No More Cardboard Cultists!

Regardless of where they fall on the spectrum, cults are an interesting addition to any roleplaying game.

I have been collaborating with Bruce Heard, who some may know as having been the architect of the Mystara campaign setting, in fleshing out the cosmology of the Outer Beings – a pantheon of cosmic entities roughly analogous to the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft.  That work concluded with a brief cosmology of the seven major Outer Beings, which identified their goals and how they interact with their followers.  That piece also provided rough outlines of how the various Outer Being cults differed in terms of their activities and what sorts of “gifts” the faithful received.

I have decided to expand on what I began on Bruce’s blog.  Over the near term, I will provide detailled character summaries of sample followers of each Outer Being.  With the information I provide, game masters will be able to inject opponents with real personality and depth into their campaigns – all the better to up the cosmic horror quotient in their games!

So, without further ado, let’s start with a couple of devotees of Akh’All the Unmentionable, also popularly known as “the Festering Infamy”, or “the Black Source”.

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(image courtesy of Bruce Heard)

RHEA THE BLACK

Background:  Rhea Comnenos was born in AC 971 in the port city of Athenos.  She was the second of five children, and the eldest daughter, of a shipbuilder of modest skill.  A dreamy, un-athletic child, Rhea was regularly beaten up by her siblings and the other children in her neighbourhood, and later by her parents when she failed to display what they considered to be industriousness.  To protect herself, Rhea withdrew deeper into her imagination and invented creative stories with her dolls to help her deal with the violence around her.

When Rhea neared adulthood her parents tried to find her a husband, but her eccentricity, and lack of skills (aside from dollmaking) drove the young men away.  Her siblings moved away and began building their own lives, while her parents grew ever more resentful.  Rhea was given a handful of money and sent to a temple of Asterius when her father died, but the clerics found her too unfocused and turned her away.  It was while she was wandering the streets that Rhea encountered a wild-eyed vagrant who ranted about the injustice of the world, and the promise of a better one.  She listened, and when the man saw her interest he conjured up food and water (the man was a follower of Akh’All).  Many meetings followed, and Rhea soon grew to appreciate the power of the man’s patron, and his message that nothing in the current world really mattered.  Rhea took the vows of service and became a cultist herself.  The crazed man was killed by a party of adventurers soon afterwards, and Rhea decided to become a wandering follower of Akh’All out of gratitude.

Appearance:  Rhea is of average height (5’6”/167 cm) and weight (137 lbs./62 kg), with shoulder-length, wavy dark brown hair and piercing chestnut-coloured eyes.  Her light olive complexion and accent mark her as a native of the port city of Athenos.  Her voice has a husky undertone, and she speaks slowly.  When at ease, Rhea moves at a languid pace and saunters rather than walks.  When in battle or on the road, Rhea wears an unadorned black tunic and cloak over chain mail armour, a steel pot helm with a face plate, and carries a normal sword and shield.  The right sleeve of her armour ends at the elbow – her right forearm is encased in what appear to be dark green ropy strands, from which pale blue tendrils project and enter her flesh.  Her skin has a mottled greyish cast at the entry points.  The thick strands converge at the palm of her right hand, where they form a structure resembling a barnacle.  Rhea normally keeps her right arm concealed under her cloak (see below) whenever she is around other people, or covers it with her shield (she is left-handed).

Statistics:

Rhea Comnenos (5th level cleric of Akh’All):  STR 8, INT 12, WIS 15, DEX 10, CON 16, CHA 9.  Hit Points:  30.  Armour Class:  0.  Alignment:  Chaotic.

Skills:  Ceremony – Akh’All (WIS), Craft – Dollmaking (INT), Endurance (CON), Storytelling (CHA), Swimming (DEX), Outer Being Lore (6).  If your campaign uses the optional Weapon Mastery rulers, Rhea is “Skilled” in the normal sword.  Languages Known:  Thyatian.

Special Abilities:  Sense Tainted within 300’, ESP with Tainted within 100’.  Rhea has access to the full list of cleric spells.  As with most followers of Akh’All, she cannot turn undead.

Special Equipment:  Ring of protection +1, Cloak of Outer Darkness, Bracer of Flame (see below).

Personality:  Rhea is somewhat disconnected from the world.  When left to her own devices she wanders about, looking blankly at her surroundings and humming to herself, or she spends hours working intently on her dolls.  She does not look at people when she talks to them (and in fact becomes agitated when people try to enter her field of vision), and is unable to carry a conversation for more than a few minutes before going off on a tangent.  When Rhea does speak with people, she is exceptionally polite and self-effacing, and avoids questions about herself.  She cares little about events, makes no special effort to learn any details about the people she meets, and shows little interest in most facets of everyday life beyond what is absolutely necessary for survival.  She eats when she is hungry, sleeps when she is tired, and buys what she needs when she needs it – or takes it when she lacks the money.

Having had a miserable childhood, Rhea has a soft spot for downtrodden children and will not hesitate to intervene to protect a child she feels is being abused (whether or not the child is being mistreated is another matter entirely) – up to and including killing the aggressor.  She behaves in an almost motherly manner towards young children.  Rhea also feels very strongly about honesty – she always keeps her word, especially to children.  If she feels she has been lied to, she grows very angry and will likely attack.

The depths of Rhea’s madness come to light whenever she defeats an opponent.  After performing a rite to Akh’All in which the victim’s soul is consumed, she will carve out random body parts she thinks her otherworldly patron would particularly enjoy, and place small portions in one of the many dolls (made to resemble her) she always has on the go.  Once the doll is completed, she has a one-sided conversations with them, in which she admonishes them for opposing her and expresses her hope that they will perform better as sustenance for Akh’All.  Rhea carries such dolls with her until she feels that they have “learned their lessons” and are ready to be nice again, at which time she gives them to children she feels need a friend.

Roleplaying Notes:  As a travelling worshipper of the Outer Beings, Rhea is an ideal person for an adventuring party to encounter while on the road, as a character who can introduce the concept of the Outer Beings.  However, due to the fact that she does not proselytise, nor does she run around massacring people, she is seen by most people who meet her as a wandering cleric of one of the more obscure Immortals (she calls Akh’All “the Silent One”).  Depending on the circumstances, it is possible that Rhea might even accompany unsuspecting player characters on a short adventure.

Rhea’s true nature only comes to light if she encounters someone who openly opposes the Outer Beings, or who is known to associate with such people.  In either of those cases, she will attack suddenly, give no quarter, and use the remains of the fallen for her grisly dollmaking.

RUDGARD THE PATIENT

Background:  Rudgard Marendon was born in AC 962 in the town of Ansimont, to a family of wool merchants.  The youngest of four sons, Rudgard showed little interest in the family business and retreated to the library whenever he could in order to read tales of bravery and heroism.  He was sent by his father to the (affordable) Corunglain Magical Academy, in the hopes that the boy’s affinity for books would, in the older man’s words, “make something marketable out of him”.  While the Academy’s admissions committee judged Rudgard to be intelligent enough to succeed, one magician was concerned about his reclusiveness, and expressed concern that he might not withstand the rigours of intense study.  In the end, not wishing a promising young mind to go to waste, the committee offered Rudgard a position in the library.  Having already fallen in love with the books, the young man accepted.

Rudgard worked diligently for months, developing new cataloguing systems and helping with research, while being snubbed by the students (who found out about his status).  One day, while the librarian was in Glantri on business, he came across a copy of the Precepts of Akh’All, which was normally kept under lock and key in the librarian’s office (which was off-limits to him).  Intrigued, Rudgard read the convoluted book, and as a mental exercise tried to reorganise its sections.  In so doing, he experimented with a few of the rituals contained in the book.  The strength of his desire to learn, combined with his mentally restless spirit, actually attracted the attention of Akh’All briefly.  Rudgard heard a deep voice intone, “Give thanks to Me”.  He did, and was granted the ability to cast clerical spells.  He kept his discovery secret, while occasionally communing with his new master, until such time as he felt powerful enough to exact revenge on the students who tormented him.  He fled before their dessicated corpses were discovered.

Overcome with joy, he returned to Ansimont and murdered his family.  Akh’All took mild interest in him, then, and directed him to go to Darokin City and establish a temple there in his glory.  Rudgard did so, and now a small temple of Akh’All operates in the sewers beneath the capital city, tended by Rudgard and a half-dozen acolytes.

Appearance:  Rudgard is tall (6’3”/190.5 cm) and lean (157 lbs./71 kg), with long brown matted hair and an unkempt beard that extends to his waist, and ice-blue eyes.  His pale skin is greasy and covered with ash smudges (from the smoke produced by the dozens of candles in the temple).  Whenever he smiles, which is rare, one sees a mouth filled with yellowed, rotting teeth.  He wears a filthy black cowled robe most of the time, but if stirred to fight he will don rusted plate mail armour +1 and a shield.  Two fingers from his right hand are missing – a dog bite that had become infected.  He walks with an ambling gait; although if motivated to fight he can move quickly.  His deep voice is often raspy, thanks to the ambient smoke in the temple.

Statistics:

Rudgard Marendon (13th level cleric of Akh’All):  STR 14, INT 16, WIS 13, DEX 17, CON 14, CHA 8.  Hit Points:  47.  Armour Class:  -1.  Alignment:  Chaotic.

Skills:  Appraisal (INT), Arcane Lore (INT+1), Bargaining (INT), Ceremony – Akh’All (WIS+2), Drinking (CON), History – Ancient (INT+1), History – Darokin (INT), History – Thyatis (INT), Outer Being Lore (8).  If your campaign uses the optional Weapon Mastery rulers, Rudgard is “Expert” in the mace.  Languages Known:  Thyatian, Elvish (Alfheim dialect), Carnifex.

Special Abilities:  Sense Tainted within 300’, ESP with Tainted within 100’.  Rudgard has access to the full list of cleric spells.  As with most followers of Akh’All, he cannot turn undead.

Special Equipment:  Necklace of Nullification (see below).

Personality:  Rudgard has been communing with Akh’All long enough that his personality has come to approximate that of his otherworldly patron – this has been exaggerated by the necklace of nullification (see below).  Most of the time he rarely stirs from his bed in a state of emotional numbness, waited-on by his acolytes.  He rarely speaks to his followers, who tend to treat his pronouncements as though they came directly from Akh’All (some do).  When Akh’All chooses to ignore Rudgard, the cultist enjoys a few days of relative vigour and experiences some degree of passion in his life.  At those times, he occasionally feels the urge to bathe, or venture to the surface and wander the streets in search of food, drink and whores.  Eventually, however, Akh’All pays attention to Rudgard again, and he returns to his lair to brood idly and direct his acolytes to expand their master’s influence.

Roleplaying Notes:  Rudgard would be a very good villain to pit against an adventuring party about to mount an assault against a temple of the Outer Beings for the first time.  The nature of his activities, particularly the focus on skulduggery, also lends itself well to investigation-themed adventures.  Rudgard is also a very graphic example of how the influence of the Outer Beings can corrupt an individual.

NEW MAGIC ITEMS:

Bracer of Flame:  This living, symbiotic weapon was created by the Zhochal, and modified for use by their human allies.  As such, it feeds off of its host’s blood to sustain itself, rather than Zhochal-made serum.  The bracer’s rudimentary brain is slaved to its host’s, such that it can be activated by a mental command.  Up to three times per day, it can be commanded to shoot a five-foot-long jet of fluid that ignites when it comes into contact with the air.  A successful hit inflicts 2d6 damage, plus an additional 1d6 damage per round.  Anything flammable within five feet has a 50% chance of bursting into flame.  Because the fire is produced with a flammable liquid, water merely spreads the fire; the flame must be suffocated.

Bracers of flame are grown specifically for a single individual; any attempt to transplant one to another person will kill the device.  Only one such device can be worn.  Furthermore, due to the symbiotic link between the bracer and its host, removing the device (which requires ripping it out of the host’s arm) will inflict 2d10 damage to the owner.

Cloak of Outer Shadows:  This cloak is made of a black fabric that seems to absorb nearby light, such that a dim, chill aura surrounds the garment.  The effect is vaguely disquieting (all morale checks made by people within 20’ are penalised by 1).  The cloak is, in fact, imbued with a tiny amount of the very material that comprises the otherdimensional prisons of the Outer Beings themselves, and it repels the ambient reality of the Prime Plan in such a way that the wearer’s armour class is reduced by 3.  The cloak also allows the wearer to enter, and travel through, shadows, as per the passwall spell.  However, if worn by anyone other than a follower of the Outer Beings, there is a 2% chance per use, cumulatively, that travelling through the shadows in this manner will teleport the wearer to one of the prison dimensions of the Outer Beings themselves.

Necklace of Nullification:  This plain silver chain with a single, thumb-sized pendant of onyx gives its wearer the ability to ignore the effects of mundane diseases and poisons (no save required), and even to withstand injuries that would incapacitate normal individuals.  For combat purposes, the wearer’s hit points can be reduced to double his or her Constitution score below zero before dying.  The drawback to this necklace, aside from being impossible to remove unless the wearer dies, or remove curse is cast by a lawfully-aligned cleric of 20th level or higher, is that the wearer becomes profoundly apathetic towards most facets of life.  The wearer’s initiative is penalised by 2 at all times, a morale check must be made before the wearer can fight (failure means they are simply not motivated) and he or she ignores such basic things as personal hygiene (Charisma is reduced by 3).

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