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I'm researching spell component systems for a 3.5e campaign. In 3.5e, spell components are an inconvenience at best and a waste of time at worst. I'd like to homebrew a solution drawing from mechanics presented in other systems that handle component-based magic a little better.

I know of some booster-style components in one of the 3.5e supplements that provide metamagic enhancements, but I'm looking for a set of mechanics that embraces components as part of the core magic experience.

I'm specifically looking for implementations of reagent game mechanics in other systems, not recommendations on ways to cope with the current 3.5e system.

Here is a set of criteria for what I'm looking for:

  1. A 'magic' effect-creation system that requires reagents or components to create most effects.

  2. Reagents must be implemented in such a way that a significant portion of preparation time or play time is spent playing with them. If a player spends some game time (such as part of the player's turn) to create an effect using this 'magic' system, then I would like to see roughly 15-50% of that time spent in reagent-focused play.

  3. Reagents are not exclusively implemented as a resource pool (spell point system) or resource sink (arbitrary cost).

Do any systems exist that excel in this area?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would be extremely careful about how you implement any external system. The source system was designed from the ground up with important components in mind, while 3.5 very much was not. Cheap components in 3.5 are literally nothing more than a bad joke, so you really have to be careful about the effects of trying to do more with them. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 3 '13 at 16:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BrianS As I understand it, what this is looking for is the addition of new Method mechanics for components—in-game stuff and choices to mess around with in interesting ways during play to zoom in on and detail the process/experience of spellcasting—so a simple cost replacement I think would not achieve the goal. I get this from the quote "a set of mechanics that embraces components as part of the core magic experience." \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 3 '13 at 18:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ related: here, here and here \$\endgroup\$ – LitheOhm Dec 4 '13 at 1:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Clarification please: must be pluggable into Pathfinder, or may be another system entirely? \$\endgroup\$ – javafueled Jan 18 '14 at 0:38
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Admittedly, my answer isn't drawing inspiration from a tabletop game, rather a computer game.

Magicka seems to be the only thing that comes to mind when thinking of component based magic. Perhaps you could have your wizard need to take a few pinches of different ingredients in order to cast a spell? For example Magicka's system (if you haven't played it) is based on 8 elements: fire, water, earth, life, arcane, shield, cold, and lightning. You combine them in different ways to cast spells and special magic feats.

You may need to invent new reagents, but that shouldn't be too game breaking since components are a joke anyway. So, come up with a comprehensive list of components for spells so your wizard knows what he needs for any given spell and then mark down how they affect the spell.

Just a quick list off the top of my head:

  • Arcane Dust: needed for any spell, increases accuracy.
  • Frost Dust: needed for spells involving cold, increases cold damage
  • Fire Dust: needed for spells involving fire, increases fire damage
  • Gold Dust: needed for arcane spells, increases damage.

Then have your wizard make a series of rolls to determine if they add the correct amount of ingredients to the mix. My initial thoughts are rolling d6's. Results of 1 = -1 from what the ingredient affects due to lack of reagents added. 2-5 are 'normal' amounts and the spell acts normally, and a 6 = +1 to what the component effects due to a bit extra reagent being added.

Example Spell Casting

Player Gary wants his wizard to cast Cone of Cold. Gary knows that Cone of Cold uses 1 pinch of Arcane dust and 2 pinches of Frost Dust. Gary then rolls 3d6 getting a 1 and 2 6s. He assigns them to each component in his list giving the 1 to the Arcane Dust and both 6s to each pinch of Frost Dust. Steve now rolls his d20+mods for his attack roll and subtracts 1 for his accuracy penalty. If successful, he gets to add 2 to his damage.

One possible method for tracking components could be using a small grid/spreadsheet mark down the components on the side of the grid and make x's in the boxes as you use the components.

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GURPS Thaumatology is a book about designing custom magic systems. It's focussed on GURPS, of course, but I think I can see how to adapt it.

There's a concept called Decans, which comes from Ancient Egyptian astrology, and was used in various real-world works of Hermetic philosophy and magic, back when they were still respectable fields of knowledge. The decans do a pretty good job of dividing up the universe of concepts between them, and have associated places, colours, materials, and all sorts of magic ingredients and components.

The various colleges of magic in GURPS' default spell-based magic systems are assigned to decans, and you can thus boost those spells by using decanicaly appropriate components. For D&D3.5, you have to assign spells to decans, although at first, you only need to assign the spells that PCs know. You require that decanic components be used for all spell casting, or maybe only for a magician's highest three levels of spells, or something like that.

That gives you a system where PCs have a structured system for deciding what materials they need to carry around, and motive to get pieces of jewellery, wands, or clothing made that have useful combinations of decanic materials.

For example, the decan of Fire, Eneuth, has

Places: Bonfires, firestorms, tropical or subtropical deserts at mid-day, war-torn lands to the south, lava flows, magmatic caverns, the Plane of Fire.

Materials: Obsidian, asbestos, sulfur, fire opals, sodium, magnesium, rocket fuel, ash-wood wands, cones, olibanum, garlic, mustard, cayenne pepper, orange- yellow.

So a wand for casting fire spells might be made from the wood of the ash tree, with a conical obsidian head, containing a fire opal, and requiring to be wielded with a hand in an orange-yellow glove. That's five invocations of Eneuth, so it can be used for spells up to fifth level. To go above that, you'd need to chew garlic, burn sulphur, or otherwise get more Eneuth into the casting.

Is that something like what you want?

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