Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Random Thoughts on Material Components

I've always loved material spell components as a thematic element in my games. The idea of a spellcaster carrying around all of these weird bits and bobbles that might look incredibly strange to the magical layman has always been an interesting one to me.

However, trying to represent material components mechanically has always been problematic. While they add a certain flavor to spellcasting that I like, trying to actually keep track of these weird items just adds a lot of unnecessary bookkeeping to a game that doesn't need another layer of complication.

With that in mind, I've been toying with a few ideas on how to handle material components at the table while keeping the amount of additional bookkeeping relatively minimal. While that might sound like an impossible task, I think I've come up with three potential ways to approach this situation.

The easiest approach is to just handwave material components that lack a listed price and only track the ones that do. You wouldn't worry about the rhubarb leaf and the adder's stomach needed to cast acid arrow and would only focus on the diamond worth 10,000 gold pieces needed to perform resurrection. Essentially this is the cop-out option.

The second option would make material components something that enhances a spell instead of being something necessary to cast the spell. For example, adding a red dragon scale to the preparation a fireball spell might add an additional 1d6 to the spell's damage or adding a phoenix's feather to a cure light wounds allows you to heal more damage. I find this option rather attractive because those who don't want to fiddle with material components won't have to, but those who choose to use them can and will only have to track those they plan on actually using. This idea is actually based off the Metamagic Components variant from Unearthed Arcana.

The final idea was inspired by Dungeon World and is a little more abstract than the other two. With this variant, spellcasters would have a spell component pouch that possesses a number of "component charges". When preparing your spells, you spend these charges to "pull" the necessary components out of your pouch. When you run out of charges, you have run out of components. You may replace these charges by either using a combination of Knowledge (Arcana)/Survival to forage them or spend a number of gold pieces equal to the maximum number of challenges the spell component pouch actually has. Every time a character obtains a new level, the maximum charges increases. This option would allow for the possibility of you actually running out of components during an adventure and having to figure out a way around that and makes the bookkeeping rather simple.

Personally, I feel like the second option might be the way to go. Creating the effects material components might have on spells is relatively simple and I could always use the metamagic component variant if I decided to be lazy. Also, it would be cool to see wizards taking weird body parts with the hope of enhancing their spells. However, the third option might be interesting as well. Unfortunately, it might be a little too abstract and weird to use at the table. I guess I'm just going to have to wait and see how they actually work.