The Dead Isles of Altarin

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My first “campaign” was over. The Savage Front campaign, in my eyes, had been a failure caused by me, the Dungeon Master. Under ten sessions long, one total party kill, and a few failed plots was enough for me to end the story and start a new campaign. Did I quit? Yes. Looking back, I could have handled it much better and saved the Savage Front without beginning something new. Alas, that’s not what happened; instead, me and my friends began a new campaign called the Dead Isles of Altarin. This time, I decided against doing mountains of preparation beforehand and instead started with a simple idea: an archipelago ruled over by a trio of three liches called the Dread Admirals. Under them, common folk lived and thrived but a revolution was slowly brewing against the undead. As the party entered the world, they’d have to take a side and decide the fate of the Dead Isles of Altarin. This campaign, I was going to prepare little, improvise a lot, and go with the flow of the story. Well, how…

Great Ways to Use Spell Components in D&D


Desperate for a companion in this haunted forest, a shy elf druid pulls out a charred fish and motions toward the crouched lion as green, shining magic courses between her and the animal. In the midst of battle, a near-death halfling wizard pulls out and uncorks a wooden flask, shouting an arcane phrase as water flows from the flask and forms an icy haze around his being. With the only way out the size of a small goblin, a human sorcerer splashes a pinch of powdered iron across the glowing glyphs on her face as she recites an ancient spell and begins to shrink in size.

By many folks, combat is seen as simply a tactical battle, a confrontation between foes, a bloody skirmish. Turn by turn, we go around the table and portray our characters who battle against a squad of squirming goblins, a raging dragon, or a mess of elementals. We hit them, they hit us back, and when someone falls, friend or foe, there’s usually a chance to cast some roleplaying and narration into the battle. Some people prefer it this way; roleplaying can be saved for exploration and social interactions. There’s no need for it during combat. I’m not some people.

Roleplaying during combat can make for some of the best moments in an entire campaign. It’s the perfect time for wicked one-liners, describing your character’s prowess in a certain form of combat, or the villain to espouse why they’re in the right. However, roleplaying during combat may seem unnatural or difficult. I’m here to help change that! Today, we’re going to discuss how to add flair to your combat encounters, both as a Player and a Dungeon Master. Specifically, we’re going to look at integrating spell components into your descriptions during a battle. Afterward, we’ll dive into how spell components might add more to your campaign than you realize.

First, Remember This

Before we delve into how to flair up your battles descriptively using spell components, think about the following. Not every single spell cast, all damage dealt, or every swing missed needs to be anteceded by thirty seconds or a minute of narration. Sometimes, even in roleplaying-focused groups, simply saying, “The firebolt flies past the goblin shaman,” or, “Your longsword slashes past the bandit’s chain links, injuring him,” is enough.

Personally, I’d add flair to every other one of your turns and leave the rest with simple descriptions. Again, this depends on your group. Some people hate describing their battles, others love diving into every missed attack and every step on the battlefield. Alright, let’s get into the meat of the article.

Awesome Ingredients

Lots of people don’t pay attention to spell components. That’s a shame because the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS team obviously put a lot of effort into making them interesting. Truly, they’re fantastic ways to spice up your descriptions during combat. Dungeon Masters and Players either completely ignore or misconstrue what spell components are; they turn them into objects with no meaning. This is a consequence of not wanting to track them and I understand that. Tracking them can be tedious and tax a spellcasting player character over time. My argument is that you ensure spellcasting components aren’t merely a tally or word on your character sheet.

The descriptions in the opening paragraph of this article show this. Instead of saying, “I cast reduce self,” you can add flair to it by shouting, “I splash a pinch of powdered iron across the glowing glyphs on my bloody face, begin chanting, ‘Downgala, reductas, zween,’ and shrink to the size of a halfling!” And that doesn’t take a lot of effort; you just need to know what spell components you need. Reduce, a 2nd-level transmutation, one needs a Verbal component (the arcane phrase), a Somatic component (flicking your hand), and a Material component (a pinch of powdered iron). Combined together, you get an amazing description. It creates a memorable moment at the table and the book basically did the work for you!

Here’s the gist: Pay attention to spell components! They really can give you lots of inspiration on how to spice up your descriptions. Check out a few of these Material components:
  • Hunger of Hadar - a pickled octopus tentacle. Do you fling the tentacle at your foes, or swing it in the air like a rope?
  • Identify - a pearl worth at least 100 gold pieces and an owl feather. You inspect a magical item by dusting it off with an owl feather. Awesome!
  • Spirit Guardians - a holy symbol. Perhaps a wizard or sorcerer can get their hands on this spell...but how do they cast it?
While we’re at it, ponder about your spells’ appearances as well. Not every fireball is the same. Not all magic missiles are purple. Not every skeleton made by Create Undead looks similar. During play, especially if you’re in a narratively focused campaign, feel free to mold your spells’ looks based on your character. A wild magic sorcerer’s Fireball might be bunches of blue, orange, red, white, and green flames, while a shadow sorcerer’s Fireball will probably be a torpedo of blazing darkness, swallowing all shadows in the room. It’s D&D; the possibilities are endless!

Spell Ingredients and Plot

Dungeon Masters, take note! Not only can these be used to make the spells your player characters and monsters cast interesting, but they can also make for great quest and story items. If your group is into finding spell components, where will they find a pickled octopus tentacle? In the shop of an eccentric triton pickler or cut from the body of a giant octopus that haunts the Western Docks? To cast Spirit Guardians, you need a holy symbol. Where’d you get it? Off the body of a slain cleric of a foul god? A gift from a friend who you haven’t seen in years?

High-level spells such as true resurrection and gate require valuable and scarce components. Unless your party is highly unlikely to enjoy a detour or side-quest to obtain such materials, you should make these ingredients a mini-arc in your campaign. Here are a few examples:
  • True Resurrection requires a diamond to be cast. The only sizable diamond for hundreds of miles is locked in the vault of a dwarvish collector and golem-maker extraordinaire.
  • A cruel devil’s true name is necessary to cast the Gate spell. The only being alive that remembers it is his fierce, jaded rival: a solar lost years ago in the Astral Sea.
  • Imprisonment requires a statuette carved in the liking of the targeted creature. You know a master carver, but you parted ways on terrible circumstances.
  • Holy Aura needs a holy relic to work. Luckily, the Archdiviner of Mystra is in the city, and you might be able to score a meeting with her.
This isn’t limited to high-level material components, but it’s far easier to obtain a pinch of fine sand than the true name of a devil.

In Summary

I hope you’ve gained inspiration on how to invigorate your combat encounters using spell components, whether you’re a Player or a Dungeon Master. Remember what we covered:
  1. Not every spell or attack needs to be followed by a lengthy description.
  2. Spell components can be seamlessly woven into your combat description and greatly add to the scene.
  3. The same spell doesn't need to look similar; it changes based on the caster. My rule is: “No two Fireballs are alike.”
  4. Material spell components/spell ingredients can make for great side quests or mini-plots if your players are up for it.
Next week, we might see the start of series number four on RJD20.com or the continuation of the Worldforge. It is unknown.

Until then, safe travels!

Check out more of my content on the rest of rjd20.com! Follow me on Twitter, like my Facebook page, join my subreddit for notifications about my weekly articles and check out my YouTube channel. Be sure to leave comments and critiques; I always welcome constructive compliments and criticism!

Comments

  1. I really love how you have managed to bring evoking the atmosphere that should be more fun at the table back in, using mechanical components that are often ignored is just the icing on the cake! Great work, and I will be using in my campaign for sure!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fantastic! I'm glad I made at least one more table fun & exciting.

      Delete
  2. I'm pretty sure your spellcasting focus can replace material components unless they're consumed by the spell, so you wouldn't need powdered iron for Enlarge/Reduce (unless you had no focus) but you would still need diamonds for Raise Dead, for example.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, a spellcasting focus can do that, if you decide to use one. Going that route, you won't necessarily need "worthless" material components to cast spells. That means utilizing that piece of spell description disappears, but how your character speaks and moves their focus, as well as what the spell looks like can still be described.

      Delete

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