Excerpts Archive | 5/28/2008
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Excerpts: Rituals
4th Edition Player's Handbook

In today’s preview, we look at the complex ceremonies known as rituals. R&D’s Peter Schaefer walks us through how they are cast, and what they can achieve.


Welcome wizards, clerics, and other initiates to Rituals 101, where you will learn what rituals are and what they are not.

Rituals take time to cast. Unlike a wizard’s spells or a cleric’s prayers, which can be cast under pressure and at a moment’s notice, rituals require preparation, costly components, and time—these are effects that must wait for a quiet moment before you call on their power.

Rituals are used for effects you cannot accomplish in other ways. Looking upon a creature from afar, traveling halfway across the world with a few steps, speaking with distant friends, leaving behind a mouth to speak your message: these are all capabilities that rituals offer. Some rituals supply the abilities of absent comrades, such as magically opening locks or sensing secret doors. Using them in such a way, however, is rarely your first choice; letting the rogue pick the lock is the cheaper and faster option.

Some powers that will be familiar from past editions of the game now reside in rituals. Enduring illusions, for example—from false walls to goblins made from nothing but trickery—are rituals. You can also summon a prepared treasure chest full of gear (or empty, to fill it with treasure), or create a floating disk to carry your loot. Rituals help you understand languages you’ve never studied, conjure mounts, and lift curses and diseases from your friends.

Rituals fall into one of nine categories:

  • Binding (Arcana or Religion): These rituals seek to lure, ensnare, control, or protect you from other beings, sometimes from other planes.


  • Creation (Arcana or Religion): These rituals are used to craft magic items and other special objects.


  • Deception (Arcana): Deception rituals cloak reality behind various facades.


  • Divination (Arcana, Nature, or Religion): These rituals provide advice, information, or guidance.


  • Exploration (Arcana, Nature, or Religion): A catch-all category, exploration rituals include a variety of effects useful in everyday adventuring.


  • Restoration (Heal): These rituals remove ill effects from the living or bring back the dead.


  • Scrying (Arcana): Scrying rituals let the caster spy on locations, objects, or creatures.


  • Travel (Arcana): Travel rituals transport characters from one place, or plane, to another.


  • Warding (Arcana): These rituals provide various forms of protection.

That’s a look at what rituals are. Here’s what they are not. Rituals are not buffs for combat. There are no rituals that give you temporary hit points, make your attacks do more damage, let you fly above the battlefield, or wrap you in coronas of flame that scorch your enemies.

That said, rituals can tactically inform combat: If you cast Arcane Lock on the door to the barracks before the alarm went off, if you cast Water Breathing before fighting in the city of canals, if you used an illusion to increase your apparent numbers, then you may well have gained an advantage in a fight. Rituals are primarily utility, and can only be used for tactical advantage by the clever.
--Peter Schaefer





Rituals are complex ceremonies that create magic effects. You don’t memorize or prepare a ritual; a ritual is so long and complex that no one could ever commit the whole thing to memory. To perform a ritual, you need to read from a book or a scroll containing it.

A ritual book contains one or more rituals that you can use as often and as many times as you like, as long as you can spare the time and the components to perform the ritual.

A ritual scroll contains a single ritual, and you can perform the ritual from that scroll only once. After that, the magic contained in the scroll is expended, and the scroll turns to dust. Anyone can use a ritual scroll to perform the ritual it contains, as long as the appropriate components are expended.

Performing a Ritual

To perform a ritual that you have mastered, you spend a certain amount of time (specified in the ritual description) performing various actions appropriate to the ritual. The actions might include reading long passages out of the ritual book, scribing complex diagrams on the ground, burning special incense or sprinkling mystic reagents at appropriate times, or performing a long set of meticulous gestures. The specific activities required aren’t described in most ritual descriptions; they’re left to your imagination.

A ritual requires certain esoteric components, which you purchase before you perform the ritual and which are expended when the ritual is complete. Each ritual specifies the cost of the components you need.

If a ritual requires a skill check, the check usually determines the ritual’s effectiveness. Even if the check result is low, a ritual usually succeeds, but if the result is high, you can usually achieve better effects.

How to Read a Ritual

Rituals are described in a consistent format, the elements of which are outlined below.

Name and Flavor Text
Beneath a ritual’s name is a short passage of flavor text that tells what a ritual accomplishes, sometimes expressing that information in terms of what the ritual looks like or sounds like as it’s being performed.

Level
Each ritual has a level. You have to be that level or higher to perform the ritual from a book or to copy it.

Time
Performing a ritual takes the specified amount of time. Using a scroll cuts that time in half.

Duration
This entry shows how long a ritual’s effects last after the completion of the ritual. The effects of a ritual usually last longer than those of a power.

Component Cost
This is the value of the components that must be expended to perform a ritual. A ritual’s key skill determines the kind of components required.

  • Alchemical Reagents (Arcana): Typically these are small vials full of powdered metals, rare earths, acids, salts, or extracts from creatures such as dragons or basilisks.


  • Mystic Salves (Heal): Restoration rituals use mystic salves, dabbed or painted on the creatures to be healed. These salves come in small jars and include blessed oils and unguents made from rare spices.


  • Rare Herbs (Nature): Rare herbs are usually collected and preserved during certain times of year, such as when the moon is full.


  • Sanctified Incense (Religion): Sanctified incense is prepared during certain religious rites and is burned as a powder or a stick.


  • Residuum (Any): The concentrated magical substance that results from performing the Disenchant Magic Item ritual, residuum can be used as a component for any ritual. You can’t usually buy it on the open market; you acquire it by draining it out of magic items.

You can use the components associated with a key skill for any ritual that uses that skill. For example, if you stock up on alchemical reagents, you can use them when you perform any Arcana-based ritual. Ritual components are not interchangeable; you can’t use alchemical reagents to perform a ritual requiring sanctified incense, for example. But you can use residuum for any ritual.

You can buy ritual components at some shops, your allies can provide them (sharing the cost of a ritual with you), or you might find them as treasure. However you acquire components, record their value on your character sheet. When you perform a ritual, mark off the ritual’s cost from the appropriate components.

Some rituals’ descriptions note other costs, including healing surges or a focus item (such as a mirror or a crystal ball for a scrying ritual). A focus item is not expended when you perform a ritual.

Market Price
This entry is the cost to purchase a ritual book containing the ritual or to copy a ritual into an existing ritual book. A scroll containing a ritual costs the same amount.

Key Skill
A ritual’s key skill determines the type of components required to perform the ritual, and if a ritual requires a skill check, the key skill is used for the check. If this entry ends with “(no check),” then the ritual does not require a skill check.

If a ritual has more than one key skill, you choose which skill to use. Your choice determines both the components you use and the skill you use for any checks required by the ritual.

Unless a ritual’s description says otherwise, you make your skill check when you finish performing a ritual. You can’t take 10 on one of these skill checks.

Effects
The text that follows the foregoing information describes what happens when you finish performing a ritual.

Rituals by Level (first 10 levels)

Level Ritual Key Skill
1 Animal Messenger Nature
1 Comprehend Language Arcana
1 Gentle Repose Heal
1 Magic Mouth Arcana
1 Make Whole Arcana
1 Secret Page Arcana
1 Silence Arcana
1 Tenser’s Floating Disk Arcana
2 Endure Elements Arcana or Nature
2 Eye of Alarm Arcana
2 Water Walk Nature
3 Detect Secret Doors Arcana
4 Arcane Lock Arcana
4 Enchant Magic Item Arcana
4 Hand of Fate Religion
4 Knock Arcana
4 Travelers’ Feast Nature
5 Brew Potion Arcana or Religion
5 Hallucinatory Item Arcana
5 Magic Circle Arcana
6 Commune with Nature Nature
6 Cure Disease Heal
6 Discern Lies Religion
6 Disenchant Magic Item Arcana
6 Leomund’s Secret Chest Arcana
6 Phantom Steed Arcana
6 Sending Arcana
6 Speak with Dead Religion
8 Linked Portal Arcana
8 Raise Dead Heal
8 Remove Affliction Heal
8 Water Breathing Arcana or Nature
8 Wizard’s Sight Arcana
10 Consult Mystic Sages Religion
10 Detect Object Arcana


Detect Secret Doors

With a smile and a wink, you show Soveliss the outline of the trapdoor he missed.

Level: 3
Category: Exploration
Time: 10 minutes
Duration: Instantaneous
Component Cost: 25 gp
Market Price: 125 gp
Key Skill: Arcana

Make an Arcana check. Use the result as a bonus to a Perception check you immediately make to find any secret or hidden doors in your line of sight. If anyone aided you while performing this ritual, they can’t help you make the resulting Perception check.


Cure Disease

Even the most horrid affliction disappears in response to your healing touch.

Level: 6
Category: Restoration
Time: 10 minutes
Duration: Instantaneous
Component Cost: 150 gp
Market Price: 360 gp
Key Skill: Heal

The Cure Disease ritual wipes away a single disease afflicting the subject, whether the disease is active or still incubating. The subject is completely cured and loses any negative side effects and symptoms of the disease.

This ritual is physically taxing to the recipient; if used on an injured character, it can even kill him or her. Upon completing this ritual, make a Heal check, using the level of the disease as a penalty to this check. The result indicates the amount of damage the character takes. Assuming the character survives, this damage can be healed normally.

Heal Check Result Effect on Target
0 or lower Death
1–9 Damage equal to the target’s maximum hit points
10–19 Damage equal to one-half of the target’s maximum hit points
20–29 Damage equal to one-quarter of the target’s maximum hit points
30 or higher No damage

If you know that your subject is suffering from multiple diseases, you must choose which one this ritual will cure. Otherwise, the ritual affects whichever single disease you knew about. You learn the disease level when you begin the ritual, and at that point you can choose not to continue, without expending any components.


Raise Dead

You bend over the body of your slain comrade, applying sacramental unguents. Finally his eyes flutter open as he is restored to life.

Level: 8
Category: Restoration
Time: 8 hours
Duration: Instantaneous
Component Cost: 500 gp
Market Price: 680 gp
Key Skill: Heal (no check)

To perform the Raise Dead ritual, you must have a part of the corpse of a creature that died no more than 30 days ago. You apply mystic salves, then pray to the gods to restore the dead creature’s life. The subject returns to life as if he or she had taken an extended rest. The subject is freed of any temporary conditions suffered at death, but permanent conditions remain.

The subject returns with a death penalty: –1 to all attack rolls, skill checks, saving throws, and ability checks. This death penalty fades after the subject reaches three milestones.

You can’t restore life to a creature that has been petrified or to a creature that died of old age.

The subject’s soul must be free and willing to return to life. Some magical effects trap the soul and thus prevent Raise Dead from working, and the gods can intervene to prevent a soul from journeying back to the realm of the living. In all cases, death is less inclined to return paragon and epic heroes; the component cost is 5,000 gp for paragon tier characters and 50,000 gp for epic tier characters.


Be sure to return Friday for a look at humans as monsters!