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The spell components mechanic has always seemed a bit ham-fistedly handled in D&D since 2nd edition. What should be an interesting way of defining a wizard generally becomes "I have my pouch" and eventually becomes "I have the feat that means I don't need the pouch".

At the same time, forcing a wizard to hunt for spider silk every day seems a bit overbearing.

What sort of techniques could be used to make spell components meaningful? How can I reward wizards that go through the extra effort of working with spell components?

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There's an answer to this question that is a very relevant read: (though the question is not a duplicate of this one). – Cthos Jan 30 '12 at 22:15
I think Complete Mage or Complete Arcane had rules for additional spell components that could change the effects of spells you used them with. – Cobalt Mar 11 '14 at 20:33

5 Answers 5

up vote 17 down vote accepted

What sort of techniques be used to make reagents meaningful? How can I reward wizards that go through the extra effort of working with reagents?

Once reagents are meaningful, they will reward the player for using them. First off, make them part of the game world: A passing wizard asks to borrow some component, a ritual you are attending requires fragments of the attendees hair or skin, monsters can smell certain reagents.

Secondly, once the players are accustomed to spell materials, take them out of the world. They don't have enough guano to last all the way into the dungeon so a trip to the nearest town is required (side quest ahoy!), or a certain component is confiscated in a city because it's known to be part of a banned spell (perhaps the king doesn't want to be impersonated with polymorph).

Thirdly bring it back, get the players a license for component X for the banned spell, or they embark on an epic quest to gain the feat that removes the need for components. They must train with a senior wizard, who sends them on another quest.

The main point in all of this is don't over do any of the above point, otherwise it loses all meaning, and is no longer a rewarding aspect of the game.

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+1. I love 'reagents' and often put hooks in sessions that hint at opportunities to get some odd or rare component, e.g., the wood of a oak tree recently struck by lightening... CRACK-FLASH. Alas, the hint is lost on the player, forgetting that he gets +3 for crafting a wand from said wood to cast Daemonbane (WFRP). – javafueled Jan 31 '12 at 2:03
Eschew material will be a too nice exit to this. I suggest adding a house rule to this that Eschew Material feat is a meta magic feat that cost +1 spell slot. – MrJinPengyou Jul 15 '12 at 1:35
+1. Great idea to gloss over the reagents when they're boring, but use them as plot hooks to keep the mechanic visible. – Thane Brimhall Jul 18 '14 at 21:49

You could tack on bonuses for using exotic reagents. Normal spells are still "I have my pouch", but if they add a bodak's eye to ray of frost then the target also needs to make a fort save 11 vs DEATH. Or a Beholder's eye for +2 spell penetration. Or a drider's fang for an additional poison or immobilizing effect.

You could make the effect particularly useful for the upcoming battles. Like let's say you're facing paralyzing ghasts, and bless empowered with... something squirmy... gives a +2 to resisting paralysis.

These exotic reagents would be, of course, rare. I'd stay away from making them too expensive as they players could simply buy magical gear for most of these specific effects.

You could have you players specifically go hunt this monsters for their reagents. On the flip-side, this does make for quests hunting down monsters so you can be powerful when you're hunting down monsters.

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I played in a campaign where the DM modified spellcasting fairly heavily: all spells were inherently "leveled", depending on how much power you put into the spell. (So there was only one Illusion spell, but it covered everything from sound-only up to everything-plus-touch depending on character level and power used.) Each spell also had a list of components: having nothing made the spell cost more power, having a reasonably-common component had no effect, and having a rare component made it cost less power (so you could get more effect for the same cost). – Paul Marshall Jan 30 at 3:09

I've found that the best way to do this is to remove specific components entirely. Instead, require something that makes poetic sense and fluff the spell slightly differently depending on what component is used, adding minor bonuses/penalties as you see fit. For example (taken from some notes I have from a game I GMed forever ago):


Bat guano is the traditional component used for fireball, but you could have an actual source of fire also work, and yield +1 damage, while fire from the relevant elemental plane yields +1 damage per damage die. In a pinch, a mixture of straw and sawdust works, but requires a Dex check to avoid singing one's eyebrows. A few sp worth of gunpowder makes an unusually loud fireball that's otherwise normal, while any of the various words for 'Fire' in the Ignan tongue inscribed in thin sheets of common brass produce a fireball of that type, though most crudes can't tell the difference. Oddly, any reagent other than bat guano produces a subtle foul-smelling odor upon the caster, much stronger when cast inside a cave.

Note that, while I had recorded these ideas for the spell's components, these were not intended to be a complete list, merely the list I would draw from for lore about the spell, NPC components, etc.

Note also that this system makes spellcasters even more effective compared to non-spellcasters than before, and that it makes them more fun to play.

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I reworded the last paragraph as "even more better" isn't very grammatical, is this what you meant? – doppelgreener Jan 30 at 2:49
“fireball of that type” – err, what type is that? – KRyan Jan 30 at 3:09
@thedarkwanderer ah, I missed "any of the various words for" – KRyan Jan 30 at 13:26

Well, This is based on my own game, but one could house-rule D&D to make it work.

I include other foci and tools in the bailwick of Reagents. And their use and the use of rituals make for a deeper game; but you have to make sure that they do not make the mage more powerful (without other balance), and that some of the tools don't multiply thier powers at higher levels. I also have a number of tools and servies available to my other classes/roles to aid them, as well.

One point of this also that a lot of GMs have trouble with is making the reagents and components matter more; by bringing them up more and not handwaving them.

Pretty much every compnent I have for spells allows for a better result with higher quality of reagents. Remember the old AD&D druid and the different types of Mistltoe? Similar to that. Higher quality reagents mean better casting results. I also allow more higher-quality reagents to increase the change of overcoming spell resistances and in some cases, to reduce the save agaisnt a spell.

Again, the GM can make this matter more by making sure that a few of these show up in shops, but also found in adventures and haevily used by NPC mages. AS a rule of thumb, the tougher the mage in my world, the better their reagents. And since this affects counterspelling and dispelling, this matters.

It's also very important for the tone of the game and helping with versimilitude. A lot of my necomatic spells include the use of certain bones being tossed or held as compnenents, water spells often need prepared vials of liquid, and the poor artificer carries around a metric tonne of supplies. Which makes the magic seem more real to my players.

And always, with more powerful spells, don't be afraid to make the compnents somewhat difficult to get. the complaints about role balance in D&D can be mitigated pretty quickly by making reagents harder to come by.

Hope that was useful.

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Spell components seem little more than humor to me and I first played a caster. However, now that I run games it seems there is more use for them at lower levels. The concept is easy - so-and-so of the tall wizard hat requires this spell component and needs you to travel to this field all the way over here and retrieve it.

As far as getting your characters into the grind of it.. I'm not sure if it's a house rule or SRD, but we've always played that spell pouches contain the casting for up to ten of the same spell (so ten bullseyes are therein for the casting of true strike, for example). This makes it more like ammo and less like nitpicky details.

Relevant to this is metamagic components, as I see a couple variants have already been mentioned.

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