Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spell Casting as Ritual for D&D

When scanning other OSR blogs, I come across other bloggers that have returned to older editions after playing some 4E.  I loosely think of us as Stalwarts and Prodigals - the Stalwarts either never left, or abandoned WOTC much earlier (like early 2000's) and the Prodigals are folks like my group that gave 4E an extensive run but ultimately found the experience too different and went back to an older system.

One of the biggest adjustments my group had to make was when I started making encumbrance, light, and resource management a center piece of the game.  Suddenly, tough choices needed to be made each session about gear.  Tracking rations was meaningful.  Getting loot out of the dungeon presents consistent logistical challenges.  (I point this out just to highlight that encumbrance capacity is a valuable resource in old D&D).

One thing 4E did was split magic between combat and non-combat magic.  Combat spells became "powers" that characters used primarily in encounters; utility spells were converted to rituals.  In order to use a ritual, a caster needed it in his book, needed material components, and needed time (typically 1 turn).  Note:  a lot of 4E players *didn't* like the ritual implementation, because the material components costs eat into the party's ability to buy uber-gear, since treasure is primarily used to buy better magic items.

Scrolls could fill the role of rituals in older D&D.  The resource and time costs are high to write a scroll (unless you're playing Holmes edition) but the encumbrance penalty of scrolls is non-existent.  Given time and money, all utility spells could be managed as scrolls.

An alternate approach would be to allow spells to be cast as rituals.  I'm lazy and not interested in rewriting the magic system, so I wouldn't split the spell lists or classify combat vs non-combat spells.  I would just add a house rule that any spell could be cast on the fly with sufficient ritual components and time.  (This would be different than using the spell book as a scroll; it wouldn't consume the page).

A simple system could use the geometric chart below, where each spell level has a material items cost.  Every 100gp of material components would cost 1 encumbrance slot.  We're not playing 1E AD&D, so there are no current material components required.  We *are* using the LotFP encumbrance system which uses item slots to quickly generate encumbrance on the fly.  Most players can have about 10 slots filled, more if unarmored, less if heavily armored, and still move at a good rate.  Some small items either don't encumber or take a single slot for a group (like arrows in a quiver).  Encumbrance slots are definitely at a premium - it's common for the group to be dropping gear mid-adventure in order to pick up more items.

I would estimate a typical group could free up 4-8 encumbrance slots (maximum) for material components if they were really pushed (not counting bags of holding or similar workarounds).  Higher level spells wouldn't be practical as rituals cast in the dungeon, but could be done back at the home base if there was a store of components.

For exploration, this would mean many common utility spells (read magic, read langugages, knock, levitate, etc) could be done on the fly by consuming resources and performing the ritual.  Right now, when those situations come up, the choice is to camp and prepare the necessary spells.  The costs to the player are time, the risk of wandering encounters, and the opportunity costs from not continuing.

Allowing a ritual approach shifts the problem into one of logistics and planning (expending money up front and planning encumbrance to allow for some components).

I would suggest allowing this for both magical and clerical spells, but requiring separate types of components for each.  While both groups might use chalk and candles, the magic user might require eye of newt, toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog and all that stuff… the cleric might need incense and censers, holy water, symbols, bells, special stoles and vestments.  Either way, the components get ruined and consumed.

Current Approach:
Utility spells often get ignored at first in lieu of combat spells.  When the group needs a utility spell, they retreat and camp (sacrificing time) or burn a scroll if they have one.  For important utility spells, the group might consider making scrolls.

Proposed Approach:
Utility spells still would get ignored in lieu of combat spells.  However, when planning an adventure, the group could budget for some utility spell usage by sacrificing money and encumbrance (instead of sacrificing time later).

So far, this is just thinking out loud - 100% theoretical.  The players have asked a few times if I'd consider a ritual type approach and I've been mulling it over.  We'll likely test it out for the next adventure.

The Rules:
Clerical components:  100gp per parcel, 1 encumbrance slot each.
Arcane components: 100gp per parcel, 1 encumbrance slot each.

For magic users, the spell must be in the spell book and spell must be present.  For clerics, the character must pray and mediate as part of the ritual.

Spell level/component costs:
  1. 100gp
  2. 200gp
  3. 400gp
  4. 800gp
  5. 1,600gp
  6. 3,200gp
  7. 6,400gp
  8. 12,800gp
  9. 25,600gp
Encumbrance costs are 1 Encumbrance slot per 100gp of components.