Rituals Re-Organized

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.
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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.

Ritual Purpose

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

  1. Adventuring Risks
  2. Magic & Alchemical Items
  3. Travel & Movement
  4. Information Gathering & Communication
  5. Security & Deception
  6. Personal Aid, Supplies & Illumination

Re-Categorization Principles

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!

Additional Resources

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.

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12 Responses to “Rituals Re-Organized”

  1. Tourq says:

    We recently stopped playing 4e in favor of Strands of Fate, but we’re still in our Eberron campaign. Your article has made me realize that rituals are largely absent from our new endeavor. Hmmm, I think I’m going to have to look into that. I think we could find a way to make it really pop in our game.

    • Kilsek says:

      Awesome Tourq – yeah, rituals have all that classic and creative D&D blend of flavor and crunch for problem solving and storytelling, but they seem a largely untapped resource in many 4e games. Good luck with your ritual ideas in your game!

  2. Wund says:

    Great Idea Kilsek, I enjoy using masterplan and I can update categories in the libraries for all the rituals with these new categories. This will be great way to better organize them. Now I can better place and find usage for them instead of waiting on my players to find reasons to use them in my campaigns, thanks again.

    • Kilsek says:

      Welcome to Leonine Roar and thanks for commenting, Wund! I’m happy this idea helps you and your playgroup get more out of rituals. They’re definitely another bag of creative tricks we could all probably tap into a bit more than we do.

  3. [...] enough benefits?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, get on your horse and ride! Like ritual magic, mounts and mounted combat may be a bit of an untapped resource for your playgroup in 4e.  They [...]

  4. I’ve often felt like adventures in 4E tend to be designed without taking rituals into account, and without obstacles designed so that rituals offer meaningful shortcuts or advantages there really isn’t any incentive for players to care about them. This is especially true of the travel, warding, and information gathering rituals.

    • Kilsek says:

      Welcome to Leonine Roar, Glimm! Thanks for your comment. I agree with you, with rituals being the part-fluff, part-mechanics type of game features that they are, and often leaning more towards fluff, their consideration in adventure design is minimal if not ignored. The strength of 4e is its robust combat system, so I can understand why it often looks and feels left behind so far. However, highlighting just one or two rituals in an adventure adds just enough flavor to remind everyone that there’s other types of challenges, and more importantly, other ways to approach problem solving in D&D.

  5. [...] rituals helps, like I did in Rituals Re-Organized, but you also have to – as DM and players – actually look for opportunities to include [...]

  6. [...] to a more practical categorization of rituals, there’s also several areas where you could wisely invest your gold in 4e.  And by wise [...]

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  8. [...] That’s right: a whopping 64 adventure-friendly reasons to use rituals right now in your game!  These 64 applications include a listing of relevant rituals underneath each heading and are basically an expansion of my original six: [...]

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