This question is fairly specific to the shadow-haunted, torture-porn, evil Cenobite god worshiping country of Nidal in Paizo's world of Golarion, but could also apply to other "lawful evil nations" out there. Nidal is featured in the novel Nightglass as well as various Pathfinder supplements.

The PCs from my Reavers campaign were traveling cross-country in Nidal to go do the adventure The Midnight Mirror, they have a travel pass that lets them through to their destination in the otherwise foreigner-unfriendly nation. Anyway, they were out in the grasslands traveling from one county to another and came across some shadowcallers (local magical SS guys) pursuing some tiefling fugitives through the tall grass, one thing led to another, and they killed both of them. I didn't expect the fight, the shadowcallers were like level 12 and the PCs level 7 but they surprised them and got lucky with Stunning Fists... Apparently PC tolerance for "let me see your papers and root through your stuff" is pretty low even when there's possible horrific consequences.

They removed hands and jaws (no speak with dead and even raise dead becomes problematic) and buried them in a deep hole on the plains an hour away from the fight scene and made group Survival check at 28 to remove traces of the fight and 29 at the grave site (that would set the DC of a Perception/Track to discover the site). They took all identifying material off them including all magic items and went using a summoned mount and buried those in a nearby forest (didn't keep any of it). They used prestidigitation to clean themselves, the wagons, etc. of all traces of the fight.

There were no witnesses except the tieflings, one of whom escaped before the fight started and one of whom was killed by the PCs under the "No Witnesses Act" and given the same treatment as the shadowcallers. (They didn't kill the shadowcallers to save the tieflings, but because they were going to confiscate one of their weapons... They are neutral to evil pirates, not freedom fighters.) They're traveling via wagon in plains-type terrain for tracking purposes.

Assuming they'll be back out of the country in a week or so, I'm trying to figure out how much detection would reasonably be brought to bear on them in the interim. The shadowcallers' superiors will get concerned within a day or two, and then they'll need to mobilize, find the bodies, figure out what happened, figure out the party's responsible, find the party, etc. using magic available to, say, a L12 wizard or cleric max (the shadowcallers tend to be mystic theurges, shadow-themed wizardry plus worship of Zon-Kuthon). And torture, they like torture.

If they catch the tiefling then it'd be easy, but that tiefling is a lucky bastard - he rolled something like 5 natural 20s during the chase, eventually stealthing away from the shadowcallers and party before the fight even started. He's a rogue and has a bunch of loot on him from a burglary and is trying to make himself scarce. I'm going to assume he stays at large for another week at least.

How screwed are my PCs? What do you reckon the shadowcallers' timeline and tactics are here? It's Golarion so there's Pathfinder standard magic but it's not all "oh everyone has magical telegraphs and stuff everywhere." There's records somewhere in Nisroch about the PCs and their travel plans but it's unlikely someone else in the interior of the country would be able to quickly find out "names of every foreigner in the country" or the like to ask trivial divination spells "Did guy X kill them?" Assume reasonable medieval recordkeeping plus standard spells. How, specifically, can the PCs be found out?

Edit: I'm not looking for excuses to catch them or excuses to let them get away. I'm asking, given a country in which finding out what happened to these guys and hunting down their murderers is culturally desirable, what nonmagical/magical (Pathfinder) techniques can be brought to bear to ID and find the party and how long will it take? If they just "get away" when there was some easy divination way of finding them, then it's not very realistic.


5 Answers 5


Unfortunately, blood biography combined with magical checkins and a spell-based binary search (probably using spirit planchets and generations of "retired" agents as spirits) to locate bodies spells doom rather cheaply as government spending goes.

Blood bio, cast with a drop of a ctreature's blood, gives answers to:

Who are you? (The name by which the creature is most commonly known)

What are you? (Gender, race, profession/role)

How was your blood shed? (Brief outline of the events that caused its wound, to the best of the victim's knowledge)

When was your blood shed?

Finding the corpse will have blood in its wounds, which then provides a "brief outline of events." It is reasonable to assume that a brief outline will discuss the method of attackers. Which then, (papers please!) will link them to the last internal checkpoint by their class descriptions or other characteristics linked to their identities.

To be clear though, the public side of things will be absolute silence. Because the public doesn't know about this appearance of weakness, there will be no advertising the weakness. (Otherwise people get the idea that harming the secret police is possible, and we just don't want that...) Reprisals are fine and all, but an aura of omnipotence is better. If the team missed any of its checkins or procedures, their supervisor (to the function of his ability to have fall-guys) will be tortured to encourage the others. If there are some rumors, some of the "usual suspects" will be rounded up and executed for a trumped up charge.

In terms of team notification, every team will, being lawful, likely follow "modernish" police practice of "check in with home base." The logistics of this vary, depending on infrastructure.

  • Visible tech: A napoleonic semaphore is not out of the question, especially with items of "whispering wind." (Given how cheap this makes individual messages, combined with the efficiency gains from modern communications and the ability to spy on the communications of a populace, I see no reason why a lawful evil society wouldn't have one of these networks.)
  • A wizard did it: Telepathic Bond may be made permanent. Every squad of agents should be placed in telepathic bond with their controller "back at base". Given the communications capabilities that this implies, it's the cheapest possible communications network. An "empire" (evil or not) lives and falls on its communications, which means that there should be a correspondingly high priority assigned to this. We can assert, however, that the idea of battle-ready flying squads ready to teleport to help requests may not be part of the repertoire, likely due to infighting and other politics. Still, even presuming that these aren't "always on" (maybe the controller is managing multiple squads) squads should check in when before they expect trouble and after they're clear.

The players get one missed checkin as a grace period, Then a "ministry of divination" (I'm assuming nation-state resources) steps in with a series of spirit planchettes and does a binary search to find the last location of the missing team (as a function of the region that they checked in from). The binary search only needs to be of a region the size that locate object (remember, both a corpse, the corpse's robes, and the identity documents marked with a specific arcane mark are all items) can cover. Happily, the players removed some of the evidence there, but a corpse is still an object.

That binary search takes exactly as long as you wish, as it's a function of the resources invested into the "ministry of divination"'s binary search capabilities and whether or not the "spirits in the area" are favourable to which side. Of course, if I was an lawful evil ministry of divination, I'd make sure that the spirits in the area were particularly well disposed to me: any spiirt that provides a useful answer has their family rewarded with a lowering of quota or other "random" bureaucratic positive outcome. Any spirit that obstructs this will a) have their family harmed, and b) be otherwise removed using normal mid-level adventurer capabilities.

If I was doing this in 3.5, I'd make sure that the communications infrasturcture all had the necrotic cysts implanted in them so that the parent-cyst could scry (and remote take over) any of her agents whenever she desired.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The novel Nightglass is about a shadowcaller, they didn't have anything like permanent telepathic bonds but are amazed by a Chelaxian long-range magical communication device. They do have whispering wind but it can only check in when within say 7 miles of somewhere... They do have scrying objects everywhere in towns and such, which is the most likely frequent check-in method. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Sep 26, 2013 at 14:25
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ So it still sounds like they're in pretty good shape for the short term. Like all magical solutions, its possible but requires a high enough caster that happens to have that spell (and to get immediate turnaround, has that spell prepared!). Does someone nearby have that spell or do they have to ship the blood off to someone? \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Sep 27, 2013 at 3:23
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Exactly. It's a function of just how much of a "magical investigation agency" this country has instead of a "public order agency." The spells exist, and the construction of these agencies would derive significant advantage to the country, but the country's priorities may not allow for that to happen. (And given how antithetical the audit versus enforcement roles tend to be, you really don't get both in the same place. ) \$\endgroup\$ Sep 27, 2013 at 3:47

Note that this answer was written before the "rules as written" tag. It does not answer the new question. However, some people seem to think that it is a useful answer so I'll leave it here until such a time as there are more down votes than up votes.

As a side note, I know nothing about Pathfinder or its system, nor do I care to. So I cannot edit this answer to add some WAR.

Based on the local magical SS guys, I am assuming that the law enforcement is akin to the Stasi or Gestapo and other totalitarian regimes. The general goal of the secret police is to control the population, not solve crime. The problem here is not that some silly little tiefling survived. It is that two shadowcallers are dead. So, the local population needs to be told in no uncertain terms that this is not on: torture, murder, and punitive attacks would be common place: Give us who did that and the pain will stop. Resistance to our rule is futile.

If the shadowcallers were socially connected, then someone might summon their spirits from whatever Hell they went to and question them. This would give the whole details. After all, this is what necromancy is: knowledge from the dead. Maybe the spirit of the dead do not know the names of the PCs but they sure can give descriptions or at least the location of their death. Then a simple "look into the past at this location" will reveal all.

Even if such simple necromancy were not possible, there are simple deductions. Were the PCs the only new people in the region? Who else could have done it? Remember, the bad guys do not need prof. Suspicion will do nicely. Again, the goal of secret police is not to find beyond reasonable doubt who did the crime but to make sure that said crime does not lead to the overthrow of their power.

Besides, do they really care that two shadowcallers are dead? Good! They were never liked by their fellow members. There's two advancement places open to promotions. There's a great excuse to abduct, rape, and kill that daughter of the village elder that was snarky. Oh, there's this group of adventures that passed there. We'll blame them. Sorted! As long as the remaining shadowcallers are not going to get blamed, this an opportunity.

Were it me, when the PCs come back there will be destruction, misery, and mutilated corpses on display. The PCs should find out that this is due to their actions: sure they saved one tiefling, now they see the price that everyone else had to pay for it. Needless to say, the locals might not be too pleased to see the PCs again. After all, last time they were there things went worst.

Now, I would have a shadowcaller approach the PCs and tell them that if they agree to pay a fine and leave, nothing bad will happen to them. Somebody else can take the blame, maybe some imaginary Robin Hood gang. It'll allow the local shadowcallers to demand more money to fight the rebels and line their own pockets. Hey, maybe the PCs can help the shadowcallers?...

  • \$\begingroup\$ Useful as it may be to the right readers, I'm downvoting this on the principle of not being a response to the question in your own acknowledgement. If you'd like to preserve it, perhaps a better way would be to ask a question like: my players beat up the SS and I want them to feel the consequences, what can I do? (Replacing the factions with others so as to not confuse people) \$\endgroup\$ Sep 26, 2013 at 10:19

Personally, I think the PCs did well on covering their tracks and on some lawful evil nations could even respect this. In some cases, evil societies tend to focus on how things are done rather than something was done.

However that does not mean they didn't disrespect the society. The government may not care about the dead employees but they care about their own sense of justice(considering they are lawful) but they may not cast expensive spells or start time-consuming investigations except for very very important people.So, my suggestion is to make this personal.

One of the dead shadowcallers may have a lover or a close friend that might worry about them and investigate once they don't hear from that shadowcaller. A scrying spell that fails on the subject may indicate to the caster that the shadowcaller is dead which leads to;

A level 12 wizard has access to Contact Other Plane.

The spell allows only yes or no questions so;

Is he alive? No.

Did he die of natural causes? No.

After that, simply use the spell; Legend Lore which only works for characters above level 11. It takes long to cast it but it'll do the job and confirm the PCs as the killers.

The next step is to hunt down the PCs. I've mentioned the government may not hunt the PCs actively but they might fund a personal vendetta which may turn into a different plot hook on its own altogether.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Regarding Legend Lore: 'When completed, the divination brings legends (if any) about the person, place...' - I'd say, assuming everyone keeps their mouths shut, there are no legends circulating around. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 5, 2013 at 6:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ It does say this too though, "These may be legends that are still current, legends that have been forgotten, or even information that has never been generally known." so personally, for a character above level 11, this pretty much would show how that character died. \$\endgroup\$
    – Can Canbek
    Oct 5, 2013 at 16:16

OK, so to synthesize the best parts of the answers...

Long Arm of the Law Path One

  1. It would take at least a couple days to realize these guys are missing, since they're out on a detached mission. (In Nightglass, they don't have long range magical communication besides whispering wind, and that's so short range that a network of it is impractical. Check-ins are either low tech/magic or via uncovering scrying targets they carry with them.)
  2. When they fail check-in and word gets to home base, they may "wait 48 hours" then attempt a a scrying which would would fail (because they're dead); it would take 2 castings to determine this beyond a reasonable doubt ("They're both dead, or captured and stuffed in lead sacks, or both denying the scry for some reason that they know would just get them tortured to death). This is a D&D world so people die of all kinds of stuff, so "murder" isn't necessarily the first assumption as opposed to "random encounter" or "summoned something they couldn't handle" or "tortured each other too much and passed out and got eaten by ants," but these guys are supposed to be elite caliber so it's alarming that something could take them both out. Besides "we take care of our own elite" and "we must punish any violation of the law" you have "damn there's a solid threat out there we should look into that." So there's definitely motivation to send someone to poke around. (In Nightglass, the main character, a semi-reluctant shadowcaller, is the only survivor of an attack when on a mission in Cheliax and they send some folks to look for him, but he just hides from them.)
  3. Finding the trail is hard. Sounds like good old fashioned tracking is the best plan (spirit planchettes exist but not "industrially" and "divination by zone" is impractical IMO) - another shadowcaller squad with some shadow mastiffs or something. Track DC of the phantom steed-mounted shadowcallers would be about 14 + 1/day plus adds from any rain that happens - it's winter so it rains a good bit; at best this is happening 5 days out plus some rain making the +10 Survival of the shadow mastiff a less than 50/50 proposition.
  4. If they track them and then find the fight location (much harder roll, at this point even a take 20 might not be enough to beat DC 28 +1/day and more from rain) or at least the wagon train from their path to the grave site, they should be able to get enough blood to power a blood biography - but they'll need a to cast a bunch to figure out what was up (many participants, whose blood is that anyway?).
  5. Tracking would still be required to find the bodies, maybe with a lucky locate object off a concentric search but that's unlikely. If they have blood biography it's not that necessary anyway. (Zon-Kuthon is not real about healing or raising so that's unlikely to happen, unless it's to raise them and leave them mutilated as punishment for being dumbasses.) Then more tracking to follow the PCs, though we're talking across days of travel.
  6. At some point, "foreigners came through" at any nearby town and checking their description with the port records will lead them to know who the likely culprits are, so there'd be a definite eventual APB to at least question them (and close the port to them), but that's likely after they'll have scrammed.
  7. If they get blocked but are concerned enough to spend the resources, a Legend Lore would take 1d10 days to get some clues.

As always, potential magical solutions run afoul of "but are there enough casters, high enough level, with those exact spells out of the panoply of spells, prepared that very day, and do they really not have anything better to do" to execute.

Long Arm of the Law Path Two

  1. If the tiefling shows up somewhere and gets caught, he definitely gives up the fight scene and PC descriptions given torture. Now, he's on the lam deliberately, is out in the less settled area of the country, and is really lucky and has rogue skills, so he may not be caught at all (and any divinations about who killed who won't point at him). He did steal some semi-recognizable items that could trigger some divinations, but weakly (the owner wouldn't be the caster so it would be "vague description" land).
  2. Go to steps 4 and 6 in Path One above.

Long Arm of the Law Path Three

  1. They may mess with the locals, but none of the locals know anything and the PCs a) may not come back through here and b) don't give a rat's ass because they're pirates. The best that happens here is that they happen to lean on the right people in the town that they came in through (not the one the tieflings came through) and hear "foreigners headed in that general direction" which is definitely red-flag worthy. More likely they figure the tieflings did it when they hear that the shadowcallers rode out in pursuit of a couple.
  2. Go to steps 3 and 6 in Path One above.

There's a lot to go wrong with the above paths and definite steps where "we don't have a caster on hand that can do that" or "we don't care enough to go to additional expense here" could intervene, where someone who cared about one of the two personally might augment the manhunt - but mostly, shadowcallers don't really have friends/lovers/etc.

So in the end I'd sum that all up as there's a 25% chance they get away scot free, a 50% chance that the Nidalese become sure (25%) or suspicious (25%) that they did it but that process is slow and more of a "if they come back here there'll be warrants out", and a 25% chance of them being on the ball enough to happen across them while they're still in country.

A Paizo poster estimates similarly:

  • 10% On the ball expecting them while still in country
  • 10% False conclusion on evidence found (they find the magic items but nothing with the bodies, and incorrectly concluded the shadowcallers tried to make a break for it themselves, or that something else happened)
  • 15% scot free no evidence found to even suspect something
  • 15% chance something is suspected with vague descriptions
  • 20% not enough evidence to tie it to them at all
  • 30% chance after the fact they finally figure it out.
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ In terms of the narrative, just like most large bureaucracies, this may not have any consequences (public order v. invesgiation) as-is, but may spawn a group of troubleshooters who are prepped as a quick-response investigation team. Beyond that, your 4 cases feel about right. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 27, 2013 at 9:30
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It looks like they may have caught another break in that I rolled a random encounter while they camped atop the grave site; there may be a lot of third party corpses involved soon that could provide some plausible deniability (no need to cast more spells, looks like they killed a brace of bad guys but they must have been overcome by the rest, killed and buried... Dang this is a lot of intestines) \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Sep 28, 2013 at 15:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk: What about Can Canbek's answer? Not only does it seem plausible, but it also seems incredibly easy and most accurate option given what you've stated to get the authorities started on the right path. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ellesedil
    Oct 3, 2013 at 22:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ellesedil The parts of it I agree with (Legend Lore) are incorporated herein. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Oct 4, 2013 at 0:28

I think based on the fact that these guys were 12th level, that is going to limit the possible suspects. Unless I am way off in the average power level of NPCs in the area, these would have been fairly powerful and important characters that died. Think of a 12th level PC - he or she has large amounts of resources, friends and enemies. And these fellows are connected with the 'police force'

Once they are determined to be murdered, I would expect a huge crackdown, definitely torture of potential witnesses and innocents, rewards for information. I think that probably once the tiefling is located, that will be where it all comes unhinged. The tiefling is the last thing the 2 were after, so the other shadowcallers will start there since there are no other clues, and relentlessly track him down. Maybe with something along the lines of Invisible Stalker.

Once they find him, they will get the location of the 2 bodies.

Once they find those, I don't think they'll Speak With Dead. I think (since we are talking 12th level characters here, with resources) they will Raise Dead*. (unless that is somehow or for some reason disallowed in this area).

Now, they have exactly all the information they need about who did it. And those guys will be out for some Personal Bloody Revenge. With resources and backup (you know what police responses are like when an officer is killed in real life - massive)

I do think this will all take some time - time to realize the 2 are missing, time to realize the 2 are dead, time to track the tiefling. Things will probably really heat up by the end of 1 week, and I would expect anytime from then till the end of week 2, it's coming and coming big.

The PCs did an excellent job of covering their trail with the exception of that one tiefling. It seems to me like they now are in a race - they have about 1 week to find him before the shadow callers do.

*Actually, it looks like Raise Dead will still leave them with missing jaws and hands lol. They might not be too happy about that, but there's probably some other magical healing that can be done after the fact. Resurrection might not be outside the bounds of what could be done here either. Or some other sort of ... 'compromise' in this evil themed land.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The folks that disappeared are definitely important, the shadowcallers are a small elite force, and you're right, the tiefling is probably the primary vector since they'll assume the tieflings killed them (or they otherwise died of misadventure). \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Sep 25, 2013 at 11:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that, thanks to the PCs' precautions, getting the tiefling will NOT get them the location of the bodies, just the location of the battle. They'd still have to find a disguised, very deep grave an hour's ride from the only place they know to start looking (the battle site). Finding and successfully interrogating the tiefling could be useful to them, but is hardly enough to break the case open then and there. All of this assumes they get accurate info from the teifling (though things like Zone of Truth and telepathy should mitigate the usual accuracy problems with tortured interrogation). \$\endgroup\$ Sep 26, 2013 at 4:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MatthewNajmon good points. Though Nidal is pretty much all about torture, shadowcallers are dedicated to a god of torture and go to torture school and torture torture torture, so I think they'd get the job done (unless he kills himself rather than be taken alive, which is possible). With Bryan's blood transcription angle, if they found the battle site they could probably take 20 on a search to find at least a drop... \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Sep 27, 2013 at 3:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ The issue of the problems with torture isn't about how good at it they are. In the real world, torture is very good at getting people to talk, what it's not good at is getting them to be honest in their talking. Torture does not motivate people to say what they know to be true, it motivates them to say what they believe the torturers want to hear. Torture also quickly eradicates the victim's concern for long-term, so threatening to eventually find out the lie doesn't work, you must demonstrate convincingly that you'll know immediately and accurately if they're lying. Hence ZoT, telepathy. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 27, 2013 at 20:53

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