I’ma be honest: I don’t get rituals.
I don’t grasp them. I don’t desire them. I’m not enthusiastic about them in any way.
I have tried. I’ve tried to read lists of rituals and select some; but if I’m truthful, I don’t know that I’ve ever finished a description for any ritual save Hand of Fate. Hand of Fate is a special case, in that I got it for free with a halfling invoker sex-cult escapee I was running at the time. I imagine, were I to play a bard, I’d probably read some of their rituals since I can get down on them for free as well.
Something like the free Animal Messenger that druids get, though, I’ve never bothered to read because it feels as though it essentially says “Send dude a message via use of an animal.” The only time I played a druid, the character was a daelkyr-twisted mass of waxen flesh who extruded a sentient pseudopod of his own body to courier the message. I’m much more likely to use free rituals when they’re offered, because I essentially treat them like class features that don’t have power blocks.
I play a lot of controllers, though, so the fact that I have no affection for rituals becomes a bit more of an issue. I feel that many of the controller classes are built with an eye towards ritual use; and, certainly, they’re the most likely characters to have rituals on hand. In the event that the party needs a ritual at some point, eyes are going to turn towards the Wizard to get things done. If I’m that wizard, I’m going to give a magical shrug of impotence.
Except, that’s not really true. Thing is, despite thinking Rituals (with that capital R) are uninteresting and uninspiring and not especially worth the money, I’m all about ritualized applications of magic. I’m a tremendous fan of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files (and so is my ladyfriend, which is a constant delight), and I think that series is a direct reason for my enthusiasm for a slower, more measured approach to certain kinds of spellcraft. I simply approach rituals the same way I approach oratory. My dwarven wizard in that game is forever calling down exarchs to scoop up the souls of hobgoblins, orcs, and even lizardfolk who’ve turned from the worship of their rightful gods to serve in Tiamat’s Red Hand.
Others don’t always share my enthusiasm—or at least my reading list—as evidenced by the last ritual I tried setting up. I wrote the thing up as a skill challenge, essentially, and tried to give everyone in the party a few options for contributions. The crux of the ritual was a captured lizardfolk shaman, his scales marked up with arcane sigils which matched the blood-painted sigils on a mouse mocked up to resemble the shaman.
The goal was to purify the area, summon the lizard god, and then have the shaman (“persuaded” through the application of force to the mouse in my wizard’s hands) confess abandoning his god—a god we’d established in an earlier creative use of Prestidigitation during a different fight—to serve Tiamat.
The mouse, btw, was dropped at my character’s feet by the party’s druid, as a joke; he and the rogue had run into the village and napped the shaman, but the rogue brought that back.
Between the ritual circles, the ritual markings, and the flim-flammery of quelling of local nature spirits, I figured we had a pretty cut-and-dried case of magimic. And then the druid…same one what gave me the mouse…made his contribution to the skill challenge leaping over my character’s head and snapping the mouse’s neck.
We all took a knee while I explained that doing that would, logically, kill the shaman we wanted alive. I realized I’d never told the party (in or out of character) just what we were doing; only the DM. And I was given cause to reflect that, yeah, I really do enjoy ritual magic.
Just not Rituals.
They’re expensive, or at least I think they are; the fact that they have any cost at all makes them feel too costly, frankly. Unlike skill challenges—which I think are an awesome way to codify roleplaying in order to better reward it with xp—rituals feel like they’re sucking all of the description out of the game. Sure, you can put it back in; you can have the character describe each round’s arcana check, or even try to disrupt his ritual. But at that point, what’s to say you aren’t running a skill challenge?
I suppose an argument could be made that the character’s ritual book and knowledge represent her mastery of specific, esoteric methods of arcane/divine/psionic/primal manipulation. However, I don’t understand any reason you wouldn’t be able to say that Arcana/Religion/Nature does the exact same thing. Especially since you’re rolling that anyway.
I titled this post Knock because it’s occurred to me that, at least thus far, that’s one use of the Arcana skill I’ve yet to attempt. In fact, I wonder if I would. I used to have my dwarven wizard rock an arcana check in lieu of diplomacy; then Wizards kind of ate my lunch by codifying that as a utility power. For all I know (without checking, which would be cheating) there’s a similar lock-picking utility…but I don’t know that I even care for that approach.
Basically, I look at uses of arcana the same way I’d look at a character with diplomacy trying to constantly talk his way into or out of things. I’m a huge heist fan, and if a character could set up a sufficiently convoluted plan I’d probably let him talk his way into just about anything. That’s especially true if he could do like I did with my wizard’s little summoning ritual, and find a way to devise a plan that includes the whole party.
Of course, having said that I imagine a player will hold it against me in the future.
Anyway, what’s the consensus on rituals? Am I blind to the light?