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Alex Greene

The Belonging Kind - Starting Your Characters In Cults or Brotherhoods

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So I'm digging into the whole Cults & Brotherhoods section of the Mythras Core Rulebook, and I'm getting the feeling that this section should really come before the Games Systems, Magic, and Combat sections, in roughly that order. Between character generation and Skills, even.

It's got me thinking: how much importance do you, O readers, put on the factions in your games? Games Masters, what about you? How much do you emphasise membership, as compared to the need to go it alone with just one's fellow Adventurers for company in a little micro-Brotherhood, one small party pitted against the world?

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So I'm digging into the whole Cults & Brotherhoods section of the Mythras Core Rulebook, and I'm getting the feeling that this section should really come before the Games Systems, Magic, and Combat sections, in roughly that order. Between character generation and Skills, even.

 

An early draft of the rules did place Cults and Brotherhoods at a much earlier place in the rules flow, but we decided on the current structure because...

  • Cults and brotherhoods use some concepts that need to be introduced earlier (training and improvement, magic, passions, combat styles, for ex)
  • Not every game needs or uses them, so creating a tight-upfront integration in the flow isn't ideal if your campaign has a different emphasis.

I personally use brotherhoods quite a lot; cults less so (although it depends on the game) - but not to the point where they're a defining factor of play. In my games, brotherhoods and cults tend to emerge through campaign development, rather than being a Day One requirement.

 

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In my game, a blend of Warhammer and The Black Company (with generous doses of Dunsany and CAS), guilds, brotherhoods and cults are very important and all include patrons (a la Dungeon Crawl Classics and using rules based on MRQ2 books suggested by helpful people here) which gives depth and flavor while also adding mystery regarding opponents and adversaries and their affiliations, many of which have a 'you mess with one of us you mess with all of us' mentality. 

Magic schools, guilds of thieves and mercenary outposts dot the land, with sinister and malicious cults to forbidden deities operating in the shadows in most places (with a few disturbing exceptions).

So in the end I agree that this is an interesting and highly adaptable aspect of the game that adds a lot of flavor and adventure opportunities.

Edited by skarl
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While I rarely use brotherhoods or cults in my fantasy or alternate history settings, their science fiction equivalents (the Circles from M-Space) are rather prominent in my science fiction settings. They have the role of patrons who can provide expensive equipment (e.g. a starship), specialized training and useful connections to the player characters, and at the same time burden the player characters with obligations and missions (read: reasons for adventures).

Edited by rust
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In my game, guilds and brotherhoods are not prominent (so far), but cults are.  The only sort of brotherhoods (subcults, really) we have explored so far are the Berserker and Mauler factions under the War God.  They are combined religious plus military orders.  We have a Mysticism cult tied to the Traveler people (as detailed in Old Bones publications), as well as a few tied to martial arts temples.  I may introduce a sorcerous brotherhood/cult soon.  There is also the mysterious Circle of the Secret Fire, which could threaten the world, if only it could get its act together; more on that group in future Old Bones publications.  Underlying all, we have a fairly vanilla pantheon of gods worshiped throughout the barbarian lands, and in the single civilized country.

 

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IMHO it depends a lot on the style of game one WANTS to play.

I find various organizations and factions go a long way to enhance character-immersion & -involvement in the setting; they are much-less-relevant to most "wandering band of adventurers" (aka "knight errantry" aka "murderhobos" depending on other elements of playstyle, and the opinions of the person applying the label...) campaigns.  In these sorts of games I usually find a more-episodic playstyle, where everyone wants to be DONE with an adventure when it's done, and carry forward neither advantages nor disadvantages from the story.

If you (either as GM or player) WANT to have organizations exerting their pulls (and pushes) on characters, then by all means include them!  At that point, it's worth considering what SORTS of organizations you want to include, and the "flavor" they lend your world ...

 

 

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I've always wondered how fantasy and horror settings find so many people willing to found, lead, and join Evil Cults(tm). Given that the End of the World(tm) will result in their own deaths, and evil deities tend to punish their followers rather than reward them, it's hard to see the incentive. 

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41 minutes ago, Michael Hopcroft said:

I've always wondered how fantasy and horror settings find so many people willing to found, lead, and join Evil Cults(tm). Given that the End of the World(tm) will result in their own deaths, and evil deities tend to punish their followers rather than reward them, it's hard to see the incentive. 

Power. Evil cults promise power to their worshippers, either in this world or the next. Dominion over those who rule you.

 

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On 1/28/2017 at 1:30 PM, soltakss said:

Power. Evil cults promise power to their worshippers, either in this world or the next. Dominion over those who rule you.

 

It's strikes me that the powers these cults worship are not the most reliable of beings when it comes to keeping their promises. And even if you become a Prince in Hell, you are still in Hell. 

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57 minutes ago, Michael Hopcroft said:

It's strikes me that the powers these cults worship are not the most reliable of beings when it comes to keeping their promises. And even if you become a Prince in Hell, you are still in Hell. 

If you are greedy for power you don't stop to think about the consequences. Power now and damned later is very seductive. Most worshippers of such cults get sucked in deeper and deeper until there is no way out.

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I've had games where the players hyper-focused on their cults, advancement therein, and cult likes and dislikes. I've had games where the players ignored the whole thing except as trivial background.Figure out how your players want to do it, and go from there.

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When I'm working on a setting, I like to give my Evil Cults a reason to be there. Corruption tends to find itself in the upper echelons of the more mundane trade guilds - once they get a sniff of power, they will stop at nothing to seize it, including opening Devotion and Exhort skills to some Evil Entity. But the Evil Entities also have a place in the story: they don't have designs on the whole world. Just one soul at a time. No ancient armies of misshapen Goblorktrolldrow whatever stupid name you give the Scaly Grunting Masses Whose Miniatures Will Need Monster Flesh Tone Number 37 Green To Paint this week. Faustian deals, Star Chamber politics, abductions and mundane legbreakers in dark alleys.

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I do like giving Cults an evil reputation - but that's no more than mothers fretting that their kids are going to run away to sea, or join a circus or even the theatre, and when they find out that their kid really has become an actor, they sigh with relief and tell their neighbours "At least she didn't join Madam Leather's House of Ill Repute as one of their working girls. She might traipse around a stage in her underwear, but at least she's got standards."

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1 hour ago, Alex Greene said:

When I'm working on a setting, I like to give my Evil Cults a reason to be there. Corruption tends to find itself in the upper echelons of the more mundane trade guilds - once they get a sniff of power, they will stop at nothing to seize it, including opening Devotion and Exhort skills to some Evil Entity. But the Evil Entities also have a place in the story: they don't have designs on the whole world. Just one soul at a time. No ancient armies of misshapen Goblorktrolldrow whatever stupid name you give the Scaly Grunting Masses Whose Miniatures Will Need Monster Flesh Tone Number 37 Green To Paint this week. Faustian deals, Star Chamber politics, abductions and mundane legbreakers in dark alleys.

Why DON'T your "Evil Entities" have designs on the whole world?  Most of the Gods' ambitions (when you look at historical accounts) are very much like human-ambitions-writ-large; Zeus was the ultimate horny frat-boy, who wanted to boink everything attractive he saw.  Jealousy & entrapment became the imperceptible yet unbreakable net, in which Hephaestus captured the illicit couple Ares & Aphrodite.  Etc...

I'd think the Evil Cults with an "urge to power" (at least I presume that from "Star Chamber politics" and such details) would have a Supernatural Patron with an even-more-grand-and-ambitious Urge to Power...

I mean, I can see how there's plenty of room for Evil Entities with a "one soul at a time" modus operandi, but honestly I'd be (more than a bit) startled to find them ALL working that way!

YMMV

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15 hours ago, g33k said:

Why DON'T your "Evil Entities" have designs on the whole world? Most of the Gods' ambitions (when you look at historical accounts) are very much like human-ambitions-writ-large

 

The Gods, pretty much all of them, were depicted as being very happy with leaving the world alone. It's only Christians who developed the sick idea that the world was fated to end on their watch.

None of the deities in the worlds I build have Designs For The Planet because they're happy with their place in the Divine Ecology. The Fates spin mortal lives into being, shape their journeys through life, cut the threads, and the souls go to the Death Place which is filled with the energy of rememberance. Gods claim devotional Magic Points from their worshippers, and Death Gods' devotional Magic Points come from acts of commemoration. All is well, and if some deity pops up swathed in hellfire, looking like Dark Judge Fear from Judge Dredd and spawning millions of zombies, it would never fit in with any functional pantheon.

At best, it's a story of Alien Invasion, and at worst it'd feel like warmed-up Tolkien, and believe me when I say that he'd taste rank after all this time interred.

In short ... alien gods that look like something from a Seventies Prog Rock album cover just do not belong.

Edited by Alex Greene
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