Using Rituals In Skill Challenges

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on November 23, 2009

circleStonehengeIf your gaming group is anything like mine, rituals are the most under utilized aspect of 4e. Since the release of the newest edition of D&D, I’m not sure if one of our PCs has ever used a ritual. For me, this is because I’ve played PCs who aren’t trained in ritual casting for our long term games. When I have played PCs who have the feat, it’s been for one-off Dungeon Delves, which don’t normally require the use of rituals to progress through to the end.

Recently I’ve been considering skill challenges from the perspective of a PC and how players can make skill challenges more fun for themselves. You can only make so many Diplomacy or Perception checks before you start getting bored. If your PC is heavy on knowledge skills you may find that you have nothing to do or don’t feel qualified to fully participate in the majority of skill challenges. So you settle with assisting those PCs who are trained in the relevant skills.

Rituals provide PCs with options. Through the creative and inventive use of rituals, PCs can expand their usefulness in skill challenges and increase their level of participation in the game. Suddenly, your Wizard is making Arcana checks instead of Streetwise checks and reaching the same result. The versatility that rituals provide for characters trained in their casting is something that needs to be explored and exploited. Otherwise you’re allowing opportunities to be squandered and aren’t playing you’re character to his full potential.

As the DM, how do you respond to PCs using rituals during skill challenges? It’s easy to quickly say no, it won’t work or you don’t have time. PCs may catch you off guard as you haven’t prepared for this possibility. In these cases, pause and remember these two points. 1) 4e D&D encourages you as the DM to say yes. 2) Rituals have an in-game gp cost, so the PC isn’t making this option lightly. So say yes and reward them. When Seek Rumour is used it could be a great time to drop in some plot hooks that aren’t central to the current skill challenge, just to tease your PCs. Feat of Strength could cause any NPCs who witness the act of strength to view a PC who is physically weak as a threat.

Listed below are five rituals (all level 8 and lower) that if used correctly may turn the tables during skill challenges and allow your weak or socially awkward character to suddenly excel.

Seek Rumour

Streetwise checks normally take a few hours to complete. They involve gathering information from criminals, drunk bar patrons, nobles or just being in the right tavern at the right time. All of this takes time and the relevant social graces to fit into the environment where the information is present. Seek Rumour allows a PC to make an Acrana check and learn the same information in 30 minutes. Suddenly your stoic or book-wormish Wizard is pulling his weight and discovering the relevant leads in half the time as the party Rogue.

This ritual presents the DM with a great deal of options. First, a successful check should count towards the overall success of the skill challenge and second, it should provide the relevant information. It can be used to do much more than this including plot hooks, side adventures and integrating character backstories. A PC’s decision to use this ritual is license for the DM to be creative and spontaneous during the game. A failed check can be just as fun as the PC will still learn something, possibly even a red herring.

Feat of Strength

The party has retreated and is barricaded behind an aging keep door. The Fighter is unconscious and the enemy is now pounding on the door attempting to get through. While the party leader seeks to revive the Fighter and the Wizard is preparing a teleportation ritual you realize that if the door isn’t reinforced none of it will matter. The problem is you only have a 10 Strength. With the Feat of Strength ritual, that might not be a problem. This ritual allows you to gain a bonus on your next Strength check and it’s based on a successful Nature check.

Discern Lies

There are times when the PCs know they are going to be lied to, by a professional. Even if the PCs have an expert like Dr. Cal Lightman present, it won’t help them. At times like this a little divine intervention is called upon. Discern Lies makes lying in your presence almost an impossibility. When this ritual is in effect, you use your Religion check made at the time of casting as a bonus to your Insight check. That’s a bonus that can’t be understated. This is a level 6 ritual and it’s fair to assume that any Cleric casting it would have a +12 bonus to their Religion check (+5 trained, +4 Wis, +3 half level). As Insight is also Wisdom based that same Cleric would have a +7 untrained, making the base modifier to the roll a +19 (+24 if trained). Lie to me now.


There are times when not being a strong character simply means there is nothing for you to do. You would only slow down the efforts to build fortifications, you would tire to quickly or become injured. However, with a simple Arcana check you can do the work that took a hundred man-hours in just moments. What’s further, you won’t even have broken a sweat for your efforts. The life of a disciplined mind has its rewards.

Inquisitive’s Eyes

The Inquisitive’s Eyes ritual pairs nicely with Seek Rumour. Again an Arcana check is made in lieu of Streetwise. This ritual allows the PC to see back in time over 8 hours and witness the events that took place first hand. Now you don’t need to track down pesky NPCs who may want a favour for their information, assuming you can even find them. You’ve witnessed the event, you know what happened.

This is our first look at rituals and skill challenges. We’ll continue this series with more rituals that can be used in challenges and articles on how DMs can incorporate rituals to be used in skill challenges in the coming weeks.

Between now and then we want to hear how you’ve used rituals in 4e and how they have affected your game.

Looking for instant updates? Subscribe to the Dungeon’s Master feed!

1 newbiedm November 23, 2009 at 9:51 pm

The one time my PC’s were going to use a ritual, it took too long and they got attacked.

So much for rituals in my game.

I think they take too long too, I wouldn’t bother if I were a PC. Unless I were at an inn. 🙂

2 The Last Rogue November 23, 2009 at 11:13 pm

Good post. In my next campaign I plan on emphasizing the importance of rituals. I’ve a warlock who makes frequent use of comprehend languages and enchant magic item. . . .

3 wickedmurph November 23, 2009 at 11:54 pm

So, newbie – by attacking your characters and not letting them finish the ritual, you basically told them “I’m not going to let you use rituals”. How much the characters make use of them will depend on 2 things in your game – the opportunities that you present to learn them, and the benefits you allow them to gain from them.

Both are totally at the discretion of the DM, and how you present them will have a long-term impact on how much they are used.

In your example, the characters spent the resources, and got no benefit, in fact, they were penalized by being attacked. So to them that says that rituals are a big fat waste of time and money.

In my current campaign, I have 3 ritual casters and an alchemist in the party, so it’s critical that I incorporate rituals as treasure, give characters in-game opportunities to learn rituals from others, and make sure that the players who want to use rituals receive concrete benefits from doings so.

And why not? By taking the feat, the players handed me a freebie – they told me “I think rituals sound fun”. So why not run with it?

Since I’m playing in a dark-ages, cash-poor setting, I’m giving some treasure parcels out as ritual components or bound spirits. These items have an equivalent money value, but can’t be used for anything other than rituals or alchemy. Now I can give out lots of money, without having to worry about how they will spend money in bronze-age barter economy. And I encourage them to use rituals.

I’ve also house-ruled ritual creation or “discovery”. If the players want to learn a ritual that they don’t know – make it up, in effect, they pay 3x the listed cost and make an Arcana check at 15+ritual level (about a 50% chance for a lv 1 ritual for a trained arcanist). Fail, and the cash is gone, succeed, and they can thereafter cast that ritual.

Some, I won’t allow them to make up, some I’ve already given in ritual book treasure, or learned from a grateful Orcish Shaman. Rituals are an excellent tool, and a great way of getting the characters to really think about resources, and plan things out of combat.
.-= wickedmurph´s last blog ..4e Sandboxing =-.

4 newbiedm November 23, 2009 at 11:58 pm

They decided to cast a ritual in the middle of the underdark, while there were wandering monsters around.

They took a gamble and lost.

There are better places to use a ritual than a place crawling with duergar guards.

5 Geek Ken November 24, 2009 at 8:58 am

Solid ideas. I think rituals are wildcard solutions to non-combat obstacles. They definitely have a place in skill challenges if a DM is willing to negotiate skill checks a bit, or offer bonuses to ritual use.

Rituals allow players to do the cool stuff, or trivialize obstacles DMs put in their path. Making that long trek through the desert sucking most the healing surges out of your players? Maybe they decided to stock up on a few rituals to make their rest or travel easier instead. Expect the group to bluff their way past the guards, or scale the wall of an enemy keep? Get ready for a wizard to make a temporary hole in the wall.

I think because rituals take a lot of time to cast (and are expensive), under pressure situations they don’t work well. But if you are running a skill challenge and stressing that hours or even days pass throughout the challenge, rituals have a great use for them. It depends on the DM being flexible.
.-= Geek Ken´s last blog ..Random initiative using cards =-.

6 Wimwick November 24, 2009 at 9:36 pm

@ newbiedm
I find that rituals have their place in the game. There are definitely certain instances where they aren’t the best option.

@ The Last Rogue
We are about to transition into a game that Ameron ran in 3.5. As I’ve recreated my character for 4e the use of rituals has come up. I’m playing a Bard, and the campaign was already very heavy skills based it seemed like the perfect time to brush up on rituals.

@ wickedmurph
I like the idea of handing out rituals as treasure bundles, especially in low magic campaigns.

@ Geek Ken
Rituals do have the potential to keep DMs on their toes, but I don’t think that they are game breaking. Because the PCs expend resources to gain the effects, DMs should (IMO) be willing to bend when certain parts of the adventure don’t go as planned.

7 JEB January 27, 2010 at 8:26 am

My players used Arcane Lock on an enemy doors to gain full access to a dungeon on their own premise … pretty funny … even if it was totally unexpected.

the scenario was thus: the players had reached the end of a corridor undetected and found three doors there. Instead of charging in one of the doors without knowing what was behind it, they decided to wizard lock all three (newbiedm … I know this is where you maybe would send one of the monsters behind the doors out and thereby foil the PC’s plans … but I was rather curious to what they wanted do achieve by this tactic)

The Swordmage in Question had a 20 INT, was lvl 8 and trained in Arcana.
Basically this means that on average he will roll araound 24-25 on his check. Add 5 (read the ritual description if you wonder why) to the difficulty and the enemies in question needed to get more than 30 on their pick-lock or Strength attempt. At the same time the players could open the doors in question at-will … (minor action though) …

What the players achieved: they got a fun way of using a ritual, they decided when the enemies behind the doors could get out, and in effect they controlled the battlefield situation well … even by letting the monsters out one or two at a time …

Not the scenario I had in mind when writing the adventure … but funny anyhow …

… another ritual they used is wizards sight … but this is a more costly ritual and therefore not so often used … but when used it has given them a good edge against the monsters they are facing

8 Dan January 30, 2010 at 5:02 am

I do the same as wickedmurph in the campagin I DM, but purely by chance, lol. One of the PCs in the group rolled an alchemist and he happened to show a keen interest in the flamable projectiles the kobold slingers were using during his very first 4e encouter… so I gave him one as part of the looted treasure (why is there never any left-over speciality ammo in monster loot??). It was a wonderful exercise in rollplaying as he took time to figure out how and from what it was made. Now, he has become one of most ruthless battlefield scavengers I have ever had the pleasure of DMing, and has given me a creative way of adding a higher level of detail to treasure parcels.

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 5 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: