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I have two players on my group that are deviously creative: a half-elf wizard and a human teenage mutant ninja turtle rogue.

Those players started toying with the idea that a spell component pouch has everything a wizard needs to cast any spell that he knows. This is, common sense and RAW alike, kinda "true". Since her wizard can cast Feather Fall, is at least plausible that she has some feathers on her pouch, isn't it?

The problem is - this is becoming a weapon on their hands:

  • I throw one of my living spiders in that pool to check if it is poisonous!
  • I blow some of my the ashes around to check for air currents!
  • I use my amber rods and this piece of fur to create a bit of static and lift up that piece of paper without touching it!
  • I use this living worm as a bait for my fishing rod!
  • I burn a bit of the sulfur on my pouch to keep those bees away!
  • I use this vial of quicksilver to poison his food!
  • I use this pieces of squid to create a snack for that tiger!
  • I use this bat guano to treat the leaves of that plant!

And the list goes on. Heck, the two characters were even re-named by theirs players to "Margaret" and "Guiviere", so they could reference them by "Meg & Guiv" (In portuguese, this sounds almost the same as "Magáive", a degenerated form of the name MacGyver).

While I must say they are great players, being criative to the point of transforming extremelly hard encounters into something trivial, this is becoming boring for the other two players. They are not exactly the most criativity-active people in the world, and really, sometimes they just want to bash stuff. This Component-Use-Hunting takes time, and sometimes a lot of it, and not every player want's to take part in this ununsual "puzzle solving". I got a lot of yanws from the other two players when the rogue and the wizard are planning stuff, so I really need to find a compromise here.

So, to put it short: Is there a way to speed up the use of a Component Pouch for non usual tasks?

Please note that while it might see that I say yes to every thing they try to do, keep in mind that its not the case. They get a no several times. This is one of the reasons they take a long time to do their stuff.

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6 Answers 6

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Remember the limits

Personally, I would not only allow, but encourage this, within limits. Some of the examples you listed wouldn't actually work, and some of them step on the toes of other characters. And remember that for the most part you are only carrying around a little bit of the substance.

Checking aircurrents with ash, sure. Using worms for bait is fine.

Poisoning someone with quicksilver? Probably not. My big objection is that poison is more the domain of rogues (and since one is a rogue, the rogue might well have something better) and alchemists and that would make me hesitate. My justification would be that quicksilver is just another name for mercury, and while it is poisonous it is both really noticeable in most foods (won't dissolve in most things and is bright silver) and requires a fairly large dose.

Same with the squid. Its a fine idea, but its stepping somewhat on the toes of rangers/druids and a wizard is probably carrying a few tiny pieces, not pounds of thes stuff to satisfy a tiger.

And to pick up a piece of paper with the static from an amber rod it had better be a fairly large rod and a very small piece of paper.

Let the others in on it too

Depending on the style of game, remind the others that they are probably carrying around odds and ends related to their profession that lets them use this type of creativity too. The wizard probably isn't carrying enough squid to distract a tiger, but the ranger or druid might well carry around things that make great bait for all sorts of animals. They can also reasonably find a lot of things in the environment. If they want to test if a pool is poisoned, a small lizard works a lot better than spider and a quick ranger or rogue might well spot and catch a handy lizard or mouse.

Speed things up

It sounds like a lot of the problem is that they are taking a lot of time. I'm guessing this is a combination of them thinking about what they could do and looking up various spell components.

I would both put some time pressure on them (perhaps using a timer in the real world) to encourage them to hurry up and also relieve some of the pressure by just assuming they have all kinds of little things that a wizard is likely to have, but in small quantities. This means they don't need to look up what the different spells they know require, they can just assume they have it if its reasonable. But in a small quantity.

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The thing is, the group dont have neither a druid nor a ranger, but a fighter and a monk. Quicksilver can be highly toxic in large doses administred over a few weeks ( the case here) and they do pay attention to those things. The squid was more of a snack. Anyway, i got your point. –  Thales Sarczuk Aug 1 at 21:42
    
Indeed, the Quicksilver idea was from the rogue. Almost half of those ideas came from her. –  Thales Sarczuk Aug 2 at 1:00
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Yes, mercury is toxic in large doses, and it can build up in a system so you can poison someone over time. That might work. But it is just not a great poison. It is most toxic as a gas, not in its liquid state. Regardless, for some of those remember that the wizard probably carries a tiny amount of these things. Anything that requires a large quantity of anything isn't coming out of a spell component pouch. –  TimothyAWiseman Aug 2 at 20:44
    
Having them write out all the components before and after game play will solve a part of the need for haste :) –  Vethor Aug 3 at 17:47

To give you a succinct answer, I would recommend two solutions.

Taking Care of the Other Players

Make sure to throw in some situations for everyone involved to "bash stuff" with relative frequency, since the other half of your group really enjoys that. Being great players, as you say, I do not doubt that your creative players will find interesting ways to enjoy combat while the other players are enjoying it for the sake of bashing. In non-combat situations, try to plan activities for the other PCs while "Meg & Guiv" are hatching a plan. Perhaps they could be holding a door shut, scouting, or searching the room. Give them a task, as well, and encourage the players of "Meg & Guiv" to give the other PCs something to do.

Strict Inventory

Without being too stringent, have the players keep track of their components. This way, their available components are on a single list right in front of them, without having to comb through the manual. It also requires that they do extra paperwork to make sure they have what they need. They then have to choose whether to use their last bat guano to fertilize the plant or to cast Fireball. Depending on the player, they may like the challenge of this even more. One player I had in a campaign long past played as a wizard, and he took the approach of tracking every piece in his component pouch and purchasing them individually from realistic sources. He loved it. So did I. It added a lot of depth to his wizardly adventuring.


Above all, do not discourage their gameplay. As you said, they're great. Your examples impressed me with their cleverness. I'd love to be in a party like that.

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Tracking the components doesn't even have to be as stringent as that, as long as using them for things other than spells actually runs the risk of running out. +1. –  GMJoe Aug 4 at 4:57

Your problem here isn't really the component pouch; it's that you have two players who are bogging down the game with excessive fiddling around. Your other problem is that you have two other players who aren't being included in on the fun because you're creating obstacles that can primarily be bypassed by clever use of a bag of junk.

The first thing I would do is to up the variety of the encounters and puzzles that you create, such that your non-involved players get to be involved. If, as you say, they just want to bash stuff, add more combat encounters so that they have stuff to bash.

Secondly, I would talk to the wizard and rogue and let them know that they're bogging down the game, and to try and keep their strategizing to a minimum. A way to enforce this is to structure your obstacles such that the players don't have the luxury of sitting around trying everything in their pouch. It's kinda hard to check for air currents and formulate a battle plan in an avalanche, for example, or perhaps they need to stop a kidnapping right now and screwing around with their spell pouch will give the kidnappers enough time to get away.

Honestly, I'd be loathe to quash their creativity entirely, but they have to realize that they're hogging the spotlight. Allowing them to keep doing what they're doing without alienating the rest of the table is going to be the key.

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Remember The Limits

A spell component pouch weighs 2lbs, full of stuff. So you're talking about tiny quantities of most of the items in question. There is not enough squid in there to make a meal for a large size animal that weighs over 1000lbs, not enough quicksilver to actually poison someone (although it might make them uncomfortable), and so on. Many of the things you describe wouldn't actually work for that reason.

So, the friendly DM response is to simply point out when what they're trying to do is infeasible with such tiny amounts of material. You need to judge these attempts more critically and only let them do things that are feasible with what they really have in that pouch.

Only Carry What You Need For Spells

The other thing you can do is rule pretty easily that the only thing in that pouch is materials for spells they can actually cast. For your Wizard, that means stuff in their spellbook. There is no reason for their pouch to be stocked with stuff they could never use for spellcasting automatically. For extra stuff, make them go buy the item and track it using normal inventory rules. (The component pouch is a pretty weird item in how it skirts what's in it, and mostly exists just to make material components not horribly annoying.)

Already Used It? Can't Cast Spells!

The ruthless DM response would be to start keeping track of what they use, and then not let them cast spells that require those components because they already consumed them. That will be a nasty surprise, so you should tell them if you're going to do it. I don't recommend it as a first course of action at most tables, because it's a more hostile action than the other ones and creates more paperwork.

Talk to Them

The best answer is probably away from game mechanics entirely. If two players are overdoing this and making things boring for two other players, tell your two players that. Ask them to dial it back a bit so the other players can participate more. If they're having fun, they almost certainly don't realize there is any kind of problem, and you can get to a happier medium where they can still be creative without sidelining the others so often.

That won't require you to change how you handle it in game at all, and if you can do it is definitely the best way to handle things as everybody gets to walk away happy.

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2  
I normally dont even read the weight values of most stuff. More than half of the time the values are incredibly off, being a really shallow abstraction. I rule that 2 lb is the weight of the empty pouch - just add up the number of vials and other stuff that a wizard needs and 2lb becomes a really strange value. However you have a point, and i will give some thougth to it. –  Thales Sarczuk Aug 1 at 23:05
    
That's always irked me about the weapons. The 3.5 weapons go up to 15lbs, but the heaviest melee weapon ever used in real-life war-combat is 6lbs. (oddly, 3.5 armors and shields have more realistic weights) –  Mooing Duck Aug 1 at 23:29
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@Thales: even if you don't pay exact attention to the weights, the idea that the wizard has been walking around for weeks with enough meat to feed a tiger is clearly nonsense (and anyway the party's rations are probably of more interest to the tiger). Your players are trying to treat that component pouch as a bag of holding. The RAW weight might be a few pounds out, but it's not magical and the wizard has to carry it. In the long run the game is probably more fun for the players if you say "no" when applicable. –  Steve Jessop Aug 2 at 12:15
    
Its not really feed a tiger, it was more of a snack. I will update the question. –  Thales Sarczuk Aug 2 at 12:37
    
@ThalesSarczuk It doesn't really change anything. Tigers are really big, they eat a lot. A snack for one is a meal for a medium size creature. A small pouch is not carrying enough food for even a snack along with 50 other things used for spells. A bag with such large quantities of so many items would weigh enough to cause encumbrance penalties. It just doesn't make any sense that they have infinite quantities of anything, unless they have a spell pouch of holding. –  Tridus Aug 2 at 14:07

Now, I think a lot of those ideas are cool, and fun (and I'd be rewarding a lot of that with XP), but if your players are using it as the "solve-all", you can start applying some reasonable consequences, as well:

Speed as an issue

Ok, your wizard's got a pouch full of components, all for the spells they have in their book, right? Presumably, they have the components for the prepped spells near the top of their pouch and the other stuff is stuffed away in the backpack, etc. So, if they want to use materials they haven't prepped, it's like 5-10 minutes of digging it out of the bag, doing the thing and putting stuff back.

Did they use a component for a prepped spell? Crap, the rest of it is in the other bag...

Dex/Int/Wis checks

Sometimes, those tricks will require steady hands. Or a careful eye. Or not spilling everything. etc. Good time to call for appropriate skill checks. (Sleight of Hand, Perception, etc.)

Costs

Using up spell components? More than just "free to find" stuff? That's going to cost money.

Item saving throws

Did the wizards get tossed around, take a bad fall, slammed by a minotaur? Did they get set on fire or have lightning tossed their way? Maybe not all of those vials got out intact. Maybe those live spiders... aren't alive anymore. Next time they take a big fall or hit with an area effect spell, consider making item saving throws for the pouch - I wouldn't say ALL of their components get jacked but some of them might.

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There are already good answers about general strategies, and about dealing with the "normal" players, but specifically as to the schemes you list:

I throw one of my living spiders in that pool to check if it is poisonous!

It drowns.

I blow some of my the ashes around to check for air currents!

Fine. And the component pouch is pretty irrelevant here, since dust is not that hard for a party to lay its hands on anyway. Failing that they could burn a scrap of paper or fabric, or a leaf, and watch the smoke to check for air currents.

If they use spell components excessively for this stuff then you might like to tell them that they're (almost) out, which limits what spells they can cast until they restock.

I use my amber rods and this piece of fur to create a bit of static and lift up that piece of paper without touching it!

Questionable whether this would actually work, it might have to be a very light piece of paper, but other than that sure. They could otherwise lift a piece of paper without touching it using gloves, or a skewer, or something thin and flat (sword/axe/spatula). In effect they've just made their amber rod sticky.

It sounds like they're doing it for the fun of using spell components, not because the spell components are actually the best tool for the job. So, whatever, but encourage them to be creative in other ways too.

I use this living worm as a bait for my fishing rod!

Of course. It's assumed that wizards can catch worms to keep stocked, so sure, worms are plentiful. If they didn't use one from their component bag you'd just have let them find one on the ground anyway.

I burn a bit of the sulfur on my pouch to keep those bees away!

OK, but it probably doesn't burn long, or produce much of a cloud of smoke. It will choke the PCs too, and not be any more effective than burning firewood except in that it's presumably easier to set light to.

I use this vial of quicksilver to poison his food!

AFAIK mercury is a relatively slow-acting poison. I can't find an LD50 for elemental mercury with a quick search. Various compounds of it are around 10 mg/kg, so fudging for the sake of getting on with the game, a likely-lethal dose is at least 800mg, about 0.1cm3. Hardly the most subtle poison then, since it's a metallic-looking (and I presume -tasting although I'm not about to find out) liquid immiscible with water.

Access to "good" poisons is either easy in your campaign or not. If it's easy, they're using the wrong poison. If it's not, then the ready availability of mercury to the wizard suggests that it's not all that effective as a poison. However, as a slow cumulative poison administered in tiny quantities, go for it, it's probably about as good as slowly poisoning someone with arsenic.

I use this pieces of squid to create a meal for that tiger!

Not enough, and no guarantee the tiger will even consider it edible. Use your rations instead, and hope like heck the tiger prefers small amounts of dried meat to large amounts of fresh meat on the hoof (e.g. the wizard). The squid must be preserved, since fresh squid meat turns to goo very quickly at room temperature.

I use this bat guano to treat the leaves of that plant!

Um, OK. I don't know what effect bat guano has on the leaves of a plant, but I imagine nothing significant. Other fertilizer products are available :-)

For your players to have fun with this kind of creativity:

  • You should not consider it a problem if they solve relatively easy problems using what they have to hand. If the party needs to go fishing then seriously, finding bait should not occupy game time, almost anything they suggest will just work.
  • They need you to apply a critical eye to whether they've genuinely found a solution. Be a little creative thinking about how it might not work. If they have a captive tiger that's hungry, one source of 10-20 pounds of meat is as good as any other, they should go shopping. A small piece of dried squid won't do. If a ferocious wild animal is attacking them then it won't just stop even if they throw big lumps of fresh meat at it, never mind a ham sandwich.
  • There are some untidy edges between abstract and concrete parts of the game, and the players shouldn't be exploiting that. Wizards are assumed to have spell components in order to prevent the hunt for components overwhelming the game. But although no specific limit is stated, the abstraction "wizards can lay their hands on enough sulphur to cast fireball" shouldn't be allowed to imply "the wizard has an inexhaustible supply of sulphur". Mercury might fall into this gap -- there may be a contradiction between "poisons are hard to get" and "spell components are easy to get", in which case rule that since it's easy to get it's not an effective poison within the rules of the game. Don't let the players invoke "realism" when it suits them and "abstraction" when it doesn't, because if you do the game becomes about finding mistakes in the rules. That's not fun for long.
  • Doing something surprising and off-beat is fun the first time. After that it's not creative. So there's a difference between a group that uses the wizard's live spider for some clever purpose once in a campaign, and a group that keeps on getting the live spider out every darn session. If they start repeating themselves then reduce how much you give them the benefit of the doubt, to encourage them to remain creative.

They get a no several times. This is one of the reasons they take a long time to do their stuff.

The "uncreative" players are perfectly entitled to say, both in and out of character, "you guys rummage around in that pouch if you like, we're actually just going to get on with it". Just because they want to handle the problem in the predictable way doesn't mean they should have to give the other players unlimited attempts to do something else.

So, the crafty players administer mercury. The target doesn't die. The fighters walk up to him in the street the next day and attack him. Guess we won't find out just exactly how slow-acting mercury is, will we?

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