Private Sanctum is a funny spell


Pathfinder Second Edition General Discussion


"I cast Scrying on the BBEG."
"You don't see anything."
"Do I get a check to counteract—"
"No."

Private Sanctum is, atypically for PF2E, an abjuration effect that cannot be foiled under normal circumstances. Which makes it an extremely powerful GM tool, for when you absolutely need to avoid giving away a major twist.

But this is why the rarity system exists, right? If you're not confident enough in your GMing ability to trust that you'll be able to work around a PC casting Scrying at the wrong time, you can just not let them take Scrying. It's weird to see Paizo break away from how spells are generally designed in this one case in particular.

Of course, Scrying is one of the most disruptive spells in the game, if not the most disruptive. Maybe having some foolproof way of dealing with it is not a bad thing. It just seems to be something of a relic of the spells arm race I've heard about in earlier editions, where BBEGs had to be spellcasters that had counters for whatever PCs might throw at them.

Scrying also only imparts visual information, but that could be derailing in some cases, such as finding out that a major antagonist that you've discovered speaks to an unknown party at a certain time on a regular basis is talking to another villain and may be working for them.

I don't know. I just can't be the only one who was a bit surprised at seeing that you can't counteract Private Sanctum with a scrying effect or anything. Even Spell Immunity requires that the caster make a counteract check each time the target is affected by the spell.

What are your thoughts?


Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Scrying is hardly the most disruptive spell. Among other things, it's long casting time, relatively high level, and short duration limit it's utility. To get an real use out of it, you'd essentially need to cast it over and over again all day, just in the hopes that your target does something interesting. More likely, you'll just catch them in the lavatory or taking a smoke break or something mundane. Point is: if the GM wants you to see nothing worthwhile, than you you just aren't.

If private sanctum could be counterspelled by scrying effects, it would be far more useless than it is now.

And it is useless. If the GM wants his NPCs to know something about your character, do you really think there is anything you could do to prevent that?


Ravingdork wrote:
And it is useless. If the GM wants his NPCs to know something about your character, do you really think there is anything you could do to prevent that?

How so? Spells are the only option for players in this game that aren't designed for player use. There are lots of spells that are more dangerous in the hands of NPCs than PCs. Curses and Death Knell, for instance.


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GM_3826 wrote:
Ravingdork wrote:
And it is useless. If the GM wants his NPCs to know something about your character, do you really think there is anything you could do to prevent that?
How so? Spells are the only option for players in this game that aren't designed for player use. There are lots of spells that are more dangerous in the hands of NPCs than PCs. Curses and Death Knell, for instance.

Disease-causing spells as well, and poisons to a degree. I guess you could lump them into the same bucket as curses.


Also, Ravingdork, don't pretend you aren't the kind of person who thinks of a good argument after you have already posted.

Yeah, you're right, the GM could easily have you catch the baddy doing something mundane. In order to get optimal use of scrying, you have to be very careful about the timing, or you're at the mercy of the GM. But that's not difficult to achieve: Gather Information to see if they have any plans or what their schedule is like, or focus on a specific event that you are aware is occurring in the future but might not want to get involved in right away. If your GM declares "in spite of being informed that the BBEG would be doing something you may want to witness ahead of time, you catch them on the toilet for ten minutes", either it's really important or they're a bit of a dick.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

I mean, at the point that your characters are delving into using niche subsystems, spells, and underhanded tactics to try and get an upper hand on the BBEG before facing off with him, or even attempting to avoid direct conflict with him altogether, you've succeeded pretty hard at creating an antagonist that your players respect, and you should feel pretty proud as a GM.
If they're going that hard to search out a Rare spell and research their target, you should be willing to part with at least some crumbs of vital information for their efforts. Ten minutes is a short amount of time - you can give out something useful without spilling the whole damn can of beans, right?

Private Sanctum, much like Scrying actually, is a very good storytelling spell for its purpose. The spell was (presumably in-lore) designed from the onset to be a purpose-built anti-scrying spell. It doesn't disrupt any other form of divination, mind you - JUST scrying and mind-reading effects alongside its black-box fog. And making it so that a scrying effect could counteract it, even if powerful enough, would break a lot of the appeal it has as a storytelling tool. Imagine the inverse of the scrying situation happening:

Big Bill, Ender of Galaxies is a level 20 Wizard who is scrying on the party so that he can figure out where to Gate all these fire mephits he's been meaning to get rid of. The party's Bard, having done some research, is privy to the fact that Big Bill was a PhD in Divination before he got blackballed from his fraternity. Deciding that it'd be reasonable for such a master of the art to have forms of scrying, the Bard decides to retrain one of his 4th rank slots to cast Private Sanctum on the party's base of operations every morning.

Unfortunately, the very next morning they are beset upon by 40 fire mephits at their front door, threatening to torment them with hot coals in their boots if they aren't fed and taken home. The Bard, pressing them for information, learns that Big Bill managed to find them despite having set up this Sanctum, because he was able to penetrate his puny 10th level caster sanctum with his 20th level scrying effect, thus making all his planning and time spent retraining gone to waste. The Bard's player isn't very happy.

Sometimes, it's okay for spells to break the mold if it would allow them to better evoke their fantasy. Private Sanctum wouldn't be appealing if it couldn't do its proposed purpose, so it broke the mold of allowing opposing scrying effects to break it so that people would have reason to use it.

Sovereign Court

Ravingdork wrote:
And it is useless. If the GM wants his NPCs to know something about your character, do you really think there is anything you could do to prevent that?

If you're in the situation where it's player vs GM, then you've already lost. I mean, at that point you're playing a hostile game where the outcome is never happy. Either the players feel the GM is being unfair and railroading, the GM complains that the players are rules lawyers trying to hammer him with technical complaints and ruining the story or something like that.

As a GM if players took drastic steps to prevent an NPC from scrying on the party I'd take a step back and think about how that should alter the story.

Maybe the PCs hear from a local shopkeeper that some weird out of towners were asking questions about them. Because the next BBEG tried to scry them, didn't get anything, and resorted to sending some agents for local spying. The PCs get paranoid and capture one of those agents and interrogate them and find out that there's a new BBEG. Great, players hooked on the story in a different way.

They get the advantage that the BBEG doesn't know everything they want to know - the PCs work paid off. But my story still goes on, just in a way more actively shaped by the players.


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Personally I'm fine with highly specific countermeasures being unbeatable; for the reasons BigHatMarisa (awesome handle, btw) listed. I put it in the same bucket as faerie fire or see invisibility; these spells are solutions to intensely specific (countering invisibility effects) problems that are otherwise incredibly hard to deal with.

Something that's worth noting is that countermeasures to effects, in a game where you have limited resources that you can't swap on the fly, are inherently less valuable than the effect they counter; scrying does something no matter what (heck, even if it does get countered, the diviner learns the target is using countermeasures, which could be info of some value). Private Sanctum does absolutely nothing if you aren't being scried upon; faerie fire has no secondary effect besides nerfing invisibility for concealment, and thus also does nothing if the enemies aren't packing invisibly, etc.

It stands to reason that these effects, useless in the absence of the thing they specifically counter, should punch well above their weight class

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