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Need a little help on stopping ritual story

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If you have been reading my Ptolus story the party has finally decided to actually help.  They are not do-Gooders this is more out of keeping themselves alive so they can go back to a somewhat normal life.


I don't want to do the normal, fight the cultists, one minor boss then fight the last boss, ritual stopped.  Please send me some ideas as to a different take on how this adventure could play out.  They know the location and have a means to get into it.  They are not great puzzle solvers, but low level one's could be ok.  This isn't a high level magic setting, but it could be used to slow them down.


 Other then that, what lies below is up to me and now you..



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I think the key to this might be to detail out the ritual, not just saying 12 cultists are going to form a circle at "x" time and "y" location and 20 minutes later "bad thing" happens. 


I'd make it so that the ritual is a major spell that maybe has a -X (I'll use 20 in this example) to the roll to succeed and the Lead Cultist has the ritual spell at a 13- base chance for success. Then make a list of a bunch of things the cultists need to do before the ritual in order to give +'s to the ritual roll in order for the Cult leader to succeed. So bunch of the cultists are out and about for 30 days before the ritual doing a bunch of things that will make the ritual work.


For example, maybe there are  3 magical blades involved in the ritual. Each blade can add +1 to the ritual's success in performing for each "innocent" the blade kills, up to +5 each blade. So the PC's need to find these cultists and stop them from completing their killings and hopefully recover all 3 blades. But they might not. They might recover 1 blade, and prevent another from only killing 2 victims, and fail in hindering the third all together. So they have managed to limit the bonuses to the ritual to +7, rather then +15 that the cultist would have gotten if they hand't been stopped. 


At the same time there might be 4 scared locations that the spell could be preformed at that would give the cultists +5 to the roll, so another thing the PC might need to do before the ritual is find these locations and make them unusable to the cultists for the ritual by either making the ground Holy, or flooding it or something else that would make these areas unusable to the bad guys. 


There could also be special ingredients that give +'s to the ritual that the PC could try and find and either keep or destroy before the cultists get their hands on them. For example, special berries that only grow in a magical grove in the woods. The Players need to get to that grove and burn the bushes growing the berries before the cultists can gather them.


Maybe they can find an order of "good" priests/clerics and convince them to do a counter ritual at the same time the bad guys ritual is happening which will give the bad guys -10 to their chance to succeed, or something similar. 


And so on. 


It basically becomes a battle to limit the chance (Spell roll) for the ritual to succeed. Every success the PC's have reduces the bonuses the Cultists get, every failure give the cultists some bonus. And the Players don't know what the totals are. 


So when it does come time for the ritual to happen, no one might know (except the GM) if the Bad Guys might have a chance to succeed. 


Maybe the PC's have done really well and the Cultists have only managed to get +15 to the ritual, so the Main cultist's chance of success is now only 8- when he performs the spell. Or maybe they did poorly and the cultists now have +22 to performing the ritual and the main Cultist now has a 15- chance of succeeding. 


Then have the final battle while the ritual is going on. If the players do manage to kill all the cultists before the ritual is finished, then noone will ever know how close to success the bad guys got. If they don't stop the ritual in time, then make the cult leaders Spell roll at whatever it now is, and see what happens. If his roll is 8- and you roll a 12 then the ritual fails and maybe the cult leader dies screaming in agony and the forces of the spell rips him apart or as he is dragged into hell for his failure. Yay, the Players won by making the spell to difficult to cast. 


Or maybe the cultists did a better job and the spell roll was 14- and you roll at 12, so the ritual succeeds, then maybe the players have a few moments to try and stop it from "going off" by some of them sacrificing themselves, or maybe they do fail and the spell happens and they now have to live/fight against the consequences, knowing they failed, and that spins off into the next adventures but the knowledge they gained on the cultist's workings will help the next time. 


But by making the ritual dynamic and fluid with ever changing odds of success based on how well the players or the cultists do, leading up to the ritual itself, makes it more exciting and unpredictable for everyone involved. 

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There are a few options that first come to mind, but the end result really depends on the flavor and speed you want the ritual to go away at.


A: Relays. The Party knows where the den of the cultists are and how to get in right? Well, have that be the hub, but not the only stronghold they have set up. A fair chunk of the cultists are there, as well as a Mini-Boss of sorts, probably a pretty strong summoner with a pair of Area of Denial Casting Lieutenant sounds about right. But, in that Hub, they find evidence of several Mystic Relays around the city, places that the ritual is reinforced and magnified at. After taking on the main hub, the ritual starts to break down and "Occult Energies go wild upon the city, uncontrolled and violent!" Flavor and mechanic that how you will (I recommend treating it as a Persistent 5 STR Change environment sort of poltergeist over the city, and temporarily granting the World 2d6 Unluck). That should spur the Heros to finish the problem up quickly, and provide lovely sources of Radioactive Accidents for whoever you want. The number of relays there are matters a bit, but it mainly depends how many you want for them to take down before the ritual actually falls apart. No more than three before the ritual falls apart should be good. Each one has a smaller miniboss and some flavor for what the occult ritual is doing. At the final one, Big Boss can either try to stop them from interfering with the last ritual and rite, or be running away with that rite. Either way, upon either escape or defeat, the ritual finally falls apart. Just depends if you want to use the Big Bad later.


B: Puzzle Summons. The Party knows where the den of cultists are and how to get in. What they don't know is the emergency Tamper Prevention with the Ritual! Unless they get a few specific items/people in the base before the Occult Alter, if they try to take out the ritual two or three powerful occult energies are summoned to truly wreck people's day. Have one stay and start fighting the heros as much as the cultists, and the remaining go out and start targeting the city. This should make it so that they want to go out and stop it, so it stops wrecking their stuff. Treating it as Puzzle Summons also helps the Occult Leaders start to have to interact with the ritual carefully, and panic more when the players mess it up.


C : Mind Slaves. The cultists there are moderately strong, but the people actually holding together the ritual don't even realize they are doing it. They have been mentally controlled and compelled by the cult, and are maintaining it's casting and chanting. Have one or two of them be from the Player's past for a few extra personal knives. The ritual itself is easy enough to stop. Simply take of the mind controlling black iron crowns on their head. But if they do that, they risk simply shutting off the mind of the person, rendering them innert and unresponsive. They can talk with the people casting it, but they won't really know how to stop it, or even what the party is referring to to stop. The boss will show up when they finally make a decision and help the first person, successfully or no. Now you've got a fight with several Innocents in the way. And worse yet, the boss is strengthened/summons show up/the area becomes more violent as more people are disrupted from casting!


That's what comes to mind off the top of my head.

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If you have enough lead time before the ritual starts, I'm a fan of giving the PC's clues that something big is going to go down and letting the final confrontation build over time.


Then maybe a cultist member (who wants out and is fleeing the city) takes the time to warn the PC's that the cult still needs to collect X number of items before starting the ritual. The mutilated body of that cult member is found the next morning not far from where he met the PC's.


A desperate race across the city to find the items in competition with the cultists.


Whatever plan the PC's come up with to destroy or secure the items falls apart. The PC's are forced into making a rappelling the descent into The Pit in a desperate bid to stop the ritual.


The Big Bad Guy attacks the PC's while they're in mid-descent. He reveals that most of his cultists have deserted either altogether or to join other cults, and that the rest have died in luring the PC's to The Pit. But his portents showed that the cult's fortunes would be completely reversed if he defeated the PC's in single, personal combat. There never was any ritual other than the ritual of combat.


So he arranged to meet the PC's in the most favorable circumstances possible but without any minions as backup.


The battle takes place with the PC's dangling from ropes and the opponent in the mouth of a tunnel on the other side of the pit. He tries to either kill the PC's outright or sever their ropes, while hindering their movement toward the mouth of the tunnel.  

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I’ve been turning this over in my mind, but something keeps coming back to me; you’ve made it a point repeatedly that they aren’t in this for any reason except to go back to their normal lives. So for me, I would make them the focus of the ritual, kind of like a horrible, horrible surprise party. And, the most important part, is that they lose. They’re in the wrong place, the ritual requires “the blood of the faithful,” etc, one way or another, they are directly feeding into the thing’s completion. Upon completing it, they are cursed/tied off/forced to adhere to the conditions of the summon while they get introduced to new allies who are going to help them act as seditionists against the thing that beat them. Kind of like Curse of the Azure Bonds, but instead of being heroes, who know they’re being framed, they’re kind of “normal blokes” who would rather not do this and are suddenly smack in the middle of it with no way out but through.

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Lots of good ideas here so far.


I had a major plot I used where an outside Power (godling) was trying to steal his way into a Planar city protected by another Power. He wasn't strong enough to force his way in all at once, so he divided his essence into several avatars that tried to sneak into the city at different times and locations.


It was up to the party to discover who the avatars were, and try to find a way to stop them.


If enough of the avatars made it, they could recombine their essence inside the city using a ritual/location and then be strong enough to challenge the Power that protected the city.


As an additional distraction, the invading power enlisted an army of planar bad guys (Githyanki in my game), and had them start an invasion that used up city defense resources, and interfered with what the players were trying to do to stop the avatars.


It was a wonderful, chaotic game that took several sessions to complete, with the players barely succeeding in stopping enough of the avatars to give them a fighting chance in the final battle.


Let us know how your game turns out!


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Just thinking more about this and had an idea...


You could have the timing of the ritual gathering match a huge citywide costumed holiday (think Mardi Gras or Carnival) with thousands of people in the streets (parades, events, food vendors) for a week or more. I would detail the specific days of the holiday with them having different themes and meanings, with the final night being a "Day of the Dead/Halloween"-type celebration with death masks, and skull themes, etc.


This would give you a colorful background for the story, and a way for the cultists/bad guys to be out and about without attracting attention during the chaos.


As the party fails/succeeds in stopping parts of the ritual, it all builds up during the week toward the final night of the holiday where there are wild parties, fireworks, etc. throughout the city.


As the ritual begins, a supernatural storm begins to develop, filling the skies with darks clouds, wind and lightning, becoming stronger and overpowering the holiday celebration, leading to thousands of people fleeing the chaos.


The celebration turns to panic as the party members race to stop the ritual.





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Thank you for all the help, these were fantastic ideas and I am using some and mixed.  I decided on the relay and the fight hanging from a rope.  I am also going to use Thia's idea about now they are seditionist's and are going to be introduced to new allies to really take down the new enemy.  Great help all, I will let you know how it goes!

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15 hours ago, Gandalf970 said:

Thank you for all the help, these were fantastic ideas and I am using some and mixed.  I decided on the relay and the fight hanging from a rope.  I am also going to use Thia's idea about now they are seditionist's and are going to be introduced to new allies to really take down the new enemy.  Great help all, I will let you know how it goes!


I forgot to mention:


Figure out in advance whether you want a fall to be instantly lethal or not before you start the session. You could easily end up with all the PC's falling if the bad guy is skilled or lucky in his attacks. Or if the PC's decide to free climb down the ropes rather than tie themselves securely.


You can always choose to have the fall be into a deep and icy pool of water where the cult leader could fish them out, tie them up, and revive them...which leaves you open to run an "escape from the cultist" or a "escape from the slave markets" session later.


Instant death from falls is unpopular among PC's outside of some hardcore old school D&D players. And particularly when there's an outside chance of a total party kill-off.


You could also have the cult leader unexpectedly die way too quickly, since it's only one guy. Or have the PC's decide after his death that there must be some reason why he picked that particular pit in which to set his trap and want to thoroughly explore the place. Not a bad idea to take some of your existing underground plans (which you expected to use elsewhere) and have a map of that ready too go if the PC's pull a rabbit out of they're hats and kill off the bad guy in the first phase of combat.



(Sorry, I'm a worrier.)

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