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The description for the Emblem Holy Symbol is as follows (PHB, p. 151):

Holy Symbol. A holy symbol is a representation of a god or pantheon. It might an amulet depicting a symbol representing a deity, the same symbol carefully engraved or inlaid as an emblem on a shield, or a tiny box holding a fragment of a sacred relic. Appendix B lists the symbols commonly associated with many gods in the multiverse.

It weighs nothing (unlike the other holy symbols) and costs 5gp (all three holy symbols cost the same). The fact that it weighs nothing makes sense because it isn't really an object that can exist by itself; it is an engraving or inlay on a shield.

So my question is, if you walk into a shop and "buy" an emblem (it costs 5gp, so it must be possible to purchase it), what exactly are you buying? This is my main question. The below offers some context and background to this question...


Here are some of my thoughts on the matter, which I've included for context:

  • Are you buying some kind of "official pattern" that is required for a shield to count as having a proper "holy symbol" (as in, satisfies the material components for spellcasting) emblem on it? Almost like a "patented pattern"? Then why couldn't you just buy one and replicate it yourself for free forevermore after that initial purchase?

  • Are you buying the "manual labour" to actually engrave/inlay the thing onto your shield? Then would it make sense that this can only be purchased from a blacksmith rather than from the local temple (where one might expect the other holy symbols–amulets or reliquary–to be purchased)? And could someone with Smith's Tools (and proficiency with them) not do it themselves for free?

  • Are you effectively buying a shield that has already been made with that engraving/inlay "officially done", so you're basically buying a shield for 15gp (or a 5gp markup on whatever shield you're buying), and you can't actually buy just the emblem by itself for 5gp?

Note that the above questions are not actually my main question, they are just included to show my train of thought, which I feel is important to show the context of the main question. I do not expect answers to address these questions individually!


What I'm really getting at here, if I use my real example, is that in a game I am DMing, the party's paladin (who has a shield with an emblem on it as per starting equipment) has raised concerns about having to buy a new holy symbol if they get a +1 shield in the future. This is unlike any other holy symbol, which you simply have forever (assuming you don't lose or destroy it), since it is it's own distinct object, so the emblem would need to be replaced is a unique case here.

Following the rules of what is required for a shield to satisfy the material components for spellcasting, I would say that they could just "buy" a new emblem and apply it to their new shield. But that got me thinking, what exactly would the paladin be buying at that point, and would it be possible to simply transfer the symbol over from their old shield to the new shield at no cost? This is a unique case, as for the other holy symbols, replacing some other piece of equipment would not impact them like this.

So, what exactly is an Emblem with regards to what a PC would be buying in-universe?

Note that I'm not looking for opinions, and if the answer is simply "this is not explained anywhere, as DM you have to decide what this means", then that's the answer.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can downvoters please explain why? \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 26 '19 at 15:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ You're asking a lot of questions instead of one clear and concise question. \$\endgroup\$ – JRodge01 Nov 26 '19 at 15:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JRodge01 I see; I was hoping the emboldened question at the bottom of the post would have made that clear, but nonetheless, I have added another emboldened statement clarifying that these "extra questions" are just to show my train of thought, and that they are not really something I expect to be answered. I did a similar thing with my "what are spell slots" question, but it was perhaps a little more explicitly organised. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 26 '19 at 15:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ In other words, I've got many questions swimming around in my head about this issue, so I tried to boil it down to what I think is the underlying issue beneath all of my other questions, which is "what is an emblem when you buy it in-game?", but I still wanted to include my other questions swimming around in my head for context (in case my "underlying question" isn't clear enough on its own, or maybe I've identified the wrong underlying question?) \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 26 '19 at 15:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ The strangest thing about this question is being reminded that paladins, who have specifically had their powers unlinked from a deity in 5e, still need a holy symbol at all. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Nov 26 '19 at 16:02
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What exactly is an Emblem with regards to what a PC would be buying in-universe?

It is an ornate carving or inlay on a shield. When placed on a shield, it is essentially ornate artwork that exists in addition to the shield itself.

Are you buying some kind of "official pattern" that is required for a shield to count as having a proper "holy symbol" (as in, satisfies the material components for spellcasting) emblem on it? Almost like a "patented pattern"? Then why couldn't you just buy one and replicate it yourself for free forevermore after that initial purchase?

It would either be a ready-made product with the holy symbol already applied you're buying off a shelf or a pattern you're picking from a pre-made list (or supplying yourself) and having a craftsman apply it a shield you're providing.

The DMG and Xanathur's guide cover item creation, so you could find the mechanics to reproduce the pattern, but item creation takes time which isn't always a resource adventurers have to spare.

Are you buying the "manual labour" to actually engrave/inlay the thing onto your shield? Then would it make sense that this can only be purchased from a blacksmith rather than from the local temple (where one might expect the other holy symbols–amulets or reliquary–to be purchased)? And could someone with Smith's Tools (and proficiency with them) not do it themselves for free?

You're buying the manual labor to carefully engrave and inlay the chosen pattern in the shield. Engraving a shield is not as simple as stamping on a pattern or painting on a plain symbol. It involves setting dyes in wood, chemically treating and tempering metals to change its color, and many other laborious expertly performed crafting tasks.

Not all patterns chosen to be inlaid on a shield are holy ones, and not all holy symbols would have to be sanctioned by a church. Your paladin's interpretation of their god's holy symbol could very well be a personal one and not something recognized outside their own beliefs.

Smith's Tools would allow them to create a shield. Artisan's tools would allow them to create the design. The combination of the two could potentially be used to engrave and inlay the design in an ornate fashion, but there are no rules as written that specify this process. Out of game knowledge identifies that it is two different skillsets to create an item and then make that item look pretty.

Here's an example of a traditional Indian engraved shield:

Engraved Shield example from tortugatrading.com

More ornate and decorative designs exist, but this one looks like it could still be functional.

Making the buckler is relatively simple compared to larger shields, but the engraving is not something a blacksmith who makes the bucklers necessarily knows how to do.

Are you effectively buying a shield that has already been made with that engraving/inlay "officially done", so you're basically buying a shield for 15gp (or a 5gp markup on whatever shield you're buying), and you can't actually buy just the emblem by itself for 5gp?

You could be buying a holy symbol'd shield off the rack or commissioning someone to make one. The books don't specify one way or the other since it shouldn't really matter for the overall narrative.

The text you quoted does specify that the holy symbol is an entity separate that is placed onto the shield, so to have a shield with a holy symbol is 5gp in addition to the shield's cost.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't know how to format images properly, so if the image looks funky, feel free to fiddle with it. I dunno how to format it so it is tiny and maximizes when you click it. \$\endgroup\$ – JRodge01 Nov 26 '19 at 15:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ This needs more evidence backing it up—specifically on the notion that you are buying custom work done at the point of sale, rather than some already-made engraved shield. The question wants to know about what’s for sale, and where it’s available for sale. This only answers a part of the question, but leaves a lot else unanswered. Moreover, the question specifically requests in-universe explanations and details, while you are citing real-life—not itself invalid, but something else that would ideally be shored up. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Nov 26 '19 at 15:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I've tried beefing it up. Let me know if this addresses your concern. I originally only addressed the bolded question, but broke it down to address each "block". \$\endgroup\$ – JRodge01 Nov 26 '19 at 16:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ For the record, I only included all those other questions for context and to show my train of thought. It was only the main question I was expecting to be answered. I say this just because this detail seems to have contributed to some downvotes, as you brought to my attention via comment under my post. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 26 '19 at 16:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS All's good from me. I understood what you were getting at, but when people click in and see a wall of questions, it is a bit hard to properly answer the question. I'd instead detail what your gaps in knowledge are surrounding a topic encompassed by the overarching question and let people fully explain it than asking a series of questions, then follow up with more questions in the comments to craft a fully formed answer. \$\endgroup\$ – JRodge01 Nov 26 '19 at 16:43
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The rules don't elaborate on this

The PHB quote included in the question is all the PHB has to say about Emblem Holy Symbols (p. 151), that and the cost (5gp) and weight (–) in the table on p. 150.

The exact details as to what a "symbol carefully engraved or inlaid as an emblem on a shield" actually is or what buying such an item means is a detail left up to the DM. So a DM may use any of the options presented as bullet points in the question if that is that DM's understanding, or none of those options.

Of course, the DM would need to consider whether PCs can replicate these for free, depending on their chosen interpretation (i.e. if the 5gp is to pay a blacksmith to engrave it on a shield–which is what I eventually went with for my party's paladin, by the way–then could a PC with Smith's Tools and proficiency with them do the same for free? Would they need to use "special" or magical Smith's Tools for magic shields? etc).

As for some further evidence that not all items listed in the PHB with a cost necessarily involve you literally "buying an object", there's also the "Tack, Harness and Drawn Vehicles" table under the Mounts and Vehicles section (p. 157), which lists various objects but also "Stabling (per day)", which has a cost of 5sp and a weight of nothing (–). This is another "thing you can buy" that is not specified because the details are expected to be filled in by the DM. The same argument applies to the costs of lodging for PCs (p. 158).

This shows that the items listed in the PHB are just a guideline for how much things should cost, not necessarily exactly what they are or how they work beyond the guidance it gives us (i.e. the quote included in the question).

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Buying a Holy Symbol is a lot like buying one in real life - only in the case of Paladins, they'd probably want something very well made. It doesn't say anywhere that a holy symbol has to be anything particularly special in terms of power (though it can be), so let's say the holy symbol is a cross. If the character carved it out of wood, that's a symbol. They can also buy one blessed by a priest, made of silver with intricate designs, and wants it bedazzled with all sorts of colors (which would be the more expensive 5 gold and hey, maybe the bedazzling will distract the bad guys because that always looks tacky).

Assuming the character is going to a blacksmith to buy the shield, he could certainly ask to pop the symbol off the old shield and have it added to the new one. The blacksmith could sigh and say that will cost a little extra because of the work involved, but he'd probably remove the symbol anyway so it was back to being a generic shield and not specific to a denomination. Or, you could roll to see if the blacksmith can successfully take the symbol off without breaking it and then depending on the outcome have him buy a new one.

Ultimately, how that plays out is up to you and if you want to rigidly stick to the books (which seem to encourage buying a new one here) or have a more realistic approach. If it makes sense that the Paladin would want to keep that specific symbol and not pay for a newer/shinier/undamaged one, then there's nothing I can see stopping it from being transferred. It could also be if he's buying a shield the smith throws on symbols for a bunch of common Gods so he just has one in stock, or he'll cut you a deal and etch the symbol into the shield for a fee. It's a collaborative story, so whatever story you want to tell, tell it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ How do you "pop an engraving off the old shield"? \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 26 '19 at 15:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ If it's specifically an engraving instead of something on top, then you probably are going to have a harder time. That would need to be cut out and layered on top, which is going to be more work than it's probably worth. If the symbol is raised, like a steel cross over a wooden shield, then it's a matter of a prybar. Different metals are often held together by pins, so it could be removing the pins to have the symbol come out. Without knowing exactly what the shield is it's hard to say, but the point is in many cases the symbol could be moved. \$\endgroup\$ – Danny Santoro Nov 26 '19 at 15:05

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