I am currently in the process of writing a D&D 3.5 scenario for my players, and I'm looking at producing a sort of slow burn mystery for them to solve.

In the earlier stages the party may (or may not) depending upon their actions intercept a coded message as it travels from sender to recipient. The coded message is written in ink on a perfectly ordinary mundane piece of parchment, detect magic reveals no magical auras present.

Now just considering the coded message itself, leaving aside situation and circumstance, and aside from the mundane usage of Decipher Script to decrypt as discussed in Complete Adventurer page 98 and spells of the Divination school presented within the Player's Handbook:
What other magical methods exist in order to gain information as to the plain text? The identity of the sender or would be recipient?

I would largely appreciate any responses sourcing D&D 3.5 material published by WotC, but supplementary by 3rd party publishers is okay too.

P.S. The purpose of asking this is to determine whether I've covered all the bases, rather than in the moment being thrown a curve ball by a player with just the right spell.

Assume up to and including epic levels for player characters, so hiring spellcasters is definitely an option; wish spells and the like I have accounted for. Psionics is limited, though lower-level powers could possibly be sourced. In the city where the adventure takes place, IIRC, there is one psychic warrior of 2nd level and I believe a fighter with the Wild Talent feat.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you have any idea what you party composition would be in terms of classes or levels? Furthermore, are you allowing all 3.5e material? I suspect that I single reasonably leveled caster would destroy your mystery. \$\endgroup\$
    – J. Mini
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 21:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @J.Mini ' I suspect that I single reasonably leveled caster would destroy your mystery.' Go ahead that's exactly the kind of responses I was hoping to elicit. Also Ranger, Paladin, Bard and Artificer cohort. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 21:12
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ There's quite a few psionic options as well, including a few that would allow a character to watch as they encode the message in the first place. \$\endgroup\$
    – nijineko
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 21:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Was the coded message written by hand by the sender? Will the PCs have the original coded message or will they receive a copy? Or are both of these pieces of information the kind of thing that the PCs are supposed to discover on their own? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 21:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan They will discover on their own, however for our purposes it is the original coded message and it is written by hand. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 21:22

2 Answers 2


Psychometry, Object Reading, Sensitivity to Psychic Impressions, and Destiny's Trail.

Psychometry: see who was in an area last, and what they did. This power is sequential, meaning it shows who last was there, and then the person or people before them, but disregards temporal distance. However, you might be hard pressed to find a location or area where the last person in the area was your desired target. Works better in secret rooms and other closed off locations.

Object Reading: this only works if the object ever had an actual owner. Also, one would only learn about the owner, not the object. However, the information revealed by this could not only help pinpoint the time period, but also provide targeted information for other forms of divination.

Sensitivity to Psychic Impressions: limited to 100 years x manifester levels, and events which would have left a strong emotional impression... which may or may not apply to a specific person.

Destiny's Trail: learn about everyone involved with a specific event that you can describe when you are at the location in question, regardless of temporal distance. With this one, you could directly target the person who last held the cipher. Then reiterated manifestations could even track that person around town, through handoffs, and eventually back to the person who wrote it... though it may take a long while. Another great power for digging out data useful for subsequent divisions. Combined with a Locate Object effect and they could eventually find the code book to decipher it.

However, in time critical situations or mysteries, some of these options are not tenable.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Okay thanks Object Reading and Sensitivity to Psychic Impressions I know about where can I locate Destiny's Trail and Psychometry? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 1, 2019 at 8:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ The latter should be in either the complete psionic or expanded psionics handbook. The former should be in the official 3.5 Spelljammer material. \$\endgroup\$
    – nijineko
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 18:38

Several non-Divination solutions exist

Outside intervention:

  • Commune is technically a Divination, but you might be underestimating it. Venca is aware of most significant secrets (see Deities and Demigods page 96) and there's plenty of other gods that can assist in such cases. Even with the limits on the spell, it's a very helpful option.
  • Miracle is Commune but better.
  • Summon, call, or otherwise contact anyone with very high levels in Decipher Script.


Abuse bonuses to skills - Particularly for Clerics, several spells will give them absurdly high skill checks. Guidance of the Avatar and Divine Insight are the most obvious options.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Great thanks for the input Commune is fine, Miracle is fine, could you elaborate on a miracle that doesn't incur the X.P penalty? Summon, call, or otherwise contact is fine (a mundane use of Decipher Script). I will be having a look at those Psionics you noted. Divine Insight is fine. Guidance of the Avatar is 3.0 which is not to say that it isn't a valid suggestion. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 21:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelDorf Why do you care about the XP penalty of only Miracle? Commune also has one. \$\endgroup\$
    – J. Mini
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 0:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are a couple of reasons, Commune costs 100 xp while Miracle is 5000 xp, dropping 100 xp is something a cleric could potentially be persuaded to do whereas 5000 xp is bit of a tall order. A 9th level cleric is not beyond the association of the party whereas a 16th level is simply because there is no 16th level cleric in the region where the scenario takes place neither is there a cleric in the party. Lastly asking yes no questions of a higher power is something I have accounted for whereas if you'll pardon the crudity pulling the solution out of an NPC's a$$ is something I can't. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 2:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Btw thanks for the psionic suggestions they've been considered and resolved. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 2:13

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