D&D 5E Unfair Scrying

In reality the BBEG will never scry the players at first. He will send minions to find the PCs. One of these minions will have a way to send a message (via spell, device or even a flamed arrow in the sky would do with other minions watching for it.)

When the minions have warned their boss, he will then scry the minions and their fight against the PCs as to learn their tactics and their relative strength. After a few times, said boss will prepare ambushes along the PCs' most probable travel path.

Through a few encounters, the BBEG will learn PCs' tactics and will adjust his spells/forces accordingly. The will be to use minions and everything in his power to neutralize at keast one if not two PCs. Divide and conquer is still a viable strategy.

And good players will do the same! Very often, players will have the basic layout of the BBEG's lair/base/keep before entering it. They will even have a basic idea of the forces in presences! Knowledge is half the battle. It was true during Sun Tzu, it still is.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Lyxen

Great Old One
Another thing that I remember doing in 1e is creating countering spells. I know the framework for this does not exist in 5e, but especially for teleportation (but also resurrection), we had a lot of specialized spells. We had teleport without error before it was officially output, but we also had "follow teleport", "Unfollowable Teleport", "Misguiding Teleport" (a bit like shadow door, took you somewhere else when you tried to follow), etc. And even an Anti-(anti-magic-shell)-shell. :p
 

Azuresun

Adventurer
Isn't that why there are defenses against Scrying? Like I still can understand how it can suck, but I thought there are defenses against it.

There are--Nondetection, and that other spell that makes an area scrying proof.

I remember a game of Mage: The Ascension where the bad guy had time magic and so could perfectly predict all our plans because he was looking into the future. Perfectly rules-legal, negative fun.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
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.
The camera visual range is not limited to 10 feet. Yes it has to stay within 10 feet of the target, but you can see terrain for potentially miles in all directions since you can see and hear is if you were there, and if you know the lay of the land you can determine with some accuracy where the party is.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I remember a game of Mage: The Ascension where the bad guy had time magic and so could perfectly predict all our plans because he was looking into the future. Perfectly rules-legal, negative fun.

It can be done in a fun way, see Sanderson's Cosmere, the characters holding the shard can see somewhat in the future, but it does not make them perfect at it.
 

Oofta

Legend
The camera visual range is not limited to 10 feet. Yes it has to stay within 10 feet of the target, but you can see terrain for potentially miles in all directions since you can see and hear is if you were there, and if you know the lay of the land you can determine with some accuracy where the party is.
In some cases it could give a general idea of location. But the focus of the spell needs to remain on the target. If the target is in a room, walking through the woods or so on how much info you can get? If you happen to be passing by the Matterhorn when the scrying is done the caster may or may not recognize it if they can get a good view. If the party is below the tree line? How much is the caster going to see, they can't see the mountain for the trees.

It's always going to be a judgement call. Depends on where they are and how distinct the terrain is. In the U.S. you can drive for hours and nothing really changes that much. View someone hiking the Appalachian trail and you'd be hard pressed to tell if the hiker is in Georgia or West Virginia most of the year.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
In some cases it could give a general idea of location. But the focus of the spell needs to remain on the target. If the target is in a room, walking through the woods or so on how much info you can get? If you happen to be passing by the Matterhorn when the scrying is done the caster may or may not recognize it if they can get a good view. If the party is below the tree line? How much is the caster going to see, they can't see the mountain for the trees.
It depends on how well the BBEG knows the area. There may be a distinctive copse of trees, and trees that are very individual looking. Maybe there's only one hill in the forest and the party is going up a slope. It may not work every time, but if the BBEG knows the terrain, it will work fairly often.,
It's always going to be a judgement call. Depends on where they are and how distinct the terrain is. In the U.S. you can drive for hours and nothing really changes that much. View someone hiking the Appalachian trail and you'd be hard pressed to tell if the hiker is in Georgia or West Virginia most of the year.
And if the group is out in the open, moving towards your BBEG evil lair at a fairly constant rate, you can figure out where they are based on how long ago you last knew their position. Hell, you don't even need scrying at that point. :p
 

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.
Yes, but how many wizards actually do? And how many fighters don't wear armor? Sure, what people look like might be misleading, but not that often.
 


Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Yes, but how many wizards actually do? And how many fighters don't wear armor? Sure, what people look like might be misleading, but not that often.
I didn't say no armor, but dex fighters wear light armor and look a lot like rogues. For that matter, some wizards wear light armor and look like fighters and rogues. The BBEG can make some assumptions based on what he thinks the likely party make-up is, but he's not going to know for sure and could easily get it wrong.
 

Here is an example from a previous campaign.
Level 1 to 3. Players helps a small town with a Kobold problem. Happens that the kobolds are following the order of a hobgoblin advisor with a few goblins as personal guards. One of the goblin escapes and warn his boss that a group of adventurers foiled the Kobold initiative.

Level 5 to 7. Players helps the area with an undead plague. Turns out that a necromancer with his disciples were the cause of the plague. One turned wight goes to warn the BBEG that adventurers are responsible for the failure of the necromancer. The BBEG starts to get upset by these interlopers and hires a few assassins to get rid of them. He continues his plans to unite a few hobgoblin tribes to sweep over the region.

Level 8 to 11. The players survive the assassination attempt. They are now aware that someone does not like them. Rumors of hobgoblins uniting under one banner abounds and they decide to break the horde before too late. They find out that the hobgoblins are uniting under the banner of a hobgoblin warlord. The keep of the warlord is in the mountains and this warlord has many males, clerics and others to back him up. Rumors have it that a young dragon or two are allied with him and that there is even an hypogryph air cavalry around the keep. Players uses scrying spells to get a good idea of what is the layout of the fortress and start planing their assault. Here the difficulty is not in the CR of the monsters, but their high number and organization. Their first attempt is a failure and they have to flee. Using a Leomund Tiny hut, they feel safe but scrying find them relatively fast and the warlords sends a killing expeditionary force to deal with the players. Meanwhile, clerics raises the dead as undead with the order to kill any one not hobgoblin or not wearing the warlords insignia. The kill party fails to kill the players but it is a one call. The warlord knows that and start to prepare defense for the next assault and sends a call for reinforcements.
Players succeed in their endeavor but learn from the dying warlord that his liege will kill them in his stead. A classy trope that never gets old.

Level 14 to 18
After a few side adventures unrelated to the previous events. The researches, divinations and investigations of the players pay off. They learn that the one responsible for many of their tribulations is a powerful archmage. Now they will take the fight to her. Unfortunately for them, the archmage knows about them from a combination of mundane spies and divination and scrying. The journey to her lair is dangerous and they decide to teleport. They fall into a teleport trap and are now stuck in a dungeon from which they must escape. She scry them at her leisure and they must fight the monsters that are inhabiting the complex. As they finally get to her after 3 levels of mazes, traps and ambushes, their ressources are so low that the archmage becomes quite a challenge, and she is not alone. She has friends and allies with her.
The players succeed but their losses are heavy.

Level 19 to 20.
Threats and assassinations attemps plague the players. It has been 5 years since they have killed the evil archmage and they had all but forgotten her. They start their research, divination and investigations and learn that the archmage was the lover of a powerful fiend summoner. The fight must be taken to Gehena as this fiend summoner lives there. Not only do they have to face the fiend summoner, but the sorceress has been raised from the dead. Not falling for a teleport trap again, the players use their own divination to learn of the layout and know that fiends will be there too. The campaign ends with the players victorious but barely. As the player leaves the horrid plane, they see a gigantic fiend calling them out. Your heirs shall pay for your deeds.

Scrying plays a big role in our games.
 

toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
Isn't that why there are defenses against Scrying? Like I still can understand how it can suck, but I thought there are defenses against it.

There are--Nondetection, and that other spell that makes an area scrying proof.
The problem is when/if players are so conditioned to the game being about combat that their characters find magical items like a ring of mind shielding or the spell non-detection to be totally useless.

When's the last time when picking their 2 spells upon going up a level that a wizard took Nondetection?

Yet, roughly 1/3 of the spells in the PHB might be considered non-combat. They never get used unless the DM throws a curveball incentive from time to time, such as the below:

In 3.5 it usually were the players who did scry->buff->teleport->surprise->kill before the enemy can do anything.
Yeah, nasty days those were. So, Teleport Trap got invented for those who could afford it. Nothing like teleporting would-be-assassins into a sealed sarcophagus under a lake.

But, holy tantrum from my gamers when my bad guy scried and fried them. They tried it on him, so he reciprocated. And, I get where the OP talks about players feeling resentment. I think it felt like I'd breached a "player only" feature like we have in 5E with Death Saves and holy healing word. If the bad guys started being able to play whack-a-mole, would the players have fun? Ultimately, in 3.5/Pathfinder, we made a "mutually assured destruction" pact that scrying didn't give enough info to teleport to the target unless they were in a place the PC had been to. But taking it out of the game altogether? No way. When PCs find out someone is peeping-Tom on them, they tend to get creeped out and want to know who, what, when, where, and why!
 
Last edited:

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
But, holy tantrum from my gamers when my bad guy scried and fried them. They tried it on him, so he reciprocated. And, I get where the OP talks about players feeling resentment. I think it felt like I'd breached a "player only" feature like we have in 5E with Death Saves and holy word. If the bad guys started being able to play whack-a-mole, would the players have fun? Ultimately, in 3.5/Pathfinder, we made a "mutually assured destruction" pact that scrying didn't give enough info to teleport to the target unless they were in a place the PC had been to. But taking it out of the game altogether? No way. When PCs find out someone is peeping-Tom on them, they tend to get creeped out and want to know who, what, when, where, and why!
Personally, I tend to take a dim view of players who want "player only" features with respect to weapons and tactics used in adventuring and combat. I they want scry and fry to not be usable against them, then it's not usable by them either.
 

Oofta

Legend
It depends on how well the BBEG knows the area. There may be a distinctive copse of trees, and trees that are very individual looking. Maybe there's only one hill in the forest and the party is going up a slope. It may not work every time, but if the BBEG knows the terrain, it will work fairly often.,

And if the group is out in the open, moving towards your BBEG evil lair at a fairly constant rate, you can figure out where they are based on how long ago you last knew their position. Hell, you don't even need scrying at that point. :p
If the caster has every hill, tree and bush memorized in a 100 mile radius, sure they can know where they are. I've done a lot of backwoods hiking, I think you'd be hard pressed to tell what forest a person is in for the trees. :) Well, that or if they're just hiking through Nebraska, mile after mile of nothing but mile after mile.

But it's up to the DM.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
If the caster has every hill, tree and bush memorized in a 100 mile radius, sure they can know where they are. I've done a lot of backwoods hiking, I think you'd be hard pressed to tell what forest a person is in for the trees. :)
It doesn't need memorization, but if you know an area well, there are landmarks there. I grew up in rural Michigan near a forest and would play in it. There's a reason I didn't get lost. :p

If you have an approximate idea, you can send mooks after the party.
 

Oofta

Legend
It doesn't need memorization, but if you know an area well, there are landmarks there. I grew up in rural Michigan near a forest and would play in it. There's a reason I didn't get lost. :p

If you have an approximate idea, you can send mooks after the party.
Sure. I knew the park where I camped as well. But how big of an area did you really know? Ten square miles? Twenty? Besides, we're talking wizards here, how often do they pull their nose out of a spellbook? :unsure:

In any case, do what makes sense to you.
 

I think it felt like I'd breached a "player only" feature like we have in 5E with Death Saves and holy word.
Not sure what you mean by holy word, but we got rid of death saves in our 5e game, so everyone’s playing by the same rules! But before we made that move we briefly assumed monsters got death saves too.
 

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.
The scry would give a general idea (it was during wilderness travel in their territory), and the minions would then start searching. It also wasn't too hard to deduce our destination after a couple of days (her lair). If we would have been in a dungeon or some other interior location, it would certainly have been different, but for this particular adventure, it worked very, very well. Oh, and she was long gone by the time we got there, leaving a simulacrum behind for us to play with.
 


Here are a few things that my BBEG will use to "scry" on the characters.
Level 3 through 6
The boss will send scouts to find the characters. Among the scouts, a novice spell caster able to cast or use scrolls with the following spells: Long Strider, Invisibility, Sending and Sky Write. This is just a basic thing. The caster will use sky write or sending to warn the boss and the boss will use some scrying method on his minion, either Clairvoyance or Scry if high level enough or if the range is possible. This way, the boss will learn of whom are the caracter or at least see them. (A scroll might be enough to provide the means necessary to warn the boss).

Two cases at these levels are possibles (obviously more, but they are usually a combination that will include both cases)
The BBEG is aware of the group coming to his lair. Either through spies or some other means.
Then the scout party or individual will be only there to get a pin point on the location of the characters. No communication beside Sky write might be needed. The message might not even be clear. "The sun is glorious" seems inconspicuous enough that the players will not over react to such a message in the sky. Or "Nanny needs a cleric, send one at the village" might even derail the party from the boss' lair to investigate, allowing for a nice ambush.

The scouts might be there not only to locate the players but also to attack and kill them. If this is the case, the boss' main scout will not participate. He will observe and let the BBEG scry or clairvoyance the whole fight. The scout will then flee as fast as possible (staying invisible through the whole fight) Using Longstrider to start fleeing and then recasting invisibility (if needed) to get away. With a nice Detect Thoughts, the boss' will get a clear picture of the way the scout saw and analyzed the players. At this point, the players might become "know" for the boss or the DM might require more than one such encounter. In any cases, the boss knows the looks of the players.

The BBEG is not aware of the group coming to his lair.

Here the boss will not try to "ambush" the characters with spies and such. Usually, the boss might set patrols and such and such and one missing patrol might (or more precisely, will) start an investigation. This assumes that the players did encounter a patrol and slew everyone or mostly everyone.

Here the boss will use spells such as: "Augury and Divinations" if he has access to them to make sure that no one is coming to his lair. Naturally, a party of adventurer coming to kill you and your minions for an Augury spell will count as Woe for your BBEG. And thus, the BBEG will start to prepare for the arrival of the players. Patrols will be reinforced. And the lair itself might see some more guard duties.

If the players assault the lair and retreat. The boss will raise (if possible) fallen troops into undead. He will send S&D parties and if the players can't be found and made quite a dent in the lair, the boss will flee.

The main point of all this is the following.
If the player could and can do the same thing, you add a layer of belief to your game. It is easier to accept something you could do your self than a SUIM (Shut Up It's Magic) effect.

Also, it makes the DM appear fair and square. Not every vilains (BBEG) might have access to these methods. But mundane methods and magical ones can and will mix allowing player to "see" that nothing was expressively built around their party but made to "foil" any party. If it happens that one of your players has something that can foil some basic things and shenanigans, so be it, more power to them and an other level of belief is added to your game.
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top