Are you a DM that has a group of 7 players and half of them are casters that pummel every encounter you throw at them and anytime you try using a caster to even the odds they counter spell your wizard npc? What do you do next? If you chose, ‘ throw nothing but wizards at them, all of which have counterspell from now on, in order to teach them a lesson’ then take it from me, you may want to rethink that.
…will probably give me nightmares for the rest of my days. My first ever adventure was against a cult that worshiped the evil dragon queen Tiamut. It didn’t take long before I was getting counterspelled once per battle, minimum, in rooms that were too small for me to get out of range of. Trust me when I say there is no faster way to get someone to stop having fun in a game than when the one thing they’re supposed to be able to do…they are no longer allowed to do. It’s like being a barbarian that can’t rage, or use weapons, or drink. Check anywhere online and you will hear horror stories experiences of people who have dealt with this when it came to a DM over using this spell. I think there are several main issues which I will discuss below. So let’s talk about it.
First of all, if you have the same dilemma that I put in the introduction, what with 7 players and what not, then you really might have a problem on your hands. This can bring to light our first problem with this spell and that is with the amount of players in a game. It is my personal opinion that the perfect amount of people to play this game with is 4. Five is doable and can still be fun while 6 is starting to feel like a problem. Anything above 6, to me, brings a whole new level of challenges for a DM. Even the illustrious Mathew Mercer struggles with having that many players and balancing encounters (and he does the best he can). An experienced DM might be able to handle this but I am sure it isn’t with a lot of ease. And when people start using counterspell it starts to become a struggle for who has the most amount of casters in a room, which in turn can later become DM vs. Player mentality (which is the #1 rule for DMs to never break). So big groups and DMs with big groups suffer the most from this spell, DMs and players alike.
Next, is the action economy. After level 5 martial classes can have two attacks which they can usually pair with some kind of ability. While casters usually are still only able to cast one spell per turn. You know what would suck? If every turn that one spell you could cast, keeps getting counterspelled…it’s just the best feeling. So what happens? Next level you grab counterspell to get the enemies back, only now there are two mages and you’re still just one. Suddenly, you’re at the mercy of your enemies as you beg your allies to help you with the casters but they can’t because they are focusing on the 2 ton Minotaur that is repeatedly stepping on your Eladrin bard buddy. This becomes a frustrating experience for a player and quickly becomes unfun and pointless.
Truth time DMs, counterspell should be used very sparingly. If you have a boss that is a wizard; yes of course give them counterspell. If a group of mages was sent to hunt down the group; yes of course give them counterspell. If you have a specific encounter in mind for the casters that makes sense in game, then give it a try. However, If every session you have constant mages that keep counterspelling a spell every turn then you probably should redesign your encounters. The players’ fun should always come first and foremost, that is not to say the spell can’t be fun though.
DMs, when you use counterspell it’s all about the attitude. If a character describes their spell being cast in a cool way and you respond with “Counterspell” in a quick and monotone voice followed by “is that your turn?” this might just result in your player’s hatred towards you. Instead meet their same level of energy, or heighten their level of energy if they weren’t describing the spell.
Now you have made it known that they have been counterspelled without having to even say the spell name; you showed rather than told. This allows everything to remain in game and feeling like you aren’t being snippy. There is something about the DM quickly calling out “Counterspell!” that feels so oddly personal and mean spirited.
Finally, if your players counterspell an enemy caster, simply praise them. If the big boss’s spell is about to wreak some havoc down on the team and a player caster uses their last high leveled spell to counter it, then simply smile, ask them to describe what it looks like, and cheer along with them. I guarantee once you start doing this, it will become a consistent part of the gameplay that is viewed as less of an annoyance and more like a strategic play. Take back Counterspell and make it a fun element in the game! Make it a challenging hurdle to overcome from time to time. But don’t make it a go to tool.