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A spell scroll allows someone (with that spell on their class's spell list) to cast a spell. DMG p. 200:

If the spell is on your class's spell list, you can use an action to read the scroll and cast the spell without having to provide any of the spell's components.

Counterspell (PHB p. 228) can be used as a reaction "when you see a creature within 60 feet of you casting a spell"

Thus, if someone is visibly casting a spell from a scroll within 60 feet of a counterspelling wizard, the spell from the scroll can be countered.

If the counterspell succeeds, "[the] spell fails and has no effect."

The description of a Spell Scroll further states:

Once the spell is cast, the words on the scroll fade and the scroll itself crumbles to dust.

So in order to know whether the scroll is consumed or not, the question is: Is the counterspelled spell considered to have been cast or not?

When the counterspell causes the spell to "fail" does that mean "fail to be cast" or "be cast but fail to have any effect"?

Is there an authoritative description somewhere of exactly what it means for a spell to fail?

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Counterspell causes a spell to fail and a scroll to be consumed

Counterspell works differently than just stopping a spell casting or scroll reading.

“Fails and is wasted”

Jeremy Crawford recently responded directly to a question about counterspelling a spell scroll:

Marc Sharma asked:

@JeremyECrawford If a spell cast from a spell scroll is counterspelled, does the scroll lose its magic as if the spell was cast?

JC replied:

When successful, counterspell foils a spell that is cast. The casting isn't undone. The spell fails and is wasted.

https://twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/786982774926249984

The language used is general, because counterspell works similarly regardless to the mode of spell casting. It wastes whatever resources were used to cast it, whether that’s a spell slot, a spell scroll, a daily use (for monsters) — and in any case, the action (or bonus action or reaction) used to cast the spell.

The general case: normal interruption of spells and scrolls

When a caster simply stops casting a spell before finishing, a spell slot is not expended.

When you cast a spell with a casting time longer than a single action or reaction…if your concentration is broken, the spell fails but you don’t expend a spell slot or scroll:

PH p. 202, Longer Casting Times

Edits to the DM Basic Rules have specified that spell scrolls work the same way:

If the casting is interrupted, the scroll is not lost.

DM Basic Rules, p. 60

The wording for scrolls is a little different, but the results are the same. If you simply stop casting a spell or reading a scroll before completing it, it’s as though you had not started.

The rules errata simply make it clear that reading from a scroll works like casting a spell in any other way, in this regard.

“The spell fails, but…” vs. “The spell fails, and”

The word but in the errata about interrupted spells calls out that this is a special case. In general, spell failure entails expending of a spell slot, or scroll, without causing a spell effect, as when failing to cast a higher-level spell scroll:

On a failed check, reading the scroll only consumes its magic with no other effect.

Or in Crawford’s tweet:

The spell fails and is wasted.

DM Basic Rules, p. 60

Counterspell resolves a spell and replaces its effect

Counterspell does more than just interrupt a spell’s casting. When Counterspell is successful:

“The spell fails and has no effect.”

PH, p. 228. Emphasis added.

This phrase is used 3 times in the spell description; it’s key to understanding the spell. The spell is not just interrupted, it completes, fails (without “buts”) and its effect is negated.

Only a completely cast spell has an effect to negate, so Counterspell does not stop a spell before it’s cast. Then, “once the spell is cast, the words on the scroll fade, and the scroll itself crumbles to dust.” (DM Basic rules, p. 60)

Interrupting the casting is a relevant, separate effect of Counterspell

The fact that Counterspell interrupts a casting is relevant when the spell has a long casting time: you don’t have to wait until a spell is about to resolve to counter a spell. This is why Counterspell both interrupts a spell’s casting and then causes the spell to fail.

The Original Misunderstanding

A historical note, I suspect the original misunderstanding about whether a spell scroll is used up while it is being read comes is based on some “color text” in found in first edition AD&D:

As a spell is read from the scroll, its letters and figures writhe and glow, the magic is effected, and then the lines fade and are gone forever

This passage appears on DMG p. 117, AD&D 1e, 1979 Revised edition, and DMG p. 118, AD&D 1e, original printing.

The rules errata make clear that if a some modern spell with a longer casting time is interrupted normally, the resources that went into casting it are not wasted. This normal interruption of spell casting is different than Counterspell.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel like this is the correct answer, and that the other answer is incorrect and was accepted (in less than an hour) before this answer was even submitted. I wanted to speak up in case anyone comes across this and tries to use the accepted answer without noticing this. I know it's painful to lose a scroll, but I think this is a good answer explaining that how the spell has already been cast (destroying the scroll) before it can be counterspelled (just before the effect would occur). On a related note, I would also consider spell slots or charges spent on the spell to also be used up. \$\endgroup\$ – Nick Brown Dec 1 '17 at 15:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Crawford supports this theory \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jul 9 '18 at 18:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Crawford ruled only on spell slot being lost there. 2 people asked about whether a scroll would be lost if the casting were interrupted by counterspell but he didn't reply. \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont Jul 10 '18 at 2:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh great sage @KorvinStarmast, it took me a bit to find that passage, because of a difference between the original and revised printing of the DMG. Guessing this would be the sort of tidbit you would like. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Grant Jul 10 '18 at 6:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well played Tim, other comments removed. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 10 '18 at 12:34
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Tl;dr: If you're casting a spell from a scroll and get Counterspelled, the scroll is not consumed.

There is no authoritative definition of what it means for a spell to fail. However, in the specific case of spell scrolls, we have more to work with. Counterspell says that:

You attempt to interrupt a creature in the process of casting a spell.

And the description of spell scrolls says that:

Once the spell is cast, the words on the scroll fade, and it crumbles to dust. If the casting is interrupted, the scroll is not lost.

Note that this important clause was added in the DMG errata, so older copies of the DMG don't include it.

So in the specific case of spell scrolls, attempting to use the scroll but failing due to being Counterspelled will not cause the scroll to be consumed.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Oct 30 '17 at 0:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ I un-accepted this answer because the alternative answer is also quite compelling and the developers have not clarified. So I feel better leaving it with no accepted answer and have folks read both and decide how they want to go at their table. \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont Jul 17 '18 at 3:12

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