D&D 5E Unfair Scrying

Fauchard1520

Explorer
If you’re the victim of scrying, there’s a feeling of powerlessness that comes with the experience. When a BBEG points their magic mirror your way, they suddenly know where you are, what your plans are, and (most likely) how to defeat you. That’s not a good feeling. It engenders paranoia, simmering resentment, and a deep-seated desire for revenge. And while you may want your players to hate the villains, you don’t want them to hate you.

It's not just scrying either. If you do decide to make power-plays with magic — unlimited counterspells, teleporting your villains, or otherwise using abilities that players can’t reasonably counter — think long and hard about the impact on the game. Players can scent a whiff of unfair GM-fiat a mile away. Dressing it up as “some of the casters in this setting are more powerful than you” is fooling exactly no one. Because railroading is a dirty word, even if you dress up in the rules.

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)
 

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Lyxen

Great Old One
And on the other hand, railroading or a contrived plot can occur without the help of scrying or teleportation, so let's not make too many confusions here.

Also, there is a save to fail, the duration is not that long, and although invisible, the sensor can be detected by many means, including passive perception depending on the DM's ruling. Moreover, there are means that are not that complicated to defend against it.

And in some cases, if player properly, it can even become an extremely interesting disinformation device: if you notice its presence, you can weave whatever you want in front of the sensor, for example, and mislead the viewer.

It's a good plot device, one that is often at the disposal of the PCs only, and not to be deemed "unfair" in and of itself. It can be played fairly, and it can be very interesting.
 

HammerMan

Legend
If you’re the victim of scrying, there’s a feeling of powerlessness that comes with the experience. When a BBEG points their magic mirror your way, they suddenly know where you are, what your plans are, and (most likely) how to defeat you. That’s not a good feeling. It engenders paranoia, simmering resentment, and a deep-seated desire for revenge. And while you may want your players to hate the villains, you don’t want them to hate you.

It's not just scrying either. If you do decide to make power-plays with magic — unlimited counterspells, teleporting your villains, or otherwise using abilities that players can’t reasonably counter — think long and hard about the impact on the game. Players can scent a whiff of unfair GM-fiat a mile away. Dressing it up as “some of the casters in this setting are more powerful than you” is fooling exactly no one. Because railroading is a dirty word, even if you dress up in the rules.

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)
there is a creepy factor too... reading advice on Curse of Strahd had people jokeing (not on enworld) about Strahd watching player bath...
 

And in some cases, if player properly, it can even become an extremely interesting disinformation device: if you notice its presence, you can weave whatever you want in front of the sensor, for example, and mislead the viewer.

It's a good plot device, one that is often at the disposal of the PCs only, and not to be deemed "unfair" in and of itself. It can be played fairly, and it can be very interesting.
This is good stuff right here.

The topic is best approached with the baseline assumption that the DM is playing in good faith. From there, a DM using scrying sparingly, with an allowance for providing clues to the players/PCs that scrying is going on, we have a potentially very fun mechanic driving some interesting story decisions.
 



DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
If any players actually feel this way as described, it strikes me more as players who care more about "winning" than they do engaging with the story.

If your PC was being scryed upon... how would your character react? What would they do? What precautions would they then take? What actions would they push to the forefront? All those questions are much engaging to the game than just getting mad that when the board game starts the DM's monsters will have the rules more in their favor. Especially considering that the DM can ALWAYS have the rules in their favor with or without the use of scrying. Heck, a simple change of monster CR can do the exact same thing.
 

Oofta

Legend
Couple of things. First, scrying only lasts 10 minutes and if a save is successful it can't be used again for 24 hours. How lucky would you have to be to eavesdrop at exactly the right moment? It does let you look at the target and you can hear, but I would rule that you can't look around. So you may know the target is walking through the woods, but that's it.

Scrying also can be detected. If your world is high enough magic that scrying is a regular concern buy a lantern of revealing. It's an uncommon magic item that will make the glowing orb visible. Set it on the table before you discuss plans.

Or just spend time discussing bogus plans. With enough red herrings, the enemy won't know what is true.
 

Stalker0

Legend
If your PC was being scryed upon... how would your character react? What would they do? What precautions would they then take? What actions would they push to the forefront? All those questions are much engaging to the game than just getting mad that when the board game starts the DM's monsters will have the rules more in their favor.
I have to agree here. Now if every tom,dick, and harry bad guy in your game is using scry, ok that gets old (everything endlessly repeated gets old).

But if the BBEG of your game is a wizard he's spying on you....I mean that's part of what makes him the BBEG. You are SUPPOSED to feel paranoia and resentment again him, he's the bad guy!


Teleports are the same way. If all your enemies are teleporting away, yeah that's old. If the BBEG does it, than he becomes a reccuring villain, and I find there is nothing that gives players more satisfaction than finally getting the one that got away.
 

In a setting where the various forms of scrying are more common, I would imagine the value of lead would be higher as well. All those lead-lined rooms to prevent scrying could get expensive. And every ruler worth his kingdom would have such a room set up where all sensitive decisions would be made, wars planned, etc. And maybe rather than the "tin-foil" hat, we have lead liners for caps and helmets to block mind reading.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
If you’re the victim of scrying, there’s a feeling of powerlessness that comes with the experience. When a BBEG points their magic mirror your way, they suddenly know where you are, what your plans are, and (most likely) how to defeat you. That’s not a good feeling. It engenders paranoia, simmering resentment, and a deep-seated desire for revenge. And while you may want your players to hate the villains, you don’t want them to hate you.
Scry is often misused in my opinion. The odds are very, very slim that the BBEG is going to scry at the exact moment the party is planning. More likely he's going to watch them walking or eating dinner, perhaps telling jokes or sleeping. It's best use is to keep tabs on where a group is and won't be of much use in learning plans or how to defeat a group.
 

And to add to Max here, scrying, if detected can become a good RPG moment. Maybe they use the time to feed false information. Or maybe they use it to taunt the baddie on the other end; play a game of who can come up with the best insult. ;) Winner gets 5 gold, losers have to do the dishes.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
One possibility might be to require different types of scrying for different things. For example, looking through a crystal ball or reflecting pool is great for vision but the scryer can't hear anything, while using a clairaudience spell or device allows hearing but doesn't give any visuals; and a single person trying to do both at once is probably unwise if said person wants to remain sane.

Scrying that simultaneously allows sight and hearing is very powerful, perhaps too powerful, whether it's the PCs using it or their opposition.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Scry is often misused in my opinion. The odds are very, very slim that the BBEG is going to scry at the exact moment the party is planning. More likely he's going to watch them walking or eating dinner, perhaps telling jokes or sleeping. It's best use is to keep tabs on where a group is and won't be of much use in learning plans or how to defeat a group.
Use of scrying would be of use in learning how to defeat a group in that it wouldn't take much to at least figure out what the group has in it - do those all look like caster types, or are they all armed to the teeth, or are they going heavy on stealth, etc. This can greatly inform tactics on how to deal with them.

Also, how many of them are there in total? Even this knowledge can give a scryer a pretty big advantage - if the scryer sees three casters, an innocuous-looking type, and two tanks on the road but only two tanks and two casters walk in the door later, that's a red flag to be looking out for invisibles or sneaks.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Use of scrying would be of use in learning how to defeat a group in that it wouldn't take much to at least figure out what the group has in it - do those all look like caster types, or are they all armed to the teeth, or are they going heavy on stealth, etc. This can greatly inform tactics on how to deal with them.
That works better for older editions. In an edition like 5e where wizards can wear and cast in full plate and walk around with swords, and fighters can do well with light weapons and leather armor, it's not so effective. Looks can be and are deceiving.
 

dave2008

Legend
If you’re the victim of scrying, there’s a feeling of powerlessness that comes with the experience. When a BBEG points their magic mirror your way, they suddenly know where you are, what your plans are, and (most likely) how to defeat you. That’s not a good feeling. It engenders paranoia, simmering resentment, and a deep-seated desire for revenge. And while you may want your players to hate the villains, you don’t want them to hate you.

It's not just scrying either. If you do decide to make power-plays with magic — unlimited counterspells, teleporting your villains, or otherwise using abilities that players can’t reasonably counter — think long and hard about the impact on the game. Players can scent a whiff of unfair GM-fiat a mile away. Dressing it up as “some of the casters in this setting are more powerful than you” is fooling exactly no one. Because railroading is a dirty word, even if you dress up in the rules.

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)
Not my experience, but if it is yours it seems you have the solution already.
 

If you’re the victim of scrying, there’s a feeling of powerlessness that comes with the experience. When a BBEG points their magic mirror your way, they suddenly know where you are, what your plans are, and (most likely) how to defeat you. That’s not a good feeling. It engenders paranoia, simmering resentment, and a deep-seated desire for revenge. And while you may want your players to hate the villains, you don’t want them to hate you.

It's not just scrying either. If you do decide to make power-plays with magic — unlimited counterspells, teleporting your villains, or otherwise using abilities that players can’t reasonably counter — think long and hard about the impact on the game. Players can scent a whiff of unfair GM-fiat a mile away. Dressing it up as “some of the casters in this setting are more powerful than you” is fooling exactly no one. Because railroading is a dirty word, even if you dress up in the rules.

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)
So is fair scrying that which the PCs perform?
 

Scry is often misused in my opinion. The odds are very, very slim that the BBEG is going to scry at the exact moment the party is planning. More likely he's going to watch them walking or eating dinner, perhaps telling jokes or sleeping. It's best use is to keep tabs on where a group is and won't be of much use in learning plans or how to defeat a group.
This. While traveling, we had a BBEG wizard scrying on us daily. The DM had one of us make the save periodically, but never told us what it was for. We figured it out when we realized every time we rolled low, we had an encounter with her minions a few hours later. She was using it to check on the location of her enemies; she really didn't care too much about our plans, because we were supposed to die.
 

LizardWizard00

Explorer
If you’re the victim of scrying, there’s a feeling of powerlessness that comes with the experience. When a BBEG points their magic mirror your way, they suddenly know where you are, what your plans are, and (most likely) how to defeat you. That’s not a good feeling. It engenders paranoia, simmering resentment, and a deep-seated desire for revenge. And while you may want your players to hate the villains, you don’t want them to hate you.

It's not just scrying either. If you do decide to make power-plays with magic — unlimited counterspells, teleporting your villains, or otherwise using abilities that players can’t reasonably counter — think long and hard about the impact on the game. Players can scent a whiff of unfair GM-fiat a mile away. Dressing it up as “some of the casters in this setting are more powerful than you” is fooling exactly no one. Because railroading is a dirty word, even if you dress up in the rules.

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)
Na - that is totally fair.

FYI, I am a player and it is completely fair for the DM to use the tools of the game, just like we do.
 

Oofta

Legend
This. While traveling, we had a BBEG wizard scrying on us daily. The DM had one of us make the save periodically, but never told us what it was for. We figured it out when we realized every time we rolled low, we had an encounter with her minions a few hours later. She was using it to check on the location of her enemies; she really didn't care too much about our plans, because we were supposed to die.

My question is simple - how did the BBEG know where you were just from observing you for 10 minutes a day? Because scrying is just a drone with a camera pointed at the target from up to 10 feet away. Depending on ambient noise and how loudly you're having a discussion, they may not even be able to hear you. Unless you happen to be walking past some landmark or a signpost, scrying doesn't tell you much.

If it works for you, great. I'm not really arguing against it, just noting it as a caution to others who might use the spell this way. Most of the time scrying isn't going to reveal much of anything useful.
 

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