If Your Players Hunger for a New Challenge….

My series on introducing evil cultists with more personality and depth, so as to provide your players with more interesting and memorable opponents, continues – this time I will share a couple of devotees of Rasthz, a rather charming Outer Being otherwise known as “the Devourer”.  More information on Rasthz and his aims can be found on Bruce Heard’s blog, where I outlined a basic cosmology of the Outer Beings.  You should also check out his other posts while you’re at it, once you’re finished here.

Before continuing, I would note that everything written in this post, and all the others to follow in this series, is set in the campaign setting known as “Mystara” in the “modern” period – that is, AC 1000.

And now it’s time to meet some new friends…

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(image courtesy of Bruce Heard)

HALVARD AUDUNSSEN

Background:  Halvard was born in Zeaburg in AC 956 to a young prostitute named Gudrun.  His father, who was one of the king’s personal bodyguards, did not acknowledge Halvard as his own.  However, he paid Gudrun enough money to get her off the streets and ensure that Halvard would at least not starve to death.  Although Halvard’s material needs were met, he was a constant reminder to his mother of her dependence on charity.  She became emotionally distant towards her son, and grew to resent him.  At the same time, Halvard’s illegitimate status won him few friends.  By the time Halvard reached adulthood he had become an outcast, yet he hungered for acceptance.

Eventually he left Zeaburg for the open sea, hoping to find camaraderie among a ship’s crew.  He sailed the Western Sea of Dawn for months, trading and occasionally raiding, until his ship foundered in a storm near the Thyatian territory of Provincia Septentriona.  He was among the few who managed to swim ashore, to a wilderness region known as the Shadow Coast.  The first mate knew of an imperial naval port nearby, and so the survivors struck out through the untamed forest to find it.  They soon ran afoul of the Comghairas, a reclusive people distantly related to the folk of Caerdwicca who had a reputation for being hostile to outsiders.  Unfortunately for the crew, the Comghairas found them on the eve of an important religious festival, in a stretch of forest considered holy.  The Ostlanders were brought before the clan’s priest one by one, and sacrificed.  When Halvard’s turn came, the priest (who was a follower of Rasthz)  was commanded by his patron to keep him alive.  Rasthz then spoke through the priest to Halvard, asking him about his life and what he wished to do with it.  When Halvard expressed his anger over events in his life and his strong desire to belong to something, the Outer Being offered help in exchange for murdering the priest in front of him.  The young man, already unhinged from watching his companions die before his eyes, throttled the priest, and was immediately invaded by a portion of Rasthz’s essence.

The Comghairas, recognising Halvard’s transformation, revered him as their new priest.  However, Rasthz soon directed his new follower to return to his homeland in order to further his aims.  Halvard made his way back to Zeaburg, where he established a small temple to Rasthz.

Appearance: Years of devoted service to Rasthz have transformed Halvard into a horrific caricature of his former self.  He is nearly skeletal, standing 6’9” (205 cm) tall and weighing 159 lbs (72 kg), and his grey, mottled skin is stretched taut over his frame.  Most of his long brown hair has has fallen out, and his formerly clear blue eyes have turned a dull yellow with horizontally-slitted pupils.  His formerly clear, resonant voice has degenerated into a scratchy growl.  As with many long-time devotees of Rasthz, each of Halvard’s palms sports a sphinctered, toothy maw, which he only conceals when he is outside the temple.

Statistics:

Halvard Audunssen (9th level cleric of Rasthz):  STR 16, INT 13, WIS 13, DEX 9, CON 13, CHA 6.  Hit Points:  43.  Armour Class:  3.   Alignment:  Chaotic.

Skills:  Ceremony – Rasthz (WIS+1), Drinking (CON), History – Ostland (INT), Navigation (INT), Sailing (INT), Swimming (DEX), Outer Being Lore (8).  If your campaign uses the optional Weapon Mastery rulers, Halvard is “Expert” in the hand axe.  Languages Known:  Antalian, Thyatian.

Special Abilities:  Sense Tainted within 300’, ESP with Tainted within 100’.  Halvard can cast spells as a cleric.

Special Equipment:  Hand axe+2.

Personality:  Although he is now filled with the power of Rasthz, Halvard’s psyche is still burdened by his insecurities.  This has produced a tormented soul that still craves connection with others, but which is also driven by the urge to feed his master.  As a result he constantly wars with himself.  When his human side dominates he abstains from sacrifices and allows Rasthz to feed off of his own body (which is one reason for his appearance).  However, Halvard’s bestial side often gains the upper hand, and during those times he indulges all of his appetites.

If encountered in his rational state of mind, Halvard comes across as being aloof and bitter – even towards his own followers.  He holds himself apart from everyone around him, but if approached diplomatically and with respect he could be persuaded to spare someone’s life, for example.  However, there is no reasoning with him in his bestial state.  When he is in that frame of mind he seethes with aggressive energy and takes and does what he wishes.  All impulses, no matter how trivial, are indulged with gusto.

Due to his appearance, Halvard rarely leaves his temple.  Much of his time is either spent wrestling with his bestial side, or feasting on the unfortunate victims his acolytes have managed to abduct.

Roleplaying Notes:  Rasthz’s strong emphasis on gruesome sacrifices sets up his cult as an ideal opponent for a heroic adventuring party.  Player characters could encounter Halvard and his acolytes while investigating the disappearance of an important local figure, which could set the stage for a classic rescue scenario.

Halvard’s conflicted nature can also provide player characters with a moral dilemma:  While he does commit evil acts, there is a portion of his psyche that remains uncorrupted.  Is justice better served by killing Halvard outright, or by trying to rescue his soul, or otherwise provide him with a means of redeeming himself?

ERROL LINFORD

Background:  Errol was born in AC 983 in the solidly working-class neighbourhood of Westgate, in the city of Corunglain.  He was the eldest of three sons and his father, a glassblower of considerable skill, began teaching him the family trade as soon as he showed the slightest trace of manual dexterity.  He worked in his father’s shop whenever he wasn’t receiving his lessons in reading and writing from one of the ladies down the lane.  Although Errol showed signs of bring a bright boy early on, his father saw the potential for him to become a true master of the craft.  By the time he was 10, he was working full-time.  At first he resented being unable to play with his friends, but his father encouraged him to be creative.  By the age of 15, Errol had become so skilled that his creations began to fetch high prices in the boutiques of the wealthy Corun Hill district of the city.

Errol’s rise was not celebrated by everyone.  His father had a number of apprentices, some of whom had been working in his studio for years.  While these other young men admired the boy’s skill, they resented the fact that he seemed destined to surpass them in talent.  They also resented the fact that wealthy customers were beginning to commission Errol to produce custom works of art for them, when none of their own works had received such attention.  The apprentices decided to humble Errol by inviting him to have a few drinks with them at a pub, and then taking back to the studio while his father was away to beat him up.

Everything went according to plan, but one of the apprentices got carried away and splashed Errol with molten glass.  Although he managed to avoid the worst of it, the attack ruined the lower half of his face, such that he could no longer produce any works of art.  Errol healed and the apprentices were imprisoned or fined for their crimes, but his disfigurement and the inability to use his gift weighed heavily on him.  Magical healing was unaffordable, and Errol was unwilling to trust that the neighbourhood chirurgeons would be able to restore his mouth.  He sank further into depression.

It was during this dark period that Errol began taking opium.  During one drug-induced sleep Errol dreamed of having the power to restore his face and create truly legendary works of art.  He woke with that desire burning deep inside him and, never having been pious but willing to try anything, he prayed to any force that was listening to help him.  He felt an urge to visit the city’s docks, where he encountered a rotund, jovial man with bandaged hands who greeted him warmly.  Surprised by the warm reception, Errol was told that greater powers do listen to those truly in need, and that one such force had decided that he was truly deserving of help.  Errol was escorted to a small warehouse, which had been turned into a shrine.  There, the man uttered a guttural incantation and the young man’s injuries healed within moments.  At that moment, Errol became a fervent believer in the power of the one who had healed him – Rasthz, the Many-Mouthed.

Appearance:  Errol is a handsome young man with a wiry build – he stands 5’9” (175 cm) tall and weighs 155 lbs. (70 kg) – and a very fair complexion.  His medium-length, curly brown hair frames a rectangular face with a strong jaw, and his dark blue eyes frequently have a mischievous light in them.  He dresses in clean working-class clothes (a wool or cotton shirt, trousers, and shoes, with a dark green wool coat), and walks with a confident stride.  Although nearly a grown man, Errol’s voice still sounds youthful and clear.

Statistics:

Errol Linford (1st level cleric of Rasthz):  STR 13, INT 12, WIS 14, DEX 17, CON 12, CHA 13.  Hit Points:  5.  Armour Class:  7.  Alignment:  Neutral.

Skills:  Ceremony – Rasthz (WIS), Craft – Glassblowing (DEX), Drinking (CON), Music – Flute (CHA), Outer Being Lore (2).  If your campaign uses the optional Weapon Mastery rulers, Errol is “Basic” in the dagger.  Languages Known:  Thyatian.

Special Abilities:  Sense Tainted within 300’, ESP with Tainted within 100’.  Errol does not yet have access to spells.

Special Equipment:  None.

Personality:  Errol seems like a fundamentally contented, polite young man.  He takes obvious pride in his considerable accomplishments, yet does not often rub his achievements in the faces of others.  While he is ambitious and wants to improve his skill in his craft, he does not seem to be overly competitive.  Yet, to those who know him well, Errol has changed.  Increasingly, he has been heard to dismiss the skills of other craftsmen, and has shown anger when he thinks someone has not given him his due.  He is also spending more time away from home.  In truth, Errol is falling more deeply under the influence of the cult, and its leader is planning to formally initiate him soon – by having him partake in an act of ritualised cannibalism.  If Errol participates in this rite, he will advance to 2nd level and begin receiving spells.  His soul will also be bound more closely to Rasthz and his alignment will shift to chaotic.

Although he does find much of the cult’s imagery disconcerting, Errol genuinely believes that Rasthz is a benevolent entity for having healed him.  He is interpreting what little doctrine he has heard in a very positive light, and believes the cult leader’s propaganda that Rasthz’s promise of destruction is actually a euphemism for a joyous rebirth of everything in existence.  He does not know that the cult leader’s bandages conceal mouths in his palms, and he has not yet witnessed the cult’s sacred rituals in the inner temple, and so does not know what is really going on.

Roleplaying Notes:  As far as cultists go, Errol is quite unconventional because his devotion arises from a very real sense of gratitude for what the Outer Being has done for him – namely, restored his livelihood, and by extension his sense of self.  He is also not an evil person – yet.  Thus, should his full story ever become known to the player characters, they could face a moral dilemma:  Should they kill a follower of a being whose interests are obviously detrimental to all that exists before he can commit evil, or should they try to draw him out of the cult, possibly at great cost to themselves and other people, before he becomes completely corrupted?  And even if they succeed in accomplishing the latter, it is entirely possible that Errol will not appreciate the party’s interference in the plans of a being that he could very well still see as benign.  There is also the possibility that Rasthz will take revenge on Errol for leaving the fold – which could very well cost him his life.

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