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In the Dungeon Masters Guide, the Staff of Power and Staff of the Magi have an effect "Retributive Strike":

You can use an action to break the staff over your knee or against a solid surface, performing a retributive strike. The staff is destroyed and releases its remaining magic in an explosion that expands to fill a 30-foot-radius sphere centered on it.

Is there any reason you couldn't use something like a Telekinesis spell or some other elaborately designed trap to break the staff by dropping a boulder or something on it, thereby avoiding the effects of it yourself? I would consider that a solid surface personally.... if you can break it over your knee, a 1,000 pound boulder should do it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that remote detonation is avoiding one of the useful side effects of the staff; you have a 50% chance to not even be on the same plane of existence afterwards, which might be preferable to your current situation. \$\endgroup\$
    – phyrfox
    Feb 28, 2018 at 23:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ True, but I was also thinking to be used as a trap, by say a powerful wizard with more than one of these lying around to spare. Also note that TECHNICALLY it doesn't say you must be in the blast radius for that 50% chance... \$\endgroup\$
    – Corwin62
    Feb 28, 2018 at 23:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GreenstoneWalker Except that's not the case- magic items do what they say they do, and according to the text, YOU can use an action to break the staff, which is a function of attunement to that item. "Good for the goose, good for the gander," is staple logic to curb your players, but only when RAW doesn't explicitly protect them from it. \$\endgroup\$ May 11 at 23:32

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Magic Items are normally difficult to break, especially powerful items. Of course, this will be a DM ruling, but I would rule that breaking the staff for a Retributive Strike would be one of the ways the item is specified that it may be used, and thus require that breaking it for this strike be done with intention, and by the person attuned to it only.

The general idea in 5e is that magic says what it does, and doesn't do other things. In this case, it is stated that "you" can break the staff for this purpose, in a series of paragraphs describing its uses consistently using the word "you" to mean the Wizard, Warlock, or Sorcerer who is attuned to the staff, and does not state any other options.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Curiously, 3.5 says that the action must be intentional and declared by the player (e.g. the caster has to intentionally activate the effect), but this isn't in the 5e rules that I can tell. \$\endgroup\$
    – phyrfox
    Feb 28, 2018 at 23:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ The general idea in 5e, though, is that magic says what it does, and doesn't do other things. In this case, it is stated that "you" can break the staff for this purpose, in a series of paragraphs describing its uses consistently using the word "you" to mean the Wizard, Warlock, or Sorcerer who is attuned to the staff, and does not state any other options. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 1, 2018 at 0:30
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No, there's not. You could also just throw it. Note that either way you are sacrificing one of the rarest and most powerful magic items in the game in exchange for a glorified fireball.

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Yes you can, but it's not as easy

You can break the staff to make a Retributive Strike when both conditions are fulfilled:

  1. You use an action to break it
  2. It is broken over your knee, or against a solid surface

These are both things that you need to do to trigger the effect, so they are not a magical effect themselves. Like in this question, you therefore need to be able to do them, or you will not get the resulting effect. If you were tied up, you could not do it, for example.

It is much, much harder to generate enough force by throwing a wooden staff a long distance against a wall, than to just smashing it down on the floor right there or break it over your knee. You might be able to, but I think it would be quite hard, and as a DM at least would ask for some kind of Strength ability check. This is not a magical effect, it is the caster trying to physically break a magic item (which generally is hard to do due to magic item resilience).

Telekinesis says

When you cast the spell, and as your action each round for the duration, you can exert your will on one creature or object that you can see within range, causing the appropriate effect below. [...]
Object. You can try to move an object that weighs up to 1,000 pounds. [...] You can exert fine control on objects with your telekinetic grip, such as manipulating a simple tool, opening a door or a container, stowing or retrieving an item from an open container, or pouring the contents from a vial.

The spell does not say you can exert 1,000 pounds of force (even though this is usually how I have seen it played, for holding doors closed and such), it says you can move an object that weighs up to 1,000 pounds. A quarterstaff weights 4 pounds, so you can certainly move it, and manipulate it with fine control, but if you can instead break it would be a call for the DM.

I think what would work is if you instead moved a 1,000 pound rock to drop onto the staff that is lying over some empty space so it will break. There, you are not directly using your action to break the staff, you are using your action to move a rock up, and then let go, which indirectly breaks it, but since the action is a mundane trigger, you still spent your action as demanded, and you are breaking it against the solid surface of the rock. This however would be quite a complicated situation to engineer. Often you will want to do the Retributive Strike as a desperate last measure of spite, and will not have time to set up such a situation.

As this answer pithily says, setting up such a situation to use the staff as a bomb would be exchanging one of the most powerful items in the game for a glorified fireball.

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DM Call, but that is some pungent cheese

This is why we can't have nice things.

By the rules, will this work? Maybe? The rules don't cover this usage, so, up to the DM.

Remote triggering the staves

One DM might be like, sure, that'll work. You can go do you Ye Old Magic Shop and buy them by the dozen, and line them up like dominoes, and fire them off one after the other. Well, actually you can't quite do that, because of attunement, but you get the idea.

By the way, there's no lower limit on the strength necessary to break a staff, or if there is, it's a very low bar indeed. The wielder can be 3 strong, and suffering from near terminal exhaustion, and they can still break that staff. So, strength is no bar. This is magic, not physics. It's your staff, you can tie a string to it and snap that baby like a holiday popper.

How this DM would rule

You the player are perusing the DMG like a shop of magic tricks. I get it. It's very easy to look at magic items from our omniscient player point-of-view.

That is not how it works for your character, in my game. However you got this staff, you attuned to it, and learned the properties in the description. That's probably about all you know. Or maybe you know more for some reason. But for sure you don't have the omniscient view of it of a player, perusing the rules. You know you can break it. You might or might not actually know whether you could remotely break it or not.

You want to spend research time attempting to find the answer? Maybe you would get some clues that way.

Is it possible you could blow the thing up, screwing around with it? As the DM, I probably wouldn't do that, just because I don't see how that ends up as more fun.

Here's the thing. I'm probably not going to give you "a" Staff of Power. However, you might somehow get "The Staff of Power".

But you only get one. This is not something you can just go buy at the store.

And, really, I'd like to run a game where to you, the player, there's much more fun options than rigging your staff up like a rabbit trap with a string. Usually that's not really going to be much fun. Although, in the right circumstances, that might be actually be hugely epic, perhaps. Those are the circumstances where it will work. It's not a mechanical thing, it's a story thing, an epic thing.

A Story

I played a wizard in a high-magic campaign a few years ago. I swapped in the wizard replacing another character at 13th level. We wanted to give my character items putting them on par with the other characters. When I suggested a Staff of Power the DM said, hmmm, I'll bite, maybe. What's it's backstory?

So, since this wizard was a dragonborn in a matrilineal clan in a prominent city in a country ruled by magic-users, we ended up with a story where the staff actually belonged to my grandmother, the clan leader, handed down through generations. I mean, like, the staff had a name. There was politics and drama involved.

The staff mattered to the story.

I did consider a retributive strike at one point. Things were that desperate. But fortunately I didn't have to do it.

Later, toward the end of the campaign, we came across an artifact called The Forge of the Gods that allowed us to combine magic items. The staff of power, once handed down from generation to generation, had now become "the Staff of the Archmage K'rezzxtal". As such, it was part of the armament we used in the final battle that saved the world.

Now THAT was cool.

That's my hope when I, as a DM, give you a powerful magic item. I hope that that magic item helps make the game so awesome that you are telling people about it for years.

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