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So we have a question about holy symbols for characters with Vow of Poverty, since officially holy symbols violate the vow (which is absurd in all kinds of ways but this isn’t “merely” RAW, Wizards of the Coast doubled-down and confirmed this to be the case). An answer suggests that choosing a deity whose holy symbol is a weapon could be a way around the limitation, since the vow allows a single, non-magical, simple weapon.

The example given is St. Cuthbert, who has a club as one of his holy symbols. A club is a simple weapon, so a character with Vow of Poverty can unambiguously own one. However, a comment on that answer states that Living Greyhawk Gazetteer indicates that this is a symbol of a club, not an actual, usable club. Living Greyhawk Gazetteer is a dubious choice of primary source on this subject, but as far as I can tell, no other source addresses this question. Every other source, that I can find, that talks about St. Cuthbert’s symbol only says the symbol is a club, but does not delve into whether that is an icon of a club, or that you can literally use a club as a holy symbol.

The same comment notes that some of the Egyptian and Norse deities in Deities & Demigods have holy symbols that are weapons. Deities & Demigods does indeed have several of such symbols (though none are simple weapons), complete with illustrations of the symbol:

  • Oriris with “Symbol: Crook and flail”

    Oriris’s crook and flail symbol from Deities & Demigods

  • Frey with “Symbol: Ice-blue greatsword”

    Frey’s ice-blue greatsword symbol from Deities & Demigods

  • Sif with “Symbol: Upraised sword”

    Sif’s upraised sword symbol from Deities & Demigods

  • Surtur with “Symbol: Flaming sword”

    Surtur’s flaming sword symbol from Deities & Demigods

  • Thor with “Symbol: Hammer”

    Thor’s hammer symbol from Deities & Demigods

  • Thrym with “Symbol: White double-bladed axe”

    Thrym’s white double-bladed axe symbol from Deities & Demigods

  • Tyr with “Symbol: Sword”

    Tyr’s sword symbol from Deities & Demigods

  • Uller with “Symbol: Longbow”

    Uller’s longbow symbol from Deities & Demigods

(These illustrations are all from Wizards of the Coast’s official Deities & Demigods Art Gallery.)

Some of these look like they could be an illustration of an actual weapon, but several are clearly stylized icons of weapons, similar to what Living Greyhawk Gazetteer claims about St. Cuthbert’s club. I cannot find anything in the text of Deities & Demigods, or anywhere else, that says worshipers of any of these deities are able to substitute the corresponding weapon for the separate holy symbol item that they would ordinarily need for some divine spells and class features. For that matter, only two—Frey and Uller—actually name a specific, statted weapon under D&D 3.5e rules and have a symbol that depicts that weapon (D&D 3.5e does have a flail as a statted weapon, but Osiris’s symbol appears to be the agricultural implement, not the weapon). As far as I can tell—in absence of anything that says otherwise—all of these refer to an icon that depicts a weapon, not an actual usable weapon, and clerics require the holy symbol depicting the icon, not an actual weapon, to perform their magics.

This could matter a fair bit, because holy symbols often require holding them up and brandishing them at your enemies—for most symbols, that means that hand isn’t holding a weapon. Even though these weapons are not simple and so do not help the character with Vow of Poverty, the simple fact that they allow a character to hold a holy symbol and a weapon in the same hand (because the holy symbol is the weapon) is quite an advantage. I would expect an advantage like that to be mentioned in the text. Dungeonscape includes a 50-gp modification (sanctified) to a shield or armor to make that item count as a holy symbol, which more suggestion that this sort of thing isn’t just free.

So what I want to know is, can clerics of any deity (these or others), use an actual weapon matching the one depicted on the deity’s symbol in lieu of the actual holy symbol item that is usually required for certain spells and class features? Actually, what I specifically want to know is, does any source come out and say exactly that explicitly? It’s OK if the weapon has to be in a particular form, or color (e.g. Frey’s ice-blue greatsword), or whatever, but please note this (since I will want to consider whether such requirements would prevent its use by a character with Vow of Poverty; after all, beggars can’t be choosers).

To be clear, I only want quotations from Wizards of the Coast sources. I am not interested in what you think makes sense, or is fair, or would allow at your table, or what you think they meant. Any Wizards of the Coast published or licensed product, or web article on their own website, for D&D 3.5e is acceptable, but absolutely nothing else is.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Added complication: "flail" and "hammer" are ambiguous words that encompass both weapons and tools. Even if we have a source confirming that a sword counts a symbol of a sword, there's still room for argument about whether a metal combat flail counts as a symbol of a wooden grain flail (which is probably what Osiris' symbol references, given that he's a fertility deity). And if it does count, what about other flail-y weapons like nunchaku? \$\endgroup\$ – Geoffrey Brent Dec 17 '17 at 1:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GeoffreyBrent Very true! Only Frey and Uller have symbols that name specific, statted weapons in D&D 3.5e (greatsword and longbow, respectively) and whose depictions look like the actual weapons—and Uller’s symbol itself still looks pretty clearly not just a bow, considering the square it’s placed on (I guess you could argue that is part of the illustration, not part of the symbol?). Anyway, these examples aren’t really the important bit—the important bit is whether there is any deity for whom a weapon and holy symbol can be a single object. Whether it’s these, St. Cuthbert, or another. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 17 '17 at 1:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ just for the record, we're basically reinventing Magritte's "This is not a pipe" here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Treachery_of_Images ;-) \$\endgroup\$ – Geoffrey Brent Dec 17 '17 at 1:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GeoffreyBrent Yup! I referenced that very article elsewhere on this subject. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 17 '17 at 2:00
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Fortubo, Living Greyhawk Gazetteer p171:

Any hammer will serve as a holy symbol.

Wee Jas, Dragon #350 p23:

Some clerics' holy symbols are actually bejeweled daggers bearing the goddess' icon, worn around the neck on a thin chain in case it is needed for combat.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting; weird that the same source would nix St. Cuthbert while explicitly allowing someone else. No simple-weapon hammers though, sadly (and oddly, now that I think about it). \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 17 '17 at 4:59

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