Paladin Guide: Detect Evil
Posted: Tue Jan 10, 2017 1:52 pm
Detect Evil is considered an activated divine ability and therefore comes with a notification in the combat-log. Like most activated powers, it does not prompt a Spellcraft or similar check to see if other PCs can identify just what's happening, so it falls to players to decide if their PCs recognize something is going on and can place it.
Our version of Detect Evil only takes a single round and merely reports on the presence or absence of evil within the paladin's vision, with the result determined by Sense Motive vs Bluff checks (allowing both false positives and false negatives). That does mean it's most reliable if a paladin can examine someone several times over the course of some minutes or across different encounters, and also if they're standing alone. In a large enough crowd, after all, it's almost always going to pick up something while saying very little about anyone.
Someone showing up as evil once is cause for some suspicion and verification, showing up as evil repeatedly is cause for close scrutiny, but being evil is in itself not illegal (though it confirms illegal activity in rare cases, e.g. when claiming to be a priest of a good-aligned deity, being evil is incompatible with the faith, therefore the priest lied about who they're following, therefore they're in the country illegally). The fact they can use detect evil and so trigger investigations makes paladins dangerous people to be around if you have something to hide, especially if you stick around for them, and that's entirely deliberate. The text message which goes with the ability therefore also has a role in warning players that their evil characters are in a precarious position.
For the IC portrayal, the most evident expression of the ability would be a change of shape or colour of the eyes, or some glow around them which looks a bit like a manifestation of the deity. If and how the paladin's player wants to describe it is up to them, but some examples might be a paladin of Helm whose eyes become hawk-like, one of Ilmater whose eyes go full white, of Lathander whose eye capillaries fill with blood, spreading out in the shape of a rosy sun rising, or the red, pink and white glow of a Sunite paladin which looks like a monocle with a fine chain to their heart.
You can also say it's subtle, maybe the paladin covers their face and peeks out between their fingers to conceal the effect, or wears a helmet even though metal barriers interfere with the ability, and chances are players will ignore the notification. They do remain at liberty to detect some disturbance in the weave or catch a glimpse of a strange and worrying expression.
As for how a paladin should use the ability, some restraint is a good idea. A paladin could scan every adventurer they work with, of course, but most of them are somewhat troubled and won't appreciate having their soul searched for flaws so it's not the best way to win their trust.
Furhtermore, paladins who believe it's irresponsible not to do all they can to identify evil often end up rather paranoid when they realize there may be ways to fool the ability, or that people they thought safe may be impersonated through illusion magics, or that neutral people can be assassins too.
It's therefore more productive to use the ability simply to be better informed about your situation, like when you get the impression you're being deceived, or when you're about to enter into a major agreement with someone, or when you're going to pass judgement.