Tuesday 30 October 2018

Ritualising D&D Spells

I like the idea of spells that draw upon more concrete requirements than "Wizard, Level 4" or "3 uses per day".

Imagine Spells that any character can attempt, provided they learn about it and jump through the required in-world hoops.

I'm taking the spell list from Swords & Wizardry (from here because it's the easiest for me to work through) and seeing how they could be turned into Rituals.

The main consideration here is that this changes the spell by:
  • Making it usable by any person, no level restrictions.
  • Giving it a method or other means of restricting its use.
  • Keeping things system agnostic.
  • Making the spell more outright interesting while we're in there.
Here are some examples. I'm drawing on with spells beginning with A, but this is in no way a commitment to me re-writing every spell this way. 

Waking the Servant (Aerial Servant)
  • Ring bell of pure silver in the smoke of plants grown on a grave
  • Whisper a passage from a tome dependent on the current phase of the moon.
  • Command the bound spirit to fetch one thing up to the weight of a Horse. 
  • If the spirit cannot bring the object, the object is not the commander's legal property, or a command is not given within a few seconds, it goes insane and attacks whoever rang the bell until they are incapacitated (d10 crushing grasp, 5hp, immune to physical attacks). 
Feral Rebirth (Animal Growth)
  • Gather a number of creatures of the same breed equal to twice the normal litter size.
  • Pack the creatures into a wicker cage with no space left.
  • Cry out to the creatures in their own tongue. 
  • Shower the creatures in the blood of their predator or prey. 
  • Light the cage on fire.
  • The creatures will spring forth twice as strong and resilient and utterly feral until death. 
Invasive Species (Animal Summoning)

  • Wear the skin of a creature native to this area.
  • Use the blood of this creature to draw a symbolic representation of another animal on a natural surface (tree, cave wall etc).
  • The ritual calls forth a chosen creature not native to this area. The limit is one creature larger than a man, or three animals smaller than a man.
  • They burst out of the surface marked with the symbols. The animals obey the caster’s commands and nothing else, having lost all their natural instinct.
Death Spirits (Animate Dead)
  • In a graveyard, or site of a massacre or battle, perform an hour long poem and dance, remaining hooded and uninterrupted throughout.
  • Note that the site need not actually contain corpses.
  • After the initial hour, d12 Skeletons burst from the ground, and another d6 every hour left uninterrupted. If a 1 is rolled then no more corpses will appear and the site is dry of death energy. 
  • These creatures are minor spirits of death, not actual reanimated corpses, so they will serve you as long as it involves death.
Imbue with Soul (Animate Object)

  • Take one inanimate object that serves a function in a house, ie a chair, rug, or grandfather clock. 
  • Combine the entire hair of a crafts-person skilled in making that object into the wax of a candle. 
  • Light the candle and loudly chastise the object for not serving well. 
  • The animated object follows any commands as long as the candle burns, after which they return to inanimate. 
Stone Child (Animate Rock)

  • An area of natural, unshapen rock must be cleared of any loose stone, debris, gravel. 
  • A stone formed in the last day (commonly from magma) is ground to dust, formed into a paste with milk and spread over the area. 
  • The name of one of the Stone Children (there are twelve, guarded by druids) is called out repeatedly, then the ground struck with a pick to form a crack.
  • A shambling, 10ft tall stone elemental is born out of the ground. The elemental acts like a confused toddler, but has great strength. They can be easily influenced, but you have no real control over them. 

Scare-Circle (Anti-Animal Ward)

  • Lay out a 10ft circle of copper sticks during daylight and splash with clove-steeped alcohol. 
  • No animal (normal or giant) can enter the circle unless being carried by a human or similar. 
  • Animals within the circle cower and submit, and cannot leave without being carried. 
  • Non-animals can pass through the circle without effect, and removing even a single stick breaks its power. 


  1. I love this, it's how I think magic should be - methodologically specific and a little bit odd. My only criticism is that some of these (Animal Summoning) are too easy to achieve for someone without magical ability. I also think it would be interesting if there was always some cost to these spells. E.g. Animate Dead - for one week after using the ritual the caster's shadow takes on a life of its own, and the caster is shunned/attacked by animals on sight;

    1. Im definitely with you on this, adding a little bit of crunch to this and have some sort of advantage for magical ability/high intelligence/whatever i think would strike the proper amount of risk/reward x trained/untrained plot. Your idea for consequences is definitely the right one too; people could even choose if the consequences are increased or decreased based on how magical the person doing the ritual is (both would have interesting effects, id think)

  2. Love the descriptions here. Another benefit of this approach is that it's easier to run "spells as treasure." The hedge witch will teach you how to do X, but first you have to do Y for her. One thing I learned running a similar concept is that it works best with small parties, since with more than 6 people having a long interlude for casting all the time can slow the game down a lot.

  3. I like your writing here, but in practice, at the table, do you think these are really so different from regular D&D magic?

    The bell and herbs needed for "Waking the Servant" - are those really so different from the oft-ignored material components of 3e/Pathfinder spell? Will anyone really narrate the ritual at the table? What if the bell itself took up 1 encumbrance spot, and was unique(-ish) among silver bells for its ability to facilitate this spell? It would still be usable once per day, but it would be tied to a unique object anyone could find, rather than to a scroll or spellbook.

    If a spell is based on performing a ritual, and not based on any internal "mana" that gets used up, is the spell still something they can only cast once per day? And if not, are there any limitations on how many times the character can perform the same ritual per day?

    It fits with Into the Odd's principles to divorce spellcasting from any specific "spellcaster class," but how do you adjudicate just how many of these rituals someone is allowed to know? And is the answer to that question going to be different from the various D&D editions versions of "spells known" or "spells per day"? I think this would be another reason to make the ritual accouterments act as a single encumbering item, and then tie the ability to perform the ritual to ownership of that item. The player might or might not want to go into detail about what they're doing, but they'll have to describe getting out the item to use it. This isn't necessarily so different from the magic system you've described in rules in the past, just with more evocative flavor than having every spell be a spellBOOK. (You could also make certain accouterments "bulky" to make the ritual harder to perform.)

  4. This is good. Animate Object and Aerial Servant are especially evocative.

    I have a half-written post about the same topic.

  5. I find this whole concept intoxicating. I've been working on a similar post, but you beat me to it. Still, I have no intention of giving up. You won't best me, McDowall!

  6. Honestly I prefer the Incantation rules that were introduced in the 3.0 version of Unearthed Arcana. They provide penalties for failure, side effects even with success and very focused effects. The only problem is back converting the idea of difficulty class, or skill checks in general, to AD&D.

  7. Brilliant.