Why DMs Are Banning Silvery Barbs

Silvery Barbs was an Unearthed Arcana subclass feature that was playtested for the Strixhaven setting. After class-variable subclasses were abandoned, the feature was converted to a level 1 enchantment spell for bards, sorcerers, and wizards. This spell is published in D&D’s new book, Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos.

Spell Mechanics

The spell works like this:

As a reaction, you can force a reroll (take lower) on an attack, check, or save.

Then, you hand out a bonus inspiration that can be used for 1 minute.

Reroll Mechanic

The core mechanic is not based on disadvantage. It’s a forced reroll after the fact. That’s not only better for conserving spell slots and action economy, it allows Silvery Barbs to be stacked with disadvantage from other sources, and other strong reroll mechanics like the Lucky feat.

Casting Time

Reaction spells immediately throw up a red flag for power creep. There aren’t many of them, and they are generally very good.

With the way monsters are being redesigned, it seems Counterspell is being phased out, leaving mages looking for something better to do with their reactions.

Part of a reaction spell’s strength is that it can skirt the bonus action spell rules to cast two leveled spells on your turn. That lets you impose disadvantage on the saves for your own spells!

Comparisons

How good is Silvery Barbs? To form a basis for comparison, we should look at spells that take the same casting time, have similar effects, or are cast at the same level. We’re going to focus on two spells, Shield and Fortune’s Favor, to demonstrate how Silvery Barbs is better than the best.

Shield

The most similar spell is probably Shield, another level 1 reaction spell. In a since-deleted stream, one of D&D’s lead designers once said that Shield might be the best spell in the game (for its level and effect). So, a balanced spell should be less good.

Where Shield reigns over Silvery Barbs is that you know if it’s going to work. If the attack roll is less than 5+AC, you can Shield and the attack will miss. Silvery Barbs doesn’t bring that guarantee, but it might work if the attack exceeded your AC by 5. Trading off a guarantee for wider use is fair.

Silvery Barbs also has a 95% chance to negate a critical hit, which will never happen with Shield. Conversely, it’s worth noting that the AC benefit from Shield persists, while Silvery Barbs will only last for the attack roll in question. But, it’s not all about attack rolls.

Silvery Barbs also works for ability checks! And saving throws!

That’s much broader applicability.

With the ability check reroll, you can force a grapple reroll in combat. Or make environmental effects harder to deal with. Or force a guard to retry an insight roll after they caught you in a blatant lie.

With the saving throw reroll, you can force a reroll on any save. And since Silvery Barbs is a reaction spell (that doesn’t trigger the bonus action spell restriction), you can force a reroll on a save vs. your own spell! Functionally, this is letting you recast any failed spell on your turn for a level 1 slot. A very economical second bite at the apple!

Fortune’s Favor

Fortune’s Favor is a dunamancy spell printed in Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, designed by Matthew Mercer of Critical Role. In a nod to the fact that the dunamancy spells were a little bit overtuned (see Magnify Gravity), they were restricted to the Chronurgist and Graviturgist Wizard subclasses printed in the same book.

Although it’s a 2nd level spell, Fortune’s Favor is an interesting comparison because the effects are similar to Silvery Barbs. The primary effect is dice manipulation.

Fortune’s Favor is a boon you can give to a character. Over the next hour, the target can choose to roll an extra die and choose which one to use. This functions like advantage, but like Silvery Barbs, it can actually be stacked with advantage. Fortune’s Favor can also be upcast to affect more targets.

However, there are some very big differences. First off, Fortune’s Favor takes a minute to cast! That’s never happening in combat, and it comes in stark contrast to Silvery Barbs’ reaction casting time. Second, Fortune’s Favor can’t be used to force a reroll on a save. Third, Fortune’s Favor doesn’t give you an extra advantage to hand out on top of it. Perhaps more accurately, Fortune’s Favor resembles Silvery Barbs’ bonus advantage rider, as the main benefit of Silvery Barbs is better than what Fortune’s Favor has to offer. Finally, Fortune’s Favor costs 100gp per cast, which actually does a good job delivering some flavor to the dice manipulation mechanic.

Legendary Resistances

It’s not clear how Silvery Barbs interacts with Legendary Resistances.

Let’s say you cast a spell on the BBEG. They fail their save, and use a Legendary Resistance to turn the failure into a success. You want to use Silvery Barbs to require the success to be rerolled.

  • Can the monster spend Legendary Resistance?
  • Does the spell simply fail?
Thanks to Steve Fidler of Vorpal Dice Press whose flowchart was adapted for this article.

In the first result, the DM allows the player to use Silvery Barbs on the success caused by the Legendary Resistance. This interpretation follows the strict language of Silvery Barbs, since it triggers on a “success.”

In the second result, the DM tells the player they can’t use their spell because Legendary Resistance has ended the save. This ideology treats Legendary Resistances as a save ending effect that terminates the spell.

There’s fair arguments for both.

But, both results are bad.

In the first case, you’re burning two of the monster’s Legendary Resistances (out of a likely total of three). In the second case, it feels like you’re denying a player ability by DM fiat. Either you’re ruining the fun for one person by taking away their spell, or you’re ruining the fun for the entire table by trivializing the threat to the party.

Abuses

Wizard

With the Wizard’s 18th level feature, Spell Mastery, they can cast Silvery Barbs for free, imposing disadvantage against the roll on every spell they cast, for the cost of a reaction.

Before they unlock infinite save disadvantage, Wizards can also write Silvery Barbs into spell scrolls for 25gp.

Artificer

Using their level 2 Infuse Item feature, Artificers can use the Replicate Magic Item infusion to generate common magic items. One such common item is the spellwrought tattoos from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, which can contain up to a 1st level spell as a common magic item. This allows the Artificer to store Silvery Barbs as a tattoo.

Fey Touched Feat

As an enchantment spell, any spellcaster can pick up Silvery Barbs with the Fey Touched feat from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. As a floating half-feat, you can add a point in Charisma or Wisdom. You also get the fantastic Misty Step to go along with your choice of a 1st level spell (Silvery Barbs).

Ban Worthy?

I’ve never restricted official published 5th Edition content at my gaming table, but Silvery Barbs will be the first.

This spell is a new trap choice for spellcasters. You can’t live without it. That’s not good, because it artificially restricts spell selection when players feel like one spell is obviously better than the rest, or that they’d be missing out if they didn’t take it (see, e.g. Bless, Counterspell, Eldritch Blast, Fireball, Spirit Guardians, Spiritual Weapon).

But honestly, I’m not sure that power creep, abuse potential, confusing mechanics, or trap options are the worst part of this spell.

Rerolls are just boring.

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5 thoughts on “Why DMs Are Banning Silvery Barbs

  1. I’m going to relevel it as a third level spell rather than outright ban. It’s still respectable as a clutch moment spell at that to disrupt something vital, but is it worth giving up a casting of fireball for?

    I like it as the equivalent of counterspell vs martial bad guys- use it to disrupt an ability that’s not a spell. But first level? Give me a break.

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  2. Silvery Barbs is broken and here is why. The first part of the spell is basically a better version of the wild magic sorcerer’s bend luck ability that they get at 6th level. Bend luck can either add 1d4 or subtract 1d4 from a d20 roll as a reaction and costs 2 sorcery points. At 2 sorcery points it is roughly equivalent to a 1st level spell, based on conversion rates. However with silvery barbs you basically do it twice once hindering an enemy and then again bolstering an ally. But, better yet the second effect can be held on to for up to a minute. Yes, it’s power creep. Yes, it’s broken.

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    1. It’s kind of hard to compare actually. Bend luck will automatically cancel an attack or saving throw that’s 1 away from the DC. Since it affects the final modified number and not the dice roll, it can be combined with Lucky, Silver Barbs or other things that force a reroll. Forcing a reroll could result in them still hitting. They could still hit if you don’t manage to roll high enough on your bend luck, and which one is stronger depends on what the original roll is and what the creature’s modifier is. If the enemy has a high modifier, then you’re not as likely to change the result by forcing a reroll. If the enemy has a high roll, but a lower modifier, then it’s more useful.

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