Noncombat play in D&D, in my opinion, handles best when the party has access to both a level of unreliable but broad competence (through the skill system or ability checks, say) and the ability to specialize in or prepare for solving specific types of problems (frequently the exclusive province of spellcasters, though martial characters could participate in this aspect by collecting relevant magic items). D&D 4E’s skill system is mostly satisfactory for the former (I could spill many pixels on the lack of a Craft skill, changing associated ability scores of skills, or other such minor complaints; I will not). For the latter, we have the ritual and martial practice systems. I’ve been unsatisfied with the ritual rules in D&D 4E basically since the initial release of the edition (albeit for a variety of different reasons as time passed), and since first encountering their nonmagical counterpart in Martial Power 2, I’ve disliked them as well.
The houserules presented here attempt to improve on their official counterparts in four ways:
- Martial practices and rituals are two almost-but-not-quite identical systems for the same thing; there is no good reason not to unify them.
- 4E’s exponential wealth scaling means that rituals’ costs quickly go from nearly insurmountable to irrelevantly cheap; this is sometimes reasonable, but many effects should remain roughly as hard to spam at low levels and high levels. Martial practices’ healing surge costs evade this issue, while also incidentally creating a tradeoff of whether to allocate resources (that is, healing surges) to combat or noncombat uses over the course of an adventure. (This has led to a few of my players jokingly referring to their healing surges as their “mana bar;” I don’t consider this a downside!)
- There are several small gaps in the list of rituals available, and the list of martial practices is shamefully short. I’ve borrowed aggressively from Exalted and other editions of D&D, as well as designing plenty of entirely original techniques, to fill out the list.
- Rituals aren’t universally accessible, and martial practices are even more restricted. Instead of requiring characters of most classes to invest a feat in order to be able to interact with an entire axis of gameplay, the feat (and the classes that grant it for free) instead let you learn techniques automatically without any investment of money or downtime.
I will also note the apparently odd distribution of crafting-related techniques, with the majority in Athletics, some in Arcana and Thievery, and a handful of others scattered onto other skills; this was chosen to match the existing allocation of crafting martial practices (that is, primarily to Athletics).