Attack wands

A while back, I wrote these wand rules, which have been active in my Vaults of Pahvelorn OD&D game. I still like them just fine, but they are a bit more complicated than needed, and several of the flourishes (such as the final strike), have never actually been used, and could probably be removed without much loss. Below is another, simpler system for wands in traditional fantasy games that I think might be an improvement. It preserves the same basic dynamic of allowing magic-users to target an enemy’s save versus magic (which is a proxy for “magic defense”) rather than armor class.

Ace of wands (source)

Ace of wands (source)

The power of a wand is measured by damage die size, and follows the progression of d4, d6, d8, d10, d12. Wands cost 100 GP per die size and can be replenished or improved as a downtime action for 100 GP per die increased. All wands inflict damage of a specific elemental type, which is determined upon creation, and elemental damage may have additional effects depending on circumstance. Common elements include fire, ice, and lightning.

Wands may be used to attack a single enemy in sight within 60 feet. Damage inflicted is determined by rolling the wand die. The target then makes a saving throw, and decreases damage taken by the margin of success. If the wand die comes up 1, the wand die size decreases. If the wand was already at d4, it becomes exhausted until replenished.

For example, a magic-user buys a wand of fire d8 for 300 GP. This wand may be used to make any number of ranged fire attacks until the damage die comes up 1, at which time it becomes a wand of fire d6. The wand does fire type damage and thus may also ignite flammable materials, melt frozen objects, and so forth.

As an out of turn reaction, no more than once per turn, the wielder of a wand may counter another wand attack. Though no damage is dealt in either case, both wand dice must still be rolled to test for wand exhaustion.

This method does give the magic-user more combat options (though without completely avoiding resource management), and as such may not be appropriate for all campaigns. It is possible that the costs might need to be adjusted, but this will likely depend at least partly on other elements of a particular campaign setting. In the past, I think I have erred in setting the cost of consumable items too high to be attractive to players. Consumables need to be relatively cheap to seem worth it. Just expensive enough to seem like an actual expense, but not much more. In comparison, the prices in the Expert rulebook seem kind of out there: who would spend 10000 GP for 20 arrows +1 (page X52), even at high level, especially if magic items are sometimes found during adventures or if a party magic-user has access to a renewable attack spell?

Six sided die progression variation

1d6-1, 1d6, 1d6+1, 1d6+2, 1d6+3. These dice expressions have the same expected values as the polyhedral version given above, but smaller deviations. This method is thus slightly more consistent, but also has the potential for zero damage in the first case. That could be removed by specifying that minimum damage is one, at the cost of slightly increasing the statistical complexity (expected damage becomes 2.67 with deviation 1.49 compared to 2.5/1.71). The d6 chain also has a lower upper bound.

Expected wand damage
Rank Polyhedral Six-sided Expected damage
1 1d4 1d6-1 2.5
2 1d6 1d6 3.5
3 1d8 1d6+1 4.5
4 1d10 1d6+2 5.5
5 1d12 1d6+3 6.5

Optional capacity below d4

There are states less than d4, which are d3, d2, d1. These all count as a single step together for purposes of replenishment, however, so 100 GP is sufficient to bring a wand back to d4 if it is at any of those lower states. This variation would be appropriate for those that desire wands to be always at least a little bit useful.

See also

10 thoughts on “Attack wands

  1. Gus L.

    These wands feel a bit powerful to me. Both in general and for the price. 1) What’s the setting cost you intend for this 500 GP super-wand? specifically how much is the other holy grail of purchased equipment, plate armor. 2) D12? That’s more then any other weapon, why would anyone not use a wand? Maybe it’s limited to wizards and this system assumes 18 STR with +3/hit/+3 damage is common among melee types. Still, wizards are now armed with laser guns and if one is dispensing with armor restrictions there is no reason to take anyone else into combat except a battery of wand wizards. You can wand at range, you can wand in melee, armor messes up casting, but not wanding. 3) Elemental damage, meaning magic damage gives the players another cheap way to damage weapon immune enemies at low level. Knowing you I’m sure you’ve given this thought and am curious about your reasoning here?

    So I really like the idea of custom wands, but I have some reservations about the power level here. Cost is also tricky, too high and no one uses the rule. Personally I’d limit homemade wands without special components to lower dice of damage, make the cost the starting cost a bit higher then that of a heavy crossbow/longbow/compound bow & silver ammo. For better wands I think the wizard would need components – dragon eyes, devil hearts, giant unnatural crystals found deep beneath the earth, or strange wood torn from the world tree itself.

    1. Brendan Post author

      Yes, wands can only be used by magic-users (or some small subset of classes that are sorcerous.) In B/X, that’s magic-users and elves.

      Wand use has the following important differences from weapon use:

      – Cost per shot (compared to unlimited or very cheap per shot)
      – Only usable by less-durable PCs (“glass cannons”)
      – Able to be countered reliably by other wand users
      – Shorter range than martial missile weapons

      (I broke my trend of abstracting range distance here to make that clear, and I’m not sure that I’m entirely happy with this approach. In a dungeon skirmish, it is unlikely to make much difference in any case.)

      Whether or not wand damage counts as magical for purposes of damaging enemies that can only by hurt by +1 (or +2, or higher) weapons is not stated explicitly here and would require a referee ruling. I don’t think I would necessarily allow all wand damage to satisfy this requirement. I might use a damage threshold, or maybe some mapping of wand rank to bonus value. Also, powerful monsters are likely to have good saves, and thus the ability to cancel wand damage consistently.

      You note that you can wand in melee (unstated in the rules, but seems reasonable), however that also means that an unarmored magic-user is in melee, which is kind of a death wish. Seems inherently non-incentivized.

      It does occur to me, however, that the expected cost per use does decrease with wand rank, which is maybe suboptimal. It might actually make more sense to have the costs be +100, +200, +300, +400, +500, leading to direct purchase costs being 100, 300, 600, 1000, 1500. I am not sure though, as those figures look large. If you were playing, say, a mid (6th or 7th) level magic-user, would you pay 1500 GP for a wand of fire d12 as specified above?

      I should chart out expected costs per attack to see how that looks. Estimation for current 100 GP per rank prices is approximately 8 GP per d12 shot, compared to approximately 41 GP per d12 shot using the other price progression here. Costly attack options (such as these wands) must potentially compete with freely renewable attack spells such as magic missile, fireball, and so forth.

      I don’t think consumable items are really comparable to durable items like plate armor. That said (to actually answer your question), I usually assume OD&D or B/X prices unless otherwise stated (which are 50 GP and 60 GP, respectively, for plate).

      The unknown I am most interested in seeing in play is whether decreasing damage by save margin of success feels smooth or awkward. My hope is that, since you only need to think about the margin of success if the save succeeds, it will not be too cumbersome in play.

  2. Brendan Post author

    Expected costs per shot, at +100 GP per wand rank:

    d4 = 25, d6 = 16, d8 = 12, d10 = 10, d12 = 8

    Expected costs per shot, with increasing price (+100, +200, +300, etc) per wand rank:

    d4 = 25, d6 = 33, d8 = 37, d10 = 40, d12 = 41

    (All expected costs rounded down.)

    1. Gus L.

      I’m not sure on cost per shot here? – Yes the wands run out, but not that fast. Like I said, I would use these rules as written for wands up to regular weapon damage (I.e. 200 GP for a D6 wand) and then for damage with the military weapon, two handed weapon and giant super weapon dice I’d want the wizard to have recovered monster parts or something to make a better wand. This (like spell hunting) is very much a “Why wizards go into dungeons” sort of thing.

      My concern about melee is not so much ‘used in melee’ as ‘used to snipe into melee’ which provide a huge advantage is one has no chance of harming allies. Agreed that these weapons need not do direct magic damage, but many weaker ‘weapon immune’ monsters are not immune to electrical, cold or fire attacks, so this may not be such an advantage.

      The above prices are also assuming D&D standard? that is 80 – 400 GP for armor of Ac 4 or 3, like in my ASE game. For Grimmsgate, where it’s A) hardish to hit B) Plate armor is AC 4 and costs 4,000 GP I’d up price or better, require items for the wand. Also remember these wands are directly in competition with Magic Missile at first level – MM being useful at first level for sentry removal and the destruction of magic creatures.

      I like the wand crafting thing a lot, but I worry about it messing around and making wizards more direct combat and less – Mr. environmental fixit.

      1. Brendan Post author

        What do you mean by not sure about cost per shot? To show my work: according to the prices in the original post, it costs 100 GP to improve a wand from d10 to d12. So, the cost of a single d12 shot is equal to 100 GP divided by the number of expected shots, which is 12. 100 / 12 = 8 (rounded down).

        LL has higher prices for armor (probably inspired by AD&D). Armor is cheaper in the basic line and OD&D. Not saying that’s better, just clarifying. Plate armor of average quality (18) in Grimmsgate costs 100 GP (that’s the price in Swords & Wizardry Complete), which is 1000 SP (thus the higher effective price here comes from translating GP treasures to SP and rewarding XP for each SP, which in effect makes equipment dearer by a factor of 10).

        Totally agree about magic missile, but then I’ve always thought that was a pretty weak spell at first level, though it scales decently and becomes more useful for higher-level magic-users. I would almost always choose sleep, charm person, or a utility spell (depending on the referee’s dungeon creation style) over magic missile when playing a first level magic-user.

        I like the idea of adding necessary components to each wand rank though, especially if they are mapped to known monsters. Like, bone from an animated skeleton for a d4 wand, something from dungeon level two for a d6 wand, etc. This might be a good way to make availability a bit less certain and also add some atmosphere. I do think the component should be known beforehand by the player though, or else they will not be likely to ever make use of the rules. New rules like this always have an added hurdle to adoption, even if adoption is entirely to the player’s benefit.

      2. Brendan Post author

        Another option, if concerned about the effectiveness of sniping into melee, would be to use more stringent firing into melee rules (determine target randomly, require an intelligence check for accurate targeting, or something similar).

  3. Gus L.

    Oh on the expected costs thing, that’s not so bad – I’ve noticed that with Beni (who I track arrows for rather religiously) I rarely use more then 5-10 shots a game. The wand may not be a reasonable purchase at 1st level – but by the time an MU is 3rd I suspect those costs will be negligible.

    1. Brendan Post author

      Using the revised (higher) costs, do you not think that you would notice the expense assuming Beni’s finances? 5-10 shots at around 40 GP per use is 200 to 400 GP. This is roughly equivalent to one fireball scroll, using Holmes crafting guidelines.

      1. Gus L

        Well let’s look at finances. At a 2nd level of xp (using gp for xp without extras) a 3rd level mu has 5,000 gp and a 4th 10,000. At first level 40 gp a shot or 400 a session is steep and would discourage overuse. At 5th, not so much assuming treasure goes up with level increase/difficulty.

        To return to Beni, at 2nd level holy water is was pricy to use in bulk, at 7th not so much. I think these rules with the caveat that one needs real special stuff in addition to cash would be fine. Like a D10 fire wand needs a dragon horn to craft and must be dipped in dragon blood to recharge. That sort of thing keeps powerful wands special. Of coursr if every fighter in the game has early tsr module amounts of equipment then it’s less important. In a magic poor setting though the mu doing more dps then anyone else due to a cheap wand is potent.

        It’s like controlling bombs or bullets in a game with explosives, controlling with cost is less effective then with scarcity.

  4. Mark

    I like the concept particularly in a high magic campaign. Your costs look a bit cheap, my players would love auto hit wands <1000 even with the damage reduction mechanic tacked onto a save. Wizards/mages have no armour or weapon costs so have plenty of spoils to throw at equipment. In comparison warriors spend a lot to get good armour in my setting 1,500 for armour that adds +2 to AC and 6,000 for armour that adds +6 to AC (plate equivalent). Bronze was expensive when compared to iron.

    In my game magical weapons/devices that have charges have this kind of exhaust rule – roll a die and if a 1 comes up the device is exhausted. Both players and I agree this is better, no need to track the charges, and no metagaming of something with low charges. We track rations, water skins, arrows, torches, bedrolls etc in the usual way. Characters have died when they ran out of some of these regular items so it has become something important for the campaign. In a G+ or more casual setting your approach might be superior.

    That said I have wands, orbs and other mage type gear that give the wielder a bonus to something that is thematic i.e. bonus to a particular set of spells (fire, earth etc) which could be damage, an extra missile, a penalty to the save or additional range. They are never bought in shops though, they have to be found or traded for, and NPCs are always envious of these items when used in urban settings and will attempt to trade or steal them once they know of them. Scarcity rather than cost keeps everything in line. Your scheme would fit nicely into a campaign with magic shops.


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