Part One: Stop that Spellcaster!

Welcome to the first installment of "Gamestoppers," a monthly column that looks at various confusing and complicated parts of the Dungeons & Dragons combat system that have the potential to stop your game in its tracks while the DM scrambles to look up rules. Each month, we present a new situation where four players try something weird and tricky and show via example how each situation can be resolved. This month, we tackle the fine art of keeping an enemy from casting a spell.

Now, let's join Krusk, Lidda, Nebin, and Vadania as they infiltrate a goblin temple of Maglubiyet in search of a kidnapped merchant named Rutheford, who knows the only route to a mythical hidden city to the south.

DM: You round the corner and enter a large chamber -- the main temple by the looks of it. Spheres of sickly green light float near the vaulted ceiling, providing more than adequate illumination for the tragic scene playing out before you. A small horde of nearly a dozen slavering goblins stand around a metal grating in the floor, from which you can hear some disturbing gurgling and sloshing sounds. These goblins also block access to the pulpit on the far side of the room, on which stands an imposing humanoid figure wearing some sort of bone armor. He seems to be preparing to cast some sort of spell on the struggling figure chained to the altar-stone before him. You look closer and can make out the features of the's the merchant Rutheford!


PC (Krusk): WHAT? Krusk CRUSH puny cultist like grape!

PC (Lidda): Wait, Krusk! You'll never reach him in time to stop him from casting that spell! Do we have a chance to disrupt his spell instead? Have they noticed us yet?

DM: Nope, not yet, although the cleric might get his spell off before you. Everyone roll initiative. [Rolls initiative for the cleric and gets a 12. Lidda rolls a 23, Vadania a 17, Nebin a 12, and Krusk an 11.]

DM: Right, so Lidda and Vadania both get to act before the cleric. What do you do?

PC (Lidda): I want to shoot him with my shortbow to ruin the spell just as he casts.

PC (Vadania): I'm going to try to counterspell whatever it is the cleric is casting.

DM: Fine. You all wait for the cleric to begin casting, which he does at an initiative of 12. As he starts to cast, you both get a chance to disrupt his casting. Nebin, since you rolled a 12 too, you get a chance as well.

PC (Nebin): Great! I'll try to counter his spell also.

PC (Krusk): Krusk always roll stupid initiative. KRUSK HATE HAVING TO WAIT!

DM: Okay. The cleric starts casting. You have the best Dexterity, Lidda. Take your shot!

PC (Lidda):[Rolls.] Woohoo! I got a 31!

DM: Well, he's flat-footed since he hasn't seen you yet, so you hit him big time. But since he's more than 30 feet away, you don't get to add your sneak attack damage.

PC (Lidda):[Rolls.] Oh well...I did a total of 6 points of damage then.

DM: Okay, the cleric needs to make a Concentrate check now. [The DM knows the cleric is casting poison, a 4th-level spell, on the merchant. He needs to roll a Concentrate check of 20 (10 + the damage dealt (6) + the spell's level (4)) to successfully cast the spell. The DM lucks out and rolls a 29 on the cleric's Concentrate check.]

Nope...too bad. He made his check and keeps casting. Vadania and Nebin; you both have the same Dexterity scores so you flip a coin to determine who goes first. [Figuring out tied initiatives appears under Initiative in Chapter 8: Combat of the Player's Handbook]

PC (Vadania):[Flips coin.] That's me! Right, I'm going to counterspell his spell.

DM: Okay, but first you need to make a Spellcraft check to figure out what he's casting.

PC (Vadania):[Rolls.] A 28! I assume that makes it since that'd let me identify a 13th-level spell.

DM: Yup, no problem. The cleric is casting poison on the hapless merchant.

PC (Vadania): Ha! I've got a poison spell prepared!

DM: Unfortunately, since poison has a range of touch, you can't reach him in time to counter the spell. Otherwise you would have automatically counterspelled his spell. Nebin? What do you do?

PC (Nebin): Well...I rolled a 33 on my Spellcraft check to identify the spell but that won't help since I can't cast poison. I know! I'll cast a dispel magic to counter his spell!

DM: All right. You cast your dispel magic spell, but you'll need to make a dispel check to counter his spell.

PC (Nebin):[Rolls.] Take that! A natural 20! Let's see ... that gives me a dispel check of 30! [The formula for dispel checks appears in the dispel magic spell description in Chapter 11: Spells of the Player's Handbook]

DM:[Since the cleric is a 10th-level cleric, Nebin needed to roll only a 21 to be successful.] It works! The cleric's spell sputters and then fizzles with a puff of acrid black smoke. He looks around for a moment, startled and confused, and then sees your group lurking in the back of the room. With a roar, he commands the goblins to open the grating in the middle of the room and release its occupant!

Full rules for counterspelling spells are under Counterspells in Chapter 10: Magic of the Player's Handbook. Additional rules for stopping a spellcaster from completing a spell are covered under the Concentration skill in Chapter 4: Skills and under the Ready combat action in Chapter 8: Combat, both in the Player's Handbook. If Krusk had rolled high enough to act, he could have attempted to disrupt the cleric's spell by shooting him with an arrow. But never fear. . .Krusk has his hands full next month when the denizen in the pit below gives us a chance to examine the grappling rules in detail!

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