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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Deciphering Maps and Scrolls

Continuing with adapting the 2d6 reaction roll table to thief skills, I thought I’d move on to deciphering treasure maps and magic scrolls. Unlike removing traps and picking locks, this is definitely not a mundane skill and shouldn’t be trainable. Thieves do not normally get the ability to decipher treasure maps until 3rd level, according to Greyhawk, although I’ve considered delaying it until 4th level. They can’t read magic scrolls until the 10th level.

Although most people consider this to be a Read Languages ability, I specifically limit it to deciphering things like treasure maps. Thieves don’t learn any extra languages without study. They pick up important words like “gold” and “pit trap” in multiple languages, as well as the rudiments of multiple scripts, enough to figure out important details in maps, inscriptions, and possibly other writings, without necessarily knowing everything that’s said.

Other characters, in contrast, either know the language (and can read the entire document) or don’t know it, in which case they get no chance to decipher the text. If you feel it’s reasonable, a character who knows a related language can roll on the table as well, probably shifting all results one step worse. They will not be able to decipher magic scrolls, in any case.

2d6 Result Description
2 Very Bad magic scroll backfires, important info on treasure map missed/misread
3-5 Bad unable to decipher map or scroll
6-8 Average treasure map read successfully (but not magic scrolls)
9+ Good treasure map or magic scroll read successfully

Using the table’s results for magic scrolls should be pretty straightforward. Treasure maps, inscriptions, and the like might be a little trickier, depending on how you create treasure maps. My assumption is that a treasure map tells you how to find a start of a route to a treasure, how to stay on that route, and what traps are along the way, as well as any known guardians and a clue, at the very least, as to what the treasure contains. A Very Bad result, then, would still allow you to find the route and follow it, but would not mention a trap, or misrepresent a guardian (reading the word “wraith” as “goblin”, for example.

Deciphering maps and scrolls is harder than other thief skills. Thieves only add one-fifth their level to the roll (round down.) Again, a natural result of 2 is always treated as a failure. “Low-level maps” is not really a thing, although if you felt like defining a language’s difficulty as higher than normal, you could adapt the concept to this table as well.

A scribe class (something I’ve toyed with before) would add half their scribe level to the roll, instead of one-fifth. It’s more in keeping with a scribe’s primary talents.

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  1. I think you're on to something here. Sometimes I get too cranky and fadiddly in my old age and forget that my way is not the One True Way, but rather a kind of kludge that allows my low-RAM brain to run D&D at the table.

    The 2d6 reaction table is probably the very best table in all of D&D and maybe in all of RPGs. Adapting it to more applications is probably a good idea.

    1. I am actually torn, though. I think the 2d6 reaction table is amazing for situations where you need more than a yes/no result... but on the other hand, I've always avoided the "too many tables at the table" approach as being too cumbersome.

      I rationalize writing up so many custom reaction tables as being examples that are easy to internalize after reading them once, so that I can just improvise from the basic reaction table when the time comes.