This handbook is centered on the usage of dispel checks : Improved Counterspell and its ilk are mentioned, but they are not the optimized way of counterspelling. Hindering casters with direct damage - and hence impossible Concentration DCs - is also outside the scope of this guide.
The goal of an optimized counterspeller is to prevent foes from casting with a flick of hand, i.e. as an immediate action. You deny casters their actions, and you keep yours to play God/Batman. You rule over God the wizard... does that make you an overdeity ? :P
Generic ways to improve one's caster level will not be mentioned here : they are very much relevant, but they are already tracked here.
- Archivist: see Cleric. You need to get Turn Undead separately (via Cloistered Cleric or Sacred Exorcist), and dip Church Inquisitor for the Inquisition Domain, which restricts your alignment to LG. (In a planar campaign, you could use a Touchstone instead.) If a Divine Magician can get the good arcane spells on her list... so can you !
- Cleric: you have access to the basic spells (Dispel, Greater Dispel) and you can get all of the important ones via the Divine Magician ACF. You get Turn undead from the start to power Divine Defiance, the Inquisition Domain from level 1 or via a PrC. You don't need to lose a spellcasting level to be good at it, but you'll always be missing out on a few options.
- Shadowcasters: if you find a way to cancel the penalty to dispel spells with your mysteries, you can become really good at Counterspelling with Warp Spell. Perhaps a homebrew feat ? The excellent Tome of Shadow homebrew material offers an ACF that does just that.
- Sorcerer: with your limited spells known, you risk becoming too specialized if you take most of the important ones. Still, spontaneous dispels could be worth it.
- Warlock: [help me rate it !]
- Wizard: As often, the king of the roost. Getting Divine Defiance will force you to lose a caster level, but Master Abjurer flows naturally into Io7V and Archmage - you end up with incredible synergies !
- Others: Bards can make decent counterspellers if they go into Sublime Chord, but they generally have better uses for their feats. Beguilers and Favored Souls are slightly inferior to sorcerers. Wu Jens are inferior to wizards (it's the universal complaint: they don't get enough support...). Other classes are out.
Spells & Co.Edit
Active Spells :Edit
- 1. Dispel Ward SC: meh, too situational. (Cleric 1)
- 2. Arcane Turmoil CM: first offensive dispel ! Nice against enemy spellcasters.
- 2. Dispelling Touch PHB2: decent. You don't want to go close enough to other beings to be able to touch them - the solitary life of a mage - so use it against objects.
- 3. Dispel Magic PHB: very good. Good enough to be prepared on a regular basis/to be taken as a spell known. (Cleric 3)
- 3. Tenacious Dispelling CM: while this is subpar for most casters, you're likely to use dispels often. Get it instead of Dispel Magic if you're specializing (and why else would you be reading this ?)
- 4. Slashing Dispel PHB2: decent at higher levels when you always succeed at dispelling an enemy's spells.
- 5. Dispelling Breath SC: very good for Dragonborns, meh for others.
- 5. Spelltheft CS: now we're talking ! You deprive them of their buffs and take them for yourself.
- 6. Greater Dispel Magic PHB: a staple. (Cleric 6)
- 8. Chain Dispel PHB2: good - note the maximum CL of 25 - but less flexible than a Chained Greater Dispel. (Cleric 8)
- 9. Reaving Dispel SC: Spelltheft on steroids. Do whatever you want with your opponent's spells. Try to obtain a cap of CL 25 - the original version in CA had it, and an 8th level has it.
Passive Spells :Edit
- 4./7. Dispelling Screen/Dispelling Screen, Greater SC: Decent as a passive dispel (but all passive dispels are situational). Its secondary effect is more interesting: it interrupts line of effect for all spells ! If you set it up right, your party will be protected from the BBEG's spells while they pepper him with arrows.
- 5./8. Wall of Dispel Magic/Wall of Greater Dispel Magic SC: inferior to the above in all ways except that it is hard to detect. Very situational. (Cleric 5./8.)
The spells are given at their level on the Sorc/Wiz list: they are often lower-level for Bards.
- Lesser. Relentless Dispelling CM: with optimized dispels, once should be enough. Get Voracious Dispelling instead.
- Lesser. Voracious Dispelling CA: dispel at will is nice.
- 4. Shadow Fades ToM: Dispel Magic, one level too high.
- 4. Warp Spell ToM: immediate action counterspell ? Yes ! Casting a mystery of your own for free ? Wow !!
- 6. Shadow Fades, Greater ToM: Dispel Magic, Greater.
Do note that you suffer a -4 penalty to dispel spells with all the above mysteries.
- Dispel Psionics XPH: Dispel Magic, with no counterspell option. The RAW version is badly written : if augmenting it grants you a bonus on your check instead of raising the maximum ML, it's probably too good.
Also be careful whether you're using full transparency (the default) or partial transparency (with a -4 penalty for spell-power interactions like dispel checks).
- Spell Rebirth ToM: The reverse utterance dispels one spell automatically. The utterance can restore a dispelled spell. A unique effect: watch out, dispellers !
This part's easy: Spellcraft is the one and only skill you need. Read it and understand it. Note in particular how you can identify spells with visible effects even if you didn't see them cast.
- Dispelling Strike [Suel Arcamanach] CA: decent because it doesn't take an action.
- Divine Counterspell [Cleric ACF] CM: giving up Turn Undead is never a good idea. As worded, it limits your bonus to +10. And it doesn't progress with PrCs...
- Divine Magician [Cleric ACF] CM: this allows you to get many nice arcane spells on your list - see snizor's build.
- Inquisition Domain [Cleric, Church Inquisitor] CD: +4 to dispel checks is hard to beat. This can also be obtained via the Domain Granted Power CC Wizard ACF, PrCs that grant domains (Contemplative CD) or a feat (see below).
- Innate Counterspell [Noctumancer] ToM: good, but 1 to 3 times per day is too little.
- Karsus' Touch [Binder - Karsus] ToM: meh. Mentioned for completeness, and because it's the only dispelling option for Binders.
- Mastery of Counterspelling [Archmage] DMG: more pain visited on enemy spellcasters !
- Minor School Esoterica [Master Abjurer]CM: great bonus. And MS also increases your caster level for abjurations !
- Penetrating Insight [Paragnostic Apostle] CC: small bonus, but the class is easy to qualify for.
- Swift Abjuration [Abjurant Champion] CM: with 5 levels of AC, you can automatically quicken Dispel Magic. It requires a lot of investment, but the return is nice. See ShakaUVM's build for an example of how to exploit the synergies.
- Unanswerable Strike, Kaleidoscopic Doom [Initiate of the Sevenfold Veil] CA: US is nothing to write home about ; but Kaleoscopic Doom is very nice !
- Arcane Mastery CA: More reliability is exactly what you want. Also useful for SR checks. Tip for divine spellcasters: if you dip Hierophant after getting 9th level spells to obtain a SLA, it lets you qualify you for this feat.
- Divine Countermagic FoE: expend 1+spell level turn attempts to automatically counter a spell. You must still ready an action to do so (unless you have Divine Defiance). This is much too costly.
- Divine Defiance FC2: THE counterspelling feat. With only a few turn attempts, possibly a Nightsticks, make other spellcasters cry. RAW, this feat allows you to counterspell SLAs. Now you just need to come up with a way to detect when they are used: ask your DM if BmP (a spell - see below) works.
- Elven Spell Lore PHB2: small but nice bonus. A filler feat. Note that the bonus applies only with (Greater) Dispel Magic. I find it fairly non-sensical, so I'd ask for a houserule.
- Improved Counterspell PHB: the old way of counterspelling, when paired with Heighten + a way of using metamagic without increasing casting time. Outdated.
- Metamagic Feats: Empower or Maximize let you disable items for longer (meh), Chain allows you to hit lots of items at once. Consider Arcane Thesis (Greater Dispel) in combination with them.
- Planar Touchstone PlH [Catalogues of Enlightenment - Inquisition Domain]: see above - very nice.
- Reactive Counterspell PGtF: losing your turn sucks.
- Soultouched Spellcasting MoI: +1 or more to dispel checks. Good for Soulcasters. [Help me rate it !]
- Pierce Magical Protection CA: mentioned separately because it is meant for noncasting magekillers. Very good at what it does, but have the DM clarify what spells it affects - some spells only add an AC bonus as a side-effect (Protection vs Evil, Alter Self...)
- Epic Counterspell PGtF: unlimited counterspells without spending an action ? This suddenly gives us a reason to take Reactive Counterspell - very nice ! Still, if you don't start in epic try to homebrew an Epic Divine Defiance instead if you can.
- 3. Battlemagic Perception HoB: Absolutely fabulous. It has a fairly long duration, it lets you detect spellcasting automatically within 100' (whether still and silent, concealed with Sleight of Hand...). RAW, it would even be a free rather than immediate action to counterspell (I personally recommend the latter interpretation). If you can't get access to Divine Defiance, it's the spell you want to spam. (Cleric 3)
- 3. Spellcaster's Bane CM: +2 insight to dispels - it stacks with practically everything. Cast as a swift action. You recognize spells automatically if you have line of sight (it complements BmP which works off of line of effect). And you learn the caster level of your opponents' spells ! That way you can know exactly what dispels to use against them.
- 5. Duelward SC: Inferior to BmP in all ways. Only get it if you don't have access to Heroes of Battle.
- 9. Shrinshee's Spell Shift LEoF: LEoF is an endless trove of powerful material. For 1 round/level, you can partially redirect the effect of a spell you counterspell ! It gives you Mastery of Counterspelling and then some more. Reaving Dispel is still better in some ways - compare the two closely. A good choice for Divine Magician since it can be persisted. (thanks TheCobra)
- Dispelling Cord MIC: +2 competence to dispel checks 5/day (it doesn't stack with the Master Specialist bonus). Cheap, on a not-so-used body slot - definitely get one, even if you're not a dedicated dispeller: it'll give you a little extra oomph to dispel traps, disenchant allies...
- Ring of Counterspell DMG/Greater Counterspells MIC: The RoC is a staple of anybody who likes to keep their buffs: store Dispel Magic or the Greater version in it. A dispeller can bypass it by using other spells (see above), which makes its value go down as more splatbooks get added. It's not clear whether the GRoC lets you add your other bonuses to the counterspell check : if so, bump it to blue - it's worth getting.
- Ring of Spell-Battle MIC: the automatic detection of spellcasting within 60' makes it an excellent replacement for BmP (the 40' extra range keeps BmP worthwhile). Dispelling with dispel magic is limited (CL cap), but changing the target is fantastic ! It's one of very few ways to turn a Disjunction against its caster. Of course, it hurts when used against you.
- Rod of Reversal MIC - relic: the basic power is mediocre. The relic power is excellent, granting you a feat and 3/day a maximized Spell Turning with unlimited duration. If you dabble in abjuration, chances are you worship a deity of magic anyway.
Note: the power of some of the rings may prompt you to disable your opponent's rings with Chained Dispels if your DM likes to interfere with your god-like power.
- Spellblade PGtF: cheap and very useful, it's better than a Ring of Counterspells in most ways. It's common to apply it (Greater) Dispel Magic, but depending on your campaign other spells may be worth it.
- Dispelling+Greater Dispelling MIC: while it can be useful for warrior-types, the fixed caster level makes them obsolete after a few levels.
- Conceal Spellcasting CS: very good for all mages who can afford the skill requirements, it is however defeated by Battlemagic Perception or a Ring of Spell-Battle.
- False Theurgy CS: excellent way to fool a counterspeller... except that he's likely to counterspell every one of your spells just in case. Note that it doesn't prevent detection of the act of casting, and that you can only imitate a spell of the same level.
The following list is a medley of feats, class abilities, items and so on.
- Disguise Spell CAdv: on a successful Perform vs Spot check, this feat prevents the identification of the spellcaster (yourself). Even on a failed check, the spell can't be identified ! It can still be countered (with BmP, at least I think so - I could see a DM interpreting it the other way). This feat has few mechanical advantages in most campaigns, but it is very flavorful and it is good for intrigue or social encounters.
- Dispelling Buffer XPH: amazing defense and well-thought mechanic
- Ecto Protection XPH: very situational. But it provides the basis of the good eponymous ability of the Constructor PrC.
- Moderate School Esoterica [Master Conjurer] CM: very nice bonus. It's not permanent but it should last long enough.
- Ring of Enduring Arcana CM: cheap and very efficient. Stack it on another appropriate ring (of Counterspells, for instance.)
- Ring of Counterspell, Ring of Spell-Battle, Spellblade: see above.
- Spell Thematics PGtF: the spells chosen are harder to identify (but the penalty soon becomes meaningless) and the +1 CL makes them harder to dispel.
- Rune of Extension [Spellcarved Soldier] RoE: not bad but it can only be tied to 1 spell.
- Tenacious Spells [Suel Arcamanach] CA: very much needed given the low CL of the Suel's spells.
- Unimpeachable Abjuration [Initiate of the Sevenfold Veil] CA: behold ! Your dispels/counterspells are harder to counterspell...
As usual, the only way to really understand the tactics is to experiment with them - improve on the good and learn from the bad. Here are a few ideas.
Knowledge is PowerEdit
You will always fare better if you know more about your enemies : use Detect Magic, Arcane Sight (strongly consider getting it Permanenci-ed on you) and Greater Arcane Sight to identify spells already in place. This includes scrying : use spells or devices that also allow you to detect magic if you suspect your foe is a spellcaster.
But don't forget that they can be fooled or blocked by Magic Aura, Misdirection, Nondetection or Mindblank, or by lead or lack of LoE.
Arcane Casters : use your Familiar !Edit
What is the most previous resource in D&D ? You know it: actions. Your Familiar is a whole set of bonus actions each round. At low-level this carries little interest for a counterspeller, but everything changes from when you get 6th level spells on. Imbue Familiar with Spell Ability SC should quickly become a spell you use every day. Of course you will want to imbue your familiar with some Dispels. Then it can ready an action to counterspell and you can share Battlemagic Perception/Duelward with him, for one non-readied counterspell !
Note that the dispels cast by your familiar may not benefit from all your bonuses - check with your DM. Don't forget to provide some protection for it (Familiar Pocket SC is cheap and good.)
At high levels, it may seem that Counterspellers are not able to keep up with spellcasters outputting 2 spells per round. There is some truth in that : not all your spells prepared will be dispels, and you can lose the action race (if you do not ready an action, you're down to 1 immediate action per round to counterspell). The first part of the answer is to make your familiar contribute (see above), if an arcane caster. The second is simply common sense : exercise judgement when you decide whether to counterspell or not. If the spell is a buff, you can catch it during your next round with a dispel - which can also take other spells out !
Q: What about Counterspelling in a Core game ?
A: Don't do it. If you're going to ready an action, it is much more efficient to blast the spellcaster to force an impossible Concentration DC. Or have an archer ready an action to Manyshot her.
Q: Can I use Empower or Maximize to increase my dispel checks through the roof ?
A: No, you can't. This is addressed in the FAQ, p. 144 (thanks Phoenix00 for the reference).
- Q: Do Empower Spell and Maximize Spell affect d20 rolls made as part of a spell’s effect (such as an attack roll or dispel check)?
- A: No. Any attack roll, saving throw, skill check, dispel check, or any other d20 roll required to adjudicate a spell’s success or failure is not considered a “variable, numeric effect” of the spell and thus is unaffected by feats such as Empower Spell or Maximize Spell.
Don't let your DM see this guide lest (s)he becomes too good at countering you !