D&D 5E Material Components: How Hard to Find in Your Games?


If the story of your campaign cares about character preparation out in the wilderness, then making sure to keep track of that stuff is an important facet of that and I agree it should be a part of gameplay. But other campaigns' stories just don't concern themselves about that kind of thing. To each their own.

Doesn't have to just be out in the wilderness. That was just one specific example.
The game is set up with the assumption you do keep track of those things, as well as for expensive components. If you want to go with Easy Mode and not do so, you can, but again, to me that's boring and it does skew the difficulty of the system downwards.

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I use a nice list from a Dragon magazine from waaaaay back when. Can't remember the number of it, but it was updated and 'reprinted' in the Players Option: Spells & Magic book (the "2.5e" version of AD&D, basically).

Anyway, in it, it has a cost and an availability, and where you can probably attain that particular component. I enforce this in any/all of my 1e/2e/Hackmaster games. With 5e, I basically let the players 'get away' with just the cop-out default method of "here's a focus" or "here's a component bag". BUT...if the player takes time, spends money and puts effort into attaining the specific material component for that spell, when he casts it, it will be "better". Double range, or at least average damage per die, or advantage/disadvantage on saves, or something else like that.

By encouraging the use of 'specific materials', it really helps with the mystique of being a spell-caster. It also changes the "rules-mastery player" paradigm; that is, players can't just look at the book and say "Ok, stay at least 61' away from him and he can't get you with [insert spell]"...because maybe he actually has the specific material component for it and his range is doubled.


Paul L. Ming


Doesn't have to just be out in the wilderness. That was just one specific example.
The game is set up with the assumption you do keep track of those things, as well as for expensive components. If you want to go with Easy Mode and not do so, you can, but again, to me that's boring and it does skew the difficulty of the system downwards.

That's fine. Like I said, to each their own.

Li Shenron

But there are a few where it seems like there is a question of "availability" that goes beyond (or may go beyond) just the in-game effects and costs and could also involve time and circumstance.


So, my question is how difficult do you in your game make the acquisition of material components of non-mundane types for your casters and do you allow a "spellcasting focus" to be used as a more or less generic solution to the more difficult to have (though not defined cost in GP - see blood above) cases?

Trying to get more of a sense of the division (of this forum GMs set) along the spectrum between "pricey components are just a tax on spell casting" view on one side to the "getting non-common components is a story element that plays a big role in gameplay and story" view on the other end and all points between and off-shoots and tangents.

NOTE: Not advocating either way, no right or wrong, just curious as to how much the differences in 5e campaigns are between the campaigns.


EDIT - oh and a sentence or two about WHY or how it has worked out would also be fantastic if you are so inclined.

I haven't encountered such spells yet, so I am not 100% sure I would handle them in the following way really...

One thing to notice is that most of the spells which have a costly material component are supposed to create permanent effects or otherwise to restore someone from a possibly permanent disability (e.g. resurrection-type spells).

1) Permanent effects work a little bit like buying an item, for example you cast Continual Flame as a sort of neverending torch, or Glyph of Warding as a security system for your mansion or castle. Naturally, there are situations where they may be dispelled or discharged, just like there is a situation for an item to be stolen or destroyed, so "permanent" doesn't have to mean truly permanent but rather lasting indefinitely i.e. without a hard-set duration limit. For these spells a GP cost makes sense to me, but I am not interesting in enforcing the details. I don't care if it's diamond dust or whatever, I just care that the GP are paid.

2) Restoration effects, as well as other plot-changing spells (e.g. Astral Projection or some powerful divinations) have a GP cost rather as a measure against using them too often, thus devaluing other parts of the game such as playing appropriately to avoid death and navigate through the story instead of jumping to the solution. However for these kind of effects I am not fond of the GP cost in the first place, because as a DM any GP cost forces me to comply with the treasure standards, which is something I don't want to feel bound to (yes I know that all equipment has a GP cost too, but in my typical campaigns the PCs should be able to afford any mundane equipment after the first few levels, and magic equipment is instead not normally for sale beyond basic potions and scrolls). So in this category, I might actually rather enforce the material components details as a way to control how often the PC can resurrect someone or reveal a plot secret, and actually care less about the GP cost of it.

3) Unfortunately there are also a few spells with a GP cost that don't fall into any of the above, and for which IMHO such material component cost is totally unjustified, for example Stoneskin and Magic Circle. These are neither permanent, nor plot-changing. If it's a small cost then it quickly becomes just a tithe or tax on each usage of the spells, but in most campaigns it's irrelevant and causes useless bookkeeping, and in stingy campaigns where is it not irrelevant then it's unfair because those spells have no reasons to be limited, nor there is a reason why PCs in a treasure-rich campaign should cast those more often. IMHO it's a design mistake to balance these spells with a GP tax, if they are better than their level, then they should be just higher levels. I don't know how I would handle these spells as a DM, probably I'll just tax the players the GP cost with some regret. Maybe I'll let them cast them at +1 slot level to avoid the cost. As a player, unfortunately the net consequence of this bad design choice is that I never personally use those spells at all.

- Finally, keep in mind that these are my thoughts on spells with a pay-per-use cost i.e. with costly material component being consumed by the spell. Those with non-consumed material component are not an issue for me, the cost is equivalent to buying a piece of equipment, normally one time only.


The game is set up with the assumption you do keep track of those things, as well as for expensive components.

True, although it does offer some easy get outs - the Outlander background basically allows you to handwave the need to forage for food.
I've no problem with anyone who wants to pay attention to managing their supplies as part of the game. But the guys I play with aren't too bothered about it.
We're more focused on playing the part of the heroes in an exciting story. If part of that story involved being washed up on a desert island with nothing, that would bring in the need to think about fashioning weapons and tools for hunting. They might only manage to make 5 arrows so we'd play out a hunting scene. Likewise, if they are taken prisoner and have all equipment removed then they need to use their wits to escape and improvise with weapons.
But in the regular play of the story, where they can return to their 'base town' (Red Larch at the moment) then we all assume that they can stock up on supplies without needing to discuss it.

We generally keep track of components, and the component requirement for the Revival spell in particular has been a plot point in a couple of games.
Generally those groups haven't been flush with money enough to stock up on diamonds, and some haven't been to a large enough city to buy them since they gained access to the spell.

In the last one, my character died down in the cultist-filled cellars of a noble's mansion, causing the other characters to race out of there to find a suitable diamond before the minute was up. While they did manage to revive my character, the party did end up in prison for it: Turns out that guards take a dim view of yanking a tiara off a noblewoman's head and burning out its centrepiece.


Doesn't have to just be out in the wilderness. That was just one specific example.
The game is set up with the assumption you do keep track of those things, as well as for expensive components. If you want to go with Easy Mode and not do so, you can, but again, to me that's boring and it does skew the difficulty of the system downwards.
I would disagree that the game was set up to keep track of such things. The default 5e has you pick a focus or component pouch and forget about it, except for expensive components. It provides components for spells as fluff only to please the grognards. Same with supplies and encumbrance. That's why there are VARIANT rules for encumbrance if you want to actually track such things. Default 5e is less bookkeeping (hence why AL doesn't bother with any of it, either).

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Material components have never worked well in the game. There have been some ridiculous ones over the years. Also, they never felt they were taken into consideration when balancing classes. Some components are easy to come by, others not so much, and it doesn't always relate to the strength of the spell.

Besides, warriors don't have to worry about keeping their weapons sharp, or replacing shields or maintaining their armour.

Realistically, how do all those components fit in a pouch? How does the wizard pull out the right one so quickly? Just imagine, the wizard sticking her hand in a pouch full of gems, sand, spiders, vials of blood, tiny tarts, feathers, bones, etc., and getting the right one out quickly enough to get the spell off in the time frame listed under the spell description.

Material components for rituals? Sure. Down and dirty casting in middle of combat? Not so much...



Not hard to find, but difficult to buy yes. Many expensive material components are included in loot, even on random goblins or whatever. As long as players fight monsters, delve into dungeons and explore ancient ruins, they should be well stocked. In-town merchants rarely sell expensive items for book price, I mean, they probably had to risk their own neck or pay someone else to risk theirs just to get it, and that costs extra!

EDIT: I also allow Gold4Spellz conversion for twice the book price of materials.
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Spell-casting foci are boring, spell components are fun. I'd have them gather even mundane items, but I wouldn't tally bits of web, apple tarts, feathers, etc. I think it helps them slip in to the role of a spell-caster. As far as higher gp items like gems, I think it's fair to relay whether a particular gem is valuable enough to be used as a component, maybe it's a little less or a little more, but I wouldn't nit-pick concerning that.

Besides, you can easily confiscate them when they're captured. Sure, some spells don't need material components, but that's what gags, blindfolds, and restraints are for.

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