The dwarven wizard and the tiefling bard stared deeply into the dark pool. The silver basin glimmered in the candlelight.
After muttering some incantations, the dwarf added some items to be gently dropped into the basin: a silk scarf, a cotton handkerchief, and a parchment with a drawing scribbled on it.
Eventually, an image manifested itself in the murky water. The two adventurers immediately recognized the torchlit streets of Calimport, for they had been there recently. Now, however, they were far away in some other city, a safe distance from the subject of the dwarf’s spell.
As the images in the basin zoomed in, a well-fortified stone building came into view. Two armed and armored guards stood outside the entrance, but they were of no concern to the viewers. Past the guards, through the hallways, and up the stairs, the images continued.
Finally, the interior of a large, luxurious room could be seen, complete with its own bath and a canopied bed. A gorgeous woman with soaking wet, chin-length, dark hair and matching, snake-like eyes revealed herself. She was soaking in her robe and obviously had just left her bath. The tiefling bard chuckled.
Little did the bard know, that the show was just beginning…
Scrying 5e Guide: Bottomline
Scrying is your classic crystal ball. It’s a divination spell that allows you to spy on creatures from an unlimited distance, provided that the creature is on the same plane. The success of your spell depends on many factors, which are discussed in the spell’s description below.
Who Can Use Scrying?
In the Player’s Handbook (PHB), Scrying Spell is available to the following classes:
How Does Scrying Work?
Scrying appears in PHB, p. 273, with the following stats and description:
5th level Divination
- Casting Time: 10 minutes
- Range: Self
- Target: A particular creature that is on the same plane of existence as you
- Components: V, S, M (A focus worth at least 1,000 gp, such as a crystal ball, a silver mirror, or a font filled with holy water)
- Duration: Up to 10 minutes
If a Wisdom check is made, the victim isn’t affected. In that case, you use this spell against it again for 24 hours.
If a Wisdom check is unsuccessful, the spell creates an invisible sensor within 10 feet of the victim. The caster can see and hear through the sensor. The sensor moves with the subject, remaining within 10 feet of it for the duration. Anyone that can see invisible objects sees the sensor as a luminous orb about the size of a human fist.
As you can see from the spell’s description, the caster’s chances of success depend on many factors. To simplify all of this Scrying Math, I’ve created a Scrying Modifier table:
Here’s a sample scenario to show you how my table works.
Morgran Scrying On Moonwhisper
Morgran the Mountain Dwarf Evocation Wizard had survived an assassination attempt 6 months prior in-game time. During the battle, he managed to wound his opponent with his axe. He was 5th level at the time but had the presence of mind to preserve whatever evidence he had.
Stored in an empty Healing Potion bottle, was some blood from the axe, as well as a bit of hair and some leather from the assassin’s damaged armor.
Here are the wizard’s ability stats:
|4th Lvl. ASI||+3||+1|
|Ability Scores Total||14||18||10||14||16||8|
Six months after the battle, Morgran reaches 9th level and decides to use the Scrying Spell to spy on his assassin. By the time Morgran is 9th level, his Intelligence is 18 and his proficiency modifier is +4. Therefore, his casting modifier is +8.
Here’s how my table looks so far. His casting modifier is +8 and he has some knowledge of the victim. He doesn’t know his assassin personally but he did meet her when she tried to kill him in melee combat. He knows that she is a female elf who fights with twin scimitars. She was also capable of casting a Silence Spell on him.
Morgran places the hair, blood, and leather in a basin full of dark water and casts his spell. Now, the DM must calculate by adding Morgan’s modifier to other factors in the Scrying Modifier Table above:
Notice that both of the body part connection items (blood and hair) only add up to one connection. That is because body part connection items don’t stack, at least as far as this DM is concerned. The leather from the armor could be considered a garment connection by some DMs, while other DMs might rule that a full garment is required.
This connection modifier is definitely a grey area. Lenient DMs might allow for both body connections (blood and hair) to stack with the garment connection (leather strips) for a total connection modifier of +24.
Strict DMs might not allow the strips of leather to count as a garment connection. Stricter DMs might not allow for the blood or even the hair because it is a bit of hair and not a lock of hair. The only bit mentioned in the description is a “bit of nail”. The DM is the final arbitrator on what modifiers to allow.
Six months prior, Morgran’s would-be assassin was a female 5th-level hunter ranger of the wood elf race. Like Morgran, she has leveled up since then and is now a 9th-level ranger:
|Racial ASI + Lvl. ASI||+4||+1|
|Ability Scores Total||12||18||13||12||16||8|
At 4th level, she put her ASI into a the Mage Slayer feat. At 8th level, she was also granted an ASI, but she put that into Dexterity and not Wisdom. Her Wisdom is still good, however, 16, so it will be factored into the Scrying Modifier Table:
Notice that the victim’s modifier is -7, not -3. That’s because the victim’s level proficiency (+4 for a 9th-level character) was also factored in.
Normally the victim would roll a DC 8 saving throw. Unfortunately for Moonwhisper, due to the +15 modifier from Scrying Modifier Table, she must roll a DC 22 saving throw! Only a natural 20 will save her from being scried on without her knowledge.
Moonwhisper fails the Wisdom check and Morgran gets to scry on her for 10 minutes. The DM narrates:
“You see your old nemesis. She is a slender elf wearing studded leather armor. Sheathed in her belt are the twin scimitars that nearly cost you your life. Strapped across her back are a longbow and a quiver full of arrows. Underneath the weapons on her back is a well-made grey cloak.
She is in a pinewood forest and the wind is blowing through the trees. There is a brook and a doe is drinking from the brook.
The elf approaches the deer and the doe does not run away. She touches the doe and appears to be able to communicate with the animal. Unfortunately, Morgran doesn’t have the Speak With Animals Spell.
Based on the conversation with the deer, Morgran surmises that the assassin is probably a ranger or a druid. Even though druids don’t normally carry longbows, Morgran knows that elves are naturally proficient with such weapons. His assassin was pretty deadly with those twin scimitars, however, so the dwarf is leaning towards ranger.
Even though Morgran doesn’t have the Speak With Animals Spell, he has friends who do. He also knows that there will be other days to scry on this assassin.
As a DM, I would rule that after the first scrying session, the blood is no longer usable after having been submerged in water. The hair and leather would be, however, provided that Morgran has the good sense to dry them out properly.
Interesting read: Comprehensive Guide to Scimitars in DnD 5e.
Is Scrying Good?
Does an owlbear do its business in the woods?
Long before the invention of D&D, crystal balls and magic mirrors have been a fixture of the fantasy genre. Even such classics as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and The Wizard of Oz had examples of scrying and their focus items. In D&D, here are some magic items that have scrying in addition to other properties:
|Crystal Ball||Very rare||No||3 lbs.|
|Mirror of Mental Prowess||No||40 lbs.|
|Iggwilv’s Cauldron (Gold)||Wondrous||Yes||80 lbs.|
Probably the most iconic magical scrying item is the crystal ball. As per Wizards of the Coast’s website DNDBeyond.com, here are its stats:
The typical Crystal Ball is roughly 6 inches in diameter. When using it, you can cast the Scrying spell (save DC 17).
There are also Crystal Ball variants (legendary items) that have additional properties:
- Crystal Ball of Mind Reading: You get the ability to to cast the Detect Thoughts spell (save DC 17) while you are Scrying with the Crystal Ball. You get the ability to target creatures you can see within 30 feet of the spell’s sensor. The Detect Thoughts feature does not require concentration for this item, but it ends if scrying ends.
- Crystal Ball of Telepathy: You get the ability to communicate telepathically with creatures you can see within 30 feet of the spell’s sensor. You can also cast the Suggestion spell (save DC 17) through the sensor on one of those creatures. The Suggestion feature does not require concentration for this item, but it ends if scrying ends. Once used, this feature can’t be used again until the next dawn.
- Crystal Ball of True Seeing: When scrying with the Crystal Ball, you have Truesight with a radius of 120 feet centered on the spell’s sensor.
Mirror of Mental Prowess
This item appeared in the original 1e Dungeon Master’s Guide and survived until 3e. In addition to scrying, it had several other magical properties. It was often used in the Forgotten Realms setting. As per Forgotten Realms fandom, here is its description:
On average, a Mirror of Mental Prowess measures about 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall and 2 feet (0.61 meters) wide. Powers include:
These mirrors have a variety of magical abilities that could be accessed by stating the proper commands. These abilities include the following:
- You get the ability to “read the thoughts of any creature reflected therein”, regardless of their languages, as long as the owner was within 25 feet (7.6 meters) of the mirror.
- You get the ability to scry with it “as though it were a Crystal Ball with Clairaudience”. Unlike with a Crystal Ball, however, the user could actually view into other planes of existence, provided that the user knew the subject well enough.
- You get the ability to use the mirror as a gateway to other locations and even other planes. This gateway would close “once the owner returned, once the owner used a command word, or otherwise would close itself after a period of 24 hours”.
- One time per week, the mirror could be asked to answer a short question about the subject of its scrying.
This cauldron has 2 forms, 1 gold and 1 iron. The gold form has scrying and other properties. Parts of this description were taken from dnd5ewikidot:
Source: The Wild Beyond The Witchlight
Iggwilv created this artifact with the help of the Archfey Baba Yaga. In its gold form, it is solid gold with depictions of “bare-branched trees, falling leaves, and broomsticks” on the outside. The cauldron is approximately “3 feet in diameter and has a 2-foot-wide mouth, a round lid with a molded handle at the top, and eight clawed feet for stability”. It weighs 80 pounds when empty, and it can hold up to 100 gallons of liquid.
- Scrying when water is mixed with wine. The cauldron works for scrying into other planes of existence.
- 1 minor beneficial property and 1 minor detrimental property determined by rolling on the appropriate tables table in the Dungeon Master’s Guide
- Makes great and satisfying stew when mixed with water
- With wine poured in over 10 minutes, makes a magical elixir that grants 10 temporary hit points for up to four people per gallon of wine used.
- A submerged broom can be enchanted into a Broom of Flying that lasts for 3 days.
Dangers of Scrying
Players don’t need to know this, but DMs should be aware that Scrying is not completely safe. In the spell’s description, it states that,
“If a target knows you’re casting this spell, it can fail its saving throw voluntarily if it wants to be observed.”
The obvious purpose would be to feed misinformation or to even taunt the caster. Matt Mercer, the famous DM from Critical Role, however, turned the tables on a party of adventurers when they wished to scry on the Big Bad. Mercer had the scrying victim, K’Varn, an extremely powerful beholder in control of a mind flayer Elder Brain, use the scrying spell to do psychic damage on its caster from a few miles away. Elder Brains have been known to have a range of several miles with their psychic powers and the party was probably less than 10 miles away from K’Varn.
As a DM, I would also rule that if the scryer is able to see and hear the victim, then the scryer is also subject to gaze and sonic attacks. Let me demonstrate how this could affect a certain mountain dwarf wizard.
Morgran Scrying on Wan Tei
Luckily for Morgran, he is friends with possibly the best detective in the realm, Crossroads the Tiefling College of Lore Bard. Crossroads loves a good mystery and is happy to help out his dwarven friend.
Crossroads knows the Speak With Animals spell and over the course of several weeks, they observe the assassin talking to various beasts: squirrels, wolves, eagles, and even salmon. From these conversations, Crossroads is able to deduce the assassin is indeed a hunter ranger and a wood elf, Moonwhisper. She converses with the animals to learn about the movements of any travelers that pass through their territory. Furthermore, Crossroads and Morgran learn that Moonwhisper is in the employ of one of the yuan-ti Noble Houses that are vying for control of the Black Jungles.
Neither one of these two companions wish to venture into the perilous Black Jungles at this stage in their adventuring career, but Crossroads says that it’s not necessary. In one of the nearby local cities, he knows of an ambassador from Mhairhetel, a city controlled by the Rhaunister family, a yuan-ti Noble House.
Because Crossroads has a vast network of contacts due to his investigative abilities, he is able to arrange a meeting with the ambassador. Of course, both Crossroads and Morgran use Alter Self Spell to disguise themselves as elven diplomats and Crossroads uses his Jack of All Trades feature to forge the appropriate documents.
The ambassador is an attractive woman named Wan Tei. Wan Tei is a yuan-ti pureblood and 9th-level Wild Magic sorcerer. Here are her ability stats:
|Racial ASI + Lvl. ASI||+1||+4|
|Ability Scores Total||8||12||13||16||10||16|
The meeting couldn’t possibly go better. As a token of respect, they exchange gifts and acquire something that Wan Tei has owned (Possession or garment Connection), in this case, a silk scarf that she has worn a couple of times. Crossroads even manages to use his Jack of All Trades feature to sketch her likeness (Likeness or picture Connection).
The scarf, the sketch, and the fact that Morgran and Wan Tei have met can all be factored into the Scrying Modifier Table below.
After an expensive dinner and even more expensive wine, the yuan-ti ambassador and the elven diplomats part as what would seem to be the best of friends. Before Crossroads leaves, however, he manages to use his Sleight of Hand to successfully wipe Wan Tei’s wine glass without anyone noticing. Crossroads’s handkerchief now contains Wan Tei’s spittle which can now be used as a Body part Connection (+10). Again, the Scrying Modifier Table is adjusted:
The two adventurers are now giddy with excitement. They’re going to have a great show tonight!
When the hour approaches, they pick a safe location, an inn controlled by a friend who owes Crossroads a favor. Morgran makes his preparations and takes 10 minutes to cast the spell. Wan Tei has an average Wisdom, so only her proficiency modifier, as a 9th level character, is added to her saving throw:
Wan Tei seems to be preparing for bed. Her bathrobe indicates that she has just washed. The dwarven wizard feels a little bit like a “Peeping Tom” but this is serious. There was, after all, an assassination attempt and if the yuan-ti are involved, this can’t be good.
With artful grace, Wan Tei takes a wicker basket and places it on a nearby “coffee table”.
Snakes, most likely.
Slowly, carefully, the ambassador reaches into the basket and gently begins to pull something out.
Indeed, the heads of several small snakes creep out over the rim of the basket.
Suddenly, Wan Tei closes her eyes as she jerks up her hand.
Too late, that is, for Morgran and Crossroads, who are now statues made of stone.
In the shimmering pool of Morgran’s silver basin, a medusa’s head stares back at the two statues.
Question: Is Scrying a ritual spell?
QUESTION: IS SCRYING A CONCENTRATION SPELL?
QUESTION: HOW CAN A SCRYER BE DAMAGED BY THE SUBJECT?
Answer: To my knowledge, a scryer can be damaged by psychic, gaze, and sonic attacks. It’s also possible that the sensor could be used as a point of contact to open a portal to send in “bad things”.
Scrying Spell allows you to spy on creatures across unlimited distances, provided they are on the same plane of existence as you. The success of your spell is influenced by various modifiers listed in the spell’s description. It also requires an arcane focus such as a mirror, a bowl of water, or a crystal ball.
As you can see from the vignettes above, the Scrying Spell offers great opportunity for role play. Even before the suspenseful DM’s narrative of the Scrying itself, there is the buildup. There is the acquisition of Knowledge and Connections. There is the use of the arcane focus to cast the spell. Finally, there is the element of danger as Vox Machina and 2 adventurous stone statues have come to find out the hard way.
Scrying has been a common trope in films and books for both heroes and villains. Adding it to your game should add a great deal of spice to your story arcs. In my opinion, adding an element of danger when scrying on extremely powerful opponents adds some extra spice. In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche,
“And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you”.