Implements (Part I)

Adventurers love their toys. Give a warrior a good sword or an axe, and she names it like it is family. Rogues and scoundrels may be more promiscuous with their blades and more opportunistic in what they call weapons, but give them a magical cloak or supple boots with subtle magic, and they are a pleased as shadows in the shrinking sunset. But what about wizards?

“The wizard is going to want that glowing wand.” Art by Rick Hershey.

Of course, wizards have their own accouterments; it’s all through the literature. Wands, staves, and grimoires are some of the most pervasive. Many times orbuculum, magic circles, and daggers are added to the list. Get a little more witchy, and you have cauldrons, flying, and eyes of newt, and other such sundries. While creating Delve, I wanted to have all of these and more, but today I’m going to present the ideas behind arcane implements and one non-implement to outline how wizards will likely wish to itemize their abilities.

I wanted arcane implements to increase the accuracy, potency, and flexibility of wizards and other arcane casters from the start. I wanted them to function somewhat like weapons, but not always, and there were some interesting things within the spellcasting rules I wanted to explore. But let’s look at the simplest, and arguably the most iconic, implement first. Wands.

Maybe the first reference in Western literature about wands comes in Homer’s works. Hermes, Athena, and Circe all use rods to perform magic, but the practice of using a stick to focus a spell (and likely the attention of those witnessing such a marvel), is likely as old as tool use. The modern zeitgeist presents it as a common implement of stage magicians, waved by mickey mouse in Fantasia, and an integral part of Harry Potter. But there’s a muddled aspect to wands. When used as an implement, does the magic come from the caster or the wand? D&D usually takes the opinion that the magic comes from the wand. From the start, they have been spell (or at least magical effect) storage devices. A magic battery. This option was often somewhat overpowered or used in irritating ways, especially among clerics or those who could at least Use Magic Device in the 3.5 era. And there was just something about it being a magical battery that never sat right with me. I always envisioned them as a focusing instrument. Sure one could use a finger in a pinch, but the wand was an elegant tool of a more magical time.

On top of that, given that spellcaster in Delve didn’t fire and forget their spells, wands of the old stripe in such a system were pointless. They could be tools to expand a wizard’s flexibility, but I already had two other mechanics that did that. That’s when I began toying with wands as a device to create accuracy and feature other effects—a weapon equivalent for spellcasters.

Now, this is somewhat of a controversial subject in the scope of fantasy d20 games. After all, spells are well known for targeting lesser defenses (or the saving throws). More often than not, when you broach the subject of using a magical implement to increase accuracy, it’s argued that it’s not needed. Weapons have such bonuses because numbers of armor fall outstrip the potency of the other defenses. It becomes hazardous with the area of effect spells that target multiple creatures with half damage on a miss. But as more spells in the game started targeting one creature, much like an attack, but with a slower action economy, it becomes evident that an increase in accuracy is wanted and likely needed.

Spells are often slower, relying on only one roll in the damage per round. This actually plays against the wizard’s strength. Having multiple roles (on whatever side of the table) increases the probability you will do damage by the end of the round, and more so for those going after lower defenses. Fighters and other forces of martial nature gain greater bonuses and are further buoyed by their vastly superior ability to earn further bonuses, even when going up against higher defenses. A warrior’s best toys are accuracy and more actions to do their dirty work, and those are the abilities most of them (and the very effective ones) strive for. And unlike wizards, they can do that shit all day long.

But wizards in Delve work on slightly different assumptions. When they blast, unless they want to unleash a potent blast by sacrificing their spells, their attacks work more like weapons with a slower action economy (typically one cantrip and one higher mastery spell, or sometimes one spell with a fantastical effect or imbued with special arcane training). That doesn’t mean it’s not full of special effects and states. Those are often a rider on the damage—I mean, they are wizards. But, balancing their impact over time looks more like the other classes. And while the martial classes are full of buffs to accuracy and speed of action economy, the wizard has less of them. There’s just so much more they can play with. So adding wands that increase accuracy is actually necessary with a range of attack spells.

And once I figured that out and realized that I could play some fun tricks with wands, the mind started churning. I could create a selection of wands that were dynamic, interesting, played to some of the themes I wanted in the wizard class, and that was just plain fun.

Let’s look at a couple of the basic wands, starting with the most basic of the basic, and then something that has a bit more pizzazz.

These two wands are what you might expect. Relatively low-level devices. They don’t help all magic but a class of spells within the wizard’s arsenal. And handy spells at that, at least when you’re in the thick of a fight. They are tailor-made for the blaster of a certain ilk, and that’s exactly who they are designed for. As wands increase in level, they increase in power in standard ways, but these are wizards, and this is magic, so you can do some fun stuff like these.

These are the boomsticks. At least of a certain ilk and power level. Of course, their powers come at a price. When you unleash their might, they are consumed. But when you absolutely, positively, need to kill every fucking hobgoblin in the room, you’ll be glad you had them.

Wands are the implement of choice of one kind of wizards or a class of spells, but wizards are more than blasters, and the other implements speak to different needs of the class and their abilities. Next time we will take a look at the second-most iconic implement—the staff.

If you want to see more about wands and more examples of wands in the game, today’s Friday Sneak Peek on the Delve Patreon is the full Proto rules and offerings available to Delvers.