Guidance – GMing 101: Books, Books, Books

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about the research rules from Pathfinder RPG Ultimate Intrigue.

Welcome back to Guidance! Intriguing April is still in full-swing around the Know Direction Network, and today I decided to take a bit of time to talk about one of my favorite parts of Ultimate Intrigue: the revised research rules.

For those of who that are PFS and AP diehards, these rules probably seem familiar; to the best of my knowledge, the research rules debuted in the Mummy’s Mask adventure path and were later printed in the PFS Scenario Blakros Connection. I’ve heard through the Paizo Freelancer grape line that the PFS team was actually given the finished rules from Ultimate Intrigue for their scenario before the product was actually released, but I can’t confirm for you if that rumor’s true; in either event, I’m glad the research rules snuck out into the open sooner because MAN are they awesome! Let’s take a look!

The Basics

At their core, research sites function like special monsters with a pool of hp that can only be reduced by making successful Research checks. Below is a summary of the important details for tackling research encounters:

  • All research sites have a pool of Knowledge Points, or KP. The site’s KP acts as its HP.
  • PCs “attack” the library by making Research checks. Each library has a list of applicable skills that can be used to research in the library, based upon the type of collections stored within it. Making a research check represents 8 hours of work per check.
  • Each 8-hour period of research grants the PCs a stacking +1 bonus on Research checks. This bonus resets to +0 if the PCs stop researching at the same research site for a month.
  • Libraries have a Complexity Rating, which is its CR for determining XP rewards for defeating the research site. The complexity rating serves as the library’s DC for Research checks.
  • When a character succeeds on a Research check, she reduces the site’s KP by 1d4 + her Intelligence modifier. If she has at least 5 ranks in the skill or the skill is a class skill for her, she reduces the site’s KP by 1d8+Int instead. If she has at least 5 ranks in the skill and it is a class skill, 10 ranks in the skill, or Skill Focus in the skill, she reduces the site’s KP by 1d12+Int instead.
  • For every 5 by which a Research check beats the site’s CR, their check deals +1 damage to the site’s KP.
  • Research checks can critically hit on a natural 20 and fumble on a natural 1. Critical hits must be confirmed, and deal double damage on a successful. Fumbles cause the research site to regain 1/4 of its KP.
  • As the site’s KP decreases, the PCs uncover clues and information related to the topic that they are researching. When the site’s KP reaches 0, they find the information they’re looking for.

Advanced Rules

Ultimate Intrigue provides a few neat ways that you can modify the research rules to suit your needs.

  • Alternate Ability Scores: If you have an ability score that lets you use a different ability score on all Knowledge checks, your GM can allow you to use that ability score for your damage rolls against a research site’s KP. In addition, the nature of the library might warrant different ability scores; for instance, Ultimate Intrigue recommends using Strength for a martial dojo instead of Intelligence to represent how such places are easier for martial characters to navigate than scholarly ones.
  • Class Experience: Some research sites base the amount of damage that a successful Research check deals on class instead of skill ranks. For instance, a holy library might allow characters that worship the library’s deity 1d12+Int damage on a successful check. These alterations aren’t listed as rules in the book and are instead up entirely to the GM.
  • Additional Elements: Ultimate Intrigue has oodles of additional rewards and elements listed as suggestions for modifying the research encounter. Most of these lack codified rules, and act mostly as a way for the GM to describe how the PCs progress through the research site or are rewarded for their actions.

Overall, the research rules are REALLY cool. They’re one of my personal favorite parts of Ultimate Intrigue, and they really add a sense of discovery and wonder to the game. What do you think? Have you played with the research rules yet? How do you see them being used in your campaign? Leave your answers and questions below, and I’ll see you next week for another installment of Guidance! Take care.

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.

Alex Augunas

Alexander "Alex" Augunas is an author and behavioral health worker living outside of Philadelphia in the United States. He has contributed to gaming products published by Paizo, Inc, Kobold Press, Legendary Games, Raging Swan Press, Rogue Genius Games, and Steve Jackson Games, as well as the owner and publisher of Everybody Games (formerly Everyman Gaming). At the Know Direction Network, he is the author of Guidance and a co-host on Know Direction: Beyond. You can see Alex's exploits at, or support him personally on Patreon at


  1. Blake

    I really liked the idea behind the research rules. I wonder if it could be repurposed to a more general investigation mechanic?

    • Alex Augunas

      Personally, I think so. I’m working on an adventure for my company at the moment, and I was thinking about how you could adapt the research rules to instead represent forensically searching a body for clues about how a victim died. I think it works, personally.

  2. Blake

    Or maybe an area for clues? Who died here and how?

    Or both. Examine the body at the morgue, then travel to the crime scene to search for clues.

    You could probably structure a clue-like adventure around this mechanic.