or more powerful undead. These unholy abominations pursue the PCs tirelessly, seeking to exact revenge. Unlike most stratagems, the nemesis might not instigate this one on his own.


Even though the nemesis might not typically use undead allies, in this case, the dead have served his agendas. This incites the scrutiny of a good-aligned faith that now has reason to believe the nemesis is an enemy of the living.

Mistaken Identity

XP Reward high

The nemesis uses a clone, simulacrum, doppelganger, or other impostor version of himself to make it seem like he is in one place rather than another. The GM should decide to implement this stratagem before the PCs encounter the nemesis and use the stats for the impostor, rather than having the PCs fight the real, full-powered nemesis; after the PCs kill the impostor, the GM should reveal that it was a fake.


The PCs might be able to convince many of their nemesis’s agents that their master is dead, tricking them into leaving their posts or giving up secrets that now seem moot.

Trump Card

XP Reward high

The nemesis reveals a trump card he has been holding back for just the right moment—such as monstrous allies or a powerful magic item. There should be something that strongly limits his use of this trump card or that has caused him to hold it back until now. For example, maybe the item powers down after use and is very difficult to recharge. Or, maybe knowledge of his alliance would ruin his reputation. Whatever it is, the nemesis’s reason for hiding the trump card could feed into a particularly useful opportunity for the PCs.


Using his trump card brings considerable attention to the nemesis, perhaps from the law, the trump card’s former owner, or a deadlier creature that wants this advantage for itself. The PCs might temporarily ally with this creature, or use its antagonism to their advantage.

Nemesis Personas

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 141
Because having a nemesis is more personal than just having an adversary, it’s important to consider what makes the nemesis tick. Certain archetypical nemesis personas, such as those in the following suggestions, are common in fiction and help to build a memorable foe.

Embittered Protege: Perhaps the nemesis was once a follower of one of the PCs or a close ally, or shared the same mentor. The protege was dismissed from training, whether for lack of talent, failure to pass a key test, or because of some transgression. The protege blames one or more PCs for his failure, claiming the PCs were shown favoritism after outshining him, or that the PCs somehow sabotaged his education.

Fallen Idol: The nemesis was once a person of great repute, honored for his heroic deeds, or revered as a mentor of the PCs. Whatever his former prominence, the idol has fallen on hard times. This may not be public knowledge, and early encounters with the fallen idol might preserve the facade that things are going well. However, the PCs have unknowingly disrupted the fallen idol’s (possibly illicit) scheme to recover his position, plunging him further into desperation. The nemesis becomes obsessed with regaining his former fame, resorting to ever-more-questionable methods and outrageous schemes in a losing battle to regain respect; in short, he’s become the very thing he once stood against. The PCs might never realize that their old mentor and their new nemesis are one and the same until the final confrontation, after which they must decide whether to redeem or slay the fallen idol.

Herald of the Future: The nemesis is devoted to the cause of progress, seeking to abolish the old ways and usher in a glorious destiny. This new future might come about through science, political upheaval, the rapturous return of a deity, or the advent of alien intelligence. Whatever his creed, the nemesis promises it will change everything. His goals and dogma might be strange, leading the PCs to either oppose his view of the future or simply compete with him for the same resources. For instance, his goal to collect strange artifacts might place him in a race against the PCs for the otherworldly relics. While urbane and sophisticated, the herald dismisses dissent as smallminded ignorance. At first, he might feel more sorrow for his opposition’s shortsightedness than anger, but he still won’t let the PCs stand in the way of progress.

Obstructive Official: The nemesis is a person of political power or prominence, such as an officer of the law, a moralizing judge, an ambitious aristocrat, or an arrogant noble. Whatever his role, or whether he holds his position through birth, wealth, or personal strength, he is dogmatically dedicated to a specific set of rules that the PCs, in the course of their adventuring activities, violate with some frequency. The obstructive official is not interested in the PCs’ motivations or justifications. To the nemesis, they are dangerous vigilantes who bring trouble in their wake. So-called “heroes” are menaces that need to be controlled or, failing that, eliminated. This sort of nemesis uses his connections to make life more difficult for the PCs, but always through legal avenues. Eventually he hopes to have the PCs thrown in jail, exiled, or otherwise removed from the equation, but only after he has built an ironclad case against them.

Trickster: The nemesis is an agent of chaos, a troublemaker who may act with malice or out of pure capriciousness. The trickster respects no laws, authorities, or systems of control. He may be prone to acts of charity when the mood strikes. He may even be a hero to some, but he may just as quickly turn on those who supported him, or abandon them for a new scheme altogether. The trickster’s opposition to the PCs may be a perverse social experiment to undermine their principles or to disrupt the world around them. Or, it may be just a game to him, and the PCs are simply too much fun to ignore.


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 142
Hunting down your enemies across hill and dale is a classic fantasy trope, and a deeply satisfying part of many books and films, yet difficult to simulate using only the Pathfinder RPG combat rules. Though chase rules appear in the Pathfinder RPG GameMastery Guide, those are specifically designed to cover fast-paced action chases— once the journey is measured in hours rather than seconds, endurance and strategy quickly outweigh fast reflexes and quick thinking. Only by using careful tracking and cunning tricks can pursuers catch up to their quarries. The pursuit system presented below integrates these crucial elements into a structure that simulates a longer pursuit in a manner that’s both fun and easy to manage.

There are two main types of pursuits. In a direct pursuit, the pursuers are following another group’s trail wherever it may lead, with the express goal of catching up to their quarries. In this type of pursuit, the pursuers don’t know where the quarries will go—they’re forced to follow the trail that their prey left behind. By contrast, in a race, both sides know the destination, and the pursuers simply want to get there first, perhaps to catch their quarries or prevent them from acquiring something at the destination.

The Core Mechanic

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 142
In a pursuit, each group travels along a series of terrain tiles. Each group must complete a certain amount of progress to complete a tile and move on. This amount is listed in the terrain tile for that type of terrain. One terrain tile is roughly 12 miles across (see Terrain Tiles for more information).

The quarries always start out ahead of the pursuers by an amount established by the GM. In a direct pursuit, if the pursuers ever share the same terrain tile with the quarries and have made an equal or greater amount of progress on that tile, they have caught up to the quarries. In a race, whoever reaches the destination tile first wins the race, and the groups can continue with their goals from there.

Personal Progress: To determine the amount of progress that each group makes during a 1-hour pursuit phase, first calculate the progress each party member could potentially make. This is roughly based on the number of miles the character could travel per hour when using overland movement if the tile were devoid of obstacles and rough terrain. Each party member’s personal progress is equal to her base land speed divided by 10 (typically 3 for a human or 2 for a dwarf, for instance). Temporary effects that boost movement speed count only if they last for the entire 1-hour pursuit phase (like longstrider or overland flight, but not fly).

Group Progress: The group’s progress is equal to the lowest personal progress in the party. Tactics and advantages, as explained later, can give characters ways to improve the speed of the whole group.

Building a Pursuit

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 142
Once the GM knows the progress numbers for both the pursuers and quarries, she is ready to construct the overall structure of the pursuit. Building a pursuit is fairly simple, but the process depends on the type of pursuit (and for direct pursuits, whether the PCs are the pursuers or the quarries).

When running a pursuit, it helps to have a visual aid of the area where the pursuit takes place. If the GM is using a published adventure or otherwise has access to a nice-looking map of the region, it might be interesting to have a map big enough for miniatures or tokens to sit on each tile. The GM can then draw in the tiles, providing a bit of a game board to help the players visualize the pursuit.

Direct Pursuits

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 142
A direct pursuit involves a pursuing group chasing after a quarry group across a series of terrain tiles. The pursuers must succeed at Survival checks to continue tracking their quarries, as described in the Running a Pursuit section on page 143. Direct pursuits in which the PCs are the pursuers are the simplest and the most common type in an average campaign. It is a good idea to run a direct pursuit as the group’s first pursuit to help the players and GM alike to get a grasp of the system.

PCs as Pursuers: In a direct pursuit with NPC quarries, the GM establishes a linear series of terrain tiles that the quarries will follow, and the pursuers proceed along those tiles after their prey. See the section on Terrain Tiles for common types of terrain tiles. For a direct pursuit that is even simpler to run, don’t give the quarry group access to use all the tools described later in this section. For instance, the quarries might not attempt to gain advantages, and they might use tactics sparingly—and only if it makes the pursuit more interesting. Remember that if the quarry group doesn’t use those tools, the pursuit will be much easier for the PCs.

PCs as Quarries: If the PCs are quarries, direct pursuits become a bit more complicated, as the PCs have options for which path they choose and which type of terrain they enter as they try to shake their pursuers. The GM should present pursuit tiles arranged in more than a simple linear path. In fact, the GM can divide a map of the general region into terrain tiles as appropriate, perhaps using a hex grid to match the system for exploration in Pathfinder RPG Ultimate Campaign.

Ending a Direct Pursuit: A direct pursuit can end in one of four ways. When the pursuers are on the same tile as the quarries and have made equal or greater progress than the quarries, the pursuers catch their quarries. When the quarries reach a location where they stop progressing (such as a safe haven or stronghold), pursuit ends and may turn into a siege. When the pursuers can’t possibly succeed at the Survival check to continue tracking their quarries and have exhausted any other tactics that might help relocate the trail, their quarries have eluded them. Finally, the pursuers can voluntarily give up the pursuit. Optionally, the GM can choose a distance at which the quarries are so far ahead that the pursuers have no real chance of catching up. For instance, the GM might decide that if the quarry group is five tiles ahead of the pursuers, they’ve escaped; this number might be smaller in jungles or other dense terrain.


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 143
In a race, both groups have far more options in their travels. As with a direct pursuit in which the PCs are the quarries, the GM should include more options for terrain tiles than just a linear path. The two groups might start on different tiles and move through different types of terrain during the race. A race features no quarry or pursuer. A race ends when one group reaches the designated destination.

Running a Pursuit

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 143
Pursuits proceed in 1-hour pursuit phases, during which each group (or the group that is moving, if one group is resting) makes progress toward completing its current terrain tile. The group can potentially attempt to use tactics or gain an advantage to outthink or outperform the enemy.

Each day of pursuit consists of eight 1-hour pursuit phases. Pursuits take place over a long period of time and cover plenty of ground, so pursuers and quarries might encounter terrain tile denizens or environmental hazards along the way. Consider using these encounters to provide spikes of tension and to control the pursuit’s pacing.

Direct Pursuits and Tracking

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 143
In a direct pursuit, the pursuers need to attempt a Survival check at the start of each pursuit phase in order to make any progress at all. A failure means they have lost the trail and must spend that hour trying to find it. Success means the pursuers progress at their speed for that phase. The base DC is either 5, 10, 15, or 20, depending on the type of ground dominant in the terrain tile (very soft, soft, firm, or hard, respectively; see the Survival skill for more details). This DC increases by 1 for every day behind the quarries, but it decreases by 1 for every three members in the quarry group.

The pursuing group has one main tracker, but other members can assist using the aid another action. Any pursuer participating in tracking (either as the main tracker or assisting) halves her personal progress for that pursuit phase. If the tracking pursuer has a much greater speed than the slowest member of his group, this might not lower the group’s progress.

Terrain Tiles

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 143
The following are some of the most common types of terrain tiles a group might encounter during a pursuit. One terrain tile is roughly 12 miles across (the same size as hexes from Ultimate Campaign’s exploration system), though pursuit is abstracted enough that the size can vary. Especially large tracts of one terrain type should consist of multiple tiles. The GM might want to customize these options and create terrain tiles appropriate for the situation. For instance, if the PCs use aerial tracks to pursue foes through the clouds, the GM should create a sky terrain tile.

Each terrain tile’s stat block lists the amount of progress a group needs to make to pass off of that tile and onto the next one, followed by the typical type of ground and the base Survival DC in parentheses, plus the maximum number of advantages a group can employ on that type of tile. This limit resets when the group enters a new 1-hour pursuit phase. The number of advantages is smaller the easier the terrain is to navigate, as there’s not many tricks that can speed up travel along a road, for instance, without using a vehicle or magical means of conveyance.

Inclement Weather

Bad weather, especially precipitation, can affect both the progress a group makes and the DCs of Survival checks required during pursuits.

Progress: Heavy precipitation, strong winds, and other environmental factors might impede a group’s progress. For brief storms lasting one or two pursuit phases, reduce the group’s progress by 1 in each pursuit phase. If an entire terrain tile has particularly nasty weather (like a high mountain plagued by winds or a jungle during a monsoon), instead add between 4 and 8 to the tile’s progress to complete, depending on the weather’s severity. Increase the tile’s number of maximum advantages by 1 so the travelers have the opportunity to find a way to overcome the nasty weather.

Tracking: If there is rain during a direct pursuit, increase the DC of the Survival check by 1 for every pursuit phase that it rained. If it snowed, increase the DC by 10 instead. To track the duration of the precipitation during a direct pursuit, mark down the tile where the quarries are and the amount of progress they have made when the precipitation begins, then mark down the progress they had made when the precipitation ends. When the pursuers are on that tile and have made an amount of progress equal to or greater than the lower progress value, use the increased Survival DCs. After the pursuers have passed the higher progress value, the Survival DCs return to normal. If the precipitation occurs before the quarries entered an area, the Survival DCs to follow the trail might be reduced since the ground becomes very soft mud or covered in snow.


Progress to Complete 12
Ground soft (DC 10) or very soft (DC 5); Maximum Advantages 2

Cold terrain includes tundras, glaciers, and the like. The rules for environmental cold dangers apply in most cases, potentially affecting both groups.


Progress to Complete 16
Ground very soft (DC 5), soft (DC 10), or firm (DC 15); Maximum Advantages 3

Desert terrain includes warm and sandy areas. The rules for environmental heat dangers apply in most cases, potentially affecting both groups.


Progress to Complete 16
Ground firm (DC 15); Maximum Advantages 3

Forest terrain includes both deciduous and coniferous forests, but not dense jungles or rain forests.


Progress to Complete 16
Ground firm (DC 15); Maximum Advantages 3

Hilly terrain includes areas with plenty of uphill and downhill travel, but not mountains.


Progress to Complete 32
Ground firm (DC 15); Maximum Advantages 8

Jungle terrain is denser than forest terrain, and it also includes rain forests. Jungle terrain is particularly slow going, but there is ample opportunity to gain an advantage over pursuers or quarries.


Progress to Complete 24
Ground firm (DC 15) or hard (DC 20); Maximum Advantages 6

Mountainous terrain contains areas that require climbing, as well as the potential for steep cliffs and precipitous drops. If the need to climb is especially ubiquitous or if the characters are climbing above the timber line (use the rules for cold dangers), a mountain tile can have more maximum advantages and take more progress in order to complete.


Progress to Complete 8
Ground firm (DC 15); Maximum Advantages 0

The plains terrain is a basic terrain type with no particular hindrances or advantages, and often represents a tame, flat grassland that isn’t difficult to travel across. A wild and overgrown savannah tile can easily have more maximum advantages and take more progress to complete. The statistics for a plain tile also suit many other types of readily navigable ground.


Progress to Complete varies
Ground varies; Maximum Advantages varies

Planes vary so wildly in their nature that it would be impossible to create a listing that covers them all in any meaningful way. Sometimes, an area on the planes can be simulated by using another sort of terrain tile. On other planes, tracking becomes nearly impossible. On planes with truly strange or exotic features, such as highly morphic planes, it’s appropriate to offer plenty of know the terrain advantages and other advantages involving the plane’s nature (such as an advantage using the Fly skill to understand and control subjective gravity).


Progress to Complete 8
Ground firm (DC 15) or hard (DC 20); Maximum Advantages 0

A dirt or cobblestone road can let a group move quickly without leaving as clear a trail as they would in unworked terrain. However, traveling on a road makes it more likely they’ll be seen. The gather information tactic can make it easier to track road travelers. Old, unused, and overgrown roads are treated like plains.


Progress to Complete 16
Ground very soft (DC 5) or soft (DC 10); Maximum Advantages 3

Swampy terrain includes bogs, marshes, and fens, as well as any other sort of wetlands. A swamp tile with a significant number of deep areas, quicksand, or more can easily have more maximum advantages and take more progress to complete.


Progress to Complete 12
Ground hard (DC 20); Maximum Advantages 2

Underground terrain includes caverns and dungeons. While the ground is hard—making it one of the most difficult terrains through which to track prey—the lack of rain or snow can make it much easier for pursuers to catch up to their quarries. While the typical underground tile only offers a small number of obstacles and hindrances, an underground tile with extremely narrow tunnels, yawning chasms, treacherous dips and climbs, or other sorts of features can easily have more maximum advantages and take more progress to complete.


Progress to Complete varies
Ground varies; Maximum Advantages varies

Underwater pursuits also require more planning than other types. Because travel speeds can very wildly, a pursuit might end up being trivial if one side has members with swim speeds and the other doesn’t. Typically, if so much of the pursuit occurs underwater that it takes up an entire terrain tile or more, and both groups are on equal footing in terms of their ability to move underwater, it’s best to find an analog among the other terrain tiles and use that instead. For instance, traversing an underwater garden might work like a jungle, traversing open stretches of water might work like a plain, and swimming under an iceberg might be cold terrain or a mountain (and could use the rules for cold dangers). This also assumes the groups can breathe underwater for enough pursuit phases to traverse an underwater tile.


Progress to Complete 16
Ground firm (DC 15) or hard (DC 20); Maximum Advantages 3

In theory, urban terrain covers settlements from a thorp to a metropolis, but for an entire terrain tile to count as urban, it must be a large enough city to warrant a tile (though smaller settlements might certainly appear on another terrain’s tile, thus opening up different tactics or advantages). Tracking through an urban environment can be extremely challenging, given the sheer number of creatures present, but that also makes the gather information tactic more effective. Despite the relative ease of moving through a city, an urban tile takes longer to navigate because of the difficulty of tracking creatures through a heavily populated environment.


Progress to Complete 16
Ground hard (DC 20, see text); Maximum Advantages 3

A lake or an area with many rivers counts as a water tile. Because such a tile contains little ground, Survival checks to track involve following wakes or looking for refuse quarries left behind, functioning the same as hard ground. Rapids might cause a water tile to take more progress to complete, and water features with currents typically have more maximum advantages. A group traveling on water usually needs a boat or raft, and uses the speed of that vessel. Swimmers must attempt a DC 20 Swim check for each 1-hour pursuit phase or take 1d6 points of nonlethal damage (See the <%SKILLS&Swim">Swim skill for more information). The special movement tactic allows a creature with a swim speed to traverse water rapidly.

Pursuit Advantages

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 145
During each 1-hour pursuit phase, any member of a group who is not spending that phase tracking can attempt to gain an advantage, and a group can gain up to the maximum number of advantages allowed by the terrain tile. The sample advantages listed below mention the terrain types most likely to allow them, but the advantages available for any given tile—and even hour-by-hour across the same tile—can vary significantly. The GM chooses which ones apply at any given time in a way that adds flavor to the pursuit’s current location in the same way that the chase rules in Pathfinder RPG GameMastery Guide have a set of options available at each location in a chase.

Advantage Bonus: If a character succeeds at gaining an advantage, the group’s progress increases by 1 for that pursuit phase, unless otherwise specified. Attempting and failing to gain an advantage reduces that character’s personal progress by 1, unless otherwise specified, due to the effort they expend. If that person had a higher speed than the slowest member, this might not slow the group as a whole. Each of the sample advantages list an appropriate skill.

Failing a check to gain an advantage by 5 or more reduces the entire group’s progress by 1, unless otherwise specified, as the character made such a large error that it hindered all of his allies. The increase or reduction to progress applies after any multiplication or division due to tracking, hustling, and the like. Because advantages represent more than just speed—finding shortcuts, for example—they can cause the group to make more progress than the fastest person’s personal progress.

Checks attempted to gain an advantage represent an entire hour’s worth of checks, so temporary modifiers that don’t last the entire time cannot be applied. These skills can’t be rerolled by an effect that would reroll a single check, and the character can’t take 10 or 20.

Sample Advantages

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 146
The following advantages are just a sample of those possible. Each advantage lists the terrains most likely to allow it, though there are certainly exceptions. Customize the selected advantage to fit the particulars of the situation. It is possible to choose more than one of the same category of advantage for the same terrain tile (for instance, a jungle with multiple know the terrain advantages might require different Knowledge [nature] DCs).

Climbing Lead (Hill or Mountain): A character can attempt a Climb check to ascend ahead of the others with a rope to help his allies navigate the worst of the area. The DC varies based on the difficulty of climbing.

Craft or Modify Tools (Any): A character can attempt a Craft check to fashion or modify specialized tools (such as footwear to travel over icy surfaces). Unlike normal, attempting to gain this advantage requires the character to spend 1 pursuit phase without moving per check she attempts. This either reduces the group’s progress to 0 or requires her to split up and catch up later (see the split up tactic). Once she has succeeded once per character, the advantage applies for the rest of the current tile, without further action on her part, unless the situation changes enough that she needs to modify the tools again. The DC varies based on the complexity of the gear, though it is typically 15 (for a high-quality item). If the character is modifying similar items to what she needs rather than crafting brand-new ones, she can attempt two checks for each phase she doesn’t move.

Crowd Control (Urban): A character can attempt an Intimidate check to thin the crowds, making it easier for the group to progress. The DC depends on the composition and size of the crowd.

Evade Hazards (Any): A character can attempt a Survival check to recognize hazards and rough areas and ensure that the group skirts around them when possible. The DC varies depending on how devious or hidden the hazards might be.

Fancy Footwork (Any): A character can attempt an Acrobatics check to help balance over an icy or wet area, leap over quicksand or rooftops, or otherwise move more rapidly. By using ropes, finding a safe path, or otherwise leading the way, the character helps her allies move faster as well. The DC varies depending on how treacherous the footing is.

Know the Area (Any): A character can attempt a Knowledge (geography) check to allow the characters to exploit nearby useful terrain features that he remembers while avoiding dangerous or obstructive features. The DC varies based on the feature’s obscurity.

Know the Terrain (Any): A character can attempt an appropriate Knowledge check (usually nature, but dungeoneering underground, local in an urban environment, and planes in a planar environment) to deduce something about the current terrain that gives her group an advantage. The DC varies based on the particulars of the deduction.

Notice Shortcut (Any): A character can attempt a Perception check to notice a shortcut or other hidden feature that grants an advantage. This advantage is not as helpful for pursuers in a direct pursuit unless they split up or deduce a point where they are sure to intersect the quarries’ trail.

Professional Opinion (Any): A character with a relevant profession might be able to grant the party a significant advantage in a pursuit. For instance, in a pursuit through a mine, a character can attempt a Profession (miner) check to learn about the mine’s layout based on markings or other indicators the miners left for their colleagues.

Tight Squeeze (Underground): A character can attempt an Escape Artist check to fit more quickly and easily through narrow tunnels. This allows her to scout ahead to find more direct passages, set explosives to open up passages, or otherwise clear the way for allies. The DC varies depending on how tight the squeeze is.

Pursuit Tactics

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 146
Tactics are the key to shaking a tenacious pursuer or capturing an elusive quarry. The following tactics present many of the most basic methods for doing so, but if the PCs come up with a new tactic, the GM should use these examples as guidelines. Tactics can affect a single character, multiple characters, or the whole group. There is no limit to how many tactics a character or group can use, but common sense prevents using two contradictory tactics. Characters and groups decide which tactics they are using for each 1-hour pursuit phase, though some last for multiple phases or until the characters using them decide to stop. Some tactics require the group to be either the pursuers or the quarries, and can’t be used in races.

Individual Tactics

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 146
These tactics apply to individual characters, and each character decides whether she’s using the tactic.

Fast Track: A character using this tactic does not reduce her progress by half while tracking. However, she takes a –5 penalty on the Survival check to track. Abilities such as the ranger’s master hunter class feature negate this penalty.

Obscure Trail: Mark the terrain tile where a character starts and stops using this tactic. A character using this tactic reduces her progress by half in order to increase the DC to track her group by 5 throughout the marked section. This tactic requires the group to be quarries.

Recovery: A character can spend a phase tending to the health of her or her allies. This allows the character to cast healing spells, for example, which can be useful for removing nonlethal damage if the group has been hustling or making a forced march (see <%RULESGroup Tactics&Category=Pursuit Tactics">group tactics). A character that spends a phase helping with recovery can’t attempt to track or gain an advantage in that phase.

Special Movement: A character with consistent access to a fly speed, swim speed, or the like for a full pursuit phase might be able to move particularly quickly over the appropriate type of terrain; though, for instance, a character flying above a jungle canopy would not be able to follow a trail below.

Group Tactics

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 147
These tactics apply to the group, and can be used only if all characters agree to do so.

Forced March: A group using this tactic takes a ninth pursuit phase in the same day, directly after the eighth phase. As with a normal forced march during overland movement, this tactic causes each character to attempt a Constitution check or take 1d6 points of nonlethal damage (and possibly become fatigued).

Gather Information: A group that is stymied in tracking their adversaries can attempt to gather information with a Diplomacy check, though it takes 2 pursuit phases, and it requires either that there are people around to gather information from or access to special abilities that allow them to question things like animals, plants, or stones. The DC is typically 15, though it varies depending on the area and how sneaky the quarries were being. The information is sufficient to make progress during that pursuit phase without a successful Survival check.

Hustle: This tactic is analogous to hustling during overland movement. A group using this tactic can double the progress they make during that pursuit phase. They can use it once per day without consequences, but using it again requires all members of the group to take 1 point of nonlethal damage and become fatigued. Each additional hour spent hustling deals twice the amount of nonlethal damage of the previous hour. A group can hustle during a forced march, but they take the nonlethal damage and conditions from both, meaning a healthy group usually becomes exhausted when they do so. Hustling is a useful tactic with fairly light repercussions, but the group spends all of its time moving. This means that the obscure trail, recovery, gather information, and set a trap tactics can’t be used when hustling. Unless an advantage is focused specifically on movement (such as climbing lead or fancy footwork), it can’t be gained while hustling.

Intentional Hardships: A quarry group using this tactic chooses a circuitous or treacherous path to attempt to shake pursuers. This decreases their group’s progress by 2 as long as they use the tactic. Mark the terrain tile and amount of progress the group made on that tile when they start and stop using this tactic. While the pursuers are in the same area, their progress is reduced by 2, but their number of maximum advantages is increased by 2. Like advantages, this reduction applies after any multiplication or division due to tracking, hustling, and the like. For simplicity’s sake, the GM might want to require the quarry group to use intentional hardships when they first enter a terrain tile and stick to it throughout that terrain tile.

Set a Trap: A more extreme version of intentional hardships, this tactic involves leaving a trap or ambush for the pursuers somewhere along the path. Depending on the situation, this trap could take a varying amount of time to enact. Make a note of the terrain tile where the quarries left the trap or ambush and adjudicate it as a normal encounter. If a trap or ambush would involve the quarries themselves, they halt their progress until they spring the trap, and springing the trap likely ends the pursuit unless they split the group and sent someone ahead toward their destination. This tactic requires the group to be quarries.

Split Up: This tactic allows a group to split into multiple groups. For example, quarries might choose to do so to ensure that at least one character gets away (or to send off a decoy group that doesn’t carry what the pursuers want), whereas pursuers might choose to do so in order to attempt more Survival checks and have a greater chance not to lose the trail, or they might leave a tired but faster character behind to catch up later. Pursuers who split up will probably need to use magic, a smoke signal, or other means to arrange a rendezvous. This makes the pursuit more complicated, so GMs might want to consider restricting this tactic for their groups’ first few pursuits.

Damage, Fatigue, and Exhaustion

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Damage taken during a pursuit follows all the normal rules for damage. A healer can use the recovery tactic to take a break and cast healing spells (or spells that remove afflictions or conditions, for that matter).

The forced march and hustle tactics cause nonlethal damage, and can cause characters to become fatigued (or exhausted if they were already fatigued). This nonlethal damage goes away at a rate of 1 per hour, as normal, and a character can use the recovery tactic to remove more. However, a character who is fatigued or exhausted takes any penalties that apply before the nonlethal damage is healed and the conditions removed.

The following penalties apply to characters who become fatigued or exhausted.

Fatigued: A fatigued character reduces her personal progress by 1. This reduction applies before any multiplication or division due to the character tracking, hustling, or performing similar activities.

Exhausted: An exhausted character halves her personal progress. This stacks with tactics that halve her progress, leaving her at 1/4 of her normal personal progress, or tactics that double her progress, leaving her at her normal personal progress. A character that becomes fatigued by a tactic while already exhausted falls unconscious.

Unconscious: An unconscious character has a personal progress of 0, and can’t increase it as long as she remains unconscious. As with fatigue and exhaustion, the character must take this penalty for the entire phase in which she recovers from unconsciousness.


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Knowledge is power, and this is just as true in an ancient dungeon as in a queen’s court. In the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, the various Knowledge skills represent a character’s familiarity with different fields of study. Knowledge checks can often answer specific questions, but sometimes a character either fails the Knowledge check or has no hope of success, such as when the knowledge she seeks is forgotten, hidden, or important enough to the story that uncovering it with a simple skill check would be anticlimactic.

This is where research comes into play. Under the following rules system, characters can visit a library and use its resources to discover new information. While simple questions (such as identifying a monster, knowing a local rumor, or recognizing a deity and her symbols and clergy) may still be answered with a single Knowledge check as presented in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook, this system addresses more complex issues, such as learning details of an ancient pharaoh whose name has been lost to history, interpreting an infernal contract, or studying a comprehensive book of arcane lore. Many character concepts focus on the pursuit of knowledge, and spending time researching the topic in a library using the following rules can be a fun way to let that aspect of a character or party take center stage.

These rules can represent researching any repository of lore or knowledge: an actual library, a vast historical archive, a complicated legal contract, a city’s hall of records, a hoard of ancient scrolls, a magical tome of esoteric lore, a wizard’s personal collection of books and scrolls, or even a psychic’s memory palace. For the purposes of these rules, however, the term “library” is used to represent all of these possibilities.

Using a Library

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Every library has two primary statistics: a Complexity rating, which reflects the intricacy or confusing nature of the library’s contents, and knowledge points (abbreviated kp), which are an abstract representation of the sum of the library’s collected information.

To research a specific topic or question within a library, a character must succeed at a Research check, using one of the skills listed in the library’s stat block. Stat blocks for sample libraries are listed here. A Research check is akin to a Knowledge check, though each library stat block lists the specific skills that can be used for Research checks based on the nature of that library’s collections. A library’s Complexity rating serves as the DC for Research checks that attempt to unravel that library’s clues.

Attempting a Research check requires an uninterrupted 8-hour period of research, and a character cannot take 10 or 20 on a Research check. Each 8-hour period of research grants a cumulative +1 bonus on Research checks. If a researcher stops researching at the same library for a month or more, she loses any cumulative bonuses gained for that library thus far. Up to two additional characters can use the aid another action to assist a primary researcher. In addition, some libraries grant a Knowledge bonus—a bonus on specific Knowledge checks (including Research checks) attempted within that library—due to the depth and completeness of its collections. Research checks cannot normally be attempted untrained unless the library’s Complexity is 10 or lower, the Research check involves a skill that allows untrained checks, or the library’s collection is extensive enough to allow untrained checks, as detailed in the library’s stat block.

Succeeding at a Research check reduces a library’s knowledge points, similar to dealing damage to a creature’s hit points. As its knowledge points decrease, a library reveals its secrets. Characters learn information when a library’s knowledge points reach various research thresholds, as detailed in each library’s stat block. The amount of knowledge points reduced on a successful Research check depends on the nature of the primary researcher and the type of library. It is generally a reflection of the character’s training and Intelligence score, represented by a die roll modified by the character’s ability modifier (see Research by Expertise, below).

In addition to these base amounts, for every 5 by which a Research check exceeds the library’s Complexity rating, the library’s knowledge points are reduced by 1 additional point. Rolling a natural 20 on a Research check acts like a critical threat. If the researcher confirms the critical hit by succeeding at a second Research check with all the same modifiers (this takes no additional time), the resulting knowledge point reduction is doubled. Conversely, rolling a natural 1 on a Research check automatically results in failure, and the library’s knowledge points increase by 1/4 of the library’s maximum knowledge points as the library’s complexity causes a researcher to follow a wrong avenue of investigation.

When a library’s knowledge points are reduced to 0, the characters have learned everything they can from that library, and gain experience points according to the library’s CR. To learn additional information, they must visit another library and continue their research there.

Research by Expertise

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A successful Research check reduces a library’s knowledge points by a certain amount, just as a successful attack roll in combat reduces a creature’s hit points, and this amount depends on the primary researcher’s training in the skill she used for the Research check. A primary researcher reduces a library’s kp by 1d12 + her Intelligence modifier if she has either 10 ranks in the skill, Skill Focus in the skill, or both 5 ranks in the skill and the skill as a class skill. She reduces a library’s kp by 1d8 + her Intelligence modifier if she has either 5 ranks in the skill or the skill is a class skill for her (but not both). Otherwise, she reduces a library’s kp by 1d4 + her Intelligence modifier.

Alternate Ability Scores: At the GM’s discretion, a character with an ability that replaces her Intelligence score with another ability score for the purpose of Knowledge checks (such as a lore oracle or shaman) can also use that ability score instead of Intelligence to determine the reduction of kp. Beyond that, characters well suited for research in a particular library might modify the result of the die roll with a different ability modifier. For instance, a brawler or fighter carrying out research in a fighting school’s library might add her Strength modifier instead of her Intelligence modifier to the result. With the variety of options available to characters in the form of character classes, archetypes, prestige classes, and other customizable selections, it’s ultimately up to the GM to decide which characters are best suited for research in a particular library.

Character Class Variant: In this variant, how much a library’s kp are reduced depends on the researching character’s class, rather than on her training in the listed skill. For the purposes of this variant, character classes can be divided into three broad researcher categories: polymaths, scholars, and novices. Polymaths are characters with the ability to attempt any Knowledge check untrained, such as bards, loremasters, and skalds. A polymath reduces a library’s kp by 1d12 + the character’s Intelligence modifier with a successful Research check. Scholars are academic characters, including Intelligence-based spellcasters, alchemists, investigators, lore shamans, and lore oracles. A scholar reduces a library’s kp by 1d8 + the character’s Intelligence modifier with a successful Research check. All other characters are considered novices, being either uneducated or untrained in scholarly research. A novice reduces a library’s kp by 1d4 + the character’s Intelligence modifier with a successful Research check.

However, certain character classes might be better suited for research in specific libraries that have collections focusing on fields of study particularly relevant to those classes and their abilities. For example, a cleric or inquisitor researching in a religious library connected to her faith might be considered a scholar or even a polymath instead of a novice, or a cavalier or warpriest undertaking research at a famous war college might be considered a scholar while arcanists and wizards are treated as novices.

Designing a Library

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Although some sample libraries are presented at the end of this section, the research rules are most rewarding when used in conjunction with libraries specifically designed to interact with an adventure’s story and characters. You can use the following guidelines to create libraries tailored to your campaign’s needs.

Step 1—Determine the Nature of a Library’s Collection: First, come up with a general idea of what sort of library you want to create and what sort of knowledge it contains. Is it a small village library, or a capital city’s vast historical collection? The recently rediscovered archive of a forgotten monastic sect, or the collected notes of a famed author? Maybe it’s an ancient repository of dark magic and disturbing rituals. What manner of information the PCs can learn from researching in this library depends on its contents—a library holding the rightful ancestry of a lost claimant to the throne is likely different from one offering cures to a necromancer’s undead plague.

Step 2—Determine Research Check Skills: Assign Knowledge skills that can be used in Research checks. These skills should be relevant to the overall theme of the library. Libraries typically have three Knowledge skills that can be used for Research checks; however, smaller libraries might have only two assigned skills, while exceptionally extensive collections might have four assigned skills or more. If the library allows any of these skills to be used untrained, you should decide that as well.

Step 3—Determine Knowledge Bonus: Decide if the library grants a bonus on Knowledge checks used for Research checks in the library. Not every library grants a bonus, but a library focusing on a particular field of study almost always grants a Knowledge bonus to the associated Knowledge skill. A typical library grants a Knowledge bonus from +2 to +5, depending on the size of the library and the quality of its collections.

Step 4—Determine CR: Establish the library’s CR according to the needs of a specific adventure or campaign, typically basing it on the Average Party Level (APL) of the player characters. The higher the CR, the more challenging it is for characters to complete their research. Refer to Table 12–1 to determine the appropriate CR for your group, using the same difficulty guidelines as encounters (easy, average, challenging, hard, epic). For example, for a party of four 6th-level PCs, a CR 6 library is average difficulty, CR 5 is easy, CR 7 is challenging, CR 8 is hard, and CR 9 is an epic challenge. Keep in mind that increasing the CR of a library still doesn’t stop successful research from eventually happening without either time pressure (see Step 7) or penalties for failure (see Additional Elements). If you set an extremely high-CR library against a low-level party without either of those elements, determine the XP they receive accordingly (low or no experience), rather than as per a monster of that CR.

Step 5—Determine Complexity: A library’s Complexity should be fairly challenging since the rules for research assume that the best researcher is the primary researcher, allow two checks to aid another, often add an additional bonus on the Research check, and offer a cumulative bonus on future Research checks. For simple libraries, see Table 3–3 for sample base DCs. For an average library, add 5 to the DC; for a difficult library, add 10. For extremely challenging libraries, you can increase the Complexity by even more, but be aware that research in such a library will be exceptionally difficult, so it might make more sense to increase the library’s CR instead. Step 6—Calculate Knowledge Points: A library’s knowledge point total is often equal to the library’s CR × 3.

Table 3-3: Library Complexity by CR


Step 7—Determine the Time Pressure: Thanks to the cumulative bonus on Research checks, eventually even a 1st-level character trained in one of the research skills will fully research a CR 20 library. If there is no sense of time pressure or penalty for failure (see Additional Elements), the research system becomes merely an unnecessary delay in the story’s progress since the result isn’t in question. For this reason, most research tasks should include a hard limit on how many days the PCs have to succeed. Since the PCs’ ability to reduce a library’s knowledge points does not scale up as quickly as the library’s knowledge points, low-level libraries usually require only 1 or 2 successful Research checks to reach 0 kp; on the other hand, even the most scholarly character can only hope to reduce a CR 20 library to 0 kp in 6 successes (and a more modest lead researcher is likely to need at least 12 successes). Thus, low-CR libraries merit a time pressure of a week or less, whereas high-CR libraries need at least 2 weeks to a month to give most groups enough time to complete them. As always, know your group when designing the time pressure. If a high-level group doesn’t have anyone with more than a few ranks in any of the associated skills, it will need more time to build up cumulative bonuses before it can crack the library.

Step 8—Determine Research Thresholds: The final step in designing a library is creating its research thresholds. In general, a library with 25 kp or fewer has one research threshold for every 5 kp, revealed at 5-kp intervals, while a library with 30 kp or more has one research threshold for every 10 kp, revealed at 10-kp intervals. However, this is just a guideline, and the exact number of research thresholds and their frequency should be determined by how much information the library contains or the plot requires. For example, a library with 30 kp could have research thresholds at 20 kp, 10 kp, and 0 kp, but it could instead reveal information at 25 kp, 20 kp, 10 kp, 8 kp, and 0 kp.

Once you have determined the number and frequency of a library’s research thresholds, decide the specific piece of information revealed at each research threshold. Every bit of knowledge gained at a research threshold should be unique, based on the story you want to tell or the topic the characters are researching. However, the new information might build on the old, narrowing it down with more specific details and useful facets.

Additional Elements

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Libraries can be further customized to make research more challenging, rewarding, or dangerous by incorporating the following elements.

Additional Languages: A library could consist entirely of volumes written in languages other than Common. To attempt a Research check in such a library, characters who don’t speak the language must succeed at a Linguistics check or have access to magic such as comprehend languages, and the magic must be active for the entire 8-hour research session. The DC of the Linguistics check depends on the language and the researcher. For modern human languages, such as ethnic or national languages, or nonhuman tongues that are included in a character’s racial bonus languages (such as an elf attempting to research Sylvan writings), the DC is 20. For other non-human tongues that are not part of a character’s racial bonus languages (such as a dwarf trying to do research in a gnoll library) or secret languages (such as Druidic), the DC is 25. For ancient, archaic, forgotten, otherworldly, or exceptionally rare languages, the DC is 30. A character using Linguistics to translate proceeds at 1/3 the normal rate (requiring three 8-hour sessions instead of one for each Research check and to gain the +1 cumulative bonus), and a character using Linguistics or magic takes a –2 penalty on Research checks due to the possibility of losing context that would have been more obvious in his native language.

Labyrinths and Secret Chambers: Some libraries are labyrinthine, either so disorganized as to become puzzles or purposely designed to hide their greatest secrets. Other libraries could be less mazelike, but their deeper secrets might lie behind hidden doors or within concealed chambers only the most determined can discover.

In the case of labyrinths, each threshold of knowledge achieved takes the researcher deeper into the library’s confusing twists and turns. Finding one’s way out or finding the path to the next knowledge threshold requires either careful planning (a trail of objects, or using string to navigate the way back) or a successful Intelligence check to find the way. The Intelligence check can have a DC of 10, 15, or even 20, and should take an amount of time appropriate for the size of the library. Each attempt could be a manner of minutes, hours, or even days if the library is truly massive or extradimensional. Further research cannot be conducted while a researcher finds her way out.

In the case of secret chambers, typically the doors to such locations must be found before a kp threshold can be breached, or such chambers can be more symbolic, such as the case of print written in invisible ink, hidden with secret page, or requiring a psychic duel before the secrets are revealed and further research progress can be made.

Library Encounters: Books and scrolls aren’t the only things found in libraries. A library can be turned into an adventure or dungeon all its own with separate chambers and rooms serving as different encounter locations. As PCs undertake their research in the library, they can fight monsters inhabiting the library, roleplay with NPCs engaged in their own research, or overcome hazards, traps, and other obstacles, such as collapsing ceilings and walls, explosive runes, fire traps, glyphs of warding, secret pages, symbols, or simply rickety ladders and unstable shelves.

In addition, researching in a given room of the library might allow characters to reduce the library’s knowledge points only by a limited amount. In order to fully reduce the library’s kp to 0, perhaps PCs must visit multiple collections in the library, encountering all of the dangers in those rooms before their research is complete. Certain libraries might generate guardians on a regular basis, thus forcing encounters every day or every week until the PCs manage to reduce the library’s kp to 0.

Penalty for Failure: Some libraries are so convoluted and bewildering that failing a Research check can hamper a researcher’s progress, or even thwart it entirely. This can be the result of excessively poor organization, such as in a senile old wizard’s hodgepodge of books accumulated over decades, or due to deliberate obfuscation, as in the case of infernal contracts. In such libraries, various unusual penalties or consequences might occur after a particular number of Research checks or after a failed Research check. Such a library might not allow the cumulative bonus on further Research checks for each 8-hour period. Furthermore, failing two consecutive Research checks means the researcher has reached a dead end in her studies and is unable to further decrease the library’s knowledge points. In this case, the library’s knowledge points return to maximum and the researcher can’t attempt to research in that particular library again until she gains a rank in at least one of the library’s associated skills or recovers some key or clue to help decipher it.

Research Rewards: Characters can gain more than just knowledge in libraries; they might also find valuable treasures. You can place treasures in a library that are uncovered only when the library’s kp are reduced to specific research thresholds. Such treasures often take the form of scrolls, spellbooks, and magic manuals and tomes, or “intellectual” items such as a headband of vast intelligence or a helm of comprehend languages and read magic. Other objects such as rods, wands, figurines of wondrous power, or even crystal balls might be buried or hidden behind larger stacks of books, just waiting to be discovered by diligent researchers.

Specialized Skills: Instead of assigning specific Knowledge skills to a library’s Research check, you can use Linguistics as the default Research check skill, and assign specialized skills that reflect the specific nature of the library’s collections. To carry out research in such a library, a character must succeed at a Linguistics check or at one of the specialized skill checks listed in the library’s stat block. The Linguistics check follows all of the normal rules for Research checks, but if a researcher uses the more specialized check to perform her research, she gains a +2 circumstance bonus on the check for using precisely the correct skill for that library, as opposed to the more general use of Linguistics. This element otherwise follows all of the other rules for Research checks. Any skill, not just Knowledge skills, can be a specialized skill. For example, a military library might have Profession (soldier) as a specialized skill, an archive of famous plays might use Perform (act), or a tome of arcane magic might allow Spellcraft as a specialized skill. The circumstance bonus from specialized skills replaces the general bonus to Knowledge checks a library would otherwise grant; thus if the library is particularly helpful, it might grant more than a +2 circumstance bonus.

Sample Libraries

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Libraries can exist in a wide variety of forms, from actual collections of printed books, handwritten scrolls, and indexed volumes to single, encyclopedic tomes of abstruse wisdom or painstakingly detailed legal contracts full of impenetrable language. The following are some examples of types of libraries characters might visit to conduct research. Rather than a specific name, each of these sample libraries is given a generic title that indicates the nature of its collections or where it might be located. GMs can use these examples as guidelines for creating their own custom libraries.

Reading a Library Stat Block

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The libraries presented below use the following format.

Library Name: This is the name of the library, archive, book, or other repository of knowledge.

CR: This is the CR of the library, representing its complexity and the possible dangers found within it.

XP: This entry lists the experience points gained for reducing the library to 0 kp.

Complexity: This value is the DC of the Research check required to reduce the library’s kp.

Languages: This lists the languages necessary to navigate the library without magical aid or Linguistic checks. If a library has multiple languages, and the researcher does not possess the ability to read all the listed languages, she can still attempt checks, but for each language she doesn’t know, she takes a –2 penalty on Research checks.

Research Check: This entry lists the skills (usually Knowledge skills) that can be used to attempt Research checks. If a library allows untrained Knowledge checks due to the extensiveness of its collections, that is noted in this section as well.

Knowledge Bonus: This entry lists the bonus (if any) a library grants on specific Knowledge checks. This bonus applies to all of the Knowledge skills that can be used for Research checks in that library, and affects all such checks attempted by a character inside a library or studying its contents, whether they are Research checks or single Knowledge checks.

kp: This entry lists the library’s maximum number of knowledge points.

Research Thresholds: These entries list a library’s research thresholds, and the specific piece of information learned at each threshold.

Town Sage’s Abandoned Study

The town’s sage has been missing for about a month. Not only do the various notes and tomes in his study contain secrets about his hometown, but a careful search can also uncover clues as to his disappearance.

Town Sage's Abandoned Study   CR 2

XP 600
Complexity 13 (easy)
Languages Common
Research Check Knowledge (local) or Knowledge (nature);
Knowledge Bonus +0
kp 6

Research Thresholds

kp 3 At low tide, a hidden entrance to underground caverns becomes visible beneath the town’s docks. According to a number of local legends, pirates hid their booty in the caves.
kp 1 The flower seller in the town square is the local priest’s illegitimate daughter. Given the priest’s vow of chastity, if this knowledge became public, he could lose respect among the townsfolk and likely his position as the town’s priest.
kp 0 The leader of the bandits in the woods outside town claims to be the deposed lord of the neighboring barony, and wants to raise an army to take back his title and lands. The sage’s notes indicate that he was planning on seeking out this bandit lord and using his records to help prove the veracity of the claim.

Wizard’s Arcane Library

With a cruel wizard vanquished, the only clue to what kind of wards he has placed on his spellbook can be found in his arcane library. The library also holds other secrets.

Wizard's Arcane Library   CR 6

XP 2,400
Complexity 18 (easy)
Languages Common
Research Check Knowledge (arcana, untrained), Knowledge (planes), or Knowledge (religion); Knowledge Bonus +2
kp 18

Research Thresholds

kp 15 The wizard’s spellbook is warded with a fire trap.
kp 10 The password to bypass the spellbook’s fire trap is “everiss.”
kp 5 The ghost the wizard keeps locked away in the tower can only be permanently destroyed if her wedding ring is returned to her descendants. The wizard hid the wedding ring in his extraplanar stronghold.
kp 0 The elder xorn Gissijaak has a taste for garnets, and can be convinced to guide people to the wizard’s extraplanar stronghold on the Plane of Earth if bribed with a particularly large stone.

Imperial War College

While this large collection of tracts, scrolls, schematics, and battle plans tends to deal with military strategy and the building of fortifications, secrets are hidden amid some of its more obscure works. These secrets give some insights into the hobgoblins massing on the borderlands of the duchy, plus the fate of a long-missing heirloom and a possible way to retrieve it.

Imperial War College   CR 12

XP 19,200
Complexity 32 (average)
Languages Common
Research Check Knowledge (engineering, untrained), Knowledge (history), or Profession (soldier, untrained); Knowledge Bonus +4
kp 36

Research Thresholds

kp 30 Master Saval at the Hammer and Anvil believes that red hair is a blessing from the Lord of Battles, and frequently offers discounts on masterwork and enchanted weapons to ginger-headed warriors.
kp 25 When the Duke of Gacy was slain in the Battle of a Hundred Spears, his legendary shield, Bulwark, was never recovered. It is believed that the hobgoblins’ war chief, Klathuk the Merciless, took it as a trophy.
kp 15 Detailed blueprints illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of Fort Kallin. All of the border forts on the northern frontier were built to the same plan.
kp 5 Scouting reports mention a shield matching Bulwark’s description in the hands of a hobgoblin warlord currently gathering an army in the Yellow Hills. It’s rumored that this new war chief is either the descendant of Klathuk the Merciless or defeated the aging warlord in battle.
kp 0 A secret postern gate in the southeast wall of Castle Daminal provides access to the guard barracks. The castle fell to the hobgoblin warlord a month ago, and it’s believed he is using it as a base of operations.

Astral Dragon’s Memory Palace

This esoteric library is an immersive mindscape where an ancient astral dragon stores her knowledge and memories in an elaborate cloud palace. The mindscape is overt and has a self-contained shape. Its feedback is harmless, and it has normal gravity, normal time, and magic works normally within it.

The dragon’s memory palace is extremely complex, and filled with nearly all of her experiences from her millennia of existence, categorized in a very occult fashion. What is even more challenging is that outsiders can access the mindscape only while the dragon sleeps. While the dragon tends to slumber for long periods (typically between 7–13 days), when it awakens any intruders are expelled from the mindscape—unless they discover the secret that lets them stay within the mindscape while the dragon is awake.

Astral Dragon's Memory Palace   CR 18

XP 153,600
Complexity 46 (difficult)
Languages Draconic
Research Check Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (history), or Knowledge (planes); Knowledge Bonus +5
kp 54

Research Thresholds

kp 50 The dragon saved a group of shulsagas and, in return for the assistance, those strange disk-riding humanoids gave her a password that allows the dragon or any of her allies to enter shulsaga territory unhindered.
kp 40 The shulsaga password is “kayith namast.”
kp 30 Deep in a particularly volatile section of the Astral Plane, the shulsagas are building a large vessel that they plan to use to raid other planes. They seem especially fixated on raiding the Boneyard, the Negative Energy Plane, and the Positive Energy Plane.
kp 20 There is a way that interlopers can stay within the memory palace while the dragon is awake. They must first have dimensional anchor cast upon them while in the memory palace and must refrain from eating, drinking, or sleeping while the dragon is awake.
kp 10 A planar map shows many portals scattered around the Astral Plane that allow passage to most of the other known planes. The dragon believes that the portals were created by manasaputras, but has not been able to learn why they were created or what keys are needed to open them.
kp 5 The astral dragon has accumulated a substantial treasury kept on the Positive Energy Plane in the care of a group of jyoti. The dragon worries that the jyoti have no plans to return her hoard.
kp 0 A map and occult ritual found in the library claims to allow living creatures to enter the Akashic Record, a demiplane in the Astral Plane tied to the heart of occult philosophy.

Spells of Intrigue

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Magic influences nearly everything in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. In an intrigue-based campaign, the principal focus shifts from exploration and dungeondelving— where magic is primarily used for survival and fighting—to navigating complex and precarious social interactions. Politics, organized crime, espionage, mercantilism, and other intrigue-based objectives require extensive use of subtlety, subterfuge, thoughtful planning, and orchestrated tactics. As a result, characters engaged in intrigue often utilize spells that are geared toward communication rather than combat, spying and intelligence-gathering rather than physical defense, and winning power and influence rather than slaying opponents outright and taking their treasure.

The following section offers advice on certain spells particularly likely to see use in an intrigue-focused game, organized by level of play and spell school.

Low-Level Play (1–6)

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At early levels, the number of spells available is smaller, but these are sometimes the most important spells to understand. Low-level spells of intrigue (typically 3rd level or lower) can remain useful at high levels, and high-level characters can cast them far more often.


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Nothing can alter the fundamental flow of an entire adventure or campaign quite like divinations. The rules for divination spells contain many gray areas. Unfortunately, that can lead to GMs either reining in these spells too tightly (sometimes making them a waste of a spell slot), or allowing divinations to provide far more information than the spell should allow, potentially derailing the story. Many GMs feel that divinations are the primary reason high-level games can be difficult to run.

When adjudicating the results of divinations, you, as the GM, should apply the principle of “yes, but. . .” rather than simply saying “yes” or “no.” In other words, the PCs can get the kind of information the spell indicates, but that information doesn’t include other factors beyond the scope of the spell. Or perhaps it comes in a cryptic form, is sketchy because the PCs didn’t have enough information to connect the dots, or is otherwise less than ideal. These spells have built-in restrictions that prevent them from being perfect, and targets can prepare countermeasures to vex casters.

Information is a key factor in many games, and divination magic often plays a central role in uncovering that information. Information allows characters to lay ambushes instead of being ambushed, to bypass threats to pursue their goals most efficiently, to prepare exactly the right countermeasures for their opposition, and more. As the GM, ultimately, you are the channel through which all the knowledge about the world flows. You are responsible for providing the appropriate information to both the PCs and the NPCs. You should give them the information their characters would have and not withhold knowledge, but you should also control the information flow in a way that enhances the game.

Some of the first divinations available to characters can often cause the most disruptions because they are available at will: detect poison and especially detect magic. Detection spells generally cannot pierce solid material, including a thin layer of lead, so consider having NPCs use lead linings for important secrets. The idea of using appropriate precautions makes a particularly formidable NPC seem like a more worthy adversary after the fact, once the PCs find the hidden secret, though if every NPC does this, it can quickly cheapen that effect.

Though it might seem humble, the ability to find a creature, object, or location can easily short-circuit an entire adventure based around discovering something lost or hidden. However, spells that find things have significant limitations, and the first line of defense against allowing locator spells to damage the fun of a campaign is knowledge. Characters can’t attempt to locate something they don’t even know exists, and several of those spells have further restrictions that depend on the caster’s level of knowledge about the target.

Augury: Conceptually, having only four options (weal, woe, both, and neither) seems simple enough, but the trick comes in that almost everything involves a little bit of weal or woe—so where do you draw the line? Remember that the spell can see only 30 minutes into the future. It doesn’t take into account long-term consequences of the action. That means that, for instance, making a deal with a devil to gain 1,000 gp in exchange for possibly forfeiting your soul sometime in the future would probably be considered a weal by a casting of augury.

If the half-hour isn’t enough to decide, then think about the personality of the caster’s deity or spirit. For instance, a god of bravery might think that a CR-appropriate battle with great loot is a weal because that sounds like a grand adventure, while a more cautious deity might say that is a weal and woe.

You can’t predict everything that will happen, so just try to make your best guess—even the gods can’t be sure exactly how the PCs will behave! Try to remember that “neither” is a valid option, particularly since that’s the result when the spell fails to give an accurate response. The caster must consider whether the “neither” result is a false negative or a true negative. Augury costs 25 gp to cast, so likely the PCs won’t throw it around indiscriminately, even at higher levels.

Clairaudience/Clairvoyance: This spell is the lowest-level scouting spell, and so is often the first to appear in play. It allows PCs to examine their surroundings or eavesdrop without endangering themselves, but has a large number of mitigating factors, which can make it trickier to use.

Clairaudience/clairvoyance has a limited range of 400 feet, plus 40 feet per caster level. While that is generally enough to see areas in the same dungeon, the spell can’t just look anywhere. The caster must place the sensor in a known locale or a familiar place, or somewhere he can see. This prevents blindly casting it on whatever is 100 feet in a given direction, for instance. The casting time of this spell—10 minutes—is quite long, likely wasting the duration of other spells currently cast on the party. It is also a major security risk to chant for 10 minutes straight in a loud and clear voice in hostile territory, so this spell is best paired with Silent Spell for safety’s sake. This spell lasts only 1 minute per level, which makes it difficult to spy on long conversations unless the caster knows exactly the right time. Finally, the spell doesn’t project any enhanced senses, so even if the caster has darkvision, if the spell hits a dark area, he can only see in a 10-foot radius. Unlike some of the more powerful scrying subschool spells, the caster can’t move the sensor beyond rotating it.

The clairaudience version of the spell can better detect things in the dark, but making sense of auditory stimuli can be tricky. Finally, remember that the enemies might potentially notice invisible magical sensors (the base DC to notice a sensor is 23 for this spell). Detect scrying automatically detects the spell and possibly reveals the PCs’ nearby location, too, potentially allowing the observed enemies to retaliate quickly.

Detect Evil: This entry applies to other alignment detection spells and abilities, as well. In some stories, concealing a character’s alignment is important; it can be particularly challenging in the presence of a paladin or inquisitor who uses detect evil at will (or some familiars that have constant detect evil). Fortunately, there are a lot of easy ways to protect against these spells.

The first thing to note is that at the lowest levels, alignment detection spells simply don’t register NPCs due to their low level. Other than clerics, undead, and evil outsiders, creatures require 5 Hit Dice or more to register with detect evil. The second thing to keep in mind is that creatures with actively evil, good, chaotic, and lawful intents register as that alignment if they have enough Hit Dice, regardless of their actual alignment. So a selfish merchant whose heart is moved by an orphan’s plight into an act of largesse would register as good at the time, and a loyal knight forced to kill an innocent child to stop a war could appear evil while she formulates and executes the deed. The final thing to consider is that alignment detection is exceptionally easy and cheap to foil in the long-term.

Some GMs rely on expensive, high-level, short-duration spells that could fail based on a d20 roll such as misdirection and nondetection, but the 1st-level bard spell undetectable alignment lasts 24 hours and works automatically. A wand containing this spell lasts for longer than a month and costs only 750 gp. Several new spells and magic items in this book also help protect against alignment detection.

As always, it is important to use countermeasures that the NPC in question would reasonably and realistically use, considering the NPC’s circumstances and the cost of employing the countermeasure. Spending 15 gold pieces a day for a charge from a <%SPELLSundetectable alignment">wand of undetectable alignment is clearly worth it for an important spy who expects to match wits with paladins who can test her alignment, but it isn’t reasonable for a random evil monster living alone in the sewers. Also, undetectable alignment fools alignment detection, but it leaves the telltale aura of undetectable alignment itself on the NPC, which could give him away just as easily if not combined with other effects to obscure the magical aura of the spell.

Detect Magic: Though this at-will cantrip is an extremely powerful tool, remember that concentrating to maintain the spell consumes the caster’s standard action every round, and may significantly slow a party’s progress when timing is important or action is required. It also requires several rounds to reveal useful information.

On the first round of the spell, the caster doesn’t learn more than the presence or absence of magical auras in a 60-foot cone. If the wizard is standing behind someone in the party who has a magic item, he’ll get a false positive. Even on the second round, the caster just learns the number of auras and the power of the most potent aura, so it takes quite a while to pinpoint the locations of each aura. For instance, a common complaint about detect magic is that it might reveal invisible creatures, but in reality, an invisible creature can easily run circles around the concentrating wizard’s cone, never allowing the wizard enough time to pinpoint it.

The final and most important point to note is the fact that magical areas, multiple types of magic, and stronger auras can distort or conceal weaker auras. Very few GMs use this to its full potential. For instance, the NPCs might build their base on a ley line in order to mask magic auras. If all else fails, numerous countermeasures protect against a simple detect magic spell, starting with nonmagical means such as thin layers of lead and moving to magic aura, nondetection, misdirection, and more. Take a look at greater magic aura for a solid countermeasure. Greater detect magic allows for some interesting additional pieces of information, but it’s a 2nd-level spell, so it can never be as ubiquitous as the 0-level version. Greater magic aura still foils greater detect magic.

Detect Poison: This spell makes it trivial for even a fledgling acolyte to detect the presence of poison, and seems to kill the entire idea of poisoning the king’s drink. One solution is to slip poison into something that it wouldn’t be socially acceptable to check with detect poison or that the consuming character doesn’t even stop to check, such as poisoning the spoons rather than the meal. Clever assassins may poison something that is supposed to have poison in it (such as alcohol). Even though ethanol alcohol (along with other possible food additives) is a neurotoxin, it doesn’t have its own poison stat block, and you’ll want to make your stance clear on poisonous substances not listed with specific poison rules to your players. If you use this option, the caster still has to fail the DC 20 Wisdom check (which is quite likely, particularly at lower levels). For added concealment, use an overdose of the same sort of poison already expected to be in the dish, so even a successful check wouldn’t help (such as lethal quantities of wormwood in a glass of absinthe). Obscure poison, a 1st-level spell, can also make a poison harder to detect, and the languid venom spell can both delay the onset of a poison and make it slightly harder to detect.

Detect Thoughts: This spell’s notorious ambiguity often leads back to the idea that, as the GM, you are the one who ultimately controls the flow of information. Reading surface thoughts doesn’t act perfectly to give the information that the PCs want, even if the target fails its saving throw, instead only betraying a character’s immediate concerns. For instance, the rakshasa disguised as a noble probably isn’t thinking “I’m a rakshasa” all the time, but she might generally think of things in oddly predatory terms. Give the PCs something interesting and worthwhile but, most importantly, the spell should tell them something that makes sense for the target to be thinking and provide clues more than answers.

Clever PCs could combine detect thoughts with an interrogation session in an attempt to gather answers to specific questions. Against rank-and-file foes who are nonetheless too loyal to intimidate, this is very likely to work. However, liars skilled enough to remove any tells from their social deceit often train themselves not to dwell on their prevarications, so characters with high ranks in Bluff are likely able to obfuscate their surface thoughts. Still, if the PCs aren’t sure whether they’ve captured a spy, their captive might reveal that she is more than she seems when the PCs’ pointed questions are met with surface thoughts repeating a soothing rhyme or song.

Seek thoughts allows a character to sweep through many more people’s minds than detect thoughts, but still allows a saving throw (and with multiple targets, the caster isn’t aware who made or failed the save). The same adjudication on surface thoughts applies: a sweeping search for surface thoughts about being the murderer will only work if the murderer is actively thinking about being such. A true sociopath might be thinking about their lunch, though clever PCs might be able to use this information as evidence that the sociopathic NPC is suspicious.

Locate Object: Many GMs fear that a PC who casts locate object can locate key objects and ignore entire sections of an adventure. The good news is, unless the adventure was about the PCs being robbed of an item in a small town, that fear is probably baseless (and in many circumstances, there are countermeasures to this spell).

The first thing to note about locate object is its long range. Even 400 feet plus 40 feet per caster level is not very far in a city or overland adventure. Also, PCs cannot specify a unique item as the target of this spell unless they have observed the particular item firsthand (not through divination). In the majority of adventures focused on finding an item, the object is a unique item that the PCs have not observed firsthand. Finally, this spell is blocked by a thin sheet of lead. So any competent thief in a world with divinations is likely to store the object of her larceny within a bag that is lined with a thin sheet of lead, at least until she can get far enough away from pursuit. Precautions like these show the antagonists’ understanding of the nature of magic and the world around them.

Speak with Animals and Speak with Plants: These two spells are useful in that animals and plants often observe plenty of secrets, and even the most meticulous murderer rarely thinks of a houseplant as a witness. However, these entities have either low or no intelligence, and they look at the world in a different way than people do. It’s important to strike a balance with these spells so that they provide useful information that’s worth casting a spell without breaking every mystery. The way to do that is all in the art of roleplaying animals and plants. Have them pay attention to things that are immediate and important for an animal or a plant, but not necessarily to details that the PCs want to know. Use these spells to offer more clues colored by the animal or plant’s worldview.

Zone of Truth: Truth-telling magic often has interesting consequences when combined with intrigue. Even ignoring spells such as glibness that allow someone to lie directly in a zone of truth, a creature can succeed at its saving throw against the spell without the caster ever knowing. Creatures can also simply avoid speaking a direct lie, or even speak an untruth that she thinks is true, potentially through the use of memory-altering magic such as modify memory or false belief. This advice applies for other truth-telling magic as well, such as discern lies.

Other Divinations: A few rare, highly specific divination spells have the potential to disrupt an intrigue-based game.

Blood Biography: This spell offers several options to a spellcaster who gains possession of a creature’s blood, identifying the creature that shed the blood as well as the circumstance and time of the bloodshed, to that creature’s knowledge. In terms of living creatures, beyond a successful Will saving throw, the best protection for a creature against this spell is also generally a good way to prevent penalties against spells such as scrying: try not to leave blood for the PCs to find. Much like in a modern crime drama with DNA evidence, in a game with blood biography, a bloodstain from the culprit is a powerful piece of evidence that can often assure a successful investigation on its own. Of course, a wily criminal can plant the blood of an innocent at the scene to throw off the trail. However, that could cause issues due to the fact that the spell reveals how and when the blood was shed, unless the criminal can manipulate a truly devious frame-up that includes suspicious circumstances and timing. Another option, if cleaning up blood with prestidigitation or similar spells is out of the question, is to scatter blood from so many different sources throughout the area that the mixture makes the search nearly impossible. The other use of the spell, particularly in a murder, is that it can potentially reveal details of the murder, just like with spells such as speak with dead. In addition to the advice for speak with dead below, a murderer could consider killing in such a way as to avoid spilling blood. Or, he could even plant blood from a previous situation that didn’t involve the killer and then use spells such as dress corpse to obscure the time and cause of death to match the earlier bloodshed.

Create Treasure Map: This spell allows the PCs to gain a map to whatever a dead creature considered most valuable. Since the spell indicates that the value is subjective and might include intangibles, such as a mate or a favorite place to find food, the spell usually offers numerous opportunities for other interesting adventures. It does this without forcing the GM’s hand on any particular issue, particularly since it takes an hour to cast, costs 100 gp, and requires the particularly ghoulish task of using a corpse’s skin as the map. Sometimes, however, there is just no way around it: the evil cultist who worships the mad artifact as a god certainly considers it to be the most valuable treasure in the area, for instance. In these cases, one countermeasure that also protects against various other divinations is to ensure that the villain’s underlings have some level of misinformation, or no information at all. For instance, the cult leader might allow her lackeys to believe that the artifact is always housed within their secret but insecure temple, while in reality, she usually switches it for an elaborately trapped fake. Since create treasure map can’t account for inconsistencies or holes in a creature’s knowledge, even blindfolding cult members or using teleportation to bring them to the worship chamber would prevent them from leaking its secret location.


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The main danger with enchantments lies in removing agency from a character, either a PC or NPC, and the main difficulty in running them is adjudicating just how much they do so. As such, they are much easier to deal with than divinations, as they have less variety in the difficulties that arise. In all cases, a DC 25 (or lower) Sense Motive check notices that someone is enchanted. (See Skills in Conflict for more information on using Sense Motive to detect enchantment.)

Charm Person: The main thing to remember about charm magic is that it is not a compulsion (that is a different subschool of enchantment), which means it doesn’t directly force someone to do something. Instead, the spell basically makes someone feel like the caster is a friend, and puts what the caster says in the best possible light. Just like in the Diplomacy section of Skills in Conflict, being someone’s friend doesn’t mean the caster gets to dictate everything they do, and even the opposed Charisma check the spell grants can only go so far; it doesn’t compel them to act exactly as the caster desires.

For instance, an evil necromancer might be willing to allow her friend to sit as her new right hand, but she won’t quit her entire life’s goal just because a friend asked, even with an opposed Charisma check. This advice applies equally as well to other charm spells (such as charm animal and charm monster).

Suggestion: Suggestion and its ilk, on the other hand, actually are mind-controlling spells. The key to suggestion is that it has to be presented in a reasonable fashion—and certain suggestions would simply never be reasonable for the target in question. The more creative the player, or the sharper his understanding of an NPC’s motivations, the more often he can use this spell to his advantage. Players should be rewarded for this type of ingenuity, especially at lower levels when suggestion is one of the most powerful spells available. In mid-level play (or for a resourceful low-level villain), adversaries might start to succeed at Sense Motive checks to notice suggestion effects, potentially using protection from evil or similar spells to either protect against them or end ongoing compulsions.


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Illusions are a staple of fantasy, and there are two main things to consider when adjudicating them at all levels of play: first, the different subschools of illusion, and second, disbelief and interaction. Once you are familiar with those, you will be set for handling illusions at all levels of play.

Subschools: The three most easily confused subschools of illusion are figment, glamer, and phantasm. Figment spells, such as silent image, create wholly new sensory effects anyone can sense, even a mindless creature. The similar glamer subschool includes spells that change the way creatures sense something that already exists, such as disguise self and silence. Phantasms, in contrast to the first two, are all in a creature’s mind, and thus don’t work on mindless creatures.

There are other subschools of illusion, such as patterns and shadow, but they tend to be easier to distinguish from each other, since patterns are typically light-based spells that impose conditions on enemies and shadow spells usually create shadows or quasi-real effects.

Disbelief and Interaction: All three of the subschools above tend to have saving throw lines that say “Will disbelief,” but they differ in how those saving throws apply.

Phantasms directly assail a creature’s mind, so the creature automatically and immediately receives a saving throw to disbelieve a phantasm. Figments and glamers, however, have the more difficult-to-adjudicate rule that creatures receive a saving throw to disbelieve only if they “interact” with the illusion.

But what does it mean to interact with an illusion? It can’t just mean looking at the illusion, as otherwise there would be no need to make the distinction, but drawing the line can be a bit tricky. Fortunately, the rules can help to define that difference. A creature that spends a move action to carefully study an illusion receives a Will saving throw to disbelieve that illusion, so that is a good benchmark from which to work.

Using that as a basis, interacting generally means spending a move action, standard action, or greater on a character’s part. For example, if there were a major image of an ogre, a character who tried to attack the ogre would receive a saving throw to disbelieve, as would a character who spent 1 minute attempting a Diplomacy check on the ogre. A character who just traded witty banter with the ogre as a free action would not, nor would a character who simply cast spells on herself or her allies and never directly confronted the illusory ogre. For a glamer, interacting generally works the same as for a figment, except that the interaction must be limited to something the glamer affects. For instance, grabbing a creature’s ear would be an interaction for a human using disguise self to appear as an elf, but not for someone using a glamer to change his hair color. Similarly, visually studying someone would not grant a save against a glamer that purely changed her voice.


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There are a few necromancy spells that are similar enough to divinations that their information-gathering ability is worth considering.

Speak with Dead: This spell—and other similar spells such as call spirit—operate much like spells such as speak with animals, allowing the caster to talk with a witness who is otherwise inaccessible.

This might seem like a surefire way to ruin any murder mystery, but there are mitigating factors that need to be taken into account. First, the corpse’s knowledge is limited to what the creature knew while it was alive. A murderer’s best recourse to avoiding this spell is using a disguise or stealth, so that the victim doesn’t learn the killer’s identity. Second, if the corpse is in no condition to speak, that stops speak with dead (though there are spells that can repair a corpse). Third, the spell allows a saving throw, and whether or not it succeeds, the spell fails for the next week, so a murderer can cast speak with dead herself to forestall future castings. Such precautions on the part of the murderer, however, give the PCs more information about her, so it advances the plot and the investigation in an interesting way. Finally, the corpse’s answers are brief, cryptic, and repetitive; a corpse could provide an interesting clue that furthers the investigation, rather than allowing the PCs to abruptly solve the whole thing.

Mid-Level Play (7–12)

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The spells that come into prominence around 7th level can greatly affect campaigns, making it more complicated to run mysteries and interaction-heavy adventures. These spells are typically 4th level or higher.


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Teleportation effects have a big impact on your game because they can foil situations such as being tracked or followed, and can bypass protections, such as locks and walls. These kinds of effects often only enter the game during mid-level play.

Dimension Door: Dimension door works by specifying a distance within long range, and then the character and any passengers suddenly appear at that spot. This is useful for bypassing obstacles, which means that any vault-maker who plans to keep out characters with access to teleportation magic needs to consider this and plan accordingly. Forbiddance is an excellent effect for hedging out teleportation effects such as dimension door, and tying a hallow or unhallow to dimensional anchor also works well for this. Remember that the caster of the spell can take no further actions after arriving at their destination unless she has the Dimensional Agility feat.

Teleport: Teleport is like dimension door, but adds considerably to the range and versatility. However, it is important to note that teleport has several special limitations built into the spell. For one thing, the caster needs to know both the layout of the destination as well as where it is physically located. If the caster has managed to use divinations to see the layout of a secret hideout, it still won’t do any good unless she knows where it is. Second, areas of strong physical and magical energy may make teleportation more hazardous or even impossible. Many GMs forget this important component, which actually gives the villain a good in-game reason to establish a secret volcano lair or build her fortress on a ley line. This advice applies equally well to greater teleport, although the results of a failed teleportation are less dire.


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A lot of the game-changing divinations become available in the mid-level range, particularly scrying.

Arcane Eye: Although similar to clairaudience/ clairvoyance, arcane eye is better in most ways and only 1 spell level higher. With it, the caster can use enhanced vision, and move the sensor around to spy throughout an area, potentially revealing much of a dungeon’s layout. It still has a long casting time, and it requires concentration to move it around and receive sensory information. Keep the eye’s movement speed in mind; if the caster wants to actually look around and see the walls and ceilings, it can only move 10 feet per round, so it could potentially take quite a while to travel very far. Remember that it can only squeeze through holes 1 inch in diameter or larger, so most doors will likely block it. Enemies can still notice the sensor with a successful DC 24 Perception check, and while most foes can’t really harm it (unless they have countermeasures such as dispel magic available), an enemy can prevent the eye from moving further by capturing it in a container, since it can’t pass through solid barriers.

Commune: This is a critical spell to note, particularly because some improved familiars can use it earlier than normal and without spending the required gold. Normally, casting commune consumes 500 gp worth of special materials. Remember that commune talks to either a deity or divine agents; there is no guarantee that the spell will contact a god. The spell text includes a reminder that powerful beings of the Outer Planes are not necessarily omniscient, so be sure to think about whether they would know the answer. As a rule of thumb, look at the deity’s portfolio and have the contacted agent be particularly knowledgeable in that area. This can also lead the PCs to find a cleric of a more appropriate deity to cast the spell on their behalf. This could add an interesting narrative step and a potential for roleplaying the interaction. In any case, remember that commune calls out that the question has to be one that could be answered with a yes or no, though if the deity’s agent thinks a misleading one-word answer would harm their own interests, they might give up to five words to help clarify. Chances are, the PCs were already suspecting something before they cast the commune to begin with. For instance, if they already suspect that Lady Hidimbi is a rakshasa, they could ask if she is, and if it makes sense for the deity’s agent to know the answer, it might say “yes.” However, if they know there is a rakshasa but not who it is, they couldn’t ask “Who is the rakshasa?” and receive the answer “Lady Hidimbi.”

Commune with Nature: Out of the three spells that return cryptic information from outside forces, commune with nature can potentially give the caster the most robust information, since it provides three full facts from a variety of topics. However, commune with nature provides limited types of information compared to other divinations. First of all, it is most useful in large outdoor areas, where it finds information across miles and miles (although that could lead to false positives, if the caster prefers a narrower area and doesn’t think to specify). It is still effective in unworked caves, since 900 or more feet is usually enough to cover an area that the PCs want to explore, but remember that it can’t see into settlements or even constructed dungeons at all. The awareness of nature tends to return general information rather than specific. A druid trying to determine the identity of the most powerful unnatural creature in the area might get a sense that a malevolent, unnatural thing has been stalking the jungle, but she probably wouldn’t learn specifics about the creature. Nature can sense corruption in its midst, but doesn’t possess specific knowledge about types of undead, for example.

Contact Other Plane: One of the easier divinations to handle, this spell takes 10 minutes to cast, requires concentration, and has a non-negligible chance of rendering the caster useless for multiple weeks with no real way to remove the negative effect. Though the odds of getting a true answer aren’t terrible, the spell isn’t very trustworthy. All questions get a one-word answer, such as “yes” or “no,” without exception. Compare this to commune, where a helpful deity might rarely give a few more words for context. With all these mitigating factors, this spell isn’t especially dangerous to the integrity of a mystery.

Detect Scrying: This spell lasts a long time and automatically detects nearby scrying sensors, potentially even revealing the scryer’s location and offering a glimpse of her. This spell doesn’t entirely counter the scrying. The scrying effect still happens, but now it gives information to the target. Paranoid PCs are likely to cast this spell in an intrigue campaign when they have access to it, so have paranoid NPCs do so as well, but only if it makes sense that they would have a 4thlevel slot they are willing to use. If a character always has an active detect scrying spell because it’s a reasonable resource expenditure for that character, then the player and PCs will buy into it as part of the way the world works (particularly if they are also casting detect scrying each day). However, having the NPC conveniently use the spell off a scroll only when the PCs want to scry on her is sloppy—unless the PCs have given the NPC some strong reason to expect that they will scry on her that day. All in all, when scrying starts becoming available, detect scrying is a great way to say “yes, but.”

Divination: Like augury, divination also costs 25 gp, but can see 1 week into the future, and returns a short phrase, cryptic rhyme, omen, or something similar if successful. As the GM, be creative and play to your strengths when giving responses. For instance, poetry is a great way to structure a response for this spell, but if you aren’t as skilled at writing verse, but are great at making collages, do that. The result of this spell could be anything! It’s a great chance to give some interesting clues that the PCs might use to their advantage, or even figure out later in a moment of revelation. Coming up with a satisfying result for this spell takes time, so try to work with your players and have them come up with divination ideas outside of the session, if possible, letting them know that the result will be more fun if you have some time. If there’s just no way to predict it until the game, however, there’s nothing wrong with calling a quick time-out. Divination opens up tons of possibilities and puts all the power in your hands. The PC is spending 25 gp and a spell slot and trusting you to make it awesome, so make sure the answer is neither worthless nor overly blatant. Getting the result just right is more of an art than a science.

Find the Path: The major restrictions for this spell are that the caster can only specify a location (not an object or creature) and the location must be prominent (which typically means either important or famous). Though many of the locations that an adventurer may be trying to find are important, not all of them are famous—and if they’re famous enough, chances are that they aren’t hard to find. Where the two overlap, there is usually some sort of powerful magical effect protecting the area from divinations. That’s a reasonable plot device to use if you must have such a location, and it makes sense from a narrative perspective. After all, if the place were famous, chances are someone before the PCs would have tried basic divinations such as find the path already (and catalogued the results of their attempts), so it wouldn’t also be hard to find. If you do use this plot device, it is a good idea to introduce it early as the result of the PCs’ research. Finding old notes from a previous explorer who determined that a place must be protected against divinations right at the outset helps cement the fact as a fundamental part of the initial challenge, rather than seeming like a desperate cop-out added later as a counter to something unexpected the PCs did.

Legend Lore: Legend lore costs 250 gp to cast, so the PCs probably won’t cast it frivolously. They are likely looking for some interesting information about a person, place, or thing (here, thing means an object that can be at hand, not a conceptual thing like love or a specific mystery). Even if the target is at hand, casting the spell still takes up to 40 minutes. Without the subject, the spell takes a long time to cast—up to 12 weeks if working from rumors. Remember that not everything is legendary. Recognize that 11th-level characters often use or deal with things that would usually count as legendary; mythic creatures likely count as well, even if they have a low CR.

Depending on the PCs’ previous access to the target, they might get vague results that lead them to somewhat better information about the target (if they know only rumors), incomplete and unspecific lore (if they started with detailed information), or legends about the target (if they have the target at hand). The kinds of legends aren’t specified; they can come from all over. Legends are generally told verbally, so text is an easy format for conveying the results to your players. But legends can be anything, so unleash your creativity. Some legends might contradict one another, particularly if the PCs don’t have the target at hand, and legends are rarely conclusive. Particularly if the object is at hand, be sure to give some useful or at least interesting information that enhances the experience, rather than just a rambling story that reveals nothing. Since the spell might reveal legends that were never generally known, it is an excellent opportunity to provide PCs with cool or useful information that goes above and beyond what they might expect if you want to advance the narrative more quickly or give them some more clues. Everything in the spell works at your pace.

Locate Creature: This spell has many of the same problems as locate object, although running water blocks it rather than lead (the spell still helps in cities with canals, though). For this spell, a kind of creature is distinct from a type of creature. For instance, an orc is a kind of creature, while a humanoid is a type of creature. Remember that the caster must have seen that kind of creature up close. A specific creature must be known to the caster; this terminology is less-defined compared to other locating spells. Consider it synonymous with the “with which you are familiar” clause of the sending spell. A creature is known to the caster only if the caster has met the creature in person and recognizes it on sight.

Prying Eyes: This spell and its greater version work in much the same way—the only difference with the greater version is that the eyes can see extremely well with true seeing and a respectable Perception total skill bonus. Focusing on the commonalities, this spell is useful in much different situations than arcane eye, but situations that are more common in games using intrigue. The spell doesn’t work well in a dungeon, but with its 1-mile radius, hour-per-level duration, and numerous eyes, it can tell the caster basically everything that is going on in a small community—without the caster having to concentrate. The main vulnerability of prying eyes is that it produces sensors that are both semitangible and visible and have only a +16 total skill bonus on Stealth checks. That means that opponents of a similar level to the caster are likely to see the eyes and could destroy them easily. Remember that an eye’s destruction is interesting knowledge that a savvy PC can keep in mind. If that sweet and foppish nobleman somehow noticed the eye, chances are he is more than he seems, or at least that he has bodyguards with keen vision.

The spell says that an eye sent into the darkness could hit an obstacle and be destroyed. This should only happen if the caster tells the eyes to act recklessly, such as if he commands them to travel so far in so short a time that they have to fly at full speed, rather than slowly traveling in the dark. As the spell mentions, when an eye is destroyed, the caster is aware of the destruction, but can never be sure how it happened, which can lead to interesting speculation and more investigations. If the eyes are doing general scouting, be sure to think of some amusing anecdotes of things the eyes saw, potentially showing another side of an NPC by relaying information that isn’t crucial to the plot. This serves many purposes. First of all, it gives the caster a strong sense that the spell is effective, and it helps her feel like a powerful diviner whose spells provide lots of information. Second, it adds depth to the game world and helps change the mood a bit or relieve tension, particularly if it is humorous. Finally, and most importantly, it serves as a smoke screen if you decide to put in extra clues that the caster wasn’t necessarily trying to find. For example, if you often have the eyes report interesting extra tidbits, you could slip in a small bit about a certain woman hiding her silverware, and at first it will seem like just another peculiarity, perhaps to protect her valuables from thieves. If you never describe anything from the eyes except for plot-crucial information, the PCs are very likely to immediately jump to investigating the woman (who you were hoping to slowly reveal had just been infected with lycanthropy).

Scrying: The most important thing to remember about scrying is that it must scry a creature. It is not able to scry a location. Erroneously allowing the spell to scry a location is a common mistake. The caster needs to buy a reusable 1,000 gp mirror and then spend an hour to see and hear a small area around a creature (only 10 feet in all directions, but with magically enhanced senses for vision). This lasts for 1 minute per level, and the sensor moves with the creature with a 150-foot speed. Creatures are able to notice scrying’s effect as they would with other scrying sensors, requiring a successful DC 24 Perception check. There’s good news for the target, however. First of all, those observed targets can automatically detect (and possibly uncover the source of ) the spell via the 24-hour-duration detect scrying spell. Even without that spell at their disposal, the target receives a Will saving throw and spell resistance (if applicable) to avoid the attempt (and a failed attempt prevents another from that caster for 24 hours). Not only that, unless the target and caster have met before, chances are that the target also gains at least a +3 bonus on the saving throw (from secondhand knowledge and a picture, which is the best the PCs can usually hope to have). Scrying can be enormously useful for a spy, if the circumstances all align well for the scryer, but it isn’t particularly useful on its own for a potential teleport. The 10-foot-radius visual requires the target to move in order to provide a clear idea of the layout of the destination, and the spell doesn’t directly indicate the location. The PCs must use contextual clues to figure this out, unless they already know where the target is.

Stone Tell: This one is similar enough in nature to speak with animals and speak with plants that much of the same advice is applicable for you to apply. Play up the stones’s different way of thinking, including how they view the world and events on a much longer timescale than most living beings.


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In mid-level play, enchantments become more versatile, affecting more creature types, and dominate spells also come into play.

Dominate Person: Unlike suggestion, this spell gives the caster total control over another character, and the demands don’t need to be reasonable. The one saving grace in a game that employs intrigue is that the Sense Motive DC to detect the effect is only 15, so someone is very likely to notice it. Still, the effect is quite powerful, and it can potentially ruin a player’s time if her character becomes dominated, or it can ruin a plot if players dominate a vital NPC. The spell even allows a caster to use the dominated creature as a spy and see through its eyes, though again, the low DC of the Sense Motive check means that there are usually better ways to do so. In addition to other means of protecting against compulsions, dominate person has two special escape clauses.

First, the creature never takes obviously self-destructive actions. The spell doesn’t mention whether this means only bodily harm, but there are many sorts of destruction beyond the physical. For instance, a command to make a king announce something that will obviously irreparably destroy his reputation and tear his kingdom apart likely counts. Even if something isn’t obviously self-destructive, each time a command forces the dominated person to take actions against his nature, he receives another saving throw with a +2 bonus. It’s up to you to determine how often to give these new saving throws if orders result in many successive acts against a character’s nature, but be fair in applying them at the same rate for both PCs and NPCs. Since being dominated can be highly frustrating for PCs, you can consider choosing a particularly fast rate in applying these new saving throws in both cases, though be sure to let the PCs know about this if it looks like they can use a dominate effect before the NPCs do. The advice here also applies to dominate monster.

High-Level Play (13+)

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The most reliable spells for finding out information arrive at higher levels, and are 7th level or higher.


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At least one noteworthy abjuration spell becomes available at 15th level, with far-reaching effects.

Mind Blank: The 8th-level spell mind blank is a powerful and versatile protection spell that becomes ubiquitous at high levels. Spells such as discern location can make people easy to find in high-level play, so a credible villain whose identity the PCs know should have mind blank cast on himself at all times. If the villain absolutely can’t employ a spellcaster with this spell, consider having him join forces with a hag coven (which can offer unlimited castings of mind blank spells each day) or equipping him with a headband of sealed thoughts.

The PCs are likely starting to cast mind blank as much as possible at this level as well, so the villains should put in at least as much effort. Obviously, the villain won’t be able to keep all his allies and staff under mind blank, which provides plenty of opportunities for clever PCs to exploit. For instance, though scrying on a nearby ally of the villain still doesn’t reveal the villain protected by mind blank, PCs might be able to notice a one-sided conversation that indicates that someone with mind blank is present.

It all comes down to the villain mustering a defense that is reasonable given his resources, and allowing the PCs to find a clever way to circumvent those defenses. No defense in the world is perfect. For instance, even if a villain somehow convinced a coven of hags to act as a source of mind blank for his entire network of allies, the hags become a new vulnerability. The PCs can capture one of the villain’s agents, discover information about the hags, and then eliminate the hags or scout out their coven’s domain in an attempt to ambush the villain on his way to reestablishing his mind blank.


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Divinations in high-level play tend to be incredibly powerful, with only mind blank offering protection.

Discern Location: This spell lacks the mitigations common to lower-level locating spells. Unless you have a deity willing to cooperate, the only protection from discern location is mind blank. Because not everyone can be under mind blank all the time, discern location is incredibly useful, allowing the PCs to get close to a target protected by mind blank as long as he has allies or interacts with other people—almost a certainty in an intrigue-focused game. The spell becomes well known by most NPCs, and even threatening to use discern location can be a powerful tactic.

Greater Scrying: This is mostly the same as its lesser version, but the timing is vastly different. It takes only a single standard action to cast, and can last the better part of a day. The long duration gives the caster a much greater chance of following the target to a place about which the caster knows the exact layout and precise location. On the other hand, by this level, detect scrying becomes easier to cast, many creatures can see invisible spies, and mind blank may shield targets.

Vision: Compared to legend lore, vision takes much less time to cast, causes fatigue, and requires a caster level check to succeed. Stylistically, the big difference is that the caster sees a single vision rather than hearing information from numerous legends. The character also gets to ask a particular question to narrow the scope of the spell, so that one vision is likely to be related to a topic about which the character really wants to know. For a vision spell, put some good thought into exactly what the PC sees, and try to describe it as vividly as possible with plenty of visual details. You can tailor the vision to show the most-interesting visual snippet related to the question the PC asked. By describing what the PC sees as if she were there, you make the spell an experience rather than a simple information dump. The PC must still interpret what she saw. You may even wish to take the spellcaster’s player to another room and describe the vision, then let her return to describe and interpret what her spell revealed to the rest of the party. Sometimes the caster will focus on one of the visual details when another was an even greater clue, which she only discovers later on in an exciting moment of revelation.

Example of Intrigue Spells

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The following detailed example puts some of the above advice into practice, using two of the most difficult spells to adjudicate, divination and vision. The GM in this example provides different sets of clues to her players with each spell that help point them toward the mystery’s solution only when examined together.

The Story

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Long ago, a powerful hag led a wicked coven that sought to destroy the kingdom of Gaheris. Seeking to turn enemies into allies, the king of Gaheris convinced the two weaker sisters to break their coven and betray their leader. In exchange, he used magic to reincarnate them into humans and married them to two of his most powerful dukes. The hags sealed their elder sister in her shack and burned her alive, only to see her to rise as a powerful witchfire. After weeks of pitched battle with the undead hag that ranged all across the kingdom, the two sisters trapped the witchfire on the other side of a thick wall in the royal mausoleum, and warded it to contain incorporeal entities, believing they had sealed away the menace forever.

Centuries later, a tomb robber accidentally chipped a hole in the wall, allowing the trapped witchfire to escape. Now consumed with revenge, the enraged undead creature seeks out any of her treacherous sisters’ descendants. Given the interbreeding common among the nobility, this includes much of Gaheris’s current nobility. Given her original goal of destroying the kingdom, that suits the witchfire just fine. Using ritual magic born of hatred and well beyond a witchfire’s normal abilities, she called back the souls of her sisters and bound them into black sapphires, allowing her to gain all the powers of a coven and more. Then, she returned to a cave near her old burned-down hut in the swamp and began to enact her vengeance, using mind-controlled minions to burn her targets alive.

The PCs receive a plea from the current king of Gaheris, asking them to investigate the cause of the streak of arson, which has been targeting members of his family. Kyra casts divination with the goal of solving the arsons and Ezren casts vision, hoping to learn about the true source of the arsons.

Divination Poem

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The GM composes a poem for Kyra to represent the information imparted to her by her deity.

 The flame of passion, that which brightest burns,
 Of love and hatred treasured or betrayed,
 We chip away at every wall in turns,
 Not thwarted is the payment, just delayed.
 In blackened yawn near the first hungry pyre,
 Twin sleepers lie, once foul but later fair,
 Dark beauty gleams the prisons two to break,
 No loyalty, no love except to take.

Interpretation: When read aloud, the first line of the poem contains a homophone of the word “witch.” The verse references the witchfire’s escape when the wall of the tomb was chipped away. The witchfire’s vengeance, or payment as the poem describes it, has just been delayed. The cave mouth is a blackened yawn, and the “first” pyre is the one where the hag was burned, though the PCs might go to the first arson as a red herring before they realize this, except perhaps by using additional clues from Ezren’s vision below. The twin sleepers in prisons of dark beauty are the sisters’ souls trapped in black sapphires; freeing them from their magical prisons would weaken the witchfire substantially. The final line hints at the story of betrayal between the sisters, and of how the witchfire only gained their cooperation by taking it forcefully.


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The GM writes a descriptive vision for Ezren.

Flames engulf everything around you. You’re in a simple wooden hut that looks out over a swamp onto a great cypress tree in the distance. You see two silhouettes outside, and the front door seems barricaded. Your vision blurs from the smoke and moves violently toward that entrance, as if you were attempting to smash it down—a futile effort. At the edges of your vision, you see countless objects bursting into flames, and you can barely make out strange spices, straw dolls, and what appears to be an eyeball in a bowl of water. Then there is nothing but flame. Your view shifts toward the floor, as your charred hand, with long fingernails, bashes over and over against the floor of the hut. But the effort was too late, and your hand stops moving, as the inferno rises once more, consuming everything.

You shake yourself from the vision and find yourself fatigued, your breathing and heart rate still elevated from the horrible desperation of the burning hut.

Interpretation: The true source of the arsons, when it comes down to it, is the original killing of the coven leader, who became a witchfire. The vision provides numerous clues to some of the elements of the story, but the most striking one might be the distinctive great cypress tree. With some further research, Ezren might be able to locate it, allowing him to find the hut’s remains, which are also near the cave where the witchfire placed the door to her new demesne.

Social Conflicts

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The Pathfinder RPG is often played as a game of high adventure, where heroes brave wildernesses, monsters, dungeons, and other dangers to gain experience and treasure. Often cities and societies simply serve as backdrops—places to rest and go shopping, use workshops or laboratories, and maybe hunt a cruel monster or dangerous cult in the labyrinthine sewers below. However, with a slight change of perspective, Game Masters can introduce social conflicts into their adventures. These unique encounters can spice up your game by presenting players with different kinds of stakes, rewards, and consequences than those found in conflicts involving brute force.

For example, while selling plundered artifacts in a city, the PCs might discover a local tough is extorting tribute from dock-side businesses. After confronting the extortionist and driving him out of the neighborhood, they find he was working for a “businessman” who, aside from his legitimate trade, controls a network of criminals. These practices have made him rich, and given him enough capital to contribute a number of civic works to key areas of the city, which in turn has made him a leading candidate for alderman. While engaging in a campaign of whispers to foil the election, the PCs learn of a society of political reformers that wishes to pressure the mayor into dissolving the current council and holding new elections. While the society seems harmless at first, it’s actually a cover for a group of foreign spies paving the way for a major attack on the city. What are the PCs to do?

Social conflicts like those described above aren’t always devoid of combat—often they erupt into violence. But unlike ordinary combats, which frequently unfold in remote areas beyond the reach of the law, social conflicts take place in settlements where peace is enforced and wanton violence creates instability and threatens ordinary citizens. Social conflicts deal with the subtlety, charm, and ingenuity used to gain commodities, prestige, or power.

The following section offers advice on how to create and run social conflicts in your games, including suggestions on how player characters can become embroiled in such conflicts. You’ll also find a new event-based structure for adventure design, in which the PCs’ actions lead to consequences will either determine the next event in a social conflict or modify future events. The section closes out with advice on designing social conflict events, giving you all the tools necessary to run a social conflict adventure arc, or even an entire campaign.


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Before designing a social conflict for your campaign, you should determine its pace. There are two main types of pacing that can help introduce social conflict into your game: episodic and serialized. Each has its own strengths and challenges outlined below.

Episodic Pacing

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When you’re running a game with episodic pacing, you inject minor incidents of social conflict into the normal course of exploration and adventure. This typically requires you to introduce a minor social conflict or two when the PCs enter a settlement or come into contact with some other social unit. This type of pacing works best when these small-scale social conflicts are interspersed within the framework of a larger social conflict, which itself may be part of an even larger story arc in a campaign utilizing serialized pacing (see below).

One of the benefits of episodic pacing is that you only have to create a few events and their consequences at a time, and you can often postpone unveiling these incidents’ long-term consequences. This gives you time to consider future plot points that you might want to introduce later. The downside of episodic pacing is that when players encounter later consequences, they sometimes forget these minor incidents and need to be reminded about them. To illustrate episodic pacing, let’s elaborate on the example in this section’s introduction. After plundering some local ruins, the PCs return to town to sell their discoveries and celebrate their victories. With nearly every visit to the various shops and business, they hear the same story: a ruthless tough is coercing protection money from local businesses. The PCs can either ignore the plight of the local entrepreneurs or confront the extortionist.

Ignoring the situation causes the extortion to go unchecked, creating higher prices for the PCs the next time they return to the city to purchase supplies. They may even find a business or two closed on return trips, their owners squeezed out by the extortion racket. Confronting the criminal could involve some reconnoitering or an ambush, followed by a chase though the back alleys of the city, and eventually a confrontation in which the PCs thrash the miscreant and warn him that the neighborhood businesses are now under their protection. But this victory lasts only as long as the PCs stay in the city. As soon as they go off to delve into ruins or gallivant on other far-flung adventures, the extortionist or his replacement returns with more muscle and support from his patron: the local thieves’ guild. When the PCs return to the city, they might find things have only gotten worse, and that the thieves’ guild is keen to teach the adventurers a lesson.

Such back-and-forths can go on between the PCs’ traditional adventures or until the PCs decide to put their full concentration toward the problems plaguing their friends in the city, at which point the pacing may become more serialized.

Serialized Pacing

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With serialized pacing, a large number of events quickly flow into one another. Sometimes the structure of events is immediately altered due to the consequences of previous events. Other times, consequences determine the events that the PCs participate in next. Use serialized pacing when social conflict is the main thrust of a campaign or a campaign arc. Running social conflicts with a serialized structure is more difficult because events must be modified or generated on the fly with more frequency due to PC