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5E Counterspell proof and Verbal components

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Official stand (listed in the Sage Advice Compendium) is that the Subtle metamagic prevents Counterspelling because you can not tell a spell is being cast.

If a sorcerer casts a spell with only verbal or somatic components using Subtle Spell, can an opponent use counterspell against it? If a spell that’s altered by Subtle Spell has no material component, then it’s impossible for anyone to perceive the spell being cast. So, since you can’t see the casting, counterspell is of no use.

This is backed up by the Perceiving a Caster at Work section of Xanathar's Guide to Everything (pg 85).

So it would follow that a spell without Verbal components would not be eligible to be counterspells if the caster was Invisible or hidden during the casting for the same reason - the Counterspeller would not be able to perceive the spell being cast.

Which leads me to the question of recognizing Verbal components to determine if a spell is being cast. If the Counterspeller is in Silence they would not be able to detect the Verbal components even assuming they could cast (such as with Subtle). Same if the Counterspeller was Deafened.

Just as a creature may not be seen, and can hide in order to improve those chances, what is the equivalent for hearing Verbal components.

The PHB gives no guidance about how loud Verbal components are:

Most spells require the chanting of mystic words. The words themselves aren't the source of the spell's power; rather, the particular combination of sounds, with specific pitch and resonance, sets the threads of magic in motion. Thus, a character who is gagged or in an area of silence, such as one created by the silence spell, can't cast a spell with a verbal component.

Now, all that is needed is to recognize a spell is being cast, which seems like a lower bar than making out the actual words or identifying the spell. But is always a given that Verbal components are heard, or could either environmental conditions (loud, windy, etc.) and/or a character attempting to hide the Verbal components (speaking softly, etc.) that could potentially cause the Counterspeller not to perceive the casting?

And the flip side - is it possible to use an action to mimic casting such that a Counterspeller perceives a spell is being cast. As per Xanathar's it is possible to cast a spell without a valid target - to no effect and the slot is lost. Such as using an action to mimic casting and if the Counterspeller is deceived and uses their reaction to cast a Counterspell, then casting a Bonus Action spell.
 

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Nebulous

Legend
And the flip side - is it possible to use an action to mimic casting such that a Counterspeller perceives a spell is being cast. As per Xanathar's it is possible to cast a spell without a valid target - to no effect and the slot is lost. Such as using an action to mimic casting and if the Counterspeller is deceived and uses their reaction to cast a Counterspell, then casting a Bonus Action spell.

First off, I want to say I hate counterspelling and banned it in my game for PCs and NPCs. I like the idea of it, but not the implementation in 5e. I don't like enemies spells so easily thwarted, and I don't like it as a player wasting their turn, slot and plan. It feels cheap either way. Counterspelling I feel should be something special, something you specifically train in, and maybe even a feat or a subclass feature.

Now, that out of the way, the idea of "faking" a spell to waste an enemy's Counterspell, well, that is pretty clever and I wouldn't see why it wouldn't work. What if you're casting fireball and you go through the motions but don't use the material component (bat guano and sulfur). For all intents and purposes an enemy spellcaster - in that snapshot of time available - would think you are casting a spell and try to counter it.

But a player would hate that, and argue, "Well, if there wasn't actual magical energy in the ether to be countered, then my slot wouldn't be expended, just the action." Or something like that.

I rather just not mess with the whole thing and not even use the dang spell. And thankfully avoid "I counter his counterspell!" argument.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Eh, works for me.

I don't have any issue with Counterspell in my game. It doesn't break my heart when the players interrupt my NPC spellcasters and monsters, and they don't complain when I interrupt theirs.

And I don't have a problem with this optional rule that @Blue suggests, either. It makes sense that a spellcaster might try to subtly hide the verbal components of their spell in order to sneak a spell past someone. And it makes sense that a spellcaster would need to be able to hear a verbal component and understand it for what it is, before they can counterspell.

Opposed Intelligence (Arcana) checks would be my mechanic of choice for resolving this, but it's certainly not the only tool in the DM's toolbox.
 
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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Opposed Intelligence (Arcana) checks would be my mechanic of choice for resolving this, but it's certainly not the only tool in the DM's toolbox.

I was thinking something like Deception (using spellcasting stat) for the fake-caster, and Insight (optional to use the spellcasting stat) for the counterspeller. As you said, though, there are a lot of tools in the kit.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
Now, all that is needed is to recognize a spell is being cast, which seems like a lower bar than making out the actual words or identifying the spell. But is always a given that Verbal components are heard, or could either environmental conditions (loud, windy, etc.) and/or a character attempting to hide the Verbal components (speaking softly, etc.) that could potentially cause the Counterspeller not to perceive the casting?
Possibly!

To hide S components, you might make a slight of hand check. For verbal, deception?

The environment might apply penalties
And the flip side - is it possible to use an action to mimic casting such that a Counterspeller perceives a spell is being cast. As per Xanathar's it is possible to cast a spell without a valid target - to no effect and the slot is lost. Such as using an action to mimic casting and if the Counterspeller is deceived and uses their reaction to cast a Counterspell, then casting a Bonus Action spell.
Well, blue, that sounds like a deception action, opposed by either arcana or insight on the other side.

---

For Counterspell, one thing I've been considering is "while casting a spell with a component, you cannot cast another spell with the same component".

As Counterspell is S that means you cannot counterspell a counterspell if your original spell had a S component. You are still casting the initial spell, so your hands are busy.
 

….But is always a given that Verbal components are heard...?

Sage Advice defers to the DM how loud casting is. Being heard obviously isn't the qualifier for a spell to work; otherwise the loud noise of a waterfall would cancel any spell. In original AD&D, which at times I look for design intent, the supplement Complete Wizard said, consistent with common sense and the infamous Evil Dead 3 scene, that the casting had to be clearly enunciated, so no mumbling the words out.

In this light, the intent was at one point, and still today in some fashion, that attempting to cast while whispering, underwater, gagged, and so on distorts the way the sound comes out and is no longer consistent with clear enunciation. Since gagging doesn't kill noise, just distorts it, and gagging cancels spells, this reinforces the spellcasting must be clearly enunciated. There may be X factors out there that affect whether someone hears it, such as a waterfall, but by default, I believe the casting must be clear.

As to how loud clear is: this level of specificity was abandoned by 5E. In 3rd edition, it was a DC 0 Listen (Perception) check to hear someone talking in a normal tone, and +1 to the DC for every 10 feet away the person was. Making out what specifically was being said added to the DC. So, if we want to impose a simple "house rule" that you can hear normal talking (aka casting) equal to 10 feet x Passive Perception score, we could, modified by environmental factors. But, I think it's better to fall back on common sense as Sage Advice and all games pre-D&D 3rd did. It's too much math, too little gain.

...is it possible to use an action to mimic casting such that a Counterspeller perceives a spell is being cast....

Absolutely and consistent with Xanathar's Guide on illegal targets. If I make an illusion of an orc shaman casting a spell, it's a great way to lure out Counterspell.

We also have inspiration from Dark Sun (AD&D, 3rd edition Dragon Magazine conversion), wherein wizards had to hide casting as part of the flavor of the world, and would use Sleight of Hand style abilities to, at the least, make the somatic and material part look like something else. On the flipside, what's to keep someone from using their knowledge of the Arcane to pretend to be casting?

Now, if someone started waving their arms around, I'd probably permit a contested Arcana check for a trained caster to know this isn't legit (perhaps an Arcana check modified by Charisma for the deception of it).
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
In this light, the intent was at one point, and still today in some fashion, that attempting to cast while whispering, underwater, gagged, and so on distorts the way the sound comes out and is no longer consistent with clear enunciation. Since gagging doesn't kill noise, just distorts it, and gagging cancels spells, this reinforces the spellcasting must be clearly enunciated. There may be X factors out there that affect whether someone hears it, such as a waterfall, but by default, I believe the casting must be clear.

This make a lot of sense to me.

As to how loud clear is: this level of specificity was abandoned by 5E. In 3rd edition, it was a DC 0 Listen (Perception) check to hear someone talking in a normal tone, and +1 to the DC for every 10 feet away the person was. Making out what specifically was being said added to the DC. So, if we want to impose a simple "house rule" that you can hear normal talking (aka casting) equal to 10 feet x Passive Perception score, we could, modified by environmental factors. But, I think it's better to fall back on common sense as Sage Advice and all games pre-D&D 3rd did. It's too much math, too little gain.

Yeah, I'm generally for streamlining - no one making a big deal out of hiding it, it's not hidden. Only looking for the side case of someone hiding it. From my perspective, just hearing it is enough to recognize it as magic and not conversation to decide if you want to Counterspell so it's not as hard as making out the words for a conversation.
 

AriochQ

Adventurer
I also dislike counterspell. It is either the 'hard no' to a player action, or we counter the counter, putting us back where we started. On the NPC side, it either makes combat too easy (NPC spells are negated) or it takes much longer than normal (cast, counter, counter, rinse, repeat).

The issue I would have with some sort of deception would that pretending to cast a spell would likely take the same amount of time as casting a spell. So the character would use an action to pretend to cast. There are bonus action spells, but I wouldn't let a character 'pretend' to cast as a bonus action. That means the only spell they could cast (short of action surge or wild magic surge) would be a bonus action spell.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
The issue I would have with some sort of deception would that pretending to cast a spell would likely take the same amount of time as casting a spell. So the character would use an action to pretend to cast. There are bonus action spells, but I wouldn't let a character 'pretend' to cast as a bonus action. That means the only spell they could cast (short of action surge or wild magic surge) would be a bonus action spell.

It hasn't come up in the games I'm running, but I'd be willing to allow it (mechanics undetermined at the moment) and I'd be happy with having it cost an action. Maybe it's worth it to draw out a counterspell, especially if you have another caster in the party.
 

Nebulous

Legend
This is Counterspell from Dungeon World, and it is a mid level class ability of the Summoner/Abjurer specialty class. It's not something just anyone can "pick" as a third level spell, and the summoner has many, many other options to choose from, this is just one of them.

Counterspell When you attempt to counter an arcane spell that will otherwise affect you, stake one of your prepared spells on the defense and roll+INT. On a 10+, the spell is countered and has no effect on you. On a 7-9, the spell is countered and you forget the spell that you staked. Your counterspell protects you alone; if the countered spell has other targets they are affected as normal.

On a failed 1-6 the slot is lost and the spell is not countered and you gain 1 XP and the GM gets to make a move, which puts the PC in a bad spot and pushes the scene forward.

At levels 6-10 you have the option of upgrading Counterspell.

Transmuting Counter Requires: Counterspell When you successfully counter a spell, you transmute the magic into the spell you staked, which affects the target of the countered spell instead.
 
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Nebulous

Legend
If you're curious, this is how Dispel Magic works in Dungeon World:

Dispel Magic 3rd Level Choose a spell or magic effect in your presence: this spell rips it apart. Lesser spells are ended, powerful magic is just reduced or dampened so long as you are nearby.

Like the D&D dispel magic, the effect is immediate, but the DM decides what constitutes "lesser magic" and with all spells in DW, there is a chance of spell failure. And there's a chance you roll well and casts spells all day long too. It's a far more narrative game than D&D where the story is pushed in front of the rules, so how you (the player and GM) describe the action dictates the results.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
The issue I would have with some sort of deception would that pretending to cast a spell would likely take the same amount of time as casting a spell. So the character would use an action to pretend to cast. There are bonus action spells, but I wouldn't let a character 'pretend' to cast as a bonus action. That means the only spell they could cast (short of action surge or wild magic surge) would be a bonus action spell.

And at times, spending an action to get the foe to waste a 3rd level slot is just the right move. Or even just to waste their Reaction so they can't Counterspell a different character later in the same round.

The "this isn't efficient so I don't think we should allow it" seems odd. We let wizards attack with a quarterstaff with their strength, which is a massively inefficient use of an action. Why not let the chance that someone could be clever?
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Official stand (listed in the Sage Advice Compendium) is that the Subtle metamagic prevents Counterspelling because you can not tell a spell is being cast.



This is backed up by the Perceiving a Caster at Work section of Xanathar's Guide to Everything (pg 85).

So it would follow that a spell without Verbal components would not be eligible to be counterspells if the caster was Invisible or hidden during the casting for the same reason - the Counterspeller would not be able to perceive the spell being cast.

Which leads me to the question of recognizing Verbal components to determine if a spell is being cast. If the Counterspeller is in Silence they would not be able to detect the Verbal components even assuming they could cast (such as with Subtle). Same if the Counterspeller was Deafened.

Just as a creature may not be seen, and can hide in order to improve those chances, what is the equivalent for hearing Verbal components.

The PHB gives no guidance about how loud Verbal components are:



Now, all that is needed is to recognize a spell is being cast, which seems like a lower bar than making out the actual words or identifying the spell. But is always a given that Verbal components are heard, or could either environmental conditions (loud, windy, etc.) and/or a character attempting to hide the Verbal components (speaking softly, etc.) that could potentially cause the Counterspeller not to perceive the casting?

And the flip side - is it possible to use an action to mimic casting such that a Counterspeller perceives a spell is being cast. As per Xanathar's it is possible to cast a spell without a valid target - to no effect and the slot is lost. Such as using an action to mimic casting and if the Counterspeller is deceived and uses their reaction to cast a Counterspell, then casting a Bonus Action spell.
Could also trick them into a Counterspell because they keep using Shield, so you make them think that you’re gonna Fireball their ass.
 

Official stand (listed in the Sage Advice Compendium) is that the Subtle metamagic prevents Counterspelling because you can not tell a spell is being cast.



This is backed up by the Perceiving a Caster at Work section of Xanathar's Guide to Everything (pg 85).

So it would follow that a spell without Verbal components would not be eligible to be counterspells if the caster was Invisible or hidden during the casting for the same reason - the Counterspeller would not be able to perceive the spell being cast.
Counterspell requires you to see the target, so an invisible or hidden caster cannot be counterspelled even if he's shouting "LIGHTNING BOLT!" at the top of his lungs.

Which leads me to the question of recognizing Verbal components to determine if a spell is being cast. If the Counterspeller is in Silence they would not be able to detect the Verbal components even assuming they could cast (such as with Subtle). Same if the Counterspeller was Deafened.
The counterspeller could still detect any Somatic or Material components to the spell being cast. Counterspell itself only has a Somatic component, so it can be cast perfectly fine in Silence.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
The counterspeller could still detect any Somatic or Material components to the spell being cast. Counterspell itself only has a Somatic component, so it can be cast perfectly fine in Silence.

Which might make it harder to recognize that someone is fake-casting.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Counterspell requires you to see the target, so an invisible or hidden caster cannot be counterspelled even if he's shouting "LIGHTNING BOLT!" at the top of his lungs.
Interesting. Counterspell lists no target, but does mention creature.

Everyone, what's your feel on this? Does invisibilty/hidden prevent counterspelling even if Verbal components are heard because there is no line of sight?

The counterspeller could still detect any Somatic or Material components to the spell being cast. Counterspell itself only has a Somatic component, so it can be cast perfectly fine in Silence.

That was in context of invisibility/hidden.
 

Interesting. Counterspell lists no target, but does mention creature.

Everyone, what's your feel on this? Does invisibilty/hidden prevent counterspelling even if Verbal components are heard because there is no line of sight?
It's unambiguous. Counterspell doesn't list a target, but as it is a reaction it has a clearly defined trigger: "when you see a creature within 60 feet of you casting a spell."

If you don't see a creature casting a spell, you cannot cast counterspell.
 

AriochQ

Adventurer
The "this isn't efficient so I don't think we should allow it" seems odd. We let wizards attack with a quarterstaff with their strength, which is a massively inefficient use of an action. Why not let the chance that someone could be clever?

I wasn't saying I wouldn't allow it, but you can get the same result by casting a cantrip first, drawing the counterspell, and then casting your bonus action spell (or vice versa). Of course, RAW you would be unable to then use your reaction on your turn to counter another spell since you cast a BA spell. So, the deception method does have that advantage.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Supporter
It's unambiguous. Counterspell doesn't list a target, but as it is a reaction it has a clearly defined trigger: "when you see a creature within 60 feet of you casting a spell."

If you don't see a creature casting a spell, you cannot cast counterspell.
Good thing to keep in mind, thanks.
 

I concur with the comments about counterspell being clearly defined about someone needing to see the spell being cast. So yes, in the event you can cast a spell without a verbal component and the would be counterspeller is unaware of your presence I do in fact rule that they can't counterspell. For me it's all about mechanical costs vs. benefits, if a player spends the time and effect hiding or spends a spell slot (i.e. invisibility, or counterspelling a counterspell to ensure their original spell gets off, so be it). In regards to the double counterspell thing, I often find in actual play what tends to happen far more often is it is the monsters doing the second counterspell to ensure a big aoe spell goes off on the party, in which case I look to the player and say, "look on the bright side, you've prevented the enemy from casting another fireball or worse". Quite valuable in a game where action economy is key.

As for the age old arguement about doing stuff like deception checks or the like to hide spell components/gestures/etc. I bring up that my main concern is not making subtle spell worthless or stepping on the toes of the sorcerer. The ENTIRE point of it is to cast your spells without getting caught. Yes, it does still allow them to be cast in silence but that is something one should keep in mind.

To help mitigate this issue I rule at my table that any spell with a verbal component has a supernatural quality to it. The component itself isn't merely just saying a word, it is speaking it with intent. One can't whisper spellwords. They have a supernatural quality to them that is obvious to even a layman that something magical is happening. The average commoner may not know the difference between a healing spell or a fireball, but that something is happening. That's where an arcana check comes in to learn more.

Not obviously rules as written, but I'd argue this was their intent with the game. You are more than welcome to allow casters to do stuff like hide spells or feint casting a spell. The latter is less problematic, though I'd allow either an Insight or Arcana check to see through their deception attempt either way, and in any world where hiding magic is common any town worth their salt would have guards or mages specifically trained to be vigilant watching for such spellcaster deceptions. Like every town would have an apprentice mage at minimum accompanying a ruler at all times. ..worldbuilding implications aside, it's mainly a concern with what is more fun at your table and not screwing over a player who decides to pick sorcerer with subtle spell by letting every bard or wizard do it for free.
 

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