[RPG] What skill to use to determine cause of death and analyse wounds


When running Pathfinder one of the players wanted his character to investigate how a walking corpse had originally died. This obviously calls for some skill check, as the task if far from easy (the corpse had been mutilated by the player characters as it tried to kill them) and there are several skills that could apply: Heal, perception, relevant knowledge such as arcane or nature, depending on the original cause of death (magic or wild beast, say).

A thread on the Paizo forums hints at heal, but mostly references D&D3 sources and "most adventures".

Is there any official ruling on this matter? Any example difficulty classes?

Best Answer

I personally allow use of Perception to find obvious things - like "Oh look he has a bunch of big slash wounds." But I require Heal, as the general doctoring skill in Pathfinder, to make any definitive medical sense out of them, like "those slash wounds are/are not what killed him" (DC 15) or "those slash wounds were postmortem" (DC 20). Generally I'd just use the DC of a disease or poison as its level to be correctly identified as well, so a DC 25 poison is quite hard to detect. (It would be better if Heal had broken things up into diagnose and treat in the first place, but they didn't, obviously it's not a focus point of the system - you could easily expand the rules to have separate diagnose/treat DCs though). Perception should be a suboptimal choice here - it might give some evidence of symptoms but the player's on their own as to their significance. "He had a rash? Uh... Measles? Poison ivy? Bubonic plague? Who knows?"

If someone's tried to doctor up a body to conceal cause of death, it would be an opposed check - I had a group of PCs do this once. They had an NPC with them they meant to off, and they all got into a fight with a giant spider, then took the opportunity to kill him. Then they spider-fanged him etc. and did an opposed Heal (Bluff and Disguise assisting) vs the local priest they took the body to's Heal (Sense Motive assisting) to pass the guy off as having been killed by the spider instead of them. It worked!

If someone wanted to really be all House all the time (think Johnny Depp from Sleepy Hollow or even Samuel Le Bihan from Brotherhood of the Wolf) I'd make them take a more focused Profession skill (physician, forensics, detective, whatever). Heal should really only get you what decent medieval medicine would and not CSI level info.

Further evaluation of clues found would come under other skills. Heal could get you "killed by magic; there's weird burns on him that don't seem natural" (DC 15) but Knowledge: Arcana could then explain "it was magic missiles" (DC 20). Or Heal would get you "killed by poison" but probably require a more knowledge:relevant (nature, etc.) to figure out exactly what beast bears that poison.

In general this should be "really hard" - it's hard nowadays with modern medicine. "Died by poison via a big ol' injection mark; the clawing was postmortem" (DC 25) is a reasonable limit. "It was manticore poison"should be deduced or be a really, really high check DC (35).

I'll also note that if you really want to get into more forensic and detectivey Pathfinder games you should consider Pelgrane Press' Lorefinder (called Pathshoe when I playtested it), which adds more detailed investigation skills and approach from the GUMSHOE system into Pathfinder.