If you have higher level spellcasters in your group there will come a time when they need some weird material components to cast some spells. Many DMs ignore the flavor of material components, but there are lots of ways to make material components a fun and interesting part of your game. Where do players find unusual materials? How rare are they? Can you make your own material components?
Material Components by the Books
The core rule books describe the general uses for material components as a part of each spell that requires them. Beyond this listing of the ingredient itself, there’s not a whole lot of extra information. The basic gist is that they are items used to cast spells. When the spell is cast it may or may not consume the components, as indicated in the spell description.
Some components are listed with no prices as their cost and value is assumed to be negligible. Other spell components are given list prices in the book. These are minimums for the cost of a component and the items must be specifically obtained.
This seems like a lot to consider, which is precisely why so many DMs ignore material components. The easiest way to ignore them is by making the assumption your spellcasters have a material components pouch with all the necessary items.
Most spell don’t consume or require crazy components, and the Player’s Handbook does not say how the components are used; it is never spelled out that the caster needs to produce them or hold them in a certain way, just that they have them present for the spell. This system has advantages and disadvantages. It simplifies spells for combat primarily, but it also takes away from some of the flavor and description that goes along with the use of material components in the first place.
Rulings on Material Component Use
If you want to make material components more fun you might insist that players keep track of what’s in their pouch. This is a minor bit of extra work, but it also makes for an interesting ruling as a DM. Does a player have to find the material components during a session? I would argue that some common material components might not be so common in other regions or areas and the effort to seek them out makes the spells more worthwhile. Let’s look at some common material components and discuss how they might be found or used.
Common Material Components:
- A bit of Bat Fur
- Grave Dirt
- Yew Leaves
- Powdered Metals
- A copper piece
These common material components should not be too hard to come across in normal campaigns, but a few of them might be a bit harder to find. It is entirely possible you are in a region without bats and bat fur might come at a premium. Additionally, yew leaves are not known to grow in all environments and people might not take kindly to absconding with grave dirt.
The act of ruling that your players need to procure specific items can make a spell seem more weighty and might encourage side quests to get materials they need. This is even better when players will be using them for spells where they are not consumed, as it feels like they have “unlocked” the spell as reward for their troubles.
Acquiring Material Components
So if you make your party find their own material components, how do they get them? It could be from all types of places! We’ll look at a few examples below.
Purchasing Material Components
The first and most obvious answer is that players might try to purchase material components. They could buy a standard material component pouch that is pre-stocked with items, or they might have to hunt for rarer materials in any given region. Even if a component has no listed price, it obviously has some value and other spellcasters would charge for them.
If you’re in a small town without other spellcasters, people simply might not have weirder material components available. Bat fur isn’t something that a town would seek our or even save, so you might be out of luck if you need it to cast a spell. Conversely, a small town might be suffering from a bat infestation and it would be a simple side quest to both take care of the bats and retrieve material components.
Questing for Components
When a player can’t buy what they want, a shop keeper may instead tell them where they can find the items they need.
Let’s say a wizard needs some coal. The town might only use charcoal , which might not work for our caster. The shop keep could then point the party to an abandon mine outside of town where they could procure some coal and perhaps even come across other adventures while they explore. This leads the party into a side quest and later could unlock a handful of spells for our wizard.
Substitutions for Material Components
It might not be reasonable to find the exact material component that a player needs to cast their spell. At this point I would recommend, especially for wizards, that you offer them the chance to try and research a substitute component for the spell.
This is completely homebrew, but makes sense within the context of the rules that are set out in 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons spellcasting. If you can’t find yew leaves around, maybe another leaf would work. Does the power come from what the yew symbolizes or is it an innate property of the plant?
Your player could test this and you can even have them role Arcana or Investigation checks when searching for a substitute. If they are trying something else in mid-combat, have them role to see if the spell succeeds. If it does, maybe the effect is different.
You could have the substitute component make the spell more potent, but also now be consumed. Perhaps the new component always has a failure chance. There’s a lot you can do with this idea and opening it up to your players can make your magic feel a lot more adaptive and fun.
Weirder Material Components
Some spells need some really odd stuff. Let’s look a few crazy material components and discuss the ways to acquire and use them.
Uncommon Material Components:
- Sacrificial offering (unspecified, worth 25GP)
- A writing quill plucked from a sleeping bird
- A piece of tentacle from a squid or octopus
- Ivory (unspecified, worth 100GP)
- Rare incense
- Powdered ruby worth 1000GP
- An undead eyeball encased in a gem worth 150GP
Okay, some of these are weird. I mean, where do you even get an undead eyeball encased in a gem? The fact that the eye must belong to an undead creature in the first place already makes this a hard thing to come by, and how and why would someone encase it a gem? Your guess is as good as mine, but it’s important to note that these things are not unattainable and your players shouldn’t be punished for picking spells with weird components.
Players might not be able to buy what they need, but nothing prevents them from crafting something on their own. Have an undead creature’s eye? Shatter a gem and cast Mending or Fabricate to make the gem reform around it! Does that work? Sure, why not? It’s not even your job to tell your players how to make a thing they need, just your responsibility to ask them if they wanted to try to do so. They’ll likely have ideas of their own and that’s what makes material components fun!
Don’t Make Material Components a Pain to Use
If you have your players keep track of material components, don’t make it difficult. The point is to have fun by adding some flavor to the game, not to make things less fun by forcing people to calculate things and constantly refer to sheets. It’s the same thing with carrying capacity; calculating out your weight every time you pick something up just isn’t fun for most people, especially a weak spell caster who can hardly lift a spell book, let alone some loot.
When using material components more actively in your game, be sure your players are engaging with that content. If they don’t find side quests to find components fun, run them less often. If they don’t want to go through the trouble of getting weird components, you can instead make them loot items in dungeons or drops from enemy spellcasters.
Material components don’t have to be looked at as an all or nothing set of rules where it’s either easy or hard for the player. A middle ground is possible. Some difficulty can make the spells and their use more rewarding and add depth to your game.
Consider tackling material components with your players in your next session. The results might surprise you!