Ritual Magic as a Challenge

Fate Core defines a special structure for related actions called a challenge. A challenge is defined as "a series of overcome actions that you use to resolve an especially complicated or dynamic situation." The rules are simple: make two or more overcome actions, each using a different skill, and determine the outcome of the challenge based on the overall results of the actions (success, failure, and costs).

This structure can easily be used as the basis for a ritual magic system. In fact, the example of a challenge in Fate Core is just that. Different actions can represent the hours of preparation, cleansing a ritual space, gathering materials, and so on. A final action (typically using Lore) concludes the ritual with the actual shaping of magical energy into a (potential) effect.

So if Lore is the actual "do magic" skill, what other skills can you use in a ritual magic challenge? Here are some ideas.
  • You need to gather acolytes, townspeople, or other sympathetic folk to perform minor roles in the ritual (holding candles, chanting, and so on). You must roll Contacts to call upon the required numbers.
  • The ritual requires rare or expensive ingredients that aren't available to just anyone. You need the right Resources to acquire them.
  • The object of the ritual is an actual object, a complicated mechanism or a beautiful piece of art. You must succeed at a Crafts action to actually construct it, possibly using those expensive materials from above.
  • Some ritual components are not physical materials or objects but rather information, such as a target's true name or the exact date and time for a divination. Someone will need to Investigate to gather the right clues.
  • The ritual is simply long, a true test of endurance. The caster must rely on Physique or Will to maintain the ritual for as long as it takes.
  • Creating a safe space conducive to a magical ritual may involve treating with the invisible spirits that inhabit the area. Having a good Rapport with them will make the ritual go smoothly.
So, you've picked a couple skills and everyone is ready to roll some dice. But how should you interpret the results? Fate Core is a little vague on the topic, but it's safe to say that if the majority of the actions succeed, the ritual should go at least mostly in the group's favor. 

A clearer and more interesting way to handle things is to encourage success with cost heavily. At each step of the challenge, decide on a way that the character can succeed, even if it's with some minor or serious setback. That way, the ritual is performed with all the pieces in place, but the challenge is still only a partial success because the group has racked up a series of complications along the way.

Stunts alter things in fun ways. The Ritualist stunt on page 91 of Fate Core is the most obvious, allowing you to substitute Lore for any other skill and letting you use it twice in the same challenge. Someone with the Money Talks stunt (FC123) might be able to bribe the spirits into cleansing the area. What kind of ritual could benefit from Talk the Talk (FC99), hmm? Of course, if you choose to focus on ritual magic challenges in your campaign, you may want to design some more challenge-focused stunts of your own.

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