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.