Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cult Ideas

The Mongoose Runequest II rules are great at the three traditional forms of magic - divine, spirit and sorcery - but I wonder if there is room to adapt the system for certain historic forms of worship that don't really fit into the organized hierarchies envisaged.  Here are some basic ideas that I'll try to expand on later.

Mystery Cults

The Eleusinian Mysteries, the cult of Cybele, the Great Mother, Isis - all were extremely popular cults that outsiders (and therefore us) had no real idea of what they did at worship ceremonies.  This is pretty easy to mirror in MRQII terms - you take a Compulsion not to reveal the Mystery to the profane.  Yet this doesn't really get the point.  What is the Mystery and what makes it special?

Here are some suggestions on how to run a mystery cult.  The cult has several mysteries.  The first mystery is handed down on initiation (pious membership), with further mysteries revealed on becoming a fervent member and a high lord/priest (probably different for each one).  The most sacred mysteries, known by the high lords, are actually the point of the cult, and it is the high lord/priest's most sacred duty to find someone worthy of passing the secret on to so that the cult continues.  This should lead to good role-playing opportunities.  In a rune-based world, the mysteries could be tied to a rune, and if you play the runetouched rules, then you become runetouched when you learn the mystery.

Lesser mysteries often involve the viewing of sacred objects, which may themselves imbue the initiate with a one-use power on exposure to them at the worship ceremony.  Moreover, the objects are in some way the channel whereby the initiates get their magic.  Thus, if the objects are stolen (heh heh) or destroyed, the initiates lose their magic - no divine spells, all spirits leave or a sorcerer forgets the grimoire (mysterious sorcery cults will probably have the grimoire as their object).

Greater mysteries, those known by fervent and high members (gosh, I wish I hadn't written that), are actually heroquests, involving a trip to the otherworld or afterlife. They are dangerous and unpredictable, but should end in the revelation of whatever eternal bliss (or damnation) is the ultimate reward of the initiate.  Perhaps High Lords/Priests take Fervent Members along with them for part of a MysteryQuest, but progress to the end alone.  In all probability a new high type (much better) will receive a new sacred object, or reimbue an old one, to start their own branch of the cult.  In some cases, however, there will only be one cult object or site and only one high type.

In all cases revealing the mystery to an outsider is cause for the loss of all magic, visit by spirits/agents of reprisal (if you use those) and outlaw status (kill on sight) in the eyes of all other initiates.


Many ancient religions held that blessings were only received after an appropriate sacrifice.  MRQ II has in some ways abstracted that into a sacrifice (or rather dedication) of POW to a deity.  However, what if the deity actually does require an appropriate sacrifice before any blessing - acquiring magic, calling for a miracle, or even using magic?  Pete Nash has some basic rules for sacrifices in his excellent Rome supplement for BRP, whereby a player makes a sacrifice and a Theology roll and if successful, gets the blessing requested.  For MRQ II I think we need something more.  In Necromantic Arts there is a Sorcery Spell of Sacrifice for human sacrifices whereby if the sorcerer makes a successful cast and the victim fails a resilience roll, the Sorcerer gains the MPs of the victim.  This is more like it.  I would suggest a skill - Lore (Sacrifice) probably works - where, with a successful skill test the caster gains as many MPs as the SIZ of the sacrificial animal (or POW+SIZ if human, perhaps, or POW+CHA for certain cults...) divided by 5.  So a chicken gets you one MP and a horse gets you 5.  These MPs could replace Dedicated POW for divine magicians, but are not reusable - once you use the magic, you have to sacrifice again to get the magic back.  For spirit magicians, perhaps spirits require a sacrifice that would gain MPs equal to their intensity before they will respond to a spirit magician's request one time.  So shamans would spend a lot of downtime biting the heads of chickens and so on, which seems appropriate.  Sacrifice doesn't seem appropriate for sorcery except for evil sorcery, where the Necromantic Arts spell seems good (and allows for mass sacrifice with Target and Range manipulation).  I should add here that obviously these suggestions are inappropriate for Glorantha.

Orgiastic Cults

Let's face it, Bacchanals were very popular...  I would suggest that cults that require orgiastic rites as part of their worship require their participants to fail a Resilience or Persistence roll (depending on whether wine or some mental stimulant brings on the orgiastic state).  Only after successful completion of a rite would the character gain or regain magic - spirit, divine spell or knowledge of the grimoire (which I suggest be revealed knowledge rather than a physical book in such cases).  This would give an unusual incentive to keep resilience and/or persistence low.  The role-playing opportunities involved with waking up the next morning, imbued with magic but unsure of what happened last night, are also tremendous.  And just imagine an orgiastic heroquest...  I might have to develop an orgiastic cult now!  According to the published HeroQuest RPG rules, there are plenty of orgiastic cults in Glorantha.

Your Own Personal God

The greatest heroes of the Iliad literally had gods following them around on the battlefield.  To emulate this, one way might be to have High Lords who have dedicated all their POW to their god actually have the GM run the god as a shadow NPC for them after a successful Pact roll when the PC calls on them.  This NPC has no stats, unlimited MPs and access to all spells which they will cast at GM's discretion.  They will also automatically grant one miracle if called on, but will then leave.  If they encounter another "personal god" they will cancel each other out and both disappear.  Another way to do it just to use the Ancestor Spirit rules, just spiced up a bit (say +1d6 to all characteristics and +10 to POW, with other extra abilities as in the rules), whenever the PC makes a critical Lore (Theology) roll.  They will then be imbued with the godhead for an appropriate amount of time, and will have full control of their actions except when the GM decides otherwise (perhaps use Mythic Resonance rolls with a difficult or hard penalty).  This is more like Gloranthan "Heroforming" really but may be a better approach.

Comments welcome!

1 comment:

  1. This is officially awesome. Brilliantly concise way of looking at other forms of cult worship.