Stealth and Safehouses

And today it’s another question…

I am curious how you might create subtler stealth / warding effects. For example, what would a spell look like that made people around you find you unimportant or beneath consideration or whoever they expect to see most? Or warding a building so that only people who don’t wish the residents harm can find it?

-Jirachi

There are a lot of different ways to accomplish such things – some effective, and others less so.

A spell that convinces people looking at you that you aren’t important could be a mind-affecting effect (allowing a save), or a complex illusion, or a way to extend the Bluff skill. It has an advantage over Invisibility in that you won’t give away your presence by opening doors and such.

Using Bluff:

Extending the Bluff skill is slightly tricky. There aren’t any existing spells that work this way that I’m aware of, but you can build it using Eclipse and The Practical Enchanter. The basic effect is simply “You get to make a Bluff check when people see you to make them think that you’re harmless and too unimportant to pay attention to”. That’s equivalent to the Eclipse Opportunist ability – a Complex Mental Feat. The Surprising Mastery spell template in The Practical Enchanter can be set up to bestow that; the base will be level three, for one minute per level. Getting a nice big bonus on that specific check is basically the Glibness spell, also at level three. So this spell will be level four (likely for a Bard) or five (Likely for a Sorcerer/Wizard), depending on how well your game master thinks that the effects go together. Both base spells are Transmutation, so it will be too, it will last one minute per level, it will take a Standard Action to cast, and it will have Verbal and Somatic Components. Since it only directly affects the caster, Saves and Spell Resistance don’t apply – but all the usual methods of dealing with someone Bluffing will.

This general spell build is interestingly versatile. Go ahead; build a similar spell that uses Disable Device, or which fires every Wand in the area with Use Magic Device (although attended ones will get a save), or some such. I usually use Specialized Witchcraft to build effects like that, since they’re best for skillmasters who aren’t entirely focused on magic – but there’s no reason why you can’t build them with standard spells.

Using Disguise:

When it comes to disguises… there are a lot of easy ways to craft an actual disguise, but the problem here is that you’ll need to make one that every observer you encounter will consider unimportant – and while a generic servant or bum will pass in a LOT of places, you never quite know what exactly you will need to be disguising yourself AS.

The game master may let you get away with imitating Terry Pratchett and disguising yourself as a “Sweeper” or “Mendicant Monk” or “Bum” (which only works when people expect to see such types around; if it’s a top secret lab cleaned by Roombas, a “Janitor” will be VERY suspicious) or (if you are INCREDIBLY lucky) as “someone of no importance” – but there are likely to be really big penalties on that last check if you don’t have some detailed inside information on just what, in your current situation, is going to be considered “unimportant” by the people who are going to see you.

So there are at least two approaches here are 1) coming up with enough bonuses to overcome whatever absurd penalty the game master applies (a job for stacking different types of bonuses or a specific skill enhancing spell of whatever level turns out to be necessary) and 2) finding out what disguise is appropriate – which strikes me as a job for a level six to level seven specialized version of the Metafaculty effect. It may not sound all that tricky – but it’s still determining who you are likely to meet, what each of them is likely to dismiss at a glance, and how to disguise yourself in a way that simultaneously satisfies each such set of conditions.

Using Mind-Affecting Powers:

The mind-affecting version already exists as a level two Psionic Power. It’s called Cloud Mind, and is more or less exactly what you’re looking for. The problem here is that it only has close range, starts at level two, and has to be bumped up to level six to hit one target per level. I probably wouldn’t bother imposing a penalty for converting the effect to a spell; the fixed, and rather limited, nature of the effect seems like enough of a penalty compared to the original power. That would give us a level six Illusion (Phantasm, Mind-Affecting) spell – but it would only affect the original targets, not anyone who came near you. That’s a major vulnerability.

A simpler version – basically a specialized and shorter-term version of Mass Suggestion (“There’s nothing of interest about these people or going on here”) might be only level three or four depending on the spell list. It would be handy for – say – getting your party versus a group of guards. The problem here is that every one of them gets a save, and that your range and number affected is still pretty limited. Secondarily, of course, spending a fourth level spell slot on this is usually not a good investment unless you’ve restricted your spellcasting a lot to make it cheaper.

Safehouses:

Using spells to protect an area or structure is tricky because you want the effect to last. When it comes to spells, that generally means either a cheap spell with a long duration, a permanent (or “instantaneous”) effect, or a magical item using such spells. There are a few decent ones for that – most notably Anticipate Teleportation (L4, 1 Hour/Level), Mages Private Sanctum (L5, one day), and Psychic Poison (L4, one hour/level). Honorable mentions go to Detect Scrying (L4, one day, good to let you know you’re being watched but does nothing to actually prevent it), Scry Trap (the damaging version, L5, one hour/level. I personally would encourage the use of Scrying Guardians – on the theory that, Scry Trap can do 15d6 damage – the cap for a fourth level single target damaging spell. Ergo, add +1 level to a spell and you can cast it as a trap that will affect anyone who scrys on you. Go ahead; have some summoned monsters show them the error of their ways or something), Teleport Trap (L7, one day per level, may be made permanent, but is somewhat expensive) and Dimensional Lock (L8, but lasts for one day/level), all of which are good but situational and – at least for Teleport Trap and Dimensional Lock – rather high level. False Vision (only l5, but expensive and may be vulnerable to True Seeing) generally isn’t worth bothering with. Guards and Wards (L6) can annoy intruders, but usually annoys defenders just as much and does nothing for privacy or to stop teleportation. Hallow can have some good defensive options attached, but using dedicating the place to a particular god as a security system may be a bit off-color. Screen lasts for a full day and isn’t expensive – but it’s eighth level, takes ten minutes to cast, and may still be penetrated by True Seeing. Again, it’s probably not worth it. Some of the spells from the “City On A Hill” article might help as well.

The trouble here is that all of these – and most other methods – are vulnerable to effects like Commune, Contact Other Plane, Hypercognition, and Metafaculty. There isn’t anything below the epic level which will completely frustrate information-gathering effects – and for good reason; since the player characters are usually on the offensive, they’re usually the ones trying to figure out where to attack. Putting in a way to completely block that off simply stops the game until they come up with something else or get frustrated.

Overall, if you just want a reasonably well concealed spot… Mages Private Sanctum is your best bet. If you want to hide from unwanted visitors, Mirage Arcana (L5, one hour/level) works for a building – although it’s probably easier to just build underground and hide the entrance. To be cheap, “lead sheeting” blocks scrying and some other divinatory effects, and thick stone walls block some other effects – so simply tacking up sheets of lead all over the walls, floors, doors, and ceilings (and then I would hope adding paneling or paint) would work against many divinations. It doesn’t help with too much else though.

A character could buy the ability to boost the duration of a few such spells very easily, since it is a highly specialized field – but if you’re going to spend character points, you might just as well invest a few points in a Sanctum, or Ritual Magic (specialized and corrupted in privacy rituals only), or Cloaking a radius, or something similar,

On the “Item” front, a Ward Major (from The Practical Enchanter) is expensive – but if you want to protect a large area, powers like Forgotten, Veiled, and Otherworldly are just the ticket.

On a smaller scale, given that d20 makes it very easy to create extradimensional spaces, the simplest way to set up a short-term “safehouse” is to use Rope Trick at level two – or the “Mirror Hideaway” variant (also at level two), or just use the Spacewarp Spell Template from The Practical Enchanter to design your own space – and there you are; you’re immune to anything that doesn’t cross planes and have an invisible door. Go ahead. Add Hide Campsite (Ranger 2) and add another huge margin of safety.

For a longer-term effect… use Spacewarp with Barriers (allowing you to close the portal) and a duration of one day per level is merely level four. Go ahead; add some more options at +1 spell level each (Supplies, Furnished, or Hidden are all very good choices for a safehouse). In theory you could make an item capable of casting the fourth level version once a week after being given a command word at a cost of a mere 5000 GP.

For an all-in-one solution you can use either a Rod Of Residence (39,000 GP) or a Rod Of Security (61,000 GP).

For a lower-level, and more versatile, solution you could try the Panic Rune:

Panic Rune:

This simple bronze doorknocker portrays a sleeping gargoyle. It is only when it is pressed against a surface (a wall, tree, or similar) that it awakens – sinking into the surface and, after a minute or two, creating an invisible secret door with no magical aura (Spacewarp, Create Door on the inside of the portal, Magic Aura to conceal the magical aura of the portal, Arcane Lock to improve its security). Spotting it without the aid of the Panic Rune requires Detect Invisibility (to perceive the door at all) and then a DC 24 Perception check. The door itself has a Break DC of 35 and the Lock is DC 35. Neither Dispel Magic nor Knock nor ordinary magical methods of detecting secret doors will have any effect, since the door is just beyond a dimensional portal that such spells will not cross.

Beyond the door is a spacious hall, with private nooks, tables, comfortable furnishings, enough decent-quality food and drink for eight medium-sized creatures (renewed daily), and plenty of blankets and cushions. Sadly, the various furnishings vanish if they are taken out of the hall and no more than 120 pounds of additional material may be stored in the hall when the Panic Rune is inactive. As the hall is an extradimensional space, it is secure against divinations and other effects that do not cross the dimensions. The hall will always remain pleasantly scented, neat and clean, and well-organized (courtesy of Prestidigitation and the Handy Haversacks organizational effects). Residents will also be cleaned up within the limits of Prestidigitation. While there is a peephole to look out of in the door, the knocker itself maintains a tireless watch and will warn those inside of disturbances or creatures outside (while it’s Perception Roll is only +0, it does have 60′ senses and Darkvision). A Panic Rune can function up to twice a day, each activation lasting for up to 18 hours – a duration which it will simply overlap if left active for longer periods. When it deactivates, everything taken inside over the 120 pound weight limit, and any living creatures left inside, will be dumped into the area around where the portal was.

Obviously enough, the Panic Rune is generally a party item; whoever is carrying it slaps it onto a surface and everyone takes advantage of a place to rest that may not be absolutely safe, but is about as safe as you’re going to get for a few thousand gold per character until much higher levels. It’s Alignment and Ego are generally irrelevant given that it’s only active when no one is actually carrying it and it’s major interest is in keeping whoever is using it (and their friends) safe while they’re inside.

The Panic Rune is built as an Intelligent (+500 GP) Handy Haversack (2000 GP, caster level nine, holds up to 12 cubic feet or 120 pounds of material). Int 10, Wis 10, Cha 10, Ego 13 (0 GP), Speech (500 GP), 60′ Senses and Darksight (1000 GP), (Basic) Spacewarp 2/Day (4800 GP; items inside the Haversack wind up on shelves inside the warp when this function is used), Prestidigitation at Will, Only inside the Spacewarp (x.5) = 500 GP), Magic Aura 2/Day (Only to conceal the spacewarp doors aura, x.5 = 400 GP). Create Door (2/Day, Only to install a door on the Spacewarp x.5 = 400 GP), Arcane Lock 2/Day (Only on the conjured door on the Spacewarp x,5 = 400 GP), plus Field Provisions Box function (minor variant: provides food for eight instead of fifteen, but it’s much tastier and you get juice and beer instead of water, 2000 GP) – for a Grand Total of 12,500 GP.

  • If you want an immobile version to use as secret headquarters or some such you can slap the “Immobile, x.5) modifier on the entire thing – taking the cost down to a mere 6250 GP.

Luxury versions add more functions.

  • A Hearth (as per a Fireblock with the Immobile Modifier) adds a happy little smokeless fire to cook or otherwise work on for a mere 90 GP.
  • Add a quartet of Ioun Torches, for Light (+300 GP. These can be taken outside if necessary).
  • Upgrade the Sensory Range to 120 feet (+500 GP).
  • Give it a +5 on it’s Perception Rolls (+2500 GP, +1 Ego).
  • Add Hide Campsite 2/Day (+4800 GP, +2 Ego). Now no one is likely to get close enough to try and spot your invisible door when you’re camping in the wilderness.
  • Give it a Healing Belt (+750 GP) function.
  • Add a Stable Annex (A Supply Pouch, +3300 GP, +1 Ego).
  • Give it more 3/Day first level spells at 1200 GP and +1 Ego each. Alarm, Ventriloquism, and Restoration – among many others – all have obvious uses.
  • Or just add Mages Private Sanctum on a command word once per day (+16,200 GP, +2 Ego) and move every few days and it will be very hard for anyone to pop in on you.

New Spells:

Mage’s Comfort (Bard I, Sorcerer/Wizard I, Illusion (Shadow), Casting Time 1 Minute, Components V, S, Area: Special, Duration Two Hours Per Level, Saving Throw None (Harmless), Spell Resistance No).

  • Mages Comfort makes an area (campsite, apartment, extradimensional space, etc) pleasant to stay in – with blankets, cushions, comfortable chairs, endtables, beds with nice mattresses, and other “real enough” furnishings. Anything removed from the area will, however, vanish instantly and none of the items can be effectively used as weapons, restraints, or for purposes other than comfort.

Create Door (Cleric 1, Sorcerer/Wizard II). Conjuration (Creation), Casting Time: One Minute, Components V, S, M (a model door), Area: One arch, doorway, or portal, up to 3 feet x 6 feet, Duration: Instantaneous, Saving Throw None (Harmless), Spell Resistance (No).

  • Creates a strong wooden door with a lock and a wooden bar up to fill a space of up to 18 square feet. AC 3; hardness 5; hit points 22; Break DC 25 when barred or locked (Lock: Disable DC 25, Hardness 15, 30 HP). The caster may opt to make it a Secret Door, with a perception DC of (15 + Level, to a maximum of 25).
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2 Responses

  1. Now if only there was an easy way to make sure you didn’t leave tracks or a scent trail right up to the invisible door’s location. Since otherwise snowfall, sand, or a good bloodhound will at least tell pursuers exactly where they should look.

    • Well, moving at half speed to “cover your tracks” increases the Track DC by 5, but there’s no rule for actively using skills to conceal your movement that I’m aware of (there may well be in one sourcebook or another). There are a few feats (like Pathfinders False Trail feat) and plenty of Eclipse abilities of course, but those require an investment that probably isn’t really worth it unless you’re getting tracked a lot more than the usual once-if-ever. You could just keep going through awkward terrain or water to force new tracking checks, but that relies on actually traveling and finding such terrain. Concealing weather is similarly limited.

      When it comes to spells, the go-to standard is Pass Without Trace. At level one it’s quite effective and very easy to get a hold of in various forms. The best standard method for a party without a relevant spellcaster or dabbler may be making a Pathfinder-style Staff of it (6400 GP, but it covers the entire party for at least eight hours every day) – but a custom command-word item that does Pass Without Trace once a day at Caster Level Eight is only 2880 GP and will probably fly (if likely at 3000 GP) with most game masters. Negate Aroma (also at level one) has its place and has offensive uses – but does nothing about your physical trail.

      When it comes to items, simply throwing around something strong-smelling (little or no cost) will help cover scent.

      Pathfinder Alchemy gives us Deodorizing Agent, Stink Oil, Scent Cloaks, and Scentbane Incense (among other things from many sources). Most of them are pretty cheap.

      For actual magic items we have Dust of Tracelessness (250 GP one-shot), Boots of Tracklessness (which also throw in some Greater Invisibility, 11,000 GP), Cloak of the Hunt (12,000 GP), or the Pull-Ring Of Scent (the Scent ability for you and scentlessness both at once – if you can use it, 11,000 GP). I’m sure there are more though.

      Personally, I’d be inclined to allow something like a…

      Traceless Trinket: Continuous Prestidigitation (Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP (Unlimited Use Use Activated) x .2 (Only to deoderize the user and cover up the traces of his or her passage) x 2 (Slotless) = 800 GP. Anyone wearing this thieves trinket will find that their scent is greatly suppressed and the traces of their passage are wiped away behind them. Creatures with Scent will need a perception check at DC 20 to locate the bearer and the difficulty of tracking them with the Survival skill is increased by 15.

      Those are some pretty good bonuses – but they’re also very highly specialized and not as good versus scent as the cheap alchemy. Will it be more useful than a Healing Belt (750 GP) or any of several other cheap items? Probably not – and so fair enough.

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