There’s always a counterpoint: Spells and Rituals…

2008 July 30
by Dante

My good buddy Vanir did a great job outlining his thoughts on fourth edition character generation, spells, and rituals. The group of us had some excellent discourse on the changes that we immediately encountered, however during the discussion on spells and rituals I really had a “oh good, they fixed that” moment.

My biggest complaint about a lot of the utility spells were the amount of suspending disbelief that was required in order to buy the fact that with a handwave a portal could be opened, or someone raised from the dead. My gut reaction when I saw that most of these focused magical events had been moved into the rituals category was “people aren’t going to like this” followed by “but as a DM I really do.”

The Rationale Behind My Opinion

One of the biggest pain points as my 3.5 campaign moved up into the epic levels was the relative ease that the player characters were able to exercise complicated, game changing magic. This made for several “Dante aneurysm” moments toward the end of the campaign, one of which left both me and Kanati, my co-DM, scrambling.

The players resurrected the dead gold dragon that we had placed in their path as they fled an oncoming army.

This completely derailed the rest of the plans for the session, and we had simply placed this dead dragon as a “holy crap, strong things are afoot” piece of set dressing. In 3.5, the players were high enough level to have the material components on-hand so I let them exercise their powers and do what they wanted to do. I could’ve said “hey, the dragon’s soul doesn’t want to return” but that is very clearly DM code for “NO” and I had no good justification for why the dragon wouldn’t want to come back and have at those that killed him.

In 4e, the preparation and casting time would’ve simply excluded this as an option. The oncoming army simply would’ve overtaken them.

This is the root of what I like about the new ritual system. The things that should take awhile (making a portal, raising the dead, and so on) takes enough time to give the DM some modicum of control over the situation. This allows the integrity of the written storyline to be retained within the game mechanics if needed, or at very least it provides a bit of time for the DM to get his head around the changed situation while the characters perform the ritual.

Does this mean that I think the players should be limited when they use the rituals? By no means. Do I think that people should roundly convert the rituals back to their 3.5 edition counterparts and treat them as per day abilities? Absolutely not. I can clearly see the value added by the distinction between spells and rituals, and I also see opportunity for growth.

I will be very interested to see what additional rituals get added and how their execution time gets tweaked in accordance with how much they disrupt gameplay or how much relative peril should be undertaken when casting. Aside from the battle simplification, I think that this aspect alone is among the best in the new edition.

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Granger44 permalink
    July 31, 2008

    Did you miss the casting times of Raise Dead and the Resurrection spells? The 1 minute casting time of Raise Dead tripped us up a few times, but it definitely smacks of a ritual, to say nothing of the 10 minutes to cast Resurrection or True Resurrection.

  2. Dave The Game permalink
    July 31, 2008

    So maybe the conclusion is that DMs like rituals and players don’t.

  3. Vanir permalink
    July 31, 2008

    I personally think this is a global conspiracy against free-thinking players.


  4. Donny_the_Dm permalink
    July 31, 2008

    First, a belated congratulations on moving in to the new house! Just did that here too, so I (literally) feel your pain 😉

    As to rituals…I have some very mixed feelings about them. They do tend to kill immersion, and while it is nifty that a fighter can do them…it is going to take some getting used to.

    Have to agree with granger though, it wasn’t broke in the first place, just limited to the appropriate spellcasters.

    @ Dave – Nail on head! Most of my gripes in 4e tend to come down to this, or it’s converse – good for players, bad for DM.

  5. jonathan permalink
    July 31, 2008

    @Dante : as a DM, rituals are breath of fresh air. They bring also can be used as a vehicle for additional story development. Raising people from the dead is the stuff of myths and religion – in any campaign of mine when someone dies, and then is later raised again, it is an epic event that becomes part of the story. I never liked the flick o’the wrist 1 minute raise dead.

  6. SirGeekelot permalink
    July 31, 2008

    @jonathan The words that you type have made you my new best friend. Insta’Rez for the lose.

  7. Your G(rinning) M(asochist) permalink
    August 6, 2008

    Meh I say. First, there are several ways that you could have ensured that the Dragon couldn’t have been raised. There are a couple of spells that flat out prevent it, and there’s no reason to assume that anyone relaxing in Paradise would want to return at the hands of people he doesn’t know. In fact, my default assumption is that people don’t want to return from paradise for folks they don’t know.

    The first time I hear someone say, “Sir Grayhand, my fighter, will now begin the teleportation ritual” I know that my head will likely explode. PC’s do unexpected things. That’s not a reason to punish them.

    One of the best pieces of advice I ever had given to me was this, “If you want encourage a behavior in your players, reward them. If not, then don’t.” If you don’t want them raising random creatures to get them to help out, then have the dragon echo your message. He wakes up and says, “Run! There’s X out there, and it will surely slay mortals such as yourselves!” And then he flys away. Lawful good doesn’t mean chump, it doesn’t mean nice, and it doesn’t mean stupid. He can run away to fight another day, and clearly, he was outclassed the first time. He can be a jerk. He can refuse to solve their problem without some reward (like their favorite magical dodad that you’ve wanted to remove from play anyway because it is too powerful).

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