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Is the holy symbol that a cleric or paladin can use as a spellcasting focus a discrete object? Does it stop being a discrete object when the player decides to bear it on a shield by inlaying it?

For context, a player wishes to enchant their holy symbol (borne on their shield) with a Continual Flame spell. As such, the shield would not be entirely aflame, but the holy symbol would, forming a fiery shape of their god's iconography.

Helpful References

Holy Symbol. [...] symbol carefully engraved or inlaid as an emblem on a shield [...] the caster must hold it in hand, wear it visibly, or bear it on a shield.

Player's Handbook Ch. 5 (italic emphasis mine)

For the purpose of these rules, an object is a discrete, inanimate item like a window, door, sword, book, table, chair, or stone, not a building or a vehicle that is composed of many other objects.

Dungeon Master's Guide Ch. 8

A flame, equivalent in brightness to a torch, springs forth from an object that you touch.

Continual Flame

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An engraving or inlay is not a discrete object, one borne on the shield may be, at DM's discretion

There are a lot of ambiguities in the definition of an object, but an engraving for example cannot be a discrete object for sure: it is not something, it is empty space cut into something.

Likewise, a holy symbol inlaid or painted onto a shield is not a thing separate from the shield. It’s part of the shield.

For a symbol affixed to and borne there might be a bit of ambiguity for the DM to resolve, for example if that was done in a way to allow you to remove the holy symbol, the DM could decide to treat it as a separate object.

As a fixed unmoving part of the shield, probably not, but it also would not hurt if you think about the cool effect with continual flame, and it also would not change much for opponents that try to target the holy symbol to remove or destroy it, as they could target the shield, too.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ An inlay must have been made of mass, for said mass to have been inlaid. Thus it would necessarily have been one or more objects before being inlaid. Does your answer suppose that it ceases to be a discrete object upon being inlaid? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kerrick
    Nov 2, 2023 at 5:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kerrik I’d treat an inlay similar to being painted on. Paint also has mass. Not anything with mass is an object, only discrete things. Discrete again is a bit ambiguous, so it ultimately is up to DM, but given the examples I think that an inlay is a bad fit. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 2, 2023 at 5:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this is probably right, but I would still 100% allow casting continual flame on it, that's pretty cool, and not likely to cause any harm in terms of mechanics, precedent or narrative. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 2, 2023 at 8:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ RAW this seems to be correct. RAI too, you probably wouldn't want parts of your shield targeted by enemy spells that couldn't target the entire shield, like Heat Metal on the boss of a wooden shield. However in OPs case I'd go with the rule of cool, and what could be cooler than a flaming holy symbol on a heater shield \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Nov 2, 2023 at 11:00

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