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While I'd like to think I know the general Dungeons and Dragons / Pathfinder rules pretty well, one thing I've never quite understood is the spell component pouch, especially in relation to the Eschew Materials feat.

Other class tools, such as the Healer's kit, specifically state how many uses the item has. A spell component pouch has no such limit, but there also isn't much description as to what is inside the kit itself. I understand that most spells use a small, non-costly material component, but what is the point of having a feat like Eschew Materials when you can use a non-costly component pouch? For that matter, why is a spell component pouch necessary at all?

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The spell component pouch makes more sense in its historical context: prior to 3e, spells had specific component requirements and some DMs required mages to keep track of every live spider and ball of guano in order to cast those game-changing spells. 3e's component pouch is a simplification of this earlier tradition. (Very little in D&D actually makes sense in a vacuum.) – SevenSidedDie Jun 26 '11 at 5:44
An interesting possibility that SOME DMs may allow is that with Eschew Materials, you can produce a gargatuan-sized crossbow bolt for the cantrip Launch Bolt and launch it for 4d6 damage, which is enormous for a 0-level spell. But apart from the occasional occasion where your character is unable to procure materials (which will never present itself with some DMs), this overpowered debatable trick is the only practical use I see for Eschew Materials. – Ariane Oct 30 '15 at 6:18
@Ceribia I rolled back that edit. Tags aren't for showing what a question's answers are relevant to, they're for categorising the question. Specifically, this question is about spell component pouches in d20 and its immediate siblings (i.e., D&D 3e, D&D 3.5e, Pathfinder) and was never about any other games. Relevance to other games is accidental, and left as an exercise for the reader. – SevenSidedDie Feb 10 at 2:55

10 Answers 10

up vote 99 down vote accepted

It's a relic of earlier systems.

From the "Dungeonomicon:"

Material Components: A Joke Gone Way Out of Hand

Material components are a joke. I'm not saying that they are metaphorically a joke in that they don't act as a consistent or adequate limiting factor to spellcasting, I mean that they are actually a joke. Material components are supposed to be "ha ha" funny. The fact that even after having this brought to your attention, you still aren't laughing, indicates that this is a failed attempt at humor. Most material components are based on technological gags, when you cast scrying you are literally supposed to grab yourself a "specially treated" mirror, some wire, and some lemons – which is to say that you make a TV set to watch your target on and then power it with an archaic battery. When you cast see invisibility you literally blow talc all over the place – which of course reveals invisible foes. Casting lightning bolt requires you to generate a static charge with an amber rod and some fur, tongues requires that you build a little Tower of Babel, and of course fireball requires that you whip up some actual gunpowder. Get it? You're making the effects MacGuyver style and then claiming that it's "magic" after the fact. Are you laughing yet?

Thus, a spell component pouch was very important in 2nd edition to hold those amber rods, bat guano and silver hammers. (I remember a story of a character who had tiny silver hammers sewn onto hooks on his saddle, just to have an efficient means of carrying them.)

In 3rd, because spell components don't cost anything (except for the ones that do for "balance") they need what amounts to hammerspace for spell components. It's a nod to vancian casting and the earlier editions, but its components aren't tracked because it's assumed that the character is competent and has all necessary components for their spells inside it.

Effectively, it served as a "You didn't prepare enough" tax in earlier editions. In 3rd ed, there is less of a need to compensate for magic and the joke has worn thin. Eschew Materials is mostly a flavour feat which indicates that you don't need a spell component pouch for those times when it's not on you.

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Great answer! I'd never heard this bit of trivia, but now that you've explained the (terrible) joke, it's obvious! And I feel much better about always having ignored components. – cr0m Jun 26 '11 at 16:43
The Dungeonomicon doesn't seem to provide a source for the notion that material components are a joke that got out of hand. It would be interesting to get a more definitive rundown on this, because if it's a joke, it's one that seems to have sailed past many a D&D player over the years. – Erik Schmidt May 19 '12 at 18:05
@DanHenderson I guess some good ideas are worth keeping. :-) – KorvinStarmast Apr 17 at 20:38

Mostly fluff. In metagame terms, a spell component pouch has two main purposes:

  • If a wizard's spell component pouch is taken away, he can't cast spells. This is important when taking away the party's weapons, as in an imprisonment scenario, or when grappling.
  • Ingredients for the spell pouch can serve as RP hooks. If the wizard requires a particular ingredient to construct a new spell, this can lead to an adventure.
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...or when a fighter sunders your spell components pouch. – Zachiel Sep 2 '14 at 13:20

Practically, Eschew Materials is a situational feat similar to Still Spell or Silent Spell - it allows you to cast spells if you don't have your spell materials pouch (it was stolen or Grabbed or you've been imprisoned or the wench you took home from the bar and got you undressed just turned into a vampire) or if you can't reach it (because you're grappled or manacled or cursed to have little tyrannosaurus arms or in an animal form).

Like those other two feats, they are mainly useful if someone is specifically trying to mess with you as a caster by removing your ability to "V, S, or M." But they also have some useful RP implementations, like for sneaky spellcasters and spies - "We search everyone going into the crime boss meeting for weapons and spell components!"

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"cursed to have little tyrannosaurus arms" -- I have to try that. – Sean McMillan Dec 20 '11 at 18:19

It is a class specific item much like a holy symbol, thieve's tool, etc. A thief needs his tools much in the same way a caster needs his spell component pouch full of miscellaneous items of relatively low value used in spell casting. This item will never work for spells that specific descriptions, for example a pearl of a 100gp value for Identify. If you are stripped of your pouch, you are presumed to not have the components for casting spells, where with eschew materials feats you can't lose the benefit. So the feat is something you cannot be deprived of or have taken away by the town guard who doesn't want you to cast spells.

If you are looking for a difference in function from this and other pouches is, pouches are a bag with a simple opening and one compartment where spell component pouch has many compartments to separate things in a somewhat orderly manner much like a purse. Most people also don't put charges on them as stated in several areas it can be surmised that the common components can be replenished on the fly, cob webs are everywhere, sulfur in any evil mage's laboratory etc etc.

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the spell component pouch has largely fallen out of use with newer DMs. If you are playing with a vintage DM, however, as in a DM that has been playing the game for decades and started in an earlier edition, it is as vital as the holy symbol or the thieves tools. These older DMs take the spell component rules very seriously, and will disable your character if you do not have a way to account for the Material component requirements. This is the reason that Eschew was created in the first place way back in 3.0, to keep a spellcaster viable if a vintage DM decided to take or destroy the spell component pouch, or if the spellcaster simply did not want to deal with the hassle of carrying that one more bag around. In practical terms, the pouch is not that needed anymore, especially for classes that have a limited number of spells that they can get, as proper spell choice can completely negate the need for a component pouch in a sorcerer, assuming that they only take spells without material components. If you plan on taking spells with a material component, then you either need a pouch or Eschew Materials.

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The answer about it being a class tool was pretty clear. It's just like the holy symbol and represents your spell components, ALL of them. It's assumed that you're carrying ALL the required components for your prepared spells in it (along with non-significant components for spells you'll memorize later). And it's not just mages, clerics and druids use material components as well. It's light, cheap, and adds a bit more verisimilitude since it makes it feel more real. Sure you could be carrying all your spell components in belt pouches or your backpack, but it's just so much more organized to say that I have my stuff in special pouch, for ready access during combat.

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One game design purpose is balance.

If you don't have Eschew Materials as a feat or class ability you are vulnerable to your component pouch being taken/destroyed which would you effectively lose all your prepared spells that have a material component. And I think the idea is that when you prepare spells for that day you load the spell pouch specifically with the components you need to cast the spells you have prepared.

This somewhat fits with how Sorcerer has Eschew Materials to reflect how they don't prepare spells but cast any they know.

That would make Eschew Materials a fairly worthwhile feat, except for how if they are able to perform a combat manoeuvre like steal or sunder on you then they may just as well grapple you which limits you to non-somatic spells and further limits you in simply pulling out a scroll.

Where you might care about the spell component pouch is with the skill Sleight of Hand. This can be devastating if done by a dexterous character who is invisible; they may take the component pouch totally unnoticed and the Wizard won't realise till he tries to cast. They'd only have to make a DC20 and if they are out of combat they can arguably take a 10 which can be much easier than making a combat manoeuvre roll.

Players may use this against a powerful Wizard foe. GM may use this to limit their Wizard who is getting too blasty.

This is under the wider consideration of all the things that limit spellcasters:

  • Concentration (not hurt during casting, not nauseated)
  • Somatic (not grappled, not entangled)
  • Verbal (not stopped from speaking, not limited by need for stealth)
  • Material (no impediment to spell pouch nor ready action to sunder it)
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Personally, I like the spell component pouch,..not that I ever really use it, every time I reach for a component it's coming from a concealed pocket in my wizards robe somewhere hidden or up a sleeve etc.

I am currently playing one gnome illusionist inventor who is also a traveling stage magician known as Jamril the Magnificent. His turban,... yes you heard that correctly, has the equivalence of a haverds handy havesack effect in which it is an inter-dimensional pocket that automatically produces any item that is in the hat that the wearer is looking for when he reaches into the hat.

One of the many uses have included for example stashing his 20 foot collapsible ladder, for some reason the library caretakers always place the most valuable books on the top shelf,.. I swear it's discrimination I tell you.

Another great thing it's useful for is holding all of his components. Anytime the little gnome reaches up to scratch his scalp hes probably palming a component to a particular spell. :D

I suppose what I am trying to say, is the only real use of the spell component pouch in my opinion is to show,.. ok my guy has the components he needs, sort of a one stop shop to say he's covered. As far as using the pouch itself,.. meh I prefer more unique roleplaying flavor for components.

Now, the Eschew Material feat, personally I consider it a waste of time while it is true someone can snag your component pouch,.. well unless it's cleverly hidden through use of roleplay flavor :p most components for vital spells can be obtained on the fly. For instance Mage Armor, an invaluable spell for keeping your mage alive for a few more hours with its 1 hour/level duration. Cut a thin strip of leather from your backpack or from an old set of leather armor, etc. Sand for sleep, escavated earth for escavate... pick up a handful of dirt and drop your opponent into a 50 foot deep hole in the ground. Otherwise, a lot of the spells have only verbal and semantic components or even only verbal components. IMHO It is much more useful to invest that extra feat into something else.

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Hi Alexander, welcome to the site! I'm afraid I've downvoted your answer: while it's a fun story, I don't think it really has a lot to do with the question. We put a pretty high premium on staying on topic and answering questions succinctly here. If you like, you can edit your answer to try to answer the question, and I'll check back to remove the downvote. – KRyan Nov 21 '12 at 21:55

I am surprised to see nobody mentioned the problem of taking the components from the pouch.

If in a middle of a fight you suddenly need your amber rod, you have to fetch it in your pouch. It takes a free action, but you need to be able to do it, witch may not be the case (for example if you are holding something in both your hands or are polymorphed)

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No, you don't. Retrieving components from the pouch is explicitly a non-action part of spellcasting. – KRyan Jun 9 at 12:58
Do you have a link to something to back that up ? Even if it is the case, is that possible if you have no free hand ? – Anne Aunyme Jun 9 at 13:53
From Cast a Spell: “Unless these materials are elaborate preparing these materials is a free action. For material components and focuses whose costs are not listed, you can assume that you have them if you have your spell component pouch.” But yes, manipulating a component requires a free hand in general, so whether you had it in hand or pulled it out of the pouch, you do need a hand for it. Whether that can be the same hand as the one performing somatic gestures is unclear. – KRyan Jun 9 at 17:03
Well, that makes the action free, but you still need to perform it. There are many case when you can't. I edited my answer in that direction. – Anne Aunyme Jun 10 at 8:43

For those who like to use spell components (and btw, I'm actually a fan), 3rd ed added metamagic components

If you have the coin, you can purchase (or adventure for?) material components that actually add to the power of spells. I guess if you had that specially prepared sea hag eyeball or some rare druid-tended beans, you would want to put them in something you know would protect them in most cases and make them readily available. Voila! The need for a spell component pouch.

I wasn't really thinking of it having any "special powers." I was thinking of why it might be of use. I am assuming that if something is made specifically for a purpose, it might actually be built for that purpose in a way that things not built specifically for that purpose might be. Therefore, better than a plain ol' bag...indeed considerably better given that it costs 5 GP. And, technically, if one doesn't specifically have a spell component pouch, one has to keep track of each and every spell component one has and uses.

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Except that the spell component pouch is distinct from a plain ol' bag only by the presence of spell components. It doesn't have any special powers to preserve its contents. – SevenSidedDie Jun 27 '11 at 5:25
That's 5gp for the bag + its initial contents + plot convenience. And if you're dealing with metamagic components, it won't save you from keeping track of each one individually. For metamagic components a 1gp pouch would do equally well. – SevenSidedDie Jun 27 '11 at 17:37
Yes, if we are thinking in strictly game mechanics, it would work equally well, as long as one doesn't mind keeping track of all "normal" spell components. Beyond that, I think you're missing my point, and unfortunately I don't know how to explain it any better. – irreverance Jun 27 '11 at 19:58
Ah, perhaps I wasn't clear. My point is that a) what you wrote is not in fact true because, for the purpose you describe, a spell component pouch is no different fictionally nor mechanically from any other mundane pouch b) it doesn't answer the question about the teleological reason for the object's existence in the game. As another thought on "why it might be of use" it could, for example, also be used as a hat for a pixie or other small humanoid with a proportionally small head. That's not an answer to the question, though. – SevenSidedDie Jun 27 '11 at 21:56

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