Can You Spy on a Prepared Caster?

Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

As in could a wizard watch another wizards prepare his spells and glean from that what spells are being prepared? Similarly for other prepared casters.

For example could someone discretely tell if the caster is preparing fireball the morning of the important peace treaty or if they're preparing comprehend languages?

I would say that you'd have to be able to see the page (tablet, writing, whatever) they are reading as they prepare. You'd also have to be able to decipher that spell, typically with a Spellcraft check (DC 20 + spell level) or read magic (which means you'd either need to be close enough to read it and have enough time or have done it prior). I suppose if you could see a page number and there was a table of contents or the spell's name was just written at the top of the page that would let you know what he was studying (assuming it was true and you could see or knew that information). Just seeing a caster reading or preparing wouldn't let you know by itself.

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And what is the chance of scrying on the wizard at just the right time to be able to get this information?

David knott 242 wrote:

And what is the chance of scrying on the wizard at just the right time to be able to get this information?

"Oh boy, 3 am!" (pulls off cover and takes a bite of the spellbook hidden underneat).

More seriously- I could see scrying from 6 to 9 AM. That seems like the period where a party would get up and handle various chores.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

If they're a Sin-Wizard of Sloth, good luck getting them out of bed before noon. And out of bed after 3 P.M.

Just check on them every 8 hours and 15 minutes.

Not all prepared casters use spell books. Witches commune with their familiars and divine casters pray or meditate. So that leave only Wizards, Magus and possibly alchemists and investigator that use books.

I agree with Pizza Lord that you would need to be able to have understand the book first. Since each wizard has their own way of recording spells this is going to be pretty difficult. Also you would need to be able to clearly see the page long enough to decipher it. It is going to take another wizard a lot longer to decipher someone else’s book than it does to read their own.

Read magic is often fails unless you are using greater scrying. The fact that there is a chance to use read magic through scrying means that you should be able to understand what is written in the book assuming you make the roll. It is still going to be a matter of chance to catch the wizard as he is preparing spell. Also since most wizards prepare spells in the morning this

David knott 242 wrote:

And what is the chance of scrying on the wizard at just the right time to be able to get this information?

I was thinking of a more mundane form of spying; like if the PC's are staying at some sort of castle and being quitely watched through the eye-holes of a painting like in scooby-doo by a group that may or may not plan on betraying them but doesn't want to alert the prepared casters by stopping them from resting and preparing spells.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Yeah, that's not going to happen. They are going to be between you and the book, you're at a horrible angle. What wizard is going to prepare spells right in front of an area that screams "we're spying on you". If I were that wizard, I'd slap a scrap of paper over the eyeholes that reads "Did you watch me prepare Explosive Runes?"

I think it would be actively easier to just bribe a maid to hang around the martial character and hope he asks "oh, what did you prepare today?"

If you are using mundane methods of spying the chance of this working is almost next to nothing. The section on Arcane magic Writing is clear that an arcane spell caster cannot simply read another arcane casters writings. They have to take time to study and decipher it. The only rule that mentions how long that takes, is that it takes an hour per spell level to learn a spell from another wizards spell book. Since that is significantly longer that it takes to memorize the spell I would say the wizard does not have enough time to decipher the spell. If the spell has already been deciphered than I guess it might work.

Hmmm.... the assumption we are making is that the scryer would have to decipher the spellbook at the exact same time as wizard prepares them.

However, this assumes a one off spy effort. What if the scryer already knew what spells were on each page?

This can be accomplished in several different ways. First, there is the long term scry effort- which requires a lot of magic over the course of months and has a lot of risks. But... what if you gained access to the spell book?

...the enemy that is using the scry spell (or someone working under them) could have been an NPC with a close relationship with with the party. What happens in your game when you wizard meets with another 'friendly' wizard, and they suggest "lets trade spells"?

In that case, they might only need a few visual ques (such as diagrams and magic circles) to tell them what spell the wizard is looking.

Some Kind of Chymist wrote:
I was thinking of a more mundane form of spying; ...

You would need a good angle to read the book, like Mysterious Stranger mentioned (However, if you knew the spells on the particular page ahead of time and had a way to recognized the page that might let you know which spell he was studying).

For the most part, you will need careful angling and it would depend on the caster and how he reads. For instance, if the room you put him in has a nice desk that he might prepare at, it's possible that a spyhole in the ceiling that lets you look down onto the book open in front of the caster will work (obviously assuming reasonable visibility, normal-sized print in a book like we use today probably would be unreadable, but spellbooks utilize symbols, glyphs, and designs personalized to their user to help them focus their minds, so those might be more visible).

If you think the caster might prepare their spells in bed when they wake up, a spyhole above the headboard of the bed (or the old eyeholes in a portrait hung above the bed) would possibly let you view the book from that angle.

Otherwise, what lemeres mentioned about overhearing what he's prepared isn't so far-fetched. Most parties probably do say things like that (and it's assumed to be in-character), so if you're listening and spying in the morning and someone asks (and the wizard replies), then you know what he said.

I guess asking another wizard what spells he prepared would be a cool trick for an ilusion wizard to pull whilst disguised as the party's fighter.

Has anyone (PC or GM) done much cool stuff around diplomatically dealing with a Wizard and there spells prep in a way that isn't hittimg them with a big stick every seven and a half hours so they can't rest properly. I find the idea intriguing.

You might need to overcome Mage's Private Sanctum a 5th lvl spell whose sole purpose is to prevent being spied on, can be made Permanent and prevents both mundane means and magical divination upon the area by anyone outside the area.

Mage's Private Sanctum:

School abjuration; Level sorcerer/wizard 5

Casting Time 10 minutes

Components V, S, M (a sheet of lead, a piece of glass, a wad of cotton, and powdered chrysolite)

Range close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)

Area 30-ft. cube/level (S)

Duration 24 hours (D)

Saving Throw none; Spell Resistance no

This spell ensures privacy. Anyone looking into the area from outside sees only a dark, foggy mass. Darkvision cannot penetrate it. No sounds, no matter how loud, can escape the area, so nobody can eavesdrop from outside. Those inside can see out normally.

Divination (scrying) spells cannot perceive anything within the area, and those within are immune to detect thoughts. The ward prevents speech between those inside and those outside (because it blocks sound), but it does not prevent other communication, such as a sending or message spell, or telepathic communication, such as that between a wizard and his familiar.

The spell does not prevent creatures or objects from moving into and out of the area.

Mage's private sanctum can be made permanent with a permanency spell.

Another spell my own Loremaster tended to use was Detect Scrying a 4th lvl spell which detects scrying sensors (spells of the subschool scrying) in a 120ft radius around the caster and last 24 hrs with each casting. He used it at least once to counter scry and Dimension Door with his companions to the scriers location and very much surprised the spy.

Detect Scrying:

School divination; Level bard 4, sorcerer/wizard 4

Casting Time 1 standard action

Components V, S, M (a piece of mirror and a miniature brass hearing trumpet)

Range 40 ft.

Area 40-ft.-radius emanation centered on you

Duration 24 hours

Saving Throw none; Spell Resistance no

You immediately become aware of any attempt to observe you by means of a divination (scrying) spell or effect. The spell's area radiates from you and moves as you move. You know the location of every magical sensor within the spell's area.

If the scrying attempt originates within the area, you also know its location; otherwise, you and the scrier immediately make opposed caster level checks (1d20 + caster level). If you at least match the scrier's result, you get a visual image of the scrier and an accurate sense of his direction and distance from you.

And any magical scrying sensor, whether from Arcane Eye, Clairvoyance or the Scrying spell can be perceived by anyone able to make DC 20+spell level Perception check. There have been several threads discussing whether the check is/can be subject to further modifiers and if that is merely the base DC or not.

An awful lot of how difficult it would be to spy magically or by mundane methods depends on a very large number of factors. In particular the level of the various folks involved especially the casters, whether the wizard is in his stronghold, his foes or somewhere else public or private, friendly or otherwise. What, for instance is society's expectations, diplomatic immunity, etc.. Embassy's in the real world have been bulldozed and rebuilt because it was assumed they were too bug ridden to be 'used'. But yes Arcane casters in particular have a lot of magical means to block and/or detect spying on them. Flipside is they also possess a large number of ways to spy on other folks including other arcane or divine casters. And all that is within the Paizo publications, you get into 3rd party stuff or conversion of earlier edition materials (Rary's Replay of the Past, for example) and ... .

Well, for lower level spells, the spy could use a Ring of Spell Knowledge. It only takes a standard to catch a spell from the spellbook (with a check), at which point the spy can cast the same spell. Theoretically, the spy will know what spell the ring just caught. If so, they can then catch the next spell the wizard studies, and so on.


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My preferred way to learn what spells an enemy wizard has prepared is to kill him, take his spellbook, and then study it to learn all of the spells he could have prepared.

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