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Xanathar's Guide to Everything (p. 85) gives an optional rule if a character wants to identify a spell:

Sometimes a character wants to identify a spell that someone else is casting or that was already cast. To do so, a character can use their reaction to identify a spell as it's being cast, or they can use an action on their turn to identify a spell by its effect after it is cast.

If the character perceived the casting, the spell's effect, or both, the character can make an Intelligence (Arcana) check with the reaction or action. The DC equals 15 + the spell's level. If the spell is cast as a class spell and the character is a member of that class, the check is made with advantage. For example, if the spellcaster casts a spell as a cleric, another cleric has advantage on the check to identify the spell. Some spells aren't associated with any class when they're cast, such as when a monster uses its Innate Spellcasting trait.

I'm thinking of completely replacing the check with comparing the passive Arcana score and the DC (15 + spell level). This would also not require a reaction to perform.

However, I'm not sure whether this will be balanced or not. The goal is to allow identifying spell before casting counterspell. The side goal is to reduce dice rolling.

One of my main concern is early level this would be useless, as even with proficiency in Arcana, you would only get at most +5 (+3 from INT and +2 from proficiency). Except if you have expertise, you will never be able to identify even 1st level spell. Without expertise, you will only be able to identify up to 5th level (10 +5 INT and +5 proficiency against DC 20 for 5th level spell).

Is this modification (completely replacing identification using passive score instead of actively rolling Arcana) underpowered? Can it be remedied by changing the base DC to 10 instead of 15? What are some other concern I might have missed?

This rule will also apply on other situations other than for counterspell.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you only afraid of it being underpowered? You are effectively giving a free reaction, so maybe it would be worth to ask if it isn't overpowered at some point, too? \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Apr 2 at 8:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot no, I only mention underpowered because I feel this is underpowered because of the reason stated. I might be wrong and this is actually way overpowered. If it is overpowered, I'd be gladly to read what's the reason and learn balancing homebrewed rules. \$\endgroup\$ – Vylix Apr 2 at 8:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ What is the point of using your reaction to identify a spell as it's being cast? You still can't counterspell it, since reaction was already spent. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Apr 2 at 9:52
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I use this, with DC = 10 + the spell's level

And I have used it since before I read the rules in XGtE with absolutely no problems at all and my group really appreciated it.

This is also exactly what passive checks are for. If you notice something your brain immediately makes the link to your knowledge and you just know, you don't need to stop and concentrate to know something, you either know it, or you don't.

Notes

This makes Counterspell more powerful than it seems to be intended in XGtE, but I think that rule sucks and having a spell countered, or countering a spell is more fun than wasting a counterspell. But then as a GM I am on the players side and like them being informed about anything and everything.

If using DC10 as the base drop the advantage rule, because that boils down to +5 and means you start on a base of 15 passively so pretty much recognise everything.

I did try DC = 15 + the spells level, and this has the effect of making non-arcane spells more difficult to counter. I didn't like this personally, but it can be a flavourful touch. The DC15 is essentially taking into account that you have advantage on your own type of spells. I think here it is a group preference thing.

TL/DR

I find that more information in the hands of the PCs is better than less information, and any clever use of a passive skill such as this is very much within my style of DMing, but each to their own and this is steering away from RAW.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "and this has the effect of making non-arcane spells more difficult to counter." - isn't this just as difficult, on average, as original rule in XGE? \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Apr 2 at 10:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot I was referring to the comparison to DC10, but yes. The difference with XGtE would be action economy. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Apr 2 at 10:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer can be improved by explaining at the top explicitly what "this" is that you use. OP suggests multiple rules in their part and it's not clear exactly what rules you are agreeing with. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Apr 2 at 12:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does this all mean that as a side effect if the spell level is outside their passive then they know it's above a certain level? They still gain information even when they fail, right? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Apr 2 at 13:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ What is "this has the effect of making non-arcane spells more difficult to counter" supposed to mean? The Arcana skill is magic in general, not arcane magic specifically. Why would the source of the spell matter? \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Apr 2 at 13:37
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It makes Counterspell too powerful

Under the current rules you can either identify it or Counterspell because both use your singular Reaction.

Most simply explained with an example:

Current Rule

DM: “The lich is casting a spell.”

Me: (Internal monologue) Jeez, it’s a lich, those guys know Power Word, Kill and I don’t want that coming my way. Do I use Counterspell? Best to be safe. But at what level? To be sure I have to use my only 9th level slot. But what if he’s going for a 5th level AoE? Then I’ve wasted my slot and he can Power Word, Kill next turn. What to do?

DM: Are you going to do something?

Me: Yeah. Counterspell at 5th level.

Your rule

DM: “The lich is casting Ice Storm.”

Me: Counterspell at 5th level.

Where’s the fun in that?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Where is the fun in wasting a 5th level slot against Power Word Kill if Counterspell in a 3rd level slot would have the same chance of countering it? This is the opposite of what I would call fun. \$\endgroup\$ – András Apr 2 at 8:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Explaining changes in action economy etc would be far more useful than opinion about totally relative feeling of fun. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Apr 2 at 8:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Me: (Internal monologue)" That can take a large amount of time, the proposed rule greatly increases the pace of the fight. \$\endgroup\$ – Pierre Cathé Apr 2 at 8:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think counterspell is nerfed into oblivion by the XGtE rule which is an amazing book, but the spell identification rule is by far the worst imho. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Apr 2 at 9:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot so, write that answer \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Apr 2 at 11:52

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