Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Ritual Magic - The Chosen Arrow - City of Ghosts

I have a lot of posts relating to City of Ghosts that are teetering on completion, sitting in the quantum draft state, neither alive nor dead. If this blog is not flooded with a surfeit of material over the festive season, may the spirits strike me down. One of them has to go first, and I decided it was going to be this one, probably the least complete of the lot.

It's about ritual magic, specifically the ritual of the Chosen Arrow.

Before Simba's dad became Darth Vader, he was a wicked shot.
It's super effective!

A ritual

NB: The word "shaman" here denotes the lead practitioner of the ritual, it does not refer to a special character class.


  • An arrow, a viper, enough fuel for a one-day fire, a piece of flint, the true name of your enemy.


  • -One day for the ritual plus one lunar cycle to recover the "arrow"


  • The shaman petitions the spirits with the true name of their enemy, chanting an appropriate phrase over and over until...
  • A glyph representing the name is revealed to the shaman somehow (etched in the sand, as a temporary mark on their flesh, in the ashes of a fire etc.)
  • The shaman sings repeatedly of how their enemy will be struck down and slain, whilst carving the glyph representing the name of the enemy into each piece of firewood, using a specially selected piece of flint.
  • The pyre of carved wood is lit. The shaman circles the flames, chanting: <we honour you, spirits, with the venom of this serpent>, draining the snake's fangs into the flames.
  • The viper is cut with the flint that had been used to scrimshaw the wood and drains all of its blood into the fire, crying: <we honour you, spirits, with the blood of this serpent, take its flesh but return to us its likeness> before casting the dead snake into the fire.
  • The shaman enters a trance until the fire has burned out. Others must stand watch over them.
  • After awakening, the shaman gathers the ashes and buries them alongside an arrow etched with the magical glyph.
  • The arrow must be exhumed at the next full moon: it will have transformed into a snake, identical to the viper sacrificed in the ritual.
  • The snake will require no sustenance, but will cling to the shaman until they gift it to the warrior of their choice.


  • The viper will comfortably dwell in any place instructed by the shaman, making itself invisible until summoned.  
  • On one occasion in the future, anyone gifted the viper (including the shaman) will be able to summon the viper as the mythical "chosen arrow". It will stiffen, enabling the summoner to nock, draw, and fire it as an arrow.
  • The chosen enemy must be within range, and the archer must utter their true name as they fire. The viper will fly through the air, striking the enemy true, regardless of charms or protections. When it strikes, the viper will sink its teeth into the enemy, filling their blood with venom. It will then grow limp and drop to the floor, resuming the form of a mundane arrow.


  • The Chosen Arrow automatically hits its target, so long as their true name is uttered. - The arrow will do max damage (6) and counts as a critical hit (x2 damage = 12). What's more, the target must save vs. poison: failure results in instant death, success merely a further 2d6 poison damage.
  • The arrow counts as a magic weapon and can strike enchanted beings, including non-corporeal entities. It ignores damage resistance and immunity. 
  • If fired at anyone other than the chosen target it transforms into a mundane arrow, the attack must roll to hit and does normal (1d6) damage: the ritual is wasted.

Learning the Ritual

  • Any PC can learn this ritual by assisting  another character in this ritual at least three times AND by successfully firing the chosen arrow and killing their target at least once.
  • Alternatively, they might be granted the power to perform the ritual  by a spirit: either as a reward, through coercion, or through some other negotiation or trade with a spirit.
  • This ritual cannot be bound to a spell slot.


Earlier this year I flirted with trying to OSR-i-fy 5e, and found my way to the the O5R subreddit.  One of the many debates about magic was the feature of ritual spells in fifth edition D&D, with the consensus generally being that it was Op and not fitting with the OSR ethos. I disagreed, as I felt it added some good flavour and, if managed correctly, could add another interesting element to gameplay.

The main criticism with rituals is that they are "free" as they don't cost a spell slot. This is true of course, but only if time is not valued to your players, and in an OSR game, it really should. 

This ritual also presents some interesting elements as the PCs need to gather the true name of their enemy,as well as the necessary components. These are themselves individual quests that may lead them into other weird situations.

I've been thinking about magic and how it works for a long time now, and this post by Marquis Hartis was a major influence on adding some real setting-based context to spellcasting. Marquis' post here is in relation to his (currently under development) bronze age game Commandment, and I'm now looking at a dawn of the neolithic setting, but this is really some high-grade RPG OSR content right there and if you have not yet read it, it's here waiting for you: