D&D 5E Question for GMs... How "Secret" is Scrying?

emeraldbeacon

Adventurer
This is a more opinion-based question than anything, but I'm wondering... from the perspective of the GM, how much information are you required or expected to give your players, if some effect is scrying upon them?

Obviously, this could go anywhere from "none at all," implying that even the wisdom saving throws are made in secret by the GM, requiring the players to "discover" the spying on their own, to "painfully obvious," announcing that a player needs to make saving throws at regular intervals, implying in the metagame that there are watchful eyes upon them.

Further, if you do go with a heavily secretive method, what kinds of hints (if any) do you give your party, when it comes to discovering the spell? Do you give the targeted player any feedback on the attempts (or perhaps only on successes or failures)? Do you require any degree of perception checks for those using detect magic or see invisibility, to notice the scrying sensor?
 

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Yaarel

Mind Mage
The Scrying spell description is what it is. I call for a save.

But I prefer the caster roll (secretly) for success, then the target roll to sense being watched. It is worth rewriting the spell. This seems like an effect that can be resolved by skill checks.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Just because there is a save does not mean that there needs to be a roll by whoever is controlling the target, and even if there is a roll, that whoever is controlling the target knows that it is a save against scrying.

The spell description also says : "If a target knows you're casting this spell..." which implies that it is possible that they do not know that you are casting it.

Finally, the SAC is clear as well: "Do you always know when you’re under the effect of a spell? You’re aware that a spell is affecting you if it has a
perceptible effect or if its text says you’re aware of it."

It's not the case with Scrying, it's clearly one of those "subtle spells" that do not create flashes and bangs, although of course it's cool to make subtle hints. A save is a pure game effect and does not mean anything in the game world, so it also depends how much you can trust your players not to metagame.

It's all in the storytelling, as it should always be.
 



Li Shenron

Legend
This is a more opinion-based question than anything, but I'm wondering... from the perspective of the GM, how much information are you required or expected to give your players, if some effect is scrying upon them?

Obviously, this could go anywhere from "none at all," implying that even the wisdom saving throws are made in secret by the GM, requiring the players to "discover" the spying on their own, to "painfully obvious," announcing that a player needs to make saving throws at regular intervals, implying in the metagame that there are watchful eyes upon them.

Further, if you do go with a heavily secretive method, what kinds of hints (if any) do you give your party, when it comes to discovering the spell? Do you give the targeted player any feedback on the attempts (or perhaps only on successes or failures)? Do you require any degree of perception checks for those using detect magic or see invisibility, to notice the scrying sensor?
I don't see the need for adding much beyond the spells descriptions. Both Clairvoance and Scrying create an invisibile (but not explicitly intangible or immaterial) sensor, so if there isn't a very particular condition that might make the PCs notice something invisible without a special ability (for example smoke coming from a campfire, or moving underwater) then I don't need to worry about them noticing it. Even in those corner cases, if I decide to grant a check at all, it won't immediately tell them "you see a Scry sensor" but be more vague, since they would at best only notice a fist-size "hole" in the smoke or water.

The saving throw on Scrying is a bit of an oddity. Mechanically, it is there only for the spell to have a chance of failure. Clairvoyance always works, but it can't be used to find (and follow) someone, otherwise the two spells are very similar in how the "sensor" works. Anyway, because it's a Wisdom ST, it sounds like the target can "resist" being found, but nothing indicates it will be aware of the casting, whether it worked or not. Therefore, I would not make the target aware of anything at all, just like the target doesn't necessarily know it touched something poisonous if the poison didn't work on it.

Whether how to roll, for me it's a matter of table convenience:

  • you can ask the player to roll specifically what roll and against what effect (in case someone might get to use a specific bonus for it)
  • you can ask the player to roll generically a d20 without saying what it is for, and the DM applies the bonuses secretly
  • you can have the DM roll secretly but tell the players what he is rolling (just to hide the results)
  • you can have the DM do everything secretly without even saying there was a roll at all

I don't buy into any method forever. In case of Scrying it would make more sense to me to go with the last option, but if my players like rolling or if we haven't rolled anything for a while, I would probably ask them for a Wisdom save without telling anything else, there are so many possible things requiring one, that they won't be able to guess easily.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
  • you can ask the player to roll specifically what roll and against what effect (in case someone might get to use a specific bonus for it)
  • you can ask the player to roll generically a d20 without saying what it is for, and the DM applies the bonuses secretly
  • you can have the DM roll secretly but tell the players what he is rolling (just to hide the results)
  • you can have the DM do everything secretly without even saying there was a roll at all
Great advice and I like the list, like you I'm not sticking to a specific method but I use whatever method seems the most appropriate at any given time. I would just like to add two, which we use a lot as well
  • you can ask the player to roll specifically but not let him see the result of the roll
  • you can ask the player to roll generically a d20 without saying what it is for, but not let him see the result of the roll
You can do this in most VTTs, or you can have him roll in an opaque glass so that only the DM can see the result. It's good to have the player involved, but it really prevents metagaming. We use this a lot in particular for stealth checks, but in this case it can be interesting as well so that the players do not metagame whether there was something to see or not.
 

If the character is not meaningfully distracted, not in the presence of some kind of powerful magic (e.g. meeting with an archfey, carrying an artifact on their person, currently casting a powerful spell, etc.), and reasonably able to take in details of their surroundings, I'd give them a chance to know, but a chance to not know either. Failing a detection check, but passing the save, might still reveal that some kind of magical effect happened, but its exact nature would be elusive.
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
When you say that the "victim" doesn't know, do you mean "the character" (and you ask the player to make the roll, potentially using abilities like Flash of Genius to succeed) or do you mean the player (so you roll in secret, not telling anything)?
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
When you say that the "victim" doesn't know, do you mean "the character" (and you ask the player to make the roll, potentially using abilities like Flash of Genius to succeed) or do you mean the player (so you roll in secret, not telling anything)?
The victim is the character, hopefully your players are never victims in your games. :D

And normally the character does not know barring special abilities, so all the procedures described above actually depend on the level of metagaming that you want the player to do or avoid. But note that even if you can trust the player not to metagame, sometimes it's better to keep it secret from him, it makes it easier to play for him.

On the other side, there are some players who don't trust their DM and don't like their DM to roll for them. It's silly, it's been a long time since I encountered one of these, but you find some now and then on the forums...
 

J-H

Hero
I roll secretly. The party at this point knows they are being scried on repeatedly. They've used See Invsibility to spot the sensor a couple of times, but haven't taken any other actions yet. I'm not sure they are thinking hard enough about what to do.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
If you have someone who might be scrying on them, have the potential targets generate a handful of d20 rolls at the start of the session. Use them when you need them. Do this for a couple of sessions, and they have no idea when the numbers are being used, or for what.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I roll secretly. The party at this point knows they are being scried on repeatedly. They've used See Invsibility to spot the sensor a couple of times, but haven't taken any other actions yet. I'm not sure they are thinking hard enough about what to do.

It's one of the things with 5e, there have not been that many new spells released, and there is not much that can be done against a scrying, even to get more knowledge about what is happening. Maybe their best chance would be with a divination or a commune.
 

J-H

Hero
-Be invisible
-Have people the party is talking to use disguises or stay out of visual range of any sensor (they are in a hexcrawl so there's plenty of space for this, not like in a big city).
-Deceive the scryers with false information, perhaps by laying traps ("I'll bury the treausure here" when "treasure" really means "big pile of Alchemist's fire on a hair trigger")
-Use Mordenkainen's Sanctum (they do this when resting)
-Amulets of Protection against Detection and Location are merely uncommon, and there is an artificer in the 15th-level party. I'd have to run the numbers, but he can crank out enough for the whole party very quickly.
-Use Divine Intervention to request a smite on the scryer (the 15th level cleric has never used DI)
 

I feel like scrying is break time. Spend two or three minutes letting people use the bathroom, get food, etc. And write it down. Doing it on the fly leaves very little mystery, as the words coming out of your mouth are pure impromptu. (If it works for you, cool. But I have found the break method to be more effective for myself and other DMs I have played with. Heck, I stole the idea from another DM.)

If this method is used, you can use it as a painting. A still motion Impressionistic picture. You have time to think about how to weave in clues through symbolism, setting and colors.
or...
I used to just used to describe a short film that gave the pertinent information.

I think both work, it just depends on the style of players you have.
 

jgsugden

Legend
When someone is scrying on the PCs, I give them a few opportunities:

1.) The saving throw. I will ask the relevant PC players to roll a d20. I will not tell them why, generally. Then I apply it as the correct saving throw.
2.) Success or fail, the PC does not inherently know there was a scrying attempt on them.
3.) There is the matter of the invisible sensor. That can be detected. If it is stationary, I require a perception check of 28 if it is stationary. If it is moving, 23. Success on these checks, which will generally be passive, will identify that something small and invisible is present, but not that it is a scrying sensor.
 

I don't even the tell the players unless they have some way of detecting the invisible sensor, and that's how I'd want it done as a player. I want to be immersed, and it's easier to do that when I also don't know about interesting things going on that my character doesn't. There are plenty of times when my knowledge of the game prohibits that, and I can role-play not knowing, but that's not as immersive as actually not knowing. Asking me to make a roll and not telling me what it's for is going to be a distraction as I try to figure out what it might be for whether I want to or not.

The main potential execption would be if I had an ability that should let me apply a bonus to this sort of save (I wouldn't't worry about Inspiration for that). In that case I'd likely want to tell the DM how to handle it when I got the ability. Like if it were an ability I could use each short rest, I'd probably tell him to go ahead and assume I would use it on secret saves. If it were something that drained a spell slot, I might tell him not to use it for secret saves.
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
-Be invisible
-Have people the party is talking to use disguises or stay out of visual range of any sensor (they are in a hexcrawl so there's plenty of space for this, not like in a big city).
-Deceive the scryers with false information, perhaps by laying traps ("I'll bury the treausure here" when "treasure" really means "big pile of Alchemist's fire on a hair trigger")
-Use Mordenkainen's Sanctum (they do this when resting)
-Amulets of Protection against Detection and Location are merely uncommon, and there is an artificer in the 15th-level party. I'd have to run the numbers, but he can crank out enough for the whole party very quickly.
-Use Divine Intervention to request a smite on the scryer (the 15th level cleric has never used DI)

Since DMG requires ability to cast a spell to craft item, you'll want to use Xanthar when an artificer is in the party. Using those rules, he must find a recipe involving a CR4 to CR8 task -- you can gloss over it at their level -- and then... it's one amulet every 20h and 100 gp.


But besides Divine Intervention (and that's fun...) there are very few counterattacks or measures that let you identify who's doing the scrying.
 

emeraldbeacon

Adventurer
So bear in mind that this works both ways. Are you going to spoil the players' fun later on by having their opponents always sensing that they're being scryed on and going all coy, rather than just happening to break into a bout of spontaneous exposition?
"As you complete the scrying ritual, you feel your awareness slipping away, hurtling across vast distances, until your senses snap into focus. You're in a small room, lit by a series of lanterns mounted to the wall. You see your target, standing before you, disrobed save for a towel around his waist. He approaches a mirror, before which lay a small bowl of water, and peers into it closely... then begins picking at his teeth."
 


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