Sunday, 5 June 2011

A Wizard's Staff and Wand

It was reading the first Harry Potter novel to my children over the last week that I reminded myself how lame I always felt D&D staves and wands were.

The other inspiration was seeing how Tim Brannon reinvigorated magical hats, another neglected and underdeveloped wizarding piece of equipment.

A wizard's staff, is integral to the nature of the wizard. Think Gandalf. A wand likewise, think Harry Potter (and don't stop reading just because you are anti HP).

Yet as given to us in the rules - a wand is merely a gun with special ammo, and a set quantity (charge) of ammo, at that. A staff, well staves don't do a great deal, or are super duper.

DMG staves:
Staff of Command: human Influence, Mammal Control, Plant Control
Staff of Curing (Cleric on a stick, rechargeable)
Staff of the Magi (super powerful, but still key powers use charges)
Staff of Power (an all powerful weapon dealing death for all occasions)
Staff of the Serpent (go Aaron)
Staff of Striking (Combat staff)
Staff of Withering (Aging Staff)

That's it, a measly seven.

Now obviously any mage would like a Staff of the Magi or Power, and cleric on a stick means you get your healing without the lecture, but really... not very iconic, great if you have one, a brace of wands even better but a MU can really take and leave their staves and wands.

Not anymore.

I want no sane magic user to leave home without one.

Yet I don't want to unbalance (this word can be surprisingly offensive)... I don't want to merely give the MU extra power undeserved, like a staff of spell storing; and I want to keep Vancian, though I have drifted away with my clerics and drifting away with my magic-users. But my frustration with Vancian is the lack of spell choice, every time I see the MU chooses the most combat useful (magic missile, fireball) option.

So this is my new house rule for Staves and Wands.

A Wizards Staff
Any magic user can find and make a staff from any staff shaped piece of wood they wish. Ornateness and carvings are individual additions, a fallen branch is all that is required.

When memorizing spells a magic-user may place spells into their staff in addition to the ones they memorize. When this is done the first time, the staff and the wizard become linked. A magic-user can only ever have one staff or one wand they are linked to.

The staff has the identical spells slots and spell levels as the magic user who placed them. For example a third level magic-user's staff would be able to have 2 level 1 spells and 1 level 2 spell, stored in the staff, exactly the same as the magic user.

The magic user may cast stored spells from the staff but when doing so they always carry out this action last in the combat round, even later than two-handed swords. It takes time to summon the spell from the staff. Such that even if the magic user's party wins initiative only after all combat has been resolved from both sides, including two handed weapons is the spell cast. Spells memorized by the magic user in their own mind have no penalty to casting time.

Because the magic user and staff are linked however, whenever a spell is cast from either the magic user or the staff, a spell of identical power level is lost from either the staff or the mind of the magic user. Players choice, which spell is lost. This means the magic user may still never cast more spells in a day than they are entitled to.

At the next time the magic user has access to their spell book they can memorize new spells and replace or exchange any lost spells into their staff.

What the staff does do is double the magic users's choice of spells in a day. This allows the magic user to either store in their staff or memorize themselves less commonly useful spells with no penalty to their ability to carry combat heavy spell craft.

A Wizards Wand
At 4th level, B/X magician [or whatever level your DM decides], a magic user may make a wand from any wand shaped piece of wood they wish. Ornateness and carvings are individual additions, a fallen twig is all that is required.

A wand behaves exactly the same as the staff with the following addition. Wands have no penalty to casting time and are cast during initiative as per usual for memorized spells.

As stated above, a magic user can be linked to only ONE staff OR ONE wand, never both and never more than one.

Rule Options

Combat bonus for Staves
If a 3rd level spell is placed in the staff it gains +1 bonus to hit and damage. A 6th level spell is +2 and a 9th level spell is +3.
If the staff loses that spell level, either from being cast from the staff or lost when the magic user casts the spell level from their mind, the staff loses the bonus and falls to the lower bonus, if any.

Initiative Bonus for Wands

If a 4th level spell is placed in a wand it grants +1 bonus to the magic user's personal initiative. An 8th level spell grants a +2 bonus.
If the wand loses that spell level, either from being cast from the wand or lost when the magic user casts the spell level from their mind, the wand loses the bonus and falls to the lower bonus, if any.

Losing one's staff or wand
This is very bad for the magic user as they are linked. A magic user must touch their staff or wand once every hour, it is why they sleep clutching their staff or wand. If one hour goes past when the wizard hasn't touched their staff or wand the highest spell level is lost simultaneously from BOTH the staff/wand and the magic user. Randomly determine if a choice is required. This will continue until all spells are drained from the staff and magic user. Additionally, assuming the magic user doesn't recover their staff or wand, until the staff or wand is fully drained of all it's spell levels the magic user can not memorize new spells even if their spell book is available.

Purposely breaking a staff or wand

A magic user may do this at will, or another may attempt to do this. If another the staff is allowed a save vs staves and wands at the level of the staff or wands owner modified by the difference in levels between the owner and the intended breaker.
Upon breaking the staff explodes in magical fire delivering 1d6 damage for every stored spell level (eg 3rd level spell 3d6), radiating in 10' radius for every spell level. Save vs dragon breath for half damage. The breaker is not immune to the damage, unless immune to magic fire.

Using another's staff or wand
Another magic user (but not another character class) may attempt to use anothers staff or wand and cast the spells stored in the device. The user will automatically know which spells are stored in the staff or wand. The user must make a save vs staves and wands at the level of the magic user modified by the difference in levels between the magic user and the intended user; each and every time the staff or wand is used; plus every time they cast one of their own memorized spells if the staff or wand is in contact with them (reflecting the staff or wand fighting back). Failure results in the staff or wand breaking, with effects as above, causing damage equal to the remaining stored spell levels and the spell level of the spell attempting to be cast. Remember that for every one hour the magic user is separated from their staff or wand the device loses spell levels (as does the magic user).

Required wood for staves
To add interest only certain woods can hold the most powerful of spell levels
Pine - Level 1
Maple - Level 2
Willow - Level 3
Birch - Level 4
Ash - Level 5
Elm - Level 6
Oak - Level 7
Yew - Level 8
World Tree (mythical) - Level 9

Required hair, feather, horn tip or fang for embedding into wands
This will be more challenging...
Pegasus or Harpy Feather - Level 1
A hair from a centaur's mane or tail of a griffen - Level 2
Dragon Tooth - Level 3
Tip of a Unicorn or Gorgon Horn - Level 4
Feather from the Comb of a cockatrice - Level 5
Roc Tail Feather - Level - 6
Phoenix TailFeather - Level 7
The eyestalk of a beholder (hardened) - Level 8
Angelic Feather or Demonic Fang - Level 9


  1. Great article about a much underused trope in D&D. I think I would take this one step further and allow the magic-user to use the staff or wand in place of the travelling spell book, so that instead of studying a book each morning, the magic-user recharges his mind Vancian style from the spells locked in the staff/wand.

    I've played around with this sort of idea before and ruled that a wand can only hold spells of levels 1 to 3, while a staff can contain any level of spell.

  2. I really like this rule, although wands seem a bit potent. I might have to give these a go in my next game.

  3. I was thinking about wizards staves and wands recently too. They should definitely be a more important item for the wizards. Interesting take on it, good stuff.

  4. very nice and simple! kudos to you!

  5. I'd expand this to rings and other jewelry, too. Thinking about the number of things HP wizards use wands for, in another game (Ars Magica) I might make them a requirement for, eg., any spells that need aiming.

    No love for the rowan? I would allow all sorts of other exotic wand materials, too: a staff that was a unicorn's horn, or whale bone or dorsal spine/barbel from a deep-sea dragon.

    ...and then my slave-driver necromancer black hat magicians would wield enchanted jamboks.

  6. I have yet to read that first book ...

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