On Scrying and Frying

Welcome to the third installment of Everyman Gaming’s GM’s Guide articles. In this GM’s Guide, we’ll be talking about the tactic known as “scry and fry”.

I need to be honest, folks, I had never heard of the combat tactic that we’re going to talk about today until about February of this year. That isn’t to day that I had never heard of the tactic itself, but the name “Scry and Fry”? Utterly new to me. But without any further discussion, the “Scry and Fry” tactic, what it is and how to handle teleport-happy players.

Dissecting the Tactic

The “Scry and Fry” tactic is relatively straightforward: it relies on a very liberal interpretation combination of scrying and teleport. Specifically, teleport gives a spellcaster an increasingly higher chance to arrive precisely where they want based upon how familiar they are with a location. One of those options is ‘studied carefully,’ which is the second-highest level of familiarity. An area that has been ‘studied carefully’ includes a location that the PC can currently see, and the tactic states that a place you can see with scrying should fall under the category of ‘studied carefully,’ allowing the party to teleport to the chosen location almost without fail. Once in the villain’s headquarters, the party proceeds to slay the “final boss,” take his things, and effectively bypass the entire dungeon.

Alex’s Interpretation

Before I discuss tactics to combat the Scry and Fry I feel the need to mention my own interpretation on this rules issue. Personally, my ruling is that if you’re only ever viewing a location via scrying, your teleportation chance is never better than “viewed once” because the teleport spell specifically calls out that using scrying counts for this effect. And if you think about it, it makes sense: no matter how long you use scrying, you can only see the area in a relatively small bubble around your target. You know the location, but you probably don’t know where it is or how to get there. So you can ‘see’ one specific location as much as you want, you aren’t familiar enough with the location to actually get there, and personally I wouldn’t allow scrying to work with teleport at all if teleport didn’t specifically call out that it could combine with scrying in a very specific way. Again, this is just my interpretation of the rules and you should use what works best at your table.

Why is This Tactic a Bad Thing?

Now, GMs, take a seat outside for a second: I want to talk with all of the players who read my column, especially the wizards. Listen, guys, I need to be frank with you: why do you guys like this tactic, exactly? I honestly don’t understand the draw to scrying and frying. It’s a tactic designed to make the game quicker, a tactic whose only purpose to literally bypass the major point of playing the game in the first place (delving into dungeons, beating up bad guys, and taking their stuff). It’s a tactic that ultimately wastes your GM’s preparation time and cuts your campaign nights short. So again, I ask, “Why do people use this tactic at all?” I think it’s a perfect example of something you could do with the rules, but shouldn’t. No matter what side of the screen you’re sitting on, your fun is being diminished by this tactic.

Countering the Scry and Fry

Okay, GMs come back into the room. It’s inevitable that you are going to eventually run into a player who REALLY wants to use this tactic. And I mean, like, REALLY. Before you do anything else, open up this page and make your player read the quick paragraph that I addressed to them above. If that doesn’t stop your player, then you need advice to counter the scry and fry, and I’m ready to help you!

 Before we begin, its important to remember the level range we’re dealing with when we talk about scrying and frying. Teleport doesn’t open up as a spellcasting option until 9th level, so you’re looking at mid-to-late game when this tactic starts occurring. Because of the high-powered scale that you are dealing with, you can make the assumption that anyone that your PC wants dead enough to use this sneaky tactic on is powerful enough to give the PCs a run for their money in therms of their XP, gold, and sheer manpower. Your villains will likely have a lot of land, a lot of henchmen, levels that are at minimum equivalent to the PCs, and gold: lots of gold. With these facts in mind, let’s look at some great ways to counter the scry and fry tactic.

  • Keep it Secret, Keep it Safe: One tactic that you could use that flat-out denies the chance to scry-and-fry at all is to keep the identity of your villain hidden from the PCs. Make sure your villain is very well-guarded and makes few to no actual appearances, but have all of his subordinates constantly reference his existence. Without any real knowledge of the villain, scrying upon him is virtually impossible.
  • Scrying-Muddling Magic: Sadly, there isn’t much in the game that effectively blocks scrying. Your best options are screen and mind blink; one of those two only works on one target at a time and the other functions in extremely small doses. Using the Core Rulebook’s wondrous item creation rules, making a continuous screen effect or mind blank effect at CL 20 costs 320,000 gp (SL 8 x CL 20 x 2,000 gp). Nothing to laugh at. Then again, depending upon your villain’s scale, this might be something within the character’s means. That price tag is paltry to the ruler of a kingdom; it comes out to about 84 BP in all if you’re using the Kingdom Building rules. If we’re looking at mind blank, Paizo has a character that receives a continuous version of mind blank (and several other spells) as a mythic ability, so that’s always an option. Furthermore, one of the Master Spy prestige class’s final abilities is a continuous mind blank effect.
  • Spell Resistance: Did you know that scrying is subjected to spell resistance? Why yes, yes it is! There are tons of magic items that can boost your spell resistance, helping you to ignore scrying attempts. This shouldn’t be your first option, but for a low-level choice it isn’t a bad one. Generally speaking your spell resistance ought to be good enough that the minimum the spellcaster needs to detect your villain is a 10; that’s awfully fair spell resistance.
  • GM Fiat: Quite frankly, if you don’t want scry and fry to work as a GM, it doesn’t work. When the scrying spell fails, you are under no obligation to tell your wizard friend why it failed; point to any of the reasons we discussed in this blog, or simply say, “Huh, that’s weird, isn’t it?” As GM, your job is to serve the story, and if you don’t have a good reason why scrying wouldn’t work, then just ignore it and deal with it later.

Anecdote

I want to end this article with a personal anecdote on Scrying and Frying: In the first campaign I played in Pathfinder, where I was a high-level sorcerer, one of my party members suggested that we use the Scry and Fry tactics to clear a dungeon quickly to get to the next stage of Roleplaying faster (it involved his Cleric of Shae getting to an unholy spot on the Plane of Shadow). Being new to high-level play, I happily agreed to the technique, but my GM was masterful: he put up a dimension anchoring barrier around the temple grounds, preventing all teleportation into the temple. I was minorly irritated for wasting a spell, but we went in, killed some villains, got their loot, and I was feeling pretty good! Later that GM and player switched off roles and the opportunity to Scry and Fry came up again. The GM let us do it, and we killed off a major boss that had kidnapped my PC’s sister in a few rounds, then left. It was supposed to be a HUGE moment for my character, but honestly I don’t even remember what the kidnaper’s name or build was anymore. There was no build it; it was one encounter lost amidst the sands of time, never to be recovered again.

 And that’s why I don’t Scry and Fry anymore.

 Thanks for reading this week’s installment of GM’s Guide! What do you think? Have you ever had to deal with a Scry and Fry before, or are your players courteous? How do you/would you counter a Scry and Fry? Did you find this article helpful, or did I miss a huge aspect of the Scry and Fry? Leave your comments and answers below and I’ll see you next Monday for another installment of GM’s Guide!

 Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long over 90% of his colleagues. Affectionately called a “budding game designer” by his partner at Radiance House, Alexander is the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series (Radiance House) and a handful of other Third-Party Products. Before founding the Everyman Gaming blog, Alexander gained notoriety for writing the GM’s Guide to Challenging Encounters, which remains accessible to this day. His favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune arcane trickster, and he tells all of the students that he teaches that they should say ‘NO!’ to Scrying and Frying. M’kay.  

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11 thoughts on “On Scrying and Frying

  1. I agree on the ‘viewed once’ interpretation, if only because there are so many fantasy stories where a wizard ‘divines’ a creatures location (usually by a crystal ball, a mirror, pool of water etc. aka, scrying) then teleports in. Often times this a ‘bad guy’ of sorts attacking the heroes because they took something of his, took something he needed, or were paid assassins or something like that. So, with this in mind, I feel it needs to remain possible.

    On blocking Scry, don’t forget a thin sheeting of lead blocks basically all divinations, including scry; if you look at the CRB on PAge 210 under Scrying, it even mentions it in the very last line before the Enchantment section.

    Mage’s Private Sanctum has a duration of 24 hours and also blocks scrying spells; it can also be made Permanent.

    Obscure Object is a low-level spell that automatically blocks all scrying spells from locating the object obscured; only obscures objects though.

    False Vision blocks scrying attempts by making the one scrying see a, well, false image.

    Nondetection doesn’t automatically defeat scrying spells, but it does make it harder to scry people, especially if cast on oneself.

    Something that also works is sleeping in a place like Rope Trick as it’s an extradimensional space, and therefore, a planar boundary, Mage’s Magnificent Mansion also works for this.

    I’ve been told by older gamers, that one of the methods of blocking scrying spells was to mix gorgon blood into the mortar. Obviously, this doesn’t apply anymore, but some older gamers may still use this method.

    The best options, in my mind, is either a Permanent Private Sanctum, or sheets of lead imbedded in the floor, ceiling and walls. Which is better depends on the magical abilities of those within (and sometimes monetary). If you want to go cheap, you could just shield the main ‘lair’ of a BBEG with Lead (non-magical effect, can’t be stopped), or you could go the magical route with Private Sanctum as it’s possibly cheaper on a large scale method.

  2. Good article Alex. I think as the DM the 1st time players go for this you should just let them. when your players ask what’s next you say “Board games anyone?” even if you still have more material prepared. Let them know there is a price to be paid for being a dick to the DM that invested time and effort into their entertainment.

    Hope your wizard has two teleports! Because here is the other thing, suppose every encounter you’ve populated the dungeon with begins to arrive each round after the 1st. Oh right the players didn’t plan on facing most of the dungeon in one encounter. Well to bad..

    Let us not forget rule 0 and it ain’t the DM makes the rules. It’s is “Thou doth NOT F*%Kith with the DM!”

  3. While I agree that the “Scry and fry” is kind of a player dick move, it seems like most of the resistance is GM stubborness. Your aside to players is even “Your GM worked hard on this dungeon so the least you could do is go through it.” like you’re trying to get a kid to eat their lima beans. But what if your dungeon is lima beans and your players are just trying to scheme their way to dessert?

    While the solution you’re proposing is “protect the boss from this tactic so that the players will have to go through their dungeon” I have 2 other options:

    1) Put an effort into actually making your dungeons fun. Try to clue in to things your players enjoy and include them. Create a variety of encounters that can be approached in a variety of ways to keep things from being boring.

    2) Make the dungeon an essential part of the story. Perhaps the boss is a noble and you need to provide strong evidence of wrongdoing (which is in his castle) before you can justifiably kill him. Or the boss runs a large organization that will not simply fall apart without him (criminal enterprises are notoriously profitable). So you need to take down the boss as well as all the lieutenants who are gathered for a big meeting. (Though of course, attacking during the meeting is asking for a party wipe, so you hit them individually.)

    • I like your comment on “players trying to scheme to the dessert.” Making enticing breadcrumbs is now on the list of topics that I’m going to discuss.

      That said, my article is more aimed at the players who use tactics like this to screw with the GM, not those who are trying to actively participate in the story. Even so, players who get nothing but dessert all the time will eventually get sick; its why your Mom makes you eat your vegetables before the dessert and a long, grueling dungeon can make the sweet ending all the more satisfying.

  4. There are ways to counter this tactic without using magic or expensive alterations.

    One way is to build the villain’s lair with a decoy: a room that is identical to the one in which he does his plotting and scheming. It has all the same furniture and decorations, in the same arrangement. Maybe even guards in the same place as in the actual room. What this does is screw around with the original teleport rules, because now there are two locations that resemble what the teleporter is visualizing, making it that much more likely he’ll be off-target.

    If your scrier prefers to spend his time studying a landmark, provide one. Lay down a nice, broad tapestry with a distinctive pattern on the floor. Odds are, anyone scrying a location will notice this and spend their time studying that pattern, using it as a ‘lock’ for their teleport spells. Every morning, the villain swaps out this tapestry with another one — one with a similar pattern, but not quite exact. The original one gets put in a trap room, or just rolled up and stored until circulation brings it back out.

    What this does is make the teleporter have to deal with the fact that his chosen location just isn’t there any more. He’s trying to go to a landmark that has been altered, or no longer exists in the form he ‘sees’. The original teleport rules stated that, if the visualized target doesn’t exist as such, there is no ‘on target’ result, you either end up in something similar or you have a painful misstep.

    • Some great ideas here! You could also have your villain design his chambers to perfectly match another location. For example, what if the villain builds his entire lair to perfectly replicate a king’s castle? The PCs are going to have some explaining to do when they mess up and teleport right into a king’s personal chambers!

  5. People seem to be missing something with there cheap ways to get around the tactic. When I have seen Scry and Fry used in a game the teleporting occurred while the scrying was going on. This gives you a real time knowledge of exactly how the room is right now seconds before the party teleports in. Duplicate rooms won’t work if you’re scrying the bbeg. He can only be in one place at a time. Changing out the floor covering or other distinctive feature a teleporter might key in on doesn’t work since even if they are rolling up the rug you can see that during the scry. Copying someone else’s space is just as expensive as some of the other choices. The simplest and cheapest things are keep the boss secret enough to make scrying hard or use an amulet of proof against Detection and Location. I always heard gorgon’s blood in the mortar prevents teleporting not scrying.

  6. Hm. Very good, I’ve never actually thought to use this as a player, even though it has been used on me as a player by Strahd von Zarovich. I just don’t know how effective it would be all the time. We just hit level 9 in our Red Hand of Doom campaign. I just don’t think it would be a great idea to waltz in on the commander of the hobgoblins like ha ha! He’d probably clean the floor with us, or just call on his minions which i imagine are close at hand since we wouldn’t have killed them off first (which you normally do, then run away to rest, going they can’t somehow get reinforcements).

  7. Something to keep in mind about Scry and Fry tactics as well is that, this often means bypassing XP and items to do the deed. Say a dungeon is designed for you to enter at 9th, but you leave at 12th, this would mean the BBEG is somewhere in the 15th level range. Scrying and Frying in these situations is an almost guaranteed TPK, due to the level difference if nothing else.

    As a player, you should only use scry and fry if you already know the capabilities of the one you’re attacking, otherwise you might just be barging in on someone designed to be fought after traversing his dungeon (and gaining the expected XP and loot).

    • Heck of a dungeon if you them to go in 9th and not leave until they are 12th! +3 levels without opportunity to resupply or upgrade their equipment. Nice that they had places to hide and rest up because no group is going to survive 3 levels of experience on one days resources even if they have a lot of scrolls, wands and potions.

      • Scarwall from the Curse of the Crimson Throne Ap is one such dungeon, though the entire area is under a Dimensional Lock, but Paizo publishes such scenarios every so often. Seven Swords of Sin is another example.

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