This isn't just going to be kvetching about the new edition or pining for the old ones. This is about an applied science. But the blog is still finding itself, and we'll see what mix we get of game products, campaign trip reports, and rants about Monte Cook being a wiener. I feel obligated to add some rules crunch.
My most presentable d&d creations along those lines were done for 3e because that was what my gaming group wanted to play, and I've gotten better over time. I'm sure the real grognards decry feats like everything else, but like so much else, I found them a worthwhile game mechanic concept with shoddy implementation.
I think that part of the problem that I have encountered as a d&d player is that 4e isn't d&d. People that lost three characters to the 1e Tomb of Horrors, and 3e players that suffered through yet another terrible Monte Cook module are both playing d&d, but I would assert that anybody using the 4e PHB is not, in much the same way that a reptile that grows feathers and has warm blood is no longer a reptile.
Part of the way I approach the game is by finding something that I think is a good idea, and then redesigning it so that it works for me. Sometimes that results in something I'm a little proud of --my cognates of the mechanics in 3e's morality books, the Books of Vile Darkness and Exalted Deeds, respectively, were much superior to those found within the published works. Then again, I wasn't shackled to writing deadlines or churning out useless exposition, nor beholden to the morals of the same audience.
While I'm rambling about the Book of Vile Darkness, Wizards of the Coast wasn't scared of putting bestiality in their modules relating to it, but it seems like they were scared of making evil mechanically rewarding. The premise of my approach to evil in my games has been that it ought to be rewarding, powerful, and easy --that's why people are tempted into evil. Being good is harder, otherwise everybody would be good.
So in the spirit of reclaiming things that I like from rules systems that I don't, here are some "forbidden rituals". In 4e, anybody can cast rituals if they learn them and pay the cost. Pretty much all the non-combat spells were moved there. These rituals that I've written ought to be usable in pretty much any edition of d&d with a little work, or at least give you enough of a gist to do your own stuff if you that think tempting characters with power has a place in your game.
This knowledge is used and taught by evil creatures that seek to corrupt mortals for their own reasons. Using the rituals and skills carry no penalty or moral peril beyond the ramifications of the acts described, but the more one uses them, the more one seems to stumble upon other forbidden knowledge and the more one is presented with genuinely evil options.
Forbidden rituals are simple compared to more esoteric rituals used by proper spellcasters. So simple, in fact, that anybody of sufficient level can learn and cast them. The effects of forbidden rituals may be removed with a Remove Curse spell, but only if the recipient is willing. One cannot cast forbidden rituals upon an unwilling recipient.
Caster Level 1
Cost: 100 gp.
Time: 1 Day.
This ritual debases an altar in preparation for darker acts. It requires the mutilation of a dead animal's body, but one need not actually sacrifice anything nor be the one to kill the animal. Celestials and certain very holy creatures may not approach within fifty feet of the altar of your shrine.
Caster Level 3
Cost: Target's level x 25 gp.
Time: 2 Days.
This ritual grants a minor wish but somehow things still seem wrong. You may give yourself a permanent -2 to one ability score of your choice in exchange for a permanent +1 to another ability score of your choice. This ritual must be performed at your altar.
Caster Level 5
Cost: Target's level x 50 gp.
Time: 3 Days.
The recipient is filled with dark power, but also ravaged by it. He enjoys a +1 to attack rolls, and spell DC, but is also is resistant to curing magic --spells that restore lost hp only heal twice that amount. This ritual must be performed at your altar.
Caster Level 9
Cost: Target's level x 75 gp.
Time: 4 Days.
The recipient is afflicted with a terrible craving for blood and death, but when this craving is filled he is supernaturally invigorated. Each day, you suffer -1 to your AC until you have slain a sentient creature. Once you have slain a sentient creature, this penalty is replaced with a +1 bonus until the next day. The circumstances and nature of the killing are unimportant to this ritual, a kill in combat is as efficacious as one done in a more formal setting. This ritual must be performed at your altar.
Summon Demonic Familiar
Caster Level 9
Cost: 1000 gp.
Time: 5 Days.
This ritual allows a wicked, sniveling creature to escape from sort of hellish afterlife, and binds it to serve as your sidekick. Though it must obey you in all things, it nevertheless is capable of causing mischief. Despite its best efforts, you should be able to use it only in the furtherance of good --if you're on the ball. This ritual must be performed at your altar.
Humble yet sarcastic, this disgusting creature stands a foot tall, appears to have skin made of molten tar, and boasts a set of bat wings as well as a wicked looking scorpion tail that leaks venom uncontrollably. In addition to being magically bound to obey you in all things and being pretty darned helpful, the sulphur imp also has excellent networking skills and can put you in touch with more powerful evil creatures should the need ever arise.
Sulphur Imp: Speed 20 ft, Fly 30 ft, ATT +8, dmg 10 poison, AC 15, HP 30, saving throws +5; may turn invisible as a move action and remain that way even if attacking; when reduced to 0 hp is banished back to hell where it will make a full report concerning its observations in the mortal world, particularly regarding the spiritual state of the person that summoned it.