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Reading the PHB chapter 5 equipment pg. 151. It describes an arcane focus as such:

Arcane Focus. An arcane focus is a special item — an orb, a crystal, a rod, a specially constructed staff, a wand like length of wood, or some similar item — designed to channel the power of arcane spells. A sorcerer, warlock, or wizard can use such an item as a spellcasting focus, as described in chapter 10.

Now I have been coming up with a dwarven war mage character concept, and was curious to know would it be allowed to have an arcane focus as warhammer?

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Arcane Focus is a Specific Item

The arcane focus is found in the Adventuring Gear section of the equipment chapter (PH page 150, SRD page 69, SRD link). Your options for arcane focus are:

  • Crystal
  • Orb
  • Rod
  • Staff
  • Wand

So no, you cannot use a warhammer as a focus.

Why Not1?

An arcane focus is "…an orb, a crystal, a rod, a specially constructed staff, a wand-like length of wood, or some similar item…." (emphasis mine). A warhammer or other weapon is not similar to any of the listed items.

Can A DM allow it? You Bet

That being said, if your DM says it's OK, go for it. Paladins and clerics can use a holy symbol as a focus, and that can be "…carefully engraved or inlaid as an emblem on a shield…." Using that as precedence, you can thusly allow arcane magic users to use the same rules.

Just know that in so doing, you are giving the arcane magic users an ability they didn't have before and devaluing the divine caster's unique schtik.


1 An exception that requires a common magic item

  • If the warhammer has a Ruby of the War Mage imbedded in it. The Ruby of the War Mage (Xanathar's Guide to Everything) is a magical gem that can be attached to a weapon, at which point that weapon can be used as a spellcasting focus. Things to note
    • it says "spellcasting focus", not "arcane" or "divine", implying that it works with all spellcasting in the same way as a comnponents pouch
    • it's listed as a common item, implying that it's not considered too much of a big deal
    • it requires attunement
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    \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mc Mictro
    Feb 26 '18 at 23:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ College of Swords Bards can use a weapon as a spellcasting focus as well \$\endgroup\$
    – Nacht
    Feb 27 '18 at 3:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ The Ruby of the War Mage is listed in Xanathar's Guide to Everything; it's a magical gem that can be attached to a weapon, at which point that weapon can be used as a spellcasting focus. Things to note: it says "spellcasting focus", not "arcane" or "divine", implying that it works with all spellcasting in the same way as a comnponents pouch; it's listed as a common item, implying that it's not considered too much of a big deal; it requires attunement, implying that there are some balancing concerns to allowing casters to wield weapons without penalty. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 14 '18 at 19:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ There’s also the Izzet arcane foci from GGtR, of which the Mizzium Apparatus is a magical example. \$\endgroup\$
    – nick012000
    May 21 '19 at 23:00
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Action Economy

The purpose of material components (which includes a spellcasting focus) is to control action economy.

To cast a spell you need a hand free to hold the components. To hit someone you need a hand free to hold the weapon. To defend yourself you need a hand free to hold the shield.

This means that there is a limit on how many different actions you can do; namely two (four, if you are a thri-keen).

If you allow one item to be used for two purposes then you are changing the action economy.

You also remove some of the consequences of choices. For example, if you end your turn with a sword and a shield in your hands then you can't cast a spell as a reaction. Your choice has a meaningful consequence.

Item Value

A quarterstaff is 2sp. A staff focus (both the arcane one and the druidic one) is 5gp. This suggests that a focus is an ornate, crafted item, made from expensive materials (in other words, not just a big stick). I imagine that if you hit someone with your focus it will damage the item, possibly making it unsuitable to be a focus.

Inscribing a holy symbol on a shield costs 5gp, half the price of the original shield.

Not Weapons

The 12 different types of focus are listed in the Adventuring Gear section, not the Weapons section. The focus is called a "staff" or a "wooden staff", not a "quarterstaff". I think this clearly indicates that focuses are not supposed to be weapons.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 27 '18 at 1:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ When comments have been moved to chat, subsequent comments not in that chat will be deleted without warning. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Feb 27 '18 at 2:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the overall answer, although that last bit might not be correct: rpg.stackexchange.com/q/46704/35259 \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Feb 27 '18 at 12:51
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Nothing really says anything conclusive about that.

Jeremy Crawford answered this on twitter:

Jonh Rhyne: does an Eldritch Knight's bonded weapon count as an arcane focus?

Jeremy Crawford: It doesn't, but it wouldn't be unreasonable for a DM to allow it.

And Mike Mearls answered the following question this way:

criton volun: can a arcane focus be part of a 2 handed weapon or a single weapon , like a clerics holy focus can be part of a shield ?

Mike Mearls: I'd allow it

And about using the arcane focus (staff) as a weapon (quarterstaff), both consented as can be seen here and here.

As you can see, using an arcane focus as weapon isn't really the issue, the thing is that neither confirmed but seem to agree that it is something reasonable for a DM to agree.

Arcane Focus. An arcane focus is a special item - an orb, a crystal, a rod, a specially constructed staff, a wand like length of wood, or some similar item - designed to channel the power of arcane spells.

While not quite similar to most foci, the quarterstaff and the warhammer are both categorized as Versatile Melee Weapons. You can claim that similarity but in the end, is up to the DM to accept it.

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If my top priority is playing D&D RAW, I would rule against allowing a character to use a weapon as an arcane focus, because that is an enumerated benefit of at least one subclass. The entry for the bardic college of swords in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything includes “If you’re proficient with a simple or martial melee weapon, you can use it as a spellcasting focus for your bard spells.” That’s a third level feature of the subclass. As a DM, I’d be hesitant to give player characters subclass features from a different class for free.

Now that I’ve said that, my top priority as a DM isn’t always playing RAW. I don’t think it would be a game breaking thing to give a character. I’d probably be willing to tack it onto the war caster feat or the Martial/magic adept feats. And if the rest of the table is cool with him getting a marginally better action economy than RAW, it may make sense to just let him do it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I understand using a class or subclass feature as a benchmark for how powerful allowing arcane foci as weapons would be; however, these examples are benchmarked for allowing any weapon (or most conveniently, a shield) to be an arcane focus. A quarterstaff is a downgrade from any weapon or shield. By allowing a quarterstaff to serve as an arcane focus, you're demanding the player pay upfront by trading attack power. A difference of +1 or +2 damage on every attack is closer in line to a class/subclass feature, or at least is a much smaller leap in game balance for a DM to rule it as allowed. \$\endgroup\$
    – Blaise
    Oct 4 '19 at 21:15
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The answer for the OP issue, creating a Dwarven war mage has a solutionn. Before I get to that, ignore the weapon idea. As seen above, making a weapon an arcane focus is available to certain warlock builds and Ruby of the War Mage. (Edit: There is one arcane focus that doesn't require a hand to use. Dark Shard Amulet. XGtE P. 137. Both require an attunement slot, so it is immediately the last possible option, IMHO, because it scales really poorly. Both are useful at lower levels but consider either of those vs. Mantle of Spell Resistance, or Dwarven Thrower, or Ring of Invisibility. You only get 3 attunement slots.

Solution:

War caster feat plus component pouch. War Caster, PHB P. 170. "You can perform the somatic components of spells even if you have a weapon or shield in one or both hands". Combined with, PHB P. 203, Materials. "A spellcaster must have a hand free to access material components- or hold a spellcasting focus- but it can be the same hand that he or she uses to perform somatic components".

That combo, based on both rule lawyering and the spirit of the War Caster feat (wizard with sword and board) should accomplish what the OP wanted.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It looks like you're attempting to write a Frame Challenge answer, so it may be worth looking at this FAQ. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 18 '20 at 2:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ You still need a free hand for the component pouch access. Warcaster bypasses the somatic component, but that has nothing to do with the remaining requirement for material components. \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Dec 18 '20 at 2:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ My argument is that the War Caster feat allows for the free hand for somatics and components. Both is spirit and rules. If not, how can construct a proper sword and board war mage? It is worth noting that I am backing no one in this. I was just trying to solve the OP's issue. \$\endgroup\$
    – BaronV
    Dec 18 '20 at 3:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ I suppose that you could have a masterwork quarter staff*/ magic staff in one hand as a spell focus and a shield. This skips the component pouch issue. Masterwork staff would cost the equivalent of the most expensive focus item, 20G and provide no bonuses beyond.being a focus. \$\endgroup\$
    – BaronV
    Dec 18 '20 at 3:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ There is no such thing as "masterwork" items officially in 5e; as such, the proposal in your comments here seems to be entirely homebrew. Also, quarterstaffs can't be used as an arcane focus, by default; a magic item staff (e.g. staff of power) can be used as a quarterstaff (i.e. as a melee weapon), but the relationship doesn't go the other way. (Technically, that rule only covers magic item staffs - which the "staff" arcane focus option doesn't automatically count as - though many DMs may allow it to work anyway.) \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Dec 18 '20 at 20:49

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