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I'm gming a Pathfinder game. It's part hack-and-slash and part detective work/mystery solving. The premise is that there is a young necromancer raising the dead to right a wrong. Now, the source book states she is not evil per se, but moreso insane, but she is still a necromancer.

The twist of the whole game is that the characters are living almost on top of this girl without knowing that she is the one.

But how do I handle this mystery of "who is behind the whole thing" when basically my Paladin can go "Okay, I detect evil on the group ... oh, okay, yep, there she is - evil, for certain!"?

Okay, for clarification, as requested:

I'm playing a D20 adventure called "The witchfire trilogy".

Spoilers ahead:

The premise of the game is that Alexia (the girl from the cover) was as a child witness to the beheading of her mother (and several other women), a witch in her own right. Her mother was originally not evil but was set up and forced into doing more and more evil things, which eventually lead to her beheading. Alexia is now coming of age and is finding suddenly great necromantic powers awakening in herself. Since she is sure that her mother was innocent she starts going around and raises the dead jurors of the trial as zombies and skeletons, so she can question them, trying to find out who was behind it all. Her intention is not evil at it's base, and the sourcebook literally states "Alexia is not evil, she is just misunderstood", but come on - she creates skeletons and zombies, which is necromancy, which is, as I understand it, evil by definition.

So, right at this moment my main question revolves around "Detect evil", which several of my players can do with their characters, but the larger question remains: how can one play a mystery adventure when powerful wizards or clerics in good standings with their gods have great clairvoyance spells that basically allow them to look things up?

Of course I could give the "bad guys" some ring or other, but it feels very weak as a solution.

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closed as unclear what you're asking by SevenSidedDie Jan 15 '16 at 20:01

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What sourcebook are you using? Does it say that the girl is evil? \$\endgroup\$ – indigochild Jan 15 '16 at 16:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you specifically looking for a solution to your detect evil problem, or are you looking for something more general that applies to all divinations? Dealing with detect evil is pretty easy, but dealing with the more powerful divinations will require a more thorough answer. \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Jan 15 '16 at 18:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ You say that she's not evil but then say that detect evil would work. This is a contradiction that clouds a core point we need to understand to answer your question. Could you edit the question to clearly indicate what the NPC's exact alignment is? Thank you! \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 15 '16 at 20:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've extended my description, hope it clarifies the questions you had. \$\endgroup\$ – Sorcy Jan 17 '16 at 18:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ There's still an issue outstanding then: you say that your question is specifically about detect evil detecting someone committing evil acts, and then you say that it's about divination spells and mysteries in general. That's two different questions with very different answers; which do you want this one to be about when it reopens? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 17 '16 at 20:19
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The direct approach

As rStyskel said there are items and spells that could provide in-universe ways to hide from detection, but honestly I feel like that's a cheap solution. If I were running this game, I'd politely ask my players to just...not use that sort of divination. If they're creating players specifically for that adventure I'd ask them not to build characters that have those abilities. I would literally just say "that would totally defeat the purpose of this adventure."

I just feel like quietly negating core character abilities feels cheaty. For all I know, maybe the player would have picked a different class if they'd known up-front the ability wouldn't be useful. Even if they grumble, I think they'd appreciate the respect for the social contract.

Alternatively: the philosophical approach

Accepting the standard cosmology the person has clearly done evil, but does that mean they are evil? To my knowledge there isn't a game mechanic to determine this. There isn't a table detailing how many orphans you have to save from burning buildings to cancel out killing and eating one homeless person. The characters probably don't have one in-universe either. There's plenty of room to handwave the character's evil means but good ends--along with the fact she hasn't actually hurt anyone--combining to a neutral alignment. After all, it's detect evil, not detect negation.

Even beyond plausible handwaveability, it might be interesting to have the necromancer simply not show up for anyone trying to detect evil, and let the characters mull over the implications. Make sure to phrase it like "you detect nothing." You're then looking at a situation where the differences in worldview implied by different alignments is actually germane to the task at hand. Could a chaotic thief accept that maybe morality is absolute? Could a paladin accept that maybe it's not?

The caveat here, of course, is that if your players aren't "into" thinking about morality/philosophy there's a chance this could end with folks feeling just as cheated as if their quarry just so happened to have The Plot Mcguffin of Undetectability.

Edit: Reading your comment to my original answer made me realize I was a bit vague on how to actually pull this moral ambiguity off, so here's a specific example of how your necromancer could justify her actions: "Being dead, he no longer needed his body. Though I have transgressed cultural taboos and broken laws, no harm was done, and in fact a wrong was righted. That most people find necromancy abhorrent irrespective of circumstance or use is irrelevant: if revulsion is sound basis for moral judgement then being ugly is evil, and you'd be a criminal."

The key here, I think, is to set up a conflict between what's right according to a modern consequentialist viewpoint and what's right according to the more deontological fluff. Bonus points if you can get some or all of your players to reject the universe's cosmic definitions of good and evil and rebel against the gods themselves.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The OP's answer doesn't mention that she has done anything evil. "Raising the dead" is often a good act, and "righting a wrong" by definition is good (if it is indeed a wrong and if she is righting it). \$\endgroup\$ – indigochild Jan 15 '16 at 20:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @indigochild "raising the dead", when performed by a necromancer, means spells such as animate dead or create undead. These spells have the [Evil] descriptor and are inherently evil. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Jan 15 '16 at 20:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's a good reason. \$\endgroup\$ – indigochild Jan 15 '16 at 20:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Beat me to it, Dan. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Blue Footed Booby Jan 15 '16 at 20:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I like the philosophical approach, but I have a hard time arguing "Well, she MEANT good when she turned that corpse into a zombie..." \$\endgroup\$ – Sorcy Jan 17 '16 at 19:07
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If the Paladin is closely studying everyone may bring unwanted attention. If this is something you want to discourage from happening, this would be a way to provide negative re-enforcement to the players. I am confident that if I went to the grocery store and spent time concentrating on everyone walking past me people would not respond well.

Depending on the level and style of play the spell and ability to Detect Evil can easily be circumvented. A magic item granting Undetectable Alignment would solve part of the issue, as could use of the spell Misdirection

Finally, what laws exist in this location regarding spellcasting? Is it permissible to cast detect evil looking for evil people? Is this an unlawful invasion of privacy?

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    \$\begingroup\$ The text you are quoting says something else entirely. In fact, it specifically states that a paladin can get 3 rounds worth of information in a single move action, making it strictly better than a regular detect evil. See this question for more information. \$\endgroup\$ – MrLemon Jan 15 '16 at 16:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ My experience with players is that in a mystery situation they are not above risking social awkwardness or breaking the law in order to discover wrong-doers. And in most cases, the degree of the problems they are being asked to solve (e.g. murder, dangerous cults) compared to the methods they take tends to back them up. I think the OP needs more than a mild social block to prevent casting divination spells. \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater Jan 15 '16 at 16:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ For Undetectable Alignment, it doesn't say they show as neutral, just that their alignment is "concealed", so wouldn't that be just as bad as showing up as evil? \$\endgroup\$ – firedraco Jan 15 '16 at 16:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @firedraco Detect evil only reveals auras, it does not imply anything past that. Someone who is Neutral has no alignment auras. I have always read concealed to mean no aura shows up. \$\endgroup\$ – rStyskel Jan 15 '16 at 17:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MrLemon You're right, and looking at it more I've been misreading this for years. I thought the second part modifies the first instead of as two different clauses. This will be fixed here (and in my home game). \$\endgroup\$ – rStyskel Jan 15 '16 at 17:30

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