Revisiting Rituals – Eclipse versus Legends of High Fantasy

Eclipse Total da Lua | 03 de Março de 2007

Under a Blood-Red Moon

Here we have a few questions from Westb3 about Ritual Magic – more specifically about the relationships between Eclipse-style Ritual Magic and Legends of High Fantasy style Ritual Magic. I’ve paraphrased for easier reading…

In terms of comparing the system used in Eclipse and the one in Legends of High Fantasy, are the number of components – eight each worth between 0 and +5 in Eclipse and an undetermined but seemingly more narrow number worth from -5 to +5, along with a few other random ‘one of’ components just different in presentation, or are they both rather different in terms of how they function mechanically and in making DCs scale?

Secondarily, in Legends of High Fantasy ritual effects are classified by the game master as Minor (-5), Notable (-), Major (+5), Severe (+10), and Grandiose (+20). Could you give spell level equivalents for those categories?

Finally, the Transtemporal Target modifier in Legends of High Fantasy (Extra +5 for Postcognitive Effects, extra +10 for Precognitive, and extra +15 for Actual Effects) puzzles me; is it like waiting effects such as “After someone loots this tomb” for postcognitive, “the person who would dare to touch this sword” for precognitive ?

-Westb3

And it’s most complicated first – the design decisions.

The Legends of High Fantasy and Eclipse ritual magic systems actually approach things from entirely different directions – although, given the constraints of plausibility and playability it’s not too surprising that the end results look a lot alike.

In Legends of High Fantasy, minor rituals are common magic. There are rituals for blessing marriages and houses, for repairing your roof, for protecting your village, and for meeting a myriad other day-to-day needs. Those rituals are essentially standardized, repeatable, pieces of folk magic, and generally call for nothing in the way of components that you can’t either make yourself or shop for in any village. Only a few examples are actually detailed, but there are more on the blog here, and lots of them are implied.

That’s because minor rituals in the Legends of High Fantasy style generally don’t impact the game significantly – and so don’t need much in the way of controls. Sure, now we know why the world is full of happy, prosperous, hamlets rather than starving mudpits being used as feeding grounds by monsters – but most games don’t get all that far into justifying the setting anyway. I like to do it, but I’m incurably detail-oriented, and I want my worlds to reflect the minutiae of how things are supposed to work in them. I don’t really ask that of everyone, if only because it wouldn’t be the slightest bit of use in most cases.

Major Rituals in Legends of High Fantasy are another matter – but they call for game-master determined components rather than simply having components modify the chances of success. The +/-5 modifier is an overall rating for the quality of all the secondary components put together. Thus, if all you need is an altar and an acolyte to assist you… well, using the high altar of the capital’s great cathedral with twenty well-trained priests in a chorus is probably worth +5. That generally isn’t a big deal for adventurers, who tend to have unreasonably high skills anyway – but high quality components can make a real difference for low-level dabblers.

Of course, an adventurer might be able to get along with a hastily-consecrated muddy rock and a local kid with a script to read from (-5 for what are clearly poor components) – but it still usually doesn’t matter that much.

Sadly, the GM-selected required components are the price of having a more or less standardized ritual design system with manageable DC’s that covers high-end rituals. Players are bad about things like that; unless the GM has a built-in veto in the rules somewhere any kind of freeform magic design system can pretty well be relied on to wreck the game or setting somehow.

In Legends of High Fantasy the veto system is “Sure you can try that! Here are the easy / awkward / difficult / epic / impossible fetch-quests that you’ll need to go on to do it”. If the game master tells you that you need the legendary lost Sunstone of Tien to work your ritual and you can’t figure out where to get it, then forget THAT ritual – and the game master has said “No!” without actually having had to say it.

The ritual system in Eclipse takes exactly the opposite approach; it’s set up so as to allow the players to propose and get values on the components needed to solve a particular problem through a ritual – and thus sets them up to work out a series of adventures with the game master. In Eclipse, rituals are generally unique, never-to-be-repeated-the-same-way-twice events – great works concerned with adventurers and their problems, rather than things to be used by the common folk for everyday difficulties. They’re also not limited to High Fantasy like Legends is; the Eclipse ritual system is also usable for mad science, circles of psychics, and (for the more repeatable stuff) technical research teams.

That’s why Eclipse allows the players to specify things like time and place, beings to invoke, mundane requirements, spells to cast, powers to use, components to add, expensive power supplies that need to be wired up, and so on. Of course, we can pretty much assume that they’ll be picking things for those that won’t inconvenience them much UNLESS the game master is setting the difficulty impossibly high. What would be the point of picking a time or place they can’t reach, a being to invoke that they aren’t willing to owe a favor to, mundane requirements that they can’t meet, or spells that they can’t obtain? The players just aren’t going to sabotage themselves that way – which is why as many of their ingredients as possible are going to be minor stuff that they can supply without running around on quests.

Of course the bonuses from such things are unlikely to be very large – turning THAT into the equivalent of the “up to +/-5″ modifier from Legends of High Fantasy.

Under the Eclipse system the problems are going to lie in coming up with the (hopefully fairly few) high bonus items that the players really need to make things work. The game master veto lies in simply setting the difficulty for a given ritual impossibly high. That’s a bit less fun than the impossible quest list – but the Legends of High Fantasy version was a much more important part of the book, and so got rather more than one page.

Both systems are quite workable – we’ve had no problems allowing players to take either as a “ritual magic” feat or system or in having both in the same party – but they are coming from very different directions with some different underlying assumptions.

Now for the more-or-less simple parts of the question…

Spell level equivalents for rituals, whether in the Legends of High Fantasy system or Eclipse, are a bit awkward since rituals function very differently from spells. Given the right components a low-level character can enact a vastly powerful ritual – while lacking those components may stop evan an epic-level caster from accomplishing the same result. In Eclipse, which has a looser system, there’s no help for it; spell level equivalents are simply going to have to be assigned by the game master, just as the difficulty and the values of the components are. In Legends of High Fantasy the best guide is probably the final difficulty exclusive of the use of Artifacts. For a quick approximation, “Feeble” rituals generally equate to spells of levels 0-2, “Ordinary” rituals of levels 2-4, “Strong” rituals of levels 4-6, “Mighty” rituals of levels 6-8, “Awesome” rituals of levels 8-10, “Monstrous” rituals of levels 10-15, and “Unearthly” rituals of levels 15 and up.

Finally, the transtemporal effects listed in Legends of High Fantasy basically break down like this:

  • Postcognitive rituals cover getting information from the past. If you want to watch a murder, or find out what an extinct species smelled like, or recover the legendary lost recipe for hot-pot, then this is the modifier you’re going to want.
  • Precognitive rituals (if the game master allows them) cover getting information from the future. Want to know who WILL find and don the Mask of Power, what a rival company will be trying to patent next year, or which of your ten thousand test vials will actually turn out to hold the cure? You want a precognitive ritual.
  • If you want to actually change the past or future – twisting the course of events so that a child of YOUR choosing will be the one to find and don the mask of power, or fixing it so that an unhappy friends father made it home from the war after all and spent the next ten years raising his son (that may have no game effect beyond giving him memories of a happy childhood instead of a miserable one, but you are still changing the past), or creating a prophecy that actually manipulates events to bring itself to pass, or doing a bit of time travel, you’re going to want the “Actual Effect” transtemporal modifier – once again if the game master allows such effects at all.

Now, I hope that helps! Ritual magic in the game can be a lot of fun, and can lead to LOTS of adventures – but like any freeform system, you do need to keep an eye on it.

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2 Responses

  1. […] Eclipse Ritual Magic versus Legends Of High Fantasy Ritual Magic. Why two systems which take opposite approaches wind up so similar. […]

  2. […] to warrant them (e.g. they have extremely minor game effects). This variability tracks fairly well, albeit not completely perfectly, with the rituals in Legends of High […]

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