Did you know there are a whopping 314 rituals (!) right now in D&D 4e?
That’s 314 additional things nearly every party has access to. Ritual scrolls, after all, are a “power” every individual character has access to, without needing to actually be a Ritual Caster via feat or class feature.
But do we seek out or include these 314 options enough in our adventures? More importantly, do we really know how to use them? Whether as PCs or DMs?
Remember that every ritual is a potential opportunity for your PC to creatively solve a type of problem as well a tool to help DMs create and add new layers of quests, encounters, adventures and storytelling in your game. Whether in the hands of your characters, or in the hands of antagonists, ritual magic is a resource for D&D problem-solving and inspiration.
Crunch and Fluff
One of the driving factors of D&D (and most RPGs) is finding a fine and wondrous balance between atmosphere and rules, or fluff and crunch. Rituals are emblematic of that fine balance, as are martial exploits, divine prayers, arcane spells, primal evocations and psionic disciplines. Rituals, of course, are set apart in D&D 4e because, unlike class powers, they generally do not have urgent or immediate combat utility.
But rituals still impact other important aspects of the game, such as exploration, travel, and problems and challenges that punching a face, swinging a sword or shooting fireballs or lightning bolts (even Braveheart-style!) simply can’t fix.
The problem with the current presentation of rituals is that how and what type of problems they fix isn’t always very clear. For example, take the Creation category. Sure, you create something… but for what purpose? To build bridges? To conjure clowns? These rituals are simply not defined well enough. They need to be broken out into clearer categories of actual utility in-game. Categories such as “Creation” and often, “Exploration,” don’t do enough to explain what a ritual really does for you.
So take a moment to think about how you’d like to use ritual magic. What’s your ritual’s real purpose? What kinds of problems do you want your ritual to solve? “Creation” is not a problem. Or at least, not a clear one. You have to dig deeper.
Would you like to use rituals to help you combat ever-present adventuring risks, such as disease, petrification and death? To gather information and communicate with more creatures and things in the world – and beyond? Would you prefer to only focus on those that affect your magic items and supplies? Or those that improve your travel and movement options, whether among the elements and features of the natural world or into and across other planes? Asking these kinds of questions is a good start before you take the plunge and choose or buy your ritual books or scrolls.
Now while there are over three hundred rituals, some of their categorization is terrible. This aspect has improved with later material, such as the new and more focused categories found in PHB2 (i.e. Deception), but the gap is still real for many rituals. So let’s re-organize and re-focus them into these six purposeful and meaningful new categories. After looking up, reading and gleaning the true purpose of hundreds of rituals in the D&D Compendium, and creating my own custom list of them by category, I’ve come up with the following:
Kilsek’s Ritual Categories 2.0
- Adventuring Risks
- Magic & Alchemical Items
- Travel & Movement
- Information Gathering & Communication
- Security & Deception
- Personal Aid, Supplies & Illumination
My goals with these new categories included a) titling each category by the rituals’ general purpose in adventures, b) keeping the total number of categories reasonable, c) keeping similar or strongly connected “sub-categories” together, and d) finding a more suitable and practical category for the many poorly categorized rituals – such as Creation rituals whose name or category don’t necessarily make it immediately clear how they might be useful (i.e. Ironwood).
Keep in mind, some rituals have double-utility (i.e. Create Campsite, Iron Vigil, Ward the True Name), their effects touching on more than one of the six categories, though one category is often a more dominant theme. The bonus, of course, is that these are often especially helpful rituals.
Ritual Categories 2.0 in Your Games
Try these new categories out in your games, or create your own using the guiding principles above to stay efficient and achieve greater clarity of rituals’ actual in-game purpose. You might find it a bit easier to actually find and remember that you have just the right ritual for your particular situation in the adventure, and be more willing to spend your hard-earned gold on the scroll or book and its needed Alchemical Reagents, Mystic Salves or other ritual components.
Let me know if you find this new perspective more helpful in making it easier for your characters to acquire and use the rituals they really want and need throughout your adventures. Tell me if this makes including ritual use and the consequences or impact of ritual use in your adventure design as a DM easier. Hopefully – like this effort and approach has for me, on either side of the table – it’ll help you too!
Not sure where to start with emphasizing greater ritual use in your campaign?
Nausicaa started ranking rituals over at the Character Optimization D&D forum under Wizard. While rituals have that find blended quality of crunch and flavor, it can also make them harder to assess since there’s less typical measurables involved like there are in combat.
Still, Nausicaa has bravely kicked off the effort! Take a look at some of her knowledgeable feedback to help find some quality rituals and generate some ideas on how you can make rituals a more engaging option for you and your game.