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There has been a lot of debate in my D&D group about the specific wording of Dispel Magic which were not answered by the D&D sage advice column:

Choose one creature, object, or magical effect within range. Any spell of 3rd level or lower on the target ends. For each spell of 4th level or higher on the target, make an ability check using your spellcasting ability. The DC equals 10 + the spell’s level. On a successful check, the spell ends.

How many rolls does one have to make in order to break a 9th level spell with a 3rd level spell slot?

The primary issue revolves around the interpretation of the word "any" here. In English the word "any" could mean "any one" or "any of your choice".

I have seen a couple of forum posts suggesting that if three mages each cast Haste on a single target, and you use Dispel Magic on that target, then it will only remove one instance of Haste.

If we agree with this "only one effect can be removed" definition, then it leads to different interpretation of the next sentence:

"For each spell level higher on the target, make an ability check"

If this is the case, then removing a 9th level spell using a 3rd level slot would require 6 rolls:

  1. A DC 14 to break the 4th level
  2. A DC 15 to break the 5th level
  3. A DC 16 to break the 6th level
  4. A DC 17 to break the 7th level
  5. A DC 18 to break the 8th level
  6. A DC 19 to break the 9th level

On the one hand, this sounds almost reasonable. If you only need to make a single ability check to remove a 9th-level world-altering magical effect with a 3rd-level spell slot, then a level 5 wizard could by pure luck banish an eldritch god to the outer planes. This seems extremely powerful and beyond the scope of a 5th level character.

On the other hand, if this really is how Dispel Magic works, then the odds of dispelling a 9th level spell with a 3rd level slot for a character with 20 intelligence is only 1%. Even using a 6th level slot to improve your odds only gets you up to 6.3%.

If, on the other hand, it only takes a single roll to remove a 9th level spell - then I have a related question regarding the wording "for each spell" which can be seen here (currently being edited): How *exactly* does Dispel Magic work with multiple effects?

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Only one.

The wording seems deceptive, but it says "For each spell", not each spell level. Your math is correct concerning DC of the checks, but dispel only requires one check, based on spell level.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ an example here would make this a better answer, something like, if a lvl 3 use is cast on a character currently under the effect of a lvl 4 spell affect and 2 level 9 spell affects, you would roll once against a DC 14 to break the lvl 4 spell effect, and a 2 rolls against DC 19 (one for each lvl 9 spell). each success would break the targeted spell, and not effect the other ones. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Gorman Dec 18 '17 at 21:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ "The wording seems deceptive" - I'd disagree - the wording seems perfectly clear to me (and exactlly what you say it is). \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Dec 18 '17 at 21:47
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When you bring it up the second time, you misquote the text. "For each spell of 4th level or higher" is not the same as "For each spell level of 4th level or higher". You roll once for each spell.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The misquote was a modification to the text to suggest a possible interpretation, since IF Dispel Magic can only target a single magical effect (the premise of another question) then it doesn't make sense to roll "for each spell" \$\endgroup\$ – stevendesu Dec 18 '17 at 16:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @stevendesu You are still changing the meaning of the text, not just presenting another interpretation. The distinction between spell and spell level is clear. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Dec 18 '17 at 16:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree that the wording is somewhat misleading, but I believe the intended interpretation is "For any spell of 4th level or higher". \$\endgroup\$ – Bagahnoodles Dec 18 '17 at 16:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @stevendesu Look at it like this: The fact that a follow-up sentence wouldn't make any sense is definite proof that your interpretation this far can't be correct. \$\endgroup\$ – ammut Dec 18 '17 at 18:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @stevendesu, your quote quite explicitly says "for each spell". I can't understand how that could be taken to mean "for up to one spell"... \$\endgroup\$ – ilkkachu Dec 19 '17 at 9:11

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