The D&D Emporium: Wand of Fear
The D&D Emporium is a series dedicated to exploring magic items found in The Dungeon Master's Guide and offering advice for how a Dungeon Master can introduce them into their campaign setting.
What Is a Wand of Fear?
Ah, the Wand of Fear! Whether you’ve used one to instill the fear of the gods into your enemies or fled in absolute terror after having one used on you, it’s a classic item in Dungeons and Dragons a cornerstone of many peoples’ playing experience.
The wand is capable of using one of its seven charges (of which it regains 1d6 + 1 expended charges each dawn) to cause 1 of 2 effects. The first effect compels others to act in a particular way similar to the Command spell while the second creates a cone of fear-inducing energy!
School of Magic: With this wand, there are two schools of magic which could be identified. First would be the School of Illusion as this is what the spell Fear uses. Additionally, given the wand's ability to trick the minds of others, it may show signs of Enchantment magic.
How Much Does It Cost?
Up to and including 5,000gp would be a reasonable price for a Wand of Fear. It is a rare level item and priced as such.
What Does It Do?
For a single charge, the wielder can use an action to command another creature to flee or grovel as if they had cast the Command spell. Alternatively, two charges can be spent to omit a 60 ft. cone of fear. Those inside this cone must make a DC 15 Wisdom Saving Throw. On a fail, the creature becomes affected by the Frightened condition for 1 minute. Per the Player Handbook, "While it is frightened in this way, a creature must spend its turns trying to move as far away from you as it can, and it can't willingly move to a space within 30 feet of you. It also can't take reactions. For its action, it can use only the Dash action or try to escape from an effect that prevents it from moving. If it has nowhere it can move, the creature can use the Dodge action. At the end of each of its turns, a creature can repeat the saving throw, ending the effect on itself on a success."
Will It Break My Game?
It would be difficult for a Wand of Fear to break your game. Given the large volume of creatures with relatively high Wisdom and classes of enemies with a similarly high Wisdom Save, there are a lot of foes who will easily pass their saving throw. Also, a lot of enemy types such as Constructs or Undead are immune to the Frightened condition! As such, the wand will have a somewhat limited impact in combat as it is essentially a few casts of a 3rd-level spell beyond the spell slots that character may already have.
Outside of combat, this may be slightly different as many NPCs have a lower than average Wisdom ability score. This means the Wand of Fear would be able to clear entire town squares, taverns, or markets, though this can play out in your favor as a villain using the wand to clear a room to have a quiet conversation with the party makes for quite the entrance. On the other hand, your players may end up doing something similar themselves!
What Does It Look Like?
As with many items, this is entirely up to you, though there is an image of the Wand of Fear in the Dungeon Masters Guide. It is depicted as a thin piece of wood topped with a small skull, perhaps of a cat, and a handful of feathers and claws.
However, this may not fit your desired aesthetic. A Wand of Fear made by a particular person might include aspects that cause fear in that individual such as spiders legs or bats wings. Alternatively, you might choose, should a player character get hold of one, for the wand to morph shape to best match the fears of the person attuned to it.
Where Might the Party Have Seen One?
The Wand of Fear, similar to many magical and wondrous items, is typically a reflection of some aspect of its wielder. Therefore the party may see the wand in the hands of a crime boss who uses the wand to instill fear in their underlings. If you want to put a unique twist on this, the crime boss could actually be an incredibly passive, timid, and sometimes kind individual who depends on the wand to stay in power.
Wands of Fear are also fun when attached to monsters that would not usually have the ability to use Frightful Presence, allowing them to have a similar effect and cause the party to flee. A Kobold Shaman wielding a Wand of Fear is suddenly a much more exciting opponent that could leave your players scratching their heads as to why they just fled the kobold cave in tears.
Where Can They Be Obtained?
Your party has a good chance on uncovering a Wand of Fear while investigating wretched places such as a hag's lair, a notoriously brutal prison, or an abandoned cult hideout. If your party wishes to purchase one, they will likely need to seek out a cleric or wizard of ill-repute to create it.
Where and How Are They Made?
The materials necessary to forge a Wand of Fear are relatively easy to obtain (animal bones, raven feathers, giant rat claws, etc.). It is appropriately infusing them with the desired amount of fear which proves challenging. Doing so requires a trained professional through these types of individuals will not be easy to find as their workshops are typically a secret to prevent their dark practices from being revealed.
How About a Different Way?
Put an unsettling twist on this classic enchanted item and borrow from the Gulthias Staff from Curse of Strahd. By having the wand be something that is naturally occurring in nature, either from a specific tree or plant type, you create the opportunity for your players to discover a villain's secret orchard where hundreds of Wands of Fear are being grown from black, bubbling mud which radiates fear and terror.
If you wanted to give the Wand more mythical lore, you might consider making it self replicating. Perhaps a creature that is killed while under the effects of the wand might wither upon death, and an evil druid or wizard can pull the fear from the victim's bones in order to forge a new wand.