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5 Tips For Making Better Fantasy Cults

An RPG Guide

By Neal LitherlandPublished 2 months ago 5 min read

Cults are a mainstay of our fantasy games, and while they are often some of the most important parts of a given campaign, they tend to fall apart if we put them under too much scrutiny. So if you're designing a cult for your upcoming game, consider some of the following tips!

Also, if you need some ready-to-go cults, consider picking up the following supplements:

- 100 Cults to Encounter

- 13 Fiends: A Baker's Dozen of Devils

- 100 Sci Fi Cults

Tip #1: Determine The Cult's Goals

This is our holy text. Memorize it, along with these 77,000 errata.

The first and most important aspect of a cult is to ask what they believe, and what they're trying to achieve. Are they attempting to summon and bend demons to their will like a hellfire club? Are they seeking to spread the doctrine of a forbidden philosophy? Are they attempting to push back against some kind of societal trend, or established norm? Or (as is very common) is the cult formed by a leader who is simply attempting to build a commune of people who will do their bidding?

While it's tempting to just say, "This cult serves an evil god, and all their evil ends," and move on, avoid that temptation. The more detail you can put into this stage of things, the more organic your cult is going to feel going forward.

It's also important to remember that not all cults are dedicated to religions and gods. These cults can be formed around people, around ideas, and even around social movements. From singers who act as pied pipers, to dedication to political figures or conspiracy theories, cults can be formed around all sorts of things.

Tip #2: Ask About Recruitment

We want obedient followers... who do we choose?

As Psychology Today points out, no one voluntarily joins a cult; people are recruited into cults. As such, it's worth asking exactly who this cult targets, and how they do it.

For example, does this cult target the poor and the downtrodden, buying their loyalty through bread and shelter? Do they target the wealthy and disaffected, drawing them in with promises of excitement and secret wisdom? Do they offer community and belonging in a society where people feel separated from their neighbors? Do they promise strength to the weak, love to the loveless, or power to those in the gutter?

We see this all around us everyday. From incel communities, to antivax conspiracy theorists, to moon landing deniers, and garden-variety tax dodging "religions," to military recruiters, they all have targets and methods for getting them to cross the threshold to join their new brethren.

Tip #3: Establish The Cult's Rules and Doctrine

The mask stays on.

Cults are known for their strict rules and unorthodox living conditions... but what are the rules and requirements for your cult that makes them stand out?

For example, do members of the cult take a new name? And does this name replace their old identity, or is this a secret name and persona that only those in the cult know about. Do they have to make offerings, or perform services, for the cult (whatever form this takes)? Do they have to submit to the cult's rules about how they dress, who they are in relationships with, what they can eat, and even who they're allowed to have as friends?

While it may be tempting to have dark and terrible rules for a cult, it's important for the rules to be something people can be led into. Whether it's wearing a uniform to induce conformity, or the tradition of living with a new family to form strong bonds with fellow cultists, rules need to be something that people could reasonably follow.

The deeper one gets into the cult, though, and the more "trusted" they become, the more extreme the rules may end up being. Especially if following those rules comes with real, genuine power.

Tip #4: Where Is The Cult's Influence?

We know who our friends are.

While some cults might remove themselves from society, isolating themselves from any other communities, others exist as part of an established society. As such, ask yourself where the tendrils of the cult's influence extend, and how deeply embedded it is.

For example, does the cult exist in secret in a major city, with members only identified by internal, recognized signs (like we see among the terrorist cells in Fight Club)? Or does the cult operate in the light of day, giving people a cover story about what their goals and purpose is to make them more palatable to people?

In addition to these concerns, though, ask who owes the cult allegiance or aid, and why? Does the cult have allies among the nobility or ruling class, allowing them to operate with impunity unless they do something too extreme? Are they beloved by the common people because they provide services, goods, and resources that the government won't? Or do they protect people from dangerous beasts, or even from law enforcement, becoming heroes of the lower class?

It's important to know these things, because this establishes how this cult operates, and what additional challenges the players are going to have to deal with if they choose to oppose this organization.

Tip #5: What Are Their Rites and Rituals?

Wait... they're going to what?

Cults are, by and large, defined by the rites and rituals that make them up. While these can be religious in nature, that isn't necessarily required. What these are for, though, is to reinforce their obedience to the cult. Because the more control you can exert over people in small ways, the easier it becomes to get them to do bigger and bigger things.

Which is why it's important to ask what rituals the cult imposes on its members. Everything from daily prayers, to special ways food is eaten, to ritual tattoos and piercings, cult rituals take all sorts of forms. Which is why it's important to ask what form your cult's rituals take, and how they affect members... both those who are currently part of the cult, as well as those who may have attempted to leave.

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

That's all for this week's Fluff post!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Azukail Games, where I share a lot of video content. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, my sci fi dystopia thriller Old Soldiers, the Hard-Boiled Cat novels Marked Territory and Painted Cats, or my recent short story collection The Rejects, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and now Pinterest as well! To support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. That one helps ensure you get more content, and it means you'll get my regular, monthly giveaways as a bonus!

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About the Creator

Neal Litherland

Neal Litherland is an author, freelance blogger, and RPG designer. A regular on the Chicago convention circuit, he works in a variety of genres.



Blog: Improved Initiative and The Literary Mercenary

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