Creating cults in D&D is something that players and DMs do. Both do it for various reasons, but there are some things to keep in mind.
When creating cults in D&D you need to have a clear reason, leader, and social reinforcement to make a successful cult in D&D.
This goes for players and DMs. Your reason can be different than what you tell people, but they need to be brought in by someone. This is where the leader comes in, and retention is based on social reinforcement. This is how cults start, maintain, and grow.
No one will just start a cult without a reason. This is a massive undertaking and involves gathering a lot of people to your side. In order to even consider putting in this amount of effort, you need to have a very good reason to do so. Good as in for you, not necessarily for the followers.
The reason for a cult comes in two separate areas.
- What is the real reason for the cult being formed by the leader?
- Why do people join the cult?
The reason why a cult is formed in the first place can be the same for the leader and the cultists. For example, the leader might be crazy and believe that the universe is ending for….. reasons. He/She is charismatic enough to get others to believe them and start a cult.
Most of the time, the real reason why a cult is formed is not told to the cultists. This is because the reason might be malicious or it can cause others to not want to follow the cult.
For the followers, they are given a reason that speaks to them. Saving the downtrodden, social equality, etc. Anything that speaks directly to the masses about some sort of oppression generally works wonders.
Here is an example:
The leader started the cult to gain followers. These followers will unknowingly worship an old god and release them through 1 of many rituals.
The cultists follow the leader because their lords don’t really care about them and they don’t want to pay taxes. Now all they need to do is worship and live a simple life without the need of a greedy lord.
The cultist could also follow because they are told how the lords are living lavish lifestyles while the cult leader lives just like they do.
That example makes the cultists feel like the leader is on their side with a current social issue and wants to solve it. Most cultists will not know the main leader’s real reason for founding the cult unless the leader is genuine.
You can have leaders that make cults for reasons that they believe in.
Cult leaders who believe the same thing as their followers
These cult leaders are rare. Most of the time when creating cults in D&D the cult leaders have alternative objectives. This is because it is a fantasy world with magic. Cult leaders can use that faith and worship alone to further their own ends in D&D, so finding a cult leader who believes what they teach their followers is rare.
For these specific cult leaders, they are almost always misguided. To help illustrate the point, here is an example of a cult leader who believes in their message.
Ragnar the dwarf sees that the forest is dying. Through his own divinations, he knows the solution to stop the decay. He needed to purge the predatory animals from the forest. In doing so he purged the sick species of animals and made the forest healthy.
Ragnar tells the people about what he did and the ‘proof’ makes others join him. Soon they start to kill everything in the forest that eats meat. This includes the elves that live there.
That example got a little dark, but most cults turn dark. The cult leader’s intention is never to kill the elves in the first place, but it can get there. In this instance, the cult leader followed the message that he preached and didn’t have any nefarious ends, but he was misinformed.
He took the wrong conclusion from the evidence that the gathered. The source of the corruption was the problem, not everything else. He just lumped everything in with that source, and it kept on expanding.
Why did his methods keep on expanding and becoming more extreme? We will answer that later in the article, but for now, we have to take a look at how to bring people into your (or your players/DMs) cult.
People will not just join a cult. When creating cults in D&D you need to have someone who will be able to convince others. Get to the heart of what other people feel and make strong enough arguments to get others to join.
This message is generally spread to people who are ready to hear it and accept it. You should not just preach about your cult in the streets. That is a great way to get shut down very quickly. Instead, you need to target who you try to recruit.
The best targets are as stated people who are willing and ready to receive the message, but also those who are not happy with their current life.
It can be the poor, young people, or anyone who is susceptible to taking your message to heart. Target that group of people who have been wronged, are hurt, or vulnerable.
This may sound immoral. That is because it is. Most cults don’t consider morals when recruiting. If they do consider morals, that is because they genuinely believe that their message and lifestyle is going to help whoever joins the cult.
When you talk to people one on one, they feel that it is more personal. You sought them out. You like them and want that person to join. This makes that person more personally interested because they feel important and special.
This can be done by simply rolling in D&D, but it is more effective if you spread the message by word of mouth. In fact, I encourage DMs to not let rolls dictate how a cult grows. If you are making a cult, make it to size. If a player is making a cult, they should talk to each individual they try to convert.
After some converts are acquired the converts can be rolled for to see how well they do to get others to join, but the players should always interact with those who are being converted or converted cultists.
Most cults will want to grow and should keep getting recruits if possible. The more people that a cult has, the more legit it seems to people. Think about this.
3 people are praising ol’zak for helping them. You have never heard of ol’zak, so they are probably just weird nutjobs. If 300 people are praising ol’zak, you might wonder who that is and if you should learn a little bit more about ol’zak.
This is why new recruits are essential for a cult. Just be careful of the opposition.
Those who want to stop a cult
Every time you or a player is creating cults in D&D someone wants to stop that cult. This is natural since a cult is well…. a cult. It will take people away from their normal daily lives and infringe upon family, friends, or gods forbid taxes!
There is always a reason to stop a cult, and this is where your players can come in. If your players are starting a cult, have them run into the normal problems of starting a cult. Make sure that concerns are voiced and have your players address them.
This is where cults become either moderate or double down. Most cults will double down, but it depends on the goal of the cult. If the players just want people to practice 1 ritual to help the players become a god, then it doesn’t need to be too difficult. In fact, if the cult is left alone it can run on rolls or be dealt with in downtime once the initial startup has occurred.
If your cult isn’t infringing upon their daily lives, it is less likely that people will want to stop the cult. If your cult takes people out to a commune and makes them live a completely different lifestyle, then it is more likely to be opposed by others.
This includes cults that have followers leave their families to live in a temple of elemental.. something.
This is the perfect time to talk about the gods in D&D. If you are forming a cult that is in opposition to a god’s views, they won’t oppose you. Normally, they will just ignore it. Their followers, on the other hand, is a different story. They might send out armies or try to squash it themselves. Just don’t think that the gods will be a major factor in opposing most cults.
You will have opposition inside the cult most of the time if people are not given enough social reinforcement.
When creating cults in D&D it will take time. They will not sprout up overnight. That is why getting members is great and all, but you need to retain them for this to matter.
Retaining members is a problem if you do not have the appropriate social reinforcement.
Social reinforcement is where your cult’s laws, social ques, and cultist actions encourage people to stay in the cult above all else. This is why it is a very common idea to have your cultists uproot their lives and live in an isolated area.
Here is an example of why this is important:
Little Timmy wants to join your cult, but his sister Karen keeps questioning him. Asking him logical questions that make little Timmy re-think about joining the cult.
You have now just lost little Timmy because of his sister! If he went to live with everyone then it would go more like this.
Little Timmy is having doubts about leaving his family to join his new family. He misses his old family, but luckily his new sister Sarah tells him how amazing his life is now. Little Timmy was having doubts, but is brought back on track to be in your cult!
This scenario keeps repeating until everyone in your cult is firmly indoctrinated. Leaving is not an option and to even consider it is alien.
This is just one way to socially reinforce your members. Make them stay for a bunch of little reasons. Create a bond with their new family, and make sure that peer pressure is to heavy for anyone to escape.
If you can do this as a player, you will have a lot of success in keeping your cult together. Your only threat will be outside sources and no one from inside your cult.
As a DM, you now have a way to explain to your players why someone would join and stay in a cult. This can lead to the players trying to liberate an NPC and make an interesting story arc for an NPC and for the players.
There are other considerations for reinforcement that aren’t usually considered by most people.
Other types of reinforcement
Social reinforcement is essential for creating cults in D&D, but this is D&D. There are other ways that cults can be reinforced to stay together.
Magic is an option in D&D, and magic is normally not common to most people. Magic shouldn’t be the main focus of any cult, but it can be a useful tool to help explain why people are joining.
When a loved one dies in D&D are they resurrected? No. Most are not. Why is this when you can literally bring people back from the dead? Human life does have a price tag, and it is too high for most people.
For this reason, a cult could be created in order to raise loved ones. To get the money, farm rare materials, start to work on high-profit items or be indentured servants for life.
Ressurection is one of many types of magic that can be used to reinforce your cult’s dedication, but what if they get what they were after?
A cult has a purpose. Everyone joins in order to serve or get something. Most of the time if cults join for a reason they will disband if that reason is ever accomplished. Because of this, cults should never accomplish what they set out to do.
If a cult is set to serve someone or something they will only disband if that someone/something goes away. For objectives, it is a problem. This is why whenever the main objective is accomplished, you need to have a greater evil at the ready.
In cult leaders, we talked about Ragnar. His objective started out simple and then evolved. He kept finding a new evil to focus on and this kept everyone together.
Even so, how do you keep an evil cult together?
Keeping an evil cult together
You have gone about creating cults in D&D to make a functional cult. The only problem is that it is evil. If a cult is evil it is more likely to face opposition and most people do not want to be part of an evil cult. So why are they?
First off, no one who is in a cult believes that they are in a cult. They would never use that word to describe what they are in, so don’t think that these cultists are completely self-aware of what they are involved in.
Second, does a cultist know that they are doing something evil? We have been taught right and wrong from childhood. What if we were to unlearn ever so slightly what is right and what is wrong?
Murder is obviously bad, but if you are defending yourself that is fine. Pre-emptively defending yourself is also fine, so let’s make you paranoid. Do something that is terrible like accidentally kill someone in self-defense. Through social reinforcement, this is viewed as a good action that saved others instead of a horrendous act.
If you keep going down this line of action, again and again, you eventually can get people to unlearn what is moral and immoral. It has to be done slowly and done well, but it can happen.
This is if your cult is meant to be a murderous kind of cult, but they could just be ignorant people who don’t know what they are doing.
If a cultist doesn’t really know that a pentagram is used to destabilize reality little by little, it doesn’t really matter to them. What they care about is the relaxing placebo effect that it gives the inscriber. It is just a way to relieve stress, and who knows what that symbol is? It is just something that the leader said would help and it did!
There are two types of evil cults. Those that cultivate evil, and those that have their members unknowingly cultivate evil. Knowing what your evil cult is going to be is essential for shaping the infrastructure, reinforcement, and reasons to recruit members.
Creating cults in D&D requires a reason, a leader, recruits, and some way to keep those recruits.
There are many different reasons to create a cult and not all are genuine. Almost all reasons turn bad at some point (if they were not initially) and this can be through misinformation, escalation, or a whole host of reasons.
It is generally hard to imagine why someone would join an evil cult, but through these methods, you can sort of understand why and convince players or NPCs to join your cult.
I hope that I have helped you understand about creating cults in D&D, and that you will create the best or most immorally successful cult you possibly can in your game.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!