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Inspired by How many times can I use a spell component pouch before having to purchase a new one?

In DnD 3.5, as in 5e, the RAW say that a wizard is assumed to have any spell component that does not have a gold cost as long as s/he has a spell component pouch. But does it have to be that way?

First of all, I'm curious as to why the non-gp materials are included in the spell description at all if they are never going to be considered. Yes, it adds flavor, but since the material components are effectively ignored in play, the flavor is lost.

Second of all, some of these mundane spell components seem hard/interesting to obtain. Opening to a random page in the PHB, I find Telepathic Bond, which requires:

Eggshells from two different types of creatures

Which seems possible to get, as long as the wizard is a little proactive, and provides a cool opportunity for roleplay.

Third, it seems to be generally agreed that Wizard is the most powerful class in the game. Might requiring that the wizard actively seek out all spell components balance the class a little? Or at least the spells with material components? I mean, some spells have material components for a reason, right?

Has anyone tried running or playing in a game in which material components were strictly tracked? How did it work out for you? Any houserules that made it run smoothly?

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If this is something you find interesting, you might want to take a look at Dungeon World. You get less bookkeeping in general and more storytelling. For instance, when the Wizard uses a ritual one of the requirements you can place on them is "First you must ____" so you could use this to send them on a quest for material components. The character sheets can give you a pretty good idea of how the game works. to help you understand the relative mechanics, roll that are not typed (d6, d8, etc) are always 2d6. dropbox.com/s/e31xwvn3nfqmo4n/DW_Sheets.pdf –  Wesley Obenshain Jul 18 at 22:08
    
Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/8721/… –  Ernir Jul 18 at 22:10
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Please answer this using Good Subjective, Bad Subjective rules - in other words, don't speculate, answer about what YOU HAVE DONE and how it worked out. "It might..." is not a good answer. See @Tridus' as an example of a good answer. –  mxyzplk Jul 19 at 3:33
    
@mxyzplk Should I edit the question to remove the part about "if you haven't been in a game like this"? –  Tack Jul 19 at 16:59
    
That would be lovely. –  mxyzplk Jul 19 at 17:16

7 Answers 7

up vote 19 down vote accepted

First of all, I'm curious as to why the non-gp materials are included in the spell description at all if they are never going to be considered. Yes, it adds flavor, but since the material components are effectively ignored in play, the flavor is lost.

They're only ignored if you have a spell component pouch or the feat Eschew Materials, and the ability to hold and prepare the components when casting the spell. If you can't prepare the components (because your hands are tied behind your back), every spell with a material component is unavailable to you, even if Still Spell would let you cast it without the somatic component.

They're also not ignored when casting spells that have expensive components.

As for why? It's carried over from previous versions, which were based on Vancian magic. At some point they seem to have decided that it was too much work to deal with, and the spell component pouch was invented to make it simpler to play with while keeping the flavour.

Second of all, some of these mundane spell components seem hard/interesting to obtain. Opening to a random page in the PHB, I find Telepathic Bond, which requires:

Eggshells from two different types of creatures

Which seems possible to get, as long as the wizard is a little proactive, and provides a cool opportunity for roleplay.

Most of them are fairly straightforward to get, in an economy where Wizards have lots of gold and a need for those items. Since there is demand for eggshells from two different types of creatures, someone will create supply to fill it and get some of that sweet Wizard gold.

Thus, if you can get to a city (and 3.5 generally expects that you will at some point), you can restock everything a Wizard would normally have. If your campaign takes place entirely in the wild? Then it could be more of a thing, but the rest of the party might get bored if you spend a session where the Wizard is harvesting.

Third, it seems to be generally agreed that Wizard is the most powerful class in the game. Might requiring that the wizard actively seek out all spell components balance the class a little? Or at least the spells with material components? I mean, some spells have material components for a reason, right?

No. Unless your goal is to balance Wizards by annoying them into submission (see below), this won't work. It really won't work on Clerics and Druids (up there in power with Wizards), because very few Divine spells have material components that don't have significant cost (ie: ones they already have to track).

The Wizard's greatest ability is that she can do absolutely anything, given time to prepare. With time to prepare, a Wizard can gather any components necessary for the spells she's preparing to use.

Has anyone tried running a game in which material components were strictly tracked? How did it work out for you? If you haven't run a game like this, what are some reasons not to (if any)?

Yes, actually. I played in a game like this once. That's where my comment "annoying people into submission" comes from. It sucked.

What happened was every time I cast a spell, I had to open the book to figure out what component it used. Then I had to go find that component on my giant inventory list and remove one. Every time I got a new spell, I had to add new items to that list. Every time I went to town, I had to restock all those items up to some amount. The GM had to figure out if any of them had weight or cost, since the rulebook handwaves them all away with a spell component pouch normally.

It took what is already a complicated class with lots of things to track, and piled on a whole lot more things to track. As I had access to a city with lots of Wizards in it, actually getting components was largely never an issue. So it didn't really affect game balance at all (I was just as powerful as before). What it did was utterly destroy game flow by making my turns extra long to handle the bookkeeping, and taking extra time in town to do more bookkeeping.

It also caused everybody else to start putting pressure on me to take Eschew Materials to make the problem go away, but why should I have to burn a feat just to reduce bookkeeping at the table? That's trying to annoy a player into submission.

If someone tried to do that again in a game I was playing in, I'd play a Divine caster instead and only have a very small number to track. Obviously, I don't require it in my game. I do require components with cost to be tracked, as per the normal rules.

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Strictly tracking the spell components is a serious drag. Consider the added bookkeeping cost to an already paperwork heavy class every wizard's turn of every battle:

"So I have a 3rd level spell slot left, so I can cast... but that would only leave me with 14 grams of charcoal...after those spells I now have hmmm. 47 grams of sulfur, 94 grams of generic magic dust..."

It would be a major headache and slow down the game significantly.

However, if the wizard's spell component satchel is lost, stolen or ruined, having a side quest to search for ingredients would be a great idea, not quantitatively tracking them per say, but only allowing spells that you have found all the parts for. "oh man, where can I get an amber rod? I want to be able to cast lightning bolt!"

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"only allowing spells that you have found all the parts for" sounds cool to me. It provides the roleplaying benefits (also known as fun) mentioned by the OP while keeping the bookkeeping (also known as not fun) far away from the table. –  Thane Brimhall Jul 18 at 21:45
    
+1 for letting spell components be an element that drives the narrative. Running out of eggshells is an easily solvable problem in a farming hamlet; Running out in the depths of the Abyss is another matter altogether. –  GMJoe Jul 20 at 1:53

For starters, you might face player rebellion. As it is, many players aren't really interested in tracking encumbrance, ammunition, or day to day expenditures. Adding in component tracking is a lot more bookkeeping. And that's just tracking the components.

Even a low level wizard is casting multiple spells per day, and that number rapidly increases. The party would be forced to spend most of their time looking for spell components, or just stick to whatever spells happened to have easy ingredients. The components were probably chosen for fluff, not balance.

I think it might be able to work if you let them stretch the components really far though. Make them track the component down when they learn the spell, but don't make them about running out. But that's still putting a pretty big barrier of entry for your wizards. They'll level up and get a much smaller power boost compared to the other players.

Less Drastic Options to Incorporate Spell Components

  • Pathfinder adds optional material components (in addition to any base components) that are used to boost the power of your spells. For example, 5gp for some brain mold spores that increase the duration of mind affecting spells.
  • This question discusses other ways to integrate spell components.
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I would get up and leave.

Even if I wasn’t playing a spellcaster. Tracking individual, negligible-cost spell components is such a complete and utter waste of time that I would assume that, if you were willing to waste the wizard’s time on that, you’d be willing to waste mine on something equally stupid. I value my free time more highly than that, so I would leave. I probably wouldn’t fuss, or argue, it’d just be, “well, more power to you, I’m going to go do something more productive.”

Spell components were a joke. Not like, metaphorically laughable, but actually, literally jokes, things said to be funny. They were telling a series of little jokes when they made them. Except the jokes are terrible and no one is laughing.

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It'd be helpful to give some explanation of in what way it's a joke. Brian points that out here, though there may be other things available to cite with developers' names attached. –  doppelgreener Jul 19 at 1:31
    
@KRyan I agree and would do the same thing. First, I would ask the DM, "You are seriously going to require that I have a giant squid tentacle and three strands of horse hair to cast this spell?" Whenever he replies yes, I would then say, "Ok, well, I gotta go. Whenever you are not DM'ing let me know and I will play a spellcaster at that time." –  Ruut Jul 19 at 2:47
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that are an awful lot of ifs. The question is asking for real-life experience, not on your opinion of a hypothetical scenario. If you actually have any hands-on experience, it may be useful to post it. –  nvoigt Jul 19 at 6:59
    
A joke? Nonsense. I can't speak for 3.5, but I have the 1st Edition PHB in front of me, and this is where material components were first codified for D&D. They're limited - not every spell has them - and quite reasonable. Feign Death requires a pinch of graveyard dirt; Dancing Lights requires a glowworm; Feather Fall requires... a feather. There's nothing to suggest that these were added as a joke, unless perhaps they were made such in 3rd edition. –  Jon of All Trades Jul 26 at 21:57

As with many things, it really depends on your group. What it comes down to is whether you have buy-in for the idea from your players.

It can significantly enhance the flavour and adventuring motivations in a one-on-one game with a wizard PC, if you're both interested in the "slice of life" kind of roleplay often or on occasion. This is a special case of getting buy-in—in a one-on-one game, you're already working together to craft an extremely customised play experience.

With a group that has no buy-in for the idea, it doesn't enhance the game at all, making the cost in effort a waste at best. And the larger the group, the harder it is to truly get enthusiastic buy-in from everyone.

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Although the following goes for 2e, I think it transfers to 3.5e or any other non-4e without problems:

Back in time when we all were in school and gaming material was not available in our language of choice, we made a lot of silly mistakes reading, translating and interpreting the rules.

One of our interpretations was that you had to pay for all spell components and as such you had to keep track of them. It worked out quite ok for the first few levels because a few copper or silver for components was actually worth something. And as a wizard I had so few spells (around 3-5 available and maybe 2-3 prepared) in the first levels that keeping book was not a problem. However, as we leveled, the price for mundane components became meaningless, keeping track of copper pieces when you plunder hoards of gold became boring. People started paying gold pieces for a sack of egg shells or some sand just to get rid of tracking copper pieces on their sheets. We finally house-ruled that only components that actually cost gold pieces or are problematic to have while travelling (I think one component was a mirror... you cannot just stuff 50 mirrors in your backpack and expect them to survive a trip) would be kept track of. That worked really well.

Two things that changed in our games when we had to keep track of components:

  • Spells without components were picked more often, because they were more fun to the player. This is meta gaming.

  • Tips for mundane things rose to ridiculous levels, because wizards would rather pay 1 gold for a hand of sand than 3 copper because it was easier for the player to note all his expenses in gold on his sheet. This is meta gaming.

We decided that we no longer wanted those meta gaming decisions.

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In real life, people pick things without strings all the time, simply because it's easier. Who would really want to carry and mess with egg shells when you don't have to? I wouldn't consider that metagaming. –  prosfilaes Jul 19 at 18:51

I think the intended importance of material components is echoed in the action required to use them;

"Unless these materials are elaborate preparing these materials is a free action."

I've always found this silly, so either will give Eschew materials, or better, have wizards choose a focus item (staff, necklace/pendant, beard, whatever) that they have to "manipulate" in lieu of material components, simply to maintain the intended manipulation without the wink and nod required to stomach the player pulling out bat guano or twisted leather from among 80 odd such sundries in a single pouch immediately.

If you want a low magic campaign, you could enforce that with hard to find components, but I think as others have said, the game designers didn't intend for them to be taken all that seriously.

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The spell component pouch is an item meant to fill that purpose. If you have one, it's assumed you have every material component for every spell you need, so long as that component has no listed cost. You could accomplish the same thing with a focus as well, that's how Clerics and Druids work. –  Tridus Jul 21 at 11:27
    
Yeah, except you have to accept that the player can instantaneously retrieve one or more items from said pouch that may contain dozens or even hundreds of items. I find it silly, and a bit detracting, although it definitely is cool to hear the player role play sometimes :-) –  Wyrmwood Jul 21 at 14:52

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