Ritual Casting – Opening Up The System

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on February 3, 2010

Rituals are “complex ceremonies that create magic effects” according to the description in the Player’s Handbook. It makes sense then that only classes who receive in-depth training should have access to rituals. The concept behind rituals is that they are used outside of combat, perhaps during skill challenges, and represent powerful magic that requires concentration and time. Effects such as raise dead and magic item creation are not events to be taken lightly, they are game altering. A Rogue from the streets of Waterdeep or a Fighter who is a refugee from Cyre should not have automatic access to these rituals. Or should they?

Why wouldn’t a Swordmage from Aundair have some formal training in ritual casting? The same could be argued about a Ranger from the Eldeen Reaches. Of course these characters can access ritual casting if they choose the ritual casting feat. But why do some classes have access to the ritual casting feat automatically and others do not? It is primarily arcane and divine classes that have access to ritual casting as a class feature, which makes sense given the training and background assumptions that come with these classes. We need to ask why martial characters don’t also get the feat for free?

There is a second requirement for casting rituals which is training in the keyed skill of the ritual. So being able to cast a ritual is based on two prerequisites: the ritual casting feat and training in the appropriate skill. Though I understand the rational of why certain classes would receive training in ritual casting, I find the imbalance that it leaves annoying. Especially as there are some rituals that would make sense for certain classes to have access to. Rangers should have access to rituals like Explorer’s Fire, Find the Path and Create Campsite; all of which are keyed to Nature – a class skill for Rangers.

A further annoyance about the system as presented, or perhaps a problem I have with the hybrid character system, is that hybrid characters don’t gain automatic access to ritual casting. This makes no sense if the two parts of the hybrid character would normally get the ritual casting feat. A hybrid Cleric/Wizard does not get ritual casting automatically. I will concede that it might be too difficult to juggle that in to the hybrid system as it exists.

Why is the ritual casting feat so exclusive? In my experience, rituals aren’t used often. When they are used there is an exclusive group of classes who have the ability to take advantage of them. The classes who are excluded from using rituals gain no additional benefit. So why not open the system up?

The following classes get the ritual casting feat automatically: Artificier, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Invoker and Wizard. There are currently 25 classes (as of the February 2, 2010, Character Builder update) and when the PHB3 come put next month that number increases to 27. Of the current 25 classes, only 6 have ritual casting as a class feature. This explains why rituals aren’t a predominate part of the game only 24% of character classes gain ritual casting automatically. Of those 6 classes only 2 are from the PHB. When you consider long-term campaigns with little character turnover, this means ritual casting is a rarity.

Now consider that according to the DDI Compendium (subscription required) there are 270 rituals available, but only 6 classes have access to these rituals as a class feature. Everyone else has to expend a feat to gain the advantage of rituals, yet gain no noticeable out-of-combat benefit by not having automatic access to the ritual casting system.

My solution for fixing this is to simply remove the ritual casting feat. Make the prerequisite for ritual casting the appropriate skill training. This prevents the system from opening up completely. It also provides a reasonable back-story option for characters who want to participate in the ritual system. As most rituals are keyed to the knowledge-based skills, it’s reasonable to assume that training in knowledge skills includes the fundamentals of ritual casting.

I’m not going to claim that this solution is perfect, but I do think that it would open up the ritual system and allow more players to take advantage of it. If things remain as they are ritual casting remains the fifth wheel of the 4e system. Unwanted and ignored.

What are your thoughts on ritual casting? Does your campaign feature a lot of ritual usage? Does eliminating the ritual casting feat from the game and opening the system up work or does it create an imbalance?

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Razorstorm February 3, 2010 at 10:33 am

Doesn’t this do a disservice to wizards and other classes that received the feat for free? Should they receive something else to compensate? I think so, as it is clearly part of the “class package” balancing act that WOTC does, or else, as you noted, it would not be a “value choice” for hybrid classes.

2 Wimwick February 3, 2010 at 10:55 am

@ Razorstorm
You could always argue that opening the ritual system up does a disservice to those who gain training in rituals as a class feature. However, these classes also gain training in one of the keyed skills and usually have others as class skills. I don’t think rituals are a large enough part of the game that opening the system up creates a major imbalance.

Also, if you consider the barriers to entry for a class like a fighter ritual casting will remain exclusive. Fighters, as an example, require the expenditure of two feats (ritual casting and skill training) to gain access to rituals. Are rituals so powerful that most classes who don’t gain access as a class feature should have to spend two feats to gain access?

3 numenetics February 3, 2010 at 10:55 am

I’m with Razorstorm. With all the fancy mojo that every class can do, rituals help to make magic unique in the system. With your ranger example: I don’t think it’s inherent in the idea of a ranger to have access to any of those rituals you mention. Traditionally rangers did get access to magic of that sort but only once they had advanced in level. Making it so that a ranger could take ritual casting at first level actually opens up the rangers access to magic, rather than restricts it.

4 JesterOC February 3, 2010 at 11:22 am

I’m also with Razorstorm. Letting all classes use them with no feat payment, weakens the classes who gets them “for free”. Of course no class gets them for free it is all worked in with the overall class power structure.

Remember that in Martial Power 2 martial characters will be getting martial rituals (I forget the name). So that means that all characters will start having to get free access to those too?

If you want to give them away for free perhaps you can double the cost and/or time for non feated casters.

5 Arcade February 3, 2010 at 12:22 pm

I’ll be the dissenter here and say sounds like a good idea. Our party doesn’t have one of those six “special” classes and there are so many good options for feats, that it’s hard to justify any of us taking ritual casting, even for those who are trained in the right skills. And while it may be a nice ideal that all classes are created equal, the truth is often otherwise. I don’t think they’re so finely balanced on a knife edge that this change will cause the whole system to come tumbling down.

If you want to justify the change to the ones who already have ritual caster, give them a different, but appropriate feat, such as skill focus in a ritual caster skill of their choice, a +2 to all skill checks when casting rituals or a starting ritual or 2 to start them on their way. On the other hand, fighters and classes without ritual skills are still left on the outside as they gain very little from this change.

Even with this change, the barrier to entry for the other classes is cost. The most basic nature ritual is animal messenger. Your first level ranger still needs to buy a ritual book (50gps) and spend the money to cast the ritual. (10gps) At first level, an entire party will gain around 300-400 gold, which is about 75 gold each- enough to cast this spell once or twice if you spend all your money. By about level 3, your ranger can expect to find a ritual book or start investing in their own book, which is a nice time to start casting something like animal messenger anyway.

And nothing says that these rituals need to actually be magic. Traveller’s Feast could be an advanced form of hunting and foraging that requires special bait and an hour to setup. Water Walking is a paste made from a rare seaweed that requires training to brew properly and apply. (say about 1 hour) These advanced training methods are just extensions on to their nature skill. I think my players would actually prefer this rationale to just gaining access to a generic magic ritual.

Another option is to make the Ritual Caster feat better. There’s a multiclass wizard feat in Arcane Power where you gain training in Arcana and the ability to cast rituals. Make Ritual Caster more like this and you might find more takers.

6 Roger February 3, 2010 at 12:43 pm

In my experience, the scrolls are cheap enough to make them a worthwhile option, relative to component cost and/or feat cost.

7 Swordgleam February 3, 2010 at 12:45 pm

I disagree with this idea, but for an entirely different reason than the above posters.

“Rangers should have access to rituals like Explorer’s Fire, Find the Path and Create Campsite; all of which are keyed to Nature – a class skill for Rangers.”

Rangers are a martial class in 4e. The point of martial classes is that they don’t have magic. Sure, someone who feels like me can ignore the little “class feature: nature rituals” there, but it would feel weird to even have it. Rangers find paths using their innate skill and create campsites from long practice. Wizards find paths using magic and create campsites with a wave of their hand. That’s what makes the two classes (and power sources) different.

I see where you’re going with this, but to me, limiting ritual access is more a flavor thing than a mechanics thing. If in your homebrew setting everyone has access to rituals, that’s fine. But I don’t think it should be true in every setting, or even the implied default setting.

8 DanTracker February 3, 2010 at 4:20 pm

i think that leaving ritual casting off the list of fixes in the recent update of hybrids was a mistake. a very simple solution would be to give those hybrids whose full class would receive ritual casting the calss feature: Ritual Casting (Hybrid) – if both hybrid classes receive this class feature you receive the feat Ritual Casting.

also, well spoken about the upcoming martial practices. what i find frustrating there…so do martial classes get that feat for free? are there not good reasons why those martial practices should be open to certain martial classes and available to non-martial classes through feats in a simimlar manner to ritual casting being available through feat to those that do not receive it freely.

i agree that more classes ought to have access to ritual casting, i am surprised that shaman, warden, swordmage, paladin, psion, ardent, and warlock are not included in that list. what would it hurt for them to receive rituals?

but, it is worthwhile to restrict ritual casting among certain classes to give depth to a good system of utilitarian magic. until a wizard joined my table group, no one thought to use rituals, though we had a cleric and druid which were both versed in ritual casting and had access to a public library system that gave them many rituals for a donation fee.

however, there are a growing number of feats that give access to certain rituals freely as though the feat of ritual casting were taken, such as wild sage from primal power.

9 math_geek February 3, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Ok, so we can see there is a problem. Rituals are not attractive options 4e campaigns. There can be three reasons for this. A) It’s too costly to acquire the power to cast rituals. B) There is little incentive to use rituals in campaigns. C) The costs of using a ritual outweigh the benefits.

Wimwick’s proposed solution is to reduce to cost of casting them by eliminating the feat requirement. Will that even address the problem? I’ve played with friends who play druids, wizards, and whatnot and they sometimes don’t even have a list of rituals that they know. Furthermore, does it really make sense for a Fighter trained in Heal to go, oh yeah, I know how to raise the dead? Ummm… no. That completely changes the DND world, and since heal is a class skill for Fighters, they would require no feats to obtain this power. The six ritual casters so far comprise 4 controllers and 2 leaders (none of which are martial). 3 of them are intelligence based classes who are devoted to serious study of magic or pseudomagic (Wizard, Artificer, Psion), and the other 3 are Wisdom based classes devoted in service to God (Invoker, Cleric) or Nature (Druid). They all sort of fill the back line spellcaster role to some extent that was filled by the spellcasting classes in previous additions.

B is an interesting question, but I find that a lot of rituals are really powerful. Raise Dead was a 5th level spell available at 9th level, it’s now an 8th level ritual available at 8th level. Knock is a 4th level ritual as compared to a 2nd level spell available at 3rd level. Cure Disease? A 6th level ritual compared to a 3rd level spell available at 5th level. More or less we find the same power level as old additions. I have a Swordmage multiclassed into Wizard, and I took the ritual casting multiclass option. He’s trained in several knowledge skills, so he can cast rituals. Seek Rumor is awesome. Instead of my Charisma 8 streetwise check, I can make a Int 20 Arcana check? Sure, they eliminate the training benifit, but it’s essentially a +6 bonus to a streetwise check. That’s good. Some rituals are kind of less than useful, but plenty are really nice.

All right, then let’s look at C. I think this is the biggest problem with them. The component costs feel bad to have to pay and they add up. We avoid using rituals because we want to keep the shinies. Seek Rumor is 20 gold. Knock is 35 gold plus a healing surge. Plenty of times, I’ve decided to make a different check than a streetwise check, because I was trained in that other skill and it wouldn’t cost me anything. Even if no-one in the party was trained in streetwise. A more appropriate ritual fix to my mind would be to give everyone the Vistani Heritage ability for free. You can cast one ritual of some maximum component cost for free each day. I imagine you’d see a lot more rituals (and ritual casters) in that situation.

10 JesterOC February 3, 2010 at 5:56 pm

I think Math Geek is spot on. Its all about the money. If all ritual casters could get either an amount of “free” ritual costs per day, or have the options to substitute hit points or healing surges for component costs (or both) it would free players to think about using more rituals.

I also don’t like the specialized components (Alchemical Reagents (Arcana), Mystic Salves (Heal),Rare Herbs (Nature)) because they have the drawback of being specialized without a cost break. Perhaps they should produce twice the effectiveness when used with their specialty and half their effectiveness when used with another type.

Of course another way for DM’s to encourage ritual use is to let the PC’s find them, along with a bundle of appropriate components.

11 Wimwick February 3, 2010 at 11:57 pm

@ Everyone
Some great feedback and idea’s here. Clearly there are people who are passionate, or who at least hold a strong opinion, about rituals.

I’m interested in seeing what Martial Powers 2 brings to the table regarding martial rituals, what these look like and what’s required to access them.

As far as rituals as they stand right now, I think it’s a call that each DM needs to make. Certainly there is nothing wrong with using the rules as presented or to open the system up to increase accessability.

12 Mike D. February 3, 2010 at 11:59 pm

I’m with Wimwick. I don’t pay any attention to rituals right now, as a player or DM. I think something needs to be changed here.

Another way to open them up, other than feats or skill trainings, is to have them become a part of a background benefit. So if you are from such and such place, you also have training in this or that ritual.

13 Arcade February 4, 2010 at 6:18 am

math_geek’s argument on Raise Dead is a good one. So maybe something in the middle is required. Like saying that anyone can cast rituals, but if they don’t have Ritual Caster, it lowers their level by 5 or 10. This is like the difference between having skill training or not. Even your dumb as nails barbarian has a +10 to Arcana at level 20. 10 levels is more in line with how you can imagine a fighter to cast Raise Dead at level 15, but 5 levels makes rituals more accessible, so your 6th level ranger can cast 1st level Nature rituals, which is fine.

It will be interesting to see martial rituals. Maybe all rituals need to be divided into power sources, such as arcane, divine and primal, and your class’s power source helps determine what you gain instant access to or possibly a 5 level delay, and what should be delayed by 10 levels or more.

14 Supa February 4, 2010 at 7:51 am

Sorry, but where does it say that training in the key skill of a ritual is a prerequisite for casting it? From page 298 of the PHB:

“You must meet two requirements to master a ritual.
You must have the Ritual Caster feat (clerics and
wizards get this feat at 1st level), and your level must
equal or exceed the ritual’s level. If you meet those
requirements and spend 8 hours studying a ritual, you
can add it to your list of mastered rituals. As long as
you have the ritual’s book handy, you can perform a
mastered ritual whenever you want.”

15 Nifelhein February 15, 2010 at 1:21 pm

I am with Supa, there is no requirement to be trained in a skill to learn or perform rituals, unless we are talking specific rituals, which might have particularly restricting mechanics.

16 Wimwick February 15, 2010 at 2:35 pm

@ Supa & Nifelhein
True, training isn’t required I misread that when I wrote the article. Though I can’t undertand why even give a key skill if training isn’t required. If a check is required just include it in the text. I also find the lack of training for rituals odd given that Martial Practices (Martial Power 2) will require skill training.

17 JesterOC February 15, 2010 at 2:41 pm

The ritual is magic that allows you to perform actions beyond your understanding. The ritual is the basis for the action. And the skill roll is needed to show how you can use this magical ability.

On the other hand, Martial Practices come from the skill itself. It is the PC’s intense knowledge of the skill that allows him/her to perform beyond of the level of the everyday skill user.


18 Nifelhein February 15, 2010 at 3:27 pm

I believe the key skill is there as a legacy from the older editions and mostly because they determine what kind of materials the component cost actually is on the game world, it is a good GM guideline.

I believe that making a ritual require training in a skill would greatly diminish its potential and increase the skill system’s, but I don’t see why the simple removal of the feat wouldn’t work for your intent.

Without a feat all that is left is the idea that anyone can perform a ritual. The thing that bothers me the most between martial practices and rituals is having two systems designed around the same idea: out of combat potential.

19 Philo Pharynx February 19, 2010 at 5:39 pm

I like the idea of ritual caster being a feat that magical classes get automatically. In some of my 4e games, we have characters that have and use rituals when appropriate. I’d like to add D) to Math Geek’s list: People don’t think about them. They’re listed separately from powers, and even when people have components, they don’t think about them. One solution I use to C and D is to make components available as treasure. This can be parts taken from a monster of an appropriate type or things taken from strange terrain features. I usually set an appropriate DC for the skill in order to harvest them and I give X gp worth for every Y points they get over the DC. This helps take care of the cost and reminds them about rituals on a regular basis. I also have been thinking of adding a 5th level ritual that allows you to convert components into half as much residuum.

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