Friday, July 31, 2015

Pathfinder Musings: Problematic Spells & Magical Rituals

Art by John William Waterhouse
This past Wednesday marks the release of Paizo's latest hard-cover supplement for Pathfinder. This book, called Occult Adventures, introduces psychic magic to the game and presents several rules and ideas for implementing more occult themes into your games. I've been casually reading the book for the past few days and I'm definitely digging what I'm finding inside.

Speaking of which, I'd like to focus on a specific set of rules found later in the book: Occult Rituals. These rules are similar to spells, but are usually time-consuming, require specific components, conditions, and successful skill checks to be used, and includes several drawbacks for using them and definitely for failing to cast them successfully. The fact that characters without spellcasting abilities can also help cast rituals is just icing on the cake in my opinion.

While reading and digesting these rules, a thought occurred to me, one that I wish to express to you all within this post. What if we used these rules for rituals to handle the Big Three Gamebreakers? What if we turned Divination/Commune, Raise Dead, and Teleport into rituals?

The process seems simple enough, especially since the designers thankfully detailed the process for creating rituals within the text. Converting these spells to that system doesn't seem all that complex. The only thing you really need to figure out is what skill checks the ritual will require, what the backlash effect will be, and what happens if the ritual fails. To illustrate this, I'll adapt Raise Dead into a ritual.
School Conjuration (Healing); Level 5
Casting Time 50 minutes
Components V, S, M (diamond worth 5,000 gp), F (Holy or Unholy Symbol)
Skill Checks Knowledge (Religion) DC 33, 3 successes; Spellcraft DC 33, 2 successes
Range Touch
Target Dead creature touched
Duration Instantaneous
Saving Throw None (see text); Spell Resistance Yes (harmless)
Backlash The primary caster takes 1d6 points of damage and becomes exhausted.
Failure Failure results in one of two outcomes, which is determined by the roll of a d%. One result simply has the ritual fail and the creature not be raised. The other result raises the creature, but the soul brought back is not the right one. The base chance for each result is 50%. However, every time a caster fails one of the skill checks by more than 5, the percentage for the later result increases by 5%.
Effect You restore life to a deceased creature. You can raise a creature that has been dead for no longer than 5 days. In addition, the subject's soul must be free and willing to return. If the subject's soul is not willing to return, the ritual does not work; therefore, a subject that wants to return receives no saving throw.    
Coming back from the dead is an ordeal. The subject of the ritual gains two permanent negative levels when it is raised, just as if it had been hit by an energy-draining creature. If the subject is 1st level, it takes 2 points of Constitution drain instead (if this would reduce its Con to 0 or less, it can't be raised). A character who died with spells prepared has a 50% chance of losing any given spell upon being raised. A spellcasting creature that doesn't prepare spells (such as a sorcerer) has a 50% chance of losing any given unused spell slots as if it had been used to cast a spell.    
A raised creature has a number of hit points equal to its current HD. Any ability scores damaged to 0 are raised to 1. Normal poison and normal disease are cured in the process of raising the subject, but magical diseases and curses are not undone. While the ritual closes mortal wounds and repairs lethal damage of most kinds, the body of the creature to be raised must be whole. Otherwise, missing parts are still missing when the creature is brought back to life. None of the dead creature's equipment or possessions are affected in any way by this ritual 
A creature who has been turned into an undead creature or killed by a death effect can't be raised by this ritual. Constructs, elementals, outsiders, and undead creatures can't be raised. The ritual cannot bring back a creature that has died of old age. 
This is simply a rough draft of what a Raise Dead ritual might look like, but I think it illustrates how it can be done and how fast it can be done as well (it took me roughly 2 to 3 minutes to write up). Most of the spell can simply be copied and pasted into the ritual format, with the only elements you have to create whole cloth being the skill checks, backlash, and failure results.

Heck, you could also add a few things to make the rituals more interesting or weird. If you wanted to make Raise Dead more morbid, you could include the sacrifice of a living creature the same size as the creature being raised as a material component. That would definitely explain why very few people bother using the ritual within the game world, and could lead to some interesting situations within an adventure.

The big benefit of this method is that you can still have these effects within the game, but they now are much harder to pull off and allow you as the Game Master to determine their frequency since you control how often the players will run into and possibly learn new rituals. I also feel like this creates some interesting flavor and the fact that nonspellcasters can also use and help with rituals means you can bring the entire party in on the fun.