In my last post, I looked for an official way to make the fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons rules for for spell components and free hands match the way players operated at the table—with little attention to what characters have in hand.
This may soon become obsolete, and that makes me happy. Alphastream, who has earned a much greater stature in the Dungeons & Dragons community than I have, gave my gripes a boost that garnered the attention of designer Jeremy Crawford.
If needed, I am prepared to take 100% of the credit for spurring Jeremy to act, although he probably had the article planned before I posted.
As I wrote my original post, I created the following suggestions for rulings and house rules, so you, dear reader, get them despite their brief relevance.
First, I suggest allowing the characters with the War Caster feat to use a weapon as a spellcasting focus. This small change offers a path that lets most martial-spellcasters to operate without headaches.
For many classes, I have a suggested rulings and additional house rules. The rulings steer close to the rules as written, while the house rules introduce small changes that makes classes work as players expect.
|Class||Suggested Ruling||House rule|
|Bard||Bards need a free hand for components or their musical instrument. For El Kabong, the instrument doubles as a weapon.||Bards in the College of Valor may use a melee weapon as a bard spellcasting focus.|
|Cleric||For clerics, brandishing a worn holy symbol or one on a shield satisfies the need for both somatic and material components.|
|Druid||Druids who wish to carry a shield can opt to use staff as a spellcasting focus in the other hand. The staff doubles as a weapon.||Druids may use visibly worn mistletoe, holly or totemic objects as a focus that satisfies the need for both somatic and material components.|
|Fighter – Eldritch Knight||Eldritch knights may cast while holding a two-handed weapon in one hand. Those who wish to carry a shield should plan on taking the War Caster feat.||Eldritch knights may use their bonded weapon as a spellcasting focus.|
|Paladin||For paladins, brandishing a worn holy symbol or one on a shield satisfies the need for both somatic and material components.|
|Ranger||Rangers who opt for the two-weapon fighting style should plan on taking the War Caster feat.||Rangers who choose the two-weapon fighting style may use a melee weapon as a ranger spellcasting focus.|
I still don’t like the idea of a focus replacing both material and somatic components. I do like the idea of the focus replacing material components, although I’m still considering acquiring or creating a focus a bit more difficult.
The fact that people might ignore the rule doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t make sense. A free hand was required in 3rd Ed when they switched to the 6 second round. And it was a requirement before that. The fact that you could sheath a weapon, cast a spell, and draw it again in the same round was irrelevant before the introduction of the opportunity attack.
The reality is that all they are giving up is a potential opportunity attack. This is much better than the risk of casting a spell in melee before.
The ranger could conceivably sheath one weapon, cast a spell, get his opportunity attack, then draw his second weapon at the start of his next turn, attack twice and get his opportunity attack. Several of the ranger spells can be cast as bonus actions which would still allow you to cast the spell, draw your weapon, attack, get an opportunity attack, then sheath your weapon at the beginning of the next round. You wouldn’t get an opportunity attack in that second round, but that sounds pretty similar to the AD&D rule of 3 attacks every 2 rounds.
So I don’t see what the big deal is. Spell components, to me anyway, is one of the parts of spellcasting that makes it feel like D&D. It makes you think about how you’ll be caring the spell, and you sometimes have to make choices.
What’s in your hand isn’t just a factor with components. Would you change how touch spells work as well? Can you cast a touch spell by kicking your opponent so you don’t have to sheath your weapon?
OK, reading through the 4th Edition, I can see where somebody would want spells to function differently. It doesn’t appear that ANY spellcasters have to worry about what’s going on with their hands (or for that matter being silenced). Wizards get bonuses using implements, but they can cast spells without it, and that seems to be about it.
So, if you’re a fan of the Harry Potter ‘point a wand and say a word or phrase’ type of spell casting, then I could see the Ranger using his weapons, stance, etc. to focus his energy and power to focus a spell. At least for a combat spell. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for say, Animal Friendship or Cure Wounds though.
Most of the combat oriented spells (particularly those that are reminiscent of 4th Ed) only have verbal components and many of them are cast as bonus actions to boot.
I’m NOT a fan of the Harry Potter method of spell casting (could you guess?). I like the idea of a focus, and yes, Rangers should have a focus too. I think that was an oversight. I’m OK with a focus forgoing material components, although I’m thinking of ruling that rituals always require them if you aren’t spending a spell slot to cast it. To me, focusing that magical energy takes some sort of effort, and other than defilers from Dark Sun, since that effort doesn’t have any other impact on the characters, the idea that they need to have their hands free and, generally speaking, not be silenced is that effort.
Of course, I’ve been DMing in the Forgotten Realms since it was released, and with some classes the somatic components become a whole body thing (sword singers, spell dancers, etc.).
That’s not to say that I have a problem with others who want to have a faster, less cumbersome methodology for spell casting in their campaign. And I suspect that there are a large number, if not a majority, of players who skipped the whole V,S,M model long before the 4th Ed. I’m just not one of them.
Incidentally, I really love your blog – it forces me to think (or rethink) about some of these things, and I love that!
Ruby of the war mage (100G) out of XGE solves one of those problems.
The divine focus which, unlike the arcane that must be held, can be worn and replaces all nongold costing material component costs otherwise a spellcaster must bring a free hand to interact with their spell component pouch. The somatic stuff gets convoluted, you are right. Having your material component in your hand can also let you waive somatic components as long as the spell requires a material otherwise your hand isn’t free, eye roll into “yikes”. Again it gets convoluted why warcaster feat exists to mildly help. Pathfinder 2.0 is using a different way to solve this with their action economy.
So we’ve been using a new approach. A focus replaces the somatic components. As for material components, they are used in the preparation of the spells. A step further allows you to create unique inks to inscribe the spell in your spellbook with the components as an ingredient in the ink. The only spells that still require them are the expensive components.
It keeps the flavor of material components intact. It creates opportunities for adventures to get the ingredients needed, and consumes gold pieces as well.
Not sure why we didn’t think of this before…