Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The high cost of living (and rituals) in 4th Edition D&D

Ever since they were first announced, I have been curious about rituals in Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. There are a couple of reasons why rituals interested me. One reason is that I have always been a big fan of the feel of ritual magic in other role-playing games. Perhaps most importantly though is that rituals were setup to fix some of the most pernicious problems in D&D, namely ridiculously powerful or long duration magic, the creation of magic items, and the raising of the dead.

So it shouldn't be surprising that when they first announced that the May 28th "Excerpt" would be devoted to rituals that I was excited.

Having read the excerpt I have mixed feelings. I do feel that rituals will help balance the use of powerful magic in the game. That being said, in many ways rituals seem more derivative than innovative.

Basically, many of the old long term or powerful utility spells have been moved off the spell list and on to the ritual list. Becoming a ritual means a few things for these spells:

  • They have much longer casting times. The main byproduct of this is that they can no longer be cast in combat. While this might cut off some uses of these powers, like the ability to teleport the party out of a tense situation, for the vast majority of spells it will not be a substantive change. Characters are rarely scrying, curing disease, or raising the dead in the middle of combat anyway.
  • They all must be cast out of a ritual book or off of a ritual scroll. Functionally, this does limit the caster, sort of like a cross between a Wizard's Spell Book and the 3rd Edition Spell Component Pouch.
  • They all will have a material component cost. Once again, this will have the effect of limiting how often you can cast these powerful spells. This isn't that big of a change because many of these spells already had material components. Still, the concept of standardizing out these components is probably a good thing.
  • There is a skill roll involved in many rituals. This is actually pretty new, if somewhat similar to the way that epic spells were handled. Still, it will give casters a reason to have high levels in certain skills, namely Arcana, Religion, or Nature and add an element of suspense.

Rituals are also how you create magic items in 4th Edition. We still don't know much about how this works, but the list of the first ten levels of rituals provides a couple of clues. Namely the two rituals called "Enchant Magic Item" and "Brew Potion" on the list. In another case of "Reversing Innovation", this sounds an awful lot like earlier editions of the game which had an "Enchant Item" spell.

The main thing this tells me is that the main inhibitor on assembly line magic item creation is going to return to being monetary limitations rather than XP cost or some other factor. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I was hoping to see a new approach.

Finally, while it was touched on under powerful spells, rituals are how you bring back the dead. In this case we got to see the Raise Dead ritual in its entirety, so I can comment on it pretty fully.

I was surprised to find out that Raise Dead is only an 8th level ritual, which in the new edition means it can be cast by an 8th level caster. They upped the casting time to 8 hours, which seems reasonable to me. In fact, I have been a proponent of that since I first saw that modification in Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved Campaign Setting.

The penalty for coming back from the dead is pretty mild: a -1 to all attack rolls, skill checks, saving throws, and ability checks until the character reaches three milestones (usually 6 encounters). Humorously, this resembles a house rule that I (and some other DM's in my regular gaming group) experimented with.

Perhaps most interesting is that it costs more to raise higher level characters than lower level characters due to death being unwilling to "release its hold". Bringing back a heroic tier character can be done for the bargain price of 500 GP! Paragon tier characters are a bit pricier at 5,000 GP. Epic tier characters cost a whopping 50,000 GP to bring back. Basically it's a case where the more you have, the more death takes.

I guess death is a little like the IRS.  Except without tax shelters.