Blast from the Past: Counterspelling in AD&D!

I love a spell duel. The scene from Conan the Barbarian movie where the two mages go at it... pure gold!

When I read a post by a gent named duBeers from the wonderful OD&D Boards forum that covered how he did counterspelling, I had to go write my own. After all, if Chainmail could have counterspells, then the game that it influenced, Dungeons & Dragons, could have it too.

I've been using these for the past nine years. When it's happened in-game, it's been pretty intense to see the players get into it. It shocks the crap out of the mages every time I do it, because they forget that it's an option. My monsters and NPCs don't forget...

Here's how it works:

A magic-user may use his or her arcane knowledge to attempt to neutralize an opponent's spell. This is referred to a counter-spell or spell duel.
  1. To engage in a duel a magic-user must be able to see the attacking magic-user.
  2. Any condition which would prevent a magic-user from casting a spell would likewise prevent him or her from countering of a spell.
  3. Cleric spells cannot be countered.
  4. The intent to counter a spell must be declared during round declarations. The DM will let the players know if a monster is casting a spell.
  5.  Attempting a counter-spell fully occupies a magician's powers and concentration. Engaging in a counter-spell duel negates any further action or spell use by both participants for the remainder of that round.
  6.  The spell duel resolution occurs in the Phase/segment that the spell would have finished in.
Resolving a Spell Duel
  1. Compare the levels of the countering magic-users with the spell-casting magic-user.
  2. The mage casting the spell performs a saving throw vs. (Unlisted) Spells. They add (or subtract) the difference of level (HD) between caster and counter-speller. If the save is successful, the caster wins the duel; if not, the counter-speller wins.
  3. The loser of the spell duel must roll against the table below: 
2d6 Result (+1 for each 2 levels that casting MU's level is higher than countering MU)
2Unconscious 1d4+1 rounds
31d4-1 points damage
4-5Confusion (1d4+1 rounds)
6Charmed - under control of winner of the duel
7-9Suffer effects related to attempted spell*
10Forget one spell (randomly chosen by DM)
11Forget all spells
12+  Feeblemind (equivalent of 3 INT until a full day’s rest, all spells forgotten)
* to be determined by referee

Example: Treen, a 2nd level mage, sees that a goblin shaman is about to cast a spell and declares that he will counter the shaman’s spell. The goblin is an HD 1-1 (considered a 1) so must add 1 to their roll. The goblin must roll a 12+1 = 13 to save against Treen’s counter spell. The goblin rolls a 3. It then rolls a 6 on 2d6 and is now considered charmed by Treen.

(Image credits: A duel between wizards in Alphatia is always to the death. [Stephen Fabian, Gazetteer: Dawn of the Emperors by Aaron Allston, TSR, 1989])


  1. Nicely done! Much like your earlier psionics rules, this is a concise way to play out something that tends to spread across pages and pages in many games.

  2. This is great. Always bothered me that we never have any proper MU duels in my D&D campaign a la Harry Potter. This is a simple resolution and I love simplicity in wargames. Many thanks!


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