Creation of Magic Rituals
Drafting a New Ritual
An aspiring ritualist must keep many things in mind when writing a first description of a ritual. The Five Elements must be invoked (except to provide imbalance), the Five Actions must be carried out, the Tao must be invoked at the beginning and absorbed at the end. The purpose of the ritual must be tied, literally or symbolically, to the components used. And, above all, the writer of a ritual must strive for balance, and beauty.
A ritual can be powerful (as judged by the basic power of the effect), and it can be ambitious (as judged by the amount of impact it has on the world). The power of the ritual is shaped by the number of successes required; the ambition of the ritual is shaped by the number of direct linkages between the components of the ritual and its goal.
For example, The Knife Returns has three direct linkages - the knife itself, the body of the victim, and the act of stabbing. It is not a very ambitious ritual, so three is more than sufficient. For rituals not as concerned with physical objects, the linkages may have to be more metaphorical or metaphysical - "a sworn oath" might be a linkage in a truth detection ritual. More linkages never hurt.
Except in the case of the most remarkable (or most lucky) of ritual composers, the first draft of a ritual is probably not very balanced, or very beautiful, so the next step is...
Testing a New Ritual
Design a magical experiment that focuses on only a few aspects of the ritual (often, one Action and one Element, but you could focus even more narrowly - what type of earth works best in this setting?).
Again, using The Knife Returns as an example, one might choose to test the Creation of Fire, as that plays a role in the ritual as designed. An experiment might involve selecting five different types of flammable material (wood, coal, lantern oil, firework powder, and alcohol), and setting them all to burn in stone pots in which the heat can be gauged, while channeling Yang through them.
The experiment will generally include Magic Ritual skill, as well as other relevant skills (the previous example might include Cooking skill...). Mechanically, you tell the GMs what you are experimenting with and upon, and we will write you a protocol for it. In broad strokes, you'll be summoning the Tao, guiding it through some aspect of the ritual, varying something else, and observing the results.
A successful test will get you one point, plus one point for each aspect you tested, and also will give you a hint towards the final balance and design of the ritual. Particularly beautiful experimental rituals may result in larger hints.
An unsuccessful test will get you one point.
- Your Yang goal is to accrue N^2 points, where N is the power of the ritual. A ritual successfully tested to this point will generally do what you want it to do (but may have side effects). A Grand Ritual requires N^3 points, but a test for a Grand Ritual will often include all five elements, or all five actions, or (for the very ambitious) all twelve cycle animals. (Grand Rituals are usually beyond the scope of all but a dedicated group to design).
- Your Yin goal is to get enough hints to come up with a balanced and beautiful ritual. The greater the balance and beauty of the ritual, the fewer the side effects.
- Your Chi goal is to keep your testing balanced (test each element in the ritual about the same amount, and each action about the same amount). A ritual whose testing was unbalanced may have subtle imbalances in the final result.
Note that you may keep testing as long as you like, though tests which directly repeat a previous test will not help.
Attempting a New Ritual
When you perform the full ritual, you will be better able to judge its true balance, by seeing where the unused Tao energy goes. (Note that you may get a better sense of this by not including any Sacrifice in the ritual).
You can continue to polish the ritual, gaining information with testing and with continued performance. (A polishing experiment for The Knife Returns might have involved comparing boiling slightly different mixtures of clay, or the best type of pot to use.) Polishing is principally a Yin effect, as more points will have no effect, but more hints will let you balance the ritual more perfectly. (Even in polishing, however, you should endeavor to keep balance in your testing.)