Last Updated: December 19, 2021
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m gonna be honest I don’t think it’s as game breaking as people think it is unless you’re playing one encounter days or one monster encounters. If your adventuring day has a modicum of resource management then there’s a real potential to burn through your spell slots very quickly and be running on fumes after three or four encounters. I think we also forget a lot of the best spells in the game like plant growth, wall of force, and forcecage have no save, they just take effect. Then other standout spells that do have saves are standouts because of the number of creatures they affect like web, hypnotic pattern, sleet storm, synaptic static, and maddening darkness. Silvery barbs makes some of these spells a little better but that’s not why they’re strong, and single target save or suck spells like hold monster or feeblemind are still not better than the spells listed above. It makes suboptimal spells better and it makes Bards that aren’t Eloquence better and more up to the power level of Eloquence. I think it’s fine for dungeon crawls, and powerful for days that have few encounters, but games that have only a few encounters per day are busted and favor casters anyway so whatever.
I wouldn’t ban this spell because I don’t think it’s as strong as shield and at higher tiers it occupies similar level as Absorb Elements. I would have been interested in hearing your thoughts of comparisons to Shield/Absorb Elements, interactions with Aberrant Mind and how it invalidates Magical Resistance.
Basically the main reasoning is: skills are generally covered and not as impactful, you’re not using this for attack rolls other than negating crits (which covers a great niche shield can’t, although multiattack means shield is better later on anyways), but as you point out, forcing spell save fails is the big draw. The issue is that this spell exacerbates small encounter days, 1-2 enemy encounter problems, and provides a new way to nova in a fight better, but against 6-8 medium+ encounters/day? Silvery barbs falls off pretty hard, especially since most creatures that are ‘boss’ have legendary resistance– this does though improve burning off legendary resistances (especially if they have magic resistance!).
All that being said, I think it’s a pick usually, although for spells known casters, Entangle, Web, Hypnotic Pattern, Wall of Force etc. are still better, i.e. this is going to compete poorly against a number of autopick spells. At low levels Sleep even is better (and maybe this will just be what you exchange Sleep for as you level up). But if you have Shield, you’re going to prioritize spell slots on that. If Shield didn’t exist I think the conversation would be fairly different though, but guaranteed damage avoidance and preserving Concentration on your Wall of Force is just too important to burn your reaction and Shield slot to maybe cause one creature to fail a saving throw.
Compare the cost of casting one high-level save-or-suck spell plus Silvery Barbs to the cost of casting two high-level spells. Spending a 1st-level spell to force a reroll is a huge cost savings both in terms of spell slots and action economy since you both don’t need to spend another high-level slot and don’t need to spend an Action to cast another spell. Sure, you’re using more resources in the space of one round, but you’re potentially ending the fight sooner, which means that you’re likely saving resources. If you can end a fight in one turn with two spell slots, even in a 6-8 encounter day you have plenty of resources to remain effective all day long.
just remember that any time you use silvery barbs, you leave yourself vulnerable with no defence at all as everything that makes a spellcaster even mediocrely durable needs that reaction to work, you loose the ability to use any and all of; shield, absorb elements, and counterspell, making it very likely you will take a lot of damage very shortly after your turn and loose concentration on your save/suck spell before it even gets to do anything anyway.
Silver Barbs isn’t a guarantee failed save.
The only thing I might think about doing with the spell is restrict it to bard class only. Makes thematic and class concept sense.
I might leave an additional comment after RPGBOT’s, compare it to subclasses with similar features like Divination or Chronurgy Wizard. Now imagine they can do that, but instead of having only 2 or 3 rolls, they get an amount of uses equal to their spell slots. Now double that (the spell essentially gives disadvantage to an enemy and advantage to an ally).
When you literally make an already powerful feature available now all the time, it becomes essentially broken. When other builds require a race/class/feat to get the same feature, and now all spell casters get that feature but hundredfold, it’s definitely meta-changing.
I honestly don’t know what WotC were thinking on this one. It’s as if they didn’t hear any of the feedback made for the spell, didn’t playlets it at all (or at least, not properly) and just sent it out lazily, thinking “meh. it’s fine.” No shame on Wizards, it’s still a game, but something is definitely going on with quality control.
I’m a bit late to the party but I’m doing to put some things I found here.
I couldn’t find anything about forced rerolls, but I was able to find a section in the basic rules that says “When you have advantage or disadvantage and something in the game, such as the halfling’s Lucky trait, lets you reroll or replace the d20, you can reroll or replace only one of the dice,” and I would assume a similar rule applies to monsters being forced to reroll. It also goes on to say that the player can pick which die to reroll, but it’s probably different for forced rerolls.
There’s another section in the DMG I believe that says that a creature can’t be affected by two instances of a spell or ability with the same name. You could interpret Silvery Bards as no longer affecting a creature after the reroll and therefore you could stack it, but you could also argue that it affects the creature until the roll is resolved and therefore you can’t stack it. I think it’s at least enough of a grey area to leave it up to the DM.
For empowering skills you could already just use the help action.
I think a good nerf for this spell would be something along the lines of: ‘You can’t use this spell to force a reroll on a spell of first level or higher on the same turn it is cast,’ which takes care of what I feel is the only seriously problematic abuse case (being able to empower save and suck spells) as well as the Counterspell counter thing. It also makes SB go from making Heightened Spell somewhat redundant to having potentially good synergy with it for spells that allow repeated saves.
There isn’t a grey area the trigger for silvery barbs is succeeding not continuing. The succeed after a reroll. The second player has no argument to chain this.
simply the strongest spell of all time. better than wish. wizards was smoking something else
With certain combos this can become problematic, by itself it’s fine but if you have a divination wizard that’s a halfling and has the lucky feat as well as taking spell mastery for silvery barbs then you have a problem.
A party of halfling divination wizards with the lucky feat and spell mastery for silvery barbs.
I don’t see how this is a problem. If the players are using their options creatively & having fun, what’s the issue? Are they finishing the encounters too “easily”? Throw more at them. Give them a challenge in game, you don’t have to alter mechanics to challenge someone.
I think I would move the spell cost to level 2. Maybe reduce the Range to 45 feet, maybe not. Leave everything else. It would still be a S-tier spell.
Here is the problem with this interpretation of silvery barbs. Players knowing when monsters crit is neither RAW nor RAI. Barbs canceling advantage is not RAW or RAI. Players don’t know when monsters are rolling for counterspell. Chaining doesn’t actually work by the rules. None of this is within the rules. If you are playing this way it is by choice not by the games system. They balance spells by how you play. Punching a wall to set off the spells doesn’t work and DM has full control over you wasting advantage you have no control over. The only thing fairly powerful that a forcing a reroll on save or suck and even that is pretty questionable on your own spell by the rules and which already existed for cheaper and didn’t break the game because legendary resistance exists.
Players knowing the numerical results of enemy attacks is never explicitly discussed in the rulebooks to the best of my knowledge, but stating the numerical results of attacks is extremely common, especially for groups who roll dice in the open. If my DM rolls in front of a screen and I see a 20 on the die, it’s generally safe to assume that it rolled a critical hit. There’s certainly some room for how your group plays the game to affect the benefits of the spell here.
Silvery Barbs is applied after the target succeeds on an attack/check/save, and causes the target to reroll the d20. They don’t get to go back to other d20’s that they may have rolled thanks to Advantage or other effects, which functionally negates the benefits of Advantage.
You’re going to have to elaborate your argument against “chaining”. If you mean that multiple casters can’t target the same creature with Silvery Barbs, I can’t see a reason why they couldn’t. The target has qualified to trigger the Reaction for Silvery Barbs. Having one creature react to it doesn’t deny other creatures the ability to do so.
Making a successful attack roll qualifies for the Reaction to cast Silvery Barbs. It doesn’t matter if it’s a creature or an object being attacked, just that the attack was successful.
Several citations needed.
Where in the DMG do you see that hiding evidence of crits is RAW, let alone RAI?
What rules negate chaining? If multiple players have the same reaction, they can use it off of the same trigger. Think if one creature is mostly surrounded by melee fighters and moves away — they’d all get opportunity attacks. If the argument is based on the idea that a creature cannot be affected by the same spell twice, well that is overruled by the fact that Silvery Barbs is instantaneous. (You might have some kind of argument here, if you rule that all the reactions must take place simultaneously, which is fair but not sure how many tables play that way.)
And finally, how in the world do you reason that punching a wall doesn’t work?? It would be a successful attack roll. The trigger makes no mention of the attack being against a creature. Heck, if you think that’s too cheesy then you can just cant Minor Illusion and test if one of your partymates can recognize it is an illusion (which is a skill check) — a success would absolutely trigger Silvery Barbs.
The issues with this spells are kind of anecdotal , negating crits is great but that costs your reaction, and opens you up to atacks, giving a 2nd chance of a spell is great but its usualy for spells youd normaly not use couse there are better options, yeah hold monster seems great but its a entire 5th level slot you might have 1 of so ofcourse most would opt for the many many spells that do something even on a sucesfull save help allies or dont even require a save at all, an all psrty caster seems like it would be op till a pack of wolves just maul them couse they are fragile like wet tissue paper early on unless they smartly multiclassed or race selected, and ive never even seen a party want to be all casters outside of one shots at best an part mixed with casters and halfcasters like paladins rangers eks and ats, i admit this could be a 2nd spell which would definetely bring its power down from spamable but aplying more than 1 of these fixes is a knee jerk overkill
Since Silbery Barbs has been around for some time and I had the chance to be a player that uses the spell and I DMed for players who use this spell, I can say that the spell’s effect on itself isn’t a problem at my tables, but it does offer quite a bit for a first level spell. Is it as good a Shield? Not really, but Shield is one of the best spell for it’s spell level cost. However, Silvery Barbs offers too much for a single first level slot. We tried making it a 2nd-level slot but it takes away the possibility to be selected with some feats, especially Aberrant Dragonmark, which many of our non-casters like to take to add some versatility. So, we simply removed the advantage part and it feels about right at our table. As a primary caster player, I don’t often select save or suck spells (beyond 4th level spells and even then only on certain builds) and I prefer mass debuffs or spells that don’t allow a saving throw or that only allow an ability check, such as faerie fire, web, slow, summon spells, wall of force, maze, telekinesis, etc… (Mostly to ignore any legendary resistances and magic resistances). Hence, I never had much offensive value for myself. However, it feels great to use to help our non-full-casters, who have limited resources with devastating effects such as stunning strike, trip attack vs flying creatures, wrathful smite, etc… That way our non-full-caster feel great and supported, which is my way to somewhat redeem the complains I read about this spell being another tool for caster and being martials left out.
Transferring luck from an enemy to an ally is the core flavor of this spell, i would not remove it.
The spell forces a re-roll on an attack/check/save, how about just dropping the “save” part?
– Advantage for a 1st level spell slot does not seem incredibly broken considering it is a single check, help action often applies and the set-up would be complex in combat.
– Negating the benefit of advantage also means negating the possibility of exploiting disadvantage, which might even be more powerful.
If the spells feels still to versatile and powerful, I would just leave the “attack” re-roll and have advantage always transfer to the target of the attack.