Over at Nerdarchy the YouTube channel Nerdarchists Dave and Ted examine what it means to fight with a quarterstaff in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. Our theorycrafting videos like this one differ from our Character Build Guides in terms of specifics. We’ve been talking about roleplaying games with our friends for decades and turning on the camera invites other nerds into the conversation without tying down ideas to technical details. This video topic emerged while we were talking about the shillelagh spell and expanded into quarterstaves including wielding one in each hand or a quarterstaff in one hand and a longsword in the other like Gandalf is seen doing in the Lord of the Rings films.
Making the most of the quarterstaff in 5E D&D
A quarterstaff in 5E D&D is a versatile weapon, and I don’t mean only because of the Versatile weapon property. A quarterstaff is a simple melee weapon any character can use and even if an adventurer can’t muster 2 silver pieces, finding a suitably stout length of wood might serve the same purpose. The Basic Rules make a clear case for substituting a wide variety of objects as true weapon analogs.
“Often, an improvised weapon is similar to an actual weapon and can be treated as such. For example, a table leg is akin to a club. At the DM’s option, a character proficient with a weapon can use a similar object as if it were that weapon and use his or her proficiency bonus.”
A quarterstaff in 5E D&D deals 1d6 bludgeoning damage, or 1d8 if wielded in both hands to make a melee attack courtesy of the Versatile property. And that’s the quarterstaff. Pretty simple but talking about it while planning for the video really piqued our curiosity. In my own experience characters who carry a quarterstaff never wield them one handed. I’d never thought much about it if I’m honest, and some research shows there’s one handed quarterstaff strikes, but nothing appreciable in terms of a fighting style. I did not come across any medieval manuscripts showing knights fighting with a quarterstaff in each hand, or swinging a quarterstaff in one hand with a shield strapped to the other.
I’m beginning to think the quarterstaff isn’t a very simple weapon at all. Compared to every other simple melee weapon pound for pound a quarterstaff is generally superior, topping clubs, greatclubs, light hammers, handaxes, maces and sickles overall. Only the handaxe has a better range if you consider a thrown quarterstaff an improvised weapon, which still matches daggers and light hammers. Polearm Master applies to a quarterstaff, giving you an optional bonus action attack. The feat also means other creatures provoke opportunity attacks from you when they enter your reach.
An arcane focus staff might count as a quarterstaff too. It’s not explicitly clear in the 5E D&D rules. In Feb. 2016 Jeremy Crawford was asked if an arcane focus staff counts as a quarterstaff and in his own games, he allows it. I’d be surprised if most Dungeon Masters don’t make this call too. The simple melee weapon continues to shine and we haven’t even introduced magic to the mix.
Circling back to shillelagh — a druid cantrip easy enough to acquire for any character through the Magic Initiate feat at the very least — a quarterstaff gets a situational boost depending on your character. You can use your spellcasting ability modifier for attack and damage rolls, the damage die becomes d8 and its considered magical. We already considered how two handed attacks are the norm
A quarterstaff magic item for everyone
Now we’re getting to the good stuff and discovering a quarterstaff magic items. While nearly every official 5E D&D quarterstaff magic item requires attunement, many of them have no other requirements meaning a character of any class can put them to good use. The next time you create a character, perhaps for a one shot or starting at a higher level with the option to choose magic items, here’s a list of quarterstaves in 5E D&D anyone can use. And if you’re a real quarterstaff aficionado there’s a nifty magic item you can use to store all your quarterstaves for easy access:
Quiver of Elhonna (Efficient Quiver)
Wondrous Item, uncommon
Each of the quiver’s three compartments connects to an extradimensional space that allows the quiver to hold numerous items while never weighing more than 2 pounds. The shortest compartment can hold up to sixty arrows, bolts, or similar objects. The midsize compartment holds up to eighteen javelins or similar objects. The longest compartment holds up to six long objects, such as bows, quarterstaffs, or spears.
You can draw any item the quiver contains as if doing so from a regular quiver or scabbard.
- Dragonstaff of Ahghairon. Excellent for dragon hunters, this item from Waterdeep: Dragon Heist provides advantage on saving throws against the spells and breath weapons of dragons, as well as the breath weapons of other creatures of the dragon type. You can also cast command and if targeting a dragon they have disadvantage on the save.
- Gulthias Staff. If you can reconcile with making beasts within 30 feet visibly uncomfortable this magic quarterstaff from Curse of Strahd siphons hit points when you deal damage (but you might be afflicted with short-term madness when you do). Also evil plants consider you nonhostile.
- Skyblinder Staff. Perfect for melee characters without great ranged options this magic quarterstaff from Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica not only gives a magic bonus to attack and damage rolls but spell attack rolls too! You can also use a reaction to give flying creatures disadvantage on an attack against you and potentially make them blinded.
- Spider Staff. This hefty quarterstaff from Lost Mine of Phandelver deals extra poison damage, and also allows you to cast spider climb and web. That’s some nice utility for any quarterstaff warrior to add to their repertoire.
- Staff of Adornment, Staff of Birdcalls, Staff of Flowers. These magic quarterstaves from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything are all common magic items, and while they don’t add any combat bonuses per se, they have flavorful effects and who knows, maybe the effects will distract or confuse an enemy for a moment. At the very least they are magical for the purposes of overcoming resistance to nonmagical weapons.
- Staff of Defense. Another Lost Mine of Phandelver special, this magic quarterstaff gives you a flat +1 AC (awesome) and allows you to cast mage armor and shield.
- Staff of Striking. This one is a +3 magic weapon (wow!) and whenever you hit you can spend a charge to deal extra force damage. I’m imagining a quarterstaff wielding paladin already.
- Staff of the Magi. This one does require attunement by a sorcerer, warlock, or wizard and it has a ton of powers. I’m mentioning it here only because it came up during our planning meeting for the video and we joked that a few 1st level half-orc wizards armed with these could take down a tarrasque. It would take precision timing, movement and tremendous luck but a few Retributive Strikes and Relentless Endurances later…
- Staff of Thunder and Lightning. For starters this is a +2 magic weapon. On top of that you can cause various effects once per day each: extra lightning damage on a hit, stunning a target, projecting a lightning bolt, causing a thunderclap that causes thunder damage and deafens enemies, and the pièce de résistance — a strike that projects the lightning bolt and the thunderclap simultaneously.
- Voyager Staff. Another GGtR magic quarterstaff, this one is a +1 magic weapon that also grants +1 to spell attack rolls. You can also cast banishment, blink, misty step, passwall and teleport. To attune you must be a spellcaster, but no particular class. I included this on the list because so many character classes offer spellcasting options so a great many characters could use this one.