D&D 5E Goldilocks Poll: Counterspell

If 5E's Counterspell was a bowl of porridge, and you were Goldilocks, how would you rate it?

  • Too hot: the rules go too far! This spell is completely overpowered.

    Votes: 17 29.3%
  • Too cold: they nerfed it too much! Now it's too weak to be of any use.

    Votes: 5 8.6%
  • Just right: it works just the way I want/need it to. Five stars, will cast again.

    Votes: 36 62.1%

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
The way I see it: you are burning a 3rd level spell slot and your reaction just to have a chance of blocking the enemy's Power Word Kill or Disintegrate or whatever. So it feels fair to me. Sure, it will automatically succeed against lower-level spells, but odds are you are going to run out of 3rd level slots long before they run out of all 1st-3rd level slots.

If I felt that Counterspell was too powerful or unfair, I'd argue that Legendary Resistance is even moreso. But I don't.
 

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Stalker0

Legend
Counterspell is one of the few spells in my game that I have banned. I tried 3 different versions of it across various 3 campaigns, and was never satisfied with it. I banned it in this current game, and haven't looked back. Here are my reasons.

1) Breaks Action Economy: Actions are exceedingly precious in 5e, where a 3 round combat is often the norm. Being able to remove an enemies key action is dominant, especially in my type of campaigns where I tend to do fewer but more epic fights, with more long rests as the norm.

2) Every caster fight is based around it: There are tactics to avoid counterspell, but you quickly realize that you have to apply them every time there is a caster you want to actually be effective. I didn't enjoy a single 3rd level spell dictating the conditions of so many of my fights.

3) I didn't enjoy using it against my players either: What's good for the goose is good for the gander, and so at first I decided if my players were going to use it, well then I would too to keep things fair. Thing is....I really didn't enjoy using it against them. Anything that denies player action has to be sparring....you damage a player, they will get mad and feisty and come back swinging. You deny them actions for a couple of rounds and they will pull out the phone and become a vegetable.

The fact that I denied their action and cost them a spell just was too painful, I've used some rat ba$$$$$ DM tricks, but this one didn't feel creative or interesting, it just felt dirty.

4) The Counterspell Ping Pong is annoying. Sure it seems cool to have the "wizard duel" where a wizard cast a spell, which is counterspell, and the counterspell is counterspell, etc etc. That's one once, but when it becomes a regular occurrence with casters it becomes tedious.


So that's my rationale, took my a lot of trying before I finally realized that this one spell was given me more personal headache than any other in the game, and my players have enough other tricks that I didn't need to get so worked up about just one....so I removed it.
 

jgsugden

Legend
I am curious why Counterspell is specifically angering to some DMS. I'm just looking for answers here:
... Here are my reasons.

1) Breaks Action Economy: Actions are exceedingly precious in 5e, where a 3 round combat is often the norm. Being able to remove an enemies key action is dominant, especially in my type of campaigns where I tend to do fewer but more epic fights, with more long rests as the norm.
Don't spells like Hold Monster do more to break the action economy?
2) Every caster fight is based around it: There are tactics to avoid counterspell, but you quickly realize that you have to apply them every time there is a caster you want to actually be effective. I didn't enjoy a single 3rd level spell dictating the conditions of so many of my fights.
It seems like you're talking about your PCs being effective with the spell. Do you have the same reaction if they use hold monster to lock down enemies?
3) I didn't enjoy using it against my players either: What's good for the goose is good for the gander, and so at first I decided if my players were going to use it, well then I would too to keep things fair. Thing is....I really didn't enjoy using it against them. Anything that denies player action has to be sparring....you damage a player, they will get mad and feisty and come back swinging. You deny them actions for a couple of rounds and they will pull out the phone and become a vegetable.
As a DM, I use it a decent amount on spellcasters that would plan to fight spellcasters. However, if the PCs go after a bad guy that is not expecting a magic fight, it is rarely on them. I have no qualms about using it, and using it intelligently, when a wizard comes with it prepared.
4) The Counterspell Ping Pong is annoying. Sure it seems cool to have the "wizard duel" where a wizard cast a spell, which is counterspell, and the counterspell is counterspell, etc etc. That's one once, but when it becomes a regular occurrence with casters it becomes tedious.
How often does it happen? In my games, which do feature a lot of humanoid combat, it doesn't come up all that often. I have had a PC cast a spell, and then seen 6 counterspells thrown to back and forth counter the counters. That brought smiles, not frustration, to the table.

Generally speaking: Why is Counterspell more annoying than Hold Monster, or Hypnotic Gaze?
 

Stalker0

Legend
Generally speaking: Why is Counterspell more annoying than Hold Monster, or Hypnotic Gaze?
I think the answer is the action economy of counterspell itself. You get your full round of action, and you can keep this in the back pocket if you need it, and then bust it out for a small action cost.

A spell like hold monster is a commitment, the caster is choosing to trade his action to deny the opponent's AND it requires concentration. That alone is a major balancing action....concentration is an incredibly precious resource in 5e casting, a resource counterspell does not consume.
 



Vael

Hero
I like Counter Magic, Blue mage here, but I do think that Counterspell as a spell is a little too powerful. Or, to be more accurate, the counterplay to Counterspell is limited, almost purely a range/detectibility issue, with a side of shenanigans. I haven't banned it or tested any alternatives yet. Though I think just moving it up to level 4 or 5 would help a lot, and offer a more limited version at 3rd.
 

Oofta

Legend
I am curious why Counterspell is specifically angering to some DMS. I'm just looking for answers here:Don't spells like Hold Monster do more to break the action economy?It seems like you're talking about your PCs being effective with the spell. Do you have the same reaction if they use hold monster to lock down enemies?As a DM, I use it a decent amount on spellcasters that would plan to fight spellcasters. However, if the PCs go after a bad guy that is not expecting a magic fight, it is rarely on them. I have no qualms about using it, and using it intelligently, when a wizard comes with it prepared.How often does it happen? In my games, which do feature a lot of humanoid combat, it doesn't come up all that often. I have had a PC cast a spell, and then seen 6 counterspells thrown to back and forth counter the counters. That brought smiles, not frustration, to the table.

Generally speaking: Why is Counterspell more annoying than Hold Monster, or Hypnotic Gaze?
Imagine having a game with 3 PCs that can cast counterspell. Since you can counter counterspell, it's virtually impossible (especially at higher levels) for an enemy spellcaster to get a spell off unless you go out of your way to make it ineffective. If you're doing that why even have the spell?

You get into counterspell chains. BG1 casts a spell PC1 counters it so BG1 counters the counter then PC2 counters BG1's counter then BG2 counters PC2's counter and finally PC3 counters BG2's counter. I think I got that right because it's pretty counterintuitive.

I wasn't DMing that particular game, but this type of scenario came up more than once.
 

jgsugden

Legend
I think the answer is the action economy of counterspell itself. You get your full round of action, and you can keep this in the back pocket if you need it, and then bust it out for a small action cost.

A spell like hold monster is a commitment, the caster is choosing to trade his action to deny the opponent's AND it requires concentration. That alone is a major balancing action....concentration is an incredibly precious resource in 5e casting, a resource counterspell does not consume.
I see the argument, but the number of times a counterspell cost a PC dearly by preventing them from having that reaction to cast shield, absorb elements, etc... is not insignificant.
 

jgsugden

Legend
Hey DMs - for those of you looking for a strategy to bypass counterspells a bit more - readied actions. Bad guy readies an action to cast a spell after the counterspell happy PC goes. The PC does their thing. Ten the enemy casts their spell and deals with the counterspell. The PC is now without their reaction and the BBEG can cast their real spell.

It would be interesting to see people reference the battle between Vox Machina and Vecna in this conversation. Was that battle diminished by the presence of Counterspell? How would it have gone without it?
 

I like the counterspell spell but it might be on how I play. When there is a combat, only one reaction is allowed per side per turn. So you have to declare your reaction and one of your opponents gets to react to your reaction. No I counter the counter that counter. The only way I have allowed is two cast two counters on the same spell. Not a thing which happens a lot. We came to this way of doing when I served players a taste of their own medicine. Two PC casters against four of mine. They got fed up quite fast and we reached the conclusion that one reaction per stimulus was ample enough.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
I don't buy the "ping-pong" theory, in which a counterspell gets counterspelled, which also gets counterspelled by another mage, which then gets counterspelled by yet another mage, etc. That's a lot of third-level spell slots and reactions getting eaten up in a single round of combat. I'm sure it technically could happen, but I've never seen it in practice. I doubt very many people actually have.

At the end of the day, you have to decide that the juice is worth the squeeze. Is your Fireball so vital and important that the entire outcome of combat hinges on it? So much so that your party is willing to spend twice the usual number of spell slots so that you can both cast it and counterspell an incoming counterspell? Probably not.

But if it really is that important, your first thought should be "what if that guy in the sparkly robes over there can cast Counterspell?" Maybe don't lead with your superpowered Win-Button spell at the top of Round 1. Maybe hide first, or drink a potion of invisibility, or move out of counterspell range, cast it with a higher-level spell slot, trick Mr. SparklyRobes into wasting his reaction, etc., beforehand. Maybe do any one of a half-dozen things to ensure that the spell you are about to cast, which is tactically vital to the success of the mission, has the best chance to succeed.

I file this under Not Broken/Don't Fix.
 
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Dausuul

Legend
Generally speaking: Why is Counterspell more annoying than Hold Monster, or Hypnotic Gaze?
First, because hold monster is much more expensive to cast (an action and a 5th-level slot instead of a reaction and a 3rd-level slot) and harder to stick, and the most powerful monsters have a built-in defense (Legendary Resistance). All of this forces more sparing and tactical use of the spell.

Second, more importantly: If the PCs do manage to stick a hold monster, it's exciting. You have a window in which melee warriors can auto-crit the monster, but that window is short and could close at any moment. So the whole party rushes to take advantage of it. If this results in a sudden unexpected victory, it's a triumphant moment.

There is no such excitement with a counterspell: The monster just... doesn't do anything. The PCs keep on grinding it down for another round. Blah.

And all this goes double when the spells are flipped around and it's the monsters using them on PCs. Hold person on a PC is a moment of terror for the party. Counterspell on a PC is just a round of boredom for that spellcaster.
 

One thing I'm picking up: if the player's tactics involve spamming counterspell (usually just by having a lot of people who can cast it) the tactic gets really old really fast - and there's no easy solution; because: 1. any nerf will get pushback, 2: needing to play around it creates a very specific meta (ie enemies need to all use the same tactics), and 3. it's a really powerful tactic if you have enough pc's to do it and the dm sends any kind of spellcasting enemies at you.

If this were an MMORPG, the community would call it the optimal way to play and a lot of players would get really annoyed at any player who doesn't spam counterspell.

On the other hand, this isn't an MMORPG, so if it isn't getting spammed at you table for whatever reason, it's fine and actually pretty well balanced.
 


ccooke

Adventurer
When the party starts spamming counterspell... Have your NPCs cast cantrips.
Magic-using enemies are supposed to be intelligent, and therefore a spell battle should be a battle of wits with them.
Except when it's thematically appropriate for the party to just steamroller some enemies, which does come up!
 

jgsugden

Legend
First, because hold monster is much more expensive to cast (an action and a 5th-level slot instead of a reaction and a 3rd-level slot) and harder to stick, and the most powerful monsters have a built-in defense (Legendary Resistance). All of this forces more sparing and tactical use of the spell.
Hold Person, Hypnotic Pattern, etc... are cheaper and have the same issues in terms of spell level. Counterspell costs a reaction and (generally) counters an action, but the I've seen holds, banishments, etc... negate many rounds of actions.
Second, more importantly: If the PCs do manage to stick a hold monster, it's exciting. You have a window in which melee warriors can auto-crit the monster, but that window is short and could close at any moment. So the whole party rushes to take advantage of it. If this results in a sudden unexpected victory, it's a triumphant moment.

There is no such excitement with a counterspell: The monster just... doesn't do anything. The PCs keep on grinding it down for another round. Blah.
The most pivotal and exciting moment of Season 1 of Critical Role was a counterspell (for many reasons). If you laid out the most exciting moments of the show, over the past 6 years, well timed counterspells that save the party from disaster would feature prominently for both campaigns.
And all this goes double when the spells are flipped around and it's the monsters using them on PCs. Hold person on a PC is a moment of terror for the party. Counterspell on a PC is just a round of boredom for that spellcaster.
Again, that is not my experience. Frustration, rather than boredom, tends to be the response to a counterspell when it is used against a player. The negation of their plans requires them to rethink their approach, and that often creates extra drama.

I've just not experienced what you're describing. Can anyone point to some video of it being lackluster?
 
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CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Me, comparing the rules in Xanathar's Guide with those in the Core Rulebooks:

office space no GIF
 


Imagine having a game with 3 PCs that can cast counterspell. Since you can counter counterspell, it's virtually impossible (especially at higher levels) for an enemy spellcaster to get a spell off unless you go out of your way to make it ineffective. If you're doing that why even have the spell?

You get into counterspell chains. BG1 casts a spell PC1 counters it so BG1 counters the counter then PC2 counters BG1's counter then BG2 counters PC2's counter and finally PC3 counters BG2's counter. I think I got that right because it's pretty counterintuitive.

I wasn't DMing that particular game, but this type of scenario came up more than once.

This. If there are two casters among the adventuring party, a 5e caster monster much can't do...things. At all. You have to contrive something so he can actually cast some spells.
 

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