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5E Counterspell: Non-blind version

Dausuul

Legend
Xanathar's Guide to Everything introduced new rules for identifying spells. To identify a spell, you have to use a reaction as it's being cast, or take an action on the following turn, and make an Arcana check. Obviously, this implies that counterspell (which is cast as a reaction) must be used blind, without knowing what you're targeting. When asked, Jeremy Crawford confirmed that this was the design intent. The designers feel counterspell is too powerful if you know what you're countering ahead of time.

I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, I like the bluff-counterbluff aspect to it: Is my opponent casting a powerful spell that I want to counter? Or is he or she bluffing with a cantrip, in hopes of burning my spell slots? And I tend to agree that counterspell is too strong if you have perfect information. However, applying this rule means slowing down combat significantly when casters are involved. You can't just announce your spell, you have to announce a spell, then wait to see if anyone tries to counter it, then say what it was. There's a whole thread on that topic here.

So, I set out to rewrite counterspell in a way that would preserve that bluff/counterbluff element, and would (roughly) maintain the intended power level, but would allow people to announce their spells. Here's what I came up with; would be interested in feedback.

Counterspell
You interrupt another spellcaster as he or she is casting a spell. If the target spell is a cantrip, it is automatically disrupted and fails. Otherwise, a contest of power takes place, as the enemy caster tries to force the spell through while you try to disrupt it. Whoever commits more power to the contest wins.

In a contest of power, you and your opponent each decide what level spell slot (minimum 1) you will lose if you are defeated. You must choose level 3 or less; your opponent must choose a level less than or equal to the slot used for the target spell. Make your choices in secret, and reveal them at the same time. Whoever chose a higher level wins the contest.

  • If you win: The spell is disrupted and has no effect. Your opponent recovers the slot used to cast it, then loses a slot of the level he or she chose.
  • If your opponent wins: The spell takes effect normally. You recover the slot used for counterspell, then lose a slot of the level you chose.
  • If there is a tie: You are locked in a deadly battle of wills. You can choose to surrender. If you don't, you lose 2d6 hit points, then your opponent makes the same choice. Continue until one of you surrenders or is reduced to 0 hit points. That person loses the contest, with effects as above.
Example: Your opponent casts fireball, a 3rd-level spell, and you cast counterspell. You choose level 1, and your opponent chooses level 2. Your opponent wins. Fireball takes effect (costing a 3rd-level slot as normal). You get back the slot you spent on counterspell, then lose a 1st-level slot.

Example: The same situation, but you choose level 2 and your opponent chooses level 1. You win. Counterspell takes effect (costing a 3rd-level slot as normal) and the enemy spell fails. Your opponent gets back the slot she spent on fireball, then loses a 1st-level slot.

At higher levels: For each level above 3, you can choose a slot 1 level higher in a contest of power (so at 4th level, you can choose a slot up to level 4). Your opponent doesn't know what level slot you used to cast counterspell.
 
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Mort

Adventurer
Supporter
Xanathar's Guide to Everything introduced new rules for identifying spells. To identify a spell, you have to use a reaction as it's being cast, or take an action on the following turn, and make an Arcana check. Obviously, this implies that counterspell (which is cast as a reaction) must be used blind, without knowing what you're targeting. When asked, Jeremy Crawford confirmed that this was the design intent. The designers feel counterspell is too powerful if you know what you're countering ahead of time.

I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, I like the bluff-counterbluff aspect to it: Is my opponent casting a powerful spell that I want to counter? Or is he or she bluffing with a cantrip, in hopes of burning my spell slots? And I tend to agree that counterspell is too strong if you have perfect information. However, applying this rule means slowing down combat significantly when casters are involved. You can't just announce your spell, you have to announce a spell, then wait to see if anyone tries to counter it, then say what it was. There's a whole thread on that topic here.

So, I set out to rewrite counterspell in a way that would preserve that bluff/counterbluff element, and would (roughly) maintain the intended power level, but would allow people to announce their spells. Here's what I came up with; would be interested in feedback.

Counterspell
You interrupt another spellcaster as he or she is casting a spell. If the target spell is a cantrip, it is automatically disrupted and fails. Otherwise, a contest of power takes place, as the enemy caster tries to force the spell through while you try to disrupt it. Whoever commits more power to the contest wins.

In a contest of power, you and your opponent each decide what level spell slot (minimum 1) you will lose if you are defeated. You must choose level 3 or less; your opponent must choose a level less than or equal to the slot used for the target spell. Make your choices in secret, and reveal them at the same time. Whoever chose a higher level wins the contest.

  • If you win: The spell is disrupted and has no effect. Your opponent recovers the slot used to cast it, then loses a slot of the level he or she chose.
  • If your opponent wins: The spell takes effect normally. You recover the slot used for counterspell, then lose a slot of the level you chose.
  • If there is a tie: You are locked in a deadly battle of wills. You can choose to surrender. If you don't, you lose 2d6 hit points, then your opponent makes the same choice. Continue until one of you surrenders or is reduced to 0 hit points. That person loses the contest, with effects as above.
Example: Your opponent casts fireball, a 3rd-level spell, and you cast counterspell. You choose level 1, and your opponent chooses level 2. Your opponent wins. Fireball takes effect (costing a 3rd-level slot as normal). You get back the slot you spent on counterspell, then lose a 1st-level slot.

Example: The same situation, but you choose level 2 and your opponent chooses level 1. You win. Counterspell takes effect (costing a 3rd-level slot as normal) and the enemy spell fails. Your opponent gets back the slot she spent on fireball, then loses a 1st-level slot.

At higher levels: For each level above 3, you can choose a slot 1 level higher in a contest of power (so at 4th level, you can choose a slot up to level 4). Your opponent doesn't know what level slot you used to cast counterspell.
This is an interesting take - and mechanically not bad. In a wizard heavy campaign I could see using this.

But it really shines a spotlight on the wizard (or bard etc.). basically, anytime counterspell comes into play you have a mini wizard duel. To the point where combat stalls until the duel is resolved. I think the spotlight devoted to it could be grating on non-wizard players.

On a technical note: A wizard could shut down a warlock's eldritch blast completely with this method. The warlock technically can't go above 0 with his blast. so the wizard just uses a level one slot to automatically counter. On the flip side, the wizard would have to (assuming he knew to) up his counters against high level warlock's invocations because they may be automatically above 3rd level, so that may balance out a bit.
 

Dausuul

Legend
This is an interesting take - and mechanically not bad. In a wizard heavy campaign I could see using this.

But it really shines a spotlight on the wizard (or bard etc.). basically, anytime counterspell comes into play you have a mini wizard duel. To the point where combat stalls until the duel is resolved. I think the spotlight devoted to it could be grating on non-wizard players.
Hmm. That's a good point. On the other hand, most of the time the whole party has a big investment in the success of the wizard PC's counterspell. I'll have to think about that one.

On a technical note: A wizard could shut down a warlock's eldritch blast completely with this method. The warlock technically can't go above 0 with his blast. so the wizard just uses a level one slot to automatically counter.
Doesn't work. You don't get a contest if the target spell is a cantrip, and even if you did, it's only the loser of the contest who gets a "refund" on the spell slot. I can imagine circumstances where it would be worth burning a 3rd-level slot to shut down a cantrip, but most of the time it's going to be a poor trade.
 

Mort

Adventurer
Supporter
Doesn't work. You don't get a contest if the target spell is a cantrip, and even if you did, it's only the loser of the contest who gets a "refund" on the spell slot. I can imagine circumstances where it would be worth burning a 3rd-level slot to shut down a cantrip, but most of the time it's going to be a poor trade.
Ah, because it's automatically countered the jockeying of spell levels never even starts so no chance of only a first level slot.

What about the other situation, Warlock spells are still spells (so should/can be countered), but the mechanics are quite different. It works with the standard system because the spell level is set, but would be a bit of a wonky fit here (as the warlock has no variable slots to offer up).

thoughts?
 

Azzy

Newtype
IMO, it seems unnecessary to go through the trouble to rewrite the spell, when it would be easier to just modify the (optional) rule from Xanathar's Guide.

Keep the rule as is with the simple change that allows identifying to be done as part of the same reaction as the counterspell. As for allowing an element of bluffing, when the counterspelling caster tries to identify the spell being cast and the first caster is actively trying to bluff, the identification check is opposed by the first caster's (Cha) Deception check + spell's level instead of the static DC per the standard rules.
 

Dausuul

Legend
IMO, it seems unnecessary to go through the trouble to rewrite the spell, when it would be easier to just modify the (optional) rule from Xanathar's Guide.

Keep the rule as is with the simple change that allows identifying to be done as part of the same reaction as the counterspell. As for allowing an element of bluffing, when the counterspelling caster tries to identify the spell being cast and the first caster is actively trying to bluff, the identification check is opposed by the first caster's (Cha) Deception check + spell's level instead of the static DC per the standard rules.
That doesn't solve my problem, which is the interruption of the flow of combat. Instead of just saying what you're doing and carrying on, you have to say "I'm casting a spell," and then stop and wait for responses. And you have to do that with every single spell, cantrips included (because you might use a cantrip to bluff another caster into counterspelling). If you're a primary caster, that's going to be 90% of your combat actions. And if you forget and blurt out what you're doing, now anyone considering a counterspell has to try and erase that information from their mind before deciding whether to do it.

I would much prefer to assume that spell identification is a non-issue, and then if counterspell is a problem, fix counterspell. I don't think it makes sense to warp all of spellcasting around this one spell.
 
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Yaarel

Adventurer
Looking at the official description of Counterspell, it says the spell automatically works if the spell to counter is spell 3 or lower. Only if it is spell 4 or higher is it necessary to check for success.

I consider the following ruling to be fair. When you cast Counterspell as a reaction, you automatically know if the spell is level 3 or lower, exactly which spell level it is, and which spell it is. If the spell is spell level 4 or higher, you know no information about it. You can then decide whether you use the Counterspell or not, but at least you know, if it is spell 4 or higher, it might be worth the gamble to counter it. If you decide to not use Counterspell, you still lose your reaction, but you can still keep the spell slot to use later.

Note, if you use a higher level spell slot, you get information about higher level spells, that seems ok. Worth the price of deciding to spend the higher level spell slot.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Ah, because it's automatically countered the jockeying of spell levels never even starts so no chance of only a first level slot.

What about the other situation, Warlock spells are still spells (so should/can be countered), but the mechanics are quite different. It works with the standard system because the spell level is set, but would be a bit of a wonky fit here (as the warlock has no variable slots to offer up).

thoughts?
It's true that, absent multi-classing or spell-granting feats, warlocks don't really have any decisions to make in the contest. All your spell slots are the same level, so you're going to lose a slot of that level regardless. That could be exploited by an opponent who figures out that you're a warlock and correctly guesses your level. They can either choose a slot of level X+1 (where X is your slot level), to guarantee victory in the contest, or a slot of level 1 to minimize the cost of defeat.

However, it's not all that easy to peg a warlock's level right away. I think it would be okay, but would need some testing.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
IMO, it seems unnecessary to go through the trouble to rewrite the spell, when it would be easier to just modify the (optional) rule from Xanathar's Guide.
Yep. I wouldn't necessarily change the check itself, but maybe not require the check in the first place if you have identified the same spell before (or if you know the spell yourself).

I think it would work fairly and be overall simple enough:

- the spell is among your known spells > automatically identifies, reaction to counterspell
- the spell is not among your known spells, but you previously succeeded at identifying it > automatically identifies, reaction to counterspell
- the spell is not among your known spells > reaction to identify (no counterspell) or reaction to counterspell blindly

It's not even a change to the rules, it's just an application of the base rule that the DM decides when a check is necessary or not.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
How about the even simpler change that is ignoring the designers entirely here?

Then, if YOU feel Counterspell is too powerful in YOUR campaign, say "You cannot cast Counterspell if you cast Counterspell in your previous turn."

That is, you can only use Counterspell every other turn.

That should ensure you can't shut down a caster entirely (unless you're two casters against one, which seems much more balanced).

And this is accomplished with no complexity or game slow-down.

Sent from my C6603 using EN World mobile app
 

Yaarel

Adventurer
Yep. I wouldn't necessarily change the check itself, but maybe not require the check in the first place if you have identified the same spell before (or if you know the spell yourself).
That seems fair too. The hero automatically recognizes any spell that is personally known.
 

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