The strategy

I am working on a tactic for my artificer (battlesmith) for combating mages which focuses on out-sustaining their spell slots. To do so he asked a companion (the cleric in the party) to craft a dozen healing word scrolls for him. Following Xanathar's they cost 25 gold to craft and 1 day each so cheap. The scrolls are used exclusively to combat mages. Because they use a bonus action, if they are counterspelled he still gets his attacks against the mage. And if the mage is counterspelling every turn, he is burning level 3 spell slots every turn (or 4 when 3 runs out).

I'm preferring bonus action spell scrolls because my idea is to use the bonus action spell scroll, and attack, not cast another spell (which you can't do). If you expect to get counterspelled it is better that you lose a bonus action than your action.

The mage would burn spell slots too fast to end up having enough to kill. If the mage doesn't counterspell the artificer gains an average of 7 hp per turn which is quite significant in the battle of attrition.


This is where the issue is though: when I start employing this tactic I know that my DM will begin to not counterspell me unless I cast from 'not a scroll.' So, I need a way to switch things up to give myself options to keep my opponents guessing and counterspelling when I want them to.

To that end, I'm wondering if it is possible to have the character pretend to cast a spell from a scroll while actually casting one from their slots or vice versa and how that would work. Specifically:

  • While I'm casting normally can I pretend to be casting from the scroll I'm 'reading' (just looking at, not reading in the way that would cause it to be cast)?
  • Can I read a scroll while pretending to perform a spell using falsified verbal, somatic, and material components?
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 23, 2020 at 22:03

1 Answer 1


If you are actually casting a spell, your scheme won't work. If instead you are attempting to fool an enemy caster into thinking you are casting a spell, it may or may not work, but it's up to the DM.

By default the rules do not require the counterspelling spellcaster to know the spell being cast, or it's level in order to counterspell, so your scheme won't work in general.

Counterspell states:

You attempt to interrupt a creature in the process of casting a spell. If the creature is casting a spell of 3rd level or lower, it's spell fails and has no effect. If it is casting a spell of 4th level or higher, make an ability check using your spellcasting ability. The DC equals 10 + the spell's level. On a success, the creature's spell fails and has no effect.

As a result, you can't trick them into counterspelling the "wrong" spell, if they cast Counterspell on you and you are casting a spell...then your spell will be countered if it is 3rd level or lower, or faces a chance of being countered if it is 4th level or higher.

That being said, the enemy caster won't know what spell you are casting, or even that you are/are not casting a spell in general. By a corollary, they won't know that you are "pretending" to cast a spell but not actually doing so (if you can pretend well enough)!

[...] Unless a spell has a perceptible effect, a creature might not know it was targeted by a spell at all. [...]

(Player's Handbook: Casting a Spell > Targets)

So you might be able to fool them into wasting a counterspell on a "spell" once (Fool me Once and all that).

What does it take for a spell to be perceived?

In order for your ruse to work your spell/"spell" needs to be perceptible to be counterspelled. Absence some special sense (like that afforded by Detect Magic possibly), you aren't even guaranteed to know that a spell is being cast by the caster.

Xanathar's Guide to Everything, provides additional optional rules to cover the circumstance of perceiving a caster at work (expanding upon the PHB quote above):


To be perceptible, the casting of a spell must involve a verbal, somatic or material component.


If the need for a spell's components has been removed by a special ability, such as the sorcerer's Subtle Spell feature [...] the casting of the spell is imperceptible.

It also has optional rules on identifying a spell being cast:


To do so, a character can use their reaction to identify a spell as it's being cast, or they can use an an action on their turn to identify a spell by it's 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.


Being able to cast spells doesn't by itself make you adept at deducing exactly what others are doing when they cast their spells.

So what happens if I pretend to cast a spell using my action/bonus action, but I'm not actually casting one?

It's situational, and is up to the DM.

Your character can do things not covered by the actions in this chapter [...].


When you describe an action not detailed elsewhere in the rules, the DM tells you whether that action is possible and what kind of roll you need to make, if any, to determine success or failure.

(Player's Handbook: Actions in Combat > Improvising an Action)

Assuming the DM allows you to attempt this then you would almost certainly need to make either a Deception or a Performance check using your action/bonus action as appropriate to successfully deceive the caster (likely contested by their passive Insight or Perception, since they aren't "actively" trying to deduce that you are casting a spell).

Your Charisma (Deception) check determines whether you can convincingly hide the truth, either verbally or through your actions. [...]

(Player's Handbook: Using Ability Scores > Using Each Ability)

Your Charisma (Performance) check determines how well you can delight an audience with music, dance, acting1, storytelling, or some other form of entertainment.

(Player's Handbook: Using Ability Scores > Using Each Ability)

Assuming you pull that contest off, then the enemy caster has three options:

  1. Do nothing and let the "spell" go off
  2. Attempt to counterspell the "spell" and waste the counterspell slot (the creature casting the spell is the target of counterspell, not the "spell" itself!)
  3. Attempt to identify the "spell" using the optional rules from XGtE so another caster can counterspell the "spell" appropriately. In this case, since you aren't actually casting a spell, the DC for identification would be a flat 15. You DM may alternatively allow the DC to be your Deception/Performance check result.

Which the caster chooses is up to your DM. The outcomes from their perspective could be the following (linked to the relevant action they took to your casting):

  1. They think you cast a spell that either didn't work (or that didn't produce a perceptible effect)
  2. They think they successfully counterspelled your "spell" (or possibly realise they wasted the slot...which might make them less happy to counterspell a "real" spell cast by you)
  3. Waste a reaction and
    • Beat the DC and realise you weren't casting a spell
    • Be unable to deduce the "spell" you are casting

1: Acting as though you are casting a spell is still acting!

  • \$\begingroup\$ It should be Deception, rather than Performance. Performance checks are for the quality of your acting as an art (how well you can delight an audience). Deception checks are for making someone believe a falsehood. \$\endgroup\$
    – Axoren
    Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 0:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Axoren "The rules don’t account for every possible situation that might arise during a typical D&D session." (from the DMG). Yes Deception is an appropriate skill to call for, but so is Performance (as the character is ostensibly performing, for an audience of multiple people). \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 1:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also "Normally, your proficiency in a skill applies only to a specific kind of ability check. Proficiency in Athletics, for example, usually applies to Strength checks. In some situations, though, your proficiency might reasonably apply to a different kind of check. In such cases, the DM might ask for a check using an unusual combination of ability and skill, or you might ask your DM if you can apply a proficiency to a different check." - PHB \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 1:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ The DM is free to call for skill checks in non-standard situations and combinations if they deem that it fits \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 1:12
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch that's not quite true, an Alchemist Artificer has Healing Word on their list of Alchemist Spells by virtue of their third level ability \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 1:32

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