Why Give Players Rituals...

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The PCs burst out of the palace’s doors, stolen crown in tow, the royal guard in hot pursuit. All they need now is a way to get everyone out the gates and off to safety. Unfortunately, the gates are closed.

“Wait,” shouts the druid, “I have a ritual that turns me into a tree! You can climb up me, then throw me a rope! - Oh no, never mind. It takes ten minutes to cast.” Hopes fall, as the palace guard close in.

Rituals. Great in theory, put in practice they tend to sit unused and forgotten on the last page of your character sheet. The reason is simple, ten minute casting times and pricy ritual component cost keep them off the board in all but the most contrived situations. 

Here’s my simple question for you today – what if we took these fetters off of an otherwise excellent idea. What if rituals could be cast at will, for free? 

Would it ruin your game? Or would it enable your players to more fearlessly explore their world, find creative solutions, and have more fun?

Rituals – now in convenient magic-item form.

If you want to encourage your players to use their rituals more; this, or one of the variations I describe below, is the perfect solution. The idea is simple, and as easy to implement at your table as it is to say.  However, be sure to consider the impact of this house rule before giving your players carte blanche. Unlimited casting of certain rituals could damage the mystique, tone or challenge of your game world (Raise Dead, Consult Mystic Sages, Astral Sojourn, etc).  Even well-behaved groups are likely to abuse the prospect of a free, unlimited ritual at least a little bit. The best course of action is to free up the limitations of some rituals, while carefully excluding others. 

If this is done without much thought, it can easily lead to an overly complex web of house rules that the players are as apt to forget as the original rituals. Instead, try introducing the players to unlimited rituals through the proxy of unique magic items.

There are several benefits to taking this magic item approach. 

For one, this is a drastic rule change if done directly. If you later decide it doesn’t work for your game and take it back, 

you’re going to confuse and frustrate your players. A magic item is much easier to introduce – and much easier to neutralize or take away if things don’t work out how you wish (more on how to tactfully do this below.)

By using the magic item as the DM stand-in, it makes the rule change less of a drastic proposition and more like a controllable experiment. It also allows the DM to start slow and scale the size of the experiment over time. For example, you can state that the magic item only grants its free-ritual power once a day, then gradually increase the number of times it functions over time.

Finally, as a magic item, you’re essentially handing over the new rule set to the PCs for their own safekeeping. This not only makes it easier for the PCs to absorb the new rules, but encourages them to do so.

3 Steps To Your Own Ritual-Spewing Magic Item

Take Control

Take Control

  1. In order to introduce such a magic item into your world, the first step is to decide which rituals you’d like to make more available. In general, this means deciding where to place a level cap. Deciding that the rule only effects rituals of 3rd level and lower is perfectly valid, as is deciding that only certain types of rituals are effected. In one of my game worlds the magic item came in the form of the Tome of Leopold, a potent magic item that allowed any Nature ritual of level 3 or lower to be cast at will.
  2. Once you’ve done that, ask yourself if the item will progress in power with the PC’s. Will it grant free casting to higher levels of powers as the PCs gain experience? If so, what rituals will unlock at what levels? Does the progression take a different form? Instead of making higher level rituals totally free, maybe it only removes the time requirement, or reduces the component cost by a percentage. Perhaps you want to create a series of magic items, each with their own particular level caps or specific ritual sets. If you decide to take this route, you might consider making these items part of a unique set.
  3. Finally, simply decide what form you’d like the magic item to take. A book or other implement-type item is an obvious choice. In addition to having a thematic link to magic, carried items are also easier to have NPCs target for destruction or theft if you feel the PCs need to be shaken up a bit. Alternative forms might be that of a magic ring, amulet or even a talking sword. A truly anarchic DM might even grant these powers to a talking familiar – perhaps a tiny green pixie only a certain PC can see, who only grants rituals when sufficiently mollified? As always, with this wonderful game, the only limit is your imagination.

Oh No, It’s All Gone Horribly Wrong

So you’ve created a unique magic item with the power to cast rituals at will, and handed it over to the PCs. Hopefully everything is going smoothly, but perhaps you think you’ve given your PCs too much power, or they’re abusing the item too frequently. One solution is to simply steal the item away, or blow it up in the next big fireball you drop on the party. But before you do that, consider making the magic item become less reliable, or prone to malfunctioning. 

This could either be a quality you suggest the item have from the onset (a terribly ancient and damaged tome of forgotten lore) or one the item has taken on through misuse (the item sparks and flares suddenly, as if the last ritual taxed its powers beyond its limit). In any case, this simple act allows you to start taking back the power you gave out without offending the players. 

There are a couple ways to go about depriving the PCs of the magic item’s power. Perhaps the item simply fails to function more than once or twice a day. This could either be a number set by you, or based on a percentage chance of failure – say a 25% chance of failure that increases by 25% after every successful use of the item that day. 

More dramatically, you might rule the magic item has a chance to malfunction spectacularly. Perhaps it causes the exact opposite of the desired effect, or maybe it creates the desired effect but at the exact wrong time. Or both.  If you’re a DM who, for some reason, feels bad about meting out a little poetic justice to unruly PCs at hilariously inappropriate times, consider implementing a “malfunction rule”.  This could either work by itself or in conjunction with the above rule.

For example, you could rule that the PCs must roll a d6 every time the item is used, and on a 6 the item malfunctions in one of the ways listed above. You might even randomize which of the above outcomes happens on a malfunction – rolling a further die in secret to decide if the item has reverse effect, goes off some time later, or does both. On a final note, if you’re particularly sadistic (or the PCs really deserve it) consider adding a “magic item does nothing” option to the malfunction role and watch the PCs squirm as they wait and wait for the other shoe to drop.

-By David Crennen
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