Let’s be buds.

Big time summoning rituals are part of many Dungeons and Dragons games. I’m not talking about the conjure elemental and conjure celestial spells in the Player’s Handbook. Nor am I talking about the summoning spells I created for fifth edition D&D. I’m talking about the magic we read about in novels which bring pit fiends, balors, and more into the Material Plane. This magic is costly, rare, dangerous, and time-consuming. Unfortunately complex rituals like this don’t have rules players can use in fifth edition… until now! These rituals don’t just summon powerful creatures. They could also be used to raise undead armies, grow castles from the earth, or create a frosty, horrible Winter for an entire region of a country.

Why give PCs access to such powerful magic? Well for one thing it gives them a way to spend some of the gold they seem to accidentally stock pile in fifth edition. For another it allows them to go questing for specific ritual ingredients. Most importantly this magic invites players to gain a significant amount of power but only by risking life and limb. I like bringing those kinds of high risk, high reward mechanics into my games.

PCs and NPCs alike can access these complex rituals, but they must have all the components in exactly the right place. This isn’t the kind of spell they can cast each and every day. That’s by design. The rituals are meant to be fun, but not completely break the game.

So without further adieu here’s the rules for the complex fiend summoning ritual in my game. More of these rituals will follow. Stay tuned!

Complex Rituals

Certain magic spells are too powerful to be cast in the normal way. Summoning creatures of great power, raising undead armies, and calling forth castles from the earth are examples of magic that goes beyond a simple spell. This magic is known as a complex ritual.

All complex rituals require certain components, described below.

Casting Time

Most rituals have a casting time of 1 hour or longer. The ritual leader must maintain concentration during this time. If the ritual leader’s concentration is broken, the spell fails and any spent sacrifices at the time of broken concentration are consumed.

Environmental Conditions

Each complex ritual requires specific environmental conditions. These could include time of day, weather, phases of the moon, and location. For instance a ritual to raise an army of the dead might have to take place after the sun goes down in a graveyard during a full moon.

Focuses

Focuses are material items needed to cast the ritual which are not consumed during the process of casting.

Sacrifices

Sacrifices are materials needed to cast the ritual which are consumed during the process of casting.

Recipe

This recipe outlines the specific steps taken to cast the ritual. Any ability checks related to the ritual are mentioned here. It is recommended that the DM make the character’s ability checks for them and keep the result secret.

Effect

The complex ritual’s effects are listed along with its duration. Most rituals have a variable duration.

Greater Effects

Some complex rituals can be cast to greater effect – summoning more powerful creatures, raising larger numbers of undead, etc. Achieving these greater effects often requires more cost and more risk.

Conjure Greater Fiend

Casting Time: 4 hours

Environmental Conditions: The ritual must take place after the sun has completely set and finish being cast before the sun rises.

Focuses: A fiendish mask made of animal bones and gems worn by the ritual leader (worth 4000 gp), a brazier made of a pure gold washed in the blood of fiends (worth 4000 gp), a set of unholy handbells forge from cold iron and rubies (worth 1000 gp), an unholy dagger carved from the bone of a fiend (worth 1000 gp), and the written unholy incantation for this ritual (worth 5000 gp)

Sacrifices: 13 candles made from wax mixed with fiend blood (worth 100 gp each), 13 sticks of incense made from corpse flowers (worth 200 gp each), a cask of celestial blood (worth 1000 gp), and a goat, pig or similar animal

Spell Slot Consumption Number: 10

Recipe
  1. The ritual leader begins chanting the incantation and name of the fiend being called forth. If the ritual leader does not know the fiend’s name, instead the name of a specific type of fiend (e.g. yochlol) is chanted. This fiend must have a challenge rating 10 or lower.
  2. Light and begin burning all the unholy candles in a 30-foot-radius circle. These must burn during the entire ritual or it fails.
  3. Light the incense in the unholy brazier. The incense must burn during the entire ritual or it fails.
  4. In the circle of candles, draw the unholy symbol indicated in the incantation using the celestial blood. The creature who does this must succeed on a DC 15 Intelligence (Arcana) check. If the creature fails this check the fiend summoned as normal in step 7, but can escape the circle and is not under the ritual leader’s control. The fiend is hostile toward the ritual leader and its allies.
  5. Ring the unholy handbells in the exact sequence indicated by the incantation. The creature ringing the bells must succeed on a DC 10 Charisma (Performance) check. If the creature fails this check, it can try again one more time. A second failure means the ritual fails.
  6. Inside the circle, kill the animal using the unholy dagger. Leave its body there and the ritual leader should continue to chant.
  7. After three hours of chanting, if the other steps were completed correctly, the fiend should appear in the circle. If the circle of celestial blood was made properly, the fiend cannot leave the circle of candles. The ritual leader must continue to chant the incantation for one more hour. If something disrupts the caster’s concentration, the circle of celestial blood, the candles, or the incense during this final hour, the fiend is able to leave the circle and is not under the ritual leader’s control. The fiend is hostile toward the ritual leader and its allies.
Effect

Once the ritual is complete, the fiend is friendly to the ritual leader and its companions. Roll for initiative for the fiend, is has its own turns. It obeys any verbal commands the ritual leader issues to it (no action required by the lead caster) as long as they don’t violate its alignment. If the ritual leader issues no commands to the fiend, it defends itself from hostile creatures, but otherwise takes no action.

As an action the ritual leader can release the fiend from its control and return the fiend to the place from which it was summoned.

Every 24 hours the fiend is under the ritual leader’s control, the ritual leader must make a Constitution check (DC 10 + the number of days since the ritual was completed). Failing this Constitution check means the ritual leader suffers one level of exhaustion, which cannot be restored in any way until the fiend is no longer under its control.

If the ritual leader dies before dismissing the fiend, the fiend does not return to the place from where it was summoned and becomes hostile toward the ritual leader’s allies (and the ritual leader if returned to life).

Greater Effects

Using this complex ritual you can summon a fiend with a challenge rating higher than 10 up to 20. For every number of the challenge rating higher than 10, add another candle, stick of incense, cask of celestial blood, and animal consumed by the ritual. The DCs for the Intelligence (Arcana) and Charisma (Performance) checks made during the casting of the ritual increase by 1 for every number of the creature’s challenge rating higher than 10.

PDF

If you’ve been following this blog, you knew this was coming. Take the rules for complex rituals and conjure greater fiend  with you wherever you go in the handy PDF below.

Complex Rituals

You can pick up that PDF whenever you like over in the Free Game Resources section of this site. If you go there feel free to also explore the backgroundsmagic itemsmonstersD&D fifth edition rules modulesspellsadventures, and more I have made for fifth edition D&D.

Feedback please!

What do you think of these complex ritual rules? Do you want to see more of them? What would you change? Sound off in the comments below! I hope to show off more of these at a future date.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

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Comments
  1. Lorathorn says:

    Excellent stuff. I like it. It seems to echo an En5ider article, but is definitely a new and unique take on the matter. I like this a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Aeternal says:

    I like the concept and can see where you most likely are trying to make components (sacrifices) and Time as a “checks and balance approach”. I have been reading Archmage (Drizzt), the latest book… and Grumph summons Demons that he believes he can control… and so he does do so… but it didn’t take 4 hours to summon a fiend. It does mention he creates a circle of protection and with various wards cast upon that circle so that it would hold the Demon(s).

    So, one point I would like to make is:

    Rituals of Summoning Anything should be level based rewards/boons that only spell casters can undertake at the appropriate level and merit and capital they have obtained as a MurderHobo. In fact, I would go so far to say that maybe just a simple subset of additional rules JUST for ritual summoning but still based on a levels.

    I my mind, that’s what I thought of when reading your post – what is missing. Well, here goes my other critique…

    YOU WROTE:
    “Focuses: A fiendish mask made of animal bones and gems worn by the lead caster (worth 4000 gp), a brazier made of a pure gold washed in the blood of fiends (worth 4000 gp), a set of unholy handbells forge from cold iron and rubies (worth 1000 gp), an unholy dagger carved from the bone of a fiend (worth 1000 gp), and the written unholy incantation for this ritual (worth 5000 gp)

    Sacrifices: 13 candles made from wax mixed with fiend blood (worth 100 gp each), 13 sticks of incense made from corpse flowers (worth 200 gp each), a cask of celestial blood (worth 1000 gp), and a goat, pig or similar animal”

    Focuses
    I think that is way too limiting with the Focuses… some possession already has had contact (the blood of a fiend), unholy handbells, unholy dagger from bone of a fiend, written unholy incantation for ritual (I can live with that one but the others require something that is either you have it or you don’t. And if you don’t have said focuses how in the world do you expect any PCs being able to stop a “time-based” – Event Encounters that must take place before the Ritual to takeoff and work.

    Sacrifices
    Good luck getting those fiendishly beloved bloody candles any time soon but the one thing that is glaringly gone in the wrong direction is the Cask of Celestial Blood because I would think, you would and could become very very easy to locate and some vengeful Angel, Plantar, etc.. might have a question about you knowing what you are about to do… Morally offensive to Celestial in my opinion.

    In all fairness, I just skimmed over what you stated earlier… I guess what I am trying to point out is that the Ritual Summoning Spell and subsystem that it is wrapped up in needs more complexity.

    Lost Empires of Faerun (Forgotten Realms) 3.5v talked about some very powerful magics that could do a lot of serious collateral damage but it also details out (in some highly data packed recipes) how it is done and for Lost Art of the Elves – to raise or control Mythals. I think you could take away somethings that might help you along on ritual magic in 5e.

    P.S. I love your Tome-Show segment. Yes, Tell Mike Shea that he needs to do that bloody mashup with PCs of some 15th or higher level and Orcus!

    Hopefully my limited focus on what you wrote in the post is taken just as a critique and nothing else. I am limited on time today so otherwise I would be commented more.

    – Aeternal

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey thanks for this feedback and the kind words about The Tome Show!

      I see your point about sacrifices, focuses, and the time requirement, but . Summoning a fiend should be difficult and risky! It should have components that are hand to acquire and the process itself should be delicate and easily disrupted. At least, that’s what I think. You could always use Planar Ally and Planar Binding to get a less specific, harder to control, easier to cast option.

      For me it doesn’t have to line-up perfectly with an exact novel, but rather capture the feel of what happens in a novel while still staying somewhat balanced for the game rules.

      That being said, I do plan to make some modifications. Stay tuned!

      Like

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