CRB is a repository of all the creative things that float through my mind about the RPG Pathfinder. Two major features are random character generation and building characters based on the god they worship. Anything that seems like it adds to the creative aspects of the game will pop up from time to time, including location descriptions, adventure ideas and even short stories. CRB won't just be my own creativity, it will open the floor to anyone who has an idea sparked by what I present to you.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Mind Over Matter

The Use of Teleport, Mind Reading, and Scrying in Your Games

As much as I enjoy Pathfinder, high level play can make being a GM some what harder. After you’ve set up your bad guy and their plans you think of all the fun the players will have rooting out your plot over time, finding your bad guy, and getting to him. Along comes your high level casters and they mind read the bad guy’s minions, scry on the big bad, and then teleport to him and ignore all the other stuff you set up. It can become quite frustrating. So how do we work around this stuff, without making the player’s feel like they’ve wasted their spells?

Mind Reading

Casters get their first “mind reading” spell at the second spell level (so around third or fourth character level). Detect thoughts allows you to read surface thoughts. The next big “mind reading” spell is seek thoughts. Let’s say you have a group of the villain’s minions that you’ve captured. And you pick one randomly to interrogate but his mind seems resistant to your efforts. But what about everyone else?

Seek thoughts allows your player to scan the vicinity for anyone who is thinking about a question or topic you have in mind. Ultimate Intrigue has a side bar that tells us that seek thoughts doesn’t tell us who is thinking a thing just that someone in the group is. So you can't look at a group of half dozen people and say that one guy is thinking about it. You can say one person in the group is thinking about it, or a few people are thinking about it, but you cannot pinpoint who it is.

On their own they're not too incredibly powerful, but any good player will combine these spells with asking questions, trying to lead the NPC to think about the things they want answers to. Now NPCs can get a will save to avoid having their thoughts detected altogether, but there are no actual rules for not thinking about something. So how do you get the NPCs to think about what the players want them to without it becoming a constant GM telling them no because he thinks it makes the plot too easy?

As I started writing this article the topic came up in my group’s Skype chat. Literally I was halfway through this section when I was met with a lot of new ideas. So here are some of those ideas: A second will save may be in order not to think about something. A bluff versus a sense motive check (a little oversimplified) could certainly do the trick. Both of these ideas are simple, but personally I don’t think they speak to the complexity of the situation

What I’ve come up with and what I think I’m going to use is this: It’s three rolls -- which may seem a little much but it works so that the GM doesn’t always say he's not thinking about the topic the players are trying to find out about. The obvious first roll is the save for the spell. If the target succeeds on this there’s no point in the rest. The second roll is to determine if he’s aware he is being lead to think about something. If it’s this roll is against the caster, the spell says you roll sense motive at a DC 25. If it’s not the caster I’m going with an opposed sense motive roll vs the interrogator's bluff roll.

The final roll for actually resisting is a bit more complicated. If target don’t know its being led, the interrogator rolls bluff roll vs a will save that the target automatically take ten on. I did some calculations and barring modifiers at level 13 a good base will save with iron will and a good wisdom modifier versus a good interrogator without any feats or traits to add to bluff only needs to roll a 4 or better to lead his witnesses thoughts. All in all pretty balanced. If one knows one is being led the target instead rolls their will save instead of taking ten. And there can always be modifiers, what those modifiers are will be up to the GM. Stress, what would happen if they let the information slip, being schizophrenic, anything, but I recommend not letting your modifiers not add up to more than +/- 10.

These rules assume that the NPCs aren’t just randomly thinking about these things to start. There is always the chance of that happening. For the most part this will be GM fiat, sometimes I want to give out some information and sometimes I want to make them work for it. But if you want a roll to determine if the person just happens to be thinking about it when the spell is cast the caster can roll a caster level check versus the opponents will save +10.

There are many other things to consider though, like what an individual person knows. For the most part minor minions aren’t going to know the big plan. Depending on how secretive the bad guy or organization is the rank and file members may only know about their own group and safe house. Paranoid bad guys may even go so far as to misinform their lower ranked followers. Mind reading Bob might get you one answer, while mind reading Larry may get you another.

You also have to define what a surface thought is. Is it just text like reading a novel? Or is it more like a children’s book, a series of images that make up the story? Are thoughts more a set of feelings or are feelings included? Or are thoughts a huge jumble of words, images, and feelings? If thoughts in any way include words, what happens when the person’s native tongue is not something you speak? I know I think in English but what if the NPC thinks in Derro and you don’t speak Derro?

Detect thoughts also doesn’t work through. 1 foot of stone, 1 inch of common metal, a thin sheet of lead, or 3 feet of wood or dirt blocks the ability. Super paranoid baddies may wear a lead helmet to keep their thoughts from being read. I am now picturing them wearing lead versions of tinfoil hats. You’re welcome.


Scrying is thwarted quite a bit more easily than mind reading. As the NPCs level, if they are casters or have access to magic through an ally, they gain spells that disrupt scrying at about the same level the PCs gain access to scrying. Nondetection at spell level 3, Mage’s Private Sanctum at spell level 5, and Mind Blank at spell level 8 all do the job quite well. But all those spells are for wizards mostly. What about clerics? Spell Immunity and greater spell immunity make clerics immune to a specific spell, one for every four levels.

If you want to have a little fun with your players, False Visions will show a scryer the equivalent of a major image. The normal version can be tied to any location but the greater versions can tied to an individual and move with them wherever they go. This can lead to some interesting mistaken pieces of information retrieved by the players.

But what about those NPCs that can’t cast spells themselves you ask? Magic items are the obvious answer. The Amulet of Proof Against Detection and Location, or a Ring of Counterspells loaded up with scry will keep you from being found. The one mundane thing people forget is that lead stops scrying period. Any big bad worth his salt that has had to face casters with scrying before will line his inner sanctum at the very least with lead.


So your players have found the bad guy and they want to teleport directly into his inner sanctum. Or maybe they’ve had one encounter and they want to teleport out to heal up and come back the next day. There are a lot of ways teleporting can ruin a perfectly good adventure but it’s not as powerful as people give it credit for.

First off if you scry the bad guy – assuming his lair is not lead lined – you cannot just teleport to that location. Even if you know the complete dimensions of the room and all the objects in the room, you actually have no clue where the room is. Without this knowledge you cannot get to that location. Even if, say, you knew a room was in a house but you didn’t know where it the house it was, trying to teleport there would be incredibly risky or impossible.

Then, of course, if your bad guy is a spellcaster he may have magical means to be able to stop teleportation. Teleport trap is a handy little spell that lets you divert to another specific area with a medium range. And it works on those teleporting both into and out of the area, denying both immediate entrances and quick escapes. Although there is a will save, this only stops them from being shunted to the new location, the teleport spell still doesn’t take them away from the area and is wasted.

Finally there is the hidden clause most people forget that some call the “volcano hideout clause.” Areas of strong physical or magical energy may make teleportation more hazardous or even impossible. So, locations such as the aforementioned active volcano, hurricanes and tsunamis, intense lightning storms, and other such extreme natural phenomena can outright stop someone from being able to teleport.

Places that house many powerful magical devices, portals to other planes of existence, or just rooms with many magical spells cast on them may hinder teleportation as well. It’s up the GM to determine what constitutes “strong” magical energy. Again there is a fine balance between challenging your players and thwarting them at every turn.

So there you have it, some interesting tidbits about the spells that a lot of GMs say ruin high level play. Do you use these spells as a player? How has your GM allowed them to work or not work? As a GM how have you adjudicated these spells in the past? Where is your fine line between a challenge and denying your players use of some fun and interesting abilities?

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  1. In my opinion, the game functions best when the world changes to match the nature of dominant magic. Yes, lead lined walls for inner sanctums should be factory standard for any hero or villain that wants to be taken seriously.

    But teleportation? Why fight it? Embrace it. Make dungeons with sealed off individual rooms that require teleportation to navigate between them. Give them unusual maps that serve as fun puzzles for the party to solve, lest they end up in trapped "decoy" rooms. REWARD players for having access to the big guns.

    Fighting the influence of high magic and how it fundamentallychanges the structure of adventure requires a joint effort on the players to not play utility casters and the GM to cut out the usual problems that a high level party is expected to be able to solve. It's ultimately easier to embrace it and write along side it instead of trying to fight it.

    1. On the one hand I don't think knowing the limitations and enforcing them is fighting the influence of high magic. One of my players right now has all three of the abilities I talk about which is what made me think about writing this article. And even with the limitations which are RAW rulings his abilities are still far from useless.

      On the other hand making a dungeon with sealed off individual rooms is an awesome idea. Some one who is better suited to these kinds of puzzles really needs to make an adventure where that happens. So anyone else reading this comment you should get on that.