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Pathfinder ruleset, with 2-3 low level characters of unknown classes.


In an encounter, the minor villain's last action is to throw a note into the fire. With a successful check, the PCs can recover a fraction of this.


Although I don't intend to reveal the full note, I have written it just in case they come up with a way to restore it. What options are available (if any) to the PCs to recreate the note in it's entirety?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Deciphering the meaning of an incomplete text is a function of the Linguistics skill.

You can decipher writing in an unfamiliar language or a message written in an incomplete or archaic form. The base DC is 20 for the simplest messages, 25 for standard texts, and 30 or higher for intricate, exotic, or very old writing.

(Emphasis mine)

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I'm not familiar with the system, but surely this would not work if they literally only had a very small number words the original note was made up of? –  Phil Apr 1 at 11:04
How big of a percentage of the original text is needed is not specified by the rules. Personally, I'd err on the side of the characters being able to figure things out, because A) It's fun to be able to use the Linguistics skill for once, and B) I'd be wary of applying overly restricting "realism" to skill checks. A character with a high skill check isn't just a Clever Joe, they are an expert or a flat-out superhero when it comes to their field. –  Ernir Apr 1 at 11:14
Since we have characters of unknown classes, they might not have the Linguistic skill. I have no idea it this is a problem or not but I think it's worth noting. –  Zachiel Apr 1 at 11:18
Bonus points for finally making Linguistics useful –  Cristol.GdM Apr 1 at 19:50
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The Pathfinder version of Mending does not specify if it works on burnt items, merely saying that it does not work on items that have been "warped or otherwise transmuted", which may, or may not apply to burnt items, depending on interpretation. As Ilmari Karonen points out, it also requires that "All of the pieces of an object must be present", something which I would assume would be the case if the note's only been in the fire for a round, but may not be. Lastly, as Matthew Najmon points out, repairing the piece of paper to full hp and functionality doesn't necessarily restore the ink and message. This is a cantrip, and your party will likely have access to it. http://www.d20pfsrd.com/magic/all-spells/m/mending

Make Whole, while quite powerful, has nothing to say it's better at repairing burnt items than Mending, nor does it remove the requisites of requiring all of the pieces, nor does it necessarily restore the message if the paper is repaired. http://www.d20pfsrd.com/magic/all-spells/m/make-whole

If your party kills the villain, Speak with Dead will allow a will save, but if the villain's corpse fails the will save, then it is obliged to answer questions truthfully. While it can give vague or cryptic answers to questions, there are no real vague or cryptic answers to the question "What was the exact wording on the note written on this piece of paper?", and they'll get a couple of tries (two, perhaps three). Speak with Dead is a 3rd level spell, and while your party may not be able to cast it, if they have access to a medium sized city, they can drag the corpse around and hire somebody else to.http://www.d20pfsrd.com/magic/all-spells/s/speak-with-dead

Obviously, the easiest answer is to capture the villain alive, and get them to tell the party what the note said, using social skills such as intimidate, Bluff, etc, or mind effecting magic such as charm person or suggestion.

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Ask nicely

The easiest way to recreate the note is probably to capture the villain alive, and use Charm Person to ask him to do it for them.

Make Whole is a 2nd level cleric spell and it still does not repair burnt items, so the power level to restore a broken note is probably at least at 3rd or 4th circle of spells and likely above your low level party I think.

From the paizo reference document for Make Whole "This spell functions as mending, except that it repairs 1d6 points of damage per level when cast on a construct creature (maximum 5d6)."

From the paizo reference document for Mending "All of the pieces of an object must be present for this spell to function". So... I would take it that a burned note is 'missing some pieces'. Meaning neither Mending nor Make Whole would work in that case.

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I am curious, why are you confident that Make Whole could not repair a burnt note if it has enough power to repair magic items below 0 hit points? Is there an errata? Please expand your answer as to why the spell will not work? –  mingold Apr 1 at 13:32
I'm wondering if even Mending shouldn't be able to repair it if you gather the ashes. I guess destroying and recovering written information isn't really handled very clearly in Pathfinder. –  mcv Apr 1 at 14:29
@DevSolar The smart dark overlord always asks nicely. Being crude and aggresive rarely works in favor of your dark side. –  Martin Epsz Apr 1 at 16:15
@Jason_c_o Basically the answer is saying that I shouldn't assume that he will die, he'll always have the full note so I should be prepared for a non-burning scenario. –  NikolaiDante Apr 1 at 21:23
Besides, there are ways to question corpses. –  SevenSidedDie Apr 1 at 23:58
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An alchemist might soften the stiff crumbled burnt note with a fluid that does not dissolve the ink. He can then flat it out and let it dry flattened. Applying a fluid that slightly solves the ink, he can transfer the ink to a fresh piece of parchment. With a mirror he can read a blurred version of the note.

I'd rule that any character may try himself as an alchemist, if the player can reason how his character came up with a feasible process. This should be quite hard for illiterate characters and most fighter classes.

He only got one chance on the original. If he finds the writing tools of the villain, he can test the improvised process to gain a bonus on the check when treating the original. I'd allow bonuses for testing:

  • with any sheet of paper/parchment: +/-0
  • with sheets of leather/cloth to substitude parchment: -2
  • with another sheet of the exact parchment: +1
  • fluids on the exact ink used to write the note: +3 each (solving and non-solving)
  • fluids on any ink (does not stack with exact): +1 each (solving and non-solving)
  • any quill: +/-0
  • with a stick as substitude for a quill: -1
  • the exact quill: +1 (if I'm in good mood, e.g. for right amount of ink on sample note)
  • multiple fluids, to see which work best: +2 (for exact samples), +1 (for any)

Overall that might sum up to +10. Yes, this is quite a sure thing to work with, if properly prepared. However depending on how bad you want them to (not) get the note, you can adjust the proposed values or rule that the note is heavily damaged and apply any negative modifier for that.

In any case he needs some sort of parchment, ink and quill (or feasible substitudes) for testing. I'd usually not require a check for testing, because he can learn from failures as much (or more) as from success. If he got only resources for a single test, that'd be quite different: If that single test fails dramatically, he might not get any bonus from it.

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May I ask, what about my answer is worth downvoting? –  NoAnswer Jun 27 at 13:46
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I would also not assume that things go according to plan. Many, many years ago I had a DM set up a situation where we would recover something that was mostly burned and useless. I didn't realize exactly what was going on but as he started to describe the situation I realized the falling object was some sort of trap--and I feather-falled it. To compound the problem he had planned what would happen and my disrupting it didn't immediately register--he described the whole situation before I pointed out that my feather fall would result in recovering the original as there would have been no fire. We came out of that with 10x the loot we were supposed to get.

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I don't see how this answers the question... It's also a little hard to follow, I had to read it twice. –  Jason_c_o Apr 1 at 19:47
I'm warning that the PCs might find a way to thwart his plans to burn the note in the first place and giving an example of how things can go wrong. –  Loren Pechtel Apr 2 at 3:09
@Loren Could I suggest you compose this as basically suggesting: "Make it not become burned"? It is a pretty good response: short of GM fiat, it's totally unsafe to assume the players won't do something entirely unpredicted to prevent the note from even getting burned in the first place. It might get teleported, affected by bit of wind or a mage hand, or they may put out the fire or create a wall in front of it. A cautionary tale about that is a good thing. –  Jonathan Hobbs Jun 17 at 13:57
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