Similarly to the question How would it make sense that spellbooks or grimoires teach only one spell? I was thinking about typical RPG games and how to design the magic system therein.

While thinking about this topic I came across the fact that weapons enhance abilities. For most weapons and your normal Fighter-type characters this makes a lot of sense to me. Of course it would be easier to fight with a sword made of material that is able to withstand more and of course the sharpened tip of a spear is better than the old dull one. A well-balanced weapon is easier to handle and reducing the weight would increase the speed with which you could handle the weapon.

But why would a staff increase the magical abilities of my mage?

Weapons are supposed to increase a characters stats as a simulation of increasing their combat performance. But most of the time magical attack power is a stat, too. And it gets increased like every other stat by equipping a better weapon, most often a staff.

In my world magic is supposed to be the typical high-fantasy kind of magic for the normally rare magic users:

  • you have a mana pool that you use to cast spells
  • you learn spells through experience and on special occasions, such as reading a grimoire
  • you can throw around fireballs, create walls of earth, fly through the sky, ...
  • your spells do more damage the more you know about magic and how to use it efficiently - represented by a stat like Intelligence
  • your equipped staff increases your magical attack power

I am looking for a sensible in-universe explanation as to why a staff would increase my magical attack power. This should have an analogue in real weapon usage that is represented by a set of stats as you see in most RPG games, which are increased when equipping a better weapon.

I just don't know why a staff would have any impact on for example my mental stats, such as Intelligence, or Magical Attack Power, or any other specific name you might want to use that I would be able to explain the increase in magical power by equipping a better staff. This also means I don't know how to narrate what a better staff is. Is it lighter? Heavier? Fancier? Mundane?

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    $\begingroup$ @Secespitus yeah, though I wouldn't be surprised mages studied naturaly pathways and made internal and external alterations. The highest quality goods may be artificial(even made of metal), though they probably still cant beat apex being material like world tree wood or dragon bone. Natural pathways would really just be complicated arrays. Anyway, need to leave a way for magic swordsman $\endgroup$
    – Necessity
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 13:59
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    $\begingroup$ Well, if he has lots of people working for him, then that would make him more powerful... oh, wait, you didn't mean that kind of staff? :-D $\endgroup$
    – Simba
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ How does a magnifying glass increase the power of light? If focuses it to a point... Or it splits light into colors, allowing you to then use your choice of light (or combo of choices... and then focus them to a point). A staff would be no different. It would allow you to split, focus or otherwise manipulate powers based on what its made of and how it's built. $\endgroup$
    – WernerCD
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 15:17
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    $\begingroup$ A mage's staff, if consisting of well-trained personnel, could help to answer phone calls, set up appointments, take care of paperwork, and perform other administrative tasks, which would give the mage more time to focus on magic. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 17:59
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    $\begingroup$ A staff is either a battery, conduit/focus, or tool/weapon (a knife or gun doesn't increase your strength or dex, but it sure does make it easier to hurt people). Wands and staffs are to magic, what knives or guns are to combat, except that because this is a MIND-based thing, the effect might not be seen as directly. Headology. It's for witches. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 18:24

32 Answers 32


Wood is the best conduit

Magic is essentially extra-dimensional energy shaped through mental processes and output by whatever you have available to channel it through. You can channel magic bare-handed but the old wizards who first learned these techniques all eventually had their hands rot and fall off. While the physics of magic aren't quite known (it's not emitting photons, electrons or any modern known form of radiation) it does have definite damaging effects on living cells that channel it.

Turns out that you can focus it through anything you can touch, though. You can send it out through your hat (but hats are not very good as a focus object). You can send it out through a sword (but metal is not a very good conduit and the magic comes through weak -- more on this in a bit).

Through experimentation, the best conduit was found to be wood. Longer wood is better. Dead, dry wood is best and safest. The staff is simply the best magic conduit while still being easily portable. (Siege wizards prefer what is basically a telephone pole and they operate it as a team.)

Now we can play with the properties of wood to come up with effects on spell usage. Maybe the Janka hardness test.

I propose this:

The harder the wood, the higher the impedance and the weaker the magic.

This is a bit contrary to the norm but bear with me:

The best wizard staff is actually made from balsa. The physics of magic has something to do with benefiting from a length of dead plant material as a focus, but circumference, density and rigidity all come into play.

This explains why metal doesn't work well: it's too dense. You also don't do well with a giant sock stuffed full of cotton strands: you lack rigidity. Balsa wood is the perfect combination of rigid and dense and you can get the shape you want. Thinner lets you focus the magic tighter but channels less power. Thicker lets you channel more total power but with exponentially less focus. Weather wizards use a staff that's basically a balsa totem pole while assassin wizards use a staff that's more like an 8 foot long balsa wand. Most wizards settle for something in the 2-4 inch circumference range for versatility and typically settle for something like chestnut because it's hard to get a good balsa staff (and the balsa staffs are hard to maintain -- if you put a protective coating around it it just becomes part of the equation and ruins the point of using balsa).

Adventuring wizards sometimes use hard wood because on a long trip, the durability of your staff is more important than it's power level.

In conclusion,

Soft wood as a conduit has a "reasonable" explanation and makes for some interesting game decisions for the wizards: softer wood is better for magic but much easier to damage through routine wear and tear (and useless as anything other than a conduit for magic). Harder wood is less powerful but the durability is handy (and in a pinch you can whack things with it).

So with this soft wood idea, there is no "best" staff. There are tradeoffs.

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    $\begingroup$ Could be interesting to see how would "modern" materials like carbon nanofibers change world like this. $\endgroup$
    – graywolf
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 21:15
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    $\begingroup$ This would also explain things like crystal tips, ornate carving or inlay with different materials: all efforts to contain and channel the magic. if you use just the smooth wood you might still get some dangerous leakage but carved handgrip points and some star-alligned silver runes will take care of that. And you could give different kinds of wood different properties, Willow might be good at water magic and mesquite is good at fires, oak is too dense for powerful magic but great at life magic due to its great sustain. something like that $\endgroup$
    – Borgh
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 10:18
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the siege wizard telephone pole! :) One hint: balsa wood should be used for training (inexpensive) and/or very sophisticated indoor experiment (easily shaped, you can create complex shapes quickly, and it's still likely to be light and handleable). The other reason why the wandering wizard usually use the hardwood is because it can rain, and the balsa wood will lose his lightness and will tend to break under his own weight. $\endgroup$
    – theGarz
    Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 8:27

A staff shapes your magic the same way a sword shapes your strength. Both, the swing of your arm and the swing of your sword, take energy from the very same source: your muscles. What a sword is doing is:

  • Take more energy over to the swing — it's harder to move it because it's heavy*. This energy is stored in the sword's movement and is ready for future use, that is, to damage the enemy when the sword hits.

  • Concentrate the energy. A sword is sharp. The impact area is much smaller than when you hit with your fist, making more damage per the same amount of energy spent.

  • Insulate you. Breaking your fingers is something you instinctively fear. Breaking your sword is not, and it is harder to break a sword anyway. So you can hit harder and without restraining yourself.

How does it translate to the staff?

  • Without the staff your magic flows out of you without any resistance. Thus, you can't really make a proper "push". The staff is like a nozzle at the end of a water hose, or like a sword in your hand — it makes it harder, but in a way that lets you use more energy, not in a way that makes problems.

  • The staff allows you to form a "needle". Without it your magic is more like a breeze.

  • If something goes wrong, it's your staff that breaks, not your mental health, so you can put more energy into your attack, and hit your targets harder.

Of course you have relatively light (way under 1kg) swords that do little energy accumulation, but are great when it comes to sharpness. Or war hammers that have a large impact area, do not concentrate the energy any more than your bare fist, but accumulate much more over the swing. Similarly, I expect different staves for different purposes. And you can have staves with unique properties, just like you can have a poisoned blade — these may be permanent or require recharging. But at the base, it's all about energy, and the basic analogy seems solid.

* Heavy as in "much heavier than empty hand". Swords are rarely as heavy as 2 kg. Still, try to hold one if you never did, or after long break, it will feel heavy, I assure you!

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    $\begingroup$ Another thing is focus - the sword has a nice sharp blade/point, which allows all of that kinetic energy from the swing to end up in a very small area. With a staff (or wand I supposed) it gives focus to the user's abilities. Sure they can do magic without - but not nearly as strong, or perhaps only up to a certain level (think cantrips adn level 1 spells vs. level 10 spells) $\endgroup$
    – ivanivan
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 18:12
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    $\begingroup$ Your staff is a focusing LENS $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 19:24
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    $\begingroup$ I feel the comment that a sword is harder to move because it is heavy is slightly misleading. Most swords sit in the 1-2kg range, which is certainly not light, but definitely not something I'd qualify as heavy. Maybe reformulate to something like "it adds mass and leverage to the swing, thus storing additional energy than an arm alone"? Or is that beside the point? $\endgroup$
    – karhell
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 11:36
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    $\begingroup$ Fair enough. The persistent myth that swords (particularly European Medieval ones) are heavy is something that bugs me to no end and thus I try to dispel it whenever I see it come up. This time it seems I just misunderstood your argument and overreacted. My apologies. $\endgroup$
    – karhell
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 14:50
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    $\begingroup$ Also if the staff has a crystal, since it is a lot more ordered the magic can be arranged much more precisely or something? Or instabilities can be reduced (or the magic waves can be aligned, like a laser) by channelling the magic through the crystal? $\endgroup$
    – somebody
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 3:19

Since no one else has mentioned it, a staff may also store power. So your magic user creates or gathers power either intentionally or automatically and puts that power in the staff, intentionally, automatically, or through action by the staff.

In the Dresden Files books, Harry can cast a spell that takes a little bit of his kinetic energy from walking around or whatever and puts it in rings over a course of time. Then when he is in combat, he can release all the stored energy at once. So he intentionally cast a spell that automatically stores power in an object.

In a story where one has to collect magic energy to use it later, we can think of using a staff to help with collection, storage, or both.

The staff would essentially be a battery in this view. Of course, it could still be a focus object as well, at the same time as it was a battery. It doesn't necessarily have to do just one thing.

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    $\begingroup$ Just to add..In the Dresden Files, Harry's staff is a focus item. It has been carved with runes to help aid him in focusing energy for different spells. A more versatile version of his Blasting Rod. Also, in a pinch, a stout stick to stave in heads. $\endgroup$
    – AerusDar
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 23:16
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    $\begingroup$ @MadPumpkin I just imagine that paragraph in the book (not having it read myself). "And thus Harry gained a ring that stored energy created when Harry moved. To the uneducated mind this might sound as if the ring stored kinetic energy, and in an oversimplified way that might be correct, but obviously it doesn't hold up against even the slightest investigation. Instead it converts potential energy from Harry into a different energy with the help of a kinetic catalyst. This is something entirely different! Of course it has no effect on the story, I just wanted to bring science into fiction." $\endgroup$
    – JFBM
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 6:41
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    $\begingroup$ I think of it more like air resistance. You start in motion, so potential energy has already been converted into kinetic energy. The rings then steal some of that kinetic energy (as air resistance does). So you convert more potential energy into kinetic energy to compensate. Later the rings release kinetic energy suddenly. We can claim that scientifically, in between being kinetic energy, the rings store potential energy, but it doesn't really matter (magic). Regardless if someone is really interested in the correct terminology, that would be a separate question, possible for SFF.SE. $\endgroup$
    – Brythan
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 14:16
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    $\begingroup$ @MadPumpkin I beg to differ. Consider a self-winding watch. It works by converting the kinetic energy of human movement into kinetic energy of the watch hands (via the potential energy of the watchspring, admittedly). i would say it's perfectly reasonable to describe that as storing kinetic energy. In the case of Harry Dresden the kinetic energy is stored using magic instead of clockwork but the principle is the same. $\endgroup$
    – Alchymist
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ @MadPumpkin I think we are quibbling over the distinction between storing [type of] energy and storing (something) as [type of] energy. I don't dispute your original comment. I was just trying to clarify that Harry's rings, like a self-winding watch, store kinetic energy as (magical) potential energy and later release this potential as kinetic energy. Thus the use of kinetic energy in the context of the books is accurate, $\endgroup$
    – Alchymist
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 9:12

It doesn't. What it does do is let you more effectively focus those abilities.

Think about it: Wielding a sword or dagger doesn't actually increase your strength or dexterity. What they do is let you more effectively bring those abilities to bear, either in a defensive or offensive capacity. In an RPG you can assume the 'stats' are really a proxy term for 'how much effect can I get out of X ability' rather than directly saying how much of 'X ability' you have.

Similarly with the staffs: A staff is a tool, like a sword or dagger, for bringing your copious mental powers to bear on the world. It's the fulcrum of the mind, a lever with which a suitably prepared magic user can literally move the world.

Naturally the staff must be designed to be in tune with the mind of the caster. You don't give a claymore to a rogue or a rapier to a hulking ogre: They aren't fit for purpose. Similarly with staffs: A well designed staff allows it's user to better channel and control their respective mental attributes (intelligence, wisdom, sheer bloody mindedness), and picking the right staff for the right job will get better results.

In summary: They don't make you smarter: They make your smartness do more.

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    $\begingroup$ The Dragon Knight series had an interesting interpretation of the magic staff. The mage devotes some portion of his magical energy (which is accumulated and spent over the mage's lifetime rather than being restored by rest) to the creation of the staff, and undertakes a grueling test of will in his own mind in order to manifest it. The resulting staff provides a focal point to channel the mage's power through, with a stronger willed mage capable of creating a much sturdier staff, better able to withstand the strain of use that would necessitate the creation of a staff; it is not made at whim. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 16:19
  • $\begingroup$ "Wielding a sword or dagger doesn't actually increase your strength or dexterity." Wrong. Of course it does. e.g., with a metal club, I can hit you stronger than with a fist. (More strength.) With a sword, I can do more damage. (More strength.) With a sword, I can effectively block (equivalent to dodging), reach, and in general poke at the air in between us enough to be a threat to keep you away... a bit. In essence, I have more control over the situation, which is what dexterity represents. So, sure the equipment modifies stats. (Just that games don't limit themselves only to realism.) $\endgroup$
    – TOOGAM
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 5:19
  • $\begingroup$ @TOOGAM Did you actually read any of the rest of my answer? $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 6:12
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, & a fine answer it is. I'm just disagreeing with how one sentence was stated, and am making a distinction that I readily admit is rather minor. As I understand your answer, you show that these items have the effect of enhancing harnessed abilities, like strength, thereby making them more useful. I'm saying that the raw abilities aren't just assisted; they're actually improved. The strength of a hit with a weapon is actually a stronger hit. If I have an upper arm, a lower arm, and then an extension via a sword, then I actually have more flexibility in movement & am actually more dexterous. $\endgroup$
    – TOOGAM
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 6:41
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    $\begingroup$ @TOOGAM: Wielding a sword does not increase how much you can bench press, and a dagger doesn’t make your reaction times faster. You’re saying the stats represent more than just the raw attribute, which is exactly what I say in the next sentence. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 6:51

Spirits love wizard! Wizard nice to spirit!

Oh look! That man carry a staff! Friend to wizard! Help that man!

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    $\begingroup$ This made me laugh. Beautiful in its simplicity and in-character view. +1 $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 13:33
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    $\begingroup$ Of course, if spirits assume anyone walking with a staff is a friendly wizard, you'll probably end up with a lot of haunted retirement homes. $\endgroup$
    – Ray
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Ray a stick pointed down means the wizard doesn't require your attention at this moment. Now, when a pensioner lifts his cane to threaten an unruly kid ... things happen. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 21:08
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnDvorak "Git awff mah lawn, y' durned kids--" lightning $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 6:01

In Soviet Russia...

Wizards don't carry staves. However, using magic to move around is very tiring. Since wizards do not have arms or legs they tend to "persuade" a certain easily influenced species of primates into carrying them around.

The wizard also allows some of their power to rub off on the primates allowing them to cast a few minor cantrips on their own. This allows the primates the delusion that their genus is capable of magic, and that they are the most powerful genus on the planet. This has a side benefit that if the other primates manage to overthrow their so-called "reign of evil" it tends to be the primate and not the wizard that gets stabbed.

This is also explains why in every story where some ill-bred stable-hand finds a staff, they always turn out to be a "great wizard".

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    $\begingroup$ Genius, simply genius... $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 0:03
  • $\begingroup$ "The staff must be destroyed!.." $\endgroup$
    – Nick Dzink
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 22:00

The body is, by itself, a terrible conduit for magical energy. It's not that it can't conduct the energy; it just has a nasty habit of heating up and spontaneously combusting if you go too far. Naturally, a way around this would be to use a rod of some sort of magically conductive material (say, a wooden staff with a thin gold interior) to focus your energy and enhance your "I'm not exploding yet" threshold.

Another work-around might be to have multiple people and divvy up the total energy between them or their staves.

Think of magic like water pressure. The human body is very weak: even a little bit of pressure and it pops (sorry for that image). A rod of precious metals or gems (if that's what you want to use) can store and focus higher magical pressures without being structurally compromised. So a staff would provide both focus of energy (you are emitting the same amount of energy from a smaller aperture, so more like a knife than a skimpy punch) and storage of energy (more pressure, less exploding) for its user.

(Also a staff of precious metals would be sheathed in something natural like wood. Carrying around a thick piece of metal in your bare hands would be torture in colder regions.)

Certain base materials could also have specialties in the sense that they can do one of these things more effectively:

  • retain large amounts of energy
  • channel large amounts of energy
  • channel energy more quickly
  • act as resistors, capacitors, or even transistors (programmable magic staff, anyone?)
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    $\begingroup$ So this is the aiming grip, use it to better aim the firing tip of the staff at the target. This is the handling grip, channel your energy through here. It will be concentrated in this capacitor section for a short period to allow for more powerfull blasts. Shoot fire arrows with this manual trigger. If you want to switch to automatic fire or area of effect attack simply rotate this section until it aligns with the required mode and lock this bolt here. Keep the M18A3 Combat Staff locked at safety mode at all times when not using it for its intended purpose. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Dzink
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 22:19

Magic is a wave form. The staff is the correct length to act as a resonance chamber and wave form guide for some useful portion of the mana spectrum. Carvings, symbols, and added bits (like crystals or feathers) change the harmonics of the mana waves in some useful way.

Wands would be used for shorter wave mana.

Longer wavelengths tend to have better distance and area coverage capabilities while shorter wavelengths are higher energy that work better for more focused, short range applications.

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    $\begingroup$ You know, I wonder what would happen if you put a magic-reflecting mirror on one end of the staff, and a half-"silvered" mirror on the other... $\endgroup$
    – akaioi
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 6:05
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    $\begingroup$ We'd have to come up with a new name since maser is already taken. Also, the most likely effect would be for a giant glowing hand to come through a portal and smack you for trying that. $\endgroup$
    – ShadoCat
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 20:44
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    $\begingroup$ @akaioi that would be a "mases": Magic Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Staff. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 1:33

A staff is a Symbol™.

The origins are lost in the mists of history, but over time, wizards and staves have been associated until one is just plain incomplete without the other. "Everyone" knows that a wizard staff increases their power - and so, in a metaphysical placebo effect, it does. The staff focuses the collective will of human belief, allowing the wizard to channel their own abilities.

(This might imply that a staff was more effective if there were witnesses than if the wizard were solo. It relies heavily on the thaumatology behind the magic in your world: it's less useful in a Dresden or Potter-type magic system; more useful in a Mage the Ascension type magic system.)

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    $\begingroup$ The origins aren't lost in the mists of history. It's origins are in a big stick that hurts if you get hit with it. The use of swords, maces (e.g. the mace in the House of Commons in the UK), batons, wands, and sceptres as signs of authority all, like the staff, originate in the person having the weapon being the person who has the authority. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 23:24
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    $\begingroup$ @JonHanna Quit ruining my narrative with facts! ;) $\endgroup$
    – Ghotir
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 13:43
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    $\begingroup$ Nice point about the symbolic nature. (See my answer for demystification. There is archeological evidence going back to ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt.) $\endgroup$
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 20:12

Your internal mana pool is only used to form the spell. The actual power of the spell is drawn from external sources. Unless you are in one of those settings where wizards explode when they die and their mana pool is released all at once.

Thus a staff is clearly used to make the wizard able to draw mana from environment to the spell faster. There are several options that can be combined as suits the setting. Reasonably each staff would be a unique combination of traits.

Extra power Simplest option. The staff is simply capable of drawing power from the ambient and delivering it to the linked mage. A linked staff simply increases the surface area the linked mage has to draw mana from his surroundings.

Load balancing A mage uses mana when casting spells, but his ability to draw mana is probably constant over time. Even a limited ability to store mana in the staff would give a huge advantage for combat magic where the amount of power you can access fast is what matters.

Mana concentration Instead of collecting mana within itself, the staff attracts it. This essentially creates a high mana field around the mage. It would in practice work much like the previous option, but would be more transparent. It would also be useful for non-combat spells as the level of mana can limit what magic can work.

Power filtering Staff allows the mage to draw clean and stable power. It filters out spikes and "dark mana". It also filters out dips in the mana. This allows the mage to use less of the available power and time to stabilize the spell without increasing the chance of spell failure. It just makes casting spells easier and more efficient.

Flavor conversion If there are multiple flavors of mana, the mage is probably not equally efficient at using them all. A staff could collect mana the mage is bad at and convert it to what the mage actually wants. The effect is similar to extra power and power filtering options.

Negative mana shielding Differs from previous options only in flavor, but if the mana field fluctuates between positive and negative charge with average being zero, having a staff that has inherent mana charge would improve your ability to use magic by making mana around you more stable and charged.

Sure there are many more flavor options, but I think I have covered most functional alternatives in some form. (If not in sufficient detail to be understandable.) This should at least give a usable starting point when looking for setting correct flavor.

  • $\begingroup$ Would you say flavor conversion is similar to elemental alignment? Or rather elemtal conversion is better (honestly I just find it a wierd phrase).Though you missed out storage, this is more often a seperate magic equipment anyways.Also staff that only work for one spell or one goup of spells+1 $\endgroup$
    – Necessity
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 13:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Necessity elemental alignment is one type of "flavor", so "flavor" is more general and better here. Although it is a weird term, I have no recollection where I got the idea to use "flavor" instead of "type" or "kind". I honestly thought I mentioned storage, but you are right, I forgot to say the "load balancing" scales up to outright storage. Fortunately you are also right that it is kind of off-topic to the question. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 14:58

A staff has nothing to do with mana

A staff, or channeling artifact, is a mage's connection to the hidden energies of the world.

The staff doesn't tap mana, mana is a mental resource that a mage has and regenerates. Mana itslf doesn't kill people, other than maybe the mage itself.

The artifact, instead, is a type of portable power socket. Nearly no one really knows why some are better than others or what makes them trickle, the only thing that is known is that some let you sputter little sparks while others can help you unleash torrential lava

Here's the reasoning:

A Mage is a Hacker: I'll be working off this analogy.

  • you have an energy pool that you can use to write code (replenish with caffeine, sleep)

  • you learn algorithms through experience and on special occasions, such as reading stackoverflow

  • you can throw around exploits, animate machines, calculate secrets

  • your creations are more effective and take less energy the more you know about the topic - represented by a stat like intelligence

  • your botnet (or size thereof) increases your capacity to crack stuff faster

Theory of Magic

A mage has a certain amount of manas every they wake from a restful sleep. They can also top it off to a certain degree with potions. How much they have every morning depends on their overall physical health. When depleted, they turn into drooling idiots until they sleep again.

Mana required to prepare a particular spell is:

$$m_s = \frac{d_s - (k_s p_s)}{i}$$


  • $d_s$ is the difficulty of the spell (intelligence manas)
  • $k_s$ is the knowledge the mage has about the spell (intelligence manas)
  • $p_s$ is the proportion of how prepared the mage is to cast that spell (is his tool attuned to the spell yet?) (proportion)
  • $i$ is the intelligence of the mage (intelligence)

If $m_s$ requires more than a full tank of mana, the mage will have to spend more than a day preparing for it.

However, a prepared spell is not a cast spell.

To cast a spell, a mage needs a powerful artifact. The time it takes to cast a single instance of a spell (in seconds):

$$t_s = \frac{c_s}{r_a} $$

  • $c_s$ is the complexity of the spell, this depends on the choice of spell, not necessarily what the spell is supposed to do (in joules). A spell with a low complexity can be found by a mage with a high $i$, but has a considerably higher $d_s$.
  • $r_a$ is the amount of resources available to the artifact(in watt).

Conclusion about the Utility of Artifacts and their Social Impact

This means that if you have a twig you ripped off a tree, you might be able to cast a 10 sparks a second with a certain spell.

However, if you have an Artifact of Mass Destruction, you might be able to launch 1e12 sparks per second with the same spell, enough to act as a propulsion system to get you to the next planet.

Merlin's law says the power of newly produced magical artifacts doubles approximately every two years. Considering that the production of new artifacts is severely limited, the obvious effects this has on the increasing divide between rich and poor has many social philosophers concerned about an imminent departure from democracy and a consequent fall of the civilization in general, dubbed the "Singularity"

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Great answer! Welcome to WorldBuilding. If you have a moment the tour and help center might be interesting resources (and reading the tour gives a badge ;) ). Have fun on the site. I am looking forward to reading more from you. $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 13:48
  • $\begingroup$ I really love this answer. $\endgroup$
    – Aviose
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 18:00
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    $\begingroup$ Dang. +1. You do know that the OP did not put a Hard Science tag on this, right? :-) $\endgroup$
    – ShadoCat
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 20:52

They do because Wizards Believe They Do

This is a little similar to @Ghotir's answer,
but it is not a metaphysical placebo effect, it is an actual placebo effect.

Wizards actually function by imposing their belief on the world.
The fact that when a wizard says "Inflamo!" a fireball appears is because the wizard so certainly believes that a fireball will appear, that it does.

The only difference between a wizard and a normal person is the shear degree of arrogance self-confidence they possess.
They are (in a loopy near paradox) only wizards because they believe they are.
A normal person can barely imagine the shear levels of hubris it takes to be a wizard. Bone deep certainty.

Staffs help, because wizards believe that staffs help. Same for the robe, and the hat. And the witch and their broomstick. And all the incantations and rituals.

What makes a staff better? It depends what the wizard thinks makes it better. In general it actually comes down to how hard it was to get. If the wizard payed vast amounts of money for it then it will work great, way better than a stick he just picked up.
If the wizard believes that an adventurer recovered it from the tome of the ancient archmangus, then that is going to be real strong.

It is about getting that really deep belief. So they takes the trappings from their master and their greater culture.
This also explains why the rituals and tools of wizards from distant lands are so different, yet work well for their wizards, but not for ours.

One might worry that telling a wizard that magic only works because he thinks it does, or that his staff doesn't help, might thus be crippling. But it is not so, because wizards are nessicarily the most arrogant self-confident people around. And so will dismiss your un-educated views. It can however, set an apprentice back months in their training.

This fact may have been discovered by accident by a staff-maker, who mistakenly sent a purely ornamental pine staff to a wizard who had ordered a valuable rowan wood staff; and before they could rectify their mistake, had received a thank you note saying that "This was the most powerful staff I have ever used.", and after consulting and confirming that everyone knew pine staves were worthless except as decorative pieces, concluded his whole profession was built on lies. And then when on to make a great profit, focusing purely on the appearance of value.

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    $\begingroup$ "wizards are nessicarily the most <s>arrogant</s> self-confident people around" Now that is an interpretation I haven't heard before :D $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 6:14
  • $\begingroup$ This is similar to how magic works in David Eddings' work (Pawn of Prophecy, et. al) - your belief can shape reality and how your magic works. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ i don't think it is that similar, but on looking it up (I've not read Eddings in a decade) it kinda of is, yes. Though I always felt Eddings magic systems were a bit hand-wavy and semi-developed. They were always a tool of the story, not a core element. (Which is fair since they are sword and sorcery) $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 15:37

My take on it is that it's the same way that a radio works better if it has an antenna but in reverse. It's a catalyst that focuses the energy and channels it.

The energy is always there but if used together with a catalyst(staff), it gets focused, amplified, filtered, attuned etc. It can differ a lot from universe to universe in RPGs or other sources of fiction. In many sources, staffs and catalysts can be attuned for certain elements, usage areas, deities among more. These characteristics give the spells of certain traits or improve them in some way and reduce them in others. The same way that if you have a parabolic disk tuned for 800MHz, it will be really good at that, but may have close to none or very bad reception for the 2000MHz range.

If you want to cast a healing spell, a staff attuned for healing abilities would be better than a staff tuned for destruction and death. Whereas a catalyst that is well rounded can do a bit of everything but isn't very outstanding in any area of usage.

Why? There is no correct answer to how a staff should work or behave. My take on it is just as a described above with my antenna/parabola parallel.

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    $\begingroup$ I like your answer overall, but the final paragraph ruins it a bit for me. You effectively just told me why, and then you tell that there is no correct answer, and then you summarize you answer again... $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 23:58

Depends entirely on your magic system.

Perhaps the magic is held in the staff itself, and the wizard is just somebody who, either through training or some innate capability, can coerce the staff to produce magical effects. In a game, this would tie-in well with your available spells depending on what staff you have equipped (different staves have different types of magic), and with pre-requisites for equipping staves (more powerful staves are also more sophisticated and harder to use).

If wizardry is about manipulating some sort of environmental background magic, then the staff can act as an antenna, allowing the wizard to tune into that environmental magic more readily. Faster mana regeneration would be thematically appropriate.

Or, if magic flows from the wizard, rather than being part of the environment, you can think of the staff like a paintbrush. You can finger paint, but that doesn't have the precision of carefully crafted tools. Or it can be a lever (like a sword, axe, or hammer, crowbar), amplifying your natural magical "strength" to produce bigger results. This ties in well with "+2 to fire spells" kind of game mechanics.

If magic comes from either the environment or the wizard, the staff might also work like a capacitor: they slowly charge from whatever the source of magic is, and are capable of outputting that as a short high-power burst. In a game, you could represent this as the staff having its own mana bar that charges by draining the player's mana bar, then casting spells with the staff would behave similarly to Arcane Blast in World of Warcraft (repeatedly casting it makes deal progressively more damage at the cost of correspondingly higher mana usage)

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Good answer, and welcome to the site, but you missed one: the fetiche — staff, ring, enchanted sword, whatever — could be a conduit from one arcane world bristling with mana, and in so doing, floods the magician and environment with mana from elsewhere. The environmental mana design works best with the fetiche as a scoop or sponge. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks :). Regarding your suggestion, I'd actually file that one as an alternative interpretation of staff-as-source. Only, instead of the staff being intrinsically magical, it acts as a conduit for magic from Elsewhere. $\endgroup$
    – pdpi
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, quite correct $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 0:23

The staff is an extension of the wizard himself.

The effects of a staff, such as amplification, modification, augmentation, etc., are due to multiple reasons.

It is a symbol or talisman. This gives rise to rituals such as consecration.
Before such a ritual is performed it is but a wooden stick.

All magic is rooted in the natural phenomena i.e. the ability to bend nature to ones will.
This "essence" is why natural objects can increase magical capability. This essence we can refer to as "a living creature of the magical world" i.e. djinns etc.

The different types of wood each have their own "essence", thus giving rise to the fact that certain types of wood provide different potencies. Trees especially are associated with various forces such as moon cycles, planets, etc. This is why certain plants fruit \ flower at certain times. As example the mastery of ice (cold) would be from the wood of the tree flowering in winter overcoming the cold.

The "living" essence in these natural objects can also be seen in myths where the staff or wand chooses the wizard. It is because in the karmic cycle the "living essence" can experience the material world, which is typically out of reach to them as they are "locked" in the natural world. This is why the wizard and the staff become one. This also gives rise to the ability for the wizard to be "metamorphosised" into the staff (and disappear until woken or hide in plain sight). These are exceptional cases and could also result in the wizard being "trapped".

The staff in Hopi tradition also serve to show experience, through carvings or rings (i.e. the chefs hat).

The occasion of a wand unable to follow its destiny due to the transfer of ownership, an example from Harry Potter, is that the living force in the wand \ staff has to reach its own destiny, thus in the wrong hands seizes to function or it controls (perverts) the wielder.

Note that the wood is not the essence. Wood can become void of essence and this wood does nothing, besides make for good kindling.

A wizard, having a natural tendency for certain forms of magic, typically carries that staff. The Jack of all Trades is not common and typically those who are powerful in various forms of magic do not require "assistance" so to speak.

  • The staff has a mind of its own. (To follow its own chosen path)
  • Essences are aligned with natural forces (wind, water, etc.)
  • Carvings show experience; the wizard and the staff grow together.
  • A staff needs to be consecrated to bond with the wizard.
  • The staff chooses the wizard as much as the wizard chooses the staff.
  • A staff often reveals it's secrets when the wizard meditates upon the staff. This meditation provides a period of amplification as one meditate upon a specific item. This would relate to a specific spell.
  • The staff supports metamorphosis for illusionary purposes to "common" folk.
  • The staff has a cycle or its own of power. This is the reason why a wizard rather stays at home some days.
  • $\begingroup$ Wow, welcome to WorldBuilding Mullerjannie! Sadly I don't have any votes left for the day, but I will come back tomorrow and upvote this cool first answer of yours. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun on the site and I am looking forward to reading more from you! $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 20:39

There are a lot of fun, inventive answers here. Just for perspective, here is some context:

  • The staff has long been a symbol of power

We see it in the caduceus of Hermes and the thyrsus of Dionysos, both gods with tangible magical powers. The symbol pre-dates Ancient Greece--Thoth, commonly associated with magic, is depicted with a staff.

The symbol was formalized in the hermetic tradition, in the suite of clubs. In Tarot decks, clubs are known as "staves", "rods" or "wands", and their domain is fire. Fire fundamentally represents power in the form of energy.

Note that in the Rider-Waite Ace of Wands, the staff depicted is the thyrsus:

enter image description here

Even Zeus' lightening bolts are a form of staff, and constitute something of an ultimate weapon, as demonstrated by Zeus' vanquishing of Typhon, and it's important to note that the symbol was also associated with temporal power and authority, which Wizards often wield.

This form of the staff is commonly known as a sceptre.

CONCLUSION: As to why the staff increases power, it almost certainly has to do with the phallic nature of the symbol/object. Hermes was quite literally a phallic god in that his earliest representations are "hermas", simple columns of rock or wood (pun intended;) The honey-dripping thyrsus is overtly phallic. Typically feminine power is receptive (the suit of cups/grail) where male generative power is active. Thus the staff is a symbol of the active exercise of power, spiritual and temporal.


Hermes Trismegistus
The Sorcerer Dionysus
The Book of Thoth

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    $\begingroup$ That is pretty interesting information and is quite useful in explaining why a staff would have to do something with magic. It even gives different ideas about associations to existing mythology. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ Glad it was useful. I've added some links for further reading. As to why the staff increases power, it almost certainly has to do with the phallic nature of the symbol/object. Hermes was quite literally a phallic god in that his earliest representations are "hermas", simple columns of rock or wood (pun intended;) The honey-dripping thyrsus is overtly phallic. Typically feminine power is receptive (the suit of cups/grail) where male generative power is active. Thus the staff is a symbol of exercise of power, spiritual and temporal. $\endgroup$
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 20:10
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting, I never thought like that about grails. That gives new insight into differences you could use for male and female wizards. Or maybe sects/cults that focus on one or the other. So many opportunities... $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 20:13
  • $\begingroup$ And don't forget that there's no restriction. I was careful to say "typically" b/c female archetypes can have male power (Athena) and visa-versa. So you might have a rod bearing sorceress or a cup-bearing sorcerer. All tarot suits have magical associations. The sword is associated with air, thus with the will and spirit. Paracelsus famously carried a sword. Coins are the most mundane suit, associated with earth, and may be associated with talismans--money itself is seen as a kind of ward. $\endgroup$
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ You have quite the knowledge about this topic. And I never heard of anything like that. Maybe I will write a question that goes more in that direction if I have an idea how to write such a question without it being only opinion-based. Or you could write a question and self-answer to preserve some of that knowledge on the site? $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 20:28

I would see magic as being all about mental discipline. Mana is an energy, similar to how muscles have energy. A magic user focuses their mana and uses that to affect the world. Focusing mana requires mentally controlling where the mana is and what it is doing. If you try and focus more too much mana you will lose control over part of it and that part will dissipate. Some magic users are able to focus more mana at once without losing their concentration so get stronger spells. How much mana you can control at once is represented by intelligence.

A staff is in effect a temporary battery which can hold some of the mana without me needing to control it allowing me to concentrate on controlling the rest of the energy. So if normally I had the intelligence to control 1 joule of mana but my staff can also hold 1 joule of mana my spells will have a strength of 2 joules.

A better staff is one that can hold more mana at once (capacity) or one that can hold it for longer (conductivity). This would probably be done by material so a metal staff might be highly conductive so immediately lose any energy put into it making it fairly useless. In contrast wood might have a very low conductivity so energy put in is not lost but a low capacity so it only gives a small boost. That might be why staffs are usually a wooden stick with a gemstone in them. The wood prevents energy escaping from the gemstone while the gemstone allows you to store huge amounts of energy.


The staff is only important in one very simple way, it is more "in-tune" with the world than any human carrying it can ever be. This can explain any and all possible benefits you might get from carrying a staff:

  • Magic is easier? Yes of course it is, magic is a natural process native to the world you are poorly attuned to, your staff acts as a bridge in such interactions and eases your way.
  • You feel smarter? You're actually not, but the world gives you a nudge in the right direction so you notice things you would usually miss.
  • Your spells seem more powerful? Because they are, your improved, bridged, attunement to the real world and its natural magical processes means that for the same effort you get a lot more bang and a lot less energy lost to resistance.

"Better" staves are more deeply attuned to the world they inhabit, they're usually older and made from woods to which deep spiritual significance is attached like Yew or Rowan. The older the tree from which the wood is harvested the better, especially if the tree lives on and continues its attachment to the world as it will lead some of that to the staff even after it is removed.


Most of the time in RPG's magical staffs are tipped with some kind of crystal in them. These crystals amplify your mage's magical attack. The staff itself (not the crystal), also contribute to this multiplicative property. So a better staff could be made of a finer crystal and/or finer material.

Adding raw magic stat to your mage doesn't really make sense much. Instead, think of it like this. Magical staffs doesn't directly add magic power to your mage. But amplify (multiply) your mage's base magic power.

For instance, instead of a staff adding $+14 \text{ magic power}$, what happens under the hood is that the staff grants you $×1.14 \text{ magic power}$ (assuming your magical damage is 100) and the multiplier scales down as your magic gets stronger to maintain the static value of $14$.

In real life, when you lift a 1kg dumbell everyday, eventually this would feel lighter. But it's still 1kg dumbell. The analogy is like that. So what seems to be a strong staff (+14 magic) doesn't really feel that strong anymore when you have higher base magic power.

Or you could make it so, that the staff's crystals+materials have some kind of "cap" to make your magical output a static $14$.

You can experiment around this idea but the gist is that the staff is a conductor of your magical energy and it amplifies instead of working like a "sharper sword".

If lightning travels through a rusty metal, or a sharp metal, the output would probably be the same. But if a lightning (magic power) travels through a metal (fancy staff) versus a rubber or weaker material (poor staff) then the power gap would be much more significant.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Please, avoid code syntax ( this one ) for non-code content. Bold for bold text and latex equations for equations is the valid way to do it. Way that does not hurt visually impaired people using screen readers, for example. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 11:57

You need a tool to be efficient.

  • You can be a world class chef all you want; but if you're going to try and chop the ingredients using a plastic knife, it won't be done expertly.
  • A racecar driver still needs a fast car to set a track record.
  • A world champion archer won't be hitting many targets with a plastic bow made for toddlers.

Even a master needs an appropriate tool. This applies to pretty much every setting, including fantasy settings (e.g. the Elder Wand in Harry Potter).

But which is more important?

Mastery, or a high-quality tool? Let's look at all the combinations:

  1. An idiot with a low-quality tool will obviously yield bad results.
  2. A master with a high-quality tool will obviously yield great results.
  3. An idiot with a high-quality tool wouldn't know how to use his tool effectively, likely yielding the same bad result as when he uses a low-quality tool.
  4. A master with a low-quality tool will not yield the best results, but the master should be able to leverage the tool as effectively as possible (relative to the tool's quality).

In essence, a character has a given set of skills (based on his stats), but the (lower) quality of the tool can exclude the use of skills of a higher level than the tool can handle.

How would this work for magic?

Let's take the example of a fire mage. He is able to summon flames from his hands. A better mage can create a larger flame. However, due to how fire naturally behaves, a fiery explosion moves in all directions (which means the mage is at risk when creating a large fireball)

Give this mage a hollow tube of low quality. The tube doesn't generate the flame, but it can guide a flame that the mage supplies (effectively creating a flamethrower). Due to the limited quality of the tool, the mage is limited. If he supplies too much fire to the inferior tool, the tool will break or malfunction.

Now give this mage a hollow tube of superior quality. The superior material means that the tube has a higher resistance to heat, which means that the mage can create a stronger flamethrower without breaking the tool.

Even if a staff is not a physical device like the tube, the functionality may be the same: the staff does not supply the flame; it simply controls the supplied flame. A superior staff can reliably control bigger flames.

Staves could be made with a gem at the top, which is the "device" that controls the flames. If the fire shoots out of the gem, you could even argue that the length of a staff allows a mage to generate the fire further away from his body (thus keeping him safer for large fire blasts)

This means that the mage's skill is necessary. Wielding a better staff is meaningless if your first staff was already capable of handling you at your best.
My grandmother takes corners very slowly in her VW Golf. If I give her a Ferrari tomorrow, she will still be taking corners slowly, since she doesn't know how to take a corner at high speeds.

However, if you're a master with a mediocre staff, you'll be limited to a certain % of your true power. If you go beyond this percentage, the staff can no longer control the flame, thus rendering you incapable of a full-force controlled magical attack.
Michael Schumacher in a VW Golf is limited to the cornering capabilities of the Golf. Michael knows how to corner at high speeds, but the car is physically not capable of doing so.

If you find a superior staff, you're able to control bigger flames, so you don't have to limit yourself anymore (or at least limit yourself less).
If Michael Schumacher is given a Ferrari, he's suddenly capable of high-speed cornering. Michael's skill at high-speed-cornering hasn't changed, but the Ferrari allows him to utilize his skills more effectively.

Practical game stuff.

You asked about RPG stats, so let's focus on how to make this system feasible. From your question, I sense a discrepancy between how you're approaching melee stats and magical stats.

This should have an analogue in real weapon usage that is represented by a set of stats as you see in most RPG games, which are increased when equipping a better weapon.

I just don't know why a staff would have any impact on for example my mental stats, such as Intelligence, or Magical Attack Power

You need to decide what the definition of a stat is. Currently, your question is arguing two points at the same time:

  • Melee weapons increase your character's Strength.
  • Magical weapons should not increase your character's Intelligence.

This is contradictory. If you argue that wielding a staff does not make you more intelligent, then wielding a sword also does not make you stronger.

Do your stats express combat prowess (1), or do they describe the innate skill of the character (2)?

1. Combat prowess

In this case, Strength is really just "melee damage", and Intelligence is really just "magical damage". It would be correct to increase the stats based on the weapon that is used.

Notice that if you're influencing the stats based on the equipped gear, then you shouldn't used skill checks in your game.
If a character's carry capacity is decided by their Strength, then an equipped weapon should not increase a character's Strength stat (barring enchanted weaponry, I guess). Similarly, if a character requires a certain level of Intelligence for a specific dialogue option, then a wand/staff shouldn't be increasing their Intelligence (again, barring enchanted gear).

2. Innate skill

In this case, both Strength and Intelligence are fixed values (i.e. independent of the equipped gear - character level progression can of course still influence the stats). The stats provide a base amount of damage, and the weapon's damage is considered a bonus that gets added to the base amount; which you calculate when your character attacks.

This means that you can use your stats for skill checks. You could e.g. have a character's carry capacity be influenced by their Strength stat, or have certain dialogue options unlocked for characters with at least x Intelligence.

To implement the skill/quality evaluation as I suggested in my answer, the better option here is 2. The rest of the answer works under that assumption.

Let's define example characters and equipment:

Flater the Firemage - Intelligence 15
NubNub the Noob - Intelligence 2

The Two-By-Four - Staff - max Intelligence 5
The Stick of Mediocrity - Staff - max Intelligence 10
The Staff of Awesome - Staff - max Intelligence 15

  • When Flater uses the Staff, he can use all his magical skills.
  • If Flater levels up to Int 16 and learns an Int 16 skill, he won't be able to use the skill while he's wielding the Staff.
  • When Flater uses the Stick, he is limited to Int 10 skills
  • When Flater uses the 2x4, he is limited to Int 5 skills
  • NubNub is inherently limited to Int 2 skills (due to his stats). It doesn't matter which weapon he wields, he won't be able to effectively use them anyway.

The above example assumes that a skill cannot be used if the gear is not up to level. There are other approaches, where you still allow the use of a higher level skill:

  • A damage reduction.
  • A chance to fail, miss, or even backfire on the caster.
  • Durability lowers faster.

You could use one of these, or a combination.

Note that you could use a similar system for the opposite. Suppose Flater (Int 15) uses the Stick, and uses an Int 10 skill (which is on level for the weapon).
Because he has more Intelligence than both the weapon and the skill require, you could give him a bonus based on how overleveled the character is:

  • Damage increase
  • Critical chance increase
  • The cooldown (or action point cost) of the skill is lowered


That's the gist of it. This setup should allow for both skill and quality to meaningfully factor into gameplay, in a way that characters will naturally strive to upgrade both their skills and gear equally (rather than maxing one and ignoring the other).

  • $\begingroup$ Great answer with a lot of useful information about the context I asked about. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 16:23
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    $\begingroup$ For sheer amusement, I would alter it slightly and bring crit fails into it. NubNub can use the Staff of Awesome but his failures with it will be spectacular, as they are based on the power of the staff. Flater can attempt high level spells with the 2x4 but the fail rate will be high -- his fail results will not be very spectacular though, as the 2x4 lacks the power for spectacular failure. I always like systems where you can TRY to do something you shouldn't, with appropriately risky results. Noob mages playing with high tier magic items are taking a big risk! $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 19:47
  • $\begingroup$ @JamieB: I like your thinking. I'm a fan of games that involve risk assessment, it forces the player to measure themselves instead of always trying to go balls out (but simultaneously also allows long shots to succeed). My answer doesn't heavily rely on it since I wasn't sure that's what the OP wants. $\endgroup$
    – Flater
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 7:43
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JamieB One of the things I wanted to add is the option of uncontrolled magic. Like I said, the fire mage can summon the flame with no tool, but he needs the staff to guide the flame if he intends to reliably hit a ranged opponent. However, if he just wants to create a giant fiery explosion emanating from his hands, he can do that without a staff, but the AOE nature of the blast enables friendly fire, and the mage will take damage due to being in the blast zone. Which makes such a blast good for a last resort, but not a sustainable repeatable strategy. $\endgroup$
    – Flater
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 7:47

Traditionally this is justified through several ways

  • A Staff is a magical catalyst increasing the "efficiency" of your spell casting.

  • A Staff is imbued with magic power of its own that you can harness thus reducing the cost of your own spell crafting.

  • a staff allows one to commune better with their deity thus increasing their spell power

The older or more rare the materials its crafted with increase the quality of these traits.

RPG's use stats like intelligence for the staff usually so they don't have to code up or balance another stat.


I just don't know why a staff would have any impact on for example my mental stats, such as Intelligence

Actually, there are examples of fantasy items that can indeed increase your intelligence. The Diadem of Ravenclaw in Harry Potter, for example, or tons of +XXX to Intellect items in various RPGs. I believe this can be explained in two ways.

First of all, the enchantment on your magical staff can stimulate the brain activity and make you more concentrated and focused. Well, we have drugs that do this in the real world! So in fantasy world (with fireballs and stuff) the charm that makes you, let's say, less sleepy and more concentrated would be an amateur spell. Of course by equipping these artefacts you won't know more, but your mental capabilities will be expanded. So, in the example with fireball, you won't be able to transform it to meteor because the staff doesn't contain any knowledge about it. But you can still perform the good old fireball better because you're well concentrated and can process a dozen of magic formulas (or whatever) in your head which may be required for successful cast in your setting.

The second way of explaining it is making your artefacts alive to some degree. I'm not talking about... er.... talking items, but rather 'bout something similar to the One Ring from LotR. This ring was able to change the size, make the person lose it or, on the contrary, to find it, it could even attract the wearer to itself to insanity! So magical staffs in your world might as well be that intelligent. When one equips such an item, the item somehow alters the wizard's spell-casting behaviour to make the output nicer. It guides them. Or not, in case of "bad" staff. This may also explain the "dark" artefacts. Good wizard cannot properly use dark item, because it kinda interrupts with his or her movement/casting/etc.


In addition to other answers.

  • Depending on magic attack type, the staff may store electricity (for lightning), poision or fuel (for fireballs), or radioactive materials for passive damage.

  • The staff may work as an optical system (with a gem), helping to concentrate or hypnotize.

  • The staff may attract or distract spirits.

  • The staff may be a device to communicate with gods.

  • The staff may be very hot or cold, giving additional damage.

  • The staff may allow the owner to impersonate some ancient owner of the staff, such as the king of spirits, etc, allowing the owner to give a sign to the more powerful forces, which only the staff's owner can do.

  • The staff may remember spells, allowing the owner not to reiterate them each time or simply increasing his memory abilities.

  • The staff may have some helping scheme/drawing on it, which make it easier to calculate timings and components of a spell.

  • The staff may work as a grounding.

  • The staff may be a living plant that produces some juice/substances/medicines that increase mental abilities of the owner.

  • The staff may work as a reconnaissance device, advising its owner about invisible dangers.


As previously stated, the quality of the tool used affects its use. Though a mage might be able to use magic without a staff, it is comparable to a swordsman who is without his sword. If you gave a swordsman a crudely made sword he would have difficulty swinging it accurately, his edge alignment might be off. If you gave a mage a weapon/tool that looked like it was made by an Ork, or maybe it was, it would not work as excellently as a well crafted one. Not including magic hanky-pankey it just comes down to craftsman ship.


Crystals and Magnifying Glass.

Crystals allow you to split light into it's base forms - different colors.

A magnifying glass allows you to focus light into a single point. Without the glass, you have light... with the glass, you can start fires or get rid of ants.

Considering you are using powers of some sort... being able to pull out specific powers from your "pool" and then focus them into the point of your choosing are important aspects of using (and abusing) your innate abilities.

Using one or the other is useful - you want fire to burn. Earth to heal. Water to wear things down. Wind to knock down your enemy tower.

Using both is more powerful than just using one: You can then burn a specific enemy - instead of an area. Use water to cover your ally who's too near the fire. Wind to knock a specific person off of the tower instead of the whole tower.

So, you need the right combination of construction and materials - just like metal and glass isn't anything special until you put it into the right configuration to make goggles... or a magnifying glass... or a laser.

Pick the energy you want... and harness that energy to a wide area or a super fine point.


I've always imagined staffs to focus/collect/transmit magical energy in the same way an antenna focuses/collects/transmits radio signal.

With a better (calibrated/aligned/materials/physical dimensions) staff, just like a better (same properties) antennae, mana collection, storage, transmission is more efficient, and works with fewer errors.

With a decent wifi card and a proper wifi antennae, I can steal wifi from 2 miles away.

A great wifi card is like a great mage, it knows more spells, capable of storing and using more energy. A great antennae is like a great staff. It focuses, collects, stores (antennae don't really store, just staffs), and transmits better.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ How is it different than this earlier answer? $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 7:58
  • $\begingroup$ That answer only uses radio transmission antennae analogy. I see staffs as not only as magic-transmitting antennae, but also magic receivers, focusers, collectors, and storers. That answer is also stupid: "My take on it is that it's the same way that a radio works better if it has an antenna but in reverse. " It's not "in reverse". Antennae work great for improving radio transmission and reception! That answerer is clueless about radios, and has a less complete explanation for staffs. $\endgroup$
    – Tom Mercer
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 16:33

Impedance Matching

Maybe a staff is to magic what an megaphone cone is to sound. .

A megaphone directs the sound, but it also does something called impedance matching which allows for more efficiency in energy transfer.

When waves go from one medium to another, there is usually a reflection of part of the energy. The bigger the difference in impedance, the bigger the reflection (unless you can do some canceling of waves).

If you can step the impedance down, though, then there is less energy reflected and so more energy transmitted. Anti-reflective coatings on things like glasses use this principle.

If the wood in the staff had a magic impedance the was in between the magic impedance of the wizard and the world around, or even better, had a transition between the impedance of the wizard and the impedance of the world, then it could be an intermediary that keeps some of the magical energy from reflecting back on the wizard.


The staff is magical, thus it can do anything you as the world creator want, including increasing magic powers. It's not something that is totally necessary at all of course, but the staff imagery is hard pressed into peoples minds already. Harry Potter on the other hand goes with just short wands.

Similarly you could ask why does a spell make a characters stats increase - well, it does that because it's magic. If it had an another explanation, it would cease to be magic.

The rules for it of course can vary, but whatever it is it has to fit with all the other rules in your world. If you for example use something like Elder Scrolls does with gems with trapped souls, then the staffs power should draw from that. That one is a clever system designed to allow crafting with clear rules and a risk/reward system, which is less important if you're not making an open world game and don't need to worry about such balance issues (and even Elder Scrolls Morrowind for example had huge balancing issues with creating magical items through those soul gems).

It of course becomes a balancing issue in your made up world as well even if it is only for a book, so usually you would make the circumstances in which you can create such devices rare or build your stories around circumstances in which such items are common. Suppose you would have the staffs just growing in the woods and you could harness a wind spell extremely easily... well you could just create flying boats then.

The important thing to remember is that it's all just made up rules - there's no such thing as universal rules for how magic works, even inside D&D stories.


I just don't know why a staff would have any impact on for example my mental stats, such as Intelligence,

Well, maybe not "intelligence". However, the staff may have an effect on how useful intelligence ends up being. So "intelligence usability" is what goes up. We just typically abbreviate that as "intelligence" as no distinction is usually needed.

Some of these apparent boosts may just be deception, much like other forms of magic. Maybe the wielder doesn't actually think with more clarity or focus, but that is just the reputation a staff may have, and that reputation makes results seem more remarkable, so the staff's resulting power ends up actually being more effective even if it is all false.

explain the increase in magical power by equipping a better staff. This also means I don't know how to narrate what a better staff is. Is it lighter? Heavier? Fancier? Mundane?

What you'd be looking for is a staff that is more magical.

What is more magical to you?

  • A local McDonald's restaurant?
  • A toy store that causes children to be happy?
  • Or an entire theme park like Walt Disney World?
Think about this from the eyes of a child, when such "magic" hasn't yet been dulled by finances. Which of these places seems magical to you?

From what would you expect more magic to come?

  • A magician that pulls off his top hat, and is wearing white gloves, right by a sign that says "Forgot my wand, but I will do my best anyway", and a deck of cards on a table
  • A magician who did not forget his foot-long (30-centimeter-ish) black rod with white caps on both ends, and who waves the wand around
  • A witch, complete with pointed hat and wart, standing by a cauldron that has steam coming out of it, cackling as she speaks
  • A six foot (2 meter) tall wizard with a long beard, pointed hat, and a staff that is seven-and-a-half feet tall, with a glowing red gem

See, even you, non-magic user, have some idea of just what is magical.

Rarity can also help a whole lot. A shiny rock is better than a common stone, but a semi-transparent gem is better, and a rock that reflects and amplifies light is even better. A harness made of gold will glitter more magically than black iron.

Reputation can also be good. A story can multiply its usefulness. Having a staff which has lasted a remarkably long time can be good. Even better is a weapon that has had songs written about it. If that's not feasible, at least strong rumors that it was used by a famous legendary figure from the past may suffice. Preferably if the item has been unused (and especially if out of sight) for days. No, actually, millennia would be even better. Oh, and try to throw in a name of an unvisitable location or three.

The worlds of magic differ from the physical world in which we interact. Our bestest of technology relies upon electricity that is generated, stored, or transported from a source using conductive material. Magical power relies on similar such fuel or components, fictitiously in the forms of swirling lights, incomprehensible mutterings, and special ingredients, along with non-fictitious sources such as preparation, superior knowledge, concealment, and distraction.

One of the strongest magical powers is awe. If you take a 4-4 piece of wood, it may have no magic. However, carve away some of that wood to reveal the image of a gargoyle's head at the top of the staff, and suddenly you have magic.

The world of magic also relies on such things as blessings, hopes, dreams, secrets, hexes, and curses. Words common in magical stories involve fanciful creatures, myths, legends, and other epic tales involving incomprehensible elements such as unfamiliar abilities to exaggerate and distort normalcy into illusions that are completely unverifiable. Most importantly, lots of unfamiliarity is helpful to generate further awe. Using inhuman supernatural resources might be one method of generating such unfamiliarity, but so can easier methods like just using skills from a different culture or social circle.

Elimination of the ability to use one's right mind, whether from foreign substance or disease or simply sleep deprivation, can be helpful.

Less commonly reported, but possibly mysterious all the same, is if the "staff" transforms. Having it appropriately match the owner's wardrobe may also help to strike fear in enemies.

So there's lots of ideas. Of course, there's certainly the possibility of combining multiple of these elements. You can also combine other elements. Tapping other powers, like the natural powers of biology, elemental powers, and even chemistry, can be very great as long as they remain unfamiliar, or at least uncontrollable. (Less familiar powers, like those involving dimensional rifts and physics belonging to other worlds, may be even better.)

Even science, like being able to use a "hang glider" to move about (though only downward) through the air, can be effectively utilized magically if the verifiable, scientific element can be effectively cloaked. (What is required for "effective" cloaking may vary depending on your audience.) And if you can get trustworthy but wrong audiences to make their stories more interesting, you may even be able to upgrade your reported abilities, like upgrading from gliding to flight.

Especially if the tales are old, in which case they may "reboot" and make things even more over-the-top.

Is it lighter? Heavier? Fancier?

Fancier? Yes. Lighter? Heavier? Whatever is more magnificent, which may vary based on how well it matches the user(s), and what environment it is in. You might think that the strength of a legend would have little effect, but such mistaken belief would indicate a lack of much exposure to magic.

And if this answer didn't seem very helpful because you were hoping for a more tangible, realistic answer, then let me remind you of how real magic really works: unfamiliarity, including concealment which often comes from successful distraction. See, all these things I was writing about actually are exactly what makes a magical staff, amulet, or other thing special.


I'm surprised how no one else had this idea, as it was the first thing that came to my mind.

(Now comes a bit of backstory, which I think is the reason why I had that idea. You can safely skip ahead to the boldened part.)

Simply think of multi-mana concepts, like in MtG. I recently installed the Extra Mana Color packages in my Magic Set Editor, and that made one essential question arise: Should the newly added colors have corresponding basic lands?

You might already understand the direction this is heading towards. To make this a little clearer: I also long ago thought off a mana kind that has no lands dedicated to producing it. It can only be created as "mana of any color" or "mana of any type".

To transfer it into a magic system where you're constantly surrounded by mana: The mana around you isn't the only kind of mana. It's merely the most basic one.

Your staff has components (be it a gem or some special wood) that act as gateways towards more special mana, which is necessary for more complex spells. For some spells, stronger versions need you to resort to some of those special mana sorts as well.

Of course, a staff doesn't work for all mana kinds, and not all staffs work for the same kinds. Which is the reason why a certain staff might be good for one mage, but horrible for another: The staff that works best for your mage is the one that can channel the mana the mage is best attuned with.

For example, a river mage will draw good use from water or forest staffs, but a fire staff will be mostly useless. Oh, and also, more powerful staffs can channel more different and more unique mana, as well as more powerful spells require more kinds. To give an example, a strong Meteor might need fire mana as well as cosmic mana, where the former can be channeled already by simple staffs, while the latter requires a staff that was forged on the moon.

I designed that concept with the thought in mind that a good explanation not only needs to make sense, but also must be easy to build upon. Staffs as prismatic artifacts for magic make sense, but I felt like that doesn't really make story. While, in contrast, staffs channeling mana you couldn't channel otherwise, and also channeling different mana, can easily put a mage on the search for his very own perfect staff.


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