Can you counterspell a counterspell in DnD 5e?
The answer is “yes.” But I don’t suppose my overlords at Nerd Night News are gonna let it go at that.
I know many D&D mega nerds have been kept awake pondering the question: “Can you counterspell a counterspell?” So they are not going to be satisfied by a simple “yes.” And, unfortunately, it is more complicated than that.
To adequately answer the question, I’ve had to spend a lot of time reading RAW (rules as written). That’s stressful for an old, “rule of cool” DM and player like me. I’ve felt faint and in need of aid. So I’ve been asking around.
“Yeah, I don’t see why you can’t counterspell a counterspell. It is a spell.”One of my experienced players, Andrew
“I’d say ‘no’ because then it would just become Wizard table tennis. The whole thing would end up being kind of pointless.”My DM, Niall
I think these two reactions illustrate the two different answers to the question “Can you counterspell a counterspell?”
- Yes, you can
- It is up to your DM to decide, and it should depend on the situation
Yes, in DnD 5e You Can Counterspell a Counterspell
Who, after all, is the ultimate, official, authority on the rules of Dungeons & Dragons? Wizards of the Coast is. We all know that. And Wizards is very clear on this question.
They say “yes.” It is not in the Player’s Handbook or any of the other main rule books. Instead, it appears in their regularly published column called “Sage Advice.” WOTC clearly states “you can” on page 15 of their Sage Advice Compendium from November 2020.
“Can you cast a reaction spell on your turn? You sure can! Here’s a common way for it to happen: Cornelius the wizard is casting fireball on his turn, and his foe casts counterspell on him. Cornelius also has counterspell prepared, so he uses his reaction to cast it and break his foe’s counterspell before it can stop fireball.”Page 15, Nov. 2020 Sage Advice Compendium
It’s right there in black and white. “You sure can!” In the WOTC example above, you have a wizard casting a level-3 spell (fireball) as an action. The wizard’s foe casts counterspell (a level-3 spell) as a reaction. And as part of the wizard’s same turn, he casts counterspell as a reaction on his turn. Ta-Da! You can counterspell a counterspell!
But “can” is not the same as “should.”
While the rules say you “can” do it, should your DM allow you to? That is the real question. Just because you can do something in D&D, doesn’t trump the all-important rule of “the DM is ultimately in charge of the rules of any game.”
It depends on the situation
While my player Andrew is correct, my DM Niall has a valid point. He is also correct in this thinking. The best way to illustrate the correctness of the “it depends” answer is to use an example.
Fru is a Wizard in Niall’s game. She has been poking around in some ancient wizard palace and has run across a really nasty undead wizard. Let’s call him Dru. They don’t like each other and enter into combat. Both of them have counterspell prepared. Well, this could turn into a wizards’ duel pretty fast, but it would go round-by-round, not turn-by-turn.
Fru’s turn on Round 1:
Fru: I cast fireball
Dru: I cast counterspell
Fru: I use my reaction to counterspell the counterspell
Dru’s turn on Round 2:
Dru: I cast lightning bolt
Fru: I cast counterspell
Dru: I use my reaction to counterspell the counterspell
If I was the DM in such a situation, I might intervene. I would worry the other players would feel left out of the wizards’ show. I would also have spell slot anxiety. But one of my players actually thinks such a wizard duel would be fun.
“Spellcaster duels are fun and engaging, not at all lame ping pong where everyone is bored!”George, a player and a DM
Final Answer—DnD 5e Can you Counterspell a Counterspell
So, dear Nerd Night News overlords and mega nerds, the answer is “yes” you can counterspell a counterspell. But any such situation should be carefully analyzed and evaluated to determine the best way to both satisfy players, satisfy the rules, and not make a DM crazy.
6/28/22—Speaking of mega nerds, a huge salute to NNN readers Neal Levin and Chris Topher. My first draft of this article had an error that neither me nor my editor caught. But Neal and Chris did!