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When casting a spell, a mage has to constantly concentrate on it for a specific time period (taking Concentrate maneuveres each turn). Their energy reserves are limited by whatever FP they have at the moment plus an optional Powerstone. In other words, barring additional rulings, if the spell costs 16 energy points and the mage only has 14 FP of his own, they cannot cast it at all without a sufficiently large powerstone - they can't stop in a middle of the casting, rest to recover the spent energy, and then continue.

However, things are slightly more complicated with Ceremonial magic (M12, B238), when the mage can get one or several assistants for contributing more energy to the casting, at the cost of tenfold increased casting time and several other penalties. There is one particular note that grabbed my attention:

  • Once the spell is cast, the participants can continue to provide energy to maintain the spell. The composition of the group may change, as long as the ritual continues uninterrupted. Thus, ceremonial magic lets you maintain a spell indefinitely.

It's not clear at all whether the composition of the group can change during the casting, though. It would make sense that it can - after all, the ritual continues uninterrupted and the "caster" - group as a whole - keeps constantly concentrating on it. Surely, some of the participants should be able to leave for a while - possibly getting replaced - rest and return, if the ritual is designed so that such leaves are agreed upon in advance and are not a result of any accidents or interruptions?

The rulings on Enchantment ("Slow and Sure Enchantment" - M18, B481) state that, at least with this specific form of ceremonial magic, the participants can regularly interrupt the casting to rest in between. This could have been implying that interruptuble casting has a heavy price of extended time and resources required - as the other form of enchantment ("Quick and Dirty") is much cheaper, but has no rulings on interruptions - however in this case, the group does not maintain constant concentration, the consequences for possible interruptions do not ruin the whole spell (only a day's work), there are other benefits over QoD enchanting (no skill penalty for the number of participants), as well as suggestions for GMs who wish to further restrict QoD enchantments. In other words, this is not a definitive indicator.

In addition to that, there's a Cone of Power spell described in Thaumatology (page 52) which allows to do things very similar to an interruptible casting, but still has many significant differences.

On the other hand, an interruptible ceremonial casting could have quite a few balance issues. For instance, a distant cult in some forgotten temple in a backwater of the world could be casting a Rain of Fire spell over the entire world over the course of several years without anyone noticing... and then unleash it all at once! Then again:

  • It takes just one random raid (or a falling rock™ plus a failed Wil roll) to ruin years of preparation - and so it clearly cannot be done without a GM's permission, implicit or explicit;
  • "Cone of Power" allows to do that, too, and is way more dangerous - after all, the collected energy can be used prematurely to repel any potential attackers - yet this spell is in an official guidebook;
  • It's actually quite a hook for an adventure!

    The Cult of Doom has been preparing a terrifying, humongous spell to unleash upon the world, of which our diviners have learnt just now, and now someone must sneak into their highly protected lair to interrupt the casters! Bonus points for cinematic arrival just in the nick of time to interrupt the cult just as they are about to finish the casting.

So...

Is there an official, documented ruling on whether the mages can change group composition during Ceremonial Casting without interrupting the spell? And if not, what balancing considerations the GM should keep in mind when making his own ruling?

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    \$\begingroup\$ This used to be true in 3e, not sure if that's carried over to 4e. \$\endgroup\$ – Zeiss Ikon Feb 3 at 16:56
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No, you cannot change composition of the group during the initial casting of ceremonial magic

Maintenance requires energy input at regular intervals. Casting does not: all of the energy is spent at the end of the casting when the dice are rolled for success. If changing membership were allowed, it could not help with the energy cost, because the members of the group present at the end of the casting have to pay the whole energy cost.

Further, all the material about changing group membership (pp. B238 and M12) is under clauses about maintaining a spell after the initial casting. That does not generalise to the initial casting; if it did, the changing of membership would not be under the maintenance clauses.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Would an unsiklled spectator that leaves the ritual before the casting is complete break the whole ritual then, or would just his energy not be counted towards the casting? \$\endgroup\$ – Yolgie Feb 4 at 16:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Yolgie: Just not be counted, I think, given that an unskilled spectator who opposes the casting can only subtract 5 energy. \$\endgroup\$ – John Dallman Feb 4 at 17:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ if it does not count as opposing the spell and does not break the ritual, then that would mean that the composition can be changed without interrupting the spell \$\endgroup\$ – Yolgie Feb 4 at 21:32
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Can mages change group composition during Ceremonial Casting without interrupting the spell?

I think yes, lets look at Ceremonial magic (M12, B238)

If you know a spell at [...], you may opt to cast the spell by leading your assistants in an elaborate ritual that maximizes the spell’s power.

And

The composition of the group may change, as long as the ritual continues uninterrupted.

So the ritual is in place the whole time of the casting of the spell (see Casting Spells (M7, B235)

[...] Tell the GM what spell you are casting, then take Concentrate maneuvers for the requisite number of turns (see Time Required, below). At the end of the last second of concentration, make a success roll for the spell.

So the composition of the group may change, as long as the ritual is running. (But as @JohnDallman mentioned in his answer, their energy could not be used for the casting of the spell)

But, this would still require the caster, who is leading the ritual, to stay the same.

So as for your underlying question:

Is the caster of the spell the whole group?

I would say no, especially because of the first paragraph of Ceremonial magic (M12, B238), emphasis added in italic

If you know a spell at [...], you may opt to cast the spell by leading your assistants in an elaborate ritual that maximizes the spell’s power.

And

At the end of the ritual, make a skill roll to cast the spell.

So at least as GM, I would require the caster to be the person knowing the spell, leading the group and doing the roll.

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    \$\begingroup\$ But, as an afterthought, I would absolutely allow this to happen as a plot where a evil (non player) mage has developed one specific world destroying spell that can be cast this way. If you want to stay RaW you can always make the leader of this ritual a Lich that does not have to sleep. \$\endgroup\$ – Yolgie Feb 4 at 16:18

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