Before I begin, I must once again stress that I never or rarely play a spellcasting class. When I do, it is typically a Bard or a Cleric. As such there exist aspects of the typical arcane spellcaster that I do not understand and, given my reluctance to play as one, probably never will understand. One of these things I do not understand are the need for magical components to help a spellcaster facilitate his or her ability to cast spells.
When it comes to magic, I come from the Pulp/Urban Fantasy style of magic. That is, that magic is a natural part the caster, they may need a focus (as in the Dresden Files were words and wands aren’t needed but help the human mind with magic from a psychological perspective) or a sacrifice (as in the Mercy Thompson/Alpha & Omega series’) to draw the magic to the caster. In my own creation I have used the idea of self-sacrifice in the Blood Witch to act as the agent that facilitates magic.
So it is with the Pulp and Urban Fantasy ideas that I typically draw a logical reason as too why there needs to be components and as such typically don’t require physical components in the games I run. However, they are a part of the rules and as such I need to ask, why?
From a game design perspective I can understand the need for components as they act as a further check and limiting balance to the spellcaster as it requires the search for or purchase of materials to facilitate and manifest his or her casting. From a player or even a reading perspective it is a rather boring and cumbersome mechanic that depending on the referee could make playing the spellcaster a complete chore unless the player creates what would essentially be Batman’s utility belt.
So the question then becomes, if the component mechanic exists to operate as a further check and balance to the spellcasting class, then how could that mechanic be removed without taking away the purpose of the mechanic? I would like to think, however, that components were never meant as a further check and balance but rather as a way to inject some flavor, possible storytelling or even excitement into a situation. Unfortunately, I have rarely seen the use of components as anything but a waste of money on the part of the player and treated as nothing more than an after thought by referees.
To answer my earlier question though, what would work as a check and balance in the place of components? One thing I have been playing with in my daughter’s game is something I’m calling rune-casting. Rune-casting requires an additional amount of d6 depending on the level of the spell (1d6 for level 1 spells and so on). In game the character must visually create a rune with the motions of their hands, out of game they need to reach a target number on their d6 to successfully cast the spell, even if they rolled their to-hit high enough. So then the d20 would be the ability to successful manifest the spell, the d6 (rune-casting) would be the effectiveness of the spell brought to mind.
It is still a work in progress and honestly something I stole from a d6 fantasy game was creating but abandoned a few years ago.
So then, how about all of you out there? Do spell components figure into your games or are they a forgotten element? If they are used, how?