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A cleric who takes Vow of Poverty (Book of Exalted Deeds) can't carry a holy symbol. This is both true under the rules-as-written (he is allowed no material possessions except simple weapons, simple clothes, a spell component pouch and a sack containing day's food), and also confirmed by explicit Wizards of the Coast commentary in Vow of Poverty, Part 2:

[Classes for which] You Can Make [Vow of Poverty] Work, But It's a Big Handicap: [...] Clerics have a lot of spells with divine foci, so it's hard to avoid them. Paladins and clerics cannot turn undead without a holy symbol.

This prevents him from turning undead or casting any spells requiring Divine Focus, which is most spells.

A reasonable DM would allow a cleric to carry the 1-gp wooden holy symbol, but that's technically a house rule, not a standard rule.

Within the official rules (which for the purposes of this question I define as any D&D 3.0 or 3.5 content either published by Wizards of the Coast, or appearing in Dragon or Dungeon magazine), is there any way for a Vow of Poverty cleric, without breaking his vow, to carry and use a holy symbol, or otherwise to cast spells requiring Divine Focus, or to turn undead?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Dec 26 '17 at 3:47
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Worldly Focus

Weird name for the effect, but this feat from Faiths of Eberron allows you to cast cleric spells without a divine focus. Note that it does nothing for turn undead, or any other usage of a holy symbol, which seems like an oversight to me but then so too does the lack of holy symbol in Vow of Poverty exceptions. But then, who actually uses turn undead to, ya know, turn the undead?

Summon Holy Symbol

I had originally suggested summon holy symbol, as follows:

An orison from Complete Champion that does what it says on the tin. Since the summoned holy symbol is a temporary magical creation per the Conjuration (Summoning) rules, it has no value and so (arguably) should not count as a “material possession” and cause trouble for a cleric with Vow of Poverty. This is a real holy symbol that can do everything a holy symbol can, but only lasts 1 round/level.

However, careful reading of the Conjuration (Summoning) rules indicates that summoned objects—unlike creatures—do not go away when the spell ends “unless the spell description indicates this.” Note that, even in core, there are no Conjuration (Summoning) spells that seem to remember this rule: summon instrument reads almost exactly like summon holy symbol, for instance. This makes absolutely no sense, but that is what the rules say, both in Player’s Handbook and Rules Compendium. My guess is that this rule was intended for instant summons (which, unlike most summoning spells, brings a particular item with your arcane mark to you) and maybe secret chest (which has its own special rules anyway), but it’s in the general Conjuration (Summoning) rules, not in the description of those spells. As a result, since summon holy symbol says nothing about the holy symbol disappearing, rules-as-written this orison can just create a permanent holy symbol out of thin air, and its round/level duration is meaningless since nothing happens once the duration ends.

That means the summoned holy symbol is no longer temporary, and there is no particular reason to think it should be value-less (Complete Champion indicates that it is not “particularly valuable” but that seems more to mean that it is the ordinary 1-gp holy symbol rather than one of “particular” value, rather than a holy symbol that is literally worthless). It is therefore difficult to argue that this spell is safe for those with Vow of Poverty.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Dec 26 '17 at 3:47
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Pick your deity carefully

One of St Cuthbert's holy symbols is a wooden club, which you could take as your cheap simple weapon pick. It is possible that there are other deities with similar options.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Dec 26 '17 at 3:48
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Some excellent answers already, but I'd like to add a few solutions of my own that haven't been covered yet.

  • Clerics of the Blood of Vol decide for themselves what object their holy symbol is.
  • Play a xorn cleric. As per Savage Species, any creature with an Intelligence above 3 may be a monster character and take class levels. Xorn consume precious metal, which means their sack of food may contain all the silver holy symbols they can eat.
  • Whittle your holy symbol out of a potato each morning. There is precedent for holy symbols being made from something other than wood or silver, including mithral, platinum and gemstones.
  • It may be argued that where a holy symbol represents a real item, the item itself can be used as a holy symbol. If this is accepted (and it's a matter of debate), the following are possible:
    • Elhonna, a rearing unicorn. Take Leadership feat and a unicorn as a cohort (VoP only forbids possessions, not allies). However, it has to stand on its hind legs every time you cast spells.
    • Kord, a star of spears and maces. Spears and maces are simple weapons.
    • Tiamat, a five-headed dragon. If you are Tiamat, you may change your own alignment, take VoP and safely worship yourself using yourself as your holy symbol.
    • Aphrodite, a seashell. Seafood is allowed unless you also take a Vow of Peace.
    • Athena, an owl; Bast, a cat; Freya, a falcon; Frigga, a large cat; Llerg, a snake. A familiar (Obtain Familiar, Complete Arcane) is a companion and servant, not a possession.
    • Nike, a winged woman. Can be done if you're a female half-celestial.
    • Odin, a watching blue eye.
    • Forsetti, head of a bearded man. You can cast spells as long as you don't shave.
    • Eilistraee, a nude long-haired female drow dancing with a silver bastard sword in front of a full moon. Requires a very specific party member, who you must hold to cast spells.
    • Torm, a right-hand gauntlet held upright with palm forward; Helm, a staring eye with a blue pupil on an upright war gauntlet; Thard Harr, two crossed scaly clawed gauntlets of silvery-blue metal. No matter how you decorate it, a gauntlet is a simple weapon.
    • Silvanus, a green living oak leaf; Obad-Hai, an oak leaf and an acorn. Internet research informs me that oak leaves and some acorns are edible.
    • Sune, face of a red-haired, ivory-skinned beautiful woman.
    • Sharess, feminine lips. You don't need to be female, you just need to have feminine lips.
    • Baravar Cloakshadow, cloak and dagger. A cloak is simple clothing and a dagger is a simple weapon.
    • Brandobaris, a halfling's footprint.
    • Allitur, a pair of clasped hands.
    • Wenta, a large mug of beer. Beer is food.
    • Zuoken, a striking fist. You must perform karate moves when you cast a spell.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Dec 26 '17 at 3:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for if you are Tiamat, you may safely worship yourself \$\endgroup\$ – bytepusher Feb 12 at 19:54
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So, there are two solutions at hand here:

  • 1) Holy Symbols are neither magical nor valuable

    The spell "Summon Holy Symbol" (complete champion) gets you a 1 round/level holy symbol which is "neither magical nor particularly valuable."

Just quoting another answer (as well as looking at wooden Holy Symbols as an item listing period) clearly indicate that they aren't valuable or magical. Now, clothing/outfits in DnD 3.5e commonly include peripheral items. The Monk's Outfit is described thus:

This simple outfit includes sandals, loose breeches, and a loose shirt, and is all bound together with sashes.

"Simple Outfit" fulfills the Vow of Poverty clothing docket. Now, fun fact -- sandals traditionally have soles made of one material -- wood. Now, this leads to the very weird possibility that your wooden sandal soles could be carved to be holy symbols (Using soles to save souls). Play it up as some kind of phylactery type of thing, binding the holy truth to the feet that shall bring the holy word to the world etc. etc....there are many flavor things you can do to explain this (some more humorous than others). This would mean that you could use your foot to terrify undead ("Ack! Le odeur!") or as the focus for your spellcasting....but hey, at least you'd have your symbol!

  • 2) Get a symbol that isn't a possession.

The easiest way I know how to turn any mundane item into something that isn't a possession is through a 1-level dip into Urban Druid. You get some nifty little bonuses from the class, etc. etc., but what you're after here is the Urban Companion class feature. Urban Companion allows vermin and other things you don't care about, but there is one lovely little option -- Animated Objects.

So, you can get an animated holy symbol, choose it as your companion, an voila! It is an Urban Companion and a creature (of sorts), not a possession...yet you can still keep it on hand to do anything you need.

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This is clearly errata. A holy symbol is important to many of a cleric's functions, including the social ones that most games don't go into. The precedents for a vow of poverty have its purpose as enabling the cleric to concentrate on religion without distractions. So reading these rules as precluding the possession of a holy symbol doesn't make sense. It's a mistake in the rules, fix it, and move on.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Dec 26 '17 at 3:48
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If it's important to you, yes.

The spell "Summon Holy Symbol" (complete champion) gets you a 1 round/level holy symbol which is "neither magical nor particularly valuable."

Its range is 0 feet, so you could persist it.

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The specialist cleric ancestral speaker (Dragon #311 47-9) gains at level 1 the extraordinary ability holy presence that says

The ancestral speaker is considered to be his own holy symbol, as he is descended from the beings on whom he calls. Thus, he need not carry any such symbol, and can cast spells with the Divine Focus component without one. (48)

In exchange for this and other modifications—like, for instance, a good Reflex saving throw—, the ancestral speaker loses the ability to spontaneously cast cure or inflict spells and loses the supernatural ability turn or rebuke undead. To be clear, though, the underlying cleric spellcasting remains unchanged.

Normally this would be a terrible trade, turn and rebuke attempts becoming a more and more valuable resource the more 3.5 texts the campaign uses. However, the loss of turning or rebuking is made slightly less painful in that the feat Vow of Poverty (Book of Exalted Deeds 48) already forbade toting a holy symbol, so the cleric couldn't present it forcefully to turn or rebuke undead anyway. (As if clerics use their turn or rebuke attempts to actually turn or rebuke!)

Anyway, if the feat Vow of Poverty is absolutely essential for the player's vision of her cleric and the DM won't reskin for the DM's non-Eberron campaign the feat Worldly Focus (Faiths of Eberron 148), the specialist cleric ancestral speaker may be a better choice instead of a typical Player's Handbook cleric.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It also seems likely that an ancestral speaker could obtain turn/rebuke undead from another source—sacred exorcist is traditional once enough levels are accrued but there are plenty of others—and then once they have it, they can presumably use it by “presenting [themselves] forcefully” since they are actually a holy symbol. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Feb 18 at 3:52
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The symbol belongs to his/her church

The holy symbol is provided for their use, but they do not own it themselves.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Vow of Poverty explicitly prohibits you from borrowing valuable objects. Yes, it’s dumb. Everything about the feat is dumb. Actually, almost everything about the entire book it’s in is dumb. But dumb or not, that’s still the rules that we’re answering under. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 15 '17 at 21:10
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Let's look for a moment at one of the other items a character with Vow of Poverty is allowed to own: A spell component pouch.

Note that the list does not include "spell components". This leaves two possiblities:

  1. The spell component pouch must be empty at all times because it is not allowed to contain any components.
  2. Spell components are implicitly allowed as a part of allowing the pouch.

YMMV, but, to me, #2 appears to be the only reasonable interpretation. #1 would make the pouch pointless and, in that case, why even include it in the list?

Relating this back to the actual question, it seems equally obvious to me that "simple clothes" would implicitly include a (simple) holy symbol for any devout character, such as a cleric.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Dec 26 '17 at 3:48

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