Rethinking Ritual Magic

As discussed in this thread, Ritual magic is something of a challenge to the setting of Ars Magica. I'm not interested in getting into debates about spell mastery and botch dice here, neither side has enough evidence to change the other side's mind as we both stick to specific language in the core text and discount the language the other side holds as authoritative.

No, what I'm interested in is trying to make Ritual magic more Ars like. Because whether it is used in a story, or it is used on an ongoing basis, rituals are almost handwaved for success, certainly the time element involved is handwaved, but it's important to note that if done in the field, it's hard to say that a ritual is cast in a relaxed manner, and therefore the caster is suddenly confronted with a lot more botch dice than he ever had to contend with before. I find that troubling, because as a story guide I might very well want to ritual to succeed, so that the character could continue on, and so in those situations I might be more lenient with botch dice, but in a story that I don't care about the character's participation, I might (consciously or not) add more botch dice. I'm dissatisfied with that approach, and as evidenced by active discussion in the forums, it's easy to find points to disagree upon, and at the table it is simply enough to destroy the episode, if not the saga generally.

So my desire here is to come up with some better alternatives that treat rituals differently, give them a bit of gravitas that they don't have, without relying upon a die mechanic that has risks of botch that can mitigated by virtues and a lot of effort, and instead treats it more like other magus activities (seasonal activities). Granted, certain rituals don't fit in this framework, namely the healing rituals, and I'll admit that I don't have a good handle on how to rework them for this context. Rituals like the healing rituals would be considered Lesser Rituals, and I'll present a mechanic that handles them a bit later. My next post will discuss Greater Rituals, rituals that take a season to enact this involves anything with a duration that is presently a year, and the stat boosting rituals, because they are powerful. Nothing presented will have been play-tested, and I invite people to rip it to shreds and build it back up to make it better.

I would propose to have clear rules defining what is a lesser ritual and what is a greater ritual - instead of "because they are powerful". It is arbitrary therefore, everybody will have a different notion of what is powerful (is having a characteristic increased from 2 to 3 more "powerful" than being invisible or having the ability to fly ?), leading to endless discussion.

So, my initial definition (work in progress - I will update this message as propositions are made and agreed upon):

Lesser ritual:
A spell that makes an effect permanent, with a brief duration. It cannot be dispelled.
Example: healing spells, creation of animal, items.
Counter example: Pilum of fire does not qualify. Duration is brief (Mom), but the effect does not sustain once the spell stops taking effect (the consequences are lasting, but this is not part of the magic itself).

Greater ritual:
Any lesser ritual with a magnitude above 10.
Any spell with a duration of Year.
Any spell with a Range of Boundary.

Using these criteria will probably downgrade some rituals to spell status and vice-versa, but we can see if it becomes really a problem as we tweaked these conditions.

I think this will get tricky as you must untangle it from the existing rules.

What we have now:
Ceremonial Casting is using ritual magic rules to cast formulaic spells. It just adds the time factor for a greater casting total. No extra botch dice.
Using vis to boost magic is +1 botch die/pawn of vis for any spell.
Ritual Magic is the same as Ceremonial Casting ( for the time factor) plus vis must be used ( thus the botch factor). It must be used for effects over 10th magnitude and can not be used for spells of less than 4th magnitude.

So Ritual magic is the only way to do really powerful, lasting magic. If you added a line about not being able to boost a ritual spell and the vis required by the magnitude does not add to the botch dice. That would help. Rituals would still botch but less than now.

I really want Greater Rituals to cost something, something more than vis. The obvious next point is the season. A season to enact a ritual isn't a huge cost, either. For new covenants, under the current Ars method of handling rituals, it's no worse than none of the members not having learned Aegis of the Hearth prior to coming together, which is not unusual.

[code]Greater Hermetic Rituals (greater rituals) are seasonal activities, they are based on a lab total, and similar to inventing a spell. Greater rituals, due to their huge time investment are always cast with a penetration equal to the final level of the effect. The most common example of a greater ritual is the Aegis of the Hearth. Greater Rituals should be rituals that are cast on an annual basis, have a Boundary Target, create something out of nothing, or improve something into a better version of itself. Healing magics, while they improve the target are meant to put something back to whole, and so rituals which put something back to whole are considered lesser rituals and may be cast as spells, these include healing rituals, but a ritual that restored a broken sword back to full function with Creo Terram magic would also apply. The process of enacting a greater ritual does create a lab text which functions very much like a lab text for Longevity rituals. The vis cost of the ritual is equal to the final magnitude of effect.

Like longevity rituals, greater rituals are cast at the end of their develpment cycle. The rules for vis handling are like recreating the longevity ritual, and limited to the scores of the Art and Technique. If no single person can handle the necessary amounts of vis for a ritual, then magi can commune to complete the ritual. Communing may allow more vis to be used, but the cap on vis use by each individual is the lowest vis score of those communing, it thus becomes impossible someone without any knowledge of either of the underlying Arts to help with a greater ritual.

Greater rituals with Durations greater than momentary require periodic maintenance based on their Duration. The base maintenance cost is the same as the original casting cost + any enhancements added later. Maintenance does not take any appreciable time in the seasonal activity sense, but must be done prior to the expiration of the ritual.

Lab texts to greater rituals are customized to the area that they define, in the case of the Aegis and Bountiful harvest it ties the ritual to a given area. Some covenants are mobile, and they can attach an Aegis to their vehicles, but that is discussed in the Aegis of the Heart ritual.

It is possible to enhance a greater ritual with a duration of Year. I'm currently playing with enhancements in the style of Covenant's lab customization and refining, although I wouldn't require a season of refinement to open up space in the ritual. I am really considering that the space available to improve something be the number of magi communing in the ritual. Installing ritual virtues costs flaws or vis, and increases the maintenance cost of the ritual.[/code]

This means if someone leaves the covenant and say the Aegis is full of virtues, then one of the virtues has to be removed, or a flaw chosen to offset the virtues in excess of those who commune. There isn't a cost to commune, except to have a Rego or Vim score above 0, which is not hard, but very possible for new magi in a brand new spring covenant.

This is primarily spitballing, granted. I threw out something in that aforementioned thread about having the Aegis last for Magic Theory years, which I almost immediately disliked. I mean it sounds cool, but, the vis cost of the Aegis is a big deal, and if an Aegis lasted for many more years without additional costs, that's a big change to how Ars works, which really isn't my goal.

Edit: updated to clarify maintenance on Greater Rituals doesn't take as much time as the original casting of a Greater Ritual.

I'm not so sure. However, I would suggest you consider the Longevity Ritual and example of a "greater ritual" if you go this route.

I thought about that. And it sounds great, in theory, but it requires some changes. An LR 13, which is not hard to get from someone who is reasonably proficient in corpus, would cost 13 pawns of vis annually, and it's probably an unsustainable amount, or not, I dunno how other sagas operate. Few magi in sagas I've been in can afford that for a very long time, if at all. As a one time cost, no sweat. So the mechanics of aging and the Longevity ritual as designed quickly conspire to make magi much shorter lived. Although, some might consider this a feature, not a bug.

Requiring a season for the casting of an Aegis would affect Wizard Wars, since the challenged magus would not be able to run off someplace and "fort up" with a purpose cast Aegis, which could lead to more collateral damage, among other things. Whether or not this is a good, bad or meh thing is a matter for debate, but probably should be considered.


I don't see Ritual Magic as "challenging" to the setting. It's way down my list. Way, way, way down.

I didn't agree with you on the other thread that the time element of rituals is handwaved, only that it is handwaved in situations where there is obviously enough time. That kind of handwaving is not unique to ritual magic. We handwave tying shoes, dressing in the morning (if you're a fancy schmancy Jerbiton, maybe we need to count the time spent bathing and dressing against a full season of lab work.) When visiting a city, we handwave haggling for every meal (but what about characters with no Bargain skill?) Sometimes these things matter, and sometimes they do not.

I don't think that ritual spells deserve or require more gravitas.

Once we care about "but no one ever times rituals to a minute," we should care about spells of Diameter duration, which are almost always hand-waved (but what if a combat lasts 2 minutes and 23 seconds?)

If there are underlying issues, they are not specific to rituals:

  • AM rules encourage rolling a d10. The standard lab rules are a (pleasant) exception to this.
  • AM rules encourage rolling stress dice. When in doubt, let's have a stress roll.
  • AM rules encourage adding botch dice. When in doubt, add more.
  • AM rules are sometimes concrete (5 minutes/magnitude for a ritual and 2 minutes for Diam) and sometimes abstract (a combat round is as long as it is.)



It's 15 minutes per magnitude for ritual spells and ceremonial casting (page 81), not 5. A diameter is almost exactly 2 minutes (page 112). A combat round is 6 seconds (page 172). There are 20 combat rounds in a diameter (page 112).

We may handwave haggling for meals in the city, but we don't handwave it if it is the magus doing it, do we? We assign it to some suitable grog, and ya know what, one of them is going to have some skill at bargaining, so I don't consider it handwaving, but rather assigning the right person for the job. I'll handwave for that. Sure. But if no one has the ability, yeah you're going to roll for that.

Which is what is happening here, kind of. The idea is to get away from the rolling anything for effects that we largely consider as fait accompli already. I rarely design characters who know spells that they can't cast, and if penetration is important, then I ensure I have enough of that, to boot. Specialists within their fields, who would be in a position to learn stat boosting rituals will also not likely be affected be the problem of inventing spells that they can't cast, especially when you account for the fact that a spell is still successful if the die roll is up to within 10 points of the effect.

We do not handwave spellcasting in combat, we do not handwave the lab rules, or experimenting. I don't handwave diameter duration spells and start ticking them off, it's a function of Ars that combat doesn't last 20 rounds. I remember one instance of a diameter duration spell expiring during a combat episode. It was pretty bloody.


I thought combat rounds had abstract time. My bad.

So all of the magi would have to combine for the lab total and thus do nothing else for the entire season? Or just participate in the casting?

I'm not sure what is meant by the bold part above.

Ovarwa, putting it another way, I'm trying to achieve parity with parts of the setting that are about magi extending their power. The primary way they do that now is to invent new spells and make items. A lot of rituals actually do this, and make more thematic sense being treated the same way that spells and items are created now. Want to boost a stat, it takes a season (or more, depending upon the lab totals).

Some rituals, healing rituals, for example, are about restoring something back to wholeness. I think these have a place outside of a seasonal activity, and they certainly don't make sense as a seasonal activity.

So, it should probably be read as, if someone communes in the ritual leaves the covenant, and the Aegis is full if virtues, then you must take a flaw or drop a ritual. Communing for the ritual is desirable from the standpoint of being able to improve the ritual, I'm thinking of virtues that increase the boundary size, harden it against Perdo Vim magics, and another that I wrote down last night but don't have handy.

So the example is that 8 magi commune in the Aegis ritual annually, one of them is unavailable to commune the next year, or away at the annual renewal, for whatever reason. If there were 8 virtues "installed" into the Aegis, then a flaw would have to be added, or a virtue lost. I probably should have waited before I posted it here, the idea wasn't fully developed and other things got in my way today that I couldn't focus on it. I like the symmetry with lab improvement, and lab activities.

Rather than making Rituals seasonal in nature, how about making ritual magic riskier by increasing both the base botch dice and making higher magnitude (those that take longer to enact) ritual need to make multiple rolls (say 1 roll per 4 full magnitudes or part thereof, with perhaps an extra botch die added to each particpant added at each stage)? Rituals then become a little more about risk management. One mechanism for reducing risk would be modifying Wizard's Communion - the total botch dice would be divided up among the communing magi to a max of the 1+the magnitude of their communion. Each magus would then use his gold cord, mastery skill, etc., plus the ritual item he is employing, if any, to reduce those dice down to a minimum of 1.

Some mechanics for reducing the risks of ritual magic could then be introduced, which could variously consume seasons of time, extra vis and other resources in their preparation.

Ritual Diagrams - Things like a Thaumaturgic Circle or Pentagram, each of which can reduce botch dice/increase casting roll based on its shape bonus and perhaps a material bonus based on what it's drawn with.(which is applied before dividing the botch dice among communing magi). The symbol marking a sanctum could, for example, be the basis for a +3 bonus for warding rituals, perhaps that's why it was originally chosen for that purpose. Several "standard" symbols could be generally available, with magi able to research others.

Ritual Consumables - Using (appropriate shape/material bonus) incense, herbs, or candles might provide a small (+1 only?) botch reduction/casting bonus as well.

Ritual Items - Lesser enchanted devices that provide up to +5 bonus for a particular spell - +2/+3 being the norm. Each participant in a Ritual can use 1 item (Mercurians 2?). +4 items can be managed by some specialists in their fields and a number of Verditius magi, with +5 items only produced by a particular confraternity of Verditius magi who use the Item of Quality, Elder Verd. Runes and their special mystery to do so. An example ritual item might be a tasseled, goat-skin mantle/drape adorned with Hestia's symbols - which would be a literal "Aegis of the Hearth", under some interpretations of mythology.

Once the crunchy bits were worked out, you'd hopefully end up with a playable system that can provide more of an actual, ritual feel to the prep and casting of ritual spells. When actually playing out a higher magnitude ritual, the SG could use the mechanics and the sequence of die rolls to help set the scene (and build up a little drama) as it unfolds.

My experience is that rituals are hand waved, the cost of Vis is paid, but the risks of casting the ritual is ignored. A lot, at least for every Aegis in every saga I've been part of. Sometimes for healing spells, as Marko Markoko indicated in another thread. So I would like to treat rituals as nearly risk free, as is often how they are treated, but capture that exchange of risk for time. Magi don't cast rituals in time sensitive situations, and if an Aegis isn't functional when needed, then an hour or two of casting time isn't going to change that, in any way. Certainly one can creat a contrived set of circumstances under RAW now that requires a ritual be cast AND it must happen within a given period of time.

I don't want to add more botch chance, rather I'd like to create a reasonable cost for working rituals. Time is meaningless, since works in the season, or in a tighter timeline of an episode.

Which was the whole point of what I posted - but rather than just making it a straight up season for the ritual and handwave it (and possible role-playing and story hooks) almost completely away, you use a system like I proposed. The end result should be a properly supported ritual that gives you what you want, up front investment in time and resources in exchange for a ritual that has scant chance to fail.

Let's use the 15th magnitude Aegis Magvillus has for example. Let's give it 30 base botch dice, with +5 per added roll due to magnitude. 6 magi with scribe a ritual circle that give +5 bonus to casting total and subtracts 5 botch dice before division (Sanctum marker symbol drawn with Hermetic ink). Incense (made from Hornbeam sap) is burned during the ritual for a further +1. Each magus casts a 6th magnitude Wizard's Communion, allowing each of the assisting magi to accept up to 7 botch dice per roll. All magi have ritual items - each +3, Gold cord scores of 2 and the main caster a 4 mastery score with the spell, the other 5 have a mastery of 2.

So the ritual ends up being 30, 35, 40 & 45 botch dice rolls to start. This is then reduced to 29, 34, 39 & 44 by the diagram and incense, to be divided between the participating magi. In this case we'll make it as even a division as possible, with any odd +/- remainder resting with the main caster - so main/participant botch dice end up being 4/5, 4/6, 4/7, 9/7. The magi are all capable of reducing their botch burden to 0. The minimum is 1 each however. Since each participating magus only has to roll one die, the most the single botch 0s can do is remove a magus' casting bonus addition for that casting roll (+3+2). The main caster's die works as normal for the casting roll. Assuming no 0s from the assisting magi, the Aegis goes off with a casting total of (main caster's worst casting total of the 4)+6 (for the ritual circle and incense) +25 (for the additional magi's ritual items and mastery), so the final penetration total should be more than adequate to maximize the Aegis' effectiveness.

The system also lends itself to story bits, too. In the Rhine Tribunal, chapterhouses might need to schedule their Aegis' castings at staggered Solstices/Equinoxes to allow the senior magi from the mother covenant to provide aid and support in casting. Furthermore, a common "Boon" to a new covenant might be some combination of a 20th Level Aegis casting tablet and/or lab text, a +2 Aegis ritual item and/or a decent Mastery text. Normandy Tribunal Liege covenants may insist on "assisting" a vassal with their Aegis, which while beneficial, also means the Liege has at least one magus who won't suffer penalties in the short term if the relationship is abandoned. Also, since it is still only a few hours of casting at most, rituals can still happen during some stories and have an effect on them.

The reason I added botch dice was to give more room to add in preparation activities (and the associated time/resource sinks) and give those preparations some variability in power. It was also to try to make it harder to make a magus who could just roll up his sleeves and cast a major ritual off the top of his head without a hitch. He can still try (and succeed) with what I'm thinking of, but he's probably more than a little nuts to try.

Edit - I think my math's a little off somewhere, but the basic idea is still there.

The way I read it, and correct me if I'm wrong, is that you would create a situation that is inherently more risky to work rituals, and then to mitigate those risks, magi could work (individually or together?) for several seasons to reduce the risk. Whereas, I can have a single magus work for a season to work the ritual, and have no risk.

I have what I want, an upfront investment in time and resources (time and vis) in exchange for a finished product (ritual). This is no different from the process of creating a lesser enchanted device, or investing a power into an item prepared for enchantment. Your method introduces a lot of complexity which can mitigated with time (and virtues, still). The current method of casting rituals is no different, since people can spend time practicing spell mastery, acquire a familiar and empower a strong Golden Cord, and either have or acquire virtues. I'll stipulate that the virtues and familiar have other uses, but practicing for spell mastery does not.

I have designed characters who could mitigate all chance of botch from 30th level rituals, communing with others. It's not particularly hard. It just leads to a bit of a bland character, in my experience.

I thought that the concept of Great Ritual/Lesser Ritual was initially great.

Then it dawn to me that the current system leaves a gap which shows a weakness or a failure of Bonisagus' work which could be a nice research path for PC's seekers. Specifically the absence of great ritual like the one secretly preserved by House Guernicus.

As Bonisagus created his theory, making magic more flexible, he had to left out a solid portion of the Mercurian rituals. The current rules reflect that.
Magus alone are very powerful. But they have little incentive to work group ritual with the few exceptions of Wizard's communion.

Therefore I would not introduce Greater rituals as mechanically described by Jonathan, to let room for discovery by PCs. I like the description of your proposal Jonathan, and I would probably keep it when I want to introduce Greater rituals.

Yet, I would like to find an elegant solution to the Aegis problem.

It's a ritual magic problem, not just the Aegis. Ritual magic gets handwaved, far too frequently for it to have any meaningful affect on the environment, except as a money sink. And when it isn't hand waved, it's a huge risk, depending upon the play style (whether you believe Spell Mastery 1 mitigates all botch risk) or it's still a money sink. Rituals, despite the language that's used take no appreciable time. Rituals are almost never cast in the field, because who has a couple of hours to wait around while a magus gets his ritual going? Rituals being stressful is a contrived event, obviously contrived event, not just contrived by normal circumstance, but the SG has to go out of his way to make the ritual casting a stressful situation.

My idea is that Greater Rituals are about extending the power of magi into the real world. They are like enchanted devices, in a sense. If the ritual would have a lasting effect on the game world it needs to be greater. Aegis and stat boosting rituals fit this bill, as does Conjuring the Mystic Tower. If the ritual is about making someone or something whole, a broken sword, an injured man, it's lesser. I'm still mulling over lesser rituals, and how long they should take, right now I'm at about 1 minute per magnitude. Even then, I'm not sure that time matters for these rituals. I suppose they can then be done in the field, reasonably. Imagining a scenario more akin to a D&D dungeon crawl where someone is badly injured, and the magus knows Incantation of the Body Made Whole and casting it in 8 minutes, and has the vis available. It wouldn't be risky, except he has to do it quietly or silently due to the chanting alerting others to their presence... Is there a difference between 8 minutes and 2 hours in this example? I'm not sure, I've never been in a combat in Ars that lasted more than 2 minutes... Well, one, where a character got really lucky on something that was way outside of his weight class, the resulting wound brought him into his weight class, so to speak, and they traded blows back and forth for a dozen rounds.

Well, since you specifically compared the situation to a D&D dungeon crawl... The difference between 8 minutes and 2 hours is huge if there's a 1/6 chance of a wandering monster every 10 minutes (or even 1/6 every 30 or 60 minutes). Lighting probably isn't an issue if there's a hermetic magus around ("Torches? Pfft. I can trivially spont CrIg for light all day."), but food supplies might limit the amount of time you can spend on resting/rituals/etc.