Ritual Magic In Delving Deeper

This last Sunday it was time yet again for my bi-weekly Delving Deeper game set in Quasquetherion, my own take on B1: In Search of the Unknown. Being an OD&D whitebox clone, Delving Deeper has the benefit of feeling like there's a lot of room to make changes to the rules, to customize things to fit exactly the game I want to run. This is the version of D&D that spawned a host of unique rules and rulings, whose growth was encouraged by articles in fanzines that broadly expanded the game, who spawned a wealth of fanmade supplements and launched a thousand houserules. This is the D&D that Delving Deeper emulates, that's why I chose it and that's why I'm glad to be teaching my "new to old school" players "how to old school" using it.

And so, let's talk magic.

When we were rolling up our characters for our first session of the Quasquetherion campaign, the Delving Deeper spells seemed like a solid starting block. Yeah, they leave a little to be desired, but they reflect the state of magic in D&D at the get go, so I didn't add anything to the mix, just took the spells as written. I couldn't find how many spells a 1st level magic user starts with in DD (and, as +Simon Bull pointed out awhile ago here in a comment, magic users' spellbooks start with every spell in the book), so I deci;ded that an MU should start with 2 spells, plus an additional one if his Intelligence his 13 or better. So, our group's two magic users started the campaign with three spells apiece (to be honest, I'm not sure what they are, either, so I may have to deal with the "can't I just copy his spells?" problem), and so each MU has a distinct repertoire, which gives him a peculiar niche and individual flair, which is something I'm definitely trying to reinforce. In order to help amp up the feeling of "everybody gets something unique," I'm also adding a neat thing to magic users: every magic user gets one first level "magic ritual."

Ritual Magic

I really enjoyed the concept of magic rituals as presented by D&D 4e. For the uninitiated, the idea is that some spells aren't the sort of spells you'd bother memorizing because they're not the sort of thing you'd use in the middle of an adventure, but rather that you'd cast in between adventures to accomplish a specific thing at that point. Did anyone ever seriously prepare the spell "find familiar?" No? I didn't think so. Magic rituals are how you classify the sorts of spells that you'd bother preparing and the sort that you'd choose to cast on your off days.

When you choose to prepare a spell, and then again when you choose to cast it, you're making a choice to use up some of your character's resources. By the same token, magic rituals should not be license for the magic user to do whatever he wants outside of the dungeon. But, outside of the dungeon, few resources make any difference other than the two things that players are trying to accumulate: treasure and experience points. Now, my 3e days are behind me, and I believe that burning xp for magical gain merely discourages players for doing so, which is no good. So, magic users in my Quasquetherion game (and later, clerics, should there ever be any) need to spend gold to acquire the herbs, chemicals, mystical bits & bobs, secret inks and parchments and, yes, even drugs they need to cast their magic rituals. Thus it is that magic rituals cost 100gp per spell level to cast.

Casting a ritual is also not an instantaneous sort of thing. One does not merely speak a magical phrase, wave one's arms about and work these wonders. Instead, the magic user must spend at least 4 hours per level of the ritual to cast it. These hours may be spread out over the course of a number of days equal to the ritual's level, but may not exceed more than 8 hours in a single day. By expending additional resources, the magic user may reduce the time to enact the ritual in a proportionate manner (doubling the expenditure halves the time, quadrupling the expenditure quarters the time, etc.).

First Level Ritual List

  • Find Familiar - summons and bonds a spirit being to the magic user, to serve as his assistant. Usually appears as an animal.
  • Identify - Determines one magic property of a held or carried magic item per level of the caster. 
  • Message* - The caster may speak a message of 25 words or fewer and designate a recipient of that message who is known to him. The message travels at a speed of 18 miles per hour, flying in as straight a path as it can manage.
  • Speak With Animals* - The caster may speak with animals in his locale for a short time (a number of rounds equal to 1 plus the caster's level). 
  • Comprehend Languages* - The caster understands any language he reads or hears for a number of hours equal to his level. 
  • Mending* - Repairs one small or broken item per level of the caster. Damaged items may have 10 hp restored per caster level instead. 
  • Arcane Steed - The caster summons a mount from the gulfs between the stars (or somewhere like that) that will carry him for a number of hours equal to his prime requisite. A fifth level caster may summon a flying steed. 
* A memorizable/preparable version of this spell probably exists as well. 


Any treatment of ritual magic would be remiss if it failed to mention the potential for life force to power the arcane arts. A magic user may injure a willing victim (including himself) for any number of dice of damage (remember, this is Delving Deeper, so all dice of damage are d6's). Every die of damage counts as 100 gp for the purposes of determining the resources expended to cast the spell (thus, 2d6 damage could completely power a 1st-level ritual without any expenditure of gp and make the ritual take half as long). Similarly, sacrificing unwilling victims (effectively "harvests" the hit dice of the victims, where every whole hit die "harvested" provides 100 gp of resources toward the casting and quickening of the spell. Any sacrifice must be performed as part of the ritual's casting (and so, the amount of the HD or damage dice involved in the ritual must be determined before it is enacted) and requires that the victim be conscious and healthy (not already near death; sacrificing beaten-up captives that you just defeated won't work). Sacrificing unwilling victims is, by its very nature, an inherently Chaotic act and will not be tolerated by Lawful or even Neutral characters. Further, repeated sacrifice of the unwilling will likely attract the attention of Chaos Lords and demons and may even result in some sort of magical corruption of body if not soul.