A Wizard's Weapons


January 19, 2012 by deadorcs


Art by Jenny Sloane - 2012

To say there are a lot of discussions happening on Twitter in regards to DnDNext, would be an understatement. The other day, I jumped into the middle of a discussion regarding the issue of Wizards, and what kind of magic they should use. Previous to 4th Edition, Wizards used a form of what is popularly called “Vancian Magic” named after the magic system Jack Vance describes in his fantasy novels. In that system (or at least how it was originally interpreted by Gygax & Arneson), a Wizard only learns a certain number of spells per day. After that spell is cast, it is forgotten until the Wizard can study his reference material in order to re-memorize the spell. This system was turned on its head for 4th Edition with the use of powers; particularly At-Will, and Encounter powers which can be used over and over during the day.

Now with DnDNext being developed, the issue of what kind of magic system to use has come to the forefront. However, I think at the heart of the issue is something beyond the magic system itself, and has more to do with what a Wizard can do. In the Vancian type system, if a Wizard has cast her spells, she’s done for the day. She can maybe use a dagger or staff, but the use of those weapons exposes her to melee combat, which is very fatal to Wizards. Ultimately, the Vancian Wizard sits out the rest of the combat (and the rest of the day) until she has a chance to sleep and regain her spells.

I think, however, there is a way to overcome this. I think I can avoid the Vancian or Non-Vancian debate altogether while still making Wizards just as magical. Here’s my thought: What if implements were a Wizard’s weapons?

Think of it this way: An implement is to a Wizard, as a sword is to a Fighter. So, if I give the Wizard his own special selection of weapons, then the Wizard can still do something each round without having to resort to more powerful spells. At the same time, many of these weapons have special effects that boost the Wizard’s ability to control the battlefield. In order to illustrate my point, here’s a selection of weapons I came up with and their rationale:

Implement Type Damage Special
Wand Ranged 1d4 Can be fired twice in a round if no move action is taken.
Orb Ranged 1d4 Disarm an opponent.
Rod Melee 1d6 Pushes opponent 2 squares.
Tome Ranged 1d6 Attack penalty applied to specific target.
Staff Melee 1d8 Polymorphs opponent until end of opponents next turn.
Familiar Melee 1d8 Defense penalty applied to specific target.

Some notes, of course, are in order here. First off, this is only about weapons. This chart is designed to be effective regardless of the type of magic system DnDNext uses. In all cases, the items in the list are mundane items, NOT magical items. The “special” effects come from the Wizard’s own ability. All damage done by a Wizard with his weapon is “Arcane” damage (a generic term meant to be separate from piercing/slashing/bludgeoning damage).

Secondly, the “Special” column requires some explanation. I don’t know how “Special” works. Maybe it’s a feat, maybe it improves by level, maybe it’s an inherent ability of the Wizard. This article isn’t going to address that.  The “Special” is simply my way of adding a minor effect and color to the Wizard’s actions with the weapon.

Wand – The wand is now iconic, as any fairytale or Harry Potter fan will tell you. Wands are light and quick, and while they don’t do a lot of damage, they can be fired twice if the Wizard holds his ground. Could possibly eliminate Magic Missile as a requirement.

Orb – Not as common as the wand, the use of orbs shines in movies such as “Labyrinth”. Also a ranged weapon, the Wizard directs the orb about the battlefield, physically knocking heads (and other appendages) with it’s mass. The orb can be used to disarm an opponent.

Rod – This stately weapon functions like a mace, but the Wizard can channel arcane power into the strike to push back an enemy. Possibly prevents the Wizard from being trapped into melee combat.

Tome – One of the stranger Wizardly weapons, when the tome is read, arcane symbols leap from its pages to harass a foe at range, thus giving the enemy a combat penalty. I’m not sure if there’s a literary reference for this one, so consider this one straight out of my own head.

Staff – Probably even more iconic than the wand, a staff virtually defines a Wizard. I’ll probably get flack for the imagery, but I always thought a cool ability would be to take an opponent out of combat by temporarily polymorphing that opponent. The opponent can take nothing but move actions until the end of its next turn. While transformed, the opponent cannot be harmed by other effects. The staff’s purpose is to simply take the foe out of combat for a little while. Yes, I know this is a very “WoW like” effect, but Wizards changing their foes into something else is extremely iconic, and the limited effect (at least, I think) doesn’t harm balance.

Familiar – I have to admit, I originally dismissed the familiar as a weapon. It was suggested on Twitter, though, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought it could work. A newly imaged take on using a familiar, it does harken back to earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons where a familiar could harm & harass an opponent. To use this weapon, the Wizard directs the familiar to attack an opponent. In addition to the damage (via bite, battering, claw, poison, or any other method a particular animal inspires), the familiar prevents a foe from taken a good defensive stance, hence the “Special” effect noted on the table. While the familiar attacks are melee in nature, the Wizard directs the familiar from range, keeping her out of harm’s way.

Well, there you have it. I’m sure this idea can be shot full of holes, but I really like the idea of Wizards being able to do something “magical” each round, regardless of their current spell list or power availability. If DnDNext had something like this arrangement, playing a Wizard could be a blast. Let me know what you think. Hopefully, even if you don’t like this idea, it will encourage you to come up with others. Tell Wizards of the Coast about it. Maybe it will make it into DnDNext!


My name is Randall Walker and This Is My Game


8 thoughts on “A Wizard's Weapons

  1. […] have only had a few weapon choices… a staff, a dagger, and the occasional wand. So when DeadOrcs (RM Walker) at This is My Game put together an arsenal of sorts for wizards to consider, I knew I had to check it out… How could I have forgotten the good old rod, orb, tome, and […]

  2. […] at This Is My Game, DeadOrcs posted some great thoughts on using a wizard’s implement as a weapon. Depending upon what implement you use, you get to add a special rider to your attacks. Worth a […]

  3. Jared says:

    Awesome stuff. I dig the balance between “Pathfinder Cantrips are at-will but kinda useless” and “Giving the Wizard something to do to embrace that save your spells flavor folks seem to miss”. Good times.

    And weirdly, it addresses something I realized today that 4E doesn’t do well: Disarming your enemies. I love 4E but that ONE fighter power that lets you disarm enemies causes a fit at the table every time it connects.

    Oh and before I forget:

    Tome (and Paper) is officially the most bad ass implement around, thanks to the new Thundercats cartoon. No joke. Check this out:

  4. Eden says:

    What you’ve just described is essentially what 4e does. The “weapon” powers above are (weak) at-wills, while the Vancian “memorized” spells are equivalent to encounter and daily powers, with each taking more or less time to recharge based on their power level. I think it really just boils down to semantics and slight adjustments to quantity and power levels of “at-will” v.s. “recharged” spells.

    And ultimately, this can be distilled down to a question of resource management. With a strict Vancian system or with a hybrid system that includes at-will attacks, at some point the party is going to decide they need to camp right smack in the middle of the dungeon, castle, etc. and recharge their wizard. Which just feels wrong sometimes. The best solution to this problem that I’ve heard is to allow the rest to occur, but to make sure there are consequences (i.e. prisoners get eaten, bad guy gets away, etc.).

    • Philo Pharynx says:

      The party will still need to rest if there is hit points and a limit on how much can be healed in a day. I have a hard time seeing a version of D&D that doesn’t have some sort of resource management.

  5. Philo Pharynx says:

    I tend to think that even if they have a vancian class, there will be some sort of at-will spell. 4e has one, Pathfinder has made cantrips at-will, etc. It’s one of the better ways to stave off the 5-minute workday.

  6. Matthew says:

    I like it the idea, but perhaps instead of specific affects per implement, each one should have a specific area of influence and individual implements could have different effects within that area.

    So wands do an attack, but you might be able to choose between ice wands and fire wands, or between a wand that hits harder but has a penalty to hit vs lighter hits with a bonus, etc.

    Orbs are for interference with an individual – one might make disarm attempts, while another – gives a significant to hit penalty.

    Rods are defensive – one might push, while another creates shield and another deflects missiles.

    Tome does AOE intereference – weaker than orb, but affecting more people.

    I’d keep staves as something more since they’re so iconic.

    Familiars are npcs and can do whatever an npc of their type can do. Maybe that’s distracting an opponent or maybe it’s aiding you in some way.

    If you want implements to be more personal and not encourage players to carry 20 different wands you could just allow them to choose what their implement does from a list of possibilities and upgrade or change it at certain intervals in their career.

  7. Popesixtus says:

    The idea feels very Dragon Age as well as WoW (and I like the little cartoon nod to Castle Crashers as well!).

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