Dweomer Day: Wand of Hammer Blows

n.b. Dweomer Day was originally a series in which I convert a spell from an earlier edition of D&D to 5E or update a homebrew spell from previous editions/campaigns, but I have decided to add magical items to the mix.

Of the wands detailed in Ed Greenwood’s “Nine Wands of Wonder” article in Dragon Magazine #102, the only one that really interested me was the Wand of Hammer Blows. It might be simple and mundane but it struck me as a useful magical tool in depriving others of some object.

The item saving throw chart from the AD&D 1E Dungeon Master’s Guide

The wand breaks small mundane items like potion vials and crystal vases. As written, the wand is meant to almost always destroy fragile items, like those made of glass. According to the original version, meant for AD&D 1E, the target of the wand has to make an item saving throw against “crushing blow” or be broken. Well, D&D doesn’t have “item saving throws” anymore. Objects have armor classes and hit points based on their size and whether they are categorized as either fragile or resilient. Well, since the original wand struck unerringly, I kept with that ability, but instead of a saving throw, I made it do enough damage to inanimate non-magical non-living objects to be counted on to usually break glass or crystal. Back in the day, a potion vial making a save versus crushing blow had to roll a 19 or better to make the save, making the new version’s damage a 1d6 means that the wand has a decent chance to break most fragile items. Even the thickest glass potion vial only has 4 hit points, while the least resilient metal flask only has 2, but could have as much as 8.

Two uses of the wand should be enough to break most small and/or fragile items.

The original description of the Wand of Hammer Blows from Dragon #102 (Oct 1985)

I am not sure why the fantasy of the wand of hammer blows appeals to me so much, but I like the idea of some rogue or shady wizard using the wand to break a lock, smash a lantern, crack open manacles. I can also see it being useful against some weapons like bows or daggers, damaging them beyond use.

Of course, introducing this wand into play has potential repercussions. A player whose character gets one is always going to be looking for things to break. This will likely lead to the player in question frequently asking for detailed descriptions of what foes and competitors are wearing. This means the DM will have to decide things like, are those potions of healing the evil priest carries on his belt in view? Are they in a pouch on his belt? What the hit points on the golden tiara worn by the false princess and that serves as a badge of office? Furthermore, a strategy to smash a cleric’s holy symbol or a wizard or bard’s spell focus could put a big crimp in their spellcasting ability.

The potential for abuse makes this wand a good candidate for the kind of limitation that seems to have been built into a lot of 5E’s magical items with charges. They have very few, of which a number (sometimes randomly determined by a die roll) are regained each day at a specified time, reducing the chance of running out of charges, but not eliminating it. My guess is that this system is as much about eliminating the long-term bookkeeping that comes with a set and finite number of charges as it is limiting how often they can be used. But honestly, I don’t like it.

While on the surface, having seven charges, of which 1d6 recharge everyday (like several wands in the Dungeon Master’s Guide), seems less onerous to remember than having X number of charges you just keep track of, in practicality it provides infinite charges except in the most extreme cases where it is overused. By tying the recharging to a time of day that may or may not be part of any given day that game activity will cover, it makes this approach something easily forgotten, leading to simply assuming “it must be fully charged back up by now” after enough time has passed.

I like the threat of loss and the careful management of resources that comes with a limited use item. While I am aware that a wand without a short term limit on its use may be abused, using up a limited power too freely in pursuit of short-term reward is its own punishment.

It is for this reason I listed two versions of this wand. One with the new way 5E handles charges and one based on the old school way: It is simply found with 3d30 charges (if you don’t have a d30, go get one and put it to use), but every point of damage it does uses up a charge. In this way, the more successful a use of it is, the more power is used up. This can curtail repeated use. Best of all, this approach also increases the chance of using up its final charge, destroying the wand in a rather dramatic fashion.

As for the lore of the wand, Greenwood doesn’t include much, except to say the wand was created by a wizard name Phultan, and is generally not very valued except by some thieves and assassins. Of course, if and when I introduce this item in my own Makrinos games I will come up with my own lore.

Typical 5E version:

“Old School” 5E version:

Click here for a PDF including both versions of the Wand of Hammer Blows.

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