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I have a sorcerer in a D&D campaign that for some reason found a Deck of Many Things, from which he acquired a Staff of the Magi.

According to the item entry, it says that:

This staff can be wielded as a magic quarterstaff

But it also has the Retributive Strike ability:

You can use an action to break the staff over your knee or against a solid surface, performing a retributive strike.

I'm scared of actually breaking the thing if I were to use it as a melee weapon in a desperate situation. Would the staff be safe to hit things because it can be used as a "magic quarterstaff"? Or would it break on impact and explode as a retributive strike? Or would it be something that is most likely up to the DM so I may as well not even tempt luck?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that the SRD has this additional text: Retributive Strike: A staff of the magi can be broken for a retributive strike. Such an act must be purposeful and declared by the wielder. I'm not sure why this isn't present in 5e, but as a DM, I think that this would have removed the ambiguity within the current rules. \$\endgroup\$
    – phyrfox
    Apr 11, 2018 at 16:52

2 Answers 2

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There is no chance to break it in an attack

The description of the staff does not mention that it is especially susceptible to damage, and the general rule is:

Thanks to a combination of careful crafting and magical reinforcement, a magic item is at least as durable as a nonmagical item of its kind. (DMG 141)

Using the retributive strike feature of the item is a separate action that you have to decide to take. It is not a part or feature of a normal melee attack.

You can use an action to break the staff over your knee or against a solid surface (DMG 203)

Also, a creature rarely constitutes a solid surface and whacking walls with the intent to damage them is just an inherently useless thing to do.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel like the retributive strike only activates when you also want it to. Why, you ask? Because magic (and balancing, but that's boring). \$\endgroup\$ Apr 11, 2018 at 10:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why is whacking walls useless? \$\endgroup\$ Apr 12, 2018 at 23:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer have you ever tried it? \$\endgroup\$
    – Asher
    Apr 13, 2018 at 12:24
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The Staff of the Magi, as a magic item is subject to the normal rules of Magic Item Resilience, that can be found in page 141 in the DMG.

Most magic items are objects of extraordinary artisanship. Thanks to a combination of careful crafting and magical reinforcement, a magic item is at least as durable as a nonmagical item of its kind. Most magic items, other than potions and scrolls, have resistance to all damage. Artifacts are practically indestructible, requiring extraordinary measures to destroy.

It is no more likely to break from attacking someone with it, than any other magical quarterstaff.

The Retributive Strike is one of the powers the staff has that you can use by spending your action on it and it is not part of a normal attack.

One way for someone to break your Staff of the Magi other than you using the Retributive Strike, would be if your DM allows for an enemy to attack your weapon, in which case, the DMG on page 246 has some statistics like AC and HP for objects.

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