Scrying is hard work. You’ve got to learn the spell. You’ve got to grab a magic mirror and/or pool of still water. There’s the target’s save to contend with, the long casting time, the hassle of keeping your magical sensors from being detected, and the possibility that a simple nondetection spell will make all of the above wasted effort. Ain’t nobody got time for that. With apologies to the world’s divination specialists, sending your li’l buddy in for a looksie seems a shitload easier.

If you’ve got a hide-in-plain-sight familiar like a pigeon or a house cat, you don’t even have to worry about getting spotted. After all, what kind of self-respecting villain wastes time shooting at every stray critter to wander within range of Castle Evildark?

Of course, even that slight risk of losing a familiar is terrifying if you happen to practice magic in Golarion:

If a familiar is dismissed, lost, or dies, it can be replaced 1 week later through a specialized ritual that costs 200 gp per wizard level. The ritual takes 8 hours to complete.

With that kind of overhead, you might as well bite the bullet and put up with the scrying headache. Contrast that to the ease-of-use Faerûn’s wizards enjoy:

When the familiar drops to 0 Hit Points, it disappears, leaving behind no physical form. It reappears after you cast this spell again.

My last 5e familiar made frequent trips back to Valhalla, but Odin never saw fit to punish me for the animal abuse. Why not send it in for some scouting action? And if you happen to be the kind of warlock that shells out for a chain pact imp, then you’re out-spying the rogues and rangers of the world all day long. Invisible minions that can die at little-to-no cost make the ultimate recon tools. In fact, I think they might be a little too good.

My problem with the strategy—and with low-risk recon in general—is that it takes all the surprise out of dungeon exploration. If you enjoy scouting tactics then more power to ya. It’s a legit way to play. But speaking for myself, a lot of the fun of the game lies in thinking on my feet, reacting to danger as it springs from the dark. If I know everything that’s coming, whether it’s thanks to a familiar, a spell, or a pair of cheaty-face gloves, then a lot of the drama disappears.

What about the rest of you guys? Do you use your familiars for scouting and spying purposes? And more generally, do you like recon strategies, or would you rather take the adventure as it comes? Let’s hear all about your best intel-gathering tactics in the comments!


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