Spell Components

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The rules for spell components in the Pathinder rules are brief, but as we’re currently using very different house rules, it’s worth bringing these up. The rules I’m referring to are on pages 212-213 of the Core Rules (2009) and also on the Pathfinder PRD.

The rules as written discuss the traditional Verbal (V), Somatic (S), Material (M), Focus (F) and Divine Focus (DF) components that need to be present to cast a spell. I’m sure you know what they all mean, so I’m not going to go into a lengthy discussion of them here. The big difference between the house rules and the written rules is what we do with material components and foci.

In the house rules there aren’t any components per se. If the spell obviously needs a component (e.g. you need a mirror to cast a scrying spell) then you still need it, but otherwise material components have been replaced with foci. A wizard uses a wand or a staff, a cleric uses a holy symbol and so on. The house rules were largely born from the fact that we could never be bothered to track components anyway.

I intend to ditch all that now in favour of the rules as presented in the book, so all spells are back to having their requisite bizarre and obscure spell components. The Pathfinder rules acknowledge that keeping track of these things can be a hassle so this is what they say about them: “Don’t bother to keep track of material components with negligible cost. Assume you have all you need as long as you have your spell component pouch.” Obviously sorcerers or other classes with the Eschew Materials feat don’t even need to worry about that.

Okay, that’s all fine as it goes… but there’s still a whole host of spells where you do need to keep track of components. Take Stoneskin for example. Each casting requires 250gp of granite and diamond dust.

The Three Tests

Basically, introducing these rules will mean that all spellcasters will need to do a little more book-keeping. It also means that I as a GM need to start worrying about giving characters an appropriate amount of gold. For the components rules to work as they are written then money is going to have to matter more in the campaigns.

Narrative Integrity

The house rules for foci have made so little impression on the world so far, that I don’t think anyone is going to notice getting rid of them. There’s not been any adventures or plot-twists that hinge on this game element. No objections on this score.

Games without Miniatures

Equally, there’s nothing here to do with tactical combat either. This change in the rules would make no mechanical impact on the game.

Our Preferences

So it’s all down to whether we want these components rules or not. Looking to our Pact of Minimal Tinkering I’d say that there’s no compelling reason not to use them. All of the various components can be confusing, but Graham has worked very hard to produce a Spell Filter for Pathfinder, that I am currently adding content to. The spell filter will be able to identify spells that have components with “minimal cost” and also that have expensive components. Also as well as searching for Verbal and Somatic components, it’ll also search for non-verbal and non-somatic: which is really jolly useful in the context of the game. When the filter is up and running, it will drastically help manage components.

I’ve no suggestions for any extra rules to throw in here. I’ll talk more about the money element when I discuss equipment. Iourn will continue to follow the “low magic” approach to magic items as discussed in the Core Rules (2009) and the Gamesmastery Guide (2010), although I’m making more of an effort to get magic items into the hands of PCs even if there aren’t any magic item shops. More on that when I get to Equipment.

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4 thoughts on “Spell Components

  1. The standard rules with Graham’s fancy list works for me.

    I’ll be interested to see how you deal with handing out the big value components. PF as written relies on a great deal of treasure. You can get around that but you need to know how you’re doing it.

  2. I’d be interested in seeing how I deal with handing out the big value components as well!

    At the moment my thinking is to hand out 10% of the recommended character wealth per level to each PC. That would be 53,000 gp for 18th level characters. That should tide everyone over when it comes to buying spell components and a few of life’s luxuries.

    From that point on, I need to make sure that the characters continue to amass the correct amount of wealth. Of course, the game assumes you’re buying and selling magic items, and that wouldn’t happen on Iourn – so the amount of actual cash wealth would need to be reduced.

    It’s something I’ll have to look at more closely.

  3. Neil says:

    Spell components are all very well but I don’t think you will keep up the necessary level of treasure giving and ultimately what is the point? They don’t add anything as players will simply say “I will cast X spell”, not “I take out my pouch and throw a liberal amount of sparkling diamond dust over myself…” or similar! Expensive components could restrict the use of certain spells but if you are artificially increasing the wealth of the characters anyway, it won’t. I simply don’t see the point of components, they are just a big waste of time. Also, if you do decide to go ahead with this you are making money much more important than currently and that will have knock-on effects such as character hoarding and wizards charging for their services. I hate micro-management in role playing as to my mind it distracts from the story and fun of the game.

  4. Well, largely I agree with you. I’ve never had much time for spell components as a GM, although I do track components for my druid Skarra in Jack’s Hurssia games. I think I can see both sides of the issue.

    The way I see it is that spell components have always been a part of D&D, and my gut is telling me that if we’re using all the other official rules for spellcasting, then we should use the rules for components as well. The house rules that require a spellcaster to have a fetish or a focus to cast spells instead of components are all well and good, but they are so dissimilar to the written rules that we probably can’t use them.

    Look at it this way: you don’t like micro-managing your characters, but some players do. The official rules for spell components allow them to drift into the background and be treated as flavour most of the time. But, those players who enjoy that sort of thing can make more of it.

    There is also the important issue of spell restriction. We’re coming from playing a version of D&D where spellcasters have been able to blaze away with their magic at a whim. The wizard wants to cast stoneskin on the party to make them immune to a locust swarm? Fine. Thirty seconds and its done.

    However, the game assumes that there are some spells that aren’t available all the time, even within a spell preparation system. This isn’t me being down on spellcasters (Jon!) it’s just how it is in the rules. Certain spells (of which I keep using stoneskin as an example) have been judged to require more expensive components as a way of limiting them.

    In truth, those spells are fairly few and far between and if you’re the sort of player who wants to be a wizard but doesn’t care for components then it’s fairly easy to avoid them. The new spell filter will make it a doddle once it’s live on the Iourn site.

    I take what you say about character wealth. It’s not my intention to arficially increase the wealth of player characters. The figure of 53,000gp seemed a reasonable amount to put at the disposal of a group of 18th level characters who had never really acquired monetary treasure before. It’s not necessarily pocket-change. I doubt I’d add any gold-piece wealth to the characters in the Lareth Campaign… but I would probably give spellcasters who know spells that require expensive components some of them to be going on with.

    I have some posts on character wealth to come, which I hope will make my approach clearer.

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