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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Re-Doing Wands Without Charges

About a year ago, I posted something about wands without charges: using dice rolls to see if a wand is drained, instead of keeping track of how many charges each wand has and deducting a charge every time the wand is used. The idea was to cut down on bookkeeping, but I may have been too stingy. So, I want to re-examine it and maybe come up with a better way.

First, consider this earlier idea I had: Every time you roll a 00 on d100, you've used the last charge in the wand. Here's the reasoning: If, under the normal rules, a wand has up to 100 charges and you roll d100 to determine the charges, there's a 1% chance for any given number of charges. So, there's also a 1% chance that any given use of a wand is the last charge, which means that, rather than writing anything down, you can defer the roll for the number of charges and roll it every time the wand is used. This does have a side effect that the wand just might have more than 100 charges, if luck is on the player's side, but that's OK.

The rule I presented last time changed this to:
When a character uses a wand, roll one die. If the maximum result is rolled, the wand is half-used. If the maximum result is rolled for a half-used wand, it is now drained of power.
Wands, under the modified rule, use d20s. I suggested the alternate rule for a few reasons:

  1. To give players at least two charges, instead of possibly just a single charge;
  2. To give the wand more than just two states, "charged" and "drained";
  3. To allow more possible answers when using research or divination spells to find out more about the wand's status;
  4. To avoid percentile rolls, which I irrationally hate.

Of course, the downside is that you now have to keep track of the wand's state. It's not as bad as tracking charges, but still... Also, using a d20 for the rolls means that the average wand is going to have much fewer charges.

So, how to fix this? Let's tackle problem #1 first. The easiest way to give a player at least two charges instead of only one charge is to simply not roll the first time the wand is used. That's easy to remember, isn't it? And it doesn't require writing anything down. For beefier wands, we can skip rolling for the first day of use, or the first week.

This also gives us an opportunity to deal with problems 2 and 3. A divination spell probing to find out how long a wand can still be used can be answered with a time period instead of a number of charges. "The wand will last you at least another day", or "half a week, maybe more".

The roll itself, rather than being some random die, can be our old favorite, the 2d6 reaction roll. On a 2, the wand is completely drained. The upside to this is that we can use the other reaction roll results to make wand usage more interesting:

  • On a 5 or less, the wand sputters, but still works; the wand is actually drained on a roll of 2, but don't tell players the difference.
  • On 6 to 11, the wand works as normal.
  • On a 12, the wand works better than normal.

We can differentiate wands, staves, and rods this way:

  • Standard wands skip rolling the first two days of use.
  • Staves skip rolling either the first day or the first full week, depending on whether you think staves should be less powerful (AD&D) or more powerful (OD&D) than wands.
  • Rods roll every time.
  • Cantrip wands roll every time, and are drained on a 5 or less, instead of just on a 2.


  1. I quite like your time limit idea: "this wand will work for three sessions." Think of the pressure it would put on a party to explore if it were a wand of detecting minerals or something.

    And as always, the reaction roll seems a great way to get a range of possibilities for any in-game result. One thing you don't get, though, if you go with complete uncertainty, is the tension of a resource running out.

    I had an idea of how to get diminishing returns, uncertainty, and a kind of player mini-game for handling charges here:


    But I like the reaction roll too, maybe in my world, wand and staff charges could be handled by different methods.

    1. It's not really so much a time limit as it is a grace period.

      The table lumps together the Drained and Sputtering As If Drained results to try to encourage the feeling of "we're running low". But this could be emphasized more by always describing casting with a wand after a 5 or less result as a feeble ray, as a reminder that the wand may be running out.