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What’s Wrong With Rituals?

Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble.” ~ Shakespeare (That Scottish Play)

For those of you that don’t know, it’s bad luck to name a certain play of Shakespeare’s by name, and I don’t feel like cursing my blogsite. Yes, I know the line was also in a Hairy Potter movie, but it’s far more appropriate to mention Mac… ah that Scottish Play when talking about Rituals.
Ritual Sacrifice
I’ve see a lot of posts on the forums and on other blogsites that lead me to think that quite a few folks think the Ritual system is broken. If you check them out, you find that there are complaints ranging from Rituals being useless because they take too long, to them being inaccessible to too many Classes, or to just costing too much.

What Is Right with Rituals?

Personally, I like the Ritual system as a whole, even though I see some inherent flaws when I look too close. In D&D 4e, we finally see a level of play balance between the Classes that has never existed in all the previous editions, and Rituals are part of that balance.

In previous editions of D&D, you had everyone in the game start off at low level with few combat options. Melee classes swung their weapons or casters shot one of their meager compliment of spells, at least until they ran out, and everything was fairly balanced. The melee classes had a slight advantage with their “to hit” numbers being better, but at low levels, no one hit well anyways.

But in high level play, the game flopped over violently in favor of the caster classes. Clerics and Wizards (and their sub-classes) suddenly had dozens of combat options at their finger-tips, able to produce all manner of personal single-target, and area effects. The melee classes, on the other hand, had to make-do with swinging their weapons still, although they did get a couple of extra attacks each round.

At least in 3.5 ed, the melee classes had more options, what with some feats and class abilities, but they were still massively behind the casting classes in the array of options (ie. Spells) they could choose from.

D&D 4e fixed that by giving every class, regardless of whether caster or melee, the same number of options to choose from. From level to level, the number of at-wills, encounter, and daily powers and utilities that each Class could use in combat each day was exactly the same across the board.

The only difference is that some Classes were granted the skills and a feat that allowed them to perform out-of-combat powers, Rituals, if you will, but because they were out-of-combat they had less of an impact on tipping the game balance.

To me, that’s what’s right with Rituals – taking a wide variety of magic, and keeping it in the game, but in a way that does not affect the balance of combat abilities between the Classes.

So What Is Wrong With Rituals?

In part, I’ve dealt with one of the major complaints that I’ve seen on forum boards and blogs regarding Rituals –

  • Why do Rituals take so long to cast I can’t use them in combat?

To put it simply, it’s a game balance issue. You don’t want to give a large huge list of powers to a few Classes, or you ruin the balance of combat. I understand and agree with WotC’s reasoning here, and allowing “speed casting” of Rituals would be like falling back to AD&D or 2nd Edition, and letting Clerics and Wizards run the show at high level play.

  • Rituals aren’t accessible enough to all the Classes!

Not sure why some people think this, but Rituals make Magic are MORE accessible to every Class than it has ever been in previous versions.

First off, every Character, regardless of Class, can buy and perform a Ritual from a Scroll. Your Cleric get iced in a combat with a white dragon? No problem, the barbarian has a Scroll of Raise Dead to bring the Cleric back. He doesn’t even have to know any special skill because Raise Dead is a Heal (no check) ability. He just has to avoid dripping dragon blood from his armor on the parchment and he can bring back the party’s Leader. In earlier editions, you better hope that you’ve got a Rogue who has been studying his Use Magic Device skill, otherwise it’s a long walk back to town, carrying a corpsicle, with no healer to help out.

And then there is the fact that ANY Class can become a Ritual Caster! Anyone trained in Arcana or Religion can take the Ritual Caster feat, and cast away to their heart’s content. You have a Fighter that feels he is particularly devout and wants to be a little “priestly”? Not a problem! It just takes two feats, Skill Training (Religion) and Ritual Caster feats, and you’ve got a Fighter that can cast Rituals like a champ. If your DM plays with Character Background Benefits, and you can probably save yourself a feat by taking a Background that throw the Religion skill your way as a freebie. Now you’ve got a Fighter that can Cure Disease, Remove Affliction, and Raise the Dead almost as good as his Cleric can.

How you get much more accessible than that?

  • Rituals are too expensive for what you get – they are not worth it.

Well, on this last point, I am in absolute agreement. I have no idea what the Dev team was thinking when they created their price list for Rituals, but frankly, it’s completely ridiculous.

At any given level (except Level 1), purchasing a Ritual that is equal to the Party’s Level takes up between 9% to 16% of the total monetary amount of the Treasure Parcel for that Level. On average, the cost is around 10%, but there are a couple frightening spikes in Ritual Cost vs. Treasure Parcel as Characters progress.

The first spike occurs at 5th Level, where for some reason, all the 5th Level Rituals have a Market Price of 250gp and the Treasure Parcel for the entirety of that level is only 2000gp. That’s 12.5% of the entire party’s monetary gain that level to buy one Ritual! The second comes at Level 11, where the only non-setting specific Ritual, History Revealed, costs a whopping 16.1% of the TMTP (Total Monetary Treasure Parcel) for that level!

There are also some notable other individual pricing “anomalies” among the Rituals that don’t follow the typical pricing scheme of other Rituals of the same level:

Level Ritual Cost of Ritual
4 Call of Friendship (AP) 215gp (12.8% TMTP)
4 Beast Growth (AP) 215gp (12.8% TMTP)
10 Aria of Revealment (PHB2) 400gp (12% TMTP)

The list grows even longer if you include those Rituals who have Casting Costs that exceed the “average” TMTP percent. Most Rituals cost around 2% of the TMTP, which is shockingly high, but there are some Rituals that can cost as much as 4% to 5% of the TMTP for just one casting! And that amount does not factor in the cost of a spell focus, which can be quite expensive. Rituals such as Magic Circle, Control Weather, and Cure Disease all cost the party 4% to 5% of their TMTP per casting, and Raise Dead tops the lot at a massive 7.35% at 8th Level in the Heroic Tier!

How to Fix the Cost of Rituals?

So what can a DM do to make Rituals more financially feasible, and make Player-Characters willing to buy into the Ritual system without it emptying their coin-pouches?

Half-Price Sale: First, just halve the cost of Rituals and their components and foci across the board. It should not take 10% of the TMTP to buy a Ritual, then another 2% every time you want to cast it. Percentages of 5% and 1% of TMTP are more reasonable, and of course, the casting percentage will continue to drop as the Characters rise in level, and their Treasure Parcels scale up.

Frequent Risiduum Rewards: Before I decided to run my analysis of Ritual cost, I was already taking steps in my 4e campaigns to lower the cost of casting Rituals. I started dropping stashes of residuum powder in place of the occasional gem drop from the Treasure Parcel. Characters enjoyed getting the caches of residuum as they adventured, and it made Ritual casting immediately handy and desirable if they have the components right at hand.

Healing Surge Replacement: Some Rituals require healing surges to make the magic flow, and some do not. Why not make healing surges an acceptable substitute for casting cost of a Ritual all the time? You’ve probably read about it all the time in fantasy novels, where casting spells fatigues the practitioners, because even pulling life force from a caster to fuel the power of a Ritual. So let Player-Characters fuel the Ritual with a healing surge in place of 25% of the casting cost – so 4 healing surges means a free Ritual casting! You can make the cost higher for castings beyond the Heroic Tier, such as having it cost 2 healing surges for Paragon Rituals, and 3 healing surges for Epic Rituals to count for 25% of the Ritual Component cost.

Casting Rituals in this manner should actually cause some detriment, so make sure to make healing surges used in place of component cost be unavailable for at least 24 hours after the casting. This will keep it from becoming standard practice for every Ritual casting.

Conclusion

Overall, I think the Ritual system was a great game balancing point for D&D 4e, making sure that spellcasters did not come to completely eclipse the melee classes that helped them thrive and survive until high level. It is readily available to anyone willing to spend a feat, and Rituals can add a lot of role-play possibilities to a game.

Fixing the cost is important though to make Ritual Casting a viable part of the game system, and I hope my suggestions come in handy.

What do you think of the Ritual system of 4e? Are there other issues with it? I’d love to hear your feedback, issues, and ideas!

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Image:

A New and Complete Illustration of the Occult Sciences by Ebenezer Sibly [1751-1800], M.D. F.R.H.S., Embellished with Curious Copper-Plates, London, 1806.


About The Author

Editor-in-Chief
Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.

Comments

7 Responses to “What’s Wrong With Rituals?”

  1. Swordgleam says:

    I had no idea how to appropriately cost the rituals I made for Azagar’s Book of Rituals – I spent entirely too much time pouring over the costs of existing rituals trying to make sense of them, to no avail. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one with that problem.

    I like the idea of using healing surges to replace part of the cost, but not all of it. Because gold is a resource that the DM can manage completely, whereas healing surges are not. So if the DM wants to place some kind of limit on the PCs’ ability to cast the rituals they already own, there has to be some kind of component cost. This could be rare herbs and the like that the party only sometimes runs across, rather than being gold.

  2. Oz says:

    Rituals are one of the things I like about 4e. I’ve made them a little more restricted in my campaign, partly due to my world design, but I like their application in the game. I actually require the expenditure of surges to use rituals.

    I don’t have a problem overall with their cost. It makes them valuable enough to make them appealing as a reward for an adventure above and beyond money. There are also certain rituals that are restricted by certain organizations, i.e. the Traveller’s Guild maintains a tight grip on the Linked Portal ritual, though they’ll happily sell you scrolls.

    Speaking of scrolls, I did halve the cost of scrolls… it made no sense for a one-shot casting to cost the same as permanently learning the ritual.
    .-= Oz´s last blog ..SciFi Burlesque Show? =-.

  3. vortimax says:

    I agree with you on all points. Excellent write-up. Thank you for sharing.

  4. @ Swordgleam – you’re right, you probably shouldn’t let the entire component cost be swallowed up by healing surges – I’ve only just implemented this in my D&D campaigns and I’m still tweaking. I like the idea of using rare herbs, perhaps letting a Druid or Ranger throw in a Nature skill check to find a partial-residuum substitute.

    Speaking of gold though, the cost of Rituals makes dropping a ritual book as a treasure reward a very tricky thing. The PHB states you can sell a Ritual book for 1/2 the value of the Rituals in it. OUCH! At the current cost of rituals, that’s a Treasure Parcel nightmare to hash out.

    @Oz – Thank you for bringing up the point about making scrolls cheaper – of course, a consequence of cheapening the cost to buy a Ritual would makes scrolls cheaper too, but I didn’t mention it in the post. I can certainly understand in some campaigns restricting the use of Rituals, and I like your idea of Guilds protecting certain Rituals to maintain a monopoly.

    But personally, I’m hoping that the detractors will take a fresh look at Rituals and realize the system ain’t all that broke and start using them more!

  5. Swordgleam says:

    I think components are a cool idea that’s under-used. Generic “divine spell components” and “arcane spell components” are fine for minor rituals, but for major rituals, you’d better go get the scale of a red drake and the fang of a dire weretiger if you want to make it work.

    Keep in mind that not everyone is going to want to buy a ritual book, not everyone is going to be able to afford one, and those two things will not often intersect. Finding a willing and able buyer for a high-level ritual book could be a quest in itself! Not to mention protecting the thing, once it gets out that a valuable item is being transported.

  6. karolusb says:

    4th ed has a lot of transperency, sometimes too much, but for the most part I like it.

    What they don’t address transparently though is who benefits from the ritual. And that is why rituals frequently seem overpriced. When I as the GM decide that this weeks adventure is in Waterdeep, and nexts weeks adventure Suzail, linked portal doesn’t actually benefit the party, it benefits me.

    Now different styles of play can affect this heavily, but since most rituals provide an out for the GM to tell the story he wants (underwater adventure anyone?) it seems punitive to take away a real resource from the party to allow it. Now if travelling to suzail is really thier idea than it might be fair to have them bear the cost.

    I like surges as an optional component. I also like rare and exotic components, but I feel you need to be realistic about what they do. If they dragons scale is really just a mcguffin I need to advance the plot, I should treat it as such. Same with the “use dragon scale to destroy evil artifact” ritual. If I take the “value” of those out of the parties treasure allotment I am short shifting them. If I short shift them I should do it for a real reason, not simply because I defined the mcguffin as a ritual.

  7. I think you hit upon a fundmental point there karolusb, that there are some rituals that are really an “out” for the DM, and provide a plot handle. But I don’t know that I would go so far as to say most rituals fall into that category – perhaps my perception is a bit skewed because I use the Azagar’s Book of Rituals in my campaign, and sprinkle useful rituals liberally into adventuring supply stores and magic shops. Adding 300+ more rituals to the list gives me quite a bit of variety to offer my PCs.

    But your point is sound, and DMs should consider providing a subsidy to Heroes – perhaps in an extra magic item or cash parcel – when a ritual is used to move the plot along and adventurers have to foot the bill for it.

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