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Light Worldbuilding: Weird religious sect and cursed skeletons

Lackofname

Explorer
Developing some things for my game and I wanted to put this out there for some brainstorming.

Black Ziggurat of Bloody Bones
This is the site of a cult dedicated to a nasty spirit or demon prince who demanded blood sacrifices. The cult was wiped out, but the entity being worshiped was powerful enough to curse those who destroyed the cult. Their skeletons now reside on the ziggurat, and on the night of the fool moon, they rise and hunt for living humanoids. When one of the skeletons sacrifices a victim on the altar at the top, the skeleton's soul is released-- then that sacrificed victim takes their place as a new skeleton.

What I need is a way for the PCs to end the curse. All I can think of make sense story wise (someone willingly sacrificing themselves, or someone gives birth on the altar as it's the antithesis of ending life) are things the PCs won't/can't do. "Just destory the pyramid" is too boring and obvious.

Peculiar Pilgrims
I'm interested in the PCs encountering a fairly odd religious sect or cult as a benign roleplay encounter/setting color. The point is that they're harmless but still odd enough to give the players pause. For instance, I'm thinking of having them be nudists.

What I need is the details of whatever they actually believe. What is their cult about?
 

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WarlockRuby

Villager
For the Black Ziggurat, if the PC's won't/can't do either of the sensible story wise ideas you could just create an NPC to do them instead.
 

darkbard

Adventurer
What I need is a way for the PCs to end the curse.

Why not put it to the test of play? This is to say, rather than you, as GM, coming up with a set script prior to play, you allow actual play, the players roleplaying in the moment, to determine how they think they might end the curse. Then allow system resolution (e.g. a Religion check) to determine the success or failure of their theory.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Why not put it to the test of play? This is to say, rather than you, as GM, coming up with a set script prior to play, you allow actual play, the players roleplaying in the moment, to determine how they think they might end the curse. Then allow system resolution (e.g. a Religion check) to determine the success or failure of their theory.
This. Coming up with a single (singular?) solution to a puzzle is ... rarely the way to go, IME. Allowing them to figure out possibilities on their own seems likely to work better than forcing them to find (happen upon?) the One Right Answer. I mean, it's worthwhile to consider possibilities on your own, but maybe don't get wedded to any.
 

Nytmare

David Jose
#1 "Night of the fool moon" tickles me pink.

#2 What system is this in? It'll help narrow down which tools you have available to you
 

Lackofname

Explorer
So, how come everyone's zero'd in on the first one? :p

Anyhow, the reason I don't do the "just let the players come up with it" is in the case of if they got nothing. (Or their only solution is "Smash it", which I wish to avoid). Where they don't try to come up with a reason, but instead look for someone to tell them what to do.

If they come up with a solution on their own, I'll run with it, but I don't want a situation of "How do we do it" "you tell me" "..."

#1 "Night of the fool moon" tickles me pink.
D'oh.
#2 What system is this in? It'll help narrow down which tools you have available to you
I'm looking for a system neutral option. A story reason.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
So, how come everyone's zero'd in on the first one? :p
Because religion (and religion-adjacent things) will vary so widely game to game, table to table? It's hard to say what sort of beliefs are plausible if we don't know what exists?
Anyhow, the reason I don't do the "just let the players come up with it" is in the case of if they got nothing. (Or their only solution is "Smash it", which I wish to avoid). Where they don't try to come up with a reason, but instead look for someone to tell them what to do.

If they come up with a solution on their own, I'll run with it, but I don't want a situation of "How do we do it" "you tell me" "..."
Trick one of the skeletons into "sacrificing" something without a soul--or at least someone whose soul is unavailable to be trapped?
 

aco175

Legend
I might have the demon from the original zealots be trapped in the ziggurat. Maybe there is a block of ice-like material made of 'moon' dust and that is why on nights of new moons the skeletons can rise from the power that binds him becoming weakened. Now, the PCs need to figure out how to free the demon and then sent it back to its home plane.

The pilgrims could be associated with the moon dust power somehow, but I would have the length of time change the reasons and knowledge that most of them know. There could be one on the NPCs that knows more and could be traveling to go to the ziggurat to try and learn more on how to stop things. This could be like secret societies where commoners know some and speculate on more while the 6th circle knows what is really going on.

Most of the pilgrims could be traveling to the ziggurat to have a celebration to ancestors who built it. This could be false and their ancestors are the ones that battled the forces here. They could also believe that on nights of the full moon, a portal opens here allowing them to see the future. This could also be untrue and refers back to the old portal inside that allowed the demon to come in the first place. You could hide grains of truth in their beliefs.

I would still come up with ideas and thoughts on what and how to deal with the ziggurat. The players will come up with their own and you are free to take theirs if better. I feel that having something fleshed out somewhat will allow you to change it easier.
 

DeviousQuail

Explorer
Black Ziggurat: trick a different cult, who have already pledged their souls to someone/thing else, into being sacrificed. Then contact the different cult's patron and have them create a solution to end the curse or risk losing out on all those souls.

Peculiar Pilgrims: hey guys, come check out this cool ziggurat. Yes, clothing is optional.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
As Devious Quail mentioned, if you can find someone who is still alive, but whose soul is already owned by another being, that can cause a conflict... though we don't know how that would turn out.

Another would be to have every skeleton on the ziggurat destroyed by divine magics of some appropriate other deity - if the PCs come in with Smites, Channel Divinity, and so on...

Other options, given the backstory:

  • Undead who are killed by the equivalent of D&D's Radiant damage don't come back.
  • If the skeletons are destroyed on the anniversary of their curse, they don't come back.
  • If the skeletons are destroyed under the midday sun at the new moon, they don't come back.
  • At the heart of the ziggurat, there is the heart of their power - it must be purified to end the curse.
  • If the ziggurat itself is destroyed and cast into the sea, the curse ends.
  • If the PCs rebuild the cult, the curse ends
 

Lackofname

Explorer
I might have the demon from the original zealots be trapped in the ziggurat. Maybe there is a block of ice-like material made of 'moon' dust and that is why on nights of new moons the skeletons can rise from the power that binds him becoming weakened. Now, the PCs need to figure out how to free the demon and then sent it back to its home plane.
Oh man that's lovely. This really fits the setting's work, too.

Unfortunately the other bits don't. The pyramid is in a newly discovered continent, which the PCs are there to explore. The pilgrims are showing up to the new continent (after the PCs) to practice their wacky ways in peace. And I fully want them to be separate.
 
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Lackofname

Explorer
Because religion (and religion-adjacent things) will vary so widely game to game, table to table? It's hard to say what sort of beliefs are plausible if we don't know what exists?
Then just assume anything is plausible. I'm intentionally not putting limitations on the exercise--to not curtail creativity, to not provide a wall of text, and because no limitations actually makes sense with the setting I'm making.

Although it's funny you say plausible, because the "less" plausible, the better. Like I said, they're odd, and that certainly can encompass that feeling of hearing someone's belief and it's so out there that you just don't think it's likely. Like the "Alien mothership is coming on February 2nd of 2022, and we are preparing for their arrival".
 

John Dallman

Explorer
I'm interested in the PCs encountering a fairly odd religious sect or cult as a benign roleplay encounter/setting color. The point is that they're harmless but still odd enough to give the players pause. For instance, I'm thinking of having them be nudists.
They believe in Chirality, that all significant things come in at least two versions, which are fundamentally different. This is most noticeable in their maxim that "Left is Lucky, Right is Regretable." They will prefer the leftmost of a pair, to turn left rather than right, to use their left hands as their primary hands (most of them are naturally right-handed, but view this as a thing to be overcome), and so on. This worldview can be applied to almost anything, and elevates a distinction that is unimportant to most beings to a guiding principle of the universe. They worship a commonplace god, but in a left-handed version.
 





Voadam

Legend
Peculiar Pilgrims
I'm interested in the PCs encountering a fairly odd religious sect or cult as a benign roleplay encounter/setting color. The point is that they're harmless but still odd enough to give the players pause. For instance, I'm thinking of having them be nudists.

What I need is the details of whatever they actually believe. What is their cult about?

The thoughts that come up here for a not dark nudist cult are (1) hippy druidism, be natural and in tune with nature, not exploiting Mother Earth, (2) good lycanthropes, werebears who follow the tao of Pooh and are in search of their religious sacrament, honey, and (3) skyclad witchcraft themes.
 

Lackofname

Explorer
The thoughts that come up here for a not dark nudist cult are (1) hippy druidism, be natural and in tune with nature, not exploiting Mother Earth, (2) good lycanthropes, werebears who follow the tao of Pooh and are in search of their religious sacrament, honey, and (3) skyclad witchcraft themes.
1 would be good if the campaign wasn't about discovering actual druidic magic and nature spirits that are contained in one part of the world. The hippy druidism is a bit too coincidental (sort of like the collision of the real world crystal psychic chakra types winding up visiting the place with aggressive psionics).

3 is interesting. In a fantasy setting you don't see a lot of things like that in terms of casting magic (altho now that I think about it, such practices could work for Ritual magic as opposed to battle magic). But what it suddenly brings to mind to me is the magical equivalent of martial arts to monastic traditions. That is, a philosophy about magic; the moral use of it, the role of it in the universe, etc. Magic could be treated as a living, breathing universal force ala Karma, and so magic is not a tool to be used to fulfill whims, and using it for violence is a pollution--killing someone with a fireball is the proverbial butterfly causing a hurricane, except the hurricane is undead.
 

Voadam

Legend
3 is interesting. In a fantasy setting you don't see a lot of things like that in terms of casting magic (altho now that I think about it, such practices could work for Ritual magic as opposed to battle magic). But what it suddenly brings to mind to me is the magical equivalent of martial arts to monastic traditions. That is, a philosophy about magic; the moral use of it, the role of it in the universe, etc. Magic could be treated as a living, breathing universal force ala Karma, and so magic is not a tool to be used to fulfill whims, and using it for violence is a pollution--killing someone with a fireball is the proverbial butterfly causing a hurricane, except the hurricane is undead.

You could go with some of the associated concepts, "as above so below", "negativity rebounds three times as strong" and so forth.

The Scarred Lands OGL D&D setting had arcane magic generate heat, so half naked sorceresses in the pulpy sword and sorcery setting were mechanically appropriate to reinforce the trope.
 

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