Imagine an NPC (~7th level spell caster with limited resources) gives a letter to a low-level party (levels 1-2) asking them to carry it to another NPC (~7th level something with a lot of resources). The contents of the letter (as the party suspects) make it very tempting to open and read it. What can the NPCs do to discourage the party from doing that (aside from asking them nicely not to)? I don't want to put traps inside the letter, the goal is to make it risky to open and read it. Making it very likely that the recipient recognizes (with or without magic) that the letter was open is probably enough. The party should have an option to do that if they accept the risk. They should also have a chance to succeed.

I assume that a typical wax sigil could be repaired with Mending, the same goes for similar mundane protections (I suspect my players to argue that and I'm inclined to agree, unless there are RAW to prove otherwise). However, perhaps a skill check for carefully breaking the sigil is in order to make it harder? (Disable Device?) Anything else?


Wax seal with an insignia that only the writer has. Then, enchant the seal.

Excerpt from the Mending Spell:

Magic items that are destroyed (at 0 hit points or less) can be repaired with this spell, but this spell does not restore their magic abilities.

A crafting wizard could attempt to Mend the seal and then reenchant it at a monetary cost.

However, it seems breaching such a seal would have no chance of success without such a party member.

Have it smudge when opened. Accidents happen.

A linguist could attempt a forgery to make a new letter since the original was clearly opened and damaged.

A skilled bluffer could simply convince the recipient that that is how they got it in the first place.

Fill it with sand and let it all pour out.

The sand would be an indicator that the letter wasn't opened because the sand hasn't fallen out. Players could carefully open the letter without losing any of the sand using a Sleight of Hand check or Disable Device.

They could learn that it's common in this area that such a habit exists between letter writers on a Knowledge Local Check.

Unsuspecting players can roll checks to scoop all the sand back in, or pour in new sand in hopes of putting the right amount back in the letter.

The simple solutions are the most powerful.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Enchanted seal seems quite interesting. How would you enchant it, especially considering the wording of Mending in Pathfinder (it can repair magic items if magic item level =< caster level). \$\endgroup\$ – burlap Jun 30 '14 at 18:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ The seal would have an HP of 1 or so. When it is destroyed (shattered), rather than having the broken condition (like a small crack in it), you cannot restore the enchantment. The players would have to carefully break the seal in such a way that does not bring the seal's HP to 0 or lower. \$\endgroup\$ – Axoren Jun 30 '14 at 20:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ This could actually work, it prevents Mending and leaves skills, as I initially wanted: risky, but PCs can assess if it's worth it. BTW, I've used sand before (mandala on a closed book). \$\endgroup\$ – burlap Jun 30 '14 at 21:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you want, you can make the seal stronger to still allow for Mending to work, but only if they make a VERY careful Disable Device check not to completely break it. \$\endgroup\$ – Axoren Jun 30 '14 at 21:21

The 3rd-level Sor/Wiz spell illusory script [illus] (PH 243) should do the trick, costing only 50 gp and lasting 1 day per caster level. The suggestion would require the creature who failed the saving throw to sign his name on the back of the letter next to the line saying I tried to read this letter, forget he did, and refold the letter.

Magically deciphering the letter is expensive, however, if you want that to be an option for low-level PCs.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is the most effective way, but too effective: there is no chance they'll read the letter even if they take the risk. Besides, the PCs are not important enough to waste 50gp on them. \$\endgroup\$ – burlap Jun 30 '14 at 18:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @burlap Wow. I didn't think it possible, but the PCs in your campaign are even more underpaid than the PCs in mine. Well done, sir. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jun 30 '14 at 18:55

You could use a lockable scroll case. It could be something the NPC 7th level (RichNPC) had commissioned from some insanely high level tinkerer, and RichNPC gave it to the CasterNPC at some point in the past.

Perhaps the tinkerer could have added ornate designs, and maybe a trademark design hidden in it, so if the player characters are smart enough, they could either have side quests (i.e. thief guild training gives thief character insight) or library excursions to identify the markings and have some clue on design so they can attempt to hack it open, or you could add roleplay elements of the librarian panicking when he sees the sigil that the PC's can't recognize due to their inexperience.

Your PC party leader can then try to improve his/her/its leadership skills in locking down the thief from going back to the guild, since it's a diversion from the main quest at hand. Or give the thief RP points if he successfully convinces the party leader to take the diversion. You could pass notes to the leader or thief to guide them in one way or another, based on their alignments and character backgrounds (see if they have ideas about their backgrounds before the session). Could also pass notes to say a skittish other member, indicating all kinds of dangers that could happen (letting the thief or other curious PC know about the risks).

  • \$\begingroup\$ I like the idea of a special case, but the NPCs don't have enough of a connection to pull it off. \$\endgroup\$ – burlap Jun 30 '14 at 21:10

Homebrew time!

You have lit upon one of D&D's famous limitations: non-combat magic is rarely fleshed out in the books; therefore, we'll have to improvise.

Take as a template the 3rd-level Sor/Wiz spell Sepia Snake Sigil. This spell places a magical sigil inside a run of text, which does all manner of nastiness if read.

Now, you have expressed a desire not to do nastiness, so let's instead just make the sigil disappear if read. As you can imagine, this would a very valuable tool for any NPC bureaucrat to have, so we can safely assume it's been independently developed all over and the NPC who gives out the letter didn't have to pay much to get the spell into his spellbook.

Leveling the spell is a bit tricky. It certainly doesn't seem as powerful as a 3rd-level spell, on account of having very little effect on the world. However, successfully avoiding the "trap" is quite difficult. The only plausible way would be to acquire the spell yourself and then somehow exactly duplicate the sigil, possible but very difficult. We can then also consider that this spell is the natural counterbalance to the cantrip Mending, which (I think very naively) ruins quite a lot of security measures.

Therefore, I would consider this spell to be 1st-level, easily available to those who might enquire about it but not generally picked up by your kick-in-the-door adventuring types.


There are several ways you could go here but I think punishing them doing it is a much better idea than stopping them from doing it because it seems like a very deus ex machina thing to do. It's like giving them a really pwoerful weapon and asking them not to use it. This means you have to make it possible for the recipient to know the scroll/envelope was opened.

The historical way: a certain type of wax was used to seal scrolls; envelopes have been around since the 16th century. The Romans used Bitumen, which they also used as asphalt. If the seal is broken, the recipient will know the letter was opened. I believe that in medieval times, depending on the contents of the letter, it might have been quite alright for someone to lob your head off right there.

The deceiving way: your NPC gives the player a box with very specific instructions not to open it. There is something inside for sure. It rattles even as they accept it from the NPC. Oh, and if they could also deliver this letter with some instructions. Then watch the party debate opening the box all the way to the recipient. The day before they get there, they open it and behold! a bar of soap. Now watch as they contemplate every possible meaning of the bar of soap and leave the letter alone.

The hidden way: lemon juice! You can write on paper or parchment with lemon juice and you won't be able to see it. Then hold it above a candle and the soot will stick to the writing making it visible. If the players open it, all they will see is some empty pages.

The encrypted way: ou-yay hould-say ake-may his-tay arder-hay han-tay his-tay.

The magical way: I am sure there is a spell that allows you to make it impossible to read something.

The alignment way: a good person would never open someone else's private correspondence. If one of them should open it, change their alignment until they repent what they've done.

The backstabbing way: punish them even if they don't read it!


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