Rules Index | GM Screen

Occult Rules

Occult Rituals

Source Occult Adventures pg. 208
It’s a common belief that only those initiated in the rites and practices of arcane, divine, or psychic magic can cast spells, but this is not strictly true. Hidden within dusty libraries and amid the ramblings of lunatics lie the mysteries of another form of spellcasting—occult ritual magic. These spells are rare, coveted by both those eager to gain their power and those wishing to hide their existence. Most traditional spellcasters consider these rituals dangerous and uncontrollable, something to be avoided or used as a last resort. They fear the power these ceremonies grant to the uninitiated, as the rituals allow those with only a glimmering of understanding the ability to interact with the underlying fabric of magic.

While anyone can attempt to cast occult rituals, the process is fraught with peril. The strange and intricate incantations are often challenging to perform with precision, and failure can weaken the casters or even unleash horrors upon the world. Even when successfully performed, each occult ritual has a price—a backlash that affects at least the caster leading the ritual, and often those assisting in its performance.

Casting Occult Rituals

Source Occult Adventures pg. 208
Before performing an occult ritual, the primary caster must assemble and ready all the components needed as well as any secondary casters. Some occult rituals require the casting to occur at a specific time or place; attempting to cast such rituals at a different time or a substandard location is nearly impossible.

Casting an occult ritual requires at least 10 minutes per ritual level and sometimes as long as 1 hour per ritual level. One of the casters—either the primary caster or a secondary caster who the primary caster specifies— attempts one of the skill checks required by the ritual every 10 minutes of the casting, unless the ritual takes 1 hour per caster level, in which case the caster attempts the check every hour of the ritual. These checks cannot benefit from the aid another action, and the caster attempting the check can’t take 10 or take 20, even if she has an ability that would normally allow her to do so when threatened or distracted. Furthermore, because of the specific procedures of ritual casting, mundane equipment that grants bonuses on skill checks can’t usually increase the caster’s bonus on the checks required by the ritual, unless the GM allows it. Bonuses on the skill checks required for the ritual that are granted by feats, spells (with enough duration to last throughout the casting), traits, and magic items usually apply, at the GM’s discretion. The primary caster decides the order in which the various skill checks are attempted, but the GM rolls for the checks and tracks the progress of the ritual casting in secret. Once a ritual casting begins, it must be performed to its completion unless it’s disrupted by outside influences or fails.

The primary caster leads a ritual’s casting, often with the aid of a number of secondary casters. Secondary casters can be indispensable to the ritual’s casting even when they’re not taking an active role in ensuring its success. Unless stated otherwise in the ritual description, secondary casters must be within 100 feet and line of effect of the primary caster and each other during the entirety of a ritual’s casting.

If a ritual allows the participation of secondary casters, in such cases, the ritual’s Components line includes “SC” (“secondary casters”) as an entry, immediately followed by a parenthetical that details any maximum or minimum number of secondary casters required to cast the ritual. If a ritual description has no secondary caster entry, that ritual does not permit the assistance of secondary casters. While secondary casters can help by attempting the skill checks the primary caster assigns them, their chief purpose is to aid in the ritual’s casting. If a ritual’s casting is aided by at least four secondary casters, all casters gain a +1 bonus on all skill checks attempted as part of casting the occult ritual. This bonus increases by 1 for every four secondary casters beyond four (up to a maximum bonus of +5 for 20 or more secondary casters).

To cast an occult ritual, the primary caster must learn the ritual’s secrets (see Discovering Occult Rituals). Secondary casters can assist in the casting without fully understanding the intricacies of the ritual.

Since it is possible for those lacking the ability to cast arcane, divine, or psychic spells to cast rituals, variables that would normally rely on caster level (such as range and spell resistance) use the character level or total Hit Dice of the primary caster instead. This is the case even for a ritual caster who has the ability to cast spells. Characters with a caster level gain a +1 bonus on skill checks to cast a ritual, and this bonus increases by 1 for every 5 caster levels they possess (to a maximum of +5 at caster level 20th) as their understanding of the fundamentals of magic grows.

It’s difficult to disrupt a ritual. Casting a ritual does not provoke attacks of opportunity, and the casters can pause the ritual to engage in combat or take other actions—though not without consequences. For each round an occult ritual is paused in this way, the DC of all the ritual’s subsequent skill checks increases by 1. For practical purposes, a ritual is successfully disrupted when its casting is paused for more than 1 minute or any of the casters are incapacitated, killed, or moved more than 100 feet from (or out of line of effect of ) all other casters.

If more than half the skill checks for an occult ritual are successful, the ritual succeeds, and the primary caster (and the secondary casters if specified) experiences the ritual’s backlash before the ritual’s effect occurs. The DC for a saving throw against a ritual’s effects (if applicable) is equal to 10 + the ritual level + the primary caster’s Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma bonus (whichever is highest).

If the casters fail half of the skill checks required for an occult ritual (rounded down), the ritual ends, the casters also experience the ritual’s backlash, and the failure consequences occur. The consequences of failure are detailed in each ritual’s description.

Tapping into Ley Lines

A primary ritual caster with the ability to cast spells or use spell-like abilities can tap into a ley line within 30 feet by performing a simple ritual that takes 1 hour per 2 caster levels of the ley line. At the end of the ritual, the primary caster must succeed at a Spellcraft check (DC = 15 + the ley line’s caster level) to attune herself with the ley line. If she fails, she can try the attunement ritual anew. On a successful check, the primary caster and any secondary casters gain a +1 bonus on skill checks to cast an occult ritual using the ley line, provided they remain within 30 feet of the ley line. This bonus increases by 1 for every 5 caster levels of the ley line, to a maximum of +5.

This form of attunement can be broken in the standard ways described in Using Ley Lines.

Discovering Occult Rituals

Source Occult Adventures pg. 209
The mysteries of occult rituals are jealously guarded secrets, often painstakingly obscured by a ritual’s originators or those who stumbled upon the obscure formulae detailing it. The particulars of casting occult rituals are hidden within coded tomes, concealed in puzzles, or referenced only through allusions woven into esoteric tales. Recovering the casting method of an occult ritual can be an adventure within itself, something revealed by hallucinatory visions, coerced from an occult practitioner, or passed on by a true initiate hovering at death’s door and wishing for his genius to live beyond his mortal existence.

If an occult ritual is taught or its secrets are explained directly, it takes at least 1 day per ritual level to learn the method of its casting. Learning a ritual from hidden clues or from scratch takes a week or a month per ritual level (GM’s discretion). At the end of this period of study and contemplation, the person attempting to learn the ritual must succeed at an Intelligence check (DC = 15 + the ritual level if learning from clues or a coerced teacher, or DC = 10 + the ritual level if learning from an instructor eager to teach). Failing the check means the secrets of the ritual elude the learner’s understanding, though she can start the process anew at the same rate of potential discovery.

Sample Occult Rituals

Source Occult Adventures pg. 209
The following are a selection of occult rituals. Occult rituals are formatted in a similar manner as spells, but also feature a backlash and failure entry.

Nethys Note: Occult rituals can be found here

Creating Occult Rituals

Source Occult Adventures pg. 214
While the occult rituals provided in this book give you numerous options with which to dabble, eventually you may want to create your own rituals. Creating a new occult ritual has five main steps.

Step 1—Concept: As when creating any rules component, you should begin by deciding what you want the ritual to do. Rituals are often an interesting way to introduce unusually powerful magical effects into your game in a limited or controlled way. They can also introduce these effects in a manner that is more specific than similar higher-level spell effects. The ritual’s purpose should influence subsequent design decisions.

Step 2—Determine School: Once you have the concept for the ritual, next determine which school best suits the ritual’s effect, just as if it were any other type of spell. If you’re unsure which school is most appropriate, compare the effects with existing spells. If a ritual could have one or more possible schools, determine which is the most relevant school and use that one.

Step 3—Determine Ritual Level: This step involves setting the level of the occult ritual. Occult rituals are always equivalent to at least 4th-level spells. Often the best way to determine a ritual level is to compare it to other spells in the game, or to use the guidelines for designing new spells. The ritual level determines how many total successes are required to cast the ritual, the DCs for the skill checks needed to complete the ritual, the save DC for the ritual’s effect (if applicable), and indirectly determines the ritual’s range and duration.

The number of skill checks the ritual requires is equal to the level of the ritual, and the base DC of the skill checks needed to complete a ritual is 28 + the ritual level. Any saving throw DCs of the ritual (including any DC to remove a temporary negative level gained by the backlash or by failing the ritual) are equal to 10 + the ritual level + the primary caster’s Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma bonus (whichever is highest).

In general, the spell a ritual is based on will give guidelines on the range, targets, area, effect, duration, and any saving throw or spell resistance that applies. If you are unsure or are creating a new effect for your ritual, you can use the suggestions in the Ritual Benchmarks Based on School below.

While the ritual’s school or the spell it’s based on gives you a starting point for the ritual’s details, you may want to deviate from those examples when determining the particulars. Doing so to a greater or lesser degree can and should affect the skill check DCs for casting a ritual, and can also affect the casting time of a ritual. Table 5–1: Modifying Occult Rituals gives some examples of how to modify DCs and casting times.

Table 5-1: Modifying Occult Rituals

Casting TimeCheck DC Modifier or Modification
Casting time is restricted (such as "only during a full moon")-4
Casting time is severely restricted (such as "only during a lunar eclipse")-8
Focus and Material Components
Expensive material component (500 gp)-1
Expensive material component (5,000 gp)-2
Expensive material component (25,000 gp)-4
Expensive focus (5,000 gp)-1
Expensive focus (25,000 gp)-2
Greater range than normal+1 to +6
Shorter range than normal-1 to -4
Larger area than normal+1 to +6
Smaller area than normal-1 to -4
Unwilling target must be helpless-2
Limited targets (by HD, creature type, and so on)-3
Single target to multiple targets+4
Greater duration than normal+1 to +6
Shorter duration than normal-1 to -4
One year or morecasting time in increments of 1 hour/level instead of 10 minutes/level
Per 2d6 points of damage-1
Caster is exhausted-2
Per temporary negative level caster gains-2
Per permanent negative level caster gains-4
Caster reduced to –1 hp-3
Caster infected with disease-4
Caster suffers curse effects-4
Backlash affects secondary casters too-1

Step 4—Determine Ritual’s Skills: This step involves determining the skills required to cast the ritual. The chosen skills should have a connection to the concept or the effect of the ritual. While a number of Knowledge skills are obvious choices (especially Knowledge [arcana] and Knowledge [religion]), more interesting rituals may feature other skills. Often these other skills allow secondary casters to play a more active role in the casting or make the ritual more interesting and challenging. In all cases, you should require checks from two or more skills.

Step 5—Create Backlash and Failure Effects: The last step is to figure out the effects of the ritual’s backlash and what happens to the casters if the ritual fails. Like modifying the base spell or deviating from the baselines of the ritual’s school, the backlash and its severity can affect the DCs of the skill checks made to cast the ritual (see Table 5–1: Modifying Occult Rituals). Backlashes should be minor debilitations rather than severe punishments, and you need to decide whether they affect just the primary caster or all the casters.

Failure effects should be much more severe and should not invalidate or overlap with the effects of the backlash (since the backlash occurs whether or not the ritual succeeds). They should always represent the cost associated with the casting of uncontrolled magic, and they can be very debilitating to the casters, and could even harm those not associated with the ritual (especially for high-level rituals).

Occult Ritual Benchmarks by School

Each summary below specifies the range, target, duration, and other aspects of an occult ritual associated with a particular school.

Abjuration: Range close; Target one or more creatures, no two of which can be more than 30 ft. apart; Duration minutes; Saving Throw Will negates; SR yes.

Conjuration: Range close; Target one creature; Duration hours (instantaneous for teleportation subschool); Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); SR yes (harmless).

Divination: Range long; Target personal; Duration minutes; Saving Throw none; SR no.

Enchantment: Range close; Target one living creature; Duration minutes; Saving Throw Will negates; SR yes.

Evocation: Range medium; Area 5-ft.-wide bolt or 20-ft.-radius burst; Duration instantaneous; Saving Throw Reflex half; SR yes.

Illusion: Range touch; Target one living creature or 20 cu. ft. of matter; Duration minutes; Saving Throw Will disbelief; SR no.

Necromancy: Range close; Target one or more creatures or corpses; Duration instantaneous; Saving Throw none; SR no.

Transmutation: Range medium; Target one creature or 20 cu. ft. of matter; Duration rounds; Saving Throw Fortitude half (or harmless); SR yes.