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


Results are only viewable after voting.

Gadget

Adventurer
I may be in the minority, but I've never cared for 5e's Counterspell; I feel it bogs down the game and adds a sub-game that is not needed. I preferred the previous edition's method of readying a Dispel Magic against an enemies possible spell attack.

Having said that, It seems obvious to me that the intention of the Counterspell rules is to have some risk and uncertainty involved. Giving players the exact spell and level being used against them makes the choice of counterspell somewhat of a no brainer: "Oh, he's casting Frost Fingers, no problem!" Or, "He's busting out Disintegrate, better counterspell, with the right level." As it is, Abjurers and Bards who have picked up the spell via Magical Secrets rarely need to invest in higher level spell slots due to advantage those classes have on the check.
 

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Mort

Legend
Supporter
I may be in the minority, but I've never cared for 5e's Counterspell; I feel it bogs down the game and adds a sub-game that is not needed. I preferred the previous edition's method of readying a Dispel Magic against an enemies possible spell attack.

Having said that, It seems obvious to me that the intention of the Counterspell rules is to have some risk and uncertainty involved. Giving players the exact spell and level being used against them makes the choice of counterspell somewhat of a no brainer: "Oh, he's casting Frost Fingers, no problem!" Or, "He's busting out Disintegrate, better counterspell, with the right level." As it is, Abjurers and Bards who have picked up the spell via Magical Secrets rarely need to invest in higher level spell slots due to advantage those classes have on the check.
The problem with 3e/3.5e counterspelling is that it was clunky, risky (you either had to know the exact spell they were going to cast OR try your luck with a dispell magic) and took up so much action economy (you had to use your action to ready the counterspell) that I never saw it used (And that's from playing from nearly the day 3e came out DMing weekly sessions with multiple spellcasters).

It was too far on the other end!
 

Teemu

Adventurer
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.
Exactly my experience too. In my first 5e game I just told the players what the enemy was casting, but by the time the party hit tier 3, I implemented the Xanathar's rule because counterspell had become such an obvious powerhouse. It's a really fun spell for players, but it's also too good at higher levels, in my opinion.

However, after playing with the Xanathar's rule for quite some time, I'm not a huge fan of it. It creates situations where the players are discussing who's willing to spend the reaction so that the character with the counterspell could maybe try countering, plus you need to roll an extra check, which takes a moment too. I have a house rule to help alleviate the lost action/turn when a player character is counterspelled, but I'm considering implementing something else in place of the Xanathar identification rule.
 

auburn2

Adventurer
So I have found it is more or less impossible to use counterspell and identify spell as written. When it gets to the BBEG's turn it is far easier to say he casts a fireball, at which point wizard will come up and say "I counterspell him". I know this makes the spell decidedly more powerful.

The only way to not do this is to break up BBEGs turn into two parts - he starts casting do you want to counterspell, no ok he finishes casting and a big ball fire erupts around you. This gets very clunky when used over and over again every turn.

On the flip side if the BBEG has counterspell I would find it pretty difficult to use logic to determine if they would use it. It is the same kind of thing - Lich sees cleric start casting bless, decides not to counterspell and saves reaction and slot. So I play it the same for the bad guys, they know the spell and decide whether or not to counter.

Thematically this is magic, so they don't actually know the spell ahead of time but by having counterspell prepared they are connected to the weave and get a compelling idea of whether they should cast it. If the PC chooses to cast it after they hear the spell, it is not because they knew what the spell was but because it was prepared and they felt the need to cast it. So although in gameplay it is BBEG casts fireball, PC counterspells, thematically it is BBEG starts casting and based on the disturbance in the weave you feel you should counterspell, PC counterspells, whew it was a fireball.
 

Gadget

Adventurer
The problem with 3e/3.5e counterspelling is that it was clunky, risky (you either had to know the exact spell they were going to cast OR try your luck with a dispell magic) and took up so much action economy (you had to use your action to ready the counterspell) that I never saw it used (And that's from playing from nearly the day 3e came out DMing weekly sessions with multiple spellcasters).

It was too far on the other end!
And I'm fine with that because, quite frankly, there really is not need it. I don't remember groups of gamers clamoring for it. It just seems...kind of superfluous, as well as opening up a whole knew can of worms. Might as well bring back psonic combat (I kid, but only slightly).
 

dave2008

Legend
And I'm fine with that because, quite frankly, there really is not need it. I don't remember groups of gamers clamoring for it. It just seems...kind of superfluous, as well as opening up a whole knew can of worms. Might as well bring back psonic combat (I kid, but only slightly).
IDK, I think the wizard duel is a bit iconic and, IMO, counterspell is part of that. I don't remember who it was, but if your familiar with Harry Potter someone on these boards described counterspells like the duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort in Order of the Phoenix.
 

cbwjm

Legend
IDK, I think the wizard duel is a bit iconic and, IMO, counterspell is part of that. I don't remember who it was, but if your familiar with Harry Potter someone on these boards described counterspells like the duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort in Order of the Phoenix.
That's how I like to think of them, it's also why I want to make the spell always need a roll so that the outcome is never sure and it provides a bit more suspense.
 

Nod_Hero

Explorer
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.
Oh, yeah. Yoink.
I also will be partaking of the Yoink on this...
 

jasper

Rotten DM
ORIGINAL: What was the problem with it? It's rather easy for a caster to avoid, and i...

  • Range is only 60', many spells are longer than that.
  • If you can't observe the casting you can't counterspell it. Subtle metamagic is an easy one. Invisibility works if there are no verbal components.
  • Move out of line-of-site, Ready a spell (which explicitly casts it) to trigger when you can see a foe, move back. This also uses their reaction, so they can't Counterspell back.
  • A caster only has a single reaction per round. If you have multiple casters on your side, use this. Will they disable an earlier spell and let you unleash a big one, or not in which case use a lesser spell. Or if they use reaction for Shield, Absorb Elements, Hellish Rebuke or something else.
  • A caster only has a set number of slots - run them down. This works best against PCs, since foe casters usually only have a single combat a day to worry about.
But But that is too hard to do. Counterspelling nerfs my monsters. And I will argue this until I am Blue in the face.
:)
 

jasper

Rotten DM
A lot of my fights were in dungeon / room scenarios, so getting out of range was often not an option.

and the tactics was part of the issue, I was tired of having all of my caster fights having to use the same tricks over and over because of one spell.
Lots and lots of cardboard boxes. Hide your wizard in them. It worked for Snake Plissken. So much they made 7 to 100 video games of this.
 


Istbor

Dances with Gnolls
Not really no. I like to think most wizards, sorcerers, warlocks, and other casters each put their own spin and style on casting over time. Similar to how arcane glyphs, spell scrolls/books, would all be slightly different. Like understanding a dialect. You can probably guess at the intent but if you want to be sure this does what you think, it requires understanding the unique hand it is written in by whatever particular author.

I do say allow better knowledge of such things if the spell has pretty obvious intent, or the caster's body language gives any clues. As well, in some of my worlds, you would more easily tell what is being cast if you say, went to the same academy/enclave/college whatever you want to call that magical center of learning, as the caster.

This seems to work. The players accept the risk that they could be counter spelling something less dangerous as a fireball (which I find is their base assumption for every spell), and they like that when the tables are turned, the enemy won't know what they are countering either necessarily.

Generally its pretty easy. Enemy spell caster = bad. Let's make sure they can cast as little as possible.
 
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Gadget

Adventurer
IDK, I think the wizard duel is a bit iconic and, IMO, counterspell is part of that. I don't remember who it was, but if your familiar with Harry Potter someone on these boards described counterspells like the duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort in Order of the Phoenix.
But that's just it, this ends up being nothing like the Dumbledore/Voldemort duel in Order of the Phoenix. Or the Merlin/Mim duel in the Sword in the Stone. It just ends up being an interrupt driven, grind the game to a halt type of non sequitur.
 

turnip_farmer

Adventurer
It creates situations where the players are discussing who's willing to spend the reaction so that the character with the counterspell could maybe try countering...

The easiest way to get rid of that is not to allow it. I am very tight on time allowed even when it's the player's turn (unless they're new). If it's a reaction - say it now or lose the chance! 5e combat isn't complicated enough that players should be allowed to think.

"What do you think, Dave? Should we try and identify th-" "TOO LATE! BOOM! Make a Dex save".
 

Arial Black

Adventurer
Actually I think your idea makes less sense than also including a reaction as in Xanthar's. To me it is all about time. In roughly 6 seconds you get your turn + reaction. If I am taking the time to study a caster's spell, when would I also have the time then cast my own spell (on top of everything I am doing on my turn).
The Arcana check isn't about studying the spell being cast, it's about recognising the verbal/somatic components.

The roll is to see if you recognise it or not. This is similar to other checks which are about resolving if your PC already knows that particular piece of information.

If you ready, say, an attack with a bow & arrow, and the trigger is "When an enemy comes around the corner into view", and then an enemy comes into view and you tell the DM that since the trigger occurred then you are using your reaction to take the readied attack....

....and the DM tells you that you can't because you used your reaction to study the creature coming round the corner to work out if it's a friend or an enemy....

....then the whole Readied Action/Trigger/Reaction cannot be used if you are required to use your reaction to recognise the trigger!
 

dave2008

Legend
But that's just it, this ends up being nothing like the Dumbledore/Voldemort duel in Order of the Phoenix. Or the Merlin/Mim duel in the Sword in the Stone. It just ends up being an interrupt driven, grind the game to a halt type of non sequitur.
That depends on how you describe and imagine it. It is not something I have experienced, but the person I was referencing said they describe spell / counterspell like that. Who am I to argue.
 

dave2008

Legend
The Arcana check isn't about studying the spell being cast, it's about recognising the verbal/somatic components.

The roll is to see if you recognise it or not. This is similar to other checks which are about resolving if your PC already knows that particular piece of information.

If you ready, say, an attack with a bow & arrow, and the trigger is "When an enemy comes around the corner into view", and then an enemy comes into view and you tell the DM that since the trigger occurred then you are using your reaction to take the readied attack....

....and the DM tells you that you can't because you used your reaction to study the creature coming round the corner to work out if it's a friend or an enemy....

....then the whole Readied Action/Trigger/Reaction cannot be used if you are required to use your reaction to recognise the trigger!
I guess I think spells are more complicated and require some study to recognize what is being cast. However, I can see an argument for waiving the requirement if you already know the spell (it is on your spell list).

There is not a right or wrong, just a difference in how we perceive fantasy magic.
 

jgsugden

Legend
In my game:

  • If you know or have cast the spell, you recognize it. (Paladins, Clerics and Druids know all spells from the spell lists in the books, generally)
  • If the spell is on your spell list, but you do not know it (for the other classes), you can make an arcana, religion or nature check to identify it for no action.
  • If it is not on your lists, you can make the same check, but it costs your reaction.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I use Xanathar's with a twist of handwaving.

First, in general, I don't like stating "the evil wizard is casting fireball", I rather describe the wizard casting and the results of the spell if perceptible. My players are I like more tactical play and this encourages cooperation if you have multiple spell casters, and add more risk and suspense to counter-spell. Xanathar's identify-as-a-reaction rule makes the iconic wizard battle a team sports.

BUT all that is more fun with big bads and gets sloggy when used for EVERY encounter with an enemy spell caster.

As the players become more familiar with certain types of enemies and their spells, I'll just start stating that the Acolyte of Orcus is cast bless. Similarly, a generally figure that a higher level wizard will be able to know what lower-level, common spells are being cast, esp, if in their spell book. Unless, there is a good in-story explanation for an enemy wizard having a very different way of casting the spell.

What is fun with this, is that if the party finds themselves in very foreign lands, they may find that they can no longer instantly know what spells are being cast, even if very common, low level spells. It is another way to make to create that sense of unease and uncertainty when in foreign areas.
 

If the enemy throws a tiny tarte at me. I don't need to use a reaction. Same goes for sulfur and bat guano.
It is a lot more difficult if a focus is used instead.
 

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