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Discovery Events

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 168
Discovery events typically introduce or advance a social conflict story by giving the PCs the opportunity to learn information about the conflict. The success of these events might hinge on the PCs’ ability to perceive or otherwise uncover certain clues.

Accomplishing this can be as easy as listening to an old-timer sitting by the tavern fire as he relates stories about strange disappearances down by the docks, or talking to a group of halflings who beseech the PCs for help in their efforts to gain voting rights. Discovery events are typically roleplaying encounters during which the PCs can learn the nature—or at least the partial nature—of the conflict and make a decision about whether to become involved. Other times, the nature and depth of the discovery might require the PCs to use certain skills or other abilities.

Discovery events usually lean heavily on the use of Diplomacy, Intimidate, Sense Motive, and various Knowledge skills. When outlining a discovery event, it is best to come up with a baseline of knowledge that you want the event to impart; this could be the bare minimum of what the PCs need to learn from the event in order to trigger one of its consequences. This knowledge could contain misinformation or faulty assumptions—elements of the story you can later twist to create more interesting and dynamic social conflicts.

For instance, consider the halflings beseeching the PCs for help to gain voting rights. If the PCs take what the halflings say at face value, they may think this is merely a case of blatant injustice at work, but success at some difficult Sense Motive checks may lead the PCs to suspect there’s something more to the tale. Then, succeeding at another difficult Knowledge (local) check might reveal that one of the reasons the halflings don’t have the right to vote is because they are considered a nation of their own to the kingdom and don’t have to pay the royal taxes. Questioning the halflings further could reveal that they want to be able to vote, but would still like to avoid paying the royal taxes.

Sometimes discovery events can involve challenges in order to gain the information. A discovery might involve tracking down obscure knowledge (using the research rules), running down someone who has the information (using the pursuit rules), performing a heist for the information (using the heist rules), or even entering a social engagement to figure out how much the PCs are able to uncover (using the Pathfinder RPG Social Combat Deck, roleplaying the challenge, or using one of the challenge types detailed later in this section). Often these are mixed events with an emphasis on discovery. On rare occasions, this type of event might lead to combat. For example, the PCs have been tasked with apprehending a missive carried by a local courtesan, and run into trouble when they find out she’s not only very capable of defending the missive on her own but also has hired a few sellswords to waylay the PCs once they make their move. While verbal duels are a perfect fit for a challenge in a social conflict, from time to time consider using either a spell duel, a physical duel, or a psychic duel to add some action to discovery encounters. Spell duels and physical duels can distribute information by way of secret messages or witty banter. Psychic duels can distribute information in a more direct (if somewhat enigmatic) form since the binary mindscapes of such bouts allow the duelists to access parts of their opponents’ minds; by reading an opponent’s mental mask and watching for strange metaphors in that opponent’s attack forms, a duelist can possibly learn more about her opponent.

When creating a discovery event, it’s important to compare any assumptions you’ve made about the event to the capabilities of the PCs and even those of the contenders. There is nothing like a well-played divination spell to foil your assumptions about how an event is going to transpire. Use the guidelines and advice presented in the Spells of Intrigue section to aid in such troubleshooting.

Ultimately, the consequences for discovery events should depend on how much the PCs found out and how they respond to the knowledge. These consequences should also take the stakes into account and how contenders might react to the knowledge that the PCs are involved or snooping around. Outstanding successes at discovery challenges should affect the PCs’ ability to navigate challenge events in a positive way, while terrible failures may mean the PCs misconstrue the scope of the challenge, overlook some aspect of it, or follow up bad leads.