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Basic Information

Scrying is, essentially, magical surveillance - remote viewing using magic as opposed to technology or psychic powers. The category does not normally include observation using controlled agents (e.g. via a familiar or homunculus) or remote presence techniques such as astral projection.

A scryer will generally require a speculum - a viewing device into which the picture of the place they are scrying upon will appear1. Popular choices include crystal balls, mirrors and reflecting pools. More portable versions may include flasks of mercury (which can be poured out to form a reflecting surface) and possibly magic items such as enchanted binoculars. Peering into a fire - arguably a form of pyromancy - also has historical precedent. The ability to scry without a speculum is usually confined either to non-real time viewing (for example dreams and visions of remote places) or to the very powerful - traditionally those who control a place of power often have the ability to see what is going on at any point in it just by wanting to.

The speculum will normally provide a view from a specific point which may or may not be movable whilst in use (entry level scrying will tend to require pre-placed sensors). Audio feed is not guaranteed2 and the viewer is only likely to be able to see what he would be able to see from that point - in fact, the scrying feed may be less capable if the viewer in person would be able to see outside the normal visual range or is capable of trueseeing or something similar. Equally the scrying could upgrade the viewer's capability (this would be a nice bonus for high end speculae) by adding some or all of those capabilities, but things like sonar that require physical interaction are unlikely to feature. Interaction with the other end of the scrying is likely to require completely separate workings.

A scrying session may require a full magical working (if the speculum is basically a ritual tool) or simply powering up the speculum (if it is a magic item in its own right) - what this means for resources required and ease of access will vary immensely.

Where scrying is a thing, expect there to be countermeasures - ward magic will probably have quite a lot of techniques for countering it, but passive shielding is likely to be big as well. Countermeasures may be passive (jamming and shielding) and/or active (attempting to disrupt the scrying magic, harm the scryer or damage the speculum) and spoofing (feeding false data to the scryer) may also be an option. Traditionally powerful wizards and supernatural creatures are able to notice people scrying on them to some degree - and may vary in their responses. Tracing a scrying back to the viewer may be entirely possible. Also in some traditions the deadly gaze of a gorgon, basilisk, catoblepas or similar creature may still work, in whole or in part, over a scrying link. Which may make them amusing things to put in locations liable to be scryed upon.

From a thaumatologist's point of view, and assuming that it isn't a discipline in its own right, scrying would seem to belong to the school of divination.


1. full source reference

See Also

Game and Story Use

  • Properly used, especially when accompanied by appropriate communications magic, this technique could provide a fantasy army with C3I capabilities that a modern force would envy.
  • A good way to help your BBEG second-guess PCs - maybe he even scryed on their planning sessions.
  • Keeping unrestricted scrying out of PCs hands can prevent a lot of plot bypasses.
  • The ability to hi-jack, redirect and subvert people's scrying would be a potent one in a setting where there is a lot of it about.
  • The Palantiri from Tolkein's Lord of the Rings were originally scrying devices (the ever popular crystal ball format) as well as communications devices - canonically, these were not as much use as they might have been, especially after Sauron subverted the network. Not to mention the scrambling of the Minas Tirith device by Denethor's suicide…
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