D&D 5E Do you allow a spell to be identified before counterspelling?

Do you allow the player to know the spell cast before they counterspell?

  • No, they can either counterspell or identify the spell as it is cast, not both.

  • Yes, I tell them the spell and they can then decide whether to counterspell or not

  • Something else


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Li Shenron

Legend
I meant in-character of course :)

By "during this campaign" I was just trying to say "on screen". If the spell is as common as for instance Magic Missile, I could assume a Wizard has seen it "off screen" even if technically it didn't happen during actual gameplay.
Just a clarification - are you saying you wouldn't require a check if the player has seen the spell cast in one of your campaigns before? Or are you saying some characters port over to other campaigns?
 

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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
So, the Identifying a Spell rule in XGtE is optional, not RAW. There is not RAW for if spells can be identified automatically or not. As such, it's up to the GM.

I haven't had any issues, so I haven't engaged with it and usually announce the spell as it's cast. If a player wants to counterspell, they can, provided they meet the requirements (counterspell has a rather short range). This is better for me, at the moment, because I don't have to bog down the action with, "the enemy is casting a spell" and either prompting or waiting a five count for any reactions. Also avoids, the declaration, then me announcing the effect, and the player piping up "I was muted! I wanted to counterspell!" It, again at the moment, doesn't seem to be a big issue for me. If my NPCs get counterspelled, I'm not terribly concerned about it -- there's more where they came from.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
So, the Identifying a Spell rule in XGtE is optional, not RAW. There is not RAW for if spells can be identified automatically or not. As such, it's up to the GM.

I haven't had any issues, so I haven't engaged with it and usually announce the spell as it's cast. If a player wants to counterspell, they can, provided they meet the requirements (counterspell has a rather short range). This is better for me, at the moment, because I don't have to bog down the action with, "the enemy is casting a spell" and either prompting or waiting a five count for any reactions. Also avoids, the declaration, then me announcing the effect, and the player piping up "I was muted! I wanted to counterspell!" It, again at the moment, doesn't seem to be a big issue for me. If my NPCs get counterspelled, I'm not terribly concerned about it -- there's more where they came from.
Agreed. I'm putting that spell into chat as it's being cast. They can decide if they want to counterspell it or not. I really don't feel like anything is gained by the guess-what-spell-this-is minigame. If anything, it just slows things down and I'm generally against slowing things down.
 

cbwjm

Legend
I normally say something like "the necromancer casts death spell" so the players definitely know what's coming.

As is, I'm thinking of changing counterspell/dispel magic to a contested roll using your spellcasting ability as each caster tries to wrestle with the magical forces they are attempting to control. The spell slot spent on a spell would essentially be a bonus to the roll.
 

Stalker0

Legend
Was it a matter of bogging play down? Counterspell being way too common?
It was mainly the second. My players would always have someone who could counterspell, and as I DM I hated my spells just getting knocked down all the time.

Then I really hated using against the players too, as not only am I taking out their action, but their spell slot too.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
So, counterspell is coming up more and more in my group. I've been letting the spellcasters know the spell cast before counterspelling.

But I'm thinking of stopping that. Basically they know a spell is cast, and they have to decide whether to counterspell before knowing it (This is per Xanathar's).

Thoughts on either way?
I allow one player to use their reaction to make the check, and then share that knowledge in time for the other player to counterspell. It feels like a fair trade for two reactions.
 

I name the spell if it is a spell they are likely to be familiar with, which I consider to be (more or less) all level 1-3 spells (in a ubiquitous magic setting like the Forgotten Realms), any spell the character has cast themself or seen cast multiple times, and spells on their own spell list of a level they could cast. I have them make an arcana check without using their reaction if it is on their own class list and a little above their level, or related to a spell they are very familiar with. I also name it if the enemy is casting a spell they already cast in that combat. None of that is really hard and fast, but the basic principle is that if it is a spell they are reasonably likely to instantly recognize I don't want to penalize them, and I think they should at least know if it is a cantrip or a leveled spell.

And, of course, I often name the spell by accident because the majority of games I've run or played in have not had someone frequently using counterspell.
 

I know the RAW method. I have house ruled it slightly. If it is on their spell list and of a level they could theoretically cast, the character can attempt an Arcana check without advantage, but not using their reaction. If they fail this check, I give them a false answer, rather than tell them they aren't sure. If they are making that much of a snap judgement, they take their chances.
Do you also tell the player that they failed the Arcana check? If so, now the player knows what spell it isn’t. How is that handled at the table?
 

Voadam

Legend
I've only experienced this on the player side, but usually neither I as DM nor the DMs I have had speak in spell names when describing the action. It might be "It gestures and three bolts of force fly out striking Gumar in the chest." but generally not "it casts magic missile, three bolts, all at Gumar." But that would be completely normal on the PC end to communicate to the DM your action "I cast magic missile, three bolts all at the hag."

In my last game I had it and once I got used to using it I would just fling it the first time an enemy caster started to cast. The first couple games after my wizard got it I kept cursing myself as only remembering I could use it after the fight was over and we had been pummeled with spells.

So once I got the rhythm of it the games would usually go "The hag casts a spe-" "Counterspell!"
 

Quickleaf

Legend
So, counterspell is coming up more and more in my group. I've been letting the spellcasters know the spell cast before counterspelling.

But I'm thinking of stopping that. Basically they know a spell is cast, and they have to decide whether to counterspell before knowing it (This is per Xanathar's).

Thoughts on either way?
We play with video/voice currently (previously in person), and our combats can get moving so fast that myself and my players completely lose track of signaling "I'm casting a spell" pause "I'm casting dimension door."

Mostly it ends up becoming: "He's casting arms of hadar here, which threatens you and–"

"I cast counterspell!"

My default when it comes to identifying spells is very much a Trust Your Players philosophy. If I know for sure that the PC would recognize (or not recognize) a spell, I'll let the player know. Otherwise, I open it up to the player to decide: Would your PC know what arms of hadar looks like when it's being cast? If they're a warlock, very possibly. If there's a warlock in their party who sometimes casts that spell, definitely. If they're a cleric who hasn't faced any enemies who cast that spell (or could reasonably be assumed to have cast it)? Then they don't recognize it. YMMV, but that seems to work for my players.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
I've only experienced this on the player side, but usually neither I as DM nor the DMs I have had speak in spell names when describing the action. It might be "It gestures and three bolts of force fly out striking Gumar in the chest." but generally not "it casts magic missile, three bolts, all at Gumar." But that would be completely normal on the PC end to communicate to the DM your action "I cast magic missile, three bolts all at the hag."

In my last game I had it and once I got used to using it I would just fling it the first time an enemy caster started to cast. The first couple games after my wizard got it I kept cursing myself as only remembering I could use it after the fight was over and we had been pummeled with spells.

So once I got the rhythm of it the games would usually go "The hag casts a spe-" "Counterspell!"
If this became common - or was known to be common - it would lead to interesting fake-outs.

A mage encountering another mage would know that that mage would counterspell immediately so would throw out a 1st level spell to make that mage waste a higher level slot.

Of course the counterspelling mage would know that the other mage would know and might cast a lower level slot so might wait.

Of course the casting mage would know that the counterspelling mage would know... and my head is starting to hurt.

Realistically though - an action is generally worth more than a reaction. So counterspelling the mages first spell, even if it's lower level is worth it - due to the action economy. Of course it's then also worth the casting mage countering the counterspell (which he suspects is a counterspell because it's unlikely to be anything else, though it could be) with his own reaction to preserve his action economy - and my head is starting to hurt again.
 

Voadam

Legend
and my head is starting to hurt again.
It gets more meta too.

PC "I get these resources back with a long rest, lets blow through everything in my MTG deck that I can."

NPC "If its combat, I'm not expecting to live out this fight. So yeah, lets use those slots to make it interesting."
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Do you also tell the player that they failed the Arcana check?

Nope. They ask. A check is made. They get an answer.

If they rolled like crap, then they can guess they failed. My players are generally good enough to roll with that information, and separate the in-character decision from the out-of-character knowledge.

Plus, knowing what spell it isn't usually doesn't help all that much, since they don't generally know the spell load-out of the enemy.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
In theory, I run it RAW: you only know that a spell is being cast and need to decide form that alone (and the broader context) whether to counterspell.

In practice, I will sometimes say "The lich casts fireball..." and allow the players to interrupt with a counterspell even though they have more knowledge than they "should." This has never felt like a big deal to me.
Same here. The only time I can see this being a big deal is when the DM is trying to do a bit of metagaming. "Okay, the lich is going to cast power word stun on the Fighter. Rats, the the Wizard just counterspelled it. Never mind. He was actually casting magic missile. I need to save that higher-level spell slot for the next round..."

No judgment; we're all guilty of metagaming at one time or another. I'm just sayin'.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Countering or hampering counterspell is actually fairly easy in the encounter design itself and there's no need of using optional or house rules that may slow the game down. Some options:

Have more than one caster. Both casters also have counterspell. Or have a single caster with multiple heads that can act as multiple casters - that's both effective and gross.

Put the caster in an advantageous position, such as on top of a platform more than 60 feet above the PCs. This limits some spell options for the spellcaster, but puts them out of reach for counterspell. Cover the platform's sides in razorvine or spiders or flammable oil for extra fun.

Areas of darkness that obscure the caster from the PCs can also help, depending on how that is set up. Blinding hazards can also be neat - ground-up glass blowing in the wind or bright flashing lights. As well, greater invisibility.

Put pressure on the PC caster so they cast shield or absorb elements or the like to eat their reaction.

And if you want to have some arguments at the table, give the caster innate spellcasting that removes all components. If the spell can't be perceived, it can't be counterspelled. Retain a lawyer before trying this.
 

I play a wizard with counterspell but haven’t had a lot of chance to use it. And, on a couple occasions failed to make the check. Then, one encounter, the dm decided to have many casters, all of whom had counterspell. There were huge chains of counterspells happening. As someone would cast, I’d counterspell and another mage would Counterspell that and then someone in my party who had counterspell in a magic item counterspelled that counterspell. It was interesting. Wizard battles.
 
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