10
\$\begingroup\$

When the body of spell's description explicitly says a component is 'consumed' or it is implied by the material components description, what exactly happens to that component? In essence what does 'consumed' mean as a game term?

The closest I've come to an explanation from DND Beyond is this from the SAC:

Does a spell consume its material components?
A spell doesn’t consume its material components unless its description says it does. For example, the pearl required by the identify spell isn’t consumed, whereas the diamond required by raise dead is used up when you cast the spell.

So, does this mean that the material cease to exist? Are they drained of magical energy? Or are they wholly ingested?

\$\endgroup\$
2
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I enjoy the mental image of the mage preparing to cast a spell by getting out a diamond worth at least 10,000GP... and then eating it. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 30 at 14:46
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, but then it wouldn't be consumed (in the sense of being gone) in that it will return, eventually ... and I don't want to be that apprentice. \$\endgroup\$
    – CGCampbell
    Jul 30 at 16:56
29
\$\begingroup\$

It probably disappears.

The rules for material components state:

If a spell states that a material component is consumed by the spell, the caster must provide this component for each casting of the spell.

So we know that when a spell consumes a material component, that component is no longer available to be used next time you cast the spell. The idea with material components (especially costly material components) is that you have to do the work to acquire the component for each casting of the spell. So suppose a 1000 gp diamond is "consumed" in the sense that its magical utility is gone, but it is still a 1000 gp diamond. One, the game nowhere makes this sort of distinction, rather it assumes that any 1000 gp diamond is suitable for spells that call for one, and two, we could just sell it for another 1000 gp diamond that has not been consumed, since the game assumes gems are "trade goods" and always able to fetch their value at market. The only reasonable conclusion we can draw is that "consumed" means the material component is gone, eaten by the spell, unavailable for spellcasting and commerce.

\$\endgroup\$
5
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ I was about to argue that the 1000gp value would have to take into account that the component could be used in spells, but you make the good point that the game makes no distinction between 'fresh' components and 'used up' (i.e. consumed) components so that definition can be ruled out. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 28 at 12:53
  • 10
    \$\begingroup\$ If it was the magic energy that was consumed, then it would use that quality as the subject of the sentence, not the material component. If the caster was supposed to "eat it/consume", I'm sure there would be a more explicit explanation of that. So, the material component either disappears or becomes a useless/inert substance (e.g. fire consuming fuel to become ash/smoke) \$\endgroup\$
    – schroeder
    Jul 28 at 12:55
  • 9
    \$\begingroup\$ Or is transformed into something valueless. E.g. diamond being turned into charcoal or graphite(chemically identical with a different structure) by the spell, as if it's sucking the light out of it, would be appropriate and look impressive too. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eugene
    Jul 29 at 5:23
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, my take on this has always been that it's obvious the rules intend that a consumed component is of no further use for any practical purpose, but it's totally up to the GM and/or players to describe/imagine how that happens in whatever way they think is cool (or more likely, not bother to think about it at all). At my table, if you want to specify that you eat the diamond when you cast the spell, go ahead. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben
    Jul 29 at 23:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Examples of fresh vs used spell components are the stormlight-infused objects in Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archives, and Breath-infused objects in his Warbreaker (and many other works, I'm sure). Whether or not something is currently infused with power comes up constantly, and so in any work like 5e where you aren't beaten over the head with it, it's reasonably safe to assume that infusion is not the method of magic storage for components. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 30 at 20:49
19
\$\begingroup\$

Gone, used up, emptied, valueless.

Within the game context, the only description of 'consumed' is that it means you need a new component for each casting, so that is unhelpful in determining what consumption means between the options you've provided. When the game does not describe a specific game-meaning for a word, we use the ordinary English meaning of it.

The ordinary meaning of 'consumed' (when not talking about food) is 'completely destroyed' -- metaphorically "eaten" by the fire or whatever is doing the consuming.

There is nothing in the description of consuming a spell component that implies there's some part of it left over, or that it's only some immaterial "magical essence" being consumed. The object itself is "eaten" by the spell.

You couldn't 'consume' a gemstone and then, say, go sell it as jewelry. The whole point of costly consumed components is that you have to pay every time you use it. If you could go sell off the consumed component to recoup some or all of the cost of the spell, you would be bypassing the entire reason for the 'component is consumed' line.

You could certainly describe the consuming as something other than burning to nothingness or disintegrating into dust. The game encourages interesting descriptions. As "flavor text", you could talk about how an emerald consumed by a spell clouds over and slowly turns dull black or how you smash it with a hammer as a gift to the forge-gods. But it's still consumed: destroyed and useless for any further purpose.

\$\endgroup\$
3
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Do you have a source for " The ordinary meaning of 'consumed' (when not talking about food) is 'completely destroyed' ", because when I have gone looking (see the question) the first meaning is not 'completely destroyed'. Otherwise I agree with your answer from a game point of view. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 28 at 13:56
  • 11
    \$\begingroup\$ Apart from a lifetime of speaking english? Well, according to Merriam-Webster, meaning #1 is "to do away with completely; destroy". merriam-webster.com/dictionary/consume The meaning you noted on wiktionary of 'use up', in the sense of consuming coal or gasoline, is basically the same meaning -- it's totally destroyed by the act of burning it. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 28 at 14:03
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ For what it's worth, I would not trust wiktionary to give you an accurate metric of which meaning is more common than the others. Even professional dictionaries commonly disagree on which definition is #1 vs #2 and so on, but in my experience, it's much worse on wiktionary. Still, if the text intended 'consumed' to mean something like 'sucked out the magical essence, leaving the physical form untouched' it would need to be explicitly clear about that, because that's not what that word means. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 28 at 14:12
5
\$\begingroup\$

It is up to the DM.

There is no uniform answer to what exactly happens with the material and thus it is up to DM-Fiat. We know that:

If a spell states that a material component is consumed by the spell, the caster must provide this component for each casting of the spell.

We have to look at each spell description individually for example let us look at Awaken:

After spending the casting time tracing magical pathways within a precious gemstone, you touch a Huge or smaller beast or plant.[...] - (an agate worth at least 1,000 gp, which the spell consumes)

and compare it with Clone:

This clone forms inside a sealed vessel and grows to full size and maturity [...] (a diamond worth at least 1,000 gp and at least 1 cubic inch of flesh of the creature that is to be cloned, which the spell consumes, and a vessel worth at least 2,000 gp that has a sealable lid and is large enough to hold a Medium creature, such as a huge urn, coffin, mud- filled cyst in the ground, or crystal container filled with salt water)

It seems intuitive that the flesh consumed in the clone spell transforms into the new body. But the byproducts of the agate are unclear. All assumptions like "it fizzles into light of the colour of the agate." have little basis in the text - we merely know that a transformation happens, and the spell is the product of it.

What does it generally mean to consume something, and how does it apply to this case?

Consuming is a process of transformation, it involves the use of a quantity of a good in the use of creating another good. Food and fuel into energy, and byproducts. Energy into movement and byproducts, a raw material, time, and energy into a consumer good etc.

I think nobody would question that you can use the cow manure as a valuable product in agriculture even though the cow consumes the food and converts it into energy. Any gardener would know that buying good compost, that is the byproduct of consumed food, is pricey.

So we are back to DM-Fiat. I think it is intuitively sensible to rule that the ruby dust used in Continual Flame transforms into the flame itself. But when a player asks me what happens to the sacrificial offering used in Divination while the incense burns up, I make something thematically appropriate up on the spot - and that could mean that the valuable offering remains and somebody else could theoretically recycle it.

\$\endgroup\$
7
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Not sure about fiat extending to Divination's sacrificial offering being recyclable. Surely 'sacrifical' implies that the offering is sacrificed? \$\endgroup\$
    – Lovell
    Jul 28 at 15:19
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Lovell it does, but what does it mean - is it the act of seperating from the object (and leaving it on the spot), does the object incinerate on the spot? \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Jul 28 at 15:20
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ More generally, should the 'consumption' of components with a cost mean that the cost of those items is lost (i.e. they cannot be redeemed)? This seems consistent with 5e's mechanic of using money to limit access to powerful items and spells. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lovell
    Jul 28 at 15:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ So 'sacrificial' as in 'the player must sacrifice them', rather than 'they are destroyed'? That makes sense - I think part of the intent of the rules is that the caster parts with the value of the components. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lovell
    Jul 28 at 15:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Lovell I think that it is a valid interpretation, probably how most DMs would rule. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Jul 28 at 15:24
4
\$\begingroup\$

Looking at the 1st-level conjuration spell "Find Familiar" (Player's Handbook 240), it specifies the material component as "10 gp worth of charcoal, incense, and herbs that must be consumed by fire in a brass brazier." The application of the word "consumed" here indicates that the items are destroyed by the natural action of fire.

"Consumed by fire" is a relatively common phrase that renders the meaning of "destroyed" (e.g., https://brooksbulletin.com/more-grassland-consumed-by-fire-in-the-county/#).

Squaring that against the principle of conservation of mass, a way of interpreting the consumption of spell component materials is to assume that the matter still exists, but it is in such a high state of entropy that its energy is in a more spread out and disordered state. It would cost more energy to re-order it than it would provide. Because some energy is always lost as heat (by conduction, convection, and/or radiation), the component is essentially irretrievably altered.

\$\endgroup\$
4
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPGSE. Thanks for supporting your answer with a good example. The Tour, Help center, How to Ask and How to Answer provide further insight on how to get the best out of an SE formatted site. Happy Gaming! \$\endgroup\$ Jul 28 at 15:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ So what does that mean for all of the other spells that do not include that phrase? \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Jul 28 at 15:33
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ It is worth noting that conservation of mass is less of a law and more of a guideline in the D&D multiverse. Mass is sometimes created, and frequently destroyed, by various spells. \$\endgroup\$
    – ValhallaGH
    Jul 28 at 20:43
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ First part of the answer seems spot on giving an example of the vernacular use of the term that should apply lacking an in game definition. The second part arguing from physics doesn't apply as dnd is not a physics engine \$\endgroup\$
    – GcL
    Jul 28 at 21:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.