Adventure Idea: Good Ol' Cults

GilMan21

Nice Fella.
I'm trying to come up with more powerful villians and I was watching a documentary on cults on good ol' Netflix.
Having a cult infiltrate a small town or city could be a great hook, but the cult has to be dangerous. If it's a cult about making sure there are flowers in every windowsill, that doesn't make for a great adventure. Nope.
You want a cult that has secret information and only the cult leader has it. Maybe it's a spell only they can cast or some kind of magical weapon or item. But something makes them charismatic and they want something:
  • The cult could want to wipe out a race or class (perhaps Warlocks.)
  • The cult wants to control a certain area of the city or crush a certain kind of religion in the city.
  • The cult is eliminating something valuable (going and killing all the horses or livestock in town.)
The rookie move is to think that the cult is just crazy, but there are a lot of factors that could play into it.
  • They are being duped by magic. Some kind of strong magic has hit them and it's spreading like a virus.
  • A fungal entity has attached to them and that's how they spread, exactly like a contagion and so the host in the bottom of their underground temple has to be burned out.
  • They are actually right? If they don't do (whatever) then something horrible is coming to pass. Their methods might be brutal, but it's actually going to save the city (a plague that is carried by livestock or horses.)
  • It's a scam. The cult is a thieves guild that is mixing it up. They are just getting donations and promising all sorts of stuff. It's not until they do something reckless that gets actual dark forces involved.
Original Source: Burn the Tavern Down.
 

Quartz

Explorer
A classic one is a mummy cult. The cult are responsible for keeping a particular mummy under wraps and will do anything to that end. Perhaps a sacrifice is needed every decade or two...
 

MonkeezOnFire

Explorer
It can be interesting to play up sympathy for the lowest level cult members by portraying them as victims. They joined in because to the rest of society they are outcasts but here they found a sense of community and belonging. Everything starts out innocent enough but once an individual feels comfortable enough that is when they are pressured into increasingly nefarious acts.

In my campaign I had an arc where all the beast folk of the land (lizardfolk, bullywugs, tabaxi, centaurs, etc.) gathered in the forest under the Queen of Beasts in order to build a new great kingdom. Together they would be strong and able to oppose the tyranny of humans, elves and dwarves! Of course the Queen of Beasts was actually being manipulated by Graz'zt so the higher spheres of influence were actually warmongers but many of the refugees that flocked to the forest really believed in that dream.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I'm trying to come up with more powerful villians and I was watching a documentary on cults on good ol' Netflix.
Having a cult infiltrate a small town or city could be a great hook, but the cult has to be dangerous. If it's a cult about making sure there are flowers in every windowsill, that doesn't make for a great adventure. Nope.
What if the flowers are what's controlling the people? People take a sniff and they're filled with bliss and want to share their joy with other people? People feel compelled to do little else other than spread the flowers far and wide.

There are a lot of directions to go from there.
  • This is just a precursor to an invasion, once everyone is blissed out they won't defend themselves.
  • An invasion was the original intent but it worked too well and now the would-be-enemy needs help because their armies have fallen to the bliss as well.
  • It's just a mistake, someone made a wish that everyone could be happy. Never mind that long term everyone dies because they don't harvest the crops, they'll die with a smile on their face.
  • People eventually undergo a metamorphosis and become plant people.
 

Arvok

Explorer
Depending on how deities get their power, the fact that the cult exists could be a threat to the cosmic balance. If a new god of pleasure or beauty or something (not necessarily an evil god) is pulling away worshipers from an established god who stands against deities of an evil pantheon, this loss of worshipers could weaken the established god to the point that he can be defeated by the evil gods. At low levels, PCs would probably have no concept of any of this but as they rise in power they might start to understand why they were put on this quest to wipe out this seemingly harmless cult. The cult leaders, the members, and even the god they worship might not have evil intentions, but their actions will nonetheless bring about evil. This also limits what sort of actions the PCs (assuming they are good-aligned) can take against them.

This kind of set-up leads to a lot of moral ambiguity, soul searching, and self doubt which is certainly not everyone's cup of tea.
 

aco175

Adventurer
Dragging the theme of a cult problem over several levels takes some planning. The lowest level of cultists could be mostly bandits and such, followers just getting into the first circle of the cult. Eventually you meet some actual cultists or true believers who are actively trying to convert people.

Also some members could be in the cult just because it is fashionable or inherited from their family. Select some NPCs that are just caught up in the cult and could be 'saved' or at least bribed. Only after the PCs foil the plans again and again do the senior members take notice. Like the King looking to the Sheriff of Nottingham to deal with Robin Hood and not knowing the true threat of the PCs until everything blows up in the end of the movie.
 
Having a cult infiltrate a small town or city could be a great hook, but the cult has to be dangerous. If it's a cult about making sure there are flowers in every windowsill, that doesn't make for a great adventure. Nope.
You want a cult that has secret information and only the cult leader has it.
Secret information like "in the coming zombie apocalypse, only houses with flowers in every windowsill will be safe havens?"
 

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