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?
Visit Dungeon’s Master tomorrow for our 300th post.