Encouraging Ritual Use

Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 21 October 2010

In yesterday's post about rituals, I hinted that another set of reasons exist which reduce their use in 4e games. While the cost of rituals is a significant barrier to use, I think the problem goes much deeper. The way many groups play 4th edition, whether by preference or as a subconscious reaction to the rules set, de-emphasizes story. Since rituals exist primarily in the realm of story, their importance and use gets reduced as well.

To counter this, groups can do a number of things. I think lowering the cost of rituals helps, especially if it's reduced through an alternative currency such as healing surges. However, I see three more steps groups should take.

The DM needs to set up situations for ritual use
Rituals take time to prepare and perform. If the PCs are constantly running from one encounter to the next with little downtime between them, rituals use is a hard sell. If PCs are always being reactive instead of proactive, rituals are near impossible to use. If nothing is hunting the PCs in the woods, they don't need to use any of the protection rituals on their campsite. The DM needs to set up situations where the PCs could use rituals and where ritual use might benefit them. Otherwise, what's the point?

In my game, we ran a Rumpelstiltskin story line where the wife of a local nobleman had promised her firstborn in return for an ability that would allow her to impress her future in-laws. I wanted to give the group a few ways to solve this problem. To encourage ritual use, I created a secrets tree where locals would go when they needed to share a secret they shouldn't tell anyone else. I then put clues elsewhere that pointed to the tree as one solution to the problem. When the players uncovered this, the speak with nature ritual became an obvious solution to their problem and away they went.

Players need to know which rituals exist
Once the DM gets into the habit of providing opportunities for rituals and, hopefully, hints at those opportunities in advance, players need to do some research. If you know you'll be traveling a long distance through enemy territory, create a list of useful rituals before the game and see if you can buy some of them. Keep a list with all the rituals you know and how to perform them right with your character sheet and look for situations where you can use them. A DM has a lot to do at the table and he might not be able to keep track of these things for you. If you have a campaign wiki on a site like Obsidian Portal, keep a page with lists of known and potentially useful rituals for easy reference.

Make them awesome
When players decide to use a ritual in game, make it shine. If the group is into it, play it out a bit. For instance, if they cast create campsite, have them describe the little nature spirits and what they do. Also, even if the ritual completely devastates your plans, DMs please don't punish creative use. Add a complication, but if they set a ward to trap goblins and your notes said they had to be surprised by a goblin attack, don't suddenly give your goblins some power that lets them slip through the ward. They may ask themselves at the end of the encounter if rituals are even worth it then.

Those are my three tips for encouraging ritual use in games. I'd love to hear yours.


Great advice ;)

A way I lower ritual cost is to give out "ritual materials" in addition to the standard treasure.

For example, if the players are to get 2000gp, I might also throw in "Ritual materials of 200gp value". Essentially this is a separately tracked amount of GP that can only be used for rituals. So a player might have something like this...

Ritual Materials (449gp)

This keeps their treasure from taking a hit, and also serves as a reminder that they have this resource to expend that only has that one purpose - there's no need to hoard it away.

My players are active users of rituals. They look for ways to use them. They scour the books looking for useful rituals they can learn. One of the things they look forward to when leveling is having access to new rituals. They are also players who have been around for a long time and storytelling is something they are accustomed to. They also are powergamers at heart and look for any advantage they can get.

As for the cost, both of my groups seem to have an over abundance of money, despite my following the DMG guidelines for treasure rewards (in fact I sometimes forget to give treasure so I'm sure I've short-changed them). Part of this is their frugality, but also they do not buy magic items (due to storytelling elements wherein they have not had access to anywhere that sells magic items) and do not spend much of their money at all. What few purchases they have made, have been for ritual components.

So, I guess one tip is to take away alternate expenditures of money so buying and using rituals is easier on the pocket of gold. However, I suspect this is a unique situation for my group.

Another example of this is with my second 4E campaign. It is one wherein the characters are exploring an untouched land and resources are extremely limited. They are planning to stay out in the wilderness exploring for extended periods of time and such things as arrows are scarce (ie they can not be made at the local homesteading village). One of the characters took one of the new martial rituals so he could make arrows and other sundry supplies for the group.

Rituals can be used to replace deficiencies in the setting when it comes to certain tasks. For a further example, if your setting has no sources of information, no libraries, no sages to consult, such things as information rituals begin to become more valuable.

BTW (fellow NHerite)

The real problem I've seen every group I've ever been in run into where rituals were concerned, besides the heavy costs involved and the general difficulty of acquiring them, is time. Some have one minute or five minute casting times, but even then you can often be hard pressed to actually have the time to use them. Most have ten minute casting times, others have thirty, one hour, times of more than an hour - This often completely negates any usefulness they might have, as most games I've been in try to keep some sort of sense of urgency. We've got a situation right now in one game I'm in where a ritual might be useful and might even help us with our goal if what we just busted up turns out to have been related - But we simply can't spare the hour it would take to use. It's not an option.

Leaving us to, yeah, kick down the door and probably fight something. Zzzz.

Great Article!

If you really want to encourage rituals, something to try would be giving them out in treasure parcels. Replace some gold with a ritual of the same value or maybe even more (include the components to cast it once or twice too, depending on how nice you are). If your PCs don't want it, allow them to sell it at full price to get the gold back instead. That way you are telling them:

"Buried amongst the gold you find an old scroll. It appears to be a ritual for allowing you to speak with the recently deceased! You hastily copy it down in case the ancient parchment deteriorates any further."

Making it applicable in the near future (murdered body in a back alley? a cultist who commits suicide for his gods rather than being captured ... maybe with a skill challenge involved? Scandal!) might solidify that its a useful tool and make your players look for other cool rituals in the future. The worst case scenario is they still don't use it.

Further enticing them by giving up surges or other means to help cast them sans components would make them even more appealing. (Expend a Daily? Drain an items power for a day? Create a ritual "mana battery" item that gives them a free ritual a day?)

To be fair though, my PCs still haven't used the Comrade's Succor ritual I gave them levels ago ... I think its about time to give them a "Speak with Dead" ritual though to see if I can convince them otherwise ... maybe with a limited charge Mana Battery to go with it.

I've enjoyed both posts about encouraging ritual use. I admit I am one of many players who dismissed them almost immediately when I first looked at the ruleset. I'm ashamed to say I even advised a new DnD player(rolling up a sorcerer for our home game)not to take Ritual Casting as a feat. The group has paid for this poor advice of mine more than once.

My suggestion for encouraging ritual use(which just occurred to me know)comes from my work experience in retail. As anyone who has ever been a customer knows, retail is all about Upselling. You come in for one thing and the agent/cashier tries to sell you two other things.

So, to all those DMs out there who want to encourage ritual use, I suggest you give your NPC merchants a little entrepreneurial spirit! Adventuruer are the teenagers of the DnD world. They are always up to no good and they have plenty of disposable income. They are your merchant's target market. Instead of making shopping an experience that your players have almost entirely with the game manual, make them talk to the merchant. Give him/her/it a personality and understand that the NPCs motivation is to make money!

The NPC should know at least something about the plot. It is a local creature after all. Also, it should be invested in helping the PCs succeed as it leads to the NPCs safety(and thus the ability to live to sell another day). Have them offer the PCs some advice and an upsell such as, "You know, we've got an awful problem with wolves on the moors.This ritual scroll, which I just happen to have laying around, can really help Ward a Campsite against that sort of thing."

This makes the NPC seem connected to the plot, sets up a potential encounter for the DM so it won't feel random to the players later and most importantly prompts the use of rituals as a way for PCs to interact with the game world. Heck, it could even lead to a simple skill challenge if the party decides to haggle with the merchant!

Those are my very quick thoughts on the matter. I hope it might help some DMs out there who want to add this element to their game. Also, don't forget Martial Practices. Rituals: now in fighter format!


My campaign is relatively young (just hit 5th level), but I've encouraged the use of rituals because I think they have a lot of potential. As a response to your point about not punishing creative ritual use (and really, that advice is good for all parts of the game), I would suggest that the DM should be open to and actively encourage creative ritual use -- roll with wild and crazy ideas, and your players will have a great time.

For example, I ran 'Stick in the Mud', the first Choas Scar adventure from Dungeon magazine, but I injected some extra story into it -- the bullywugs there were using a ritual (given them by a shadowy NPC who the PCs found out about later) to transform a kidnapped NPC (whom the PCs were trying to save) into a bullywug. When the PCs discovered this, it suddenly dawned on them that the bullywugs they'd killed that happened to be wearing "trophy" guardsman tabards were actually *transformed* guardsmen. They felt bad about having killed several, but immediately captured the last one instead of killing him and then declared that they were going to find a way to reverse the ritual and restore the guy.

"Reverse the ritual?" I thought? Why not? So, I made up a skill challenge between sessions, the PCs worked on it over the course of several days, during which other parts of the story came out, and they were psyched about having the chance to restore the guard and question him to get more details about the conspiracy they were trying to expose. All of which was a lot of fun, a lot of story, and driven by a spur-of-the-moment ritual-inspired turn of events.

In general, I look forward to making rituals a bigger part of my game, and your suggestions will help with that. Thanks!

Great article. I don't see ANY ritual use playing LFR - players don't want to use the resources, and authors are reluctant to require a specific ritual, since there's no telling whether parties have it or not. Easier to just leave them out. I would definitely like to see them more though...

When I first got the 4e PHB I thought the whole book was about fighting (which could have been cool, but in practice is just too often The Grind) -- apart from the last chapter where they 'hid' all the awesomest stuff about magic and divine.
Wizards using Magic Missile might feel awesome to themselves, but everyone else knows they're just being allowed to be archers so they don't feel left out during most rounds of most fights.
Wizards doing rituals are doing something that can't be done any other way, so that's where magic's Awesome now lies.

And I think WotC can see it, and there may be a trend to pull rituals more centre-stage. The post-PHB classes of Bard, Druid, Invoker and Artificer all get to perform a signature Ritual a day for free. (P.S. I can't see Shamans _not_ being ritualists, so they should get Ritual Caster as a class feature _and_ a free signature ritual. P.P.S. Shamans and Druids shouldn't go to a shop in a town in order to get components!)
Whoever rebuys the game in Essentials format will have to say whether the trend to increased attention to rituals, free-casting etc., is continuing.

I totally agree that ritual components should be added to the lootable materials found loose in dungeons, on other adventurers' corpses, in monsters' treasure hoards etc. (including specific foci, and distinguishing between Arcane, Divine, Nature-Primal etc., because that adds Flavour). But the published modules I've seen totally fail to do this.

I do like turning to Rituals to solve a problem, especially if it's a problem that the players just aren't getting any enjoyment out of. And NPCs can always offer to do stuff for hero-saviours free of charge (especially if it only costs Surges, and components are reinterpreted as a substitute for Surges if you're in a place where you need your Healing Surges for healing!)

But when a problem _requires_ a Ritual to solve it, I agree that that's too restrictive, and should be avoided.

So yes, make your Rituals awesome. Bring components to life, assuming you and your players are interested enough to engage with that.

And reflavour them however you feel the need. The "diminutive nature spirits" of Create Campsite might put some people off, especially if they're interpreted as twee little fairies. Hand of Fate is a good ritual, and offers a little subgame of its own as DM acts out the hand-motions, but that could be over-literal for DMs people who want mysticism in their games, or players who want to relay the answer from their awesome ritual personally instead of everyone seeing the answer at the same time as they do. The small details, or in fact anything that's not game-mechanically part of the power level of the Ritual, can and should be personalised.

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