So in the 1800s people believed in Optography the belief that the eye recorded the last thing a person saw before they died and that with the application of a plot device you could view that image. As a person who loves the time period, I believe that we need a nod to this peculiar phenomenon. The Starfinder spell Grave Words is kind of similar, but what we don’t want to do is create a solve the mystery spell.
If a person is killed in one place and the body moved somewhere else the last image might be critical to finding where the murder took place and gathering additional physical evidence. The last thing the person saw might be a doctor trying to save their life and not the killer at all, it could be a flower or cherry blossom, or total red herring. If you go the red herring route, you should have a different clue somewhere else, mud on the victim’s boots, a witness afraid to come forward.
Anyone in the setting that knows how magic works might avoid being seen, disguise themself, attack the victim from behind with a garotte, remove the eyes if they were seen, any number of things to prevent the PCs from finding out their identity.
I put in a template copy of Grave Words and then started adapting it.
Level: Mystic 0 (Maybe? has to be low level, as the information may be useless, so it takes a cantrip slot, but doesn’t really waste a casting)
School: necromancy (hard to argue necromancy, maybe divination)
Casting Time: 1 minute (again hard to argue, in the literature it’s usually a moment or two to setup)
Range: touch (yeah it’s an up close and personal thing)
Duration: 1 round (in the literature it never lasts very long once the image is in focus)
Saving Throw: none (the dead guy doesn’t get a save)
Spell Resistance: no (the dead guy doesn’t get to resist)
You can force a touched corpse to reveal the last thing it saw to you, but you can’t communicate with it at all. The corpse displays the final image for 1 round, it is up to the GM if the image is of some use to you. Useful information might include warnings about dangers in a wrecked starship, the password to unlock a computer, or the name of a supernatural creature seeking you or your allies. The GM decides what information, useful or not, the corpse shows from its eyes.
Once a corpse has been subjected to grave sight by any means, any new attempt on that corpse fails. A corpse must have eyes in order for this spell to function, and the spell doesn’t affect a corpse that has been turned into an undead creature. (because ostensibly the creature has seen new things since it died.)
Just like Hypnosis became one of Dracula’s powers shortly after Hypnosis became a known practice, Optography entered the public awareness after the wide spread of photography.
Say your murderer looked his victim in the eye when he killed him, that says it’s personal and they hated the victim. That shapes your story.
However, even with a relatively clear photograph or sketch, your investigators still may have no idea who the killer is. If the victim met the killer overseas their friends and family may have never known their loved one even had mortal enemies.
Anagnorisis, (Greek: “recognition”) the startling discovery that produces a change from ignorance to knowledge. Anagnorisis usually involves revelation of the true identity of persons previously unknown, as when a father recognizes a stranger as his son, or vice versa.
If we’re spoon fed the clues and we don’t have to work for it, the reveal is cheap. Aristotle discusses several kinds of anagnorisis employed by dramatists. The simplest he says, “from poverty of wit,” is recognition by scars, birthmarks, or tokens. More interesting are those that arise naturally from incidents of the plot.
So lets say that the murderer wasn’t clearly identified because they couldn’t face the victim, they’re ashamed or they were scared, they had to ambush the physically stronger victim in order to succeed. Again this shapes your story.
But here is where Aristotle’s poverty of wit gets involved. You can spend a lot of time with writer’s guides looking up physical characteristics for your characters.
|The killer had an||Identifying characteristic||Specifics||Example|
|1||Red hair, no hair|
|2||A wedding ring|
|3||A birthmark, mole|
|4||A scar, burns|
|5||A tattoo||Tribal, Military|
|6||A uniform||Profession, Service||Longshoreman’s coat|
|7||A mustache||Beard, Sideburns|
|9||Glasses, Monocle, Goggles||Corrective, Professional||Welder’s/Aviator’s goggles|
|10||A token piece of jewelry||A family signet||The royal seal that went missing with the long lost prince(ss)|
Aristotle didn’t like clues that made it too easy to prove something, he’d probably hate fingerprints and DNA evidence. So how do we keep our players hanging on a little longer? In one program the investigators found the image out of focus and had to put the victim’s glasses on over the eyes to get the corrected projection. An optical problem for a camera or telescope might turn the image upside down, the victim could have been looking into a mirror and the writing was all backwards, the killer was left handed or had the identifying characteristic on the opposite hand/side. The killer has an identical twin, a bodyguard look alike that does all their killing for them.
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