The section "A Clear Path to the Target", on page 205 of the PHB states "To target something, you must have a clear path to it, so it can’t be behind total cover."

The description of the Scrying spell contains the following text:

You can see and hear a particular creature you choose that is on the same plane of existence as you. The target must make a Wisdom saving throw, which is modified by how well you know the target and the sort of physical connection you have to it. If a target knows you're casting this spell, it can fail the saving throw voluntarily if it wants to be observed.

(Emphasis mine)

Additionally, it says:

Instead of targeting a creature, you can choose a location you have seen before as the target of this spell. When you do, the sensor appears at that location and doesn't move.

(Emphasis mine, again)

By RAW, does this mean that you can't target a creature or location that you can't already see or that is behind total cover from you? This seems to make the spell entirely useless, along with most spells that are commonly used for spying or long-range communication.

Personally, as a DM I am tempted to just throw out this entire section; it doesn't really add anything and I doubt it's worth the headache or ruining large parts of the game. However, I would like to figure out the RAW just so I know what I'm overriding, if at all. Am I missing something or is Scrying basically useless?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: "What counts as a target for a spell" \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 20:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 I would prefer not to, your answer is the one I've accepted, the other ones really don't make much sense to me at all. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 1:26

3 Answers 3


The range of Scrying is "self", so the caster targets him/herself first

The spellcasting rules says that the target must be withing range:

The target of a spell must be within the spell's range

However, range of Scrying is "self", so initially the caster is targeting self, not the creature he/she is scrying:


5th-leveI divination

Casting Time: 10 minutes
Range: Self

You can see and hear a particular creature you choose that is on the same plane of existence as you...

After you target self and cast the spell, the spell effect gives you an ability to "see and hear a particular creature you choose". The "target" mentioned afterwards means this "particular creature" and does not obey the general rule for targeting — it has its own specific rules based on the target familiarity.

Furthermore, RAW a clear path to the target is required when the spell affects the target:

A typical spell requires you to pick one or more targets to be affected by the spell's magic. A spell's description tells you whether the spell targets creatures, objects, or a point of origin for an area of effect

The Scrying spell does not affect the target, it "creates a sensor":

the spell creates an invisible sensor within 10 feet of the target

I guess it's another reason why "A Clear Path to the Target" might not be applied.

Third reason — the common sense. There is little or no sense in a scrying spell, that requires you to see the person you're scrying in order to work. If a DM adjudicate Scrying this way, nobody won't use this spell in their games.

Final verdict: No, the Scrying spell does not require you to have a clear path to the target.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 5:18

In the scrying spell the line

"You can see and hear a particular creature you choose that is on the same plane of existence as you."

gives you the range. You can use the spell on any creature, anywhere on that plane, as long as it is the same plane as you are currently on. The use of the word target is simply used to designate the creature you are making the subject of the spell. It is incorrect to think that the same restrictions for a combat target apply. One is a noun 'the target', the other is a verb 'to target'. As intended the spell is meant to be allow remote viewing of a creature or place that you know of in some way. The spell is most definitely not useless.

Here's another example from the Sending spell:

You can send the message across any distance and even to other planes of existence, but if the target is on a different plane than you, there is a 5 percent chance that the message doesn’t arrive.

Clearly, in this case, even though the word target is used, the spell is not intended to blocked by line of sight or cover.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I feel that if you target something it becomes a target, and if something is a target then you've targeted it \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 20:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you disagree with the range part of the question though? And do you really think the Scrying spell is only to be used on things in visual range? I think you're getting overly hung up on the semantics of your interpretation. \$\endgroup\$
    – Steve
    Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 20:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ I definitely agree that your answers expresses the intent of the spell, the asker was just wondering strictly about what happens if you over-apply/abuse/strictly_follow the Rules As Written \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 20:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question is about Rules As Written, not Rules As Intended. Therefore, the intent of this spell, which I already knew, isn't relevant. RAW, it seems that Sending also fails automatically if you don't have a clear path to the target, and is functionally useless by RAW except for covert messages only heard by the speaker and target, something which most likely could be accomplished with Message. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 22:52

This is probably a case where a specific rule (for how you select Scrying's target) overrides a general rule (that you must be able to see your spell's targets). The spell has rules about the target, and for it to be of any value to the caster, those rules must replace the normal targeting rules. It's useless to scry on somebody you can already see after all!

Alas, the writers of 5e spells are not always consistent when something related to a spell as a target and they seldom call out when a spell's specific rules override the general targeting rules. So, as in all unclear situations, the DM at your table will probably need to make a ruling on how it works for your game. I think that for Scrying it will be fairly easy for them to say you don't need to see a creature or location target (since becoming able to see around them is the whole point of the spell), but for other spells there may be more than one reasonable interpretation.

It may be worth while for the players of spellcasting characters to ask their DM for interpretations of spells before they pick them for their characters. If an unusual situation comes up with a new spell and the player and DM haven't discussed it in advance, it may make sense for the player to be allowed to pick a different spell if the DM rules that it works differently than the player expected.

  • \$\begingroup\$ It is notable that there are other spells which explicitly remove the cover requirement such as sacred flame " The target gains no benefit from cover for this saving throw." Or rather, is there evidence to support your statement "and they seldom call out when a spell's specific rules override the general targeting rules." which is precisely what sacred flame does \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 20:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer is the most accurate: the specific ("on the same plane of existence") overrides the general requirement of needing a clear path. However, I would edit the second paragraph: the rules do not include many such overrides, not because the writers were lazy or sloppy, but because there are so few of them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rykara
    Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 22:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ What is there to stop the multitude of spells that say "Choose a target within range" or "Choose a creature you can see within range" from applying the same rule and being applicable to any target that fulfills those conditions? If this were the case of specific beats general, it should work in both situations. If not, it should be an additional restriction in both situations(can't scry on a target even with a clear path but on another plane, ie path goes through a portal). How would you reconcile your answer with these identical situations that are implied to be ruled oppositely? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 2, 2019 at 2:11

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