Secret Cults: Spotlight on Antagonists

Sorry about the late post, againI’ve been trying to balance being a new dad with grades due at the end of the nine weeks, and life has been extra . . . Well, just extra lately!

So, my last post was about recurring villains, one of my favorite topics, and one of the most challenging to include in a game. This week, I thought I would explore one of the easiest ways recurring villains into your game.

“This? It’s a . . . doll for my son?”

Last Sun Day, before the good towns people of Pracola, better known as the Borderkeep, had open mass at the temple to Apollo, a few townspeople went missing . . . At first, it was easy to explain away, as the festivities on the night before Sun Day, The Night of Moon and Stars, was unusually . . . Festive this year. But then the first body surfaced, and lately, neighbors have been locking up earlier and earlier. People who have know each other for decades are turning with shadowed faces toward their own domains, sparing not a single cup of sugar for their allies on the border. They don’t dare speak it aloud, but in the warm fires of the bar, bolstered by spirits and ale, they might whisper: The Cult of Everlasting Night.

Secret cults provide a unique experience for your players in that, along with a supply of potentially powerful villains, they add a sense of intrigue and suspense to your game. Old lady Marth wasn’t at feast day last week’s end . . . Was she simply baking her famous Sun Day cookies, or was there something more nefarious afoot? Goody Dellah was seen at the outskirts of town, clutching a strangely shaped bundle under her thin arm . . . The lamb for the feast day veal pies, or sacrificial daggers?

“She was helping me milk the cows, honestly. You people fret too much.”

When a mysterious force begins taking hold of a small town on the edge of everything, everyone is suspect. Your players will probably begin by looking into the fringe element in town . . . The people who never quite fit in are, after all, usually have the exact personality type that is often preyed upon by charismatic cult leaders.  That might be true in the real world, although even here, without the aid of dark magics and darker gods, events are never so clean-cut, in your fantasy world, you can make your players work a little harder. Create suspicion around several characters, and make the least likely the most devoted of the cult followers. Remember that secret cults have to stay secret by their very nature, and are often led by wickedly intellegent people, so why not make their modus operandi equally intelligent? Perhaps they work in a system of cells, designed so that each one has just enough member to enact rights designed to grant them boons for the low price of a sacrifice or two, but no two cells know of anyone else in their group. Maybe only the leader and his or her lieutenants are the only ones with everyone’s identity . . . Everyone else always meets with hoods on, and no one can guess who their fellow cult member is.

“I hereby call this meeting in order to enact the right of the blue pill . . .”
“. . . Karen?”

Your players should have the feeling that literally anyone could be a cult member. Perhaps float a rumor that the lord of the keep himself is at the dark heart of this plague on Pracola. Make them shadow members of the community, and build the suspense by making it really seem like the person they’re following is one of the cultists, only to reveal, at the last-minute, that they have a perfectly good reason for being out in the dead of night under the full moon. If you’re really adventurous, have them try to infiltrate the cult, which can be as tense or as fun as you want it to be, especially if the first group of cultists they manage to apprehend are a bunch of morons, made patsies by the real powers in the Borderkeep!

I hope you enjoyed my treatise on the nature of putting cults in your game! I certainly enjoyed writing it! Head over to Tales from the Borderkeep to check out some originally fiction based on some of our games, and as always, don’t fall for the old kobold pit trap!

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