vaecrius: The infamous cartoon of Darwin's head on a chimp's body, superimposed with a MSPainted Nazi armband. (are you a monkey)
Matt ([personal profile] vaecrius) wrote2015-11-24 06:57 pm

Gondwanaland setting dump: Wands

Definition and essentials

A wand is a device by which a caster (loosely defined for our purposes as anyone capable of channelling mana, however crudely) directs mana for the delivery of specified magical effects.

Some advanced casters, the "traditional" magic-user, may have a permanent wand by which they may channel innate and environmental power. These wands basically just have to look like a wand as defined by the magic-user's paradigm and (usually) have no moving parts. These are beyond the scope of this post.

An elementalist wand of the sort in general deployment today (by which the term "wand" is hereinafter presumed to denote) is more specific. Three elements are common to all wands:
  1. Body: The main processing area of the wand itself.
  2. Power crystal: The source of mana powering the spell. A well-trained magic-user in the right circumstances can operate a wand without a power crystal, with suboptimal results. (Imagine an electric flashlight with a hand-operated generator, but instead of cranking a lever you head-butted it. That's how it typically feels afterwards.)
  3. Focus: The area from which the spell originates when cast.
Wand design affects output as follows:
  1. Larger focus increases maximum output.
  2. Greater mass allows faster charging from power crystals and thereby a faster rate at which the spell may be cast. This mass must be contiguous between crystal (i.e,. the power crystal housing) and focus.
  3. Greater distance that must be travelled along the contiguous body from crystal to focus increases power usage for the same output and heat production.
  4. Greater distance from power crystal to focus increases maximum range and (if applicable) projectile speed. Unfortunately, this must be in a straight line: you cannot create an extremely long-range compact wand by coiling 500 feet of catgut with the focus tied to one end and the crystal tied to the other. There is an increase to range, speed and output as well if you aim along the same line as that between the crystal and the focus, but it is usually not enough to be worth the time spent aiming.
  5. Housing for the power crystal and the focus are typically the two structually weakest points.
  6. Direct contact between the user and the body is not necessary, but the user must be intentionally holding the wand somehow.
One consequence of the foregoing is that most wands are short, heavy hardwood sticks capped with steel on both ends, or sometimes spheres or satchels or curling stones with handles on them if range is not an issue.


A wand body must be made of organic materials (wood, bone, bamboo, paper, even plastic if available) and be a single contiguous piece. An enchanted sword will usually have a wood, bamboo or rattan spine on the blade extending well into the tang: fancier weapons will have this spine recessed into a ridge along the top of the blade or along a fuller. Designs even exist with silk, wool or some other soft material that wraps around the grip, then weaves through a series of perforations along the blade; these are almost never used in combat due to their delicate construction and low power output. (This is, however, a way to make a highly effective shock-edged training blade.)

Some specific applications of elemental magic can do away with some of these requirements, for instance the mostly metal hoplophage and communications node, but it is rare to stray outside of them for applications of high-energy instant-cast spells.

Wand-based ordnance is common, especially with navies and southern heavy infantry where they may be mounted directly onto the larger war-beasts. They are at a significant range disadvantage compared to cannon, however, and the latter tend to see more use where weight is not a significant issue.

For reference, a small e-blaster with a low rate of fire might squeeze up to 40 shots from a single power crystal, while a high-rate heavy blaster the size of a thick quarterstaff might get 20 in a quarter of the time at an effective range comparable to a musket.

Subject to the foregoing, wands can theoretically be in almost any shape, and a frequent custom work is to make a wand out of another weapon like a sword or even a gun. Ridiculous, decadent overkill: Triple-barreled musket combo e-blast/harrier with immolator (cigarette lighter) bayonet.

Power crystal

The housing of the power crystal need not be contiguous and may be any material that can tolerate the heat differences during use as well as the gradual expansion of the power crystal as it is used up. The important thing is that the power crystal must directly or indirectly touch the body through a continuous chain of touching solid material. The more contact surface, the more power can go through at a time; the more space between the crystal and the body, the more waste heat, though the housing itself may be used as a heat sink. There is nothing analogous to electrical current and multiple wands may share the same crystal; in practice this is rare since the resulting combo-wand tends to split and crack prematurely.

Power crystals are transparent when fully charged and develop microscopic cracks inside them as they are used. Generally no more power can be drawn from a crystal that appears completely white inside like an ice cube. Hot temperatures (over 60C or so) reduce the rate at which the wand draws power and increases the amount of power further wasted as heat.

A spent power crystal may be reloaded, but given its fragility it is typically recycled if recovered from the field at all. To damage or break a power crystal is equal to spending it by the amount cracked - there is no catastrophic "leaking" that one might expect from purely physical energy sources such as lithium batteries. Power crystal itself is an organic compound and will be broken down by the body over time, but is a mildly toxic stimulant ingesting which may lead to hallucinations (of any sense), paranoia, coprolalia and manic depressive behaviour. It makes urine a pitch black that fades to normal after being exposed to air.


It is possible to augment the focus with another, non-contiguous object: many magic-users, and those inclined to pretensions to be such, will opt for a eumagic talisman of some sort, such as a crystal "focussing" lens or a symbol.

If a wand's focus is destroyed, it must be re-enchanted as though the body had been broken and one were to attempt to make a new functioning wand out of one of the pieces. This is a much simpler process than enchanting a new wand, but still something that cannot be done in combat.


Targeting methods are subject to all sorts of nuances, but can be broken down into the following basic types:
  1. Touch: What it says on the tin. Negligible travel time.
  2. Bolt: Shoot straight from the origin point on the wand to where the caster was looking at at the time of casting. 400-800 fps.
  3. Arc: Lighting-like arc that targets whatever caster was looking at at the time of casting. May be "tricked" by some nearby target candidate. 1000-2000 fps.
  4. Homing: Very slow bolt that targets whoever caster was looking at at the time of casting. Unlike arcs and bolts, homers may only target persons at centre of mass. 100-300 fps.
  5. Cone: Spray of microscopic bolts. 200-600 fps.
  6. Sphere: Field/wave-like form; will hit wand and user, so generally not an attack. 200-600 fps.
They will almost always be stopped by a hoplophage, however weak.

Spells that can take bolt (including explosive bolt) or touch targeting can also be applied to a projectile.

Magic bullets are rare, as the friction of the bullet moving down the barrel will trigger the spell (if the initial push doesn't do it first). A timed rather than impact trigger for the spell will do nothing as the warping under the blast will still either trigger or break the spell. Theoretically one can get around this with a sabot, possibly combined with either a low-power, low-velocity load or a rocket that picks up speed along its trajectory.


Very rare to have one that can do anything of value past 60 yards.
(Contrast: Pistol: ~30 yards; Musket: ~50-100 yards; Rifle: ~300 yards.)

Advantages of a wand over a gun:
  1. no general Wand (i.e., Spell) Tampering spell exists.
  2. repeat shots. A single power crystal can do up to seven fireballs, a full-sized wand (2m) launching one every second, or up to 30 e-blasts, a full-sized wand launching 3 every 2 seconds.
  3. magical (literally!) "Goldilocks" penetration. An e-blast can be stopped by a thin wall, but its effect will ripple through to hit whatever is less than a few inches away from the other side - in other words, it'll go through any conventional personal armour while still safe to use in confined quarters. It will also go through any transparent barrier such as a window, though the impact output may be diminished.
  4. intuitive rapid targeting. No need to waste time aiming, nor exposing yourself to attack by stopping to aim. Cavalry strafing can be very effective.
  5. e-blasts can scramble communications devices temporarily.
  6. minimal recoil and (usually) no smoke.
  7. no powder and associated dangers. (Between electro, immolate, fireball, fireblast and tamper, this is not a trivial concern.)
  8. generally quieter report.
  9. possible to overcharge for more output.
  10. psychic operation means the weapon will never go off without its wielder at least desirous of attacking a target with it.
  1. raw damage output. An e-blast rarely kills on the first shot if the target is not hit in the heart.
  2. no indirect fire. You must be able to see (or otherwise directly sense) your arc or homing target.
  3. no secondary projectiles (unless the spell itself contains them). The fireball isn't actually made of anything.
  4. variable output that changes depending on the ability of the user.
  5. highly visible, avoidable/parryable projectiles and easily located source.
  6. psychic operation means the weapon may, occasionally, go off simply because the white-knuckled wielder imagined using it on a specific target too vividly. Users are typically trained not to draw absent a specific intention to cast, then cast with a rapid draw-strike motion of the wand, which in close quarters (or even at range, against another wand) doubles as a parry against anything that might be coming at you.
  7. user must have magical training to use.
As a comparison to modern weapons, a cyclic weapon comprised of 8 quarterstaff-sized e-blasters can go up to 720 rpm, approaching the cyclic fire rate of a modern automatic rifle, for roughly 100 shots.

Actual use

As discussed in comparison to firearms, at minimum all one needs to do to cast a wand is to hold it and think about casting with the intent to cast. For obvious safety reasons no one is ever initially taught to do it this way, however: instead, it is drilled into every novice that every casting must be performed with a concrete action to demonstrate that intent. Someone trained this way will find it very difficult to activate a wand with thought alone, but will be much less likely to let their thoughts wander and set off their wands negligently.

Wands predate guns. This means that, culturally, the default assumption has long been to swing or thrust it like a stick or staff, not point and shoot like a gun. This is different with younger generations especially after the Disconnect: if you see a hostile stand still and take aim, watch their back hand for the squeeze; if already in combat, take advantage of the poor mobility awareness and whack the sitting duck.

That all said, there are three situations where pointing a wand directly at your target is important. First, as mentioned above, there is an increase to range and speed, where even a few yards may make a crucial difference. Second is if you have a combination weapon: if you have a sword with a wand embedded inside the blade, the spell will strike the sword before anything else, meaning you are restricted to touch, cone and sphere effects, while a combination multi-wand weapon that shoots bolts will leave one wand shooting another if one were to aim "behind" the "muzzle" on the side opposite to the shooting wand. The third, of course, is when your wand is also doubling as a pole weapon (possibly even with a polarm blade mounted just behind the focus) and you are pointing your weapon towards the enemy anyway.

This gives us the possible ordinary setups for a wand:
  1. The traditional fighting-stick, singly or in pairs.
  2. The quarterstaff or other polearm.
  3. The shield- or flame-blade.
  4. The "bullpup", where the wand is the body of the gun and the focus is the barrel, with the power crystal inside the butt. (It is a common mistake to shoot both the bullet and the spell at the same time; Razvalin police forces are specifically prohibited from using this setup for "less-lethal" takedown spells.)
  5. The parallel or cyclic rapid-fire/multi-use multi-gun, held like a blunderbuss or swivelling on a bipod, hand-cranked or played like a xylophone.
  6. The radial multi-gun. (Okay, this isn't exactly ordinary...)
  7. The mast: a tall pole with a big focus on the top and a crew-served power crystal battery on the bottom.
  8. The cannon: a tall pole (generally not quite as tall as the mast for engineering reasons) on supports and wheels or a big swivel.
  9. The multi-cannon: A bundle of large poles, collectively the size of the above cannon, on a similar movable setup.
(The infantrymen have a specific name for the multi-cannon that will not be repeated here.)

Common wand shot types

Elemental ("e-blaster" or "blaster"): pure elemental mana bolt. Some models can also do arcs.

Damage of an e-blast from a typical stick:
  1. If it hits right on a joint, that joint WILL break unless you're lucky and it can dislocate a good distance.
  2. You will almost never see a hole, unless you hit a particularly thin and easily broken spot (e.g., a finger or an ear), but there will be significant bruising and possible organ damage.
  3. If it hits a paper wall, the hole will be about a foot wide, mostly torn from the shockwave. It may under highly unusual circumstances catch fire, but most likely it will be blown apart much too fast for that.
  4. If it hits a wooden shield, its surface will splinter but it is unlikely to leave a hole.
  5. If it hits a metal shield, it will be weakened and get a bit hot in the affected area.
  6. If it hits a hoplophage, it will not drain it nearly as much as a bullet.
Larger wands can, of course, do a lot worse.

Fireblast: Cone. Pedants will insist that "blaster" means this.

Immolate: Touch.

Fireball: Explosive bolt. Some have an option for a slow-moving airburst shot.

Electro: Arc. Most have adjustable power.

Firearm Tampering: Explosive bolt, as fireball. Some have an option for cone or single bolt (both use significantly less power). The spell will usually cause gunpowder in an affected vessel to either go bad or start burning, and occasionally it will explode all at once. Only the eumagic casting of this spell lets the caster choose the specific effect. Many fighting formations involve leaving powder horns and cartridges at the back of the line, or dropping such items far behind oneself upon closing into wand range.

Counterspell: Sphere, (explosive) bolt, arc, or touch.

Summon Harrier: Homing. Hits like a faulty e-blast if the projectile collides before the 1-2 seconds it takes for the monster to appear. The kind of monster is unpredictable but it usually can either fly or scale walls. The specifics of the monster depend on the fears and anxieties of the target, and the monster's attacks (which may only be physical ones conveyed with touch) cannot directly hurt anyone else. The harrier's own movement allows the wand to be effective against targets much further away than can normally be targeted.

Notable rare wand shot types

Polymorph: Homing or Arc. Includes items on the target's person, which means you also disable their weapons (even if the morph couldn't use them their buddy might otherwise have been able to pick it up).

Side note: Polymorph is classical eumagic, never magitek. The wand will always be laughably obvious and never able to use standard power crystals. Don't worry about volume of flesh converted or the laws of thermodynamics or anything. Expect to end up with, say, a tiny angry titmouse barking orders in old Overcaptain Pompousname's voice, complaining about how if only she had opposable thumbs on these wings Private Blankety-Blank would be shot for his incompetence by now, etc. The spell tends to err in favour of people not dying, so people rarely turn into fish if there is no standing water, vehicles and buildings will explode if someone is morphed into an elephant or sauropod, and the exploding pieces will rarely end up impaling anyone.

Animate Dead: Touch, possibly arc. Homing is too power intensive and bolt is impossible due to the direct nature of necromancy. Animate Dead wands do exist that take power crystals though the spell is generally considered eumagic due to its other behaviours.


You can strike a bolt (or homer) with any solid weapon (or other solid object of sufficient mass) to detonate it. Deflection and "returns" are a specific counterspell: each kind of homing spell needs its own counterspell to be deflected properly, but bolts and touches can be deflected generally by one.

The problems with the deflection counterspell are:
  1. Homers can be deflected, but they'll turn around and keep coming after you if they don't hit something else first.
  2. Arcs can be deflected, but they might go anywhere. Better if you'd just done the lightning-rod thing with your weapon and not had a wild spell striking who knows where.
It might still be helpful to deflect anyway for those things that may otherwise damage the weapon you're parrying with (e.g., a wooden stick versus an Immolate-wand sword).

Non-deflecting counterspells can nullify or weaken a spell, depending on how concentrated the effect is. Cone and sphere generally will not do a good job except against another cone/sphere spell, while homers can't be directed against a spell.

Having the counterspell cover (say) an entire tower shield would require too much power and likely cause overheating problems.

Horned and spiked armour can occasionally divert an arc or block a bolt or homer with no damage to the wearer.