Operation of the Mind Reading spell?

Rules Discussion

Hi all. Question about the Mind Reading spell (Occult 3rd). I find the wording vague and problematic. I’ll be playing a Psychic with he Silent Whisper conscious mind so taking this spell seems very fitting but the operation of the spell is unclear. The description says that if the target fails their Will save, then “You perceive vague surface thoughts from the target when you Cast the Spell, and you find out whether its Intelligence modifier is higher than, equal to, or lower than yours.”

Two questions:

1) What are “vague surface thoughts?” There’s no further description here. Does this mean a target's motivations? Their emotional state? Whether they are hungry or not?! I can see different GMs giving players vastly different info. Any help here?

2) Does the target know they are being subjected to mind reading? Other similar spells, such as Suggestion, clearly state whether or not the target is aware (for Suggestion, on a successful will save, “The target is unaffected and thinks you were talking to them normally, not casting a spell on them.”) Again, nothing about this in the Mind Reading spell description. Any ideas?


1) The term “perceive vague surface thoughts” is not a great descriptor. As a GM (and I happen to be GMing a game where this spell is used), that “perceive” means you see, hear, and if relevant, also feel, smell, and taste.

So, I would say that the caster hears the target’s inner monologue and sees whatever the target is focused on (but NOT the surrounding are). I would rule that the caster can also distinguish between what is real and imagined.

For example. If someone were reading my mind at this second, they would hear what It was typing interspliced with my thoughts considering what I wanted to say before I wrote it. The caster would also see my computer screen and sometimes my keyboard and probably my phone sitting next to me as my eyes dart between targets.

One round is actually not a lot of time to get information. (The caser would have heard me ask the question in my head “what is the duration of that spell?” then open Archives of Nethys to remind myself of the duration, and then draw the preceding conclusion).

However, if sustained for up to a minute is quite a stretch of time. I would say that would be plenty of time to hear my thoughts regarding priorities beyond what I was immediately doing. For example, in the course of a minute I have not only considered this question, but also thought about making dinner for my family later tonight, recently seeing a retired colleague, a notification on my phone, and a dozen other things that a caster might have trouble sifting through in order to determine importance.

Most importantly, I would almost always give my players something useful via Mind Reading spell – even if it’s a bonus to social interactions.

2) As a GM I would probably rule that the phrase “with a cursory mental touch…” does mean that the target feels a sensation but may not necessarily know what that sensation is. The target would recognize that sensation each time they were the subject of the spell and may eventually discern what the effect it.

Though it is in no way rules as written, I would probably also rule that certain feats like Conceal Spell and Silent Spell would increase the difficulty of the target perceiving the “mental touch”.

Yes, if you have a GM that doesn't really want to play with it, the spell will do basically nothing.

But if your GM is on board with the concept, it can be a lot of fun.

breithauptclan wrote:

Yes, if you have a GM that doesn't really want to play with it, the spell will do basically nothing.

But if your GM is on board with the concept, it can be a lot of fun.

So true! Especially the way it's written, it's very GM dependent. Luckily, my GM is open-minded and will likely see it the way markrivett describes. I really like the idea of linking "perceived" to the senses (see, hear, smell, etc.), because it's more measurable and less subjective. As far as whether the target can discern it, yeah, that makes a lot of sense about a "cursory mental touch." Perhaps it could be tied to the level of the save? It could be something like: critical success=target knows the caster attempted to read their mind, success=target knows someone attempted it, failure/crit failure=target is unaware of the mental touch.

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Try prompting their surface thoughts with leading questions.

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