Improving Rituals

In a recent thread in the 4e General Discussion forum, it was asked what we'd like to see in a hypothetical Fifth Edition, which got me thinking about what I thought most needed tweaking in 4th edition.

Don't get me wrong.  I love 4th edition.  But I'm a tinkerer at heart, so I can't leave well enough alone.  For me, the one element of 4th edition that they could have done a little better is rituals.  To me, rituals seemed to be one of those things that was either rushed, or not given sfficient thought. 

Specifically, the decision to make ritual casting dependent on the expenditure of gold seems, to me, inappropriate for many rituals.  As it stands gold translates to one thing -- combat effectiveness.  Players are expected to have certain wealth levels to compete in combat, specifically by possessing a weapon/implement, neck slot item and body slot item of appropriate power.  In addition, the remaining welath is to be spent on other magic items that provide benefits to combat.  (This isn't strictly true, as lair items and other items have been introduced that don't directly contribute to combat.  However, I think they suffer the same flaws.)

Fourth Edition was designed, appropriately, in my opinion, with the attitude that one shouldn't be forced to choose between combat and non-combat effectiveness.  Character building choices should be limited to deciding wehich of many methods will one select to be effective in combat and which of many methods will one select to be effectivein noncombat.

By making rituals -- particularly rituals that provide mainly flavor or don't directly affect combat -- dependent on gold, the game is forcing a choice that is counter to what I perceive to be a central design philosophy.  Already, with the introduction of martial practices, we see ritual-style effects getting away from gold expenditures, and using healing surges instead.

Here's what I would propose for any 5th edition ritual system:

  • Casting Rituals.  I propose three types of "expenditures" for ritual casting:
    • Coin.  Gold is appropriate in some instances.  Rituals that create items that can be used in combat (particularly alchemy) should continue to require expenditures of components with a monetary value.  The cost of casting the ritual should be related ot the value of the item to be produced.  In addition, any ritual with an effect that can be invoked in combat, and will have more than an incidental benefit, should have a cost associated with it.  The most dramatic example if the 4th edition version of Drawmij's Instant Summons, which gives the recipient the power to summon a pre-designated item from afar.  Casting this ritual (and other rituals that give similar benefits) should be priced as if you had a consumable item that granted this power.
      • Ritual Slot.  Another way to limit the use of rituals in combat is to create a new body slot for rituals.  If you limit a character to having only one combat-ready ritual on his person per tier of play at any time, it limits the abuse that might come from having more combat-ready rituals.  This frees designers to come up with more rituals, confident that they are less likely to be abued.
    • Skill Challenges.  A lot of rituals can be plot-wrecking for many DMs, particularly divinations, summonings, and mass enchantments.  These rituals give out information that have potential to wreck a plot.  In my opinion, the best way to handle these rituals is to run them as skill challenges.  In this way, the party is using the ritual to potentially replace one encounter (the one for which they are using the divination or summoning) with another encounter.  The skill challenge should be designed so that the entire party is involved, and the difficulty of the skill challenge should be related to the difficulty of the encounter that the party is trying to obviate or ameliorate through use of this ritual.  This gives the players some flexibility in how to handle an encounter without detroying the DMs ability to create plot.
    • Ritual Surges.  Healing surges tell you how many times you get to heal before you need to rest.  A similar mechanic can be used to prevent the over use of rituals.  In my opinion, rituals that don't fit in either of the two prior categories should cost ritual surges.  While the DM can adjust these numbers to fit a specific campaign-style, I recommend that ritualists get a two ritual surges per level (which replenish after an extended rest), and rituals that require surges costs one surge per level of the ritual.  If for any reason a ritual that costs surges does not end after an extended rest, the ritualist cannot replenish the ritual surges used to invoke that continuing ritual.
      • Wards.  Wards particularly fall into this category, and ritualists would likely spend their remaining healing surges to ward the campsite.  This is particularly helpful as it creates a nice choice for the caster -- use a ritual during the day, and their campsite is more vulnerable at night.
      • Durations.  Because ritual surges, like healing surges, would replenish after an extended rest, it is important that most rituals not last longer than the end of the ritualist's next extended rest.  Otherwise, there is a potential for abuse.
  • Acquiring Rituals.  Acquiring rituals gives you options, but they aren't combat options.  Already one needs to spend a feat to get access to rituals (or be given the feat as a class feature).  That's appropriate.  But how do we balance the acquisition of rituals?  If we require more than a nominal amount of coin we are once again force the dilemma between combat and non-combat effectiveness.  If we have no limit, then all ritualists will have all rituals, which makes them identical.  One of the fun things about playing a ritualist is that it helps distinguish your character from others.  So I see a few ways to limit ritual acquisition.
    • Spells Known.  A ritual is more than a recipe in a book.  A ritualist's book is bound to him, and he to it, in order to understand the sacred texts.  There is a natural limit to how many rituals a ritualist can scribe, based on the level of the ritual and of the ritualist, and on the skills in which the ritualist is trained.  If a ritualist's book is full, he must delete a ritual to make room for a new one.  Feats to increase one's ritual capacity might be appropriate too.  This is workable, but a bit arbitrary.  These rituals would not be counted as part of a treasure parcel as they have only mystic, not material, value.  Finding a ritual might involve a skill challenge (involving Streetwise, History, and a ritual-related skill like Religion or Arcane) and a mystic trade.
    • Alchemy and Items.  Recipe books (for elixirs, items and alchemy) can be treated differently from other rituals.  Coin works fine here as a limitation, since you are using the ritual to make things that also cost coin.  Basically, the recipe represents an initial investment, the cost of casting the ritual might be slightly cheaper than the cost of the item.
    • Social Standing.  In some campaigns, access to rituals might require acquiring standing in some sort of arcane hierarchy.  In a quasi-feudal setting, standing and privilege makes a nice alternative to money for non-combat related items, like lairs, lair items, shops, and the like.  Perhaps there is a wizards' guild that tightly controls access to rituals, or a supernatural hierarchy of revelations for access to Nature and Religion-based rituals.  While I find this method intriguing, it might not be appropriate for all campaign settings.
  • Perpetuating Rituals.  One nice use of rituals, particularly Wards, is to allow a ritualist to tailor their sanctum with interesting traps and guards.  This requires some way to make rituals permanent without opening them to abuse on adventures.  In my opinion, such permanent rituals should not cost gold (beyond whatever gold requirements are made for the non-permanent form of the ritual).  Since one does not adventure in their house, spending gold to ward one's home forces the choice between flavor and combat-effectiveness.  Rather, permanent enchantments should require an expenditure of time.  The permanent enchantment of a sanctum should also involve a skill challenge -- one that would span weeks or months -- and which could involve the entire party. Wards, particularly, are appropriate for such a challenge.  In addition, no ritual placed on a person should be able to be altered in this way, and any permanent ritual would have to be immobile.

I think that covers everything.  As a last note, I have categorized each of the current 4th edition rituals found in the Compendium (as of  September 17, 2009) into categories where I think they would best fit under the system I outlined below.  (Supercript characters represent the ritual's level.)  Enjoy!

Enchantments (Coin)

Enchant Object: Acidic Fire5, Alchemical Silver5, Alchemist’s Acid1, Alchemist’s Fire1, Alchemist’s Frost1, Alchemist’s Spark3, Amanuensis1, Antivenom1, Beastbane4, Blastpatch4, Blinding Bomb3, Bloodstinger Poison3, Bravery Powder3, Brew Potion1, Clear-Path Mist6, Clearsense Powder1, Clearwater Solution1, Clockwork Bomb4, Corrosive Oil3, Create Holy Water1, Dragonfire Tar3, Duplicate6, Enchant Magic Item4, Goodnight Tincture6, Grayflower Perfume10, Heartflow3, Herbal Poultice3, Inferno Oil5, Ironwood6, Jolt Flask10, Keen Oil10, Lockburst Chalk4, Lodret Leaf5, Make Whole1, Noxious Grenade11, Panther Tears2, Resonance Crystal4, Rust Bomb5, Salve of Slipperiness8, Scribe10, Slow-Step Oil3, Smokestick6, Sovereign Glue8, Spotted Toadstool Venom10, Suppression Crystal4, Tanglefoot Bag2, Tension Wheel4, Tethercord3, Thunderstone5, Tracking Dust4, Transfer Enchantment4, Universal Solvent10, Woundpatch3

Enchant Creature: Ancestral Whispers6, Aura Mask8, Comprehend Language1, Conceal Dragonmark1, Dark Gift of the Undying11, Chameleon’s Cloak10, Status8, Deathly Shroud6, Divine Sight22, Drawmij’s Instant Summons12, Feat of Strength4, Glib Limerick1, Gravesight8, Hallucinatory Creature12, Lich Transformation14, Masking Shroud14, Ritual of Retrieval14, Seeming12, Share Husk8, Simbul’s Conversion1, Song of Restfulness10, Soulguard20, Telepathic Bond14, Visage of Life12, Water Breathing8

Ritual Surges

Convenience: Affect Normal Fire3, Arcane Mark1, Battlefield Elocution3, Beast Growth4, Bloom2, Clear the Path6, Control Weather14, Corpse Light2, Dark Light4, Deceive Sensor26, Delver’s Fire2, Demicache12, Earthen Ramparts6, Easy Passage16, Endure Elements2, Excavation6, Explorer’s Fire1, Fastidiousness1, Fastidiousness1, Fluid Funds2, Fool’s Speech6, Gentle Repose1, Knock4, Leomund’s Secret Chest6, Lower Water2, Magic Map9, Magic Mouth1, Mordenkainen’s Ascent6, Mordenkainen’s Joining6, Purify Water1, Pyrotechnics2, Raise Land30, Secret Page1, Shrink6, Summon Winds3, Tenser’s Floating Disk1, Tenser’s Lift8, Time Ravager14, Tiny Lanterns6, Trailblaze10, Tree Shape2, Unseen Servant1, Waterborn14

Wards/Healing: Arcane Barrier12, Arcane Lock4, Banish Illusions11, Banish Vermin1, Bolster Object6, Cauldron’s Rebirth15, Chamber of Vulnerability20, Conceal Object10, Cure Disease6, Delay Affliction4, Disenchant Magic Item6, Disorienting Portal10, Ease Spirit25, Eavesdropper’s Foil, Enhance Vessel10, Eye of Alarm2, Eye of Warning14, Fantastic Recuperation16, Forbiddance20, Guards and Wards18, Hallucinatory Item5, Hallowed Temple12, Iron Vigil4, Magic Circle5, Purify Spellscarred18, Raise Beast Companion1, Raise Dead8, Remove Affliction8, Reverse Portal12, Rope Trick12, Safeguard16, Scramble Portal14, Seal Portal8, Secure Shelter10, Sentinel Eye14, Signal of Pursuit8, Silence1, Skull Watch4, Snare4, Solace Bole12, Song of Sustenance8, Stasis Shell16, Succor20, Teleport Catcher18, Thief’s Lament, Traveler’s Feast4, Undead Ward3, Unseen Servant1, Voicecatcher veil26, Ward the True Name26, Wizard’s Curtain1, Wizard’s Escape6, Wyvern Watch

Skill Challenges

Binding: Adjure16, Animal Friendship5, Animal Messenger1, Anthem of Unity8, Astral Guide14, Call of Friendship4, Call Wilderness Guide6, Chorus of Truth10, Detect Lies6, Imprisonment28, Lullaby3, Mark of Justice12, Memory Seal18, Mindshape Warwing Drake5, Pact of the Iron Ring10, Permanencenew, Phantom Steed6, Ritual of Twin Burnings26, Spirit Idol7, Steed Summons6, Tenser’s Binding10, Tune of Merriment9, Undead Servitor6

Finding: Analyze Portal8, Aria of Revelation10, Astral Sojourn15, Commune with Nature6, Consult Mystic Sages10, Consult Oracle16, Corpse Gate14, Create Teleportation Circle15, Detect Object10, Detect Secret Doors3, Detect Treasure9, Far Sending16, Fey Passage6, Find the Path6, Fools Gold3, Hand of Fate4, History Revealed11, Inquisitive’s Eyes8, Last Sight Vision2, Linked Portal8, Loremaster’s Bargain22, Object Reading5, Observe Creature24, Overland Flight20, Passwall12, Planar Portal18, Planar Sending14, Plane Shift18, Scry Trap20, Seek Rumor2, Sending6, Shadow Bridge8, Shadow Passage8, Shadow Walk12, Shift Mote26, Speak with Dead6, Speak with Nature5, Traveler’s Chant1, Tree Stride6, True Portal28, True Sending20, View Location14, View Object18, Voice of Fate26, Walk Crossroads14, Water Walk2, Whispers of the Edifice14, Wizard’s Sight8

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