Ritual Magic in the Age of Ruins

In the arcane tradition of the Age of Ruins there are many magical rites that do not require any Arcane Background edge for a character to learn and perform. Some rituals do utilize the Spellcasting skill, however, and are therefore only useful to mages. Rituals follow the rules for “Dramatic Tasks” found on page 84 of Savage Worlds Deluxe. As described in those rules, rituals take place over five “actions,” however, the length of an action is defined by the ritual itself. Some rituals take five combat rounds, others five days, and still others may take five weeks. For more lengthy rituals, the description will indicate if the entire time is taken up by the ritual, or if there is simply a requisite amount of time before the next step can be completed. Because Action Cards are not also being drawn for other characters in combat during these longer rituals, the character must kill one card from the top of the deck between each draw.

If a ritual can be performed during combat (Action Length: 1 round), then disruptions to the performer’s focus harm his chances to successfully complete the ritual. Every time a character performing a ritual is shaken or takes a wound, subtract one success from the total accumulated.

Under most circumstances, failure to properly complete a ritual simply causes a loss of time and the resources or components required to conduct the ritual. However, many failed rituals can also cause particularly harmful ill effects under the circumstances of a “Disastrous Failure.” This occurs when either the total accumulated successes while performing the ritual equal 1 or less or when a roll is failed (at the additional -2 penalty) while acting on a Club, as described on page 84 of SWD. As always, the Perilous Practice rule applies.

Ritual Name
Rank: The minimum rank a character must be to learn the ritual.
Skill: The skill used to perform the ritual.
Difficulty: The penalty applied to the skill above while performing the ritual.
Action Length: The amount of game time one segment of the ritual takes.
Requirements: Any material components or specific actions needed to perform the ritual.
Below that initial description is the description of the ritual and any side effects.
Disastrous Failure: The result of accumulating 1 success or less, or of failing on a Club action card.

Here are three sample rituals.

Spiteful Spears of Vollund
Rank: Seasoned
Skill: Spellcasting
Difficulty: -2
Action Length: 1 round
Requirements: An iron staff forged during a violent thunderstorm, at least 3 feet in length and topped with an amethyst worth at least 500 silver.

This ritual calls forth a storm that the performer can use to rain down destruction upon his foes. As the ritual is performed, the sky darkens with roiling storm clouds. Rolling thunder in the distance grows ever louder as it nears completion. Once the ritual is successfully completed, lightning begins to rain down from the sky under the caster’s guidance. The caster may call down one lightning bolt per round within a 1 mile radius, provided he takes no other action that round. Each bolt does 3d6 damage to the target.

For every minute that passes, the caster must make a Spirit check at a cumulative -1 penalty to maintain control of the storm. Once the caster loses control, the precipitation begins and the storm transforms into a natural (but particularly intense) weather occurrence for the region that lasts 2d12 hours and affects a 40-mile radius. A standard failure to complete the ritual still brings about this weather.

Disastrous Failure: Upon failing, a first bolt strikes down on the character performing the ritual. Bolts continue to fall for the next minute with a 25% chance that each bolt will strike the caster. If the caster is not hit, another random living being in a 1 mile radius is hit.

Fury of the Star Stones
Rank: Seasoned
Skill: Spellcasting
Difficulty: -2
Action Length: 1 round
Requirements: An amulet carved from the stone of Rukma and engraved with the bearer’s true name

This ritual calls forth a shooting star that wreaks fiery devastation. As the ritual is performed, shooting stars begin to streak across the sky. Once complete, a meteorite strikes a spot of the caster’s choosing, even directly impacting a single being. The target of the strike takes 5d6 point of damage; anyone within a large burst template of the strike takes 3d6 points of damage.

During the hour after the ritual is completed, 2d3 similar strikes will occur within a 40-mile radius. A standard failure to complete the ritual still calls forth this meteor shower.

Disastrous Failure: Upon failing, the initial strike falls immediately, centered on the caster. Assuming the caster survives, there is a 20% chance that he will be the target of each subsequent strike.

Blade-Binding of the Mazakym
Rank: Novice
Skill: Knowledge Infernalism
Difficulty: -4
Action Length: 10 minutes
Requirements: A bladed weapon of superb craftsmanship (worth at least three times the listed price) and a stone alter surrounded by binding runes painted in lamb’s blood

This ritual summons a mazakym, a particularly bloodthirsty variety of imp, and binds its essence into a bladed weapon. In the hands of a skilled warrior, the mazakym’s viciousness manifests through the blade, savagely cutting into enemies. When the wielder of a mazakym blade makes a successful Fighting roll, he gains +1d6 damage for each raise on the roll, breaking normal cap of 1d6 bonus damage gained from the first raise. However, anytime his Fighting die is a 1 (regardless of his wild die), he hits a random adjacent target, as per the Berserk edge.

After a month of bearing such a blade, the wielder’s features gain an otherworldly darkness, and though his personality and nature remain under control, he becomes susceptible to bonus damage from the Champion edge of virtuous characters.

A normal failure to complete the ritual fails to bring forth the mazakym and causes the blade to become brittle and unusable.

Disastrous Failure: The results appear the same as a normal failure, but in actuality the mazakym possesses the performer of the ritual. He gains no bonus damage, but the negative effects of rolling a 1 on Fighting apply to all rolls the character makes. In addition, the character literally begins to thirst for blood. At first, the impulse is small and controllable, but it continues to grow, and by one month after the ritual the need is equivalent to Habit (Major), with one cup of blood needed every day.

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The Forgotten Year

In the fall of 1993, a half-elf thief named Roland of Gilead (let he who is without this particular sin cast the first stone) wandered into Shadowdale’s famous Old Skull Inn, met up with some other adventurers, and nearly 20 years later I’m writing this blog. That was my first time playing D&D, and it was full of the requisite clichés: bar fighting, bandit attacks, fleeing from city guards in Zhentil Keep, and Mountain Dew. The Forgotten Realms can be divisive, and I’ll admit that I have little desire to game there again, but it will always have a special place in my heart.

For the first 6 months or so that I played D&D, various PCs power gamed or gruesomely died through short-lived adventures, only to be replaced the next weekend by a new crew of faces. At the time, the couple older guys (juniors!) who did most of the DMing ran the Realms just based on the info in the FR Adventures hardcover, Drow of the Underdark, and what they knew from tie-in novels. The world didn’t really open up for me until that Easter, when I got my DMG and the Forgotten Realms box set.

I laid out those maps, read A Grand Tour of the Realms front cover to back, back cover to front, and from the inside out, and unintentionally set about running my first real campaign, strictly populated by my fellow underclassmen. It started with a pick-up game on a school night near the end of May and it only lasted until the late days of August, but in between we played 3-4 days a week, anywhere from 6 to 12 hours a day. Summer vacation and the campaign were one and the same. An epic tale unfolded, sweeping characters from one end of the Realms to the other, embroiling them in the machinations of the Red Wizards of Thay, the Zhentarim, and an invasion of extra-dimensional orcs of superior intellect and malice.

The Realms has a bad reputation for taking the focus away from the PCs and a group’s own game and shifting it toward NPCs and world-changing events that help sell novels and new supplements. With the perspective of time, I have to admit that it’s somewhat deserved. However, for that game and a couple others that came later, the Realms were ours. The sinister organizations challenging the PCs may have come from published materials, but the individual NPCs conspiring to ill ends and the heroes challenging them were strictly the creation of my friends and I.

Next up is Dark Sun, a post that will hopefully shape up to be a bit more of a review of the actual setting and product and a bit less Stand By Me by way of my parents’ basement.

In a world …

The title of this post is to be read in an overly dramatic movie trailer narrator voice.

PHB 2nd EditionWhen I got my first copy of the Player’s Handbook in 1993, enthralled though I was by the classes, races, spells, and all of the great illustrations, I was just as fascinated (perhaps even more so) by the gatefold advertisement on the inside front cover. This series of small cover images and short blurbs probably would not have been nearly so intriguing were it not dominated by a plethora of fantastic worlds to explore: Dragonlance, Greyhawk, Dark Sun, Ravenloft, and Al-Qadim. Not to mention the Forgotten Realms, the setting through which I had recently been introduced to the hobby.

James Maliszewski has referred to this period as the Bronze Age of D&D, the “age of the boxed campaign set,” and I have to agree. TSR’s published campaign worlds and their related fiction were the dominant force in RPGs during the 2nd Edition era. In fact, pre-published settings were arguably the defining aspect of 90s RPGs even outside of the D&D brand — White Wolf’s games are known more than anything for their shared World of Darkness setting and its ever-evolving metaplot.

One of the tenants of the OSR philosophy is that the creative freedom of the earlier era, when the rules assumed that each DM would craft his own setting for sandbox-style exploration, allowed for a more vibrant and engaging hobby, as opposed to the more creatively one-sided producer/consumer dynamic that emerged later on. I can’t disagree; there’s no denying that building your own setting leads to more activity away from the table, such as amateur cartography and encounter table creation, things that are close to my heart. I used to love to draw maps of make-believe lands even when all I knew of fantasy was Narnia and Choose Your Own Adventure. And not long after I got my first Dungeon Master’s Guide (only 4 months after the PHB), I began drawing a sprawling map on a big piece of poster board.

But there was a powerful magic in those published settings as well, and entering into the game when I did means that they left an indelible mark on my imagination. I may have started drawing my own map right after getting my DMG, but it was the Forgotten Realms box that served as the back-drop for my first real campaign. So this is intended as the intro to a series of posts exploring the published worlds of TSR, such as they were in those early 2nd Edition box sets that I encountered in my first year or two of gaming. First off will be the Forgotten Realms … same as it ever was.