So for those of you that have read Nightglass and are otherwise up on Nidal... My PCs were traveling cross-country in Nidal to go do the Midnight Mirror, they have a pass that lets them through to their destination. Anyway, they came across some Shadowcallers pursuing some tiefling fugitives, one thing led to another, and they killed both of them. (I didn't expect the fight, the shadowcallers were like level 12 and the PCs level 7 but they surprised them and got lucky with Stunning Fists...) They removed hands and jaws (no speak with dead) and buried them in a deep hole on the plains and made a group Survival check at 28 to remove traces of the fight. They took all identifying stuff off them including all magic items and went and buried them in a forest (didn't keep any of it). There were no witnesses except the tieflings, one of whom escaped and they killed the other one under the No Witnesses Act and gave him the same treatment as the shadowcallers.
Assuming they're back out of the country in a week or so, I'm trying to figure out how much detection would reasonably be brought to bear on them. Their superiors will get concerned within a day or two, and then they'll need to find them, figure out what happened, figure out the party's responsible, find the party, etc. using magic available to, say, a L12 wizard or cleric (they tend to be mystic theurges). And torture, they like torture. If they catch the tiefling then it'd be easy, but that tiefling is a lucky bastard - he rolled something like 5 natural 20s during the chase, eventually stealthing away from the shadowcallers and party before the fight even started.
How screwed are my PCs? What do you reckon the shadowcallers' timeline and tactics are here?
Alas, no help here, so I posed this question on the RPG Stack Exchange and I thought I'd share my solution from the various answers there.
Long Arm of the Law Path One
- It would take at least a couple days to realize these guys are missing, since they're out on a detached mission. (In Nightglass, they don't have long range magical communication besides whispering wind, and that's so short range that a network of it is impractical. Check-ins are either low tech/magic or via uncovering scrying targets they carry with them.)
- When they fail check-in and word gets to home base, they may "wait 48 hours" then attempt a a scrying which would would fail (because they're dead); it would take 2 castings to determine this beyond a reasonable doubt ("They're both dead, or captured and stuffed in lead sacks, or both denying the scry for some reason that they know would just get them tortured to death). This is a D&D world so people die of all kinds of stuff, so "murder" isn't necessarily the first assumption as opposed to "random encounter" or "summoned something they couldn't handle" or "tortured each other too much and passed out and got eaten by ants," but these guys are supposed to be elite caliber so it's alarming that something could take them both out. Besides "we take care of our own elite" and "we must punish any violation of the law" you have "damn there's a solid threat out there we should look into that." So there's definitely motivation to send someone to poke around. (In Nightglass, the main character, a semi-reluctant shadowcaller, is the only survivor of an attack when on a mission in Cheliax and they send some folks to look for him, but he just hides from them.)
- Finding the trail is hard. Sounds like good old fashioned tracking is the best plan (spirit planchettes exist but not "industrially" and "divination by zone" is impractical IMO) - another shadowcaller squad with some shadow mastiffs or something. Track DC of the phantom steed-mounted shadowcallers would be about 14 + 1/day plus adds from any rain that happens - it's winter so it rains a good bit; at best this is happening 5 days out plus some rain making the +10 Survival of the shadow mastiff a less than 50/50 proposition.
- If they track them and then find the fight location (much harder roll, at this point even a take 20 might not be enough to beat DC 28 +1/day and more from rain) or at least the wagon train from their path to the grave site, they should be able to get enough blood to power a blood biography - but they'll need a to cast a bunch to figure out what was up (many participants, whose blood is that anyway?).
- Tracking would still be required to find the bodies, maybe with a lucky locate object off a concentric search but that's unlikely. If they have blood biography it's not that necessary anyway. (Zon-Kuthon is not real about healing or raising so that's unlikely to happen, unless it's to raise them and leave them mutilated as punishment for being dumbasses.) Then more tracking to follow the PCs, though we're talking across days of travel.
- At some point, "foreigners came through" at any nearby town and checking their description with the port records will lead them to know who the likely culprits are, so there'd be a definite eventual APB to at least question them (and close the port to them), but that's likely after they'll have scrammed.
- If they get blocked but are concerned enough to spend the resources, a Legend Lore would take 1d10 days to get some clues.
As always, potential magical solutions run afoul of "but are there enough casters, high enough level, with those exact spells out of the panoply of spells, prepared that very day, and do they really not have anything better to do" to execute.
Long Arm of the Law Path Two
- If the tiefling shows up somewhere and gets caught, he definitely gives up the fight scene and PC descriptions given torture. Now, he's on the lam deliberately, is out in the less settled area of the country, and is really lucky and has rogue skills, so he may not be caught at all (and any divinations about who killed who won't point at him). He did steal some semi-recognizable items that could trigger some divinations, but weakly (the owner wouldn't be the caster so it would be "vague description" land).
- Go to steps 4 and 6 in Path One above.
Long Arm of the Law Path Three
- They may mess with the locals, but none of the locals know anything and the PCs a) may not come back through here and b) don't give a rat's ass because they're pirates. The best that happens here is that they happen to lean on the right people in the town that they came in through (not the one the tieflings came through) and hear "foreigners headed in that general direction" which is definitely red-flag worthy. More likely they figure the tieflings did it when they hear that the shadowcallers rode out in pursuit of a couple.
- Go to steps 3 and 6 in Path One above.
There's a lot to go wrong with the above paths and definite steps where "we don't have a caster on hand that can do that" or "we don't care enough to go to additional expense here" could intervene, where someone who cared about one of the two personally might augment the manhunt - but mostly, shadowcallers don't really have friends/lovers/etc.
So in the end I'd sum that all up as there's a 25% chance they get away scot free, a 50% chance that the Nidalese become sure (25%) or suspicious (25%) that they did it but that process is slow and more of a "if they come back here there'll be warrants out", and a 25% chance of them being on the ball enough to happen across them while they're still in country.
I think the only way the pc will be caught is if the tiefling is caught and chances are his description or memory of them will be wrong. Having a vague. Wrong or incomplete description of someone does not give much for magic to go on. If there is any real interval the tracking attempts will likely fail.
So I think the chances of getting caught are minimal.
Agreed, time, distance, and a decent amount of paranoia seems to have worked in the characters' favor in my opinion.
It seems they even realized "oh crap -- this is bad" and took extra steps to be sure it wasn't easy to track them (including not taking the magic items).
I would put the chances more like:
10% On the ball expecting them while still in country
10% False conclusion on evidence found (they find the magic items but nothing with the bodies, and incorrectly concluded the shadowcallers tried to make a break for it themselves, or that something else happened)
15% scot free no evidence found to even suspect something
15% chance something is suspected with vague descriptions
20% not enough evidence to tie it to them at all
30% chance after the fact they finally figure it out.