- Jun 2005 -
19235 Posts

A New Division of Implements

My most current blog series is Long Division, a theoretical reorganization of power sources, classes, archetypes, and subclasses.  In my previous articles on the topic, I suggested new division of magic, martial, gish, spellcasting, and weapons.  In this final article in the series, I discuss an organization for implements.

Implements are the "weapons" of spellcasters.  The "gish" use weapons as implements to invoke their magic, so their "implements" won't be discussed here.  Multiclass characters, however, who would use weapons for fighting and implements for magic, will be discussed.

I would like to give thanks to DanTracker, whose article on implements (see the 'How is Magic Performed' section), helped inspire much of my thinking here.

A History of Implements

A World Without Implements

In original D&D and in Basic D&D, there were no implements.  In fact, there was very little rules about what spellcasters needed to cast spells.  There were references to clerics holding holy symbols, and to wizards using arcane words and gestures and exotic spell components, but it was mostly flavor.  Any mechanical consequences were devised by the Dungeon Master.  As the game developed, however, implements and components grew more firmly entrenched in the game. 

Rather than tracing the history of implements chronologically, I will do so by power source, since the tools of various power sources had very different paths to the uniformity of Fourth Edition.

Divine (and Primal): Holy and Holly

The first formal magic implement was the holy symbol.  In AD&D, every cleric was expected to have a holy symbol, and it was a requirement for casting and regaining spells.  The holy symbol has many of the elements we now associate with implements.  They were not expended on casting.  They had to be brandished to work.  You could purchase fancier versions.  (Many people switched from plain wooden symbols to the fancy silver holy symbol.)

When primal classes were introduced, they were treated as the kid brother to the divine class.  The "sprig of holly" became the holy (which contrary to popular belief is not from the same root as "holly") symbol for primal casters.

In addition to this implement, clerical and druidic spells also required components (see below).

Arcane (and Elemental and Shadow): Component Parts

Wizards did not have implements at first.  Rather, they had spell "components".  These components came in four varieties: verbal (magic words), somatic (magic gestures), material (eye of newt), and focus (voudoun doll).  The focus was the most similar to an implement, in that it was a permanent item that could be reused.  However, in AD&D, each focus was unique to a single spell (and only a few spells required them).  So wizards would not generally spend a lot of time making their foci unique or individual to them. 

Components created some rather unique mini-games.  The first was component shopping.  An early Dragon magazine listed all of the spell components and then rated them by cost and rarity.  This allowed DMs to introduce "Ye Olde Magick Shoppe" for the first time.  For DMs who did not ignore the material component rules (many did), a lot of a wizard's free time was spent perusing local apothecaries for rare ingredients.  Sometimes low-level parties might be hired to hunt out rare ingredients for a higher-level wizard.  While the story hooks were fun, the accounting involved in tracking components usually meant this rule was more often ignored than followed.

The second mini-game was spell shopping.  Some spells required no somatic components and thus was great if you were tied up.  Some spells required no verbal components and thus worked well if you were in a silence spell.  Some spells required no material components, and thus worked even if you were stripped of possessions.  DMs loved placing spellcasters in positions where one or more components were rendered inaccessible to them, forcing them to improvise.Of course, it also resulted in wizards having their hands cut off or their tongues cut out to prevent them from casting.  AD&D sometimes got gruesome.

In fact, one module, In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords, opens with the heroes stripped of possessions and left in caverns under an active volcano on a desert island.  With whatever objects they could find, they had to improvise some weapons and spells and escape.  For people who enjoy hunting through rulebooks to figure out what they could cast with a bit of sheep's wool, this was great fun.  For others, it was drudgery.

The third mini-game was metajoking.  Many of the material components where thinly veiled puns and anachronisms.  The message spell required two cans connected by string.  Fireball used the ingredients for gunpowder.  The exterminate cantrip required the wizard to point at the vermin and make a "Bzzzt" sound like a bug zapper.  While these were humorous the first time you read it, if you actually wanted to play seriously and include material components, the jokes quickly became tiresome.

Third edition gave us the bare glimmers of an arcane implement: the spell component bag.  This item contained every spell component under 1 gp in cost (which was most of them).  What this did was preserve all the minutia that filled up space in the rule books for coponents, and then allowed everyone to utterly ignore them.

Psionics: A Whole Lot of Nothing

The psionicist had the best of all worlds: they required no implements or components.  As long as they had their brains, they could invoke their disciplines.  All that psionics required was conscious effort.  And some players would argue that some psionic powers, like id insinuation, should be invokable with subconscious or even unconscious effort.  This was all part of the "psionics is better than everything" meme of prior editions.

Fourth Edition

With Fourth Edition, everybody got implements.  In addition to holy symbols, we saw dagger, orbs, rods, staffs, tomes, wands, and even weapons (mostly for the gish). These items could now be enchanted, and served as a necessary complement to the spellcasters' accoutrement.

Components were limited to Rituals, but even here, they were genericized into "reagents", "salves", "herbs", and "incense", depending on whether the ritual required Arcane, Heal, Nature, or Religion to cast.  But most people ignore that and just use the ultra-generic "residuum".

And for psionicists and shadow casters we got a new object: the "ki focus".  Let me take a moment to lament this absurd addition.  The ki focus is a virtually undefined object with almost no historical or literary basis.  It exists solely as "filler" so the caster could have something to enchant to get their needed enhancement bonus.  The description of ki foci in the glossary highlights the ill-defined nature of this implement:

A ki focus is an implement that certain characters use as a focus for their inner magical energy, known as ki. A ki focus might take the form of a training manual, a scroll of ancient secrets, a blunt training weapon, or a cherished memento.

In other words, a ki focus is, quite literally, a fetish. To illustrate how impossibly useless this implement is, the illustration on the right is the one used for the "Ki Focuses" article from Dragon 398 this last April.  Can you spot the ki focus?  I see two magic blades.  I see armor, a quiver, a cloak, and a backpack.  I don't see the ki focus supposedly illustrated.  Why?  Because any illustration including a ki focus being actually used by a hero would look silly.  (The "Emerald Flame" article from Dragon 382 suffers the same problem.) 

Edited to add: I want to add one more reason why I don't like ki focuses: they are not active.  Ki focuses operate because the adventurer finds meaning in them. He doesn't need to brandish it.  He doesn't need to wield it.  Possession, apparently, is nine-tenths of the spell.  That's not active, and D&D should be active.  It's the same problem I had with psionics when it required no implements at all.  I know there's no requirement that you actually do anything with implements, but I think there should be.

If my article series accomplishes anything, I hope it's this: the ki focus must die.

So why are assassins running around with arbitrary magic souvenirs?  Because implements are in desperate need of a more rational division.

A Reason for Implements

So what's the point of Implements?  What do they add?

Implements Provide Diversity.  Implements allow spellcasters a means to differentiate their character from other characters in their class and build. 

Implements Promote Visualization.  Heroes are active.  A character who accomplishes magic by thinking is inactive.  A character who casts magic by moving around, shouting arcane words, and wielding a wand is active, engaging, and adventuresome.  Mage: the Ascension was a game for philosophers (which I loved), and it made sense that as mages grew in power, they cast off their foci.  But D&D is about adventuring.  Spellcasters don't cast off their implements as they get stronger -- they just get more awesome implements!

Implements Are Weapons.  Just as a barbarian takes pride in his kick-ass executioner's axe, the spellcaster should take pride in his implement because it's his.  It defines him and it allows him to convey to others something about his personality.  Are you a kick-ass caster who swings a mighty staff?  Are you a pensive caster poring over an orb or tome?  Do you focus your energies through a mystic gemstone, or rely on the carefully etched amulet of your art? 

A New Division

I propose that implements be treated like weapons.  In my last article, I proposed two ways to distinguish weapons: (i) the category of the weapon, which would make each weapon group feel distinct without being overwhelming; and (ii) the damage they inflict, which was determined by the number of "hands" the weapon required.

For categories, I propose that implements be related to the nine nonants I proposed in the first article of the series.  If one implement is assigned to each nonant, then we can allow a caster to use any of the implements associated with its nonants.  Each class thus gets access to three types of implements, and there is overlap with other power sources. The implement would grant a small benefit to its associated nonant (see below) to make it feel different from other implements without becoming overwhelming.

For damage, I'm not going to assign "hands" to an implement.  There's no "hand-and-a-half wand".  All implements -- even staffs -- can be, and must be, wielded with one free hand.  Rather, in order to create a variety of damage dice, I propose reintroducing the concept of verbal and somatic components.

Here's how it works: if a caster wields an implement, his spells inflict a minimum of d4 base damage.  If the caster has another hand free for gestures, the damage increases one die.  (Having two hands free does not increase this benefit.)  If the caster can speak, the damage increases one die.  If the caster casts a spell associated with the implement he wields, it increases a further die. If a spellcaster is caught without his implement, he can still cast a spell if he can both vocalize and gesture, and such an "unarmed spell" has a base damage of d4.

This provides a range of damage from d4 through d10.  It allows the game to penalize a disarmed spellcaster equally to a disarmed weapon-user (if the game even incorporates disarming as an option).  It allows the game to reintroduce silence and other effects to hamper spellcasting without rendering them completely useless.  It allows you to restrain a spellcaster with either a gag or manacles to prevent spellcasting, making them fairly analogous to weapon-users, as they should be.

Here is a chart of the nine categories of implements I propose (click on the image for a larger view):

Amulet (Creation): The amulet includes any symbolic representation of a greater force.  This would include both holy symbols, and the ancient amulets inscribed by medieval alchemists.  For this reason, the amulet is an implement available to both Divine Priests and Elemental Sorcerers, but it is particularly useful to the Evoker and Invoker, who each specialize in the process of creation.  Although an amulet can be stored by wearing it around the neck, as is traditional, in order to use it in spellcasting, the caster will have to hold it in one hand and brandish it.

Athame (Death): The athame is a ritual dagger used in sacrifice.  In myth and history, the athame is traditionally used in druidic rituals and in dark sacrifices to netherworldly powers.  For this reason, the athame is available to both Primal Druids and Shadow Necromancers.  The athame is also the implement of choice for Binders and Spirit Talkers, whose entreaties with the spirit world require a show of force.  Any one-handed weapon can be used as an athame, and for this reason, multiclass casters who choose a one-handed weapon fighting style (such as sword-and-board) can choose Athame to be their implement of choice.

Crystal (Deceit): Crystals are a well-established part of magical lore, but have truly come into their own since the Victorian era, when they served as focuses of people claiming to have psychic power.  In AD&D, prisms, gemstones, and crystals served most frequently as foci for illusions.  For this reason, the crystal is an implement available to Necromancers and Psions.   Unsurprisingly, crystals are valued most by Illusionists and Obscurants as they enhance the effectiveness of their shades and glamers.  Like an orb, a crystal could be embedded in a weapon or shield, and is thus available to multiclass characters.

Lots (Vision): One of the first implements from religion and myth are the "Urim and Thummim" (the breastplate the prophet Aaron wears in the picture to the left) used by ancient Israelite priests to divine the will of God.  Oracular devices (or lots) are commonly used by both psychic diviners and religious figures. Thus, Lots are an implement available to Psions and Divine Priests.  Clairvoyants and Oracles use them particularly well to cast their divinations and invoke their visions.

Orb (Mind): The gazing sphere is a mainstay of Renaissance Faire fortunetellers and mighty wizards, allowing them to gaze into the minds of their target an learn their deepest desires and darkest fears.  For this reason, the orb is an implement available to Psions and Arcane Wizards, and of particular use to Enchanters and Telepaths.  The orb may also be affixed to a staff or imbedded in another weapon, and for this reason may be selected by a multiclass character as their implement.  It is possible that rules may allow for hybrid implements (i.e., a combined orb and staff), but that may depend on the underlying mechanics of the game, which is beyond the scope of the Long Division series.

Rod (Conjuration): The Bible speaks of the Rod of Aaron, with its miraculous properties.  And druids often used shillelaghs in their invocations.  For this reason, both Divine Clerics and Primal Druids may select the rod as their implement.  It is most useful to Shamans and Theurges, who use the authority of the scepter-like rod to command their conjured creatures.  The rod can take the form of any versatile (hand-and-a-half) weapon, including the hand bow, sling, or atlatl, and thus is available as an implement to multiclass characters as well.

Staff (Life): Where would Gandalf be without his staff (well, he often used a two-handed sword, but bear with me)?  Or a druid, for that matter?  The original magic staff is the Caduceus of the god Hermes, a symbol of medicine and alhemical life.  One original story of the Caduceus is that the staff transformed the prophet Tiresias into a woman and then back to a man.  The staff is thus the implement most closely related to the magic of reshaping life.  The staff is appropriately the implement available to Arcane Wizards and Primal Druids.  The natural and often phallic symbolism of the staff makes it an appropriate implement for the Life nonant, and thus most appropriate for Warlocks and Witches.  The staff can take the form of any two-handed weapon (so, aha!  You thought I forgot about Gandalf, didn't you!), and this makes it available to multiclass characters who seek a two-handed fighting style.  Shortbows and crossbows are included here.  The staff can take the form of things other than weapons, such as, for example, a witch's broomstick!

Tome (Decay): The classic magical tome is the fictional Necronomicon of H.P. Lovecraft's devise.  This ancient tome made connections with dark entities and could bring the reader great power or great destruction (or both).  For this reason, the tome is the implement available to Necromancers and Elemental Sorcerers, but particularly to the Abjurers and Unmakers who gain strength through the awesome powers of devastation.  A tome, by the way, is different from a spellbook.  Spellbooks should be available to characters of any pwoer source who derive their powers through devoted study and learning.  While a Tome should be allowed to double as a spellbook, spellcasters can have spellbooks that do not serve as implements.

Wand (Form): Last but not least is the classic.  Possibly the oldest of historical implements, Sumerian sorcerers were known to use the stylus as an implement in their own magical invocations to, figuratively, rewrite the laws of the universe.  The wand is a classic of fantasy magic, most recently popularized by the J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.  The wand is available to both Arcane Wizards and Elemental Sorcerers, and is particularly useful to Artificers and Transmuters who use their powers to reshape the worlds of matter and energy.  The wand can also take the form of any half-handed weapon, such as a knife, spike, or baton.  It is thus available to multiclass characters who seek to specialize in a two-weapon fighting style.

With these nine implement categories, the implements available to each power source are as follows:

Arcane (Wizards): Orb, Wand, and Staff
Divine (Cleric): Amulet (holy symbol), Lots, and Rod
Elemental (Sorcerer): Amulet, Tome, and Wand
Primal (Druid): Athame, Rod, and Staff
Psionic (Psion): Crystal, Lots, and Orb
Shadow (Necromancer): Athame, Crystal, and Tome

Culture Shock

I'm pretty happy with how this table turned out. However, some might not be.

Amulets.  Weren't they neck slot items?  Well, yes.  But I think they work better and more authentically as implements.  Amulets in this schema would not serve as neck slot items, if those even remain in a future game.  Something else will have to give a character bonuses to the non-AC defenses (if enhancement bonuses to defense are even needed in future editions). 

Gish.  So spellcasters get cool toys, and weapon-users get cool toys.  Even multiclass characters get cool toys!  What about the poor gish?  The gish uses a weapon as an implement, even if it's not a weapliment associated with their nonants.  The Gish don't get die bonus due to nonants or components.  They get them from the weapon they use, like any martial character.  The Mystic (ie., ardent, monk, and yogi) should also get innate abilities related to unarmed combat. 

Multiclass.  The multiclass get lots of options, but, as it stands, it the multiclasser chooses a fighting style that requires both hands (shield-and-weapon, two-weapon, two-handed, or ranged), they can't access their somatic components, even if their weapon is their implement.  I would suggest that when someone multiclasses, they may choose a fighting style.  If they do, then they do not get the die bonus for making gestures with a free hand; instead, they get the die bonus when wielding weapons appropriate to that fighting style.

Cross-Source Implements.  What if you want to be a tome-wielding wizard, or a crystal sorcerer?  Feats should allow people to expand their reach to implements outside their power source.

Reach Implements.  There are reach weapons.  Why not reach implements?  Well, magic already has reach in the form of range.  However, if someone wants a longbow instead of a staff, I think that could be accomodated.

One More Thing!

I almost forgot.  An optional rule that could be... er... implemented, is a rule for improvised implements (or "material components").  Basically, we could assign materials an affiliation with a nonant, such as eye of newt to the life nonant, or sand to the mind nonant.  If a spellcaster is deprived of the use of implements, the spellcaster can use these materials to cast a spell in the affiliated nonant.  The material would have a set unit, and that unit is expended when the spell is cast.  This would allow DMs to create scenarios like those set forth in In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords without requiring an entire game to be built around obscure spell components.  The lists could be universal, or specific to a setting.  Dragonlance, for instance, might assign dragon scales as a component, with the nonant differing on the color of the scale.  Eberron might have a more elemental basis for its components, while Greyhawk can stick to the puns and metajokes for which it is known.

Well, that's it!  I hope you enjoyed reading this series as much as I enjoyed writing it.  At some future time, I may revisit the seres and discuss who a campaign world could be built around the nonants, or other ideas rattling around in my brain.  Until then, I look forward to everyone's comments!

Read all the articles in the Long Division Series:
A New Division of Magic
A New Division of Martial 
A New Division of Gish
A New Division of Spellcasters
A New Division of Weapons
A New Division of Implements

See more at Unearthed Wrecana!

Blog Followers 7 Comments 27