When you’re sitting in the GM chair preparing for the next session, it can be tough to make sure all of your ducks are in a row. This is especially true with a custom, homebrewed campaign, but even pre-written adventure paths and modules can leave you wanting to flesh out the characters a bit more. Like understanding the motivations of an underground crime ring or a remarkable cult!
And let’s not forget that there are TONS of resources out there that strive to make your preparation quick and effortless. You’ll find an abundance of tables to randomly generate encounters, tools for making maps, and plenty more. In a way, GM preparation has never been easier.
But sometimes, you want to really sink your teeth into a specific topic. In my current Rise of the Runelords campaign, there was an instance of a player’s backstory involving orphaned/kidnapped youth being raised and trained by an egotistic woodland hunter in a gang called The Bloodless. Think about it like Oliver Twist meets the Lost Boys from Peter Pan meets Hircine from Skyrim.
As the campaign story progressed, I wanted to keep weaving this backstory into the plot so that the character (Fobias) could enact his revenge. In doing so, I used a series of flashbacks and encounters, eventually leading to a culminating encounter fueled by rage and firelight.
Even though the player gave me some high-level points of what the Bloodless were all about, I was mostly left with exercising my creativity over the finer points of Garitran’s little band of brainwashed barbarians. It would have been nice to have a resource that could give me some more ideas and depth into the motivations of a man driven by loneliness and power to corrupt the youth of his corner of the world.
Loresmyth’s Remarkable Cults
Loresmyth is a company that focuses precisely on specific topics, expanding them to give you plenty of ideas to run with. To date, they have two main sourcebooks in the Remarkable line: Remarkable Inns and Remarkable Shops. Whereas some GM materials might go for a wide breadth of information on many topics, the Remarkable books go DEEP. You want tips on creating memorable destinations for your players to retire after an adventure or ways to bring a bustling bazaar to life, look no further.
That is to say that their latest venture, Remarkable Cults, would have been perfect for my planning of The Bloodless! The book is filled to the brim with ideas on making your villains stand apart from the rest of the pack. Encounters with the baddies in your campaign should be exciting, and should extend beyond just a typical statblock.
Who are these villains? Why did they start down this path? What sorts of events led up to them becoming a criminal mastermind? What’s their personality like? What’s their endgame? There are a plethora of questions that you need to ask yourself whenever you create a new character that’s going to be around for more than just a session or two. Remarkable Cults helps you develop those questions, and then answer them!
But don’t be fooled by the title; this isn’t just for making up cults. Any person or group that may or may not be adversaries of the party can be created with the content within the pages of Remarkable Cults. We’re talking about organized crime rings, secretive societies, shadowy cabals, and everything in between. And that’s actually what makes the book so useful!
At first glance, Remarkable Cults might seem like a GM-only resource. I would probably concede that for Remarkable Inns and Remarkable Shops, but this one is a little bit different.
When players develop backstories for their characters, it usually involves some kind of trauma or conflict. You can use this book as a springboard to develop those backstories which, in turn, helps you understand your character that much more. After all, a character’s point of view is directly impacted by their frame of reference. It’s a topic I talked about more in-depth in my article about creating NPCs, and the concept applies to playable characters just the same!
Samples from Remarkable Cults
The folks over at Loresmyth have been kind enough to share some previews from Remarkable Cults with us, which we are happy to pass along to you! One of the quickest ways to develop ideas on the fly is to consult random tables, which you will find plenty of in the book.
First, let’s take a peek at a list of primary Goals or Motivations:
|d12||Goal or Motivation|
|1||The cult believes their interpretation of religious worship is the true path and wishes to see the commonly accepted religious practices stopped. Heretics will be converted or sent to the afterlife for judgement.|
|2||The cult seeks power and influence through control of government. That may mean control of a town, a local barony, or an entire kingdom.|
|3||The cult seeks to discover or obtain some lost form of magic—an artifact, relic, or specific collection of spells—for their own use, or to protect against their discovery and use by others.|
|4||Protection of a particular person, place, or thing is paramount to the cult. While their ideal may be noble, they are utterly ruthless in their guardianship—they destroy those who show the slightest interest in causing harm to their charge.|
|5||Vast wealth and all the luxuries it provides are the cult’s goals. Members may promote false motives, but money is truly what they desire.|
|6||The cult leader’s vision is the one true way to bring paradise on earth. The cult works to see their leader’s vision come to fruition, by any means necessary.|
|7||The cult’s leader is infatuated with an otherworldly entity. They believe the cult’s success will show them worthy, thus gaining the entity’s affections.|
|8||Fear of a prophecy drives the cult. They believe their actions are the only way to forestall an otherwise inevitable doom.|
|9||The cult wants to better their immediate society. The means by which they do so, however, are completely untenable by societal standards. Legally, morally, or both, their actions are deemed reprehensible.|
|10||The cult is driven by the desire for knowledge. That the knowledge they seek is forbidden or dangerous is irrelevant. Their accumulation of the desired knowledge is all that matters.|
|11||This cult is a revival of a past organization of great infamy. The new cultists seek to achieve even greater heights than the prior incarnation.|
|12||The cult leader is an authority figure that has been deposed or exiled. Their followers are loyal partisans who wish to see them restored to power.|
As you can see, these options leave the details very open-ended. For example, we’ve seen countless villains driven by prophecy. The prophecy doesn’t necessarily have to be bad, but whether they want to fulfill it or prevent it, the cult has something central to rally around. Maybe they falsely see themselves as the subject of the prophecy, or maybe the cult is actually a group of defected individuals who think their previous cult was in too deep with their infatuation with cryptic prophecies.
Now let’s check out a table of Personalities for your cult leaders:
|1||Violent: hot-headed, easy to offend, eager to attack, and stops at nothing to seek vengeance when slighted.|
|2||Pessimist: perpetually gloomy, sees doom in all places. Nothing ever cheers them up for long.|
|3||Fanatic: zealot, extremely ‘pious’, constantly preaches their dogma and tries to convert others to the faith.|
|4||Barbaric: accustomed to the brutality of the wilderness, knows next to nothing about civilization or civilized behavior.|
|5||Hedonist: no pleasure is too over the top, partakes in gambling, the best food, and drink, sins of the flesh are habitual.|
|6||Rude: doesn’t care about other peoples’ feelings, arrogant, impatient, always has a venomous remark prepared.|
|7||Optimist: always sunny, cheerful, and unflappable (sometimes unnervingly so).|
|8||Greedy: extremely miserly, disregards human costs in favor of monetary profit and loss, often cautious and calculating.|
|9||Superstitious: looks for signs and portents in every event, carries all manner of charms and trinkets, is cautious to take action without ‘good luck’.|
|10||Patriotic: loves some larger social construct more than themselves, such as a city, noble household, or country.|
|12||Bookish: studious, intelligent, obsessed with learning, often uncomfortable in social situations, often neglects physical strength.|
|13||Loyal: forms close relationships and fights for their allies, as well as for those of whom they feel responsible.|
|14||Suspicious: paranoid and extremely cautious, few ever get close enough to betray their trust or learn their true thoughts|
|16||Creed-Bound: follows a rigid code that governs every aspect of their lives, even if it is cruel or destructive.|
|17||Compassionate: despite their ‘evil’ or destructive actions, they are not cruel or merciless—instead, they feel deeply for the people around them.|
|18||Vengeful: seeks payback for wrongs (real or perceived), sometimes careful and methodical, sometimes chaotic and relentless.|
|20||Snob: faultlessly polite and formal, very conscious of class, wealth, and social standing, with a strong sense of superiority.|
Again, we can see the ambiguity left up to the GM with these options. I think it’s fun to roll a couple times on this table for the same character, and see how those personalities might create an additional kind of inner conflict for them. For example, what does a superstitious patriot look like? They are supportive of their city, but maybe they think that another group is pulling the strings from behind the scenes. Exposing the truth, however, would unravel the ‘perfect world’ that already exists in front of them.
Remarkable Cults is Heading to Kickstarter
If this seems like your jam, you can join the Kickstarter prelaunch for the Loresmyth Remarkable Cults here. The campaign goes live on March 4, 2021, so check it out!
Special thanks to the Loresmyth team for allowing us to preview some of the content headed our way. Books like the Remarkable line really help to expedite my preparation as a GM, and turn ‘mundane’ places like shops and inns into something that my players can talk about weeks later.