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Yesterday the party cleric lost her holy symbol (a golden sword-cross of a homebrew deity), which was also her spellcasting focus, due to a random adventure mishap.

She argued that as a spellcasting focus, she would simply be unable to cast any spells that required Material components, until she got her hands on another focus or even component pouch.
As for other cleric powers, she argued that she should still be eligible for all that don't specifically name the possession/display/use of a holy symbol in their description.
As for replacing it, she said that she would simply carve a crude depiction with the knife out of a random wood piece and that would be enough to be a new holy symbol and spellcasting focus (no ritual/attunement needed).

As all these sound counter-intuitive about the cleric's relation to a holy symbol and religion in general, I reserved judgement until I asked more knowledgable people than I, since PHB does not seem to cover the situation as described.

To conclude and be succinct:

  1. What spells and powers does the cleric, and by extension the paladin, still retain after the loss of their holy symbol (doubled as spellcasting focus)?

  2. Can a component pouch be used as spellcasting focus for a cleric/paladin?

  3. How can the cleric's, and by extension the paladin's, holy symbol be replaced, and be sanctioned as spellcasting focus henceforth?
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    \$\begingroup\$ did the cleric check the local pawn shops, or eBay? :-) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 18 '17 at 15:54
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Your player has the right of it, mostly

All of the following information can be found for free in the D&D 5e Source Reference Document PDF as well as on the official 5e online supplement D&D Beyond. Page references are included for the information in the SRD PDF. All of the content quoted from the SRD can also be found in the core rulebooks.

Paladins and clerics both say the following under their spellcasting class feature (SRD pgs. 16, 31)

You can use a holy Symbol (see "Equipment") as a spellcasting focus for your [cleric/paladin] Spells.

The general rules for spellcasting foci as related to material components are as follows (SRD pg. 102):

A character can use a component pouch or a spellcasting focus (found in “Equipment”) in place of the components specified for a spell. But if a cost is indicated for a component, a character must have that specific component before he or she can cast the spell.

In particular, the holy symbol states (SRD pg. 67):

A holy symbol is a representation of a god or pantheon. It might be an amulet depicting a symbol representing a deity, the same symbol carefully engraved or inlaid as an emblem on a shield, or a tiny box holding a fragment of a sacred relic... A cleric or paladin can use a holy symbol as a spellcasting focus. To use the symbol in this way, the caster must hold it in hand, wear it visibly, or bear it on a shield.

These are the only rules as far as the book is concerned. Clerics and paladins can use a holy symbol as a spellcasting focus to replace the non-costly, non-consumed material components of their spells. No stipulation RAW is made that the holy symbol must be of an exactly certain quality, type, or even a match to the deity that the cleric or paladin worships. From these quotes, we can determine that:

For spellcasting, the holy symbol is only required when you need material components

The holy symbol is a spellcasting focus. Spellcasting foci by design are only used to replace non-costly, non-consumed material components. If your player is casting a spell without material components, they do not need their holy symbol at all and can cast it normally. If the player can provide the actual material component, they can also cast it normally, even without the spellcasting focus.

speaking of material components...

Component pouches can be used by anyone

The rules for component pouches are as follows (SRD pg. 67):

A component pouch is a small, watertight leather belt pouch that has compartments to hold all the material components and other special items you need to cast your spells, except for those components that have a specific cost (as indicated in a spell's description).

There are no other rules for pouches, aside from those general "spellcasting foci" rules I quoted above. Any spellcaster can use a component pouch for basically the same purpose as a focus. More on that topic can be found in this question.

If the player gets a component pouch, they can use it to cast spells that they would normally use their holy symbol for. The flavor is that the character stores the actual non-costly material components in the pouch. So, as long as the character has access to the pouch, they are actively providing those material components that a spell calls for. This, as was described above, allows the character to cast spells that require material components, even without a focus.

However, non-spell channel divinity features may require holy symbols

For example, the cleric's turn undead channel divinity says (SRD pg. 16, emphasis mine):

As an action, you present your holy symbol and speak a prayer censuring the undead.

If the player has any non-spell action such as turn undead, they need their holy symbol to use it. In this case, your cleric cannot turn undead until they have a replacement holy symbol, since they have no holy symbol to present.

Additionally, these options are not spells, so the component pouch cannot be used as a substitute in these instances.

How they replace the lost symbol is up to you.

Prices for holy symbols are found on the general equipment list (SRD pg. 69), so in theory it could be as easy to replace as going to a friendly church and buying a new one. There are no rules for "blessing" a holy symbol or the like. The description of the holy symbol item does say they can be "carefully engraved or inlaid as an emblem..." so it would imply that the symbol is more complicated than "crudely carving it out of a piece of wood", but ultimately, the DM is the one who gets to make the call on if such an attempt would work or not.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In theory, you could use a piece of chalk to draw the symbol and use it as a temporary focus. It would take several minutes, but could be done in a pinch, DM allowing. A lot of spells don't require material components, and a component pouch can be used for the few that do, so it's entirely possible for evil clerics to cast spells without any 'incriminating' items. \$\endgroup\$ – Zourin Feb 24 at 6:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ A place of worship for a cleric is also so littered with divine symbols, references, and relics that the cleric could cast spells anywhere on the premises as if a focus were available, also DM allowing. \$\endgroup\$ – Zourin Feb 24 at 6:59
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You can make a Holy symbol by following the rules for this downtime activity below:

Crafting: You can craft nonmagical objects, including adventuring equipment and works of art. You must be proficient with tools related to the object you are trying to create (typically artisan’s tools). For every day of downtime you spend crafting, you can craft one or more items with a total market value not exceeding 5 gp, and you must expend raw materials worth half the total market value. If something you want to craft has a market value greater than 5 gp, you make progress every day in 5 gp increments until you reach the market value of the item. For example, a suit of plate armor (market value 1,500 gp) takes 300 days to craft by yourself. Multiple characters can combine their efforts toward the crafting of a single item, provided that the characters all have proficiency with the requisite tools and are working together in the same place. Each character contributes 5 gp worth of effort for every day spent helping to craft the item. For example, three characters with the requisite tool proficiency and the proper facilities can craft a suit of plate armor in 100 days, at a total cost of 750 gp.

And the cost of holy symbol is 5 gp, so that would be one day of crafting alone and the materials would cost 25 sp.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ a DM could fairly rule that the cost of a respectable, yet travel-and-combat durable holy symbol would need to cost at least that much. A cleric in a desperate situation could, in theory, get away with a more hodgepodge solution, eg, lost and abandoned naked in the woods. A cleric should be capable of at least building a small shrine with nothing but sticks and rocks. Faith doesn't abandon the faithful in times of need, and all. \$\endgroup\$ – Zourin Feb 24 at 6:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was just pointing out what the rules say. The decision is left for him. \$\endgroup\$ – Spellcaster Mar 31 at 19:46
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Per the 5th edition SRD:

Casting some spells requires particular objects, specified in parentheses in the component entry. A character can use a component pouch or a spellcasting focus (found in “Equipment”) in place of the components specified for a spell. But if a cost is indicated for a component, a character must have that specific component before he or she can cast the spell.

Also per the 5th edition SRD:

Holy Symbol: A holy symbol is a representation of a god or pantheon. It might be an amulet depicting a symbol representing a deity, the same symbol carefully engraved or inlaid as an emblem on a shield, or a tiny box holding a fragment of a sacred relic. Appendix B lists the symbols commonly associated with many gods in the multiverse. A cleric or paladin can use a holy symbol as a spellcasting focus. To use the symbol in this way, the caster must hold it in hand, wear it visibly, or bear it on a shield.

There's nothing in the RAW that requires a special replacement ritual or process, just that it must be a representation of the god/pantheon. So a hand-carved symbol should suffice, as long as it's clearly representative of the god in question.

Also note that the description says a cleric can use the symbol as a focus. The wording there is "can", not "must". Therefore, the RAW state clearly that the component pouch or holy symbol are interchangeable for clerics or paladins. Either can be used for the material component.

The symbol (or pouch) serves as the (M) Material component for any spells, except when that Material Component includes a cost. So any spell that has a material component with no cost requires either the symbol or the pouch.

As noted in Spellcaster's answer, you should enforce the Crafting rules for time and materials.


As an aside, and 100% Not RAW, a cleric who takes the time to carve her own symbol might have a closer affinity to the symbol than one who merely buys one off a shelf at the temple gift shop. Just a thought.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Clerics of Evil alignment/dieties are more likely to not use or carry symbols of their faith everywhere they go, unless they're VERY certain they are powerful enough to squish would-be attackers, so using the spell components instead helps conceal their acts and efforts. If their god has Trickery in their portfolio, they may even carry symbols of other gods as a cover act, and may even hold false services to maintain that cover if they can obtain a level of legitimacy/authority. \$\endgroup\$ – Zourin Apr 2 at 18:36
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Why not making a subquest in which the cleric gains a new symbol?

A nice idea could be to make a little story arc in which your cleric re-discovers his faith in the deity he worships and this journey ends with him gaining a new symbol. The other answers have great examples of how to make this happen mechanically-wise, but I think a story like this could make use of this loss to give a new flavor to your player's character.

As my master says, it's always a good idea to use everything your players come up with to make the campaign more interesting.

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Your world, your rules.

Just keep it fun, and keep it fair.

If it were my world...

If I had information on whether the religion was big on ceremony or not, then that would matter, but the main think would be the Cleric's attitude.

If the Cleric lost the icon by being careless or disdainful of it, then I would expect their deity to be unhappy. Imagine if you lost your own wedding ring - no big deal to replace it with a twisted paperclip? I don't think so, and double the banishment to the dog house for suggesting that it is no big deal.

In game terms, no new spells until the icon is recovered - being replaced only with something lesser counts, but not for much. Being replaced with something nicer, would do.

If the Cleric lost the icon after being overwhelmed by enemies, then not their fault, and I would expect the deity to be sympathetic - so long as they then do everything they can to recover it, or replace it with something nicer.

Either way, there's a quest in it!

Remember, Cleric's are supposed to be grateful to their gods - though an ungrateful Cleric could be fun too.

They're called rules, but really, they're guidelines.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Heh, according to my wife (and for that matter, the priest who married us) our wedding ring is most assuredly a holy symbol. +1 for using that most excellent analogy, and for other reasons. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 18 '17 at 15:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not only "your world" - as the DM, its literally up to you to roleplay the god in question! I'd probably let them use a handcarved holy symbol with a modifier to their spell attack and save DC mods... if their god stands on ceremony and/or they lost the original through negligence, it might be -1 until they complete a quest to retrieve or replace it. OTOH, if they lost it in exigent circumstances and/or their god is a "cup of a simple carpenter" type, a lovingly handmade one might work better (+1 to X spells a day? Spell storing? Extra Channel Divinity slot?) \$\endgroup\$ – John Evans Feb 12 '18 at 19:40
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Have your PC get a tattoo of the holy symbol on their palm. Then they never have to worry about losing it again. Mike Mearls asserts he'd permit it:

Q: Could a Holy symbol be a tattoo on like a palm or shoulder?

Mike Mearls: I'd allow that, though the symbol should be some place visible.

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