Ciphers is an analysis skill. With it you can piece together patterns in written work, translating ancient languages, cracking codes that hide meaning, and even determining what is missing from a scroll to release its power. Those with a great deal of skill in Ciphers can even become fluent in dead languages or avoid triggering written trap effects.
|Unknown alphabet system||Russian, Elvish||+5|
|Unknown syllabary system||Japanese katakana, Arabic||+8|
|Unknown logographic system||Egyptian hieroglyphics||+10|
|Unknown language, known alphabet||Gnomish writing when you know dwarven script||+0|
|Unknown language, known syllabary||(This possibility has no contemporary or fantasy examples)||+3|
|Unknown language, known logographs||Chinese characters (hanzi) when you know Japanese kanji||+5|
|Simple or repetitive subject matter||Time tables, troop rosters||-5|
|Complex or specialized subject matter||Alchemy treatise, legal document||+5|
|Very short message||1 – 10 words in length||+5|
|Short message||11 – 100 words in length||+3|
|Long message or short text||101 – 1000 words in length||+0|
|Long text||1001 – 10000 words in length||-3|
|Very long text||10001+ words in length||-5|
The first ciphers to learn are the trivial ones that help you decipher the greatest amount of secrets – other written languages. For every odd rank in this skill that you possess, you learn the written form of a language for which you already know the syllabary or alphabet. For every even rank that you possess in this skill, you may learn one additional alphabet, syllabic, or logographic system as well as the written form of a language that uses that system.
Dusty tomes and ancient manuscripts are rarely written in the current common tongue. They may not even be written with the common letters. But they may contain useful information, and you have enough experience with other languages to glean meaning from them. With a bit of time, you can find meaning in the meaningless strings of characters of other, often older, languages. These are the first ciphers that you learn to decode, though with practice you will be able to find meaning in work that has been intentionally obscured.
The base DC for this check is 20, but it is modified by the difficulty of the language system, the type of material within the work, and the length of the work. As there are quite a lot of different texts to decipher out there, the DC can vary quite a bit from the base value, and you generally do not know what the actual DC to decipher a text is. The degree to which you understand the material is determined by your check result as indicated below. Understanding the material does not give you any special insight into it, however, and it is entirely possible that the meaning you uncover has a special coded meaning for a recipient that is lost to you.
Each check requires one minute per 100 words (the average handwritten book contains approximately 400 words per page, individual books and languages may vary ), which must be spent before you can make the check. You may, however, break up longer works into multiple checks if you prefer. As this will allow you to gain a sense of whether it’s worth the time investment to decipher a longer work, it can often be worth doing despite the higher DC.
Base DC: 20 + conditions.
- DC+5 and above: You gain a very clear understanding of the text, including most details. You recognize any parts within the work that seem odd, out of place, or nonsensical as well.
- DC+0 to DC+4: You gain a general understanding of the text and its intent, but may be missing some minor details. Further work may refine your understanding.
- DC-1 to DC-5: You have no understanding of the text whatsoever. Further work will not refine your understanding unless you receive some insight into the text or language from an outside source.
- DC-6 and below: You have a general, and ultimately wrong, sense of the text. Further work will not refine your understanding unless you receive some insight into the text or language from an outside source.
Words can be hidden in symbols, numbers, or even other words if you’re worried about someone else finding them. You can analyze these hidden or coded messages. This is similar to Decipher Text with another language. The DC to decrypt a message is equal to the cipher used to encrypt it, but you must know the written language it was encrypted from or else your check result is an automatic failure. If you successfully decrypt 100 words for every point of the decryption DC, 2500 words for a DC 25 encryption scheme for example, you learn the encryption scheme. You gain a +5 bonus to decipher any text encoded in an encryption scheme you know and may encode your own text in the scheme as you like.
Base DC: Code strength DC.
- DC+5 and above: You decode the message in its entirety. Treat this message as twice its length purposes of determining whether you learn the encryption scheme.
- DC+0 to +4: You decode enough of the message to understand its intent, even if you don’t have every single tiny little syllable.
- DC-1 to DC-5: You fail to decode a substantial portion of the message, and have very little to work with.
- DC-6 and below: You decode the message wrongly. While you get something that makes sense, it’s not what the actual message is and so probably isn’t helpful.
Aside from analyzing them, you can also create codes on your own or compose messages in codes that you understand. You can create codes with a Decryption DC up to 15 + your ranks in Ciphers. It takes 4 hours to create a new code, less 1/2 hour for each 1 point less you accept for the decryption DC, to a minimum of 30 minutes. You can generate messages in any code that you have on hand or have analyzed, whether you created it or not, regardless of decryption DC. Material written in an encrypted cipher is considered magical writing, and cannot be understood with effects such as Comprehend Languages unless the caster knows the cipher themselves or their caster level + 15 is equal to or greater than the code DC.
Magic users often have ridiculous notation and idiosyncrasies in writing that make others cringe. You can read through that nonsense to find the magic stored beneath. With a check against DC 10 + Item Caster Level check you can identify the spells stored in spell completion items like scrolls. This is a full round action.
Base DC: 11 + object’s caster level.
- DC+0 and above: You learn which spell is stored within the work, and can either attempt to activate it yourself later, give it to the appropriate spell caster friend, or sell it without being particularly ripped off.
DC-1 and below: You fail to identify the spell stored within the object.
Your ability to analyze magical scripts also lets you guess at the missing stroke or word that will release their stored power. You may attempt to activate any scroll or other spell completion item that you have already deciphered. The DC for this check is equal to 15 + the caster level of the spell stored in the object. This check is made as part of the action to activate the item.
Base DC: 16 + object’s caster level.
- DC+0 and above: The spell completion item functions normally.
- DC-1 to DC-5: You fail to activate the spell completion item.
- DC-6 and below: You activate the item, but in the wrong fashion. You have a 50% chance of suffering a scroll mishap. If you do not suffer a mishap, the item is consumed without effect.
You know your way around a text, even when it’s written in an obscure, insane, dead language. If you read enough of a dead language, you can eventually become fluent in it. Whenever you successfully decipher 500 words of a language in which you are not fluent, you gain a +2 cumulative bonus for deciphering other works written in the same language or with the same alphabet. If you already know the writing system, you become fluent in the written language when your bonus reaches +10. If you do not already know the writing system, you learn it when your bonus reaches +10, and the bonus then resets to 0. Languages and writing systems gained in this way are in addition to those granted by your ranks.
If you know the written form of a language you may learn the spoken form by simply listening to it being spoken. If the language has an acted form or component, such as a sign language, you may learn that by watching it in use. You must have access to a native speaker or magical recordings comprising all of the vowel and consonant sounds or images of the language. If these are available, you may attempt a Ciphers check (DC 20 + language modifiers) after 1 day to acquire the spoken form of the language as well. You may repeat this check so long as you have access to a native speaker, additional recorded material, or whenever you gain a level. Learning the spoken or acted form of a language in this way does not cost you additional character resources.
Your time with the study of symbols, written language, and codes has shown you one of their deeper secrets – that symbols will propagate on their own under the right conditions. With a bit of time and effort, you may prepare or maintain a page that is linked to another somewhere else in the world so that everything written on one page is instantly transmitted to the other.
When you write on a page that has been properly prepared, any mark that you make is instantly transmitted to the attuned page so long as the two pages are on the same plane. If the pages are on different planes, this transmission is delayed until such time as they are on the same plane again, at which time they immediately fill up with the writing on their attuned partner. The number of attuned pairs you may maintain is determined by your ranks in Ciphers, as described below.
Attuned pages are generally similarly sized to avoid rescaling issues. Each page may be up to 12” x 12” in size, and larger pages simply use up additional attunements. Maintenance of these pages requires you to work with one page from each attuned pair daily; you may meet the maintenance requirement for all pages with one 10 minute span if you desire. If you do not maintain a page from a set for over 30 hours, the set loses its attunement. Adding a new set requires 1 hour, and you may have one such set for every two ranks in Ciphers.
Familiarity with dead languages and codes alone won’t get you access to all of the secret writing in the world. There are many magical tricks to be prepared for, both those that might conceal truth and those that might harm you. You are familiar with these magical writings, including spells such as Explosive Runes, Illusory Script, Sepia Snake Sigil, Secret Page, and the various Symbol spells… and you are prepared for them.
If you are about to trigger a magical effect by reading it, you are entitled to a Ciphers check (DC 16 + Caster Level) to avoid the effect. This check is treated like a saving throw, you either pass it and avoid triggering the effect or fail the check and trigger the effect. In either case you are aware of the effect after your check. If the effect is not triggered, but merely a standing effect that alters the page like Secret Page, you are entitled to a Ciphers check (DC 16 + Caster Level) to notice the effect.
Once you are aware of an effect on a page, you may use your Ciphers skill to disable it as if it were a magical trap. This check has a DC of 16+ Caster Level, and requires 1d4 full rounds to complete. The results of your work are listed on the table below.
Base DC: 16 + caster level.
- DC+10 and above: You can either disable and remove the magic without issue, suppress it as indicated below, or make minor modifications to the magic as if you were casting the spell yourself. Maybe you change the secret word, or change the targeting instructions. These modifications are obvious to anyone who inspects the work, but that means that they probably have to survive it first.
- DC+5 to DC+9: You can either disable and remove the magic as if it were successfully dispelled or you can suppress it for up to 5 rounds per rank in the Ciphers skill.
- DC+0 to DC+4: You disable and remove the magic. It can’t hurt or frustrate you anymore.
- DC-1 to DC-5: You believe that you have disabled and removed the magic, but you haven’t actually done that. If it can trigger against you, it does when you try to move on. It does not trigger if you simply close the book or walk away though. If it was instead a constant effect and could not trigger, like a secret page, you instead find a slightly incorrect version of the hidden text.
- DC-6 and below: The magic triggers immediately, subjecting you to the full effect. If you were attempting to work past a passive effect like secret page, the hidden message is destroyed as if it were subjected to an erase spell. In general, the worst thing that could happen to you from monkeying with the effect occurs.