DnD 5e’s Silvery Barbs

Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos (affiliate link) gave use just 5 new spells, and for the most part they weren’t a huge problem. However, Silvery Barbs has justifiably caused quite a stir due to how incredibly powerful it is. It allows a number of problematic abuse cases, and even if you only spotted one of them you likely understand why this spell is a problem.

So let’s make the whole situation worse by finding every abuse case built into the spell.

(Don’t worry, I’ll suggest fixes, too).

The Rules

I can’t reproduce the text of the spell in full because it’s not part of the SRD, so go peak at DnDBeyond or grab the book.

To roughly summarize the effects:

  • 1st-level enchantment available to Bards, Sorcerers, and Wizards
  • 60 ft. range, verbal component, cast as a Reaction when a target succeeds on an attack/check/save
  • The triggering target rolls a new d20 and takes the lower of their successful d20 roll and the new d20 roll
  • A secondary target, which can be the caster, gets Advantage on their next attack/check/save within one minute of Silvery Barbs being cast

Errata / Rules Answers

Wizards of the Coast noticed the discussion, and responded just 7 days after Strixhaven’s release, which is lightning fast by typical 5e errata publication standards. Errata version 3.0 came with some rules answers as usual, including for Silvery Barbs.

Can the silvery barbs spell in Strixhaven affect Legendary Resistance? No. When a creature uses Legendary Resistance, the creature turns a failed saving throw into a success, regardless of the number rolled on the d20. Forcing that creature to reroll the d20 afterward doesn’t change the fact that the save succeeded as a result of Legendary Resistance. No amount of rerolling will undo that success.

https://dnd.wizards.com/dndstudioblog/sage-advice-book-updates

Uses and Abuses

Silvery Barbs can be used in a wide variety of situations across the entire level range. So long as someone in the party has the spell available, your party has a massively powerful asset.

Negating Critical Hits

The triggering creature rolls a natural 20 on an attack roll. In response, you speak the verbal component “how about no?” and the creature rerolls their attack. They do still have a 1 in 20 chance of scoring a critical hit, but those are slim odds. This makes your entire party nearly immune to critical hits so long as someone can cast Silvery Barbs.

Negating the Benefits of Advantage

The triggering creature rolls an attack/check/save with Advantage. Silvery Barbs doesn’t care. If they succeeded, Silvery Barbs forces them to roll and additional d20 and use the lower of the their successful roll and the additional d20. The second d20 rolled when they rolled with Advantage doesn’t matter. Silvery Barbs doesn’t care.

Save or Suck

Our spellcaster produces a save-or-suck effect, such as casting Hold Person. The target passes their save. Our spellcaster declares “oh no you don’t” and casts Silvery Barbs (remember that the limitation on leveled spells per turn only applies if you cast a spell as a Bonus Action). The target rolls a new d20 and uses the lower of their successful roll (after factoring in Advantage/Disadvantage) and uses the lower d20 result, most likely reducing their total roll and frequently turning a success into a failure.

This is essentially as good as Metamagic (Heighten Spell), but you use it reactively so you only pay the cost if you need it. This case alone is too good for a 1st-level spell. If this was the only thing that Silvery Barbs did, it would already be too good.

Spam it on the Same Roll

Your party is all bards (or all classes that can cast Silvery Barbs at the very least). Bard A casts a save-or-suck spell. The target succeeds on the save, so Bard A casts Silvery Barbs. Tragically, the target succeeds again! But wait, Bard B casts Silvery Barbs, too! Roll again!

This nonsense can continue until the target fails or you run out of people who can cast Silvery Bards casting Silvery Barbs.

Counter Counterspell

You cast a spell. The enemy spellcaster casts Counterspell, but doesn’t use a spell slot of high enough level to automatically counter your spell, so they must make an ability check. They succeed on your check, successfully countering your spell.

But wait, you have Silvery Barbs! Normally you could Counterspell the Counterspell (yes it’s allowed, and yes it’s as silly as it sounds), but Silvery Barbs is two spell levels lower than Counterspell so it’s a cheaper solution to the same problem, though potentially less reliable.

Note that the limitation to one leveled spell per turn only applies if you cast a spell with a Bonus Action casting time. If you used Action Surge to cast two leveled spells as an Action, you could still use your Reaction on the same turn to cast another leveled spell.

Empowering Skills

If you don’t have time, resources, or Concentration to spare for Enhance Ability, Silvery Barbs can give you or an ally Advantage on one roll. It also doesn’t require Concentration, so you can easily stack it with Guidance if that’s an option.

Triggering Silvery Barbs just requires that a creature you can see (likely not the caster, but even that’s not explicit) succeeds on a d20 roll. Have party member A punch a wall (attack roll), cast Silvery Barbs, and give party member B Advantage on their next d20 roll.

Existing Limitations

There are some limitations on Silvery Barbs. It’s not absolutely unstoppable.

  • Spell Slots. Players will eventually run out of spell slots. Sorcerers melting their spell slots into Sorcery Points to then create more 1st-level spell slots will be problem, though.
  • One Reaction per creature per round. A creature can only cast Silvery Barbs once per turn due to the limitations imposed by the action economy.
  • Only 60-foot range. 60 feet will cover most fights, but that archer who hates spellcasters that is standing 65 feet away is fine.
  • Must be able to see the target creature which targets the spell. Being unseen is a huge advantage in 5e where so many things require you to be able to see the target, so invisibility, darkness, etc. all make a creature immune to Silvery Barbs.

Fixes

The effects of Silvery Barbs are not inherently problematic. The issue is the spell’s cost. For what it costs to use Silvery Barbs, its effects are too powerful. Adjusting the cost in one or more ways can make the spell considerably less problematic without altering the actual effects of the spell, though altering the spell’s effects may still be helpful.

I recommend applying one or more of the following changes. Discuss it with your group, and experiment until you feel like you’ve arrived at a good solution. The hope is that Silvery Barbs is worthwhile, but not so incredibly powerful that it makes other options obsolete.

  • Raise the spell level to 2 or 3. Raising the spell level significantly increases the cost to cast the spell, and discourages sorcerers from melting all of their spell slots into Sorcery Points to cast Silvery Barbs all day long.
  • Reduce the range to 30 feet. Forcing the caster to be closer to enemies limits how frequently the spell can be used and adds some risk to its usage.
  • Remove the secondary Advantage effect. This reduces the benefits of Silvery Barbs, which might bring it more in line with its cost.
  • The target rerolls the attack/check/save, applying Advantage/Disadvantage if they apply. This prevents Silvery Barbs from totally negative Advantage, but also makes anything rolled with Disadvantage borderline impossible if Silvery Barbs is around.
  • Allow a Saving Throw. The target has no way to resist Silvery Barbs. Allowing a saving throw makes Silvery Barbs less of a sure thing, which reduces the amount that it unbalances the game. However, adding an additional roll adds to the time that it takes to resolve a spell which already takes a lot of time to resolve and track.

Personally I like it as a 2nd-level spell with no secondary effect that just forces a reroll. That’s still a really great spell that I would strongly consider taking, but it’s not so good that it would define my build.

Conclusion

Silvery Barbs is so good that we have arguably hit a state of the game where a save-or-suck caster is the only build worth playing. A party of bards, sorcerers, and wizards was already incredibly powerful, but now it’s so good that no one else needs to show up to the game, and every encounter is a now a game save-or-suck rocket tag where whoever goes first wins outright.

It’s not a good thing.

So in case it’s not abundantly clear: Ban Silvery Barbs unless your group is willing to use it with some of the fixes proposed above.

5 Comments

  1. Bill December 18, 2021
  2. Zachary McCullough December 18, 2021
    • RPGBOT December 19, 2021
      • Stefan H. Pedersen December 29, 2021
    • battlemusic December 28, 2021

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