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While this charm lasts, you can affect the target's memory of an event that it experienced within the last 24 hours and that lasted no more than 10 minutes. You can permanently eliminate all memory of the event, allow the target to recall the event with perfect clarity and exacting detail, change its memory of the details of the event, or create a memory of some other event.

I have an issue with the wording; it implies that I have to know what the event was to alter it. What I am asking is can you use alter memory to basically see the event for yourself?

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You cannot read their memories

At no point can you read or examine the memories that they do have.

You should know of the event beforehand, so can magically modify the target's memory of it.

If you do want to do this, using Encode Thoughts while concentrating on Modify Memory allows you to extract the memory in a readable format.

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    \$\begingroup\$ meh well that's kinda strange then. To alter something you kinda need to actively see it to alter a painting you cant if the painting isnt there. The way i viewed it was like a editing tool were you could snip or add what was needed in a time limit. But fair enough \$\endgroup\$ – neo flare Feb 11 at 6:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @neoflare It may be unsatisfying, but it's magic. Perhaps you can think of it like a file system, you search "John's 3rd birthday party", the file is in some unreadable format, but you overwrite it with your own. You don't get to poke around or read the files. \$\endgroup\$ – pwi Feb 11 at 6:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comes down to application ... might be useful in cases where a mislead hit made a NPC into an enemy - now you can alter his memory - like erase the hit, erase that he is hostile to you and so forth \$\endgroup\$ – eagle275 Feb 11 at 15:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @pwi The way it is written, there actually can be some poking around and changing details. I just think the way it is done, it just isn't done by you personally. To stay in your analogy, think of the spell as a program that is run on the target's memories. You can give it a task like "replace all occurences of cake in the memory of John's 3rd birthday party with ice cream." and it will do so. However it will not tell you if there was anything to replace in the first place. \$\endgroup\$ – mlk Feb 11 at 15:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mlk Sure, but I think in the context of the question the idea is for the caster to read the target's memory, which can't be accomplished. \$\endgroup\$ – pwi Feb 12 at 1:43
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You can do so indirectly, and RAI maybe even directly.

Modify Memory states:

You can permanently eliminate all memory of the event, allow the target to recall the event with perfect clarity and exacting detail, [...]

This allows you to question the creature about a certain event, although you have to be aware of the event itself to do so - but a generic description like "your 20th birthday" or "2 hours ago" is sufficient for that.

Furthermore, the spell Encode Thoughts states:

If you cast this spell while concentrating on a spell or an ability that allows you to read or manipulate the thoughts of others (such as detect thoughts or modify memory), you can transform the thoughts or memories you read, [...]

In my interpretation, this strongly suggests that "manipulating" is a superset of "reading" - if you didn't also read the thoughts of the creature affected by Modify Memory, it would be impossible to "extract the thoughts you read into a thought strand", as Encode Thoughts does. Therefore, this leads me to believe that RAI, you're meant to be able to read thoughts with Modify Memory.

Regardless of Encode Thoughts, I believe it makes sense that Modify Memory allows you to read the creatures' memories. Furthermore, considering that it's a 5th-level spell, whereas Detect Thoughts is 2nd level, I don't think it would be too unbalanced - especially as it only lasts a minute, and you have to describe the event to alter the creature's memory - hence also reading the creature's mind as part of the spell, without knowledge of the event you want to shape, might be too time-consuming anyways. A casting of Detect Thoughts in advance might, therefore, be a wise idea.

Either way, bear in mind that RAW, you can't read a creature's thoughts with Modify Memory (except by making it read them out loud).

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