Guidance – GMing 101: On Scrying and Frying

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about the ‘Scry and Fry’ strategy.

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 as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex’s 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.

Alex Augunas

Alexander Augunas lives outside of Philadelphia, USA where he tries to make a living as an educator. When he's not shaping the future leaders of tomorrow, Alex is a freelance writer for esteemed Pathfinder Roleplaying Game publishers such as Paizo, Inc, Radiance House, Raging Swan Press, and more, and also acts as a co-host and blogger on the Know Direction Network, where he has earned the nickname, "The Everyman Gamer." Recently, Alex has forayed into the realm of self-publishing through his company, Everyman Gaming, LLC.

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