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The Residuum Conundrum: Rituals in Dark Sun

psionic ritual transEver since I started DMing 4E, I’ve tried to champion the use of rituals in my D&D campaign.  While I know that to some players, the use of rituals is not exactly top on their list of priorities as heroic adventurers, I have managed to prove over time that rituals can be a useful, and even necessary part of questing in a D&D setting.

But my Athas campaign has always bothered me a little bit, because rituals don’t really seem to “fit” into the setting.  This is mainly because rituals are either arcane or divine, and the Dark Sun Setting doesn’t deal very well with heroes using arcane magic, due to the defiling issues, and divine magic is somewhat useless without gods around to power them.  Sure primordial forces could be used as a substitute for the power source, but rituals requiring Religion or Arcana skill rolls might be problematic.

Then there is the problem with residuum, which would be incredibly rare in a world where magic items are scarce, and no one would really want to be running off and destroying them for a few ounces of enchanted dust.

So I started looking at ways the rituals might have evolved in a world where magic is shunned, and psionics became the standard power base, and how I might incorporate that into my Dark Sun Campaign.

Residuum Substitution

As far as using residuum goes, from a game balance point of view, it’s really just a money sink.  In a standard magic rich world like the Forgotten Realms of Eberron, residuum is readily available in any major city or large town, and can most likely be purchased from any apothecary shop.  This magical dust is merely a reason to provide a cash flow out of the character coffers, in order to give the ritual a certain gold piece value per casting.

In Dark Sun, a similar material can be used, but one that might be more appropriate to the setting.  For instance, one might use something similar to the old 3.5 D&D cognizance crystals or power stones from the Psionics Handbook.  On might call these ritual-use items focus crystals, and they can be purchased in various sizes and grades, offering a certain gold piece value like a bag of residuum would.

As a focus crystal is used during rituals, it becomes more opaque, darker, or cracked, representing the value of the stone depleting as its gold piece value is used up.  When it is drained, it becomes a worthless rock or simply shatters to sandy particulates, and a new one would have to be obtained to use to cast psionic rituals.

Technically, any item would do, but for psionic rituals, the idea of using some sort of crystal is quite evocative of the rituals practiced by the Deryni in in Katherine Kurtz novels, who used psionics rather like magic in her world setting.  Also, psycho-active crystals seem quite natural to a rocky desert-like setting such as Dark Sun, and adventurers might stumble across natural focus crystal formations near the lairs of psionic monsters, and would provide an alternative treasure type to mere gold or survival days.

Alternatives to Skill Checks

Another thing which might be used to differentiate psionic rituals from standard arcane or divine ones might be in how they are activated.  Using alternatives to Arcana and Religion, which dominate so many of the standard rituals seems quite a reasonable consideration for the Dark Sun Setting, but there are some good choices which can be used in their stead.

For some psionic rituals, the Nature skill might be appropriate to represent those that deal with altering the physiology of oneself or others, such as rituals to banish exhaustion or inure oneself to extreme elemental conditions.  The Insight skill might be appropriate for use in rituals which create extra-sensory perception, such as clairvoyance or clairaudience, or for altering the memory of others or to recall information.  And some psionic rituals are merely about focusing raw psionic energies for long periods of time, which might make the Endurance skill a reasonable check for success or failure.

In the end, it will take a bit of common sense to interpret a standard ritual and the ritual check into a Dark Sun psionic ritual.  However, not all rituals would necessarily be appropriate to the setting, and must be judged on a case by case basis.

True Psionic Rituals

Another source I’ve been considering for creating psionic rituals for the Dark Sun Campaign setting is the old Psionics Handbook from 3.5 D&D.  Many of the non-combat psionic powers would be quite appropriate to be revamped into 4E game statistics, and made into psionic rituals for use in Athas.

For example, psionic powers such as Adapt Body, Chameleon, and Darkvision would all have great potential as adventuring rituals, providing relief from the Athasian suns, the ability to sneak past enemies, or to see monsters in the dark sneaking up to attack the camp at night.  And as discussed previously, these powers would be activated using alternative skill checks, such as Nature (Adapt Body, Chameleon) and Insight (Darkvision), without having to invoke divine or arcane power.

[Editor’s Note: I’m currently working on a more complete list of ideas for psionic rituals drawn from old 3.5 Psionic Powers, and I’ll be sure and post a full list of candidates in a subsequent blog.]

Another facet of psionic rituals that I am considering for my campaign is triggered abilities, and using psionic power points to activate them.  These would be for psionic powers that would take the form of Encounter Powers in a combat, which are set up ahead of time using a ritual.  Like the other rituals, these would be non-combat abilities – i.e. non-attacks – but would have a use in combat to gain a tactical advantage without dealing damage or inflicting conditions of others.

For instance, a hero might know that she is going to be searched before entering the presence of an evil merchant prince, and might set up Call Weaponry before she goes in.  This would allow her to spend a psionic power point and cast a ritual beforehand, which then sets up a trigger to be able to teleport her favorite carrikal from off the saddlebags of her crodlu in time to strike a death blow against her enemies.  Sure she’s down one psionic power point for the combat, but having one’s favorite weapon handy at a moment’s notice can be a priceless advantage to have!


Obviously, I’m still working out all the kinks of the psionic rituals for Dark Sun, but I think it’s well worth considering to add another facet to the Athas setting.  While rituals using Arcana and Religion would have faded from use due to the loss of the gods, and the dangers of defiling the land, the advent of psionics would have filled that vacuum with a new assortment of rituals.

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Image Source: D&D 4E Psionic Powers by WotC

About The Author

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.


5 Responses to “The Residuum Conundrum: Rituals in Dark Sun

  1. TwoFang says:

    Thanks for a very interesting article. I believe that rituals are too often overlooked as a resource in 4E D&D. I look forward to hearing more about this as you work out the kinks.
    As to the skills you use, some friends of mine already use Insight as the go-to skill for Psionics and I like it so much I plan to steal it. I am not sure you should be too dismissive of Arcana; while magic is publicly suspect, it is still practiced openly by the bad guys and secretly by many PCs and their allies. Given the catch-all nature of Dungeoneering, and its link to aberrations, it seems like some rituals could be connected to it as well.

  2. @TwoFang – yes, I had considered Dungeoneering as well, and would think it would work well for psionic rituals designed to contact otherwordly creatures from The Grey, or for causing what amounts to beneficial “mutations” in the caster and his allies. I’m shying away from Arcana for ritual use in psionics, because anyone can technically use existing non-psionic ritual casting by training in Arcana and buying the Ritual Casting feat. I wanted to make the distinction between arcane rituals which defile, and psionic rituals that use an entirely different power source.

  3. Philo Pharynx says:

    I also like the idea of maintaining primal and arcane rituals. For components, remember that residuum is only one type of component. There are also other components that can be harvested in different ways. Components for nature rituals can be harvested using survival or nature checks, or from some natural beings. Arcane components would be harder to find, mostly being harvested from extraplanar or draconic creatures. I would also allow mages to spend healing surges for components. I would set a sliding scale for the value based on the level of contributions. And I would say that the mage does not need to supply his own healing surges, but if it’s not a voluntary conritbution the victim must be helpless. Spending healing surges does not defile, as it draws on the life energy donated. Doing other arcane rituals normally defiles, but if the mage takes double the time they can do it using preserver techniques. The mage should also take caution not to be observed using an arcane ritual.

    For that matter, I’d give arcane casters an extra healing surge and an extra 2 hp per level. And then charge to use the powers as a preserver. Encounter powers cost 1 hp per tier of the power. Daily powers cost hp equal to the level of the power. Blood magic seems so right for Dark Sun.

  4. robert says:

    Crystals are my general go to device for all things psionic, so making them a residium replacement makes sense. Personally I just ignore residium altogether.

    IMC we call the psionic rituals High Sciences I’m homage to 2e psionics.

    The problem with using multiple skills for psionic rituals is the same Multiple Ability Dependency that weakened psionics in previous editions. Since Insight is understanding the true nature of things we generally use that as our go to psionics skill.

    Great article!

  5. @Robert – I agree that most skill checks should be Insight, but I’m also inclined to use Nature for those powers which are self-affecting – ie. transforming one’s eyes to see low-light seems more nature than Insight. By the way, I’ve got a follow-up post next week with a selection of Psionic Rituals I’ve been converting over from the Psionic Handbook!

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