ritualistically speaking: object read by Paul Unwin

This week I am taking a break from writing the ritualistically speaking article. Paul Unwin aka pdunwin has been really excited about Object Reading and wanting to share his thoughts and ideas. So I’m taking a back seat this time and letting Paul take a shot at it.


“Ah, Object Reading. Bane and boon of any DM’s existence, almost moreso than any other divination. #dnd” – @greybunny to @pdunwin on Twitter.

Object Reading

You touch the mysterious object and see images in your mind of its history.

Component Cost: 25 gp
Market Price: 250 gp
Key Skill: Arcana  Level: 5
Category: Divination
Time: 1 hour
Duration: 5 minutes

You see images you wish to see related to an object you hold at the completion of the ritual. Your Arcana check result determines the number of images you see that are associated with the object’s past. You might choose to see a sword’s last owner, the creature that forged it, and the last creature it killed.

Arcana Check Result    Images Displayed
9 or lower        1 image
10–19            2 images
20–29            3 images
30 or higher        5 images

Divination is a classic element of fantasy. Prophecy drives many a storyline. Wizards are closely associated with crystal balls, scrying stones, and palantiri. Knowing the unknowable is immanently magical and that’s what divination is all about.
(First appeared in Arcane Power)

It’s also a pain in the neck.

If your PCs include a ritual caster with even a few of the stock divination spells, forget about plotting whodunnit mysteries, hiding objects in plain sight, or giving the party tricky choices. With a little time and expenditure of components, the players should be able to come up with clear solutions to all these issues. Furthermore, divination allows PCs to poke their grubby fingers into areas of the story and game world that the DM might not have completely fleshed out.

Consider the Object Reading ritual. The ritual’s description itself shows how a murder-mystery could be quickly short-circuited if the PCs get their hands on the murder weapon. This even ignores the nigh-inevitable question about whether a dead body is an “object” – though a clever PC could always just read a pierced item of clothing and ask to see who damaged it. Then, as happened to me, you might have players cast the ritual on an object that was just meant to be part of the scenery, with no clearly defined history, thereby forcing the DM to come up with images.

When it comes to mysteries, take heart. It’s important to be aware of the divinations available in the game, but once you are it should be possible to craft a puzzle that can only be loosened by this ritual, not completely undone.

First of all, weigh carefully whether or not to give players outright useless images as a result of this ritual. If they bothered to acquire the ritual and spend the gold on it then they’re getting into the game world and making use of their options within it. Don’t discourage that with blank images or the like, unless the blankness itself means something. Feel free to be misleading but don’t block them entirely.

Secondly, just as criminals in our world have to take into account DNA matching, fingerprinting, government databases, phone taps, satellite imagery, and the like, criminals in the D&D world should take into account divination spells. Divination spells are less limited than science, but there should still be some ways to deal with them. The most obvious method in the case of Object Reading is not to leave behind any objects to be read. Have the criminal take the weapon with him or (since this is a fantasy world) have him kill without a weapon at all.

Criminals who know about divination spells should never be undisguised when committing their deeds. Murder weapon aside, with a little time and gold the PCs could interrogate every object at the scene of a crime until they found one touched or stepped on by the perp. However, the images they read are associated with the object’s past. Insofar as objects “see” anything at all, it can’t be assumed that a paving stone can see through a disguise. A good baseline is probably to report what the PCs would have seen if they’d been in the object’s place. A DM can take special vision into account, but shouldn’t be required to, so even if criminals were careful to act only in the dark that might go a long way toward concealing their identity.

Along the same lines as a disguise, fantasy criminals can go to other lengths. Leave no body. Obfuscate exactly where the crime took place. Use a patsy, maybe even a summoned creature, who can be disposed of. Dominate an innocent to be the perpetrator.

Where Object Reading can be a boon to the DM is when it comes to the PCs uncovering mysteries that you’d only put in for flavor and atmosphere. In my game, I told my players that each of their characters should have ties to one particular individual. Each of them wrote a detailed back story involving this NPC. At the start of the adventure, they were invited to the reading of that NPC’s will. Because of my build-up of that background they were interested in more details and decided to use Object Reading. I admitted to them that I hadn’t prepared for this eventuality, but that I would come up with some perplexing images before our next game. This spurred me to think more about this throwaway NPC and how I could integrate him more fully into the game.

I was lucky: I have forgiving and understanding players who were looking for immersion, not to poke holes in the setting for my game. This enabled me and drove me to make my story and world a deeper, more detailed place, and that’s a good thing, even if it means extra work. If the players press the DM for images he hasn’t given any pre-game thought to, they should be prepared to settle for less depth in exchange for some expediency.

As with most rituals, Object Reading is too long to cast in combat. However, notice that it has a duration of 5 minutes, which is shorter than a typical fight. A DM could allow players to perform the ritual prior to a fight and “hold the charge” until they found an object they wanted to read. If they suspect an object is trapped or wonder what a lever does, they could ask to see the fate of the last person to handle the object. It could serve as a periscope: waggle your staff out around the corner, or toss your dagger into the air, then “read” what it saw.

So, take note of this and other divination rituals your players have and consider the impact they might have on a particular plot, or the layers they might add to your game world. You and your players will benefit greatly from this little extra bit of preparation.

Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Thadeous can't think of anything interesting about him self right now. Know this though if he could it would be creative and funny as well as thought provoking.

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About Thadeousc

Thadeous can't think of anything interesting about him self right now. Know this though if he could it would be creative and funny as well as thought provoking.
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