Magical focus / magical item

From a few recent posts I got the impression that at least some people assume that, if you have a magical focus covering a particular item (say, wooden wands), then your focus applies to your Lab Total whenever you enchant that type of item.

In our troupe, we've always assumed the focus applies only when the item is the target of the magical effect (e.g. a wooden wand that can turn into an asp), or is similarly tied to the magical effect (e.g. a wooden wand that turns animals into wooden wands). We've also allowed the bonus to apply if the magical activity primarily involves "priming" or "bonding with" the item (e.g. a focus in spirits applies if you are trying to bond with a spirit familiar).

We've never allowed the focus bonus to apply to every effect instilled into the item. E.g. a focus in wooden wands does not apply to your Lab Total when you are trying to enchant your wooden wand with The Incantation of Lightning. Similarly, a Verditius with a focus in wooden wands does not gain any bonus to his Lab Total when enchanting a wooden wand as a casting tool for The Incantation of Lightning (though he would gain the bonus if he had a focus in storms or damage). And a magus with a spirit familiar and a magical focus in spirits does not get the bonus to every effect he instills into the bond.

How do you play it?

(EDITed for clarity)

I believe applying Magical Focus as a casting tool is preposterous. My wand of toothbrushing should gets a +10 to its Lab Total because it is made of wood. And so does my DEO wand, and my PoF wand, and... anything I can think of.

Even buying iron-ring as Major Magical Focus would be cheap.

Preposterous as it may seem, the rules strongly indicate that this is the case. Its one of those things that is hardly really spelled out, but is very strongly inferred.

For example, in the Verditius chapter of HoH: Mystery Cults, two of the Confraternities have specific Minor Magical Foci in the type of enchanted item they specialise in (Swords for Roland, Wooden Wands for Himnis the Mad.)

Keep in mind that when we talk about Enchanted Casting Tools, We`re referring to the Inner Mystery of Verditius, which allows a magus to enchant a specific casting tool used for a formulaic spell to provide a bonus to spell casting, not to the tools that some magi require, which may be whatever is lying around. Each Verditius can only have one Casting Tool per spell at a time, which s/he must make over a matter of several hours (at least).

While this may seem like an overpowered thing, keep in mind that it only applies to actual enchantments and not to spell casting, even if the shape/material is used in a casting tool or a talisman, unless the described focus is the target of the spell. It limits the power as much as it extends it, as tools can be taken away, dropped or lost, and must be handled in a way that is rarely discreet.

This being the case, we allow it.

I fail to see how this "strongly indicates" that you get the bonus to every Lab Total when enchanting the item. Still, thanks for answering - in fact, your answer shows that the outcome is not 100% clear from the rules as written.

Thats what the RAW looks like. Probably. Maybe...

Essentially same here.

Totally yes. Im yet to see anything that truly settles it. But what there is, seems to lean towards the munchkin interpretation.

For clarification, a focus in spirits would apply to bonding the spirit and to every effect placed in the bond, no matter what that effect is. This is explicitly true.

As for the rest of it, there are two interesting comparisons to make. One is to compare a focus in wood to a focus in wooden wands. The other is to compare a focus in metal to a focus in swords. Off-hand I don't remember if the former halves are minor or major. Regardless, I expect you could reduce things to make them basically minor. For example, instead of metal, compare a focus in iron/steel to a focus in swords. I think wooden wands and swords are overly narrow for the normal magical focus rules. My belief is that the intention of the writers was for wooden wands and swords to work when enchanting the items (which is what those confraternities do). My belief is also that the writers determined more general foci (such as wood or metal) should not apply to enchanting those items, which is why wooden wands and swords are so overly narrow. I'm pretty sure there's nothing explicit about this, but things start to feel nonsensical to me (from the perspective of writing these foci) with other interpretations.


I agree with Callen on this.

Wood is a "Minor Focus" in ArM5.
Metals is a "Major Focus" ditto.

However, the rules vary the scope of foci, seemingly at a whim.

In my experience, the foci applying to enchanted items does not unnbalance the game.

We have to be careful, though, because "Sword" is a shape in the shape and materials table. Therefore, a small gold sword would apply for the focus, as would a wooden practice sword.

I'd allow a minor focus in a single metal or a type of wooden construction (furniture, wands/staves etc.)

Remember, too, that parts of an item which are not described by the focus do not recieve the boost from it. If you have a focus in wooden wands, and meld gold into the wand, (either for a material bonus or to hold more vis), any effect instilled into the gold will not benifit from the bonus.

This limits the power of these foci considerably. Remember that wooden wands, for example, can only contain so much vis, and how many swords can a magus carry around, anyway? When you go through the game mechanics, you realise that its not so overwhelmingly powerful as it seems at first.

To me it seems to vastly favour Verditius magi -- who already are one of the high-powered templates, particularly after HoH:MC. Essentially, a Verditius magus with a minor focus in, say, transparent gemstones, can get the bonus from the focus on pretty much every enchantment he makes.

Also, I think this strongly contradicts the description of Minor Focus: "You cannot be focused on a laboratory activity, such as creating charged items", which is arguably quite narrower than "wooden wands, including any enchantment using a wooden wand".

Not really. With the wooden wands focus you can cast spells well on wands well, too. The limit placed above is that you cannot have a focus such as "Minor Magical Focus in Charged Items." But you can have a magical focus that applies when making a charged item, such as a Minor Magical Focus in Cold being used when making charged items to blast targets with cold.

Based on your statement above I would assume you house-rule to remove all animal groups from magical foci since such any such focus give you a focus that applies to familiar bonds with those animals. You would have to do the same with the magical focus of that Tytalus group that does Summoning.


Considering they can nearly already have two applicable magical foci, adding in a real focus only increases their lab totals by a little under 20% when they're going for big effect. This is because it's relatively trivial for them to have a total of [Int+MT+Aura+Lab+Helpers+Craft+Shape/Material/Philosophiae]+[highest Te/Fo]x2+[lowest Te/Fo]x3, having only added the third [lowest Te/Fo] with the focus. Generally [higher Te/Fo] > [lowest Te/Fo], though they could be equal. The stack of Int, Aura, Abilities, and other stuff should generally be higher than [highest Te/Fo] for a Verditius. So my quick estimate would be about a 15% increase. So I would say though commonly preferential for Verditius (which is why they show up in two confraternities), they don't really vastly favor Verditius magi. They're actually a lot more helpful to non-Verditius magi who like to make magic items like a Verditius. It's just that many non-Verditius don't try to make items so much.

The real issue of power comes in other ways. The primary one is Verditius Elder Runes. That one is immensely powerful. The one place it seems like other magi can do better is via Spell Mastery and formulaic magic. But now the Verditius magi can use their aptitude in the lab to replace Spell Mastery via Enchant Casting Tools. Verditius magi were probably the most powerful from the get-go. Now they definitely are. Except for a few specific cases where you might really want a Mystery Virtue or something to do what you want, typically you can design nearly the same magus more powerfully by making the magus a Verditius magus instead of whatever House you were going to choose. I like to play others to avoid getting stuck in a rut because Verditius is always so tempting for whatever I want accomplished.


Which only makes the wooden wands focus broader! What I'm saying is that a focus in wooden wands is much broader than a focus in charged items, which is explicitly disallowed.

Familiar bond powers only affect the wizard and/or the familiar. If the familiar is a bird and you have a focus in birds ... well, it's like having a focus in swords and claiming it applies to all powers affecting your sword talisman. We never had a problem with that.

I confess that neither I nor my troupe had ever noticed that (if the magical focus covers the familiar) effects in the bond that affect the wizard and are totally unrelated to the familiar itself can benefit from the focus. One reason is that we always adhered for aesthetic reasons to the (unwritten) rule that powers that one of the two sides gets from the bond must be justified in terms of wizard and familiar growing "closer" together - so if the familiar is an eagle, and the magus is a fire-wielding Flambeau, flight for the magus, and fire resistance for the familiar -- as well as mental communication between the two -- is acceptable, but "turn into a tree" isn't. Although this is a(n unwritten) house rule, it totally kept away from our game bond effects that do not involve the familiar either as a target or as an "effect template", thus making us never encounter the issue of a magical focus in birds applying to an effect that turns you into a tree.

Still, the "bonus scope" that according to the RAW you get from a magical focus covering a familiar -- i.e. powers in the bond that, albeit unrelated to the familiar, allow the familiar to affect you -- is really, really narrow compared to a magical focus covering almost every enchanted item you'd want to make (that would stem from the less restrictive interpretation).

Hmm, on what basis?

This line of reasoning is fatally flawed. First, how are you comparing the breadth of the focus in wooden wands to the breadth of a focus in charged items? They would both cover charged items that are wooden wands. They would both cover more from there. Second, try continuing your argument. Wooden wands is significantly narrower than wood, so you're saying wood is far too broad to be a focus at all while it is considered a Minor Focus?

This is not true. You are essentially confounding Target and target. For example, you could put a variant of Last Flight of the Phoenix into a familiar bond.

Summoning lets you bond spirits as familiars, meaning you get a focus in your familiar just like having a focus in an applicable type of animal.


That's exactly the point. By boosting enchantments further you make magic items the road to power. This privileges the Verditius, because on that road (which you've just turned into the only road) they'll always be ahead of everyone else.

I do not see the flaw you are suggesting. My line of reasoning is as follows.
Suppose you have a focus in charged items, and I have a focus in wooden wands.

When are you at an advantage? Only when you are trying to make an charged item that is not a wooden wand. In that case, I make a wooden wand with the same effect. Ok, I may loose the shape and material bonus if your choice is really appropriate, and in a few cases a wooden wand might not be the ideal medium (say, if I want to make a sword's edge razor-sharp). But I think it's really a small handicap.

On the other hand, if I'm making any other type of enchantment (a talisman, a lesser enchanted device etc.), rooting it in a wooden wand (not to mention every spell that somehow involves wooden wands - e.g. transform your opponents into wooden wands) I get the bonus and you don't. You may try to make a charged item in some of these instances, but a) they tend to occur much more frequently in the life of a magus than making charged items and b) generally a charged item is a much poorer substitute for a permanent one or for a spell (when your ideal choice would be the latter), than a charged wooden wand is for the ideal charged item of a different nature.

No. I'm saying that a virtue that allows you to add your lowest Tech/Form to your lab total whenever you are enchanting an item with some wood in it (as well as helping with all effects that involve wood) is too broad and useful to be a minor virtue.

Then perhaps it's not clear what I mean with "affect". I use it with the same meaning as the corebook, when it says "If the enchantment affects only the maga, then it's under the control of the familiar etc.". Aura of fire would fall in this case - it burns others, but it's really an enchantment affecting the magus/familiar as it's "located" on them.

The reason we've never encountered any problems with this, is that we are perfectly ok with effects "located" on a bird, or allowing tighter interaction with a bird, benefitting from a bird focus, and we've always played (knowingly restricting ourselves) that any effects "located" on the magus must be tied to the familiar's nature and thus inherently fall inside the scope of the focus.

Wait, I'm not following you. I'm too lazy to check HoH:S, but if I'm reading you correctly, you are saying that Tytalus magi can have a (major) focus in Spirits (I'm ok with that), and if one has a focus in Spirits and binds a spirit familiar thanks to some other virtue then he gets the same bonuses that a magus with a focus in eagles would get binding an eagle? I don't see where's the problem with that.

So what? Change the focus to some other common and easy to make magic item.
To stick close to the classical wand, lets say go with Staffs... This would double the limit on Vis.

I think that is fairly clearly the RAW.

I'd go for gemstones (which I'd argue is no broader than "wood").

So let's see... if I understand correctly, now we have:

2 people who strongly opt for the more restrictive interpretation (Tugdual and myself).

2 people who strongly opt for the more permissive one (Richard Love and vulcano), plus
1 person who weakly opts for it (DIREWOLF) - something like "I think the more permissive interpretation is correct, but I don't like it and it's not 100% clear anyway".

1 person (callen) whose opinion I have a hard time classifying. From what I understand he says: "The author of HoH:MC-Verditius wanted the more permissive interpretation, but because he felt an existing focus such as wood would become unbalanced with it, he artificially restricted the focus scope (just in the chapter he wrote) to compensate." Leaving a big mess, I'd add.

Hmm... time to write to David Chart for an errata update?

I think it isn't, "when you cast a spell or generate a lab total within your focus" is what the virtues say. Is generating a intellego aquam lab total within the focus of wooden wands when you enchant a wooden wand with am intellego aquam effect? I'd have to say no.

The examples of the verditious confraternities aren't particularly compelling to me. I had a tytalus NPC with a magical focus in swords before the Mystery cult book was published and there were all sorts of great spells he could pull off with it, he could create and destroy swords, control them, summon his sword talisman from anyplace in the world, fire swords like crossbow bolts, make ladders out of swords, shrink them so he could carry around a bag of tiny swords to cast other spells both spontaneous and formulaic upon and so on. Swords is a fine focus without any ability to apply it to enchanting unrelated effects into a sword (there are plenty of related effects that you'd want to put into one). A focus in wooden wands could be used in a very similar way.

Jumping to the conclusion that because verditious confraternities can teach these foci that they must be applicable to any lab activity enchanting the objects in question is not warranted. Would you let a character with a magical focus in metal apply their focus to all metal objects that they enchant? I certainly hope not.

I can agree that it was very possibly the intent of the author to have the confraternity's foci apply to enchanting but I hardly agree with the intent, the foci aren't overly narrow they're quite useful. I also think that the Verditious chapter of Mystery cults is the worst chapter in the entire fifth edition line in terms of mechanical balance (sorry Matt) but neither critiquing the balance nor speculating upon the intention of the author is answering the question of rules as written. They're written "when you cast a spell or generate a lab total within your focus" I think this wording implies that the bonus doesn't apply to laboratory activities only tangentially involving the focus (tangentially meaning that's not what the spell or effect is about) but I think that this is the only option that makes sense for play so I might be a bit biased in my reading. I certainly wouldn't take the opinion that the opposite position is fairly clearly RAW.

Wooden wands with golden inlays and rubies on their tips are still wooden wands.

If you chose to shrink you swords to the size of toothpicks (a simple enough spell for someone who has a magical focus in swords) you could carry thousands of them.