Author Topic: 5e Silvery Barbs  (Read 2458 times)

Offline bgatesvoodoodoll

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5e Silvery Barbs
« on: March 06, 2024, 01:58:43 AM »
5e Silvery Barbs

This mini-guide is in response to other analysis of the D&D 5e spell Silvery Barbs, such as Riley Silverman's:


a Reddit thread on Silvery Barbs:

Why this mini-guide?
I agree with Riley's analysis as far as it goes. There is a lot of hate for the Silvery Barbs spell because it slows down combat, and because some players abuse the spell. I think a lot of the hate comes from not understanding what it really does and how it is actually balanced. After using Silvery Barbs in a 5e game, I've seen it work to prevent another PC from getting into death save territory, and I've seen it fail to prevent a crushing attack when the BAD GUY succeeded in his attack re-roll. To give Silvery Barbs a fair shake, I've put together the following analysis.

What is Silvery Barbs?

Silvery Barbs is a 1st level Enchantment spell on page 38 of the 5e Sourcebook Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos

What Does Silvery Barbs Do?

From 5e PHB185: "Enchantment spells affect the minds of others, influencing or controlling their behavior."

Silvery Barbs is not luck. Silvery Barbs lets you spend your reaction in a round to interrupt a successful d20 roll of one of three types by another creature you can see within 60 feet. Then once it has distracted a creature, SB lets you buff a second one, giving an advantage to the caster or any creature the caster can see within 60 feet. The advantage can be used on THE NEXT attack roll, saving throw, or ability roll within the next minute (10 rounds).

Who Can Cast Silvery Barbs?

Other classes which can get Silvery Barbs are Wizard and Sorceror. Feats that can get Silvery Barbs are Fey Touched and Magic Initiate.

Who is the ideal target of Silvery Barbs?

Any creature
  + with low Wisdom
  + with no Spell Resistance
  + without immunity or Resistance to Enchantments.

How many times can a character cast Silvery Barbs?

In a round? Once
Across a day? Like any other first level arcane enchantment spell. Assuming a 20th level character and willing to burn all spell slots:
- Arcane Trickster: 11, by burning all 1st-4th level spell slots
- Bard: 22, by burning all 1st-9th level spell slots
- Sorceror: 22, by burning all 1st-9th level spell slots
- Wizard: 22, by memorizing SB in all 1st-9th level spell slots, and then burning them

Is Silvery Barbs more powerful than other reaction spells of 1st level?

For comparison:
- Absorb Elements - reduce elemental damage by half, adds +1d6 elemental damage to your next melee attack, lasts 1 round and only defends the caster
  If a Barbarian took Absorb Elements via Magic Initiate feat, the absolute maximum damage prevented would be 20d12 (240).
- Feather Fall - will save up to 5 characters from death due to falling, a maximum of 20d6 x 5 = 100d6 (600). This spell lasts up to 10 rounds.
- Hellish Rebuke - when you get hit, deal a max of 21d10 (210) damage instantly
- Shield - when you get hit, avoid it by adding 5 to your AC. this buff lasts the rest of the round, so it defends against becoming a pincushion from a flight of arrows from an entire archery unit (think 20d8, or 160, just to put a number on it), which Silvery Barbs cannot.
- Silvery Barbs -  in the right conditions, SB could cause the attack roll of 9th level Disintegrate (max 19d6+40 = 154) to miss and then give a 19th level rogue advantage for a Sneak Attack (10d6 max+ weapon damage). However, a 9th level Scorching Ray would produce 11 rays of 2d6 damage each, and SV could only put disadvantage on the attack roll of one of the 11. For an upscaled Scorching Ray, you would want Absorb Elements or Shield instead of Silvery Barbs.

Any five of these reaction spells is accessible via Magic Initiate.
Each of these reaction spells is a rig which will work out in the right circumstances. However, if you try to use a reaction spell in one of these other circumstances, it will not help you.

Is Silvery Barbs more powerful than non-reaction 1st level spells?

For comparison:
- Cure Wounds can ramp up to 9d8(72) + attribute bonus in healing for any single creature you can touch.
- Disguise Self lets you look like someone else, useful for passing guard checkpoints, framing others, or defrauding others of goods.
- Faerie Fire grants advantage on every visible creature and object in a 20 foot cube and lasts up to 10 combat rounds. It also makes invisible creatures lose the benefit of invisibility.
- Fog Cloud grants full cover, preventing enemy spellcasters or archers from directly targeting objects or creatures in the cloud. This can prevent targeting 9th level Disintegrate, thus an argument can be made that this spell can prevent (19d6+40 x 600) (one hour duration in rounds) hp strong.
- Healing Word can ramp up to 9d4(36) + attribute bonus in healing for any single creature you can see within 60 feet
- Still Image can grant full cover and/or manipulate an enemy's actions by showing them what you want them to see.

About the Verbal Component

The caster has to use a Verbal component, but since this is a reaction, the caster only gets maybe 4 syllables. It would be best if the caster used an insult as his Verbal component to make it easy to disturb the first target of the spell. If you are running a mouthy caster, here's a list of insults which can be used as the Verbal component of Silvery Barbs. Think carefully about how corrosive to get when sitting across the table from other players, especially for a family game or one involving minors. D&D is for fun, so shoot for comedy when picking your insults. If you would rather not use insults, consider "Distraction!", a three syllable word as an alternative. As a player, it would be best to run these by your GM to make sure they are ok with the effect you you may have ob the environment at the table.  For insults, here are some classics and originals:

Blister - someone who shows up after the work is done
  several other meanings:
  Afternoon Farmer - 1800s English slang for someone who takes a lax approach to working. most farmers start work before dawn
  If you have a GM that uses Latin for Draconic, "Blister" turns into "Pustula", which may have other connotations.

Bob tail - prostitute or impotent man

B'zugda-hiara ("Lawn ornament", a killing insult in dwarvish)
   - Raising Steam, Terry Pratchett

Fleabag - smelly person or old worn out prostitute

Gnollspunk - male reproductive material of gnolls. For spunk, see

Goatlover - peasant or country-dweller
  For original, see
  an insult used on Croaker in the Black Company series by Glen Cook

Goblinbottom - original. For bottom, see

Gritsucker - what dwarves call non-dwarves,Discworld series by Terry Pratchett

Half Ogre - original

Harpy Licker - original. Harpies sometimes line their nest with offal or body parts, so their nests tend to be plague dens. Thus anyone that would lick a harpy is most likely a person with low hygiene standards and/or diseased.

Lathspell - old English for "evil news". Opposite of gospel. Used by Grima Wormtongue in The Two Towers by Tolkien.

Milksop - a weak or cowardly man

Mooncalf - usually, simpleton. Prospero calls Caliban a mooncalf in Shakespeare's play the Tempest, meaning deformed rather than a simpleton and implying that Caliban is a tiefling hundreds of years before D&D wrote up that character race.

P****breath - anonymous

Poopstain -  anonymous
  Possible original:
  "It looks to me like the best part of you ran down the crack of your mama's a** and ended up as a brown stain on the mattress."
    - GNY. SGT. HARTMAN, Full Metal Jacket
Sheepshagger - anonymous, insult to peasants, the Welsh, or certain Scots regiments

Smallberries - John Smallberries is the name of a character in the film Buckaroo Banzai, but makes a great insult for men.

Spiderbait - This is the name of an Australian rock band, but it works in the context of a Drow insult. "You are so useless, you are only good for spiderbait!" in only three syllables.

Trolltrack - original "You are the poop of trolls" in just two syllables

Umberkibble - original "Your only use is as the food of umber hulks" in just four syllables

Where can 4-syllable insults be re-used?

These concentrated insults might also be used for the College of Lore reaction feature "Cutting Words" or the College of Eloquence bonus action feature "Unsettling Words".

I hear Silvery Barbs is really easy to Abuse?

For DMs:
As Montgomerylol, "It's only really bad if your players are aiming to abuse it..."
Like any other spell, if a player seeks to abuse a spell, they can ignore or misinterpret the text of the spell. Responsible players can use Silvery Barbs to save a buddy from taking a heavy (possibly fatal) attack, and provide a counterstrike. If you have concerns, instead of outright banning SB, try letting the player use it in a sidebar training session. If you or the player don't feel like you have a handle on the mechanics, or it slows down combat too much, or if it doesn't seem fun, ask them to re-learn. If using insults as a verbal component seems too negative for the table you run, substitute a non-insult phrase of four syllables or less.

For players:
If you want Silvery Barbs as one of your spells, clear it with your DM before play. After using it a couple of times, consider the DM and fellow players. If it seems like this spell slows the game, and doesn't seem fun, then maybe replacing it by re-learning at the next level is the right move for the table you're at.

In her article, Riley points at Bards as the likely design target for SB. Instead, I suspect Silvery Barbs is more for Arcane Tricksters. SB is an Enchantment spell, which lands it on the spell list of the Arcane Trickster subclass of Rogue. With one reaction, an Arcane Trickster can force a re-roll of a bad guy's successful attack or save and buff himself. So long as the rogue does not have to make a save before initiative comes around, he can get advantage on initiative. If the DM runs initiative as roll once per combat, the rogue's next roll is an ability roll or an attack roll. Used defensively, SB may save an ally from a ray or crushing attack from a foe, then can give that same ally an advantage for their next saving throw. Used offensively, you may cause a foe to re-roll a saving throw and also let the arcane trickster trigger a sneak attack next round. Alternatively, the rogue can hold off and not attack or use an ability for up to 10 rounds, waiting for the right opportunity. With this action economy, I expect Arcane Trickster to make slightly better use of Silvery Barbs than a Bard.

Power and Limitations
I agree with Riley's analysis as far as it goes. There is a lot of hate for the Silvery Barbs spell because it slows down combat.

Acknowledgements: Nathan, for putting up with Silvery Barbs at his table. Adam, Beau, and Robert, for helping winnow out insults which did not have enough punch or were not global enough. Ben, Charlie, Steve and Tim for tolerating a mouthy bard/arcane trickster at the table with them.

Is something missing or inaccurate? Please reply to this post.

« Last Edit: March 07, 2024, 02:32:20 AM by bgatesvoodoodoll »

Offline Skyrock

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Re: 5e Silvery Barbs
« Reply #1 on: March 06, 2024, 01:32:42 PM »
Dorfmatratze - German for "village mattress", for those games where GMs use German as Dwarven
Oh mein Gott! That is the literal word-by-word translation, yes - but the translation of the actual meaning would need to go into the M-Rated board (a woman of loose morals well acquainted with the men of her neighborhood).

Offline bgatesvoodoodoll

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Re: 5e Silvery Barbs
« Reply #2 on: March 07, 2024, 02:31:45 AM »
OK. German is not my native language. Pulling that one from the main post.