Basic wands

Image from Dark Classics

Image from Dark Classics

There are three main types of elemental wands: flame, cold, and lightning. Magic-users may craft any of these wands beginning at first level. Crafting requires a sympathetic component, which is not necessarily required to be valuable. Some examples: a bonfire, the remains of a monster with an elemental affinity, a hand lost to frostbite, a branch struck by lightning. In addition to the sympathetic component, 100 GP worth of components are required per wand level, along with one week of work. Thus, a third level wand costs 300 GP and takes one week to create.

Along with the sympathetic component and ritual materials, an object for the wand itself must be procured. Simple objects may be used for the wand (such as a yew rod or a bone), though wands made from such mundane materials crumble to dust, shatter, or otherwise fall apart when exhausted. More finely crafted wands will simply cease to function when used up and can be enchanted again in another wand creation ritual. Traditionally, wands are batons, though this is not required. For example, consider the famous jewelled storm gauntlet of Hyssiasto of Urtar.

The use of a wand does not require an attack roll. Instead, enemies must make a saving throw versus wands and then take 1d6 damage upon failure. Damage from wands is considered magical. Range is as thrown weapon. Especially vulnerable targets may take extra damage (for example, a creature of fire might be vulnerable to a cold wand, and soldiers in metal armor are vulnerable to lightning). In general, this is operationalized as penalty of 1 to the wand saving throw and +1 damage per die. A natural saving throw of 1 results in two dice of damage.

The destructive potential of any given wand is not unlimited. At the end of any combat during which a wand is used, 1d6 is rolled for exhaustion. On a roll of 1 or less, the wand has lost its enchantment. If wands are used outside of combat, exhaustion is checked for at the end of an exploration turn.

The three types of wands also have the following additional effects:

  • Flame: ignite oil or flammable materials such as paper
  • Cold: slowing and penalty to actions requiring fine motor control
  • Lightning: also damages those touching target (or in water with, etc)

Wand level has several different effects. A higher level wand in the hands of a more experienced magic-user is more difficult to resist. Enemies take a save penalty equal to the lesser of wand level and wand user spell capability. Spell capability is the highest level of spell that can be prepared (which is pretty much magic-user level / 2). That is, higher level wands must be crafted to take advantage of a higher level magic-user’s power. For example, the targets of a fifth level magic-user’s third level wand make saves at -3 (because the highest level of spell that a fifth level magic-user can cast is 3). The same magic-user would have the same effectiveness with a fifth level wand, because of being unable to fully take advantage of the wand’s power. Additionally, the wand level is used as a bonus to item saving throws that the wand needs to make.

In addition to the standard attack, there are two alternate ways that wands may be used: surge and final strike. Surges do one extra point of damage per wand level (assuming the target fails the save) but require an immediate check for wand exhaustion. Final strikes do one extra full die of damage per wand level (assuming the target fails the save), but also automatically exhaust the wand.

Having two or more wands of different elemental affinities in close proximity can be dangerous. If either of the wands are subject to an event that would require a saving throw (such as being blasted by dragon fire), both must succeed at an item saving throw. If either wand fails the save, the wands rip apart in a vortex of unleashed magic power. The detonation causes 1d6 damage per wand level to any spiritually attuned (that is, spell casting) creature within five feet. Additionally, a wild surge or magical mishap occurs (roll on any such table, maybe this one or this one). Thus, most sane magic-users carry only one type of wand. Note that this risk of meltdown is only present due to miscibility; having a single type of wand does not carry the same risk, even if the wand is destroyed.

There are legends of many other kinds of wands, but the methods needed for their creation are more obscure. Magical research or the discovery of ancient manuals is required.

12 thoughts on “Basic wands

  1. Gordon Cooper

    I like this very much. I have one question, though. You mention that “enemies must make a saving throw versus wands and then take 1d6 damage upon failure.” Did you mean 1d6 per wand level, 1d6 per caster’s level, 1d6 per level of spell capability, or is standard damage capped at 1d6?

    Excellent article.

    1. Brendan


      This was designed for OD&D, so just flat 1d6. One extra damage against monsters that would be vulnerable to the specific elemental type. The wand level penalizes the saving throw if used by a sufficiently powerful magic-user.

      Also note the paragraph about the two alternate attack methods, which allow greater damage at the cost of potentially using up the wand more quickly.

      It would probably be reasonable to up the damage some if using this with games that have bigger numbers than OD&D. Or maybe allow magic-users to apply something like an intelligence bonus.

  2. Hedgehobbit

    Is the charged wand a D&Dism? I haven’t read enough Appendix N type books to have a good basis.

    Anyway, rather than the one roll at the end of combat, I’d use a technique common with mini wargames. When the caster rolls a 1 for damage, he has to make a burnout roll. That roll could either be a fixed roll (3+ for example) or, to simulate charges, a number that progressively gets worst. Starting out at 2+ (or 1+) and each time you check, if you succeed,the wand isn’t burned out but the burnout roll gets one worse (from a 2+ to a 3+).

    Also, if your rolling multiple damage dice and get two or more 1s, the wand burns out automatically. This will add a bit of risk/reward as higher damage has a higher chance of burnout but you still could get away with it.

    1. Brendan


      I can’t remember seeing a charged wand in fiction, so yeah I think the charged wand is a D&Dism. Really, it’s just a way to inject some resource management friction so that using the wand does not become too costless.

      My first version of these wands actually expired on damage rolls of 1 (there was no separate roll). I agree that’s a totally viable way to do it. If the target rolls a save of 20 would be another way that might have more generous odds, though having a separate burnout roll as you suggest would also solve the issue.

  3. LS

    I assume (given that this is largely how we’ve been running Pahvelorn wands) that this will be implemented in our Pahvelorn game?

    This will drastically change the efficacy of magic users. For the better, I think.

    1. Brendan


      Yeah, available immediately. Would be interested in hearing what you think about the proposed costs. Seem reasonable given the benefits? The only thing I worried about was that the comparison will be primarily against crossbows, the ammunition for which is virtually costless, at least in comparison. However, magic-users never get better with crossbows, and they do get better with wands, and wands target a potentially different vulnerability, so I think it will work out in the end.

    2. LS

      As described, wands have an extremely low cost when compared to scrolls, and will last longer. (I particularly like the 3 modes of use included in this description, which we haven’t been playing with up to now).

      My magic user will absolutely begin work on a wand immediately, and probably create several wands so she’ll have backups. They’re much preferred to crossbows, because while I can have as low as a 10% chance of success with a crossbow, my odds of dealing damage with a wand are much higher. And given that they have reasonable effects related to their element, the wands also give me the opportunity to think more creatively than crossbows have.

      That said, I’m not leaving my crossbow at home now that I have wands. Which I think is what you would want anyway: a viable option which doesn’t displace other options by being an obviously better choice in all situations.

    1. Butch

      Oops, water, not wind.

      I suppose you could simply do lightning = air, cold = water, fire = fire, and earth = physical (kinetic) type damage.

    2. Brendan


      Yeah, the elements differ from the traditional Aristotelian 4, and for game reasons too. I kind of like the quirky difference though ever since I saw it isolated over at Delta’s blog.

      In Chinese philosophy there are 5 (wood, fire, earth, metal, water).


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