How hard is it for a character to discover evidence at a crime scene or to find the secret door? Unlike climbing a cliff or fighting a monster, the difficulty is dependent on the character's actions. The character who searches the wardrobe will never find the bomb under the bed but it is obvious to the character who actually looks under the bed. The difficulty also changes dramatically based on the advantages being used by the character. Seeing through a closed door is trivial to a superhero with X-ray vision or a psionicist with clairvoyance, yet the same door would foil the elf with amazing (but otherwise normal) eyesight.

The other factor is the role of the Game Leader. Their job is to make the game fun for all the players which includes making tasks challenging and letting characters fail. However, if players miss a vital clue or walk past the secret door leading deeper in to the dungeon the adventure will fizzle out which is no fun for anyone. Deciding what information to give out and when to give it is the heart of the Game Leader's role in the game.

When characters are trying to discover a hidden secret the Game Leader decides what and how much to tell the players. They use the players' role playing, actions and dice rolls as guidance but ultimately it comes down to the judgement of the Game Leader.

Difficulty of Discovery

Each individual clue, each fact and each item waiting to be found has a degree of difficulty. This is how hard the secret is to discover under normal circumstances. That is, if a player simply says "I search the room" and plays a general mixture of useful advantages, it is how likely the character will be able to uncover the secret.

It is in plain sight or unmissable once a person has spent a few moments in the room; a dead body on the floor, the style of the wallpaper.
Out of sight but easily found by anyone taking a moment to look around; a box under the bed, a bloody hand-print.
Requires effort to find; a hidden safe behind the picture, a small trail of blood.
A tiny detail, a needle in a haystack or something needing real skill to discover; a scrap of paper between the floorboards, suspicious transactions in an accounts ledger.

Some hidden items are binary, e.g. the characters either find the secret door or they don't. Other information is on a sliding scale and how much the players receive depends on how well their investigation goes. For example, spotting the blood trail is easy, noticing the blood is just a few hours old is moderately difficult but it is hard to find out that the blood comes from an animal and not a human.

Example Discoveries
A doorway filled with a strange shimmer exits this chamber and above the doorway are strange writings.
The writing is crudely engraved.
The faint blue shimmering is clearly magical and no light penetrates the darkness beyond.
The writing is Goblin and translates as “Keep Out”.
The shimmering magic resonates with the power of ancient runes.
Characters' Actions

Game Leaders should encourage players to do more than simply search the room with an action. When players specify what they are looking for, where they are looking and for how long they are looking, the game stays focused on role playing and is less about dice rolling. The role playing may help the characters if they look in the right spot or ask the right questions but it could also hinder them.

Based on the characters' actions the Game Leader should mentally shift the difficulty of discovery up or down. The easy item on the desk might become hard for the character focusing on the corpse but by luck their eyes may fall on the clue or something about the corpse may prompt the character to give the desk a quick examination.

In most actions the Game Leader can give the player a lot of guidance about what are appropriate advantages. This is more difficult with discovery actions as the Game Leader may give clues to players by the advice they give. Telling a player their super-hearing advantage won't help immediately lets them know that whatever is around cannot be heard. Game Leaders should allow characters to use whatever they consider appropriate (within reason) and simply adjust the difficulty accordingly. Well-chosen advantages make discovery easier, badly chosen ones make it harder.

In discovery actions the exact dice score for the action does not matter. It merely indicates whether the character did a bad job, a good job or simply an average job in their investigations. Poor, average and good dice rolls roughly equate to the three difficulty levels of easy, moderate and hard. A poor roll will discover an easy secret and a good roll will find a hard secret, though Game Leaders should not place too much weight on the actual dice roll. The questions the players ask, where the characters look and the advantages played are far more important. Players should be rewarded for good role playing and not unduly penalised for bad luck on the dice.

The overall fun of the game must also be considered. If it is vital the secret be discovered the characters should find it, though this doesn't require the Game Leader to simply hand it to the players. By dropping hints the Game Leader can guide the players in the right direction. This is especially useful when the characters' investigations are going up a blind alley. By mentioning a wall being slightly out of alignment or a suspect having a unusual accent the Game Leader can subtly (or not so subtly) lead the players back on track.

Most of the time the character's investigations are not vital and they should enjoy or suffer the consequences of their choices. If players never look for secret doors they should never find them. Walking the tightrope between making it too hard or too easy for the players is part of the skill of being a Game Leader.

Knowledge & Research

There is a sharp divide between what the player knows and what the character knows. This is especially acute when it comes to background and cultural information. A 21st century player is unlikely to know the significance of a pomegranate to a Greek but their Spartan champion of Hera would. This type of background information is represented in their advantages, particularly the character's Path and Knowledge advantages.

Using character knowledge, e.g. "What do I know about pomegranates?" is a discovery action like searching for treasure or looking for clues. The only difference is the nature of the advantages players may use. Having good eyesight does not normally help someone remember what they were taught by the priests but having a good memory would be very useful. A good library or an internet connection can be used as mundane equipment to add to the character's existing knowledge. The time taken may be important to the results as some memories will pop into our heads instantly but others require much thought. As with any discovery action the Game Leader should assess all the factors involved in the character's action and give out information accordingly.


DT, 2013/08/03 16:33

Chris - the link in paragraph 3, 'discover', takes you to this same page. Is this intentional?

Chris Tregenza, 2013/08/11 11:21

No, now fixed.

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open/mechanics/core/forensics.txt · Last modified: 2013/12/04 10:11 by tregenza
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The 6d6 RPG tabletop store is owned and operated by Chris Tregenza. Who also owns and runs Myomancy, a site about ADD / ADHD medication, Autism and Dyslexia Treatments and also site called Poosk. Chris also provides copy-writing, web design SEO advice to sites like Dingles' Games pathfinder rpg resources.