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. What follows is the story of my own misuse of villainous scrying. It’s a wonder my players still talk to me.

So no shit there they were. The kingdom was being invaded by a bunch of elves from fantasy-Spain, and the pointy-eared armada had established a beachhead off the coast of totally-not-France. My players were musketeers.

The war was going poorly for not-France, and His August Majesty Fribbien II was in a bit of a pickle. Due to setting fluff, there was exactly one day each year when the Questionably Villainous Archbishop Delacroix could perform a resurrection. As you might imagine, there was much talk at court about the best choice. Who could save the nation during its hour of need? Some called for the restoration of a fallen general. Others insisted on one of history’s famous diplomats. 

The players, however, knew there was a better choice. A certain inventor of their acquaintance had been murdered the year before. He was on the verge of a breakthrough in military technology when his workshop had been bombed. Only his inventions could give not-France a chance at victory. It just so happened that he’d been buried at his ancestral home: the same little town where the invading elf-Spaniards had set up shop. Smash cut to the sky ships speeding toward the front.

It was a days-long journey, which gave the party plenty of time to make their Perception checks and spot the magical sensor. Someone was scrying on them! Of course, since I’d specifically requested that they pick martial characters to fit the musketeers theme, they had no way of knowing who. It was no trouble to swat the sensor with a dispelling attack, but that was an impermanent solution. The sensor returned again and again, targeting low-Perception members of the party and continuing to gather intel over the next few days. The party could only press on with their plans, hoping that the sensor hadn’t learned too much of their mission. There were mutterings about unfair magery, but I figured they were mostly in-character. I figured wrong.

The adventure went splendidly for the most part. My swashbuckling heroes had great fun infiltrating enemy lines. They roused the countryside. Lead an uprising. Used the battle as cover to make their way to the inventor’s grave. And if you’ve guessed who was waiting there for them, you were paying attention to the “questionably villainous” party of Archbishop Delacroix‘s job title. The archbishop wasn’t in attendance himself, but his personal guard (read: the anti-party) had already exhumed the body. They planned to pitch the whole “rez-the-inventor” plan to His Majesty in Delacroix’s name, and so steal all the glory for the church. When the outraged musketeers arrived on the scene, the bishop’s guard were busily preparing a word of recall scroll. 

It was a tense battle as our valiant heroes tried to 1) steal back the body while 2) disrupting the scroll without 3) dying. It sounds like a tense and exciting encounter on paper. There were blown saves, unconscious PCs, and narrow victories all around. However, once the body had been saved and the villains had made their getaway, the post-session review was less than complimentary.

“What did you expect us to do about the scrying?”

“Was there even a way to win?”

“Why do all of your villains have teleportation powers?”

It wasn’t just sour grapes. As I look back at that session, I know for a fact that I would have felt the same way. The villains had arrived on the scene with some very-suspicious timing, and “they were scrying on you” was a flimsy excuse for a contrived plot.

My point in relaying this highly-abridged Romance of Not-France is to offer a warning. If you do decide to make power-plays with magic — scrying on the party, teleporting your villains, or otherwise using abilities that players can’t reasonably counter — learn from my mistake. 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. My players felt railroaded, and they weren’t wrong to feel that way.

That of course brings us to our question of the day! Have you ever used scrying to your advantage? Conversely, have you ever been the victim of a scry-happy villain? How did you work around it? Tell us the tale of your spy vs. spy adventures down in the comments!


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