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Research

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

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 148
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.

Designing a Library

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 149
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

CRBase DC
111
213
314
415
516
618
719
820
922
1024
1126
1227
1328
1430
1531
1633
1734
1836
1938
2040


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.

Sample Libraries

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 152
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.