Getting The Most Out Of Rituals

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on January 6, 2010

Rituals are the aspect of 4e that I have invested the least amount of time in. This is mainly because I’ve only played classes that don’t receive the ritual casting feat. It is also because I find the ritual system unfriendly. Now, I should clarify the ritual system isn’t difficult to understand, in fact it’s dead easy. What’s unfriendly about rituals is that they feel tacked on to the game; they don’t seem to really have their own place.

It’s very clear to see where rituals originate from in terms of previous editions. Rituals are the utility spells that never had a place in combat. Rituals are, however, a great way to add flavour to any D&D game. As the Dungeon’s Master team transitions into a new campaign, and I into a character who knows over 20 rituals, I have given rituals a renewed focus through my D&D lense. My objective is to find a way to integrate rituals more fully into my game and that might require some tweaking of the rules as written. Fortunately, Ameron is the DM and if there is anything we’ve learned through writing this blog it’s to be flexible regarding new ideas and in the spirit of 4e, to say yes.

Rituals have always seemed like the third wheel at a date. Combat and Skill Challenges are having a great time and then rituals decide they have a question or are perhaps attention starved and so they ask an awkward question. I found it interesting that in a recent interview at Dungeonmastering, James Wyatt indicated that rituals are one aspect of 4e he’d like to change. If you haven’t read the interview, I do recommend it (Part 1 | Part 2). It’s always nice to get inside a game designer’s head.

With the recognition that rituals really are a third wheel that can occasionally be used in skill challenges, I wanted to find a way to make rituals a smoother and more natural part of the game.

Eliminate Casting Time

One aspect that restricts rituals is the casting time. The shortest casting time for most rituals is 10 minutes. That instantly eliminates rituals as an option for combat, which was probably a deliberate design choice. However, if I want to cast a ritual during combat shouldn’t that be my choice? This isn’t to say a time allotment shouldn’t be attributed to rituals, just not 10 minutes. Any of the action types (standard, move or minor) would be acceptable depending on the nature of the ritual being cast.

For example, if a PC finds himself in combat during a formal setting and he doesn’t want blood to tarnish his outfit, why shouldn’t he be able to cast Fastidiousness as a minor action on his first turn? Why does it need to take 10 minutes. The action itself has no real bearing on the combat, it’s more of a role playing quirk, but it should be an option. After all, ending the combat without being covered in blood could give a nice +2 bonus to Diplomacy checks made afterwards as the PC attempts to secure a favourable outcome.

In another example the PCs may come across a magic portal that is open and allowing demons to enter into their world. A seal portal ritual would close the portal, but that takes 10 minutes to cast. Not an option during combat, but it should be one.

In removing the casting time as listed, the DM is left to make a call on what’s reasonable regarding time constraints. Certain rituals just don’t make sense to be used in combat, so do they really require a casting time?

Push The Limits

While rituals as presented all have fairly robust explanations on what is possible when they are cast, they also represent the powerful arcane energies coming together. With this in mind, I think it makes sense to be a little bit more liberal in reading exactly what a ritual can accomplish.

Trailblaze is a ritual that could very easily be expanded in its use. As the ritual stands now it makes travelling quicker by negating natural terrain. A way of expanding this idea is to allow to be used inside combat. Casting the ritual would be a move or standard action creating a close burst 1 that ends at the end of the PCs next turn, sustain minor. The effect, difficult terrain is negated. Bloom is another ritual that could be used to create the opposite effect.

These are just two of the ways I’m looking to get creative with rituals over the next couple of weeks. What ways have you found to make rituals a more integral part of your game? Or are you on the other side of the ritual debate. Do you think rituals are unnecessary and should be forgotten altogether?

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1 Starvosk January 6, 2010 at 11:01 am

Einh. Placing rituals out of combat was a very deliberate balancing mechanism. Frankly, a lot of rituals would override skill use, which was one of the #1 problems in 3e.

2 Wyatt January 6, 2010 at 11:08 am

What I decided was that I didn’t like the rituals guidelines to begin with, so I made my own. I tried toning down the casting times, reducing costs and so on, but for players they still felt clumsy and were often forgotten. So I made the Endeavor rules (linkbacked here) to try to give my players something more relevant.
.-= Wyatt´s last blog ..Skill Rituals: Comprehensive Rules =-.

3 Mike Katz January 6, 2010 at 12:21 pm

I feel that way about rituals too, although in earlier editions, I found plenty of uses for utility spells in combat. After all… it’s magic!

For something like Seal Portal, it might make sense to reduce the casting time from 10 minutes to 10 rounds worth of standard actions. As long as one person in the party with the ritual uses a standard action to cast it, another party member could use one to cast it (like an aid another skill check), reducing its remaining time by 1. That way you get the drama of the whole party involved, and having to balance dealing demons flying through the portal with closing it. This is where the 3/3.5 skill Concentration shined.

Or maybe something level based, where a spell costs its level in standard actions to cast. This might also make a good magic item, one that lets you store a ritual to use as a combat action.
.-= Mike Katz´s last blog ..On sneaking =-.

4 Neuroglyph January 6, 2010 at 3:11 pm

I really think it’s a balance mistake to cast rituals in combat. I don’t think that casting them in combat is necessary to make them popular with your players – rituals are just fun to use in the right context.

My players are very excited to use Rituals, and use them often, despite having to plan ahead a bit and cast them outside of combat. Almost every level so far, as soon as they hit a new level, they swarm to the local temple or mages guild, clamoring to buy new rituals.

I have to Starvosk – rituals were specifically taken out of combat in order to make sure that spell casters are not artificially overpowered – making them combat abilities is essentially granting ritual casters a whole set of encounter powers that non-ritual casters can’t enjoy.
.-= Neuroglyph´s last blog ..Review: Nevermore by Expeditious Retreat Press =-.

5 Wimwick January 6, 2010 at 6:59 pm

@ Starvosk
I agree that having rituals outside of combat was a deliberate design choice. However, saying that rituals would override skills if allowed in combat doesn’t work either. Afterall, if a skill check alone would suffice, why do we need rituals? Also, most rituals require a skill check to see if they will work.

@ Wyatt
I noted you were writing on rituals recently. I haven’t had a time to fully read what you’ve put up, but I am interested in reading the framework you’ve created.

@ Mike Katz
I like your idea about the casting time and requiring a concentrated effort over multiple rounds. I suppose my intent as a PC is to think of ways rituals could be used differently and then present them to my DM (either inside the game or out) and see what happens.

@ Neuroglyph
It will be interesting to see if Ameron will let me use select rituals inside combat and how that might effect the game. The trade off is if I’m casting a ritual, I’m not attacking. While it’s true that non-ritual casters would not be able to particpate, what we need to remember is that anyone can train in the ritual casting feat. I’ll let you know how things go in a future post.

6 Swordgleam January 6, 2010 at 10:44 pm

I once played a one-shot where three out of the four characters had rituals – the party was a wizard, a warlock (me), a paladin and a cleric. None of us had ever played characters with rituals before, and we used them a LOT.

Needed to cross a rickety bridge? Our wizard had the highest dex. He cast Tenser’s Floating Disk and ferried the rest of us across. The same for sneaking – also dex-based. The rest of us sat on the disk quietly while the wizard rolled all the Stealth checks.

7 Rook January 8, 2010 at 6:21 pm

I would think that if you are going to allow rituals to be cast during combat, then a Concentration-like roll should be needed. Maybe something like an attack roll, your Int vs. 10 + ritual level or a similar mechanic. Perhaps you could impose a penalty to your roll if you are hit before your turn in that same round. Failure simply means the ritual was disrupted, but you don’t lose any material components.
Mind you this is just off the top of my head and haven’t tried it out, but maybe it might lead you in the right direction.
.-= Rook´s last blog ..And me without a Girdle of Masculinity/Femininity: A tale of a modest mini. =-.

8 PinkRose January 28, 2010 at 5:25 am

I’m late to the discussion (just found your blog from the DDi article. Favorite new blog this year) but I wanted to chime in.
In my group, I’ve reduced the casting time of rituals by 1 notch.
So 1 minute rituals take 1 standard action. 1 hour ritual takes 10 minutes. 8 hour rituals take 1 hour. And everything else falls in-between. The big catalyst for me to make the changes was water walk. It takes 10 minutes to cast and lasts an hour. So by the time I’ve cast it 5 times, I the first guy only has 10 minutes left to walk. 1 minute cast time seemed much better. Now you have 55 minutes to walk as a group. So my game hasn’t broke and the D&D police haven’t shown up.
Thanks again for the great blog.

9 Wimwick January 28, 2010 at 10:58 am

@ PinkRose
Welcome to Dungeon’s Master, glad you found the site and I hope you continue to enjoy the content we provide.

I really like your idea of reduced casting time. For me casting time has always been the deal breaker on whether I’ve felt rituals are an appropriate action to take. Another alternative to consider, especially in a case like water walk, might be rule that one casting could cover the party as long as the appropriate material components are expended.

10 PinkRose January 28, 2010 at 6:16 pm

True, but after looking at a few other rituals, I felt a rule rather then a DM ruling each time was a much simpler solution.
Now my players and I know before hand how long a ritual takes to cast.
Here’s my complete list.
* 1 minute = 1 Standard Action
* 5 minutes = 30 sec / 5 Standard Actions
* 10 minutes = 1 minute
* 20 minutes = 2 minutes
* 30 minutes = 3 minutes
* 1 hour = 10 minutes
* 2 hours = 15 minutes
* 4 hours = 30 minutes
* 8 hours = 1 hour

11 DerekDyer July 9, 2010 at 1:20 am

Maybe… X rounds where X is how many minutes it normally takes. It requires double the normal cost to expedite. The first round it requires a Standard to start, and each following round a minor to Sustain.

That’s at least an initial evaluation. I like the concept.

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