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Mastering Intrigue


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 148
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.