The Goal

In a E6 campaign I am playing in I want my character to start an assassins guild similar to The Dark Brotherhood from The Elder Scrolls games.

The Problem/Question

I am stuck on how to set up the job notification ritual. I want NPC's to have to perform a ritual to show that they are committed to having the person killed. The Dark Brotherhood had the help of a demi god named The Night Mother who would be attracted by "The Black Sacrament" and would then tell decide the jobs to take and would inform her "Listener" who would then tell the leaders. As we do not have this luxury I need to find another way to achieve a similar effect. Of-course if you know a demigod in the D&D Pantheon that would be into this sorta thing that would be good to know also because I may be able to get my DM to allow me to get that Demi's help.

It is also desirable that this be able to be accomplished by commoners and without the help of a spellcaster.

Ritual Example

For those who do not know The Dark Brotherhood or those who need a refresher.

When someone wants The Dark Brotherhood to kill for them they perform a ritual called "The Black Sacrament".

In order to perform the Black Sacrament, the invoker must create an effigy of the intended victim, assembled from actual body parts, including a heart, skull, bones, and flesh. They must then encircle that effigy with candles. [1] The ritual itself must then commence. The invoker must proceed to stab the effigy repeatedly with a dagger rubbed with petals of a Nightshade plant while whispering this plea: "Sweet Mother, sweet Mother, send your child unto me, for the sins of the unworthy must be baptized in blood and fear."

Current Ideas

I am thinking that something like a message spell could be used to deliver the message to the guild somehow. Or have a paper involved in the ritual that they write the details of the kill on which is then transcribed via magic to a tome of jobs at the headquarters of the guild. Which the administrators can read through and then research the job requests and decide who to contact to accept the jobs.

  • \$\begingroup\$ One question: is there a specific reason you want your guild to work through arcane means? (I don't know the specifics because I never played "Dark Brotherhood"). Wouldn't it be fun/interesting/challenging to start a "normal" assassin guild? Is your PC located in a large city? Is there another Assassing Guild already? If not... why not? \$\endgroup\$
    – p.marino
    Jan 27, 2013 at 15:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to come back to this because I never answered that question and this post has gotten a lot of views. @p.marino The reason was because the character was always on the move and was an evil PC in a good campaign so it needed to do all of this on the down low in the background. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eforen
    May 25, 2020 at 16:36

2 Answers 2



Unearthed Arcana has rules for Incantations, rituals similar to spells that can be performed by anyone. And, since Unearthed Arcana is one of the books released under the Open Game License, all of those rules can be found on the System Resource Document.

  • \$\begingroup\$ My DM did mention Incantaions but they seem to have a big problem namely "Most important among the drawbacks, an incantation rarely fades away quietly if the caster fails to perform the ritual correctly. Instead it reverses itself on the caster, explodes with a cascade of magical energy, or weakens the barrier between worlds, enabling hostile outsiders to emerge onto the Material Plane." Is there a way to reduce this? Or is it not much of a problem considering it is only a msg spell? \$\endgroup\$
    – Eforen
    Jan 27, 2013 at 21:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ You may want to apply mitigating factors. Many of them. Layered properly, they may well reduce the DC to 20-something, which is unlikely to be failed. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 28, 2013 at 12:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Where can I read about these mitigating factors? \$\endgroup\$
    – Eforen
    Jan 28, 2013 at 15:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Follow the link provided by KRyan, scroll to the "Creating new incantations" section, see "General Factors for Incantations" table. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 28, 2013 at 20:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JeorMattan 20-something is still likely to be failed a lot by low-level commoners who can't take 20 (due to penalties on failure). He'd need to stack enough mitigation to get it down to probably the low teens (depending on how risky he wants the ritual to be for the supplicant; most commoners won't have any bonus to the roll at all, so to do it reliably via take-10 would require a DC of 10 or less). Note that the incantation rules specifically warn DMs to be wary of creating incantations with DCs so low. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 17, 2014 at 7:40

The Elder Scrolls example of a ritual is a rather good one: It consists of a complex and detailed set of actions that would be very hard to perform accidentally; It requires enough effort to put off those who might "try it out" just to investigate the ghost story, as obtaining a cadaver is something few people will do out of trivial curiosity; It also requires the supplicant to clearly specify the victim and their own intent, which handily reduces the need for follow-up meetings and sales staff. Finally - and most importantly - it requires no existing magical skill or resources on the part of the supplicant whatsoever.

That being the case, it's actually not too difficult to reproduce the same thing in your own campaign: Rather than creating a magical ritual that even mundane commoners can use, create a complicated but entirely non-magical ritual - and then create a spell or magic item that detects that ritual being performed.

Of course, creating a new custom spell or magic item isn't a trivial task, and will require some collaboration with your GM. It will need quite a large range, and probably a long duration, since you'll want it to be "always on" unless you also specify a particular time of day that the ritual has to be performed at. Still, I imagine it shouldn't be too tricky to make a "detect and scry on that one exact ritual" spell, as there are a number of mitigating factors that may persuade your GM to make it easier:

  • There's precedent for this sort of thing; The effect you need to create would closely resemble a long-range combination of the Locate Object and Clairvoyance spells. You could even use two separate spells or magic items if you wanted. (The precise required range would depend on how far you want your guild's influence to reach beyond its guildhall; You may want to consider opening regional branch offices somewhere down the line.)
  • The spell is extremely specific in its effect. This isn't a "detect any ritual" spell, it's a "detect this ritual and only this ritual" spell; Spells with highly specific effects tend to be lower-level than the versatile ones.
  • The effect only finds people who want you to find them. In addition to not requiring saves, most spells that only affect willing subjects tend to be easier to cast than spells that can also affect the unwilling.
  • The effect doesn't actually do much. All you really need to learn from the spell is the identity of the victim and the identity of the supplicant; The actual assassination, the preparation for it, and the retrieval of payment all need to be handled in the usual way, so this magic doesn't actually make your life much easier than a well-targeted leaflet campaign would.
  • This effect gives the GM licence to drop plot hooks on you in any situation, and gives you pre-made motivations for following up on them (professional reputation and money). GMs tend to enjoy and encourage that sort of thing.
  • The spell or item could be used against you if your enemies ever obtain it, as they could use it just as you do to detect your clients, which would cripple your business and ruin the mystique. That's grounds for an adventure, right there; Your GM will doubtlessly want to use the threat of your secret being stolen as an adventure hook eventually - and again, that's an incentive for your GM to allow it.

Assuming you can get your GM's permission, you'll need to find a magic user (perhaps a specialist diviner) powerful enough to research it - and then you'll need to keep them quiet, perhaps permanently. But now I'm getting into the realm of speculation. Talk to your GM about the possibility of a custom magic item first; Worry about the specifics of its operation later.

tl;dr: Read the paragraph that contains bold text.


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