Can you do crime mystery in Pathfinder?


Advice


With the proliferation of magic, the simple act of getting away with murder gets a whole lot more complicated.

Let's split this into three parts:

1. THE CRIME

You're a criminal and you want to do a crime without being caught. Knowing you live in this magical world, what do you do to succeed at your crime? What precautions must you take to avoid leaving evidence that can be traced back to you?

2. THE INVESTIGATION

A crime has been done! Now from the angle of the detective, in a world where criminals can do magic, how do you perform a full and thorough investigation? What do you have to do to make sure you are not boggled or bedeviled by some sorcerous trick (or even mundane trick that takes advantage of the assumption that magic is used in the crime)?

3. THE TRIAL

This is something I've always wanted to do in a roleplaying game, but it is immensely hard. A courtroom scene, with the party attempting to present convincing evidence that their nefarious nemesis actually did the crime. Do we have a magical courtroom as well? In such a case, what happens in it and what behaviours must be enforced or accounted for?

I'd like good advice from peeps that know how to handle these things!


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Check out Ultimate Intrigue. It has a pretty extensive write-up on solving a murder mystery (complete with an example case), as well as a bunch of new spells to mislead divinations and the like, which could give your mystery some interesting twists.

It also presents rules for verbal duels, which could definitely be used in a courtroom setting.

Magic can definitely provide some easy ways to solve a mystery, especially at higher levels, but there are work-arounds for that. Any criminal worth their salt would be taking those things into account--maybe not in a small town with no powerful spellcasters, but definitely in a big city. I'd imagine most criminals would either try to avoid being seen when doing something. In the case of a murder, speak with dead only works with an intact tongue/vocal system, so if you chop off the victim's tongue, they won't be able to say anything.

A few examples:

1. Amy kills Bob. Bob never saw who killed him, so a speak with dead spell won't turn up any definitive answers, just some hints that your detective can follow.

2. Amy kills Bob, and Bob sees his assailant and can identify her. Unbeknownst to Bob, Amy was actually hired by Mike, who wanted Bob dead because he wanted to be able to take over his farm.

3. Amy kills Bob and is seen, but only because a vampire dominated her to do so as part of a larger plot.

All of which is to say, a mystery/crime game is definitely doable; it just might take a bit more planning than in a world where magic doesn't exist. Don't forget, criminals--especially wealthy or spell-casting ones--will have access to magic, too.

Hope some of this rambling was helpful. :-) But yeah, I highly recommend Ultimate Intrigue for ideas on how to go about mysteries.


Meraki, look up the spell Blood Biography. It is another useful spell for finding out whodunnit.


Something you got to realise is that this is incredibly setting dependant.

Golarion is actually pretty low-magic on a day-to-day basis, when it comes right down to it. Further, there's huge differences between where you are in the world.

Sandpoint, Bumf$~& Nowhere, Varisia, has very limited resources when it comes to magical investigations. They care about murders, but haven't got the spellcasting oomph to figure them out.

Magnimar could maybe mount the resources, but not on a basis that'd really put a dent in the crimerate. Besides, government spellcasters have better things to do than figure out whodunnit, unless the victim was somehow important.

Meanwhile, you can bet that somewhere like Cheliax has spent significant resources on getting the Hellknight Signifers who can mount the highest divination DCs to inscribe permanent Zones of Truth on the witness stands in all major courtrooms.

That said, there is still options.

Mind Blank has the following text:

Quote:
The subject is protected from all devices and spells that gather information about the target through divination magic.

This definitely stumps stuff like Commune or Scry. It might even, depending on interpretation, prevent the target of Speak with Dead from devulging information about the Mind Blank'ed individual.


There is the slayer archetype the cleaner. They can obscure evidence. That would be a fun challenge

Grand Lodge

There's a module Hangman's Noose, the PC's are investigating a rigged trial and they need to solve the mystery of who set up the trial before they are the only jurors left alive.


Pathfinder Companion, Pawns Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

The first part of the first book of Giantslayer is a crime investigation.


Question you really should be asking is how much resources should you give a criminal and the investigation/trail.

This depends a lot on -
How important was the crime?
How much magic is available where the crime is committed?
Why/Who committed the crime?

Magic in pathfinder is all about recourses and access to those recourses.


The exact method of murder isn't too important, just make sure noone sees or hears and don't leave any blood.
If I wanted to get away with it ideally I'd hit myself with mind blank, kill the victim and trap their soul, then disintegrate and scatter the body, all while under the effects of greater invisibility. If I didn't happen to be a fairly high level caster I'd kill him, then I'd turn myself and the body invisible, through either the spell, a wand, a scroll, or a potion and oil, then take a potion of pass without trace, ideally I'd also be under nondetection the whole time, again from potion/scroll etc., then I move the body as far away from civilisation as I can in the time allowed and destroy it as thoroughly as possible, probably by burning it, any ashes and bone must be scattered and hidden. No blood or body should foil the two biggest issues, blood biography and speak with dead. If I have access to speak with dead I'd cast it before destroying the corpse, to make sure even if they somehow find it I'll have at least a week of safety. We should be out of range of detect object. Assuming they don't know how the body was destroyed they won't even know what to look for so even a discern location won't find it. The lack of body also means people might not realise he's dead. I'd try to buy any potions from separate locations and well in advance in case anyone realises that it would likely take such magic to leave no evidence.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Jaçinto wrote:
Meraki, look up the spell Blood Biography. It is another useful spell for finding out whodunnit.

Oh yeah, I forgot about blood biography. That's a good one.


Ultimate Intrigue introduced Red Hand of the Killer, which turns the killer's hand red. The ultimate line up tool, if he fails the save.


I suppose what I'm really looking for is a clear and complete list of all spells, items and abilities, sorted by level, that need to be accounted for by either side.

So I'm not caught out by that one weird trick that criminals hate.

With all the hundreds of spells, I would not be surprised if there is some level 1 spell that is worthless to adventurers so goes relatively unknown, but invalidates all possibility of concealing the truth. Or vice versa.


You might want to look up on the Inquisitor spell-list, they tend to get the "interrogate" type of spells, might be something there, maybe bard have a few too.

At least for starters i would suggest you limit your search to those two spell-lists.

Silver Crusade

Some of the core spells and low-level counters (Mind blank works on a lot of these as an "I win, it doesn't work" spell but as an 8th level spell, it's not something most low-level foes should have access to):

0. Detect Magic. Thin sheet of lead, misdirection, non-detection

0. Detect Poison. Misdirection, non-detection, binary poisons (each individual component is non-poisonous until combined).

1. Detect Secret Doors. Don't have the plan rely on a secret door. Or, if you only need to use the secret door once, make it a weak wall that you can easily break down instead of a secret door.

1. Detect Evil/etc. Misdirection, non-detection, being low level, being a vigilante with non-evil social/vigilante identity, having an innocuous reason for being evil (he's from Cheliax, of course he's evil, it doesn't mean he's the killer). Ring of mind-shielding or amulet of proof against detection and location.

2. Detect Thoughts. Make your save. Don't let them cast spells on you. Don't think about anything while the spell is going. Non-detection and misdirection also work. Ring of mind-shielding or amulet of proof against detection and location.

2. Zone of truth. Make your save. Be good at evasion or misleading without telling untruths. Run out the clock by answering circuitously without lying then toss a lie in at the end if the PCs don't notice the duration just expired.

2. Locate Object. Go a mile away. It has a short duration and the range isn't very long. A lead lined box or a room with gold leaf on the walls and ceiling. Non-detection, misdirection, amulet of proof against detection and location.

3. Detect lies. Make your save. Be good at evasion or misleading without telling untruths. Ring of mind-shielding or amulet of proof against detection and location.

3. Speak with dead. Provide the dead man with misleading information (for example, kill him while disguised). Don't provide him with any information (kill him from far away/while invisible/hidden). Damage the corpse enough that speak with dead won't work.

4. Divination. No real active defense against this one short of mind blank but the PCs need to know the right question to ask and will generally get a vague answer. It shouldn't be nearly as useful for crime mysteries as some internet denizens think. At best it should give a cryptic clue. A good crime mystery has plenty of cryptic clues. The ability to buy one more shouldn't change it.

4. Scrying. Don't leave blood or body parts behind. (Prestidigitation is good for cleaning up crime scenes). Don't give the party a real name or otherwise sufficient information to scry you. Make your will save. Non-detection or amulet of proof against detection and location. Detect Scrying. False Vision. Just dispel the scrying sensor when it shows up (it's not terribly hard to notice) and hope that six seconds isn't enough to give the PCs useful information.

Non-core.

2. Blood biography is the big one. It gives rather limited information itself, but if you want to minimize how much it can hurt a murderer: Provide the dead man with misleading information (for example, kill him while disguised). Don't provide him with any information (kill him from far away/while invisible/hidden). Don't leave any of your blood at the scene. (Prestidigitation, good non-magical cleanup, don't have blood, or don't get hurt). Don't leave any of the victim's blood at the scene. (Prestidigitation, good non-magical cleanup, pick a victim who doesn't have blood, or hurt them in a way that doesn't draw any blood and/or remove/destroy all of the blood from their corpse). The big concern here is going to be making sure you don't leave any blood at the scene and aren't identified by the victim. Who the victim is and how he/she died are things the investigators will almost certainly find out anyway.


Umbral Reaver wrote:

With the proliferation of magic, the simple act of getting away with murder gets a whole lot more complicated.

Let's split this into three parts:

1. THE CRIME

You're a criminal and you want to do a crime without being caught. Knowing you live in this magical world, what do you do to succeed at your crime? What precautions must you take to avoid leaving evidence that can be traced back to you?

2. THE INVESTIGATION

A crime has been done! Now from the angle of the detective, in a world where criminals can do magic, how do you perform a full and thorough investigation? What do you have to do to make sure you are not boggled or bedeviled by some sorcerous trick (or even mundane trick that takes advantage of the assumption that magic is used in the crime)?

3. THE TRIAL

This is something I've always wanted to do in a roleplaying game, but it is immensely hard. A courtroom scene, with the party attempting to present convincing evidence that their nefarious nemesis actually did the crime. Do we have a magical courtroom as well? In such a case, what happens in it and what behaviours must be enforced or accounted for?

I'd like good advice from peeps that know how to handle these things!

For part one, robbing people that no one cares about is a good start, that's why so many crimes against the poor weren't prosecuted back in the day. Who's going to bother to investigate a murder spree on tieflings in Cheliax?


Please note that a commune spell (available to 9th-level clerics, or 7th-level wizards with the right improved familiar) can easily answer yes-or-no questions like "Did X commit the crime of Y at time Z in place Q". With high-level PCs, or high-level characters in the justice system, much criminal investigation will consist of finding out just enough to have a plausible question to put to the gods. (One doesn't want to overtax one's clerics by casting 3000 communes per day...)

There is, of course, the question of how much trust one puts in the gods ("Our ineffable plan requires that the mortals be framed"), or the people asking the question ("did X commit Y at Z1 in place Q" is "NO" because he actually did it at time Z2" or "he did at time Z1 because he was dominated by the real villain"), or the people reporting the answers ("Sure, my familiar Vlapsach The Evil Imp totally agrees that his boss Nurgle, Pit-Captain of the Plane of Deceivers, says that Paula the Patsy did the deed!")

So it seems to me that a lot of standard criminal investigation would be more low-level stuff (levels, say, 1-5 or so) rather than high-level adventures. Unless...

... perhaps magic of this level is only used to confirm answers, not to obtain them in the first place. So PCs would have to get the clues in the first place. Maybe it's like Chinese detective novels where you know from the outset who-dunnit but the question is how the magistrate proves it?

... perhaps really high-powered counter-magic exists (though it's hard to see what could frustrate commune, unless maybe "the gods only know things within their portfolio" so you have to have the right priest cast the spell). (Maybe one god is protecting their favorite followers from the other god(s)...)

... perhaps there are no high-level clerics or improved familiars around, even at higher level (a world with mostly non-core classes, for instance).

... perhaps nobody cares about the crime so nobody is willing to cast the spells for the PCs -- can they do it themselves?

... maybe the laws say that legal questions must be in the Approved Form (set long ago for various reasons) so people come up with tricky redefinitions of their actions to it's technically not illegal or within the scope of the Approved Legal Question(s).

... maybe the real criminal works through a network of patsies ("Blast! The Masked Marauder dominated another street criminal to do the job. Who is hiding under the mask?!") and the PCs' job is to pierce the disguises.

Silver Crusade

tonyz wrote:

Please note that a commune spell (available to 9th-level clerics, or 7th-level wizards with the right improved familiar) can easily answer yes-or-no questions like "Did X commit the crime of Y at time Z in place Q". With high-level PCs, or high-level characters in the justice system, much criminal investigation will consist of finding out just enough to have a plausible question to put to the gods. (One doesn't want to overtax one's clerics by casting 3000 communes per day...)

There is, of course, the question of how much trust one puts in the gods ("Our ineffable plan requires that the mortals be framed"), or the people asking the question ("did X commit Y at Z1 in place Q" is "NO" because he actually did it at time Z2" or "he did at time Z1 because he was dominated by the real villain"), or the people reporting the answers ("Sure, my familiar Vlapsach The Evil Imp totally agrees that his boss Nurgle, Pit-Captain of the Plane of Deceivers, says that Paula the Patsy did the deed!")

So it seems to me that a lot of standard criminal investigation would be more low-level stuff (levels, say, 1-5 or so) rather than high-level adventures. Unless...

... perhaps magic of this level is only used to confirm answers, not to obtain them in the first place. So PCs would have to get the clues in the first place. Maybe it's like Chinese detective novels where you know from the outset who-dunnit but the question is how the magistrate proves it?

... perhaps really high-powered counter-magic exists (though it's hard to see what could frustrate commune, unless maybe "the gods only know things within their portfolio" so you have to have the right priest cast the spell). (Maybe one god is protecting their favorite followers from the other god(s)...)

... perhaps there are no high-level clerics or improved familiars around, even at higher level (a world with mostly non-core classes, for instance).

... perhaps nobody cares about the crime so nobody is willing to cast the spells for...

When you start talking about high level magic, there are a lot of setting concerns that will start being relevant. For example, if your setting is Ebberon, it's basically modern Manhattan with a steampunk skin so you've got Commune all over the place. If your setting is the Elsir Vale (Red Hand of Doom) on the other hand, there are no 9th level clerics available. (The highest level is 8th) and there is no indication that any of the named wizards have improved familiar (not that the word of an imp would be likely to be trusted). So in the Elsir vale the only person to worry about communing is the PCs. Now, if the PCs get the answer with commune, their reputation may be such that people will just take their word, but it's likely that people won't trust them enough to just say, "OK, PCBob says he did it. Let's hang the guy. PCBob who we just met yesterday would never lie to us." It's likely that the PCs would need to find evidence that the local powers could verify in order to make good on their commune answer.

Now in larger settings than the Elsir Vale, you probably have access to more magic but even if you adapt it to Greyhawk (my Greyhawk adaptation of the Red Hand of Doom puts it in northwest Sterich), and you now have some spellcasters who can handle commune 250 miles away, are those two or three high priests really going to cast commune for every rural murder or theft in the outskirts of the western counties? They probably only do that kind of thing for special cases involving accusations against nobles or other people who have the pull to get their attention. After all, the high priest of Heironeous (or Iomedae if we switch to Golarion) might care deeply that justice is done but the high priest of Zilchus (god of commerce) is more interested in expanding his commercial empire, so even in the capital there probably isn't the capacity to handle more than a small fraction of the cases.

If you consider the PCs role in an investigation, it will quickly become apparent that commune would be most useful in confirming the results of an investigation rather than substituting for an investigation. The count turns up dead and there are any number of people who might have wanted to kill him or might have been paid to kill him. Are you going to ask about every denizen of the castle from the lowest scullery maid to the court wizard? No, you'll need to round up a list of suspects before you can start asking yes or no questions. And that's assuming that you can devote several castings to clear a whole list of suspects. If you are brought ten cases in a day and asked to solve them all with commune, without any other context, you'll burn through all your questions before you solve the first one. In this case as well, commune would most likely be used to confirm that you have the right suspect rather than to substitute for investigation.

And at high levels, mind blank would foil commune. And domination, etc are more likely to come into play as well. After all, if the case is a worthy challenge for 14th level heroes, it is not a run of the mill crime by a run of the mill villain.


Some good advise upthread.

Quick post: two things that many / most GMs don't account for are speak with stone / plants abilities (it's always a pain when the murder site can talk with the investigators) and psychometry-type abilities (such as those introduced in the newer Occult books) or abilities where the investigator can remove view into the past (such as via psychometry).

Abilities which bypass direct scrying / divination (such as sharing memories or the sense of others) are also problematic for those that rely on abjurations such as non-detection or mindblank.

Hope that helps, will try to come back later with more comprehensive thoughts.

Silver Crusade

Good point. I should have included speak with animals/speak with plants in the list of low-level spells.

Strong points for the villain:
A. Animals may not hang around. Sure there are lots of rats in the gutter but are they the same rats that were there at 2 in the morning when you killed the guy? Maybe not.

B. Animals and plants are not especially smart and can't be relied upon to know the difference between, say an elf and an orc. They may think of them all as "two legs."

C. You're still best off disguising yourself or frightening animals away from your target first. Plants? You can kill them or try to be out of their field of view. You can also disguise yourself.

D. You could use some kind of mass damage ability to kill them all but that probably gives any investigator more info than they would have gotten from the animals/plants. ("Hmm, inspector, it looks like the entire group of rats just died all at once from an inflict wounds spell. I'd say we're looking for a priest of at least 9th level based on the mass inflict light wounds.")


The Trial of the Beast chapter of Carrion Crown fits the bill. My players really enjoyed trying to solve the various mysteries. There is some good material in there for how to handle a courtroom drama, as well as ways to thwart/encourage/resolve investigations. It also does a good job of presenting a number of different ways in which a mystery can be solved and/or the authorities convinced of the truth. I highly recommend it for inspiration.

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