Monday, 12 June 2017

That Old Time Religion Part 2: Cults

 Fifth Edition D&D’s published adventures are as fixated on Cults as a seventies Evangelist. This is obvious; Cult is a word rich in visceral associations: a religion dominated by secrecy, and arcane mysteries, and an esoteric cosmology. Somehow dirtier and naughtier. The Church of England is a religion. The Nation of Islam is a cult.

As with many WOTC creations, the effort to be inoffensive and to fit the assumptions of a million potential worlds have led to an inert blandness. The core question of a cult is of course, why worship that? WOTC’s adventures see people worshipping Dragons or ‘Elemental Evil’ but there’s very little indication of what exactly predisposes someone to this school of thought. We explain it with the easy crutch of mental illness: people joined Heaven’s Gate because they were crazy.

But there’s more to that. Some people join Cults for reason of status, or to belong to an elite society with connections despite nebulous objectives, be they Scientologist or Freemason or Young Conservatives. Others join because their life is otherwise empty: studies show people in fringe religions tend to leap from faith to faith with heady abandon. Some people, I think, rise a little, and grow to love their secret power. Other people stay for the virgin sacrifice – it takes all kinds.

I’ve tried to drill this flavour into the major cult in my setting, The Cult of the Ouroboros.

The principal cult for my setting will become very prominent in the next few sessions as my players infiltrate it . They’ve had numerous run-ins (even in the antediluvian days when this campaign was a one shot called North Corner) and I think they’ve come to believe that the Cult is made up of mighty wizards and vampires and liches and whatnot. They’ll soon learn that every faith has its bootlickers, and that a huge proportion of the Cult are in it to network (To some degree, The Cult of the Ouroboros is the golf club of The Last Day Dawned). I wonder how they’ll treat these people.

The Cult operates in a completely opposed way to the worshippers of The Iron Tyrant: their game is conspiracy, and they lure the wealthy and powerful with promises of everlasting life. Accruing a backlog of favours, they wield power in secret. When the Company clash with the Cult, a multitude of proxies can be tapped to make trouble. Killing some Vampire in the wilderness is one thing – but its less easy to fight your way out of being arrested for treason because the Cult has the ear of a powerful Duke.

 They see blasphemy as a simple extension of their principle aim: to conquer death. If this means killing the gods and toppling their thrones, so be it. 

Here’s the setting document for the Cult:

The Cult of Ouroboros

The Cult of Ouroboros is a strange collection of mystics, academics, necromancers, hermits, vampires, undead, cultists, aberrations, monks and bodhisattvas, connected by a singular purpose: the path of perfect immortality.

The final aim of a Cultist is true immortality: a perfect circle where a being can subsist completely on their own energies for all time, represented by a serpent eating its own tail.
Lesser forms of immortality – such as vampirism – are seen as imperfect due to their dependence on of consuming blood, or souls, or other miscellanea, to feed their immorality.

The Cult possesses little formal organisation, or doctrinal orthodoxy, and is seen more as a Path than a religion. To that end, members of the cult often form relationships with or worship other deities or patrons. Additionally, whilst a standard world-view of the Cult would see no intrinsic value in another mortal’s life, and believe wholeheartedly that establishing immortality of the truly great is worth any sacrifice, there are subsections of the Cult who live more harmoniously. Their unifying principle: to move towards perfect immortality, and aids others in the Cult. Whilst it has no leaders, it has a number of spiritual leaders or gurus who are considered further on the journey than their compatriots. To protect the organisation, many share their secrets with nobles and ruling classes who cover their activities.

The most prolific enemies of the Cult are servitors of The Raven Queen; The Morrigan; Chooser of the Slain, or the crusading knights of The Order of the Resplendent Star. 

Known members:

Beautiful Lathander
An incredibly vain and impious wizard from the Dameshti Collegia Aracanum. He was researching true immortality and its link to the Titans who once gave battle to the gods in the vast catacombs beneath North Corner. Aligning himself with Orcus, he used shape-shifting fiends to infiltrate the town and hordes of undead and a mercenary company known as The Red Tide to claim the catacombs for himself. Due to the actions of The Heroes of North Corner, his dominion of the catacombs was ended and he was vanquished at great cost to the town.

Nicodemus, The-Worm-That-Walks.
A vampire who had once aligned with factions among Loquista’s noble families and whose conspiracy had made him and his organisation the shadow government of the city-state: feeding as they pleased. He would eventually be overthrown by the actions of Teshei, a Rakshasa adventurer working with a company known as The Wandering Wolves. Teshei would soon exploit the power-vaccuum and wave of proscriptions and purges to place himself in control of the city, leaving the lingering matter of Nicodemus to reform in the sewers as a hideous Worm-That-Walks. Whilst he conspired with the Resistance and The Company of the Noose to gain vengeance against Teshei and his brood, he would be betrayed by The Company of the Noose and vanquished in the sewers, unmourned.

Arch Magi and Dean of the Loquistan College of magic, the esoteric occultist Cerelesta took little part in the day-to-day governance of the city despite her position in the Council of Ten and her relationship to the Despot Teshei. She conspired with the Company of the Noose to claim The Hourglass of Ages, but they later chose to assassinate her to precipitate civil war. Her connection to the wider cult is unknown.

Valakashanya, The First Vampire, Queen Under The Mountain.
The Company vanquished this foe on the rocky precipice of The Bleeding Mountain after adventuring to the heart of Zunia to cut her down. Delving into her lair, they saw only sad reminders of Valakshanya’s descent into madness as the millennia lay heavier and heavier on her brow.  Feral and mindless, no one will lament this last gasp of the antiquity of Damesht.

Ashoka, The Undying Monk.
About this foe, the Company know nothing.

Numines, The Broken Druid.
About this foe, the Company know nothing.

Koscheibog, Deathless Terror.
About this foe, the Company know nothing.

The Champion of Nerull

About this foe, the Company know nothing unless they metagame Phil.

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