Been looking for RAW, FAQ or thread (ideally with paizo staff post) with guidance about how GMs should deal with a situation where the party leave behind items (say, for encumberance reasons) and the chances they are there when they return to them.
If they leave a cache somewhere what are the chances it gets found and scavenged by someone else?
Does location and attempts to hide it make a difference? A sword left in a city street is going to get picked up by someone but what about one carefully wrapped and buried under a marked tree somewhere rural?
There are no rules for this. It is purely a setting/circumstance/GM call.
Yes, Pure GM call. In general I might say if it is hidden in a well travelled area. Survival/Stealth vs Passive perception.Hidden in a secluded area Survival/Stealth + Circumstance bonus (5 or 10) vs Passive perception.
Food might attract creatures with scent, and intelligent creatures that regularly patrol an area might be actively looking for disturbances.
GM to GM I would probably roll a single D100 based on the odds of a likely creature stumbling across it in the time the PC's are away.
If it hits, then a check vs the skill at hiding it.
It is a mechanical benefit, so there should be some mechanical risk.
It is also an RP event and that should be rewarded (with lower chances of losing said cache).
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Some advice for DMs, stealing the PCs' stuff is a great way to get them to go where you want. I had some goblins steal the PCs' boots while they slept and they spent three sessions (about an in-game week) tracking them down as I led them to an ancient jungle temple. They weren't even magical boots, they were just so pissed at the goblins' audacity.
The closest thing I can find about discovering caches is in the Hell's Rebels players guide.
Each week there is a chance that an event happens (the chance depends on the danger rating of the city plus a rebellion mechanic modifier based on how much the government is aware of the growing rebellion). When an event happens there's a 4% chance that the event will be a cache being discovered. (So not very likely, week by week.)
Alternatively, hiding bodies of slain guards is a Stealth check, which sets the DC of the Perception check for someone to find it.
Personally, I'd use this one and modify the perception/allow the person looking to take 20 depending on the situation. (Eg: Hidden somewhere that people wouldn't normally be looking = passive Perception; Hidden under a pile of rubbish = someone searching through it looking for half-eaten food gets to take 20; hidden in an historical museum = a curator finds it and puts it on display; hidden in a art museum = everyone leaves it alone because they think it's a wonderful statement about how adventurers have to hide what they really are in order to try to fit in with normal society.)
You go back for stuff?
My opinion is that intelligent visitors are likely to take/move/hide stuff. Otherwise, it will likely stay. Taking effort to hide stuff, should help your chances of having the stuff stay for later.
Recommendation: have extra bags of holding, and invest in the Treasure Stitching spell.