You’ve got to feel for just a little bad for Bad Cat here. She bided her time. She plotted and planned like a champ. And now, at the culmination of all that scheming, her recreate-the-arcane-accident-that-bodyswapped-me-with-a-catgirl ritual is getting disrupted. She’d been outplayed so expertly… It’s almost as if BBEG was the real threat all along. If only there had been some subtle hint that BBEG was this comic’s BBEG!

Anywho, let’s talk about plot magic more broadly. A little handwavium is perfectly serviceable. In a non-interactive medium, adjudicating unique magical effects with “that’s just how it works” can work well enough. (Scrolls of resurrection cause Freaky Friday weirdness when mixed with hell portals? Sure, why not?) But when you’ve got PCs poking about your storyline, it pays to consider the contingencies. Your players certainly will. And you’ll want to know how to respond when they kill the high priest, steal his ceremonial vestments, and accidentally step on an overcharged ley line in the process.

Our pals at Paizo were kind enough to invent a subsystem for the purpose. Their Occult Rituals provide detailed mechanics for creating exactly this kind of set piece event. You can read up on those rules in full if your curious. But in an effort to make the technique more generalizable, here are some key components to consider across systems.

  • Time Table — How long will it take to complete the ritual? Are there methods to speed it up or slow it down?
  • Implements — What special bits do you need for the ritual? A special location? Unique items? Cultists? What tangible elements are required, and what happens if you destroy or remove them?
  • Technical Bits — In d20 terms, I’m talking range, area, target, duration… The mechanical building blocks of every magical effect. In other words, when this bad boy goes off, how will you describe it in game terms?
  • Effect — The narrative side of the coin, this is the big concept of your ritual. It’s the payoff for all the hard work. Whether you’re opening portals between dimensions, reanimating legions of the dead, or raising raising wards around your favorite city, what exactly happens when the ritual goes off?
  • Side Effect(s) — What happens to the casters who attempt this powerful magic? Is their life force consumed when the ritual fails? Are they fatigued even if the magic succeeds?
  • Disruption — Whether the ritualists fail some kind of check or get distracted by do-gooders poking them with sharpened lengths of metal, there’s a chance that this biz won’t work. How do you determine whether the ritual succeeds? How can it be stopped? And when in the process does the GM get to yell, “You’re too late! Now I am invincible!”

As you can see, ritual casting can become a full-on game design challenge. If it’s one you’re looking to try out, I find it’s better to think in broad terms first. What kind of effect am I looking for? Once you’ve got the concept in mind, filling in the details is a case of game design Mad Libs. Just remember that whether you’re releasing a sci-fi pulse, conjuring a eldritch horror, or trying to create your own dragon, it pays to know the details.

So if you’re feeling frisky, give us your best shot in today’s discussion! What is a good contender for the “ritual magic” treatment? Do you have a clear picture of all its component parts? Tell us about all your favorite demon summonings, altar consecrations, and artifact destructions down in the comments!


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