Too many cultists

Jd Smith1

Explorer
I disagree.

Cultists are perfect, because they are fanatics, committed unto death, and normally have a deadline to meet.

Organized criminals are nothing more than businessmen with a violent bent. If faced with a tough group of outsiders, they will simply try to buy them off, frame them for something, bribe officials to harass the PCs, or lure them away with false (or real) rumors. They have no reason to stand and fight. They are part of the community, and can simply wait out any storm the PCs can bring, until the PCs leave.

If the PCs (outsiders) start killing locals (criminals) the local authorities are going to take a dim view, especially if they are on the payroll.

Pirates are all right, but heavily used.

Slavers have been used a lot, but they only work if they are in a place where slavery is illegal, and they have a market where it is illegal. If slavery is legal, then the PCs will have a serious problem.

Political groups are good, but they are in practice little different from cultists. The problem with political groups is that the line between terrorist scum and freedom fighter depends solely upon your point of view. Which, as history teaches us, can change 180 degrees extremely quickly.

Historically nations go to war over wealth, religion, or political structures.
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
Personally, I think organized crime could be a much bigger part of a lot of D&D campaigns. The problem with cults is that they tend to be very black and white. Hey, those guys sacrifice babies because they want to return the many-hooved-tentacle-goat-god to our little patch. So, bad guys - not a lot of room for grey there. Organized crime, on the other hand, has a ton of room for grey. For example, in an overly bureaucratic or totalitarian state, OC might actually end up doing rather a lot of good if they are community minded fellows. Depending on the threat, they could either be adversaries or allies for a party. That's only one example, but there's the potential there for OC to be a very interesting addition.
 

Tonguez

Adventurer
organized crime by its nature is too subtle and stealthy for DnD, its just a whole lot of petty mooks whereas the Big Boss stays hidden and unknown. In contrast baby skilling cultist in league with eldritch horrors are starkly evil and worth killing Even if they are just low level neophyte who havent yet been allowed to join the orgies.

That said I do like killing bandits, especially the despicable kind who rape the feilds and pillage the women.

Serial Killers are another good group to use - Human cannibals lurking in the woods outside of town., although they are often just cultist without the dark powers to motivate them
 

LuisCarlos17f

Adventurer
Secret lodges controlled by vampires.

Döppelgangers infiltrated among the emperor's concubines.

A dragon hidden among criminal circles and ruling as a maffia capo.

Titans are using faes against the clergy as part of a strategy for a new titatomanchy.

Time-travelers.

A secret laboratory where wizards created new monsters as biological weapons in the battlefield.

A secret society what is exploring the just discovered elemental planes of metal and wood.

In other universe transgenic uplifted apes rebelled against their creator and they have discovered planar gates to the feywild. To avoid more raids by these ape invaders the planar gates can't be closed but now they go to special regiones in the material plane. Now it is your problem, not theirs.

The feywild is being visited by an unknown deathless explored, these are undeads healed by positive energy and hurt by necrotic damage, controlled by good clerics and turned by evil ones. The aren't hostile, at least in the beginning.
 
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Coroc

Adventurer
Yes I agree on that one.
I can understand why a DM would want cultists, as other posters already stated they are fanatically and loyal until death, in contrast to more worldly organizations, so no reasoning why they e.g. would fight to the death and not willing to let them be captured.

Let us take a look at the pantheons of some of the standard worlds:
You got FR Myrkul, Bane, Xvim etc GHK Nerull, Iuz, Incabolous etc. so these are deities associated with evil deat hdisease and undead. Is every follower of them a cultist? D&D says yes. So about how many folks are we talking? In case of Iuz e.g. a lot.

In other cases not so many. Then you got e.g. the temple of elemental evil, the cult of the dragon, the beholder cult and what not and you get more cultists.

So what would the civilized rulers do about cultists? If they are many, then they would wage war. If they are few, then they would hire adventurers. But very frequently the cultists have some doomsday device / plan / agenda to take over the city / country / world / universe. Is this realistic?
Some cultists have impressive resources at their hand e.g. Iuz. Others, not so much. In any case, cultists are a higher threat to whatever society they act upon than e.g. bandits or a thieves guild or bears invading the forest.
So they should provoke stronger reactions, even w/o the adventurers popping in. In the case of Iuz that is not easy, you would need the combined armies of several nations to beat him.
With smaller cults, they should be exterminated quite fast under normal circumstances, just because of their numbers cannot withstand the law for extended times.

Conclusion: The only cults which should exist in-game long term are the bigger ones, the OP is correct, since in official products also smaller cults are often promoted more often then they would naturally occur.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
You can't really fight organized crime with a sword or fireballs. They will just evade the fireball, then run away to come back and slit your throat in your sleep. Logical, but an unsatisfying experience all around.

Maybe they just need to lay off of humanoid enemies in general. Come back with a bunch of fey doing a wild hunt, or a horde of aberrations that are fleeing from some other greater force, or a bunch of modrons marching.
 

Tonguez

Adventurer
So what would the civilized rulers do about cultists? If they are many, then they would wage war. If they are few, then they would hire adventurers. But very frequently the cultists have some doomsday device / plan / agenda to take over the city / country / world / universe. Is this realistic?
Some cultists have impressive resources at their hand e.g. Iuz. Others, not so much. In any case, cultists are a higher threat to whatever society they act upon than e.g. bandits or a thieves guild or bears invading the forest.
So they should provoke stronger reactions, even w/o the adventurers popping in. In the case of Iuz that is not easy, you would need the combined armies of several nations to beat him.
With smaller cults, they should be exterminated quite fast under normal circumstances, just because of their numbers cannot withstand the law for extended times.

Conclusion: The only cults which should exist in-game long term are the bigger ones, the OP is correct, since in official products also smaller cults are often promoted more often then they would naturally occur.
Thats rather the point though - PCs are getting hired to hunt down those minor cults before the grow to be big cults. Thats the premise of the Conan the Barbarian movie and Conan the Destroyer and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and ...

I did a campaign once in which the PCs were all part of the Inquisitors in Mother Church and were charged with recovering Holy Artifacts and hunting down evil cults and heresies
 

Coroc

Adventurer
Thats rather the point though - PCs are getting hired to hunt down those minor cults before the grow to be big cults. Thats the premise of the Conan the Barbarian movie and Conan the Destroyer and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and ...

I did a campaign once in which the PCs were all part of the Inquisitors in Mother Church and were charged with recovering Holy Artifacts and hunting down evil cults and heresies
That is a cool idea, especially if you build a world with a monotheistic god or dual deities.

I think the OPs trying to say that the thing to use cultists for about every second issue is a bit overused.

To go back to those FR and GHK deities of evil: Ok let us take a e.g. temple of Nerull, given that it is a known location, maybe the ruler does tolerate it, is the priesthood and those who attend it a cult?
Maybe those are simple people who want to appease the god of death so he let's them live.
It becomes a cult when said temple starts to sacrifice the population and mass produce undead out of their corpses but before that it is just a temple of an evil deity.

Let us compare the cult of the dragon, I am not very well with its lore atm. I think they praise Dracolichs, I might be wrong here, but it is something about that as far as I can recall. But that is not the point, the thing is, a dragon, or a dracolich or whatever mob does not need a cult to be a dangerous and cunning opponent. If you want to add minions as his servants, a tribe of kobolds or Ogres perfectly does the job.

Same with a crime syndicate, it is not necessary that the leader is in truth a priest of a hideous demonprince who plans to take over and rule the world with the help of his thieves guild.
It is far more plausible that the leader of a thieves guild is a rogue himself who got into this position than someone else. Ok, ok, Xanathar is also a cool idea, but his thieves guild is just that, and not a beholder cult.
 

Caliburn101

Explorer
organized crime by its nature is too subtle and stealthy for DnD, its just a whole lot of petty mooks whereas the Big Boss stays hidden and unknown. In contrast baby skilling cultist in league with eldritch horrors are starkly evil and worth killing Even if they are just low level neophyte who havent yet been allowed to join the orgies.

That said I do like killing bandits, especially the despicable kind who rape the feilds and pillage the women.

Serial Killers are another good group to use - Human cannibals lurking in the woods outside of town., although they are often just cultist without the dark powers to motivate them
It may be for the style of D&D you and your group typically play, but organised crime has figured large in some of the games I have run, and will run.

Despite the fact much of the rules are given over to combat, killing everything should rarely be the whole point of a campaign. Intrigue and the criminal underworld are great elements in any long-standing campaign, or even a single adventure arc, as old adventures like "The Assassin's Knot" demonstrate.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
Cultists are fairly common in most settings, and so is "organized crime." The problem is that organized crime can be a pretty broad category, including bandits, thieves' guild, assassins' guild, and even the nobility. Cultists and bandits are usually small and easy to stamp out as an adventure, while taking on a guild or a corrupt noble is a far more extensive situation, possibly being a campaign in itself.
 

JasonZZ

Community Supporter
IMHO cultists are a go-to enemy for the same reason Nazis end up one in modern games--there's no moral ambiguity there. When your enemy literally wants to sacrifice people and bring about the destructive re-ordering of the world (or outright wants to end it), there's no real question about whether you're doing the right thing fighting them.
 

Jd Smith1

Explorer
The key is to take a lesson from WH FRPG: cults there are pervasive, and each aspect of Chaos has radically different cultists. Moreover, the cults are part of a larger whole: the cults in society, the bands of beastmen in the forests, the armies of Chaos are all linked.
 

MGibster

Adventurer
Organized criminals are nothing more than businessmen with a violent bent. If faced with a tough group of outsiders, they will simply try to buy them off, frame them for something, bribe officials to harass the PCs, or lure them away with false (or real) rumors. They have no reason to stand and fight. They are part of the community, and can simply wait out any storm the PCs can bring, until the PCs leave.
You're making a great case for the use of organized criminals in games because those all sounds like excellent adventure hooks to me. The cartels in Mexico don't seem to be afraid of a fight when bribes, threats, and other options fail them.

If the PCs (outsiders) start killing locals (criminals) the local authorities are going to take a dim view, especially if they are on the payroll.
Isn't this applicable to just about anyone the PCs kill? If they're in Baldur's Gate there's a good chance those cultist came from the local area, right?

Slavers have been used a lot, but they only work if they are in a place where slavery is illegal, and they have a market where it is illegal. If slavery is legal, then the PCs will have a serious problem.
Again, that sounds like a fantastic adventure hook. And Harriet Tubman did it in real life so I don't see we can't do that in a fantasy game.
 

Coroc

Adventurer
The key is to take a lesson from WH FRPG: cults there are pervasive, and each aspect of Chaos has radically different cultists. Moreover, the cults are part of a larger whole: the cults in society, the bands of beastmen in the forests, the armies of Chaos are all linked.
Hm, this is what some occult corrupting force could do to a campaign world: acting on many different levels towards some common goal (maybe unbeknownst to some/all of the cultists themselves)

I would not consider this to be the standard except in maybe a world with a dualistic good evil pantheon.
It is an interesting take never the less.
 

Coroc

Adventurer
...
You're making a great case for the use of organized criminals in games because those all sounds like excellent adventure hooks to me. The cartels in Mexico don't seem to be afraid of a fight when bribes, threats, and other options fail them.

...
Correct, but any criminal organization not dealing with e.g. assasinations as their prime business case, but rather things like smuggling, trading illegal substances, extortion etc. prefer to avoid direct conflict even if they have the power to do so. Your example is the extreme but a good example of what happens if things get out of control.
The standard would rather be like e.g. some burglar wants to do burgling not killing people and would prefer to flee than to fight if confronted with the law.
The reason behind this is that in many societies punishment really starts to hurt if the case is for murder whereas with lesser offenses criminals have the chance to get away with a bearable punishment if they are caught.
Of course in middle ages there were many crimes other than murder which also resulted in death penalty so your example is not so unjustified, since it does not matter the for the criminal if he fights back or not, if they hang him anyway for theft.
 

MGibster

Adventurer
Correct, but any criminal organization not dealing with e.g. assasinations as their prime business case, but rather things like smuggling, trading illegal substances, extortion etc. prefer to avoid direct conflict even if they have the power to do so. Your example is the extreme but a good example of what happens if things get out of control.
That's generally true of most organizations though. Even pirates don't really want to get into a fight as they just want to steal something while minimizing any risks to themselves. So like any good drama you set up a conflict between the PCs and the criminal organization that doesn't have a simple solution. It could be PCs are tasked with ending the smuggling operation or it could be a bit more complicated. Maybe the PCs acquired a fiefdom and smugglers are cutting into their tax base. Maybe the PCs need what's being smuggled in quantities they can't afford to buy.
 

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