Saturday, October 1, 2011

Hocus Pocus and Magic Staffs

The typical image of a wizard generally includes some kind of magic staff or wand. While this does not fit my view of a delving wizard (especially a lone delving wizard), magic staffs are extremely useful to a Wizard in Tunnels and Trolls. They are one of the major advantages that Wizards have over Rogues in spell-casting. Like most of them, the rules regarding magic staffs have changed over the editions and I have always had questions about them.

In the 5th and 7th edition rules, a magic staff reduces the cost to cast a spell by the level number of the wizard down to a minimum cost of 1 (Strength or Wizardry). This may not seem like a lot but it can be quite helpful even to a level 1 Wizard.

When selecting a magic staff a Wizard can buy two types from the Wizard's Guild, a staff ordinaire or a staff deluxe. The first is rather common and cheap (100 gp) but will never burn out. The second is pretty costly (5000 gp) and also mysterious. It reduces the cost of casting spells the exact same way that the staff ordinaire does, but it can remember the spells cast through it; so perhaps your shiny new staff has a few things to teach you? Some say that deluxe staffs have demons bound inside them.

Of course the Wizard always has the option of using a basic spell that every Wizard knows, Hocus Pocus, to create a makeshift staff. This requires no money at all, you simply need to find yourself a piece of wood. Here is where my questions begin.

First, the nature of the magic staff (often referred to as a focus) can vary according to the rules and may include "wands, walking sticks, sturdy quarterstaves, or even rings." So now it seems that your staff ordinaire may in fact be a ring or maybe a pendant hanging from a chain and not a 5' length of wood.

But, in 5th edition rules, the description for Hocus Pocus states specifically that it can be used to enchant any piece of WOOD into a makeshift staff. It does not say anything about any other items. So here is where house rules come in. Do you really only allow this spell to be cast on wood, or do you allow other items such as stone, ceramic, or metal? But while the description does say that the spell is cast on a piece of wood it does not say it must be a stick. It could simply be a chunk of wood; or maybe a wooden ring? That has possibilities. This caveat allows both rules to stand as is; Hocus Pocus may be cast on any wooden object.

The chief drawback of the makeshift staff is that it eventually will burn out and crumble to dust. This happens (in 5th edition) once the Wizard has cast a number of Strength points through the staff equal to twice his/her Intelligence. This is where my next question comes in: how do you count the Strength (or Wizardry, Mana, etc.) points cast through the staff? Is it the number of Strength points saved by using the staff or the total number of Strength points used to cast the spell? In other words, if you are a 1st level Wizard and cast Vorpal Blade using your makeshift staff, does that reduce it's Strength pool by 5 (the full cost of the spell) or by 1 (the strength saved by using the staff)? I've seen this rule interpreted both ways. Personally I prefer the latter. This really is not too much of a drawback since you can always find a new item to produce a makeshift staff. Besides, who says that you cannot create 10 or even 20 makeshift staffs the day before you set out to seek fame and fortune? There's no time limit on the enchantment after all. But then in 5th edition the makeshift staff may fail on the first attempt to use it unless you make a Level 1 Saving Roll on Luck. This is all the more reason to invest in increasing your Wizard's Luck attribute when you gain that first level.

At least one of these questions was answered for me in the 7th edition rules, where the spell (now called Hocus Focus) is now described as being able to "enchant ANY non-magical item into a magical focus." So in 7th edition you are not restricted to wood. That certainly increases the usefulness of this spell since according to this rule you could enchant a piece of lint you pull out of your pocket. Also, the chance of the makeshift focus failing on first use is not longer there. Even better. There is also an interesting change where it channels a number of Wizardry points equal to the Wizard's combined Intelligence and Dexterity. The combat effectiveness of the two different types of staffs is also addressed. The staff ordinaire is listed as a 2D weapon while the deluxe staff is listed as a 4D weapon due to the indestructible nature of the material (and the fact that there's a demon trapped inside).

So what does all this mean and why am I writing about magic staffs? Itash the Grim has been missing a magic staff in his adventures, but he really needs both hands free to fight with his daggers. The solution? Itash the Grim is going to get a small knife and make himself a pocket full of wooden rings to use a makeshift "staffs" on his next adventure and keep his hands free for his daggers while casting his spells for less Strength. Time to gear up for one last trip through Buffalo Castle. Take That You Fiend!

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