An arcane focus 5e guide is something that I used for my first run as a 5e Sorcerer. Since then, I’ve only used one a couple of times since I rarely choose to be a spellcaster, favoring Rogue, Ranger, or a homebrew class.
But when I do play a spellcaster, I love having an arcane focus around because it feels more immersive. Connecting to the item via magic – and perhaps spirituality – is a roleplaying experience like none other.
Arcane Focus – The Need to Know
An arcane focus is an item that spellcasters can use to cast their spells. The item is typically a crystal, orb, staff, or wand. Not every spellcaster can use an arcane focus – the class has to allow it specifically.
The Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard are the main classes that can use an arcane focus in vanilla D&D 5e. When the caster uses an arcane focus, they don’t have to provide materials for the spell.
Rules for Arcane Focus
The rules for arcane foci are straightforward, but a lot is left up in the air. For example, one excerpt mentions that you must ask the DM to approve a custom arcane focus, and that’s the only rule regarding a custom one.
The point of the arcane focus is to take the place of the inexpensive materials used to cast spells. If the component has a gold cost, then the arcane focus is useless because you still need the components.
However, a spell without material components can’t be cast using an arcane focus.
If you use inexpensive materials for the spell and components are involved, you can use the same hand to cast the spell and “retrieve” the materials. But this gets complicated after that.
Because you may be holding the focus in one hand, and you want to cast a spell that doesn’t use the focus during combat. You need to take a turn to prepare by “sheathing” the focus.
Arcane Focus Options
Despite popular belief, you can’t use just any item as an arcane focus. There are only a few items that you can naturally use as a focus unless discussed with your DM, which can also get complicated.
Because not only do you want your Dm to okay it, but you also want your party to be cool with it. The last thing a player needs is hostility from the rest of the party. So keep the peace and follow the rules.
An orb is a spherical item that is specially designed to use as an arcane focus. It weighs around 3lbs and is standard in rarity. Orbs are one of my favorite focuses because they feel so magical.
Crystals are common in Dungeons & Dragons, but when it comes to arcane foci, you need a specific type of crystal. These weigh about 1lb, are standard in rarity, and fit comfortably in one’s hand.
The arcane focus staff should not be confused with the quarterstaff. The difference is that the quarterstaff is a weapon and cannot be sued as an arcane focus. An arcane focus staff is around 4lbs.
A rod is a special arcane focus item that is shorter than a staff and weighs 2lbs. It is shaped like a staff, making it difficult for non-spellcasters to tell the difference. A rod weighs around 2lbs.
A wand is the smallest oblong focus you can get, which is why it’s one of the most popular. It can easily fit nearly anywhere, and it only weighs about 1lb, making it half the side of a rod.
When creating a custom arcane focus, there are only three things to remember. These are rules that I keep in mind so that the arcane focus won’t be unfair to other players who don’t have one.
- Non-defensive, non-offensive
- It has to be in hand
- Designed for magic
My Favorite Custom Arcane Foci
While some parties and DMs are against custom arcane foci, I am all for them as long as they don’t have any other use. This way, it’s fair for everyone and is simply about aesthetics rather than utility.
Remember the three rules and follow them. This list isn’t strict; it’s simply the ideas that I have to use for an arcane focus. You can use anything that the DM greenlights as your arcane focus.
By trophy, I mean a body part – or something similar – of an enemy or animal you have slain. This is a common custom arcane focus for Warlocks for obvious reasons, but any spellcaster that uses foci can do it.
A good example is the skull of the man who wronged your family or something more peaceful like a harmless tusk from your first kill that fed your party. The sky is the limit; try not to get too creepy.
Trinkets are something that many backgrounds already get. This can be an old chess piece, an egg, or one of the other hundreds of trinkets in 5e. The Player’s Handbook has 100 trinkets alone.
The exact trinket that you end up with matters because not all trinkets can be used as an arcane focus. A small totem or a key, yes. A vial of blood or parchment paper, maybe not so much.
If you do get by with using gauntlets for your arcane focus, respect the rules of foci. You still can’t use the gloved hand to hold anything else, so the hand is occupied even if it just has a glove on it.
Many players use a gauntlet to get around the ruling, but the only way that you can use a gauntlet is if you respect the ruling that an arcane focus occupies one hand. Then it’s just like anything else.
This one is interesting, especially if you’re a spiritual spellcaster. You can use beads that serve no other purpose as your arcane focus. This can be sentimental, as if someone made them for you.
Or they can be some beads you found strung on a string at the market. How you got them doesn’t matter, but the concept can work if you prefer something you can really attach to.
When I say seal, I mean similar to the “arcane focus” that you can use in Elden Ring. This is something that I thought little of before, but now it’s exactly what I would try to use for an arcane focus.
For those unfamiliar with the seal, it’s a small, typically round item that you hold onto like a tiny handguard. But in this case, it would not defend you at all per the arcane focus rules.
Spellcaster feats aren’t precisely what the spellcaster relies on or builds around. But a few give a significant boost to an arcane focus build. There may be more, but these are my favorites.
War Caster is the number one feat for those who use an arcane focus and one of the best spellcaster feats in general. The War Caster feat requires you to be able to cast at least one spell.
If you can, then you can grab it and gain three bonuses.
- Advantage on Constitution saving throws – to maintain concentration – when you take damage
- The ability to perform physical actions of spells when you have a weapon or shield
- When a hostile creature provokes an opportunity attack, you can use your reaction to cast a spell
Again, to grab Spell Sniper, you have to have the ability to cast a spell. When you do, you gain three benefits that can help any spellcaster, especially one with an arcane focus.
- Double the range of any attack spell
- Ignore half cover and three-quarters cover when you attack
- You get one cantrip that requires an attack roll
This is so good with arcane focus because you can fight from a further distance with the focus and have the other hand free. You don’t need to keep a backup weapon; you can use the other hand for expensive spell components.
Because you may be stuck in a rough spot with an arcane focus on one hand, Weapon Master can help with your backup plan. When you have Weapon Master, you can increase Str or Dex.
But you also gain proficiency with four weapons of your choice that are simple or martial weapons. While you won’t be able to hit hard with these weapons, it’s great for whenever you are backed into a corner.
If you can cast a spell, you can take this feat. Elemental Adept lets you choose either acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder. You must choose one when you get the feat, not after.
Once you do, you ignore resistances to the damage type you chose when casting spells. You also get to treat any one as a two when you roll for damage and deal that damage type.
Other Classes Using an Arcane Focus
The primary classes that use arcane foci are Wizard, Sorcerer, and Warlock. They can all use arcane foci in a similar way. But other classes have specific rules to follow to harness magic with an item.
None of the other classes besides the three mentioned use a true arcane focus. The items they use operate the same, but they are not considered arcane foci, which matters in many cases.
The arcane focus for the Druid is called Druid Focus. The only legal focus that a Druid can use is mistletoe or holly. However, there are other custom options that the DM can greenlight.
The Bard can only use an instrument as an arcane focus. However, it’s not called an arcane focus; it’s simply a spellcasting focus. Check out my guide on D&D musical instruments to choose your focus.
The Cleric and Paladin don’t technically get an “arcane focus,” but instead a holy symbol. The symbol represents a god or pantheon that the Cleric/Paladin holds dear. The items also differ from what can be used as an arcane focus.
Question: Can Anyone Use An Arcane Focus?
Answer: No. The only classes that use a real arcane focus are Wizards, Warlocks, and Sorcerers. Every other spellcaster has spellcasting focuses, holy symbols, or something similar.
Question: Can Anything Be Used As An Arcane Focus?
Answer: No. Only staffs, rods, wands, orbs, and crystals can be arcane foci unless you create a custom one that the DM says is okay to use. It must not have any other use than to be an arcane focus.
Question: Can Any Spell Be Cast With an Arcane Focus?
Answer: No. Only spells with cheap components that don’t even have a gold cost can be cast for free with an arcane focus—anything else you still have to have the materials on you.
Question: Are Arcane Foci Worth It?
Answer: An arcane focus is worth it if you cast many spells that aren’t expensive spells to cast. Not to mention, they can make one feel more immersed in their class, which is why I prefer a personal focus.
Question: Is an Arcane Focus a Weapon?
Answer: No. An arcane focus is not a weapon, so if an ability says “weapon,” then it does not refer to the arcane focus. It is considered a special item, so it doesn’t fall under many categories.
Making Your Arcane Focus Unique
To me, an arcane focus is an extension of myself. If you can get the DM to let you create a custom arcane focus that functions just like one of the vanilla options, then I strongly encourage it.
But if you can’t, then you can still decorate your arcane focus. Paint it, add gems, and anything else you can think of. If you create art for your focus, there’s a better chance that you can use it for the campaign.
I never try to find loopholes that would give me an advantage, but I try to make things interesting. Aesthetics and roleplay are my top priorities in the D&D world, so an arcane focus means a lot to me.
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