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If a spell's material components include any items with an indicated cost (such as the pearl worth at least 100 gp needed for identify), those items cannot be satisfied via a component pouch or spellcasting focus but must specifically exist in the caster's inventory. This raises the question: Where are characters expected to find such items?

  • "Expected" here means "as instructed, recommended, or suggested by any official material (including Adventurers League) and/or statements by designers."

The DMG does not seem to address this (and if it does, that would likely be an answer).

There are two basic options: either cities have stores where you can buy these components at exactly the right prices, or else players can find costly components in treasure piles. The first option is boring, and the second option isn't supported by the treasure rules in the DMG. Said treasure rules only acknowledge treasure that is made up of coins, gemstones, art objects, and magic items (DMG p.133). Some spells do need gemstones, though, and while identify's pearl can be found in a treasure pile, that doesn't work for all such spells:

  • Some gemstones are listed in the tables at insufficient price; e.g., awaken requires an agate worth at least 1,000 gp, but all three types of agates in the treasure table are only valued at 10 gp each.

  • Some spells require gem dust, but there's no mortar & pestle listed in the adventuring gear that could be used to grind down a gem to dust — and even then, there are price issues; continual flame requires ruby dust worth 50 gp, while a ruby is worth 5000 gp; does grinding down a single ruby give you enough dust for 100 castings?

  • Some spells require gems that aren't even in the treasure tables, like create undead needing a black onyx stone worth 150 gp. (There's an "onyx" listed, though, and while its description states it can be black, it's still only worth 50 gp).

Plus, there are still all the other spells whose costly components don't resemble any DMG-listed treasure, such as the incense and sacrificial offering together worth 25 gp needed for divination.

While flipping through the DMG to write this question, I encountered a third option: crafting.

Page 46 says, regarding the forked, metal rod worth at least 250 gp required for plane shift:

Crafting the fork is expensive (at least 250 gp), but even the act of researching the correct specifications can lead to adventure.

Putting aside the need for research that is specific to this spell, this answers some questions but raises more: Can all costly components be crafted? How long does the crafting take? Are skill checks, tools, or proficiencies needed? Does the character need a formula for crafting as is needed for magic items? Is the money spent on anything specific from a special store, or does the player just subtract it from the number of gp on their character sheet even if they're currently in a dungeon nowhere near civilization?

Or do we just go with the really boring fourth option: The first time you cast a given spell with a costly component (and every time after that if the component is consumed), do you just subtract the cost from your GP and call it a day?


Examples of possible sources for good answers, should they exist:

  • Advice in a sourcebook on how to distribute costly components to players
  • Rules in a sourcebook on crafting costly components
  • A statement from a D&D 5e designer saying "PCs are expected to acquire costly components by blah blah blah."
  • A published adventure in which the PCs encounter a spell component store
  • A published adventure in which spell components are listed as possible treasure from an encounter
  • Adventurers League procedures for acquiring/giving out costly components

Not a source for answers: what you happen to do at your table

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This question was discussed in this meta post \$\endgroup\$ – Sdjz Sep 17 at 17:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ How explicit to material components do you need a reference for an answer to be? For example, random treasure tables in the DMG aren't presented as exhaustive, they're examples. Much of 5e treasure is abstracted to currency value anyways, and since the cost of the components is explicitly presented it might be argued that cost-bearing components aren't actually their own category of loot (which might not have provoked an official comment). \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Sep 17 at 17:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Upper_Case: I would expect a reference to at least make explicit mention of spell components in general or of a specific spell's costly components (like the mention of the plane shift fork). The treasure tables being examples isn't explicit enough, especially since spell components don't fit into any of the listed treasure categories (except gems, which doesn't cover everything). However, if you can construct an argument out of mere implications, I wouldn't downvote it. \$\endgroup\$ – jwodder Sep 17 at 17:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Got it. If no one answers for a bit I might add my thoughts, but they're more of a failsafe answer (divining designer intent from how the systems broadly are laid out), and so don't really meet the criteria in your question with the added "material component" mention criterion. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Sep 17 at 17:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Follow up thought for you: is the Adventurer's League approach to this of interest to you? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 17 at 17:58
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There is nothing special about material components as loot or purchasable items. They are loot, and/or purchasable items.

tl;dr: The structure used in the DMG suggests that players are expected to find magical components in exactly the same ways they would find any other kind of item. Players can browse shops and haggle, quest specifically for them, find them as planned loot, or find them as random loot.

I'm definitely open to any official publication or comment, but my impression of the official material I'm aware of is that the DMG already contains all the information needed to offer price-bearing material components as loot or goods in a shop, and it would be redundant to list them in the loot tables explicitly.

My loot-related arguments follow, with other options at the bottom:

Position 1: All Loot is Currency

The individual treasure and treasure hoard tables in the DMG classify all treasure by its cash value. The rolls you make using these tables determine a bounded range of how valuable the loot is in terms of cash (for coins and non-magical items) or rarity which directly correlates to a bounded range of cash values (for magical items).

Some items are intrinsically valuable to an adventuring party of D&D players, like weapons or armor, and the cost of those items is detailed in the PHB. For the rest, they (typically) have no mechanical properties, uses, or features outside of the amount of money players can get for them. What are players going to do with a carved ivory statuette or bronze crown (250 gp art objects from the DMG treasure tables), besides sell them? What are they going to do with a gemstone that isn't used as a material component for something?

The treasure tables aren't there so much to tell you exactly what to give out to your players but instead to suggest an appropriate cash value of reward relative to the challenges your players tackle. If an individual monster wouldn't carry coins, the DMG explicitly says to substitute non-coin treasure of equivalent value. Generic treasure isn't meant to be specific things, it's meant to be worth a specific amount.

Therefore, all generic loot is fundamentally defined by its cash value and not by any specific properties that loot may have.

Position 2: Non-cash Loot is Not Inherently Valuable without the Treasure Tables

It's really hard to assess the cash value of a random object, and so for the purposes of awarding loot (other than coins) the DMG treasure tables assign a cash value to organize it in keeping with (1), above.

Is the DMG really suggesting that any Alexandrite gem that exists in the game world is worth exactly 500 gp, with no variation in size, quality, or clarity? If a monster found one that was worth 450 gp, would they immediately destroy it or add 50 gp of value to it? Perhaps-- I can't guarantee that it isn't that way. Is it saying that all small, gold bracelets are worth exactly 25 gp? Again, perhaps.

But I submit that, as these generic loot objects have no properties (with respect to the mechanics of the game) besides a cash value, the actual items in the tables exist only to be worth set amounts of currency, and what players might get is based only on how much the items are worth.

Position 3: Price-bearing Material Components Are Already Worth Fixed Amounts

Here's where the above two arguments meet the question. Price-bearing material components don't need to be slotted into the random treasure tables because they already have values assigned. A "diamond worth 1000 gp" is already 100% specified in terms of what might appear on a loot table. As far as I'm aware, nothing in the loot tables is listed with a price anywhere else in any published material.

The DMG doesn't need to list a diamond worth 1000 gp on the loot tables because you already know how to place it: treasure worth 1000 gp. It's the inverse reason that an Alexandrite gem needs to be explicitly assigned a place in the treasure tables (it has no discernable value otherwise).

There is simply nothing special about the identity or composition of specific items of loot, since their only meaningful property is cash value.

Position 4: The Treasure Tables are Neither Exhaustive nor Restrictive, and Items Can Belong to Multiple Descriptive Categories

There is nothing in the DMG saying that treasure must be randomly generated, nor that awardable loot must be on those lists, nor that items can't belong to multiple categories. An art object of at least a material component's cost might contain that very material component, such as a fork for casting Plane Shift being part of a larger sculpture.

But fundamentally there is nothing suggesting the tables are all of the loot a DM can award, and so the idea that they restrict a DM from awarding other things is unfounded. Particularly given (1) and (2), above, there is no reason to think that any properties of the loot matter except its cash value. And so a DM already has all of the information necessary to assign price-bearing material components as loot while being exactly consistent with the guidelines from the random loot tables (should that be of interest to the DM).


Non-loot Considerations:

I'll take each of the four explicit ideas in the question in turn:

1. Buying them in a shop:

It's already expected that magic-related goods are available in stores, though the rarity of those items varies by city size and magic-related commerce. This is not so different from weapons and armor. That you find this approach boring (understandably!) doesn't remove this as an option.

2. Finding them in treasure piles:

Addressed above.

3. Crafting them:

I don't see any reason this wouldn't work with the existing rules, provided that the character is capable of producing it and the cost + added value of PC labor is equal to or greater than the listed price of the component.

This is a bit fuzzy for some components, though. If a PC finds a diamond worth 750 gp, can they cut, polish, or otherwise modify it to be worth 250 gp more? Per published information on a 1000 gp diamond as a material component, maybe. All that matters is value, and that value itself seems to be arbitrary.

4. Subtracting the GP cost at time of casting:

This one is an explicit no. Material components can't be swapped around (except for those spells which offer a selection of components to use), and so if you need a diamond worth 1000 gp you need the diamond, not just enough cash to buy one.

Material components without a listed price are assumed to be always available to a character (via a component pouch) or unnecessary (with an arcane focus). Price-bearing material components are explicitly different in this regard, and so no PC should be able to just assume that they have one as long as they have enough money to buy one.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I gave it a shot, but I'm not sure I summarized it well \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Sep 19 at 20:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Looks like a good intro \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 19 at 21:16
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They're expected to be found while adventuring

There's really nothing specific to material components as opposed to anything else the players might want to locate: They find them in the course of their adventuring. Some might be found in a treasure hoard of some monster, and some might be found by finding the right person in a city who has what they're looking for.

Since you quite reasonably want a source, such as "A published adventure in which spell components are listed as possible treasure from an encounter", here's some relevant treasure from Lost Mine of Phandelver. (I'm just mentioning page numbers in order to not be too spoilery, but you may want to stop reading if you don't want to know anything about the adventure.)

  • Three platinum signet rings worth 50gp each (p. 22), two of which are the material component for warding bond.

  • A pearl worth 100gp (one on p. 26, another on p. 29), the material component for identify.

  • Three diamonds worth 100gp each (p. 35, and another three on p. 47), which work as material components for chromatic orb

  • A pair of platinum rings (p. 46), these worth 75 gp each, which would also work for warding bond.

As this is the main published-adventure introduction to D&D, I think it's fair to say that these treasures were put in intentionally as ways to get useful material components, though they of course double as valuable finds of their own. The adventure also centers around a mining town, which has a "Miner's Exchange" and other stores where presumably one could trade for other useful components such as jade dust or a jeweled horn, though that isn't explicitly listed in the text.

As DM, I try to follow its lead and ensure that my players have a chance to acquire any particular ingredients that their characters would be wanting or needing for optimal fun.

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