Rituals grant an ability to work magic without spells. They can be complex, time-consuming, and risky, but can achieve results much greater than spells.
There are several types of Ritual of Low Fantasy, but they have some elements in common.
- Rituals take time, much longer than spells.
- Rituals all have a cost that cannot be recovered until the ritual effect ends.
- Rituals are complex and take effort to master.
There are several elements that are often present, but not always.
- Some rituals can only be used at certain times.
- Some rituals need a reagent or focus that is difficult to acquire.
- Some rituals require spell casting ability, but not all.
Let’s explore these elements.
Most spells can be cast (at risk!) in a single round. Most rituals take at least an hour, some take quite a bit longer, and a few are actually shorter.
This increased time limits a ritual’s application while adventuring, and almost entirely bars its use in combat. However, the longer a ritual takes, the greater the potential effect.
Second, every ritual has a cost, most often a cost to the ritualist. Common costs include:
- Ability score points (usually one point from a single ability score).
- Spell slots (especially for rituals involving a particular spell).
- Hit points (shed blood).
Personal resources such as the ones above cannot be recovered until the ritual effect ends. For instance, the point of Constitution spent during the Ritual of the Tarnished Shield cannot be recovered as long as the Talisman of the Tarnished Shield retains its magic. However, at the next full moon, or when the Talisman automatically triggers to save the wearer’s life, or when the tarnish is polished off, the ritual effect ends and the ritualist can recover the point of Constitution.
As the cost of a ritual cannot be recovered as long as the ritual effect lasts, permanent magic items mean a paying a permanent price. These costs can vary even more, and include physical harm that cannot be repaired.
Magic in Low Fantasy Gaming can be unpredictable and hazardous to use. Spells are much like rote-learned formulae that mostly do what the caster wants, but even then sometimes go astray.
Rituals can be seen as somewhat like carefully constructing a new spell that is made to purpose. Sometimes this will involve taking an existing spell and changing how it works or attaching it to a focus of some sort, other times it might mean creating something wholly new. It takes longer than using a prepared formula, but can allow the ritualist to change parameters or avoid some common pitfalls.
Any character with the Ritualist skill can try to devise a ritual. This generally involves 3 checks (for the simplest rituals) to 13 checks (for the most complex). Each check has two conditions, at least one of which must be met for the check to succeed. If both conditions are met, the ritual might be unusually successful in some what, but if both conditions are not met, the ritual will be flawed.
The time spent researching the ritual will affect how much is learned. If the ritualist takes one day for each check, the ritualist will learn the exact outcome of each check, including the specific extra benefit or detriment. If the ritualist takes one hour for each check, the ritualist will learn the grade of the outcome (superior success, regular success, or failure) but not the details. In both cases, the ritualist can choose to abort the research at any time up to the start of the ritual, if it looks like the ritual will go awry.
If the ritualist tries to perform the ritual with no research or preparation, all checks must be made during the ritual itself, and the ritualist is committed to completing the ritual.
Ritual Frequency and Scheduling
Some rituals can only be done at certain times. Most often this is because some aspect of the time is associated with the nature of the ritual. For instance, the Ritual of the Waning Moon associates the disappearance of the moon from view with Invisibility. This has the result that the Ritual of the Waning Moon can be done only once a month.
Some rituals can be done more or less as needed. The Ritual of Darkened Silence takes three days to complete, but can be initiated more or less any time.
When the circumstances required by a ritual limit its use more than the ritual duration (preparation and execute) does, the ritual can have greater effect.
Ritual Reagents and Foci
Some rituals require specific materials or objects in order to work. Reagents are consumed during the ritual, while foci are reusable.
To count as a reagent or focus, a material or object must be difficult to acquire. This is not the same as being inherently expensive, costing a lot of money. The Ritual of Burnished Amber does have a specifically-made wand as a focus, but amber is not a particularly precious stone, and copper and oak are typically not expensive. It does need to be made in a particular way, though, and if malformed could cause that part of a ritual to fail.
As with ritual time and ritual scheduling, more difficult reagents and foci can lead to greater effect.
Rituals and Spell Casters
Rituals with a spell cost can only be performed by spell casters. Other rituals are not as constrained and can be enacted by non-casters. Even so, spell casters are likely to still be the most effective ritualists because most rituals based on a specific spell will have knowledge of that spell as a condition.
The Ritual of Darkened Silence gives the recipient persistent Clairvoyance; one of the ritual checks as ‘know the Clairvoyance spell’ as a condition — no check required, but if a ritualist does not know the spell that condition will not be met. A caster might know the spell, a non-caster almost certainly does not, and will need to fall back on the other condition.
Spell casters are likely to still be the most effective ritualists, but it is not necessary to be a caster to be a ritualist.