Last Updated on January 22, 2023
A staff of gnarled wood, a floating ball of crystal-clear glass, or a wand formed from the horn of a demon…all of these evocative items share a function as a spellcaster’s tool for casting spells.
Arcane foci are popular items in D&D 5e because of their narrative power and their suite of magical powers.
Let’s take a look at how these arcane artifacts work within the rules of D&D and how you can use them to inspire your next spell slinger.
What Is an Arcane Focus in D&D 5e?
An arcane focus is a special item that arcane spellcasters, like sorcerers, warlocks, and wizards, can use to aid in casting their spells.
Whether they take the shape of a crystal, orb, staff, or wand, an arcane focus allows a caster to cast spells with an inexpensive material component without providing that material component during the casting of a spell.
In practice, an arcane spellcaster can use an arcane focus for their spellcasting only if their Spellcasting class features allow them to.
For example, bards, Eldritch Knight fighters, and Arcane Trickster rogues cannot use an arcane focus despite being arcane spellcasters due to a lack of this feature.
Artificers also fit into this category, unless the arcane focus was made using one of their Infusions.
Like a component pouch, arcane foci tend not to weigh very much.
The Adventuring Gear table in the Player’s Handbook lists the various arcane foci as weighing between 1 and 4 pounds, making it easy for even a low-Strength-score wizard to carry a focus.
Arcane foci work in much the same way as other spellcasting foci, such as a cleric or paladin’s holy symbol or a druid’s druidic focus.
All these items are spellcasting foci, and thus they use the same rules found in Chapter 10 of the Player’s Handbook.
These items range between five and 20 gold, making them somewhat expensive compared to many simple weapons.
Arcane Focus Rules
Spellcasting can be complicated because of the wide range of options a spellcaster has available to them.
When it comes to using an arcane focus, there are a few sections of the spellcasting rules the caster should know. That way, they are prepared for their challenges.
Using an Arcane Focus
To use an arcane focus, there are two things to keep in mind: the arcane focus must be held when used, and it only replaces the material component of the spell being cast.
No matter what form your arcane focus takes, your arcane spellcaster has to hold the focus to use it.
This issue might not matter for some casters since it could be the only thing they need to hold onto in combat.
Most wizards and sorcerers don’t rush into a fight with a weapon, meaning they have their hands free to grip their focus.
As long as this condition is met, the arcane focus can be used instead of an inexpensive material component.
These inexpensive material components are any components you see in the spell description that do not have a gold cost associated with them.
However, the trouble is when the arcane spellcaster wants to hold more than just their focus.
If your spellcaster prefers to use a shield or wade into battle with a melee weapon in one hand and an arcane focus in the other, you’ll have to think about another part of spellcasting: somatic components.
According to the spellcasting rules, you need a free hand to create the somatic components of a spell.
For spells that have an inexpensive material component, a spellcaster can use the same hand the focus sits in to do both the somatic and material components of the spell.
But, a spell with no material components cannot be cast using an arcane focus, meaning you still need a hand free to wiggle your fingers and cast the spell.
The War Caster feat solves this by allowing you to use a hand with a weapon or shield in it to create somatic components, making it essential for almost any frontline-focused spellcaster.
Also, spells that have an expensive component, such as chromatic orb or the Summon spells from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, cannot be replaced by a focus, meaning you’ll need a free hand to produce the material component.
Unfortunately, bending the rules of reality to your whim takes a wide range of tools. Juggling these items around could be a challenge in itself, let alone when you add combat to the mix.
Arcane Foci as Magic Items
During your character’s adventures, you might find some arcane foci that act as magic items.
Much like enchanted weapons or armor, a magical arcane focus can have different benefits to the spellcaster, such as increased accuracy with spell attack rolls or access to new spells.
Many of these items require attunement, just like other magic items. As long as you have one of three attunement slots open and an hour to complete the ritual, you’ll receive the benefits of the magical item.
As always, a magical arcane focus that doesn’t need attunement is usable by anyone.
However, arcane foci that give spells are exciting because of their freedom from components.
In the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the rules state that a spell cast from a magic item is cast at its lowest possible level but requires no components whatsoever.
Some of these items have a spell-attack bonus or spell save DC built into the item, while others use your spellcasting stats, so keep an eye out for those distinctions.
Still, an arcane focus that gives more spells per day that you can cast more freely is a wonderful treat to find at the end of a dungeon, especially since these items can still be used as a standard arcane focus.
Iconic Arcane Foci Across D&D 5e and Beyond
Wizards and other casters are commonly shown with their arcane focus in hand, ready to sling spells at a moment’s notice. The foci that these iconic spellcasters use make for a great place to inspire character concepts for D&D.
Here are some popular arcane foci from pop culture and D&D 5e’s magic items to get your creative juices flowing:
- Crystal Balls: These glass orbs offer a way for casters to peer beyond the veil and obtain knowledge otherwise unavailable, making them great as both a magic item and arcane focus for a diviner wizard.
- Rod of the Pact Keeper: Warlocks in possession of this wicked rod find that their eldritch magics hit more often, making this magic item a great source of inspiration for a blaster warlock.
- Staff of Magius: From the world of Dragonlance, this staff of incredible spells belonged to Raistlin, a powerful wizard who found himself across the alignment chart to suit his own purposes.
- The Elder Wand: One of the Deathly Hallows from Harry Potter, this artifact could be the inspiration for a powerful item for your caster to seek out during their adventures.
An arcane focus allows a spellcaster to simplify their spells by reducing the number of mundane items they carry around for their material components.
While an arcane focus won’t solve all your spell component needs, it offers a way to reduce inventory tracking and acts as another item to carry magical enchantments.
As long as you can keep the spell component rules in mind while casting, an arcane focus can be a great way to evoke some powerful images at your table!
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I played the game a lot as a kid, back in first edition. Over the past few years since 5e was released, I’ve really started getting back into it. Currently, I run a campaign online for some friends and my brothers, and we also play a side-sesh just to mix things up.