Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Class is in session, folks. Wizards of the Coast’s latest supplement, Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos, is here, brimming with all things arcane, from new magical disciplines and subclasses to a whole heap of spells.
One of the new spells that Strixhaven introduces to D&D 5e is causing something of a stir in the community.
So, today we’re going to be taking a closer look at Silvery Barbs, an intriguing new spell that some people say is the most broken thing to hit the game in years.
Others are saying it’s the worst piece of game design since the Champion Fighter. Let’s figure out who’s right.
What Does Silvery Barbs Do?
Silvery barbs is a 1st-level enchantment spell that allows the caster to impose disadvantage on a creature within 60 feet after that creature succeeds on an attack roll, saving throw, or ability check using their reaction.
Then, the caster can choose another creature within 60 feet and give that creature advantage on its next roll. Basically, you’re stealing and redistributing luck.
- Level: 1st
- Casting Time: Reaction
- School: Enchantment
- Components: V
- Duration: Instantaneous
- Class: Bard, Sorcerer, Wizard
Source: Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos
When a creature you can see within 60 feet succeeds on an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw, you use your reaction to momentarily distract them with a burst of magic, turning their confusion into an opening for another creature.
The target must reroll the d20 and choose the lower of the two rolls.
You may then choose another creature within the spell’s range (this can include yourself), granting it advantage on the next attack roll, saving throw, or ability check it makes – so long as it makes the roll within the next minute.
A creature can only be empowered by one use of this spell at a time.
So, in essence, Silvery Barbs lets you impose disadvantage on an enemy and give advantage to yourself or an ally and does it all without a chance of a saving throw – all for a 1st-level spell slot and the use of your reaction.
Silvery Barbs: Overpowered or Just Good?
While it’s not some flashy damage spell, Silvery Barbs initially looks incredibly powerful as a defensive tool. Unlike Shield – also a 1st-level defensive spell that uses a reaction – Silvery Barbs isn’t just useful for protecting the caster.
Need to keep the party paladin alive for just one more round? How about you force the BBEG to miss their final attack and then give the paladin advantage on their next attack.
There really aren’t … well, any other 1st level spells that can shift the momentum of a fight in such a pronounced way. Not to mention the fact that Silvery Barbs is basically free license to turn to the DM and say, “No, actually, you didn’t crit.”
It’s also worth noting that, because Silvery Barbs forces a reroll after the result of the target’s roll is known to be a success, it’s actually way, way better than just imposing disadvantage before the roll.
There’s virtually no way to waste Silvery Barbs unless the target rolls high again, but you still get to give advantage to an ally, regardless of whether or not the target’s reroll is successful.
Essentially, it takes the Lucky feat, an ability that costs a whole feat, and is restricted to three uses per long rest, as opposed to a 1st-level spell slot, which a 20th-level wizard has four of (not to mention that they could easily justify burning 2nd- or even 3rd-level spell slots on this in a pinch).
Also, Silvery Barbs is much more versatile than other defensive spells like Shield because it’s not just a way to make an attack miss.
Yes, if we’re talking statistical averages for attack rolls, a disadvantaged reroll imposes a mean reduction in dice rolls of about 3.5, whereas shield is effectively reducing the opponent’s roll by 5.
But the fact that Silvery Barbs also increases an ally’s roll by about 3.5 as well means the overall “swing” this spell creates across the battlefield, holistically speaking, is around 7.
Bigger, better, and a whole lot more flexible than Shield.
I hear a lot of stories about players who want to build a “support” character who focuses on buffing allies and debuffing enemies rather than just going down the obvious route of “Pick Cleric. Heal. And heal some more,” and the idea of a utility-focused support caster tends to be agreed to be… kinda sucky.
Silvery Barbs could change all of that.
Should I Take Silvery Barbs?
Usually, when weighing the effectiveness of one spell against another, there are niche edge cases to consider, weird applications (like using Shape Water to fill, freeze, and destroy pretty much any mundane lock you come across) that make a spell situationally powerful and other stuff to consider.
Silvery Barbs is – from a design perspective – kind of boring by comparison in that its effects are purely mechanical.
There’s no interesting and creative way to apply this spell; it acts on the mechanics of the game rather than the game world, if that makes sense.
However, while that’s a huge misstep in design as far as I’m concerned (magic should be weird, man – for a really good expansion on that ethos, check out Sorcery is a Sword Without a Hilt.
It’s pay what you want and dripping with great ideas for a more interesting, less video gamey style of magic), it leaves very little doubt as to whether Silvery Barbs is good.
Whether you’re playing a sorcerer, wizard, or bard, this spell is an absolute no-brainer.
You can use it to turn aside enemy attacks (hugely important at low levels where spellcasters are notoriously squishy), empower your own spell attacks, empower your martial allies (guarantee Sneak Attack damage for your party’s rogue? Don’t mind if I do), and make sure your enemies are hit with the full force of AoE spells – basically turn any encounter on to easy mode.
Final Thoughts: Silvery Barbs Doesn’t Suck, But It Kinda Suuuuucks
If this is a sign of things to come for spell design in 5e, I’m more glad than ever that I’ve made the recent jump to B/X D&D.
Silvery Barbs is, first off, insanely powerful. There are very few 1st-level spells that come close to its ability to influence a battle – damn, I’m just realizing you could use this for social encounters as well!
Good grief. There is no reason not to take this spell, no matter your character’s class, playstyle, backstory, whatever. Heck, I’d say this spell alone is worth taking the Magic Initiate feat.
And… also I kind of hate it. I hate the design; it’s a very cold, flavorless way of saying “I get to reroll some dice” that can’t be warped, messed with, or applied creatively.
It’s the spellcasting equivalent of the +1 Magic Sword, and I can’t think of anything more damning than that.
D&D, for people who get pleasure out of making characters who objectively kick ass (anyone who’s ever theory crafted the ultimate Sorcadin or been tickled pink by the “Coffeelock”, I’m talking to you), sometimes runs the risk of feeling like an arm’s race.
If that’s the way you play (no judgement – I have an Aberrant Mind Sorcerer with a big list of metamagic combos rolled up for one-shots for just that reason, and I bet you can guess what spell she’s learning next), then Silvery Barbs is the next essential pickup – something to put on a pedestal right next to Eldritch Blast.
For everyone else, however, who likes their arcane mysterious to be mysterious, a little weird, and a little strange… Strixhaven just made being a wizard feel a lot less magical.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.