View Full Version : Aspects of a Ritual

2012-08-29, 11:53 PM
I am currently working on a subsystem of magic, which I have been calling Thaumaturgy. At its most basic, it is the process of crafting a ritual in order to perform... well, almost anything. But, I'm running into creative issues, mostly in what the actual elements of a ritual are. So, as is my usual method when I hit a block, I am turning to you, Playgrounders, to try to get some ideas.

Things I have already thought of: Somatic components, Verbal components, Expendable components, Focus components, and Glyph components. Anyone else have other ideas?

2012-08-30, 04:50 AM
How about something like this:

A Ritual is an act that invokes several external sources of power, brings them near, commands them, and then directs them. These sources of power may be natural locations (ley lines and elemental nodes), beings of power (deities, angels and demons, etc), or even concepts central to the universe (entropy, time, association).

A Ritual must do the following:

- Calling: The forces to be invoked must be properly named
- Command: The forces to be invoked must be propitiated, bargained with, or driven to obey the ritualist
- Channel: A channel to the forces must be established.
- Direction: The intended effect of the ritual must be communicated to these forces symbolically.

For rituals intended to create permanent or long-lasting effects, an additional element is needed:
- Binding: The invoked powers must be locked into place, so that they do not relax to their normal state of being.

An external power source may be replaced with an at-hand power-source (a powerful artifact, for example). This removes the need to Channel that component of the ritual. Similarly, performing the ritual in a magical location removes the Channel requirement for anything associated with that location. A deity or powerful being capable of providing a component personally may do so freely without the need to Call, Channel or Command itself if casting a Ritual.

A Ritual can be devised by assembling the necessary forces to create the intended effect. These are like the Seeds of epic spells - all parts of a ritual must be supported by a force capable of providing that part. There may be multiple possible sources for a given part - for instance, there may be multiple gods of Death, a location strongly associated with Death, etc.

The source of power must be named without error or ambiguity, and this name must be incorporated into the ritual. The Calling component may be provided in several different ways, each with a particular cost to the ritual requirements. It is generally easier to Call things with actual names such as a deity or object than a place, and it is easier to Call a place than a raw universal concept.

- Invocation is the practice of ritually chanting the name of the source of power. This adds a time requirement to the ritual.
- Inscription is the practice of writing the name of the source of power in a magical language. This adds a skill requirement (you must inscribe it correctly) and the location must be prepared. An inscription requires the appropriate substrate material to be effective. However, an inscription once prepared may be used instantly.
- Effigy is the practice of representing the thing to be called by something belonging to it that its power has touched - for instance, a paladin of a deity could be used as a component here. This requires the particular object in question.
- Meditation is the only way to call concepts, and requires entering a particular state of mind characteristic of the concept. This isn't just a mental act - to Meditate upon Famine, one must starve; to Meditate upon Death, one must approach the state of death; to Meditate upon Fire, one must themselves burn.

Fail here and you get the wrong energies. A fire spell turns into lightning, or a prosperity spell instead brings obesity.


Unless you possess the power being used in the ritual personally, that power must be commanded or compelled. Usually this is a bargain or propitiation, not an outright act of control.

Places are generally easier to command than concepts, and concepts are easier to command than entities.

Places can usually be commanded by simply establishing a Yoke. This is a physical focus that interfaces with the energies of the location. The focus must be able to both react to the energies being channeled and to the will of the user. This means that foci are often dual-material objects. Mithral (or substitute appropriate material here) is a common conduit for will, and so foci are often comprised of mithral plus a material associated with the intended ritual seed (onyx chased with mithral for a necromantic ritual, ruby chased with mithral for a fire ritual, etc).

Commanding concepts is an exercise in willpower and logic. The caster must manifest their own will and thought to alter the meaning of the concept they have summoned into one that will serve them. These convolutions of thought are guided by Mantras, prepared ahead of time. Even then, the caster must be able to successfully navigate the convoluted logic of the Mantra. A Mantra could be a certain pattern of sounds, but it could just as well be a mathematical proof or a koan - the point is to trick reality into two dissimilar things are really the same by convincing yourself strongly of that. A sort of silly example would be the joke proofs you may have seen that Time = Money or that 1 = 0.

Deities can be propitiated with Prayers - this adds a requirement of having multiple helpers to the ritual all faithful to the given deity. Others may require a Sacrifice, or for the caster to personally undergo an act of disfigurement (anything from getting a tattoo to losing an eye). The sky is the limit here, and its usually idiosyncratic to the source used.

Failing here tends to create a ritual with a missing effect. Sometimes you get a malicious wrong effect in the case of entity-driven rituals.


You've identified what you're using, and you're in control of it; now you have to actually bring it here. This is trivial if the source of power is at the ritual site, less so if its far away. Concepts are omnipresent, and so only need to be channeled if they are absent from the target area for some reason (e.g. fire). This is usually done by bringing them to the target area (creating a small fire symbolically in representation of creating the larger one, for example).

Places are easily channeled if you're on site, but otherwise (for instance calling upon the sun or the moon or that volcano in the east) you need a Conduit. This is usually a piece of the location you're calling power from (obviously hard to do with the sun). Alternatively, you can use natural leylines to channel the power via geomancy. This requires literally changing the terrain or building a large structure in the vicinity of the ritual to focus the remote energy - for instance, constructing something like Stonehenge if you wanted to channel the energy of the stars.

Entities generally require a Conduit of some sort as well. For deities or those who grant spells or miracles, this can be a person with sufficient faith. An artifact sanctified or belonging to the target source can also be used. Certain beings can also be connected to a place if they are cosmically tied to certain types of events, and the ritual caster creates such an event. For instance, a god of death may be brought near by killing someone or possibly a large number of someones. This kind of Conduit tends to be iffy - does a god of disease personally oversee every case of the flu? It has to be big enough and its hard to tell what will be ahead of time.

Failing at this stage just makes the spell fizzle, or at least makes a part of the spell fizzle.


Cosmic concepts don't generally speak Common, so you have to go to great lengths to communicate precisely what you want to happen. This can be done in a few ways:

- Runecraft is using magical writing to precisely define what kind of magical effect you want to produce. Runecraft disintegrates as it is read out, and so a ritual using runecraft can be stopped mid-stream by interrupting the symbols ahead of the reading points (it can also be visually assessed the same way). Runecraft rituals might involve large spools of paper with continuous calligraphy, chalk runes in circles on the ground, etc. Generally runecraft is very long and processes slowly. Using Runecraft causes the effects of the ritual to take place over several time increments rather than instantly.
- Model is using a scale model of the effects you want to take place. This is kind of a crude form of casting, and the effects aren't always predictable, but its the easiest way if you want something really simple. Create a little statue of the palace you want to burn and set it on fire with a torch to tell the gods of fire to burn the palace - just make sure you're showing them the right one. This can be focused if actual material from the targets is used as part of the model - for instance, a voodoo doll incorporating the target's hair or blood is more accurate than one that does not.
- Raw Will is the most difficult method, but is also the fastest. This method can only be used with forces that are completely under the ritual caster's control. The caster must personally marshal the borrowed powers to create the effect. If the caster succeeds, the effect goes off exactly as intended. If the caster fails, there is a backlash as the forces they are directing go out of control literally in their hands.
- Divine Guidance is when the caster gives control of the ritual to one of the sources of power involved in the ritual. The caster loses the ability to specify precisely what the ritual should do, and instead receives whatever that entity feels like doing in response to the caster's request (which can be worded simply in any language the deity or entity that is the powersource understands). This is dangerous to use except with an entity that really and truly wants to help the caster. This can't be used if no such entity is being used as a ritual source.

Failure here makes the spell hit the wrong target or do the wrong thing.


Binding powers in place requires a physical representation of the ritual. Each component of the ritual, every thing that the caster must do, must be represented by an appropriate physical object in the appropriate relationship to the other ritual elements. If this physical representation is altered, the energies of the ritual are similarly dispersed, and so the ritual may degrade in piecemeal fashion.

The hardest thing to do is to make the intent of the ritual persist, as all of the Direction methods are transient by their very nature. Generally speaking, this persistence requires a mind or soul to be bound into the ritual, trapped until the ritual's effects end. This is most commonly done with a trapped elemental spirit or servitor (or even a volunteer when a deity is in favor of the ritual's effects).

A more extreme method is for the caster to bind the ritual in place by fragmenting their psyche. They literally leave a piece of their mind in charge of the magic while they leave. This both impacts their cognitive ability (a permanent reduction in their mental attributes until the ritual effect ends) as well as removes a small chunk of their personality (for instance, a caster might be unable to feel sadness or might lose their appreciation for music, so long as the ritual is in effect). The caster has some control over these losses, but it is an incredible act of will to perform this separation.

2012-08-30, 01:08 PM
Damn, this guy's as good as you are Domriso, that's a pretty good base to have for this kind of system. Now it just needs the complexity you normally employ, which is always fun for immersion into the setting :smallbiggrin: