RPG Blog Carnival: Sorcerous Counterspell

April’s RPG Blog Carnival topic is Customizing Character Options, which seems the perfect opportunity to expand on a Twitter discussion I had with Timothy over at Experience Points, that started with counterspell and led to a talking about wizard versus sorcerer spell casting styles. I’m currently working on an actual rules document based on our discussion, as it helped codify some ideas I’ve had lingering in point form notes and hasty napkin scribbles. For today, let’s look at sorcerers and how they might handle counterspell in a more exciting manner.

As written, what sets sorcerers apart from their wizard counterparts is their deep personal connection with magical energy. Wizards understand magic intellectually, and use rules and study to force magic to conform to their needs. Sorcerers, on the other hand, consider themselves directly tied in to the magic all around, and achieve their magical understanding by diving in and mucking about. So while it makes sense for wizards to have a codified spell they cast in order to counter magic, it feels very unsatisfying for sorcerers. They have to take it as one of their precious few Known Spells, and if they are the only arcane caster they are essentially forced to take it as it is too useful a spell to avoid.

But more than that, countering arcane magic seems to be the sort of ability that would fit thematically with a sorcerer’s manipulation of magical energies. Their greater connection allows them to not only mould and shape their own spells, but interfere with (and maybe absorb?) the spells of other casters. So it makes sense to me that this should be a class feature of some kind, not just another spell sorcerers can take. And tying it in with the rest of the class features, I want to keep that same “edge of disaster” feeling of manipulating magic, bringing a bit of wild magic into the class as a whole.

So here are some rules to start with. I’m going to explore these in more detail over on my own blog later, but if you’re interested in adding this feature to the sorcerer class in your home game, this should be a good start.

  • Sorcerers gain the ability to Counterspell at 5th level. When a sorcerer sees a creature within 60’ of them casting a spell, the sorcerer may counter that spell as a reaction. The sorcerer spends sorcery points equal to the level of the spell being cast to counter it automatically. The spell being cast has no effect.
  • Alternately, the sorcerer may choose to spend less sorcery points than needed, though they must always expend at least one. and instead make a spellcasting check. The DC for this check is 10 + the spell’s level + the number of sorcery points not spent. For example, a sorcerer decides to counter a fireball cast using a 5th level slot. Wanting to conserve sorcery points, they decide to risk spending only 2 and making a check. Their spellcasting check DC would then be 18 (10 + 5 (the level of the spell) + 3 (the difference between the sorcery points needed to counter the spell automatically and the points spent)). A successful spellcasting check means the spell is successfully countered, and has no effect. On a failed spellcasting check, however, the sorcerer takes 1d6 damage for each level of the spell, minus the number of sorcery points spent. So in our example above, the sorcerer would take 3d6 damage (5th level spell minus 2 sorcery points) as the spell’s energy backlashes against them, and the spell would go off as normal. If the spell had a damage type, the damage taken by failing to counter the spell is that damage (and any resistances would apply). If the spell has no damage type, or the spell wouldn’t normally do damage, the damage taken is untyped.
  • As a second alternative, the sorcerer can attempt to absorb the spell as it is cast, in order to replenish or gain additional sorcery points. No expenditure of sorcery points is required to attempt this, though the sorcerer must make a spellcasting check with a DC of 10 + double the level of the spell being cast. So in our example above it would be a DC 20 check to absorb the spell instead of countering it. If the damage type of the spell matches a damage resistance the sorcerer has, they may double their proficiency bonus on the spellcasting check. Starting at 10th level, if the damage type of the spell matches a damage immunity the sorcerer has, they automatically absorb the spell with no spellcasting check required.
    • Though not required, sorcery points can be spent during the attempt to absorb the spell. Each sorcery point spent reduces the DC of the spellcasting check by 1.
    • On a successful check, the sorcerer gains a number of temporary sorcery points equal to the level of the spell they just absorbed. These temporary sorcery points last until the sorcerer’s next long or short rest, and temporary sorcery points are always spent first.
    • If the damage type of the spell absorbed matches a damage resistance the sorcerer has, add the sorcerer’s proficiency modifier to the sorcery points gained. Starting at 10th level, If the damage type matches a damage immunity the sorcerer has, double the points absorbed from the spell and then add the proficiency bonus.
    • On a failed spellcasting check, the sorcerer becomes the sole focus of whatever spell they were attempting to absorb. The sorcerer does not get a saving throw against the spell’s effect, even if the spell would normally allow one; damage resistances still apply.
    • Only the sorcerer suffers the effect of the spell, even if the spell’s normal area of effect was larger than one person, or personal. In addition, the sorcerer suffers 1d6 damage per level of the spell they failed to absorb. This is untyped damage.
    • Because some spells the sorcerer may absorb may be beneficial in nature, the sorcerer may not choose to voluntarily fail the spellcasting check to absorb the spell. Absorbing magical energy carries risk, even if the outcome provides some benefit.

So that’s my starting point for adjusting the sorcerer class with a Counterspell ability. Feel free to take these ideas into your own game and give them a try. If you do, please come back and tell me how it worked for you. Did you have to modify anything? Did you find it too powerful or too weak? I’d love to hear from you.

In the meantime, tune into my posts over at The Renaissance Gamer this week, as I expand on some cool sorcerer abilities. Sure, countering and absorbing magic is cool, but what if sorcerers weren’t tied to the same spell level constraints that are so precious to wizards? How awesome (and dangerous) would that be? Join me on Thursday and find out.