member, 1509 posts
 "Hugs for the Hugs God!"
 - Warhammer Fluffy-K
Mon 23 Sep 2019
at 16:24
Starting a cult, need advice...
I'm in a game where my evil villain PC is starting up a cult of sorts and I'm soliciting thoughts on what I should consider.

My initial thoughts were to make it akin to a chaos cult or like the choir from Tyranny: complete anarchy and brutality at the lower levels, letting the weak and dumb burn themselves up and then recruiting the cream of the crop into the inner circle where stuff actually gets done.

So the lowest levels are very much quantity over quality. We'll take anyone but most people don't last long. It'll be noisy and high profile but the junkies at the bottom won't know anything about anything and having to "prove" oneself with mayhem and murder should keep infiltration by law enforcement pretty light. The induction ceremony will involve some psychotropics designed to just blast their minds with hallucinations so that by the time my PC actually meets them to welcome them into the inner circle they're going to think I am an angel complete with halo and wings and heavenly choir singling when I reveal myself.

The inner circle is going to be a lot more strategic. Basically while the cannon fodder are drawing all the attention the inner circle is going to be smart and stealthy, using the distractions of the rabble to conduct operations.

But those are just my initial thoughts. I would love to hear other people consider how they would design a cult for an evil game.

Here are some basic parameters:

1) The government for this region is nonexistent. It's equivalent to a post-apocalyptic setting or extreme frontier (think Firefly or Star Wars Outer Rim). There are local governments, there are lots of criminal factions that have their territory and there are some big players that could step in. Imagine starting up a death cult in a lawless region of South America but having to be worried that if you make too much noise (or more importantly disrupt the wrong business) that the USA would step in.

2) Setting doesn't matter to me so make it your own. If you want this to be D&D or Pathfinder or Mutants & Masterminds or White Wolf, go ahead, whatever makes it easier for you to articulate your ideas.

3) As mentioned I have access to super powers/drugs/magic spells that allow me to create hallucinations. Right now I'm going for "Angel of God" but you can tailor that however you want. You can be an angel or a demon or a monster or even a reflection of themselves.

4) The overall goal of the cult is to gain power. Be that an army of minions who can murder-death-kill anything that stands in your way, a more subtle influence where you mind control movers and shakers, or corner the market on something is up to you but the goal is to have tangible power. Ultimately the game is about me defeating a nemesis who has a small group of killers working for him. Think mercenary special forces or a rival adventuring party. He currently has me outnumbered and his minions, while few, are quite capable but not perfectly loyal.

So yeah, what would you do with that kind of set up?
 member, 894 posts
 Wayfarer of the
 Western Wastes
Mon 23 Sep 2019
at 16:37
Starting a cult, need advice...
If you need ideas, look for a book by Norman Spinrad called The Mind Game.  It'll give you the shivers!
 member, 7121 posts
 Gaming for over 30
 years, and counting!
Mon 23 Sep 2019
at 17:54
Starting a cult, need advice...
I don't know that I'd go for anarchy at the lower levels...that creates an environment that makes your nascent cult unappealing to people who are already struggling to get by.  Cults tends to recruit by providing a shelter and nurturing environment to people who are marginalized.  They also tend to counter infiltration by maintaining a constant dogma that 'They' are trying to destroy the cult, because it undermines the status quo and provides hope and help to people whom the powers that be in the area (government, criminal cartels, other cults) have a vested interest in oppressing.  So you offer a mix of help and nurturing with paranoia.

Call this the novice level of cult membership.  They are the public face and first line of defense...they provide an aura of harmless beneficence, and an early pre-screening of anyone who would try to infiltrate.

Then you get into your initiates.  This is where you want your bloodthirsty types.  They police the novices and each other, culling people who show signs of disloyalty, and take direct action against outside threats, but they're strictly disciplined...attacks against the outside must not be traced back to the cult, policing on the inside must be done in a way that is unmistakably recognizable by other cult members.

Anyone who truly proves their devotion and ability as an initiate may become an Elder...this is where you start with the 'unseen power's stuff and use them to unobtrusively gain control of local government, industry, etc.  You can have a higher degree than that, like an Inner Circle or High Council or whatever, that masterminds 'bigger picture' operations.

This is assuming you're going for a mass-appeal variety of growing the cult.  If you're trying to make it more of a crimi al organization with cult-like operations, you still need to have that kind of outreach to the marginalized...but in this case, the marginalized are thieves, thugs, offer them a 'blanket' to operate under, protection from local constabulary, equipment, training, etc...but again, you create a definite Us vs Them dynamic and feed their paranoia about other groups, about how you protect them while others seek to harm them...maybe have the Initiates copycat some other group's style of killing on some of the novices to fuel those fires...

But to create a cult, you have to have some co.pelling reason people would want to join it, and then breed some kind of fear and distrust of everyone who is not in the cult.  Reward displays of devotion lavishly, at first, but make it harder for the rewards to be earned, so that you build kind of an addiction cycle and more senior cult members have become so accustomed to sacrificing so much that they no longer question any directive you give.  Might even make the advancement to Elder a kind of staged torture, where it seems as though they've been captured by some enemy of your organization...they endure torture and brainwashing, leading right up to the edge of them being killed...then you intercede and rescue them, so they feel like they owe you everything (the ones who don't make the grade under torture can either be killed or returned to the Novices, to help add to the whole 'They're out to get us' paranoid atmosphere you breed to inspire vigilance against infiltrators.)
 member, 58 posts
Mon 23 Sep 2019
at 20:58
Starting a cult, need advice...
If you want a cult that's really scary. Then you'd want to take a look at what real cults are. Facemaker329 gave some real good pointers that I can only agree with. But you might also want to take some time to wonder how they accomplish being a cult.

A cult can be described as a group that complies with Steven Hassan's B.I.T.E. model. They employ Behavior control, Information control, Thought Control and Emotional control.

Read more here:

A really scary cult is not one where everything is chaos. It's one where normal people are turned away from society and starts to view everyone else as the evil enemies (Johnestown, Heavens Gate, etc.)
 member, 895 posts
 Wayfarer of the
 Western Wastes
Tue 24 Sep 2019
at 08:54
Starting a cult, need advice...
For a historical model of a religious cult, one might look at groups like the Thuggies (worshipers of Kali who aren't very nice people...)

In fantasy settings, read about the cult of Thulsa Doom from Conan the Barbarian, or any of the Dark Crusade series by Karl Edward Wagner (Blue Oyster Cult fans should pay close attention to the chapter titles...)

Jack Vance's novel Cluster 261:  Alastor and its cult of Fanscherade is chillingly prophetic of... well, let's leave it at that.

The Mind Game by Spinrad I mentioned earlier?  It's a straight-up parody of a cultish religion that actually exists in our world today.

Just remember, though:  one person's cult is another's religion.
 member, 71 posts
 Hopepunk with a shovel
Tue 24 Sep 2019
at 11:15
Starting a cult, need advice...
Try the original Assassins! A welcoming environment catering to the marginalised majority religion of the oppressed locals of Outremer (twisted to suit), with plenty of relaxing drugs to go round to solidify the association between cult teachings and feeling good and right with the world. Treat cultists like favoured children, tell them they're doing good for their god and cultivate a loyalty that will kill or be killed for you on a word (without very careful setup of 'if you're very good you'll meet this', to those used to hallucinogens, an angel isn't impressive, it's just another Thing in the weirdverse). Then give that word about anyone inconvienient to your aims in the political landscape, starting with farmers that resist your protection racket (a Good Cultist can have that field now, and any surviving farmer children) and working up to neighbouring warlords you don't like.

Cults are an excellent RPG entagonist because they are so very quiet and hard to spot/stop right until they're not. For instance, so those Mole God weirdos like digging holes and have a good trade in nice pots, bricks and shiny rocks going, so what? They're harmless, friendly, and self-contained. People let them do their thing, occasionally mock them for being freaks, even more occasionally go to a meeting that offers free food, make a friend or so, and wonder if the Mole Life is for them. when they've used their extreme tunnelling skills to get under choice houses and steal hostages/sacrifices/soon-to-be-slaves from their beds in one quick raid of a night, no-one can go on a punitive/rescue mission to get them back without engaging the Moleites at great disadvantage, in their own tunnels, without any idea what simple physical traps they've laid in the way. As the Vietcong would point out, that's not a fight you win. With the town subdued and producing food and materials, maybe it's time to pass on to the disciples that the Mole God needs that land now, go undermine strategic points before those folk realise they're being attacked (presuming the Mole God is not a summonable entity already rampaging through the landscape, of course).
 member, 896 posts
 Wayfarer of the
 Western Wastes
Wed 25 Sep 2019
at 05:28
Starting a cult, need advice...
Well, the original assassins were the devotees of Hassan-i-Sabbah, and a part of the Nizari sect of Islam.

More here:

(This is what comes of reading Illuminatus! by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea.)
 supporter, 596 posts
Sat 28 Sep 2019
at 20:47
Starting a cult, need advice...
L Ron Hubbard already did exactly what you're trying to do, except that he did it in the real world.  Read a bit about how people get recruited into Scientology.  I can tell you that anarchy is not the answer, iron control is closer.  You lure in trouble people with a message of fellowship, give just enough of it to make them feel that you've improved their existence, manufacture a dangerous enemy that you are protecting them from, and start the brainwashing.

The other approach works only if you have a monopoly on some highly addictive substance.  This is how the original Hashshashin organization worked -- the organizers got people addicted to hashish, then forced them to perform political murders in order to get their next fix.
 member, 898 posts
 Wayfarer of the
 Western Wastes
Sat 28 Sep 2019
at 22:30
Starting a cult, need advice...
Well, hashish is not physiologically addictive, but do read up on Hassan-i-Sabbah's Garden of Earthly Delights (sometimes rendered as Garden of Earthly Joys) and some of the rituals Hashishim went through there.  A lot of old-fashioned psyop style brainwashing went on.  The hashish was just an initiatory tool.  What kept the hashishim coming back for more was the combination of hashish, "earthly delights", gold, and how the success of their exploits added to the power of the group.  Indeed, those who rose to the higher ranks of the order were those for whom the pursuit of pleasure (and that's about as much as I should say there, lest we stray over a line) eventually gave way to a more regulated way of life.

The works of Wilson and Shea which I already mentioned present fictionalized versions of the initiatory rites of the Hashishsim, and some of the works of Idris Shah (particularly A History of Secret Societies, written under the pen name of Arkon Daraul) have much to say here. Colin Wilson, Mircea Eliade, and others in the fields of ethno-anthropology would also be worthwhile reading.

M.A.R. Barker's booklet "Create a Religion In Your Spare Time for Fun and Profit" might also be useful in a very scholarly sort of way.  It is still in print.  (Consult your favorite search engine.  My favorite is  Professor Barker is, of course, the creator of the world of Tekumel and of the many game systems set therein, most notably Empire of The Petal Throne.

I cannot speak at length about Scientology, except to say that the Transformationalists mentioned in Spinrad's The Mind Game were thereby directly inspired.
Drake Ericsen
 member, 2 posts
Thu 3 Oct 2019
at 02:49
Starting a cult, need advice...
Oh..oh... You mean a cult on a game. I was pretty excited there and wanted to get in on the ground level.

Never mind. My bad. Have fun.