Scarce spell components

I’m currently reading a translation of a couple of the Black Books from Swedish folk-magic, and one thing that struck me was the really interesting items (what D&D-me would call “material components”) are needed to properly do the spells. For instance:

  • A “blade of regret” – a steel weapon that was used in some way that the user later regretted.
  • Filings from the wedding ring of a bride who lost their husband on their wedding night.
  • A Rowan twig that has been gathered on Maundy Thursday.
  • A pea that has been grown in the eye-socket of a human skull.
  • A headpiece worn by a baby that was baptized in the same church that you were.
  • A horseshoe from a horse that has thrown its rider, killing him.
The idea is that it’s not that the item itself is innately valuable; no 500 g.p. gems to be crushed up or anything, but that the circumstances of its creation are so rare that an ordinary item becomes valuable due to its provenance. I kinda like that idea as a mechanism for keeping some more powerful spells rarely used, even though they might end up in someone’s spell book. 

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

6 thoughts on “Scarce spell components

  1. I've always loved the idea of weird and evocative spell components, but in practice it's always fell flat. It's something else to keep track of, and most players (at least the ones I've played with) can't be bothered to keep up with it. It would take a firm hand by the DM to make sure they kept their components stocked up, and it just adds more bookkeeping for everyone.

    Still, I really do love the idea if it. Maybe if it's just relegated to very rare and powerful spells.

  2. Have a list:

    Ashes of an ancient hero
    Bleached skull of an unborn lamb
    Brains of a foe
    Breath of a dying mage
    Catigern silk from Shards
    Clay from the bed of the river Tarantis
    Clothes woven from the hair of a Black Saint
    Coffin nails
    Distillation from the scraps of an ordination feast
    Dust taken from the footprint of a witch/giant/demon
    Elemental remains
    Entrancing figure made with string as in cat's cradle
    Hair of a spinster
    Hangman's noose
    Mirror, silvered and bright
    Knife that has pierced the heart of an adulterous woman
    Needles used to sew funeral shrouds
    Paste made from the fat of the executed
    Phase Spider's silk
    Pink crystals from deep in the earth
    Powdered or dried organs from a Mummy's canopic jars
    Powdered skull of a Saint / honest man
    quenched in maker's blood
    Quenched in holy water
    Quenched in milk
    Robes made from the funeral shroud of a betrayed king
    Runes scribed in oak gall by a True Troll
    Silver coin, never spent
    Silver penny stained with the blood of a traitor
    Skin of a serpent with a broken jaw
    Skull of a strangled murderer
    Skull of a thief
    Spittle from a living minotaur
    Stone kissed by an old woman who has never spoken
    Tallow from dead humans
    Tears of a cruel man, shed honestly
    Temple tar, scraped from the smokey residue in the dark corners of busy temples of Illuin
    Thirteen finger bones taken from living virgins.
    Three black mice wrapped in cloth
    Tomb salt, scraped from the mineral buildup on tombs
    Touch of a true King
    Wand of rowan wood taken from a hanging tree
    Water from a sacred pool dedicated to Perchta
    Wood from a gallows

    Credit me if you want!

  3. I've been thinking that instead of required spell components, there should only be optional ones which boost the spell in some way. Thus you don't have routine bookkeeping and the players will want to seek out goodies which boost their casting. Only drawback I can think of is coming up with plenty of cool "boost" components.

  4. Cool idea. This might work well with some kind of variant magic system with common magic (something any MU can learn to do) scarce magic (spells that require effrtto find) and rare magic (requiring funky stuff)

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