Counterspell & Counteract in Pathfinder RPG: How Each Work

Previously we’ve discussed the unrelenting might that is the Dispel Magic spell in Pathfinder.  In the process of writing that section, we quickly touched on the ability to Counterspell in Pathfinder 1e and Counteracting in Pathfinder 2e.

Both subjects warrant more scrutiny though, as they can both be somewhat confusing when you read them for the first time.

To that end, me and the boys in the rules labs decided to break these two subjects down, with the mind to help you, dear readers, to incorporate and use these rules more easily in your games!

Counterspell: Pathfinder First Edition

Counterspell is a universal ability for every spellcaster in Pathfinder 1st Edition divine or arcane. In essence, it allows you to disrupt the casting of another person’s spells to prevent them from going off entirely.

Though there are some catches in order to do it correctly. Counterspelling is very much a gamble from start to finish, and we are about to see why.

Base Mechanics

Let’s take a look at those rules from d20SRD.

To use a counterspell, you must select an opponent as the target of the counterspell. You do this by choosing to ready an action. In doing so, you elect to wait to complete your action until your opponent tries to cast a spell. You may still move at your normal speed, since ready is a standard action.

Step One here to keep in mind if you are wanting to counterspell: you will need to sacrifice your regular standard action to do so. This is very much a tactical decision to make.

You’ll need to decide if you want to hold the action to counterspell, or would that action be better served unleashing a spell of your own. If the enemy spell could be avoided entirely without sacrificing an action to do so, then that might be the best tactical decision.

However, if you know the spell is going to go off and there is no way to avoid the effect, it might be better to prepare to counterspell.

If the target of your counterspell tries to cast a spell, make a Spellcraft check (DC 15 + the spell’s level). This check is a free action. If the check succeeds, you correctly identify the opponent’s spell and can attempt to counter it. If the check fails, you can’t do either of these things.

Step Two to the counterspell is identifying the exact spell your opponent is casting. You’ll need to roll the above Spellcraft check to identify it. If you can’t identify it, then you can’t counter it.

If that happens, then you wasted the held action and the opponent’s spell goes off. This is the other gamble of attempting to counterspell.

To complete the action, you must then cast an appropriate spell. As a general rule, a spell can only counter itself. If you are able to cast the same spell and you have it prepared (or have a slot of the appropriate level available), you cast it, creating a counterspell effect. If the target is within range, both spells automatically negate each other with no other results.

Finally, Step Three of the counterspell is having the right spell prepared (or having it as a part of your known spells and a slot to cast it). This is the third part of the counterspell gamble.

If you don’t have the spell, you can’t counterspell. Knowing is half the battle though (the other half being extreme cartoonish-like violence).

While your normal DM isn’t going to let you look at your opponent’s spell list, if he has cast a spell before, then there is every reason to believe he could cast it again.

Special Rules

First edition does have some special rules for counterspelling that we can go into here.

Counterspelling Metamagic Spells

Metamagic feats are not taken into account when determining whether a spell can be countered.

This one is pretty self explanatory. Metamagic Feats do not affect a spell’s ability to be countered. Every spell is vulnerable in some way. Just because your opponent has heightened a spell’s level by 3 so he can melt your face, doesn’t mean you have to do the same.

A Superpowered fireball can still be countered by a regular fireball.

Specific Exceptions

Some spells can counter other specific spells, often those with diametrically opposed effects.

Some spells will specifically counter other spells when used. This is noted in the spell’s description. Example being the Light spell with counter a Darkness spell, or vis-a-versa.

A Slow spell will counter a Haste spell, or the other way around. This is why it is important to make sure to know your tool kit as a caster going into the game. Keep in mind it doesn’t matter where your magic is coming from.

If you got your Haste spell from a divine source, but the Slow spell you are attempting to counter is Arcane, you can still counter it.

Dispel Magic as a Counterspell

You can usually use dispel magic to counterspell another spell being cast without needing to identify the spell being cast. Dispel magic doesn’t always work as a counterspell (see the spell description).

Dispel Magic is the pseudo-master key in most Countering positions. While Dispel Magic can do many things overall, it can also act as a universal spell to counter a spell if you don’t have the proper spell prepared or ready to go.

You still need to make a Dispel Check: 1d20 + your caster level vs a DC of 11 + the target spell’s level. 

Counteract: Pathfinder Second Edition

In Pathfinder 2nd Edition, Counterspelling was replaced with a much more general or universal action known as Counteracting. Counteracting can get somewhat confusing, so we will break it down here.


Source: Core Rulebook pg. 458 2.0

Some effects try to counteract spells, afflictions, conditions, or other effects. Counteract checks compare the power of two forces and determine which defeats the other. Successfully counteracting an effect ends it unless noted otherwise.

Counteracting is when a character wishes to break or end an effect (mostly magical) against another target. This could be taking a potion to counteract a magical disease, disarming a magical trap, or ending a negative magical effect like a Curse or an Affliction.

In order to use the Counteract action at all, the character needs to have an item or ability that can even allow them to interact with the effects at all. A good example of this is the Dispel Magic spell or a Panacea potion which counteracts diseases and curses.

When attempting a counteract check, add the relevant skill modifier or other appropriate modifier to your check against the target’s DC. If you’re counteracting an affliction, the DC is in the affliction’s stat block. If it’s a spell, use the caster’s DC.

The GM can also calculate a DC based on the target effect’s level. For spells, the counteract check modifier is your spellcasting ability modifier plus your spellcasting proficiency bonus, plus any bonuses and penalties that specifically apply to counteract checks.

What you can counteract depends on the check result and the target’s level. If an effect is a spell, its level is the counteract level. Otherwise, halve its level and round up to determine its counteract level.

If an effect’s level is unclear and it came from a creature, halve and round up the creature’s level.

Alright so this is a huge word salad. Even I have trouble parsing all of it. Boiling it down to its components, the way it works is before counteracting you need to have 4 things: 

  1. Your counteract Modifier 
  2. Your counteract Level:
  3. The Target’s Counteract DC
  4. The Target’s Counteract Level.

Now typically with most Pathfinder pre-made content, most if not ALL of this is going to be written out for you. In fact, if you are using items from the books to counteract effects like curses or afflictions, those are mostly already written out for you.

Panacea for example has a counteract level of 7 and a +20 counteract modifier. Another example would be a Rod of Negation which has a level 6 counteract level and a counteract modifier of +23.

This goes the same for curses, afflictions, and diseases when attempting to find the target’s Counteract DC and the Counteract level. The Counteract DC is the same as the normal Saving Throw DC, and the Counteract Level is equal to the level of the Curse, Affliction, or Disease presented.

Where this gets somewhat complicated is when we get to Spells. For the purposes of dispel magic or counterspells, you will need to calculate these on the fly. It isn’t hard, but it can sometimes get confusing. 

Your Counteract Modifier is going to be Your Spell Ability Modifier (Intelligence for Wizards, Wisdom for Clerics, Charisma for Bards, etc) + Proficiency Bonus granted by your class as you level.

Your Counteract Level is the level of the spell you are using to counteract the other spellcaster. This can change if you choose to Heighten the power of your Dispel Magic.

The Target’s Counteract DC is equal to the target’s normal spell DC, which is 10 + Spell Ability Modifier + Proficiency Bonus.

The Target’s Counteract Level is the level of the spell they are casting including any additional levels they may have used to heighten the spell.

Note: if for some reason you cannot find the Target Counteract level for a curse, affliction, or disease, then you can use Half the level of the creature or item that caused the effect to begin with as the Target’s Counteract Level.

So you have all your numbers ready and you roll it! Well what does it all mean? 

Critical Success: Counteract the target if its counteract level is no more than 3 levels higher than your effect’s counteract level.

Success: Counteract the target if its counteract level is no more than 1 level higher than your effect’s counteract level.

Failure: Counteract the target if its counteract level is lower than your effect’s counteract level.

Critical Failure: You fail to counteract the target.

This one is pretty self explanatory, but one thing does need to be addressed. Even if you succeed, it is possible to not counter the effect if the Target Counteract level is too high.

Even if you roll a critical success. If the Counteract Level overpowers your action, there is very little your smaller level can do to stop it.

The example I have seen used, and I will borrow here, is the example of Fire vs Water.

Let’s say you have a bucket of water and you want to put out a fire. Your Counteract Level is a measure of how much water you have in the bucket, and the Target Counteract Level is a measure of the intensity of the flames.

A Full Bucket is enough to douse a normal campfire, and maybe even a small bonfire if you get the water onto the right parts. It will take more than just a bucket of water to fight a raging house fire though.

For that, you need something bigger. Hence, you will need a higher Counteract Level to counteract a more powerful effect.

Happy Hunting, Pathfinder!