In my low-magic Pathfinder campaign, my players will be looking for a wizard who managed to teleport and escape from them. However, the wizard will be on hostile territory and he will have to hide his magical talents from the public while he will be looking for someone.

My players, have very good resources economically and politically. I really don't want them to find this powerful and clever wizard through a couple of Survival or Gather Information checks.

My objective is to avoid a simple dice rolling mechanic as the set up for the adventure where the goal is to find this NPC wizard.

How can I make it interesting for my players to find a renegade wizard who is on the run, without simply rolling the dice and "Ok, you found him"?

I'm not asking anyone to write me a story. The wizard's escape was an unexpected turn of events and something I wasn't prepared for. Since my players are determined to chase this wizard, I want to make it more interesting.

This is less about getting ideas for the story, and more how to make survival or diplomacy checks something more immersive and interesting.

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    \$\begingroup\$ When you say "hostile territory" do you mean for the Wizard, the Players, or both? \$\endgroup\$
    – Javelin
    Nov 23, 2015 at 15:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is the wizard doing anything else aside from hiding from the players? Is he plotting revenge, maybe traveling in another direction to shake the players, or is he up to a new scheme? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 23, 2015 at 15:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ hostile territory is for the wizard, players are fine. and the motivation is not solely escape, the wizard is also looking for someone. \$\endgroup\$
    – Can Canbek
    Nov 23, 2015 at 15:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do the players know who he's looking for? Can they utilize their political resources to find them first? If so, they can consider preparing an ambush. Or maybe their political resources could put the area on lookout. What are the consequences for the wizard if he's found out? Can he fight his way out (and draw attention) or teleport away again? How recognizable is he in the first place? If the wizard is forced out of complete stealth, the players have a chance to follow his breadcrumbs. \$\endgroup\$
    – gwj17
    Nov 23, 2015 at 16:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question seems off-topic as it's a "write a story for me" request or an idea generation request. And will lead to lots of off the wall answers as varying people have widely varying definitions of 'interesting'. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 23, 2015 at 19:18

7 Answers 7


You can run it like a chase storyline

Either the players hunt for the Wizard, or they hunt for the person the wizard is looking for; the latter is probably more interesting as it will have an element of a chase to it that you can work in.

But that's not what you need to know; what you need is how to use the dice rolls to advance the plot without actually having them solve everything with a single d20 bounce.

Each dice roll just gives you a bit of information, but it shouldn't be the be-all and end all, dice rolls should have meaning rather than just keep going until you make it, so failure should have consequences and using dice rolls for searching and information gathering is pretty dull - so use them to get to places and people where the information is, rather than getting the information itself. Each step will link the players along a chain where the ultimate goal is either the Wizard or who the Wizard is looking for.

Dice rolls should also be part of a process; you're meant to be role-playing not roll-playing here, so if the player wants to intimidate a guard to get information from them with an intimidate check then ask them how they're doing that, react as the guard, if they do a good job then give them bonuses; so the goal gets pushed forwards more easily by play rather than bouncing a d20.

Example start of a chain

  • Find where the wizard went, stories and rumours about someone appearing from nowhere; players go to location X and find a farmhand who has been bribed/charmed/whatever by the wizard to give him horses to escape. Players either talk their way to the information or get sent to a nearby bear cave where they get attacked, where they can then work out that the farmhand double crossed them and go back.
  • Onto City Y. Players bribe/charm/RP etc guards, good reaction gets players to the tavern where the wizard went, bad reaction gets the players locked out of city and have to sneak in instead.
  • And so on...
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "bad reaction gets the players locked out of city and have to sneak in instead." Dice rolls are a boon as long as there are reasonable consequences that don't completely block progress. \$\endgroup\$
    – aebabis
    Nov 23, 2015 at 19:57

TLDR: Don't fear the die, because they cannot give the players might and information that simply doesn't exist or isn't accessible. Instead of letting the adventure resolve because of a roll of the die, make it a whole new adventure to have the PCs find the information needed.

A single roll of the die shouldn't mean the end of a story arch. It should not be the solution. Not only would this be very boring, it also takes a away a lot of the satisfaction from the players, as it no longer feels like they solved the problem, but rather fate.
Instead, the dice (and skills, and abilities, etc...) should help the players with finding and planning the final solution, and help them resolving the story in a positive manner. Keeping that in mind, we move on with your issue...

You mentioned you don't want that rolling a couple of Gather Information checks would mean the end of your story. Making some Gather Information checks is something the PCs will obviously do first chance they get. However, you, as a GM, are in no way obliged to give them the location of the wizard, even if the roll was good. Why? Quite simply, because the wizard is in hiding. If he has no reason to draw attention to himself (you mentioned him hiding his magic), the common folk, from which they will most likely gather the information from, will not know of a wizard that recently entered the area. Same goes for a good Survival check: there are enough ways to cover your tracks. If the wizard does so, a Survival check would also be near useless.
That is something many (especially new) GMs tend to forget: The die is not almighty. The die cannot give the players might or information that simply doesn't exists. Keeping that in mind, a good Gather Information or Survival roll suddenly doesn't seem as daunting.

Now, you don't want your players to stumble on a dead end either. They have to look for places and people that have the information they need. While a commoner wouldn't know if someone new entered the area, the guards at the gate or the Thieves Guild certainly would. However, they won't give their information without something in return...
This is a very simple way of changing the finding of a wizard from a roll of the die into a whole different adventure. If the players can't think of questioning other people themselves, you can help them by giving them a hint (The guards might know some more, you know.) or having NPCs aproach them and offer help (A shady looking figure notices you looking around for tracks, and approaches. He asks you to follow him.).


Rolling dice is just the first step -- a starting point for their search, not the end result. If the wizard has a modicum of sense, he will be keeping a low profile, possibly using illusions or glamours to make people forget his presence. Let the players use their skill checks to point them in the right direction, but don't let it end there.

Your players may have vast resources, but it's a good bet they don't have influence everywhere. Put the wizard somewhere hard for them to reach. The slums, the Undercity, any retched hive of scum and villainy you prefer. Or, hide him in the entourage of an extremely powerful adversary -- a mob boss, a corrupt senator, etc -- someone who is untouchable politically. That way, even if they do get a clue to his hiding place, they will still have to find a way of drawing him out.

Just remember: it's your job to set up the problem. Let the players figure out how to solve it.


Use a skill challenge

Pathfinder makes the tradeoff of using a very simple pass/fail system for its skill checks. This makes them fast and easy, but means they don't get the drama that the more detailed combat system has.

The easiest way to add more detail to the skill system is to borrow the skill challenge mechanic from D&D 4e. This basically means using a series of skill checks that allow for pass/failure.

An example skill challenge might look something like this:

  1. The party must achieve 10 successes on primary tasks before they get 10 failures.

  2. The primary tasks are: Diplomacy, Survival, Sense Motive, Knowledge (local).

  3. Each primary sill can be used no more than three times.

  4. Secondary skills don't count towards overall success, but provide a +2 circumstance bonus to the next primary task.

  5. Secondary skills are Perception, Stealth, Bluff, Intimidate, Disguise, Appraise.

  6. Each character must perform a task (primary or secondary) before a character may attempt a second task.

Tweak to suit your party, and the difficulty you desire. The goal should be to have everyone involved, and to have the party make some decisions.

For each task, have some narrative piece connected to it. If the players supply their own ideas, use that instead... And give a circumstance bonus if they're particularly clever.

But what if we add more power

If this is a big deal for your campaign (and you have time on your hands), you can take it further and turn this into a bit of a mini-game. You can have the players "attacking" somehow with Survival or Diplomacy, and the wizard "defending" with Stealth and Disguise.

I won't go into much detail here, because I haven't actually done this (and it's almost always overkill). But here are some examples to get you started.

Perhaps the wizard's stealth becomes a pool of "stealth points" that the players wear down. The lower the wizard's stealth pool, the easier it is to perform the action to catch him.

The players get a fixed number of moves before the wizard succeeds (alternately: the wizard must make a series of checks to succeed, but gets bonuses as time goes on).

Moves can either deplete the wizard's resources directly, or can be a tradeoff: spend time and a resource now, to hopefully generate more effect later. For example, recruiting the thieves guild might cost gold, but degrades the wizard's stealth over time.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Like the "pool of stealth" points idea, nice! \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Nov 23, 2015 at 16:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the xkcd what-if reference in your section title. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 23, 2015 at 20:58

Think about how the wizard is hiding. He's almost certainly using Disguise Self; he's at least ninth level, so he can use a bunch of spell slots for this spell, and each one lasts an hour and a half. If he's got the money, he might have made himself a Hat of Disguise. He can be a different person every hour. If caught, he can turn invisible and fly away -- or he can just cast teleport again. At night he sleeps in a Rope Trick. It's very hard to find a wizard who doesn't want to be found.

Asking around town -- "have you seen anyone who looks like this?" -- is flat-out going to fail.

On the other hand, the party knows the wizard is looking for someone. He's probably not doing a great job of searching for them, because he hasn't got good social skills. The party can ask around town -- "has anyone else been asking after this person?" -- and that has a pretty good chance of working. That won't give them the wizard, but it will give them his general area. (And then they can canvas the area with Detect Magic; the wizard probably has a bunch of spells up, so Detect Magic will reveal him if they get close enough.)

The party might be able to find the person the wizard is looking for. They have a lot of skills and connections the wizard doesn't have. Once they've found the wizard's target, they can lie in wait.

An even better approach would be to pretend to be the person he's looking for. Put on your disguise, be seen in public locations, make sure everyone knows where you're staying. In not too long the wizard will show up and want to talk to you.


Make the Wizard (and yourself) more clever than the Players

A Gather Information check isn't 'finding the wizard straight out,' it's successfully finding someone who's seen him recently. Or getting the Captain of the Guard to escort the players to his 'last known location'. During which you setup the trailing player to be hit by a Hold Person spell while the troop turns out of an alley. Then the Wizard quietly gives that player a message of "I'm not that easy to track down in a city of dimwits." (and a proper knife in the back) The players will be less likely to try and just roll for something and more likely to try and role play the situation with more cunning.

p.s. A Survival check isn't that different. Instead of finding the Wizards tracks they found a deer he polymorphed into a likeness of him that just ran naked and terrified 10 miles in the wrong direction.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd argue that demanding roleplaying opposed to dice rolling isn't necessarily BETTER, but it might fit your group (and apparently your style) more. \$\endgroup\$
    – GreySage
    Nov 23, 2015 at 19:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GreySage Aye, I don't think that rolling checks isn't needed. I just think that a solution to the OP's problem is more in the telling, and the idea (his players might be comfortable with) that a successful dice roll equates to an automatic success in what they are asking for. \$\endgroup\$
    – Salteris
    Nov 23, 2015 at 20:25

You mentioned your players are wealthy and have connections. Some options that immediately come to mind:

  • Allow the PCs to hire a number of bounty hunters, spies, and messengers (runners or pigeons).
  • Announce a reward of x gold pieces for the whereabouts of the wizard (even more if he's captured).
  • Are players allowed access to Detect Magic spells in your campaign (it's a common low level spell)? If so, they could cast Detect Magic spells to detect the wizard's magical aura at critical locations (bridges, crossroads).
  • The Sending spell would allow players instantaneous communication over long distances with their spies.

If you're using a map in your campaign, players should be encouraged to strategically locate their PCs and network of agents on major cities and roads. If this doesn't help, throw the players a few bones. Perhaps every few days or weeks, the wizard's cover is blown and his location revealed. Over time, the PCs and agents could herd the wizard toward an impassable barrier, such as an ocean, desert, or ice cap, eventually trapping him.

This search strategy may be of limited utility given the wizard can teleport as far as 100 miles every time he casts the spell. However, if the players research the Teleport spell they will discover the spell works most reliably when the caster is familiar with the destination. Provide the players with a few details about the wizard's background (e.g., his home village or home base) which give clues to his teleport destination.


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