When a magician lingers in their tower, studying spells, they are essentially studying magic tricks. Figuring out how to turn sticks into snakes is like a life hack. It's like getting really good at throwing a water bottle so it does a backflip and land standing up. The defining feature of the magician is that they know how to twist their brains in ways that make them good at holding these weird skills in their minds.
In the past, I've been a bit loosey-goosey with the exact in-the-moment requirements of spells. I was keen to ask players "what does it look like when you cast your magic missile? What do you do to cast it?" People were often confused, or at least imagined different spell-casting tropes than I did. To eliminate future confusion in my games, I've tried to write out my feelings on spell component requirements.
In order for these guidelines to be useful, they need to be intuitive. I should be able to retroactively apply them when the PCs find a scroll of some spell in a module I wrote years ago, and they should apply to spells that PCs create themselves, which is really an under-explored process in the games I run. I like the idea of there being largely redundant versions of similar spells, which pose all the more reason to include a spell creator's name in the spell itself. A pair of wizard's apprentices may argue the merits of Mordenkainen's Faithful Hound and Lian Yimu's Silent Hound spells. All the better when Mordenkainen is a PC of a previous campaign and Lian Yimu is an important NPC
What does it look like to cast a spell? Does it require a free hand? An invocation? I like to let the intended effect guide me. What mundane action can I imagine is getting extended into something magical? Is someone throwing a fireball at me? Are they staring at me with so much hateful concentration that a fireball is coming out of them? If they're casting a summoning spell they've got to be verbally calling, just like mom used to call me to dinner, right?
Spell Component Procedure
Generally, a spell will require at least one of these conditions:
- Somatic: some specified physical action. Your wind-walking spell should fail if you can't walk-walk.
- Verbal: using specific words to get some entity's attention, or influencing a target with language. Might fail if they don't understand you.
- Concentration: some purely mental action. Probably requires you to utterly halt anything else you're doing when you cast it, or at least concentrate on it for the spell duration.
- Material: some specific object or material. These spells should get a bit of leniency I feel, since you require the object as a focus. Why else would you prefer to learn staff to snake instead of summon snake?
For each condition beyond the first that the spell's creator wishes to employ, it should have a +10% chance of getting successfully researched, or go 10% faster or be 10% cheaper, depending on how that procedure works. The DM should reject proposals that feel too contrived.