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Mastering Intrigue

Spells of Intrigue

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 154
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)

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 154
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.


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 154
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.


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 158
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.


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 158
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.