Ritual Arcana

In designing the Feats system I was mindful that I wanted it to embody “personal magic” – abilities that affect the world at the base level of the character, rather than the world at large – and I have steered clear of “big magic”. Large scale magical effects, however, are a staple of the fantasy genre. Sauron crafting the Rings of Power in “The Lord of the Rings“, summoning Dagoth in the movie “Conan the Destroyer“, or the Sundering in our own “Legends of the Three Pillars” are all examples of “big magic” that are beyond the scope of the Feats mechanics.

The Golden Rule

Before I get into any kind of firm mechanics I’d remind everyone that the Storyteller has final say on what a ritual requires and whether it is possible. Our games are a shared experience so the Storyteller needs to make sure they understand the player’s intent before making a ruling and explain their own reasoning to the player in cases of a dispute. But, shared world or not, the Storyteller is the bottom line.

Defining Big Magic

By default ritual magic encompasses any magical effect that is beyond the Feats system. However we need to be careful not to render the existing system useless by including small-scale personal effects. Players invest a great deal of their time into defining their characters through the Feats they have available and enabling anyone to replicate their abilities through the use of minor rituals is an injustice.

To qualify for a ritual, I believe that the effect must meet at least two of the following criteria:

  • Have permanency i.e. creating a magical item or constructing a tower overnight.
  • Affect groups rather than individuals i.e causing an earthquake or hiding an entire army from sight.
  • Embodies the essence of more than one Sphere i.e crafting a Dragon control rod or erasing the memory of an event from the mind of a population
  • Is not already a Feat.

A Question of Scale

The next factor to consider is the scale of the ritual’s effect as this will be a major factor in determining the cost of the ritual. I’m going to throw out some baseline recommendations – but please remember that these are a work in progress and may be changed.

  • Minor – The effect is limited to a small area such as a single building, a ship or a forest clearing. This can also mean that only a limited group of people are affected, perhaps no more than 20 or so. The Willpower cost for a minor ritual is Difficulty x 2.
  • Local – The effect encompasses several minor areas, such as a village, small fleet or a forest. It can also be defined as affecting no more than around 150 individuals. Local rituals cost Difficulty x 3 Willpower.
  • Major – The ritual will affect a large area, perhaps a city or the lands along a river. It can affect several hundred individuals. Major rituals require Willpower equal to Difficulty x 5.
  • Regional – An entire region is affected by the ritual or it affects thousands of people. The Willpower cost is Difficulty x 10.
  • Vast – This final category is reserved for anything bigger than regional. It may affect entire nations or hundreds of thousands of people. The cost is Difficulty x 100 Willpower.

The Small Matter of Difficulty.

All rituals are an Extended action with a base Difficulty of 10. Each component of the effect adds a further 1-5 Difficulty depending on the permanency of the effect. This is possibly the hardest part for a Storyteller to arbitrate and should all be laid out for the player before any attempt is made to start the ritual. The roll itself is determined by the nature of the ritual. Creating an item of some kind would be Crafting, interacting with spirits would require Channeling, and creating a complex series of triggers and events would require Occult. Most often this would be paired with Stamina as rituals are tiring affairs that occur over relatively long periods of time. It is entirely possible to hand off the rolls to another participant in long rituals.

The Time Factor

The basic rule I am considering is that a ritual takes as long as is required for the Willpower cost to be paid. It is for this reason that most practitioners do not perform ritual magic alone as they have a very limited store of Willpower to call upon. The cost can be paid by any participant – willing or not – as long as the ritual was designed with them in mind and they are directly involved somehow. There are a couple of caveats to consider:

  • In the case of an item the actual process of crafting the thing must be considered and the ritual may not be shorter than this without added difficulty.
  • Where physical action must be taken to procure the Willpower, such as sacrifice, then the ritual takes at least as long as is necessary to perform those actions unless difficulty is added.

Nuance and Complexity

For now the only complexity I want to throw out there is that of research. Researching a ritual beforehand can add a bonus to the rolls of the participants. Research should take time (at least as many hours as the difficulty) and may confer a 1-3 dice bonus on all rolls to perform the ritual – at the Storyteller’s discretion, of course. Research requires access to the appropriate knowledge base as well as a space to practice.

Joining The Dots

In order to put this together I think I’ll consider a couple of examples and show my working. For the first we’ll look at Pillar-forged weapons and for the second I’ll discuss destroying an enemy war fleet with a tsunami.

Pillar forged weapons: These items are created by a master blacksmith who is also, or has the aid of, a Pillar Adept. There are two facets to the ritual – creating a weapon that can absorb Pillar energy (+5 Difficulty as it is permanent), and channeling the appropriate spirit to add its energy to the item (+3 as it is a one time occurrence but the spirit must be handled properly). The scale is minor, as only one item is made at a time. The ritual is performed as the item is being made so the Roll required is Stamina + Crafting.

Difficulty: 18 (10 + 5 + 3). Cost: 36 Willpower. Time: 3 days, with an interval of 18 hours. Typically a group of six or seven adepts will chant over the forging process and will share the Willpower cost among them. In some groups the cost may be paid by slaves who are sacrificed to provide a pool of blood for quenching.

Let’s add some complications: Reducing the time required for forging to 1 day (+3 difficulty), and increase the effect to include the Great Forges of Refuge (Major, +3 Difficulty to coordinate a large number of smiths).

Difficulty: 23 (10 + 5 + 3 + 3 +3). Cost: 120 Willpower. Time: 1 day, with an interval of 2 hours. This would require the efforts of a small Circle – each contributing 1 or 2 points of Willpower, and the rolls would be made by the Master Smith directing the ritual.

The Tsunami: a tribe of savages, led by a powerful Shaman, are about to be invaded by a large fleet of slavers. They have little time to prepare but their very existence depends on destroying the slavers. The facets of the ritual include summoning a host of water spirits (+5), directing them to produce a tsunami (+5), subsiding the tsunami before it hits land (+3) and releasing the spirits safely (+5). The scale is local. The shaman must roll Stamina + Channel to produce the effect.

Difficulty: 28 (10 + 5 + 5 +3 +5). Cost: 84 Willpower. Time: 12 Hours, with an interval of 1 hour. The men of the tribe play drums while the women dance into a frenzy. Each member of the tribe contributes 1 Willpower.


~ by occam99 on January 14, 2013.

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