What is a Spellcasting Focus in D&D 5e? (And How Does it Work)This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something we may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. (Learn more).
A spellcasting focus is an object or symbol that a spellcaster uses in Dungeons and Dragons 5e to cast certain types of spells.
In order to cast a spell with a material (M) component, a spellcaster has 3 options.
They can use: (1) the spell components listed in the spell, (2) a component pouch, or (3) a spellcasting focus.
To make spellcasting as easy as possible, it’s usually best to use either the pouch or the focus.
A spellcasting focus or component pouch is meant to make the game easier, so it removes the need for any spell components except components that have a specific cost (usually in gold or silver pieces).
A focus can come in different forms, depending on the class of the caster.
Classes & Focus Rules
For arcane casters (wizards, sorcerers, and warlocks), an arcane focus could be something like a crystal, orb, rod, staff or wand. A druidic focus is something like a sprig of mistletoe, totem, staff or yew wand. Clerics and paladins can use a holy symbol as a spellcasting focus, like an amulet, reliquary or emblem.
Prices for these focuses can be found in the equipment section of the Player’s Handbook Chapter 5.
Some classes and subclasses have special rules when it comes to using a spellcasting focus.
For example, bards can use a musical instrument as a focus, while College of Swords bards can use their weapon as a focus. Artificers can use a tool set as a focus.
The important thing to remember when using a spellcasting focus or component pouch is that you need a free hand in order to use it. But you are allowed to wield a two-handed weapon and remove one hand in order to access your component pouch or focus.
Since clerics and paladins can wear their holy symbol on their body or have it on their shield, they do not need a free hand to cast spells with a material component, unless the material component has an associated cost.
Keep in mind that spells with somatic components (S) also require a free hand. However, this can be the same hand that’s used to access the component pouch or spellcasting focus.
For characters that use their weapon or shield as their focus, like clerics or paladins, they can cast spells that have both (M) and (S) components with their shield hand, but casting a spell that only has (S) components, like cure wounds, require another free hand.
If you think this is a confusing or annoying rule, I agree with you!
Talk to your DM to see if you can simplify the rules of casting and free hands if you want. Alternatively, the War Caster feat is popular among some players because it allows players to perform somatic components even with a shield or weapons in both hands.
Most DMs don’t want to track characters’ spellcasting focus, and so they’ll usually be pretty flexible and let players track their own spellcasting. They’ll also often allow items to act as a focus that aren’t listed in the PHB equipment list.
If you’re playing with a DM who’s exceedingly particular or difficult about the rules of spell components, you can direct them to the PHB Chapter 10 for rules on spell components and Chapter 5 for information on the different types of focuses.
There are also magic items that can act as a spellcasting focus, including the Ruby of the War Mage (a common magic item) that lets any character use a weapon as a spellcasting focus, at the cost of an attunement slot.