Cultists & Rites

Overview

Times have changed. The traditional Benalian faith, once ascendant and world-spanning, has crumbled into a shadow of what it once was. The old cathedrals now stand in ruins, burned out and picked over by the blasphemous and nostalgic alike, holy relics hidden away or pawned for more tangible essentials like food and shelter. Some of the holy orders have shifted and changed their purpose, reinterpreting the scripture of the Testimonium into a new holy canon, while others still cling to the traditional interpretations that have allowed them to survive into this new age. 

But ashes make for rich soil, and in the void the Benalian faith has left behind, religions old and new have grown to fill their place. The worship of Vecatra has seen a resurgence as her worshipers work tirelessly to bring the world back into balance. The Triumverati have eagerly seized positions of prominence and power, and use this leverage to spread their faith – sometimes forcibly. And the ancient practice of Aa’boran lives on in the hearts and minds of people fiercely trying to preserve who they are, and who they are supposed to be. Smaller cults and newer religions have also risen to various degrees of prominence. For example, with scarcity of the essentials, the pursuit of luxury and excess has led many to the foot of the Glimmering Lady, while the prevalence of death, even if not always permanent, has led others to Mama Mort, whose altars of bone may one day rise to stand as towering ziggurats given time and careful worship. Revelations litter the land like so many diamonds in the dust, waiting only to be picked up and held up to the sun.

What has remained true for all these faiths, regardless of the deities and philosophies they call upon, is the necessity of the religious rite. Structured worship is a pillar of even the most chaotic and spontaneous faiths, for the appearance of a storm often belies a calm eye at its center. It is tradition and unity that makes these rites holy just as much as their divine source and the powers they bestow. Kept in holy texts, discovered in hidden reliquaries, or passed down in songs and stories these amalgamations of word, offering, and deed are used to call down the bane and bounty of all gods and demons.

The World’s Religions

Four major religious groups have risen to prominence within the world. While each group may not be internally cohesive, they share a common root religion. Some would rightfully point out that there are actually six major religious groups, but common parlance joins three individual religions together into the Triumverati. While the Triumverati may worship one of three distinct and different gods, they share at their core a particular hatred or disdain for the Benalian faith. The religion of the fallen empire of a previous Age, the Church of Mankind – known also as the Benalian faith, celebrates a singular god, his paladin prophet Benalus, and the special place of humanity in the world.

The religion of Aa’boran focuses on a personal quest for enlightenment, using great masters of the faith as guides.

In the more remote and wild places of the world, the worship of Vecatra, the triple-faced god/dess of nature and cycles, is practiced.

While some cultures and regions of the world tend to especially revere one specific religion or another, members of these religions may be found in every culture throughout the world. All of these religions, save that of the Triumverati, have a set of common High Canon rites that are shared among their priests, regardless of Order. The Benalian faith is composed of six Orders, each following a particular archangel and saint. The Vecatrans primarily have practitioners of the Male or Female face of Vecatra, though some also worship the third face of the Other. Aa’boran is a singular body of practice that leaves room for philosophical variation. Finally, the Triumverati is the term given to worshippers of Kuarl the God of Destruction, Lazarolth the God of Death, and Tarranthalus the God of Desire.

Of course, many smaller religions are present all over the world as well, as isolated pockets of humanity are fertile grounds for new philosophies and faiths. Various spirits, totems, or small deities- each with their own rules and strictures- have devotees from all cultures and societies. While some of these cults are offshoots of other, more established faiths, there are those who fall outside that realm. Cultists of these smaller cults share one High Canon- the High Canon of Spirits- but do not have as strong an organizing structure or multiple ranks of importance in their order.

While a person may only be a cultist of one order within one major religion at a time, they may also belong to as many smaller cults as they wish as long as the vow of their order or the vow of the relevant cult does not forbid them from doing so. Laypeople may also freely make offerings at Shrines to various cults and faiths without being a cultist.

All religions and cults have a goal of changing the world into their vision of what it is supposed to be. The methods, forms, and vision vary dramatically from one another at times, but all cultists can agree that the world is not as it should be, and they have the plan to shape it into something better.

Links to Religion Pages

Link to Cult Pages

Occult Oaths and Vows

Every Cult carries with it a Vow that the Cultist swears when they become ordained, and it’s what binds them to their divine power. If the Cultist violates their Vow at any time they gain Depravity as per the breaking of a sworn oath, and they lose the ability to Officiate rites until they no longer have the Depravity for breaking that oath. They may still go through the motions of performing a rite, but they have no mechanical effect and do not risk Divine Wrath, as your divine no longer recognizes you as a worthy officiate of their worship.

In order to make an offering at the shrine or altar of a smaller cult it is typically necessary to swear a vow as well- even if the person making that offering is not a Cultist but is instead simply a follower or layperson. However, the benefit of swearing such covenants is that these small cults typically also offer a more personal experience of the divine- as well as tangible rewards.

Shrines and Altars

Nearly every religion, whether it is a major religion or a smaller cult, has a Shrine that can be dedicated to the divinity at the center of their faith. The Dedication of a Shrine is a ritual that must be performed by the Cultist of the relevant faith and which results in a Shrine tag that must be affixed to a physical prop. In the event that someone wishes to desecrate a shrine, the Shrine tag is simply removed, while the prop is left unsullied and unbroken so that a player’s hard prop work is not undone, even if a character’s is. A shrine without its Shrine tag is seen as desecrated, and no offerings may be made at it. Those who desecrate a Shrine must meet with staff afterwards for a Divine Wrath roll – a random chance of determining if they have incurred the disfavor of the gods. Staff may also call upon players to perform a Divine Wrath roll if they perform other blasphemous activities.

Each Shrine functions differently according to its cult, but typically they allow neophytes or followers of a religion to make a specific offering in return for a particular mechanical effect. The requirements for these offerings, including who may make them, what they entail, and what the exact mechanical effect is, are listed on the Shrine tag itself. Often offerings are specific items of benefit to the divine, wyrd items, or items that are considered quest items.

In the case of smaller cults, the Dedication of the Shrine must be performed by one who is a Cultist of the relevant sect and who has a copy of the cult’s Shrine Dedication. In the case of a spirit or divinity whose Holy Writ is not known, Cultists of the High Canon have a ritual to determine and purchase the Shrine Dedication ritual for smaller cults.

Along with Shrines, many of the smaller cults also have Altars- which are personal, smaller versions of a shrine that followers keep in their own homes. The requirements for these altars are detailed in each smaller cult’s writ description, but typically they allow a follower who has sworn an oath to a divinity to make common offerings to their divinity in relative privacy.

Structure

Within any religion there are two different groups, those who speak for the divine and lead the faith in its rituals, and those who follow the religion. Those who cast rituals and are a figure of authority in a cult or religion are called Cultists, and are typically initiated into that role by another Cultist with the proper ritual. Those who simply follow the faith, who participate in rituals that are lead by Cultists, are called the faithful or neophytes, and typically introduced to the cult via a baptism rite of some kind. Not all cult rituals require the participants to be baptised in the faith- and in fact many Cultists encourage those not of the faith to take part in their rituals.

One can typically determine how widespread and accepted a religion is by how many Ranks of Cultists the cult has. If a cult has 4-5 Ranks of Cultists, it is well established with a sturdy base of traditions that sustain it and legitimize the practice of their ritual. If a cult has only 1 Rank of Cultists, it is more personal and private, perhaps kept entirely secret from outsiders, and may be more recently established with room for its legitimacy and tradition to grow with future revelations.

If a cult has multiple Ranks of Cultist, it creates a hierarchy within the cult that establishes Cultists of higher Rank as more authoritative on communicating the will of the divine to Cultists of lower Rank and followers alike. Higher Ranks come with a higher degree of status, prestice, and responsibility to be active in the worship of the divine, communicating their message and teachings to the flock. They also are held to a higher degree of moral scrutiny, for when the highest levels of a cults hierarchy act hypocritically, or against the faiths teachings, it undermines the legitimacy of the faith and disrupts their public image. As such, higher ranking Cultists often face internal pressure to present themselves as paragons of the faith’s core tenets.

Cultists increase their rank through specific rituals that are typically, although not always, lead by another Cultist of higher rank. In order to be considered for advancement a Cultist must have learned at least 3 times as many rituals as the level they are being raised to (6 for 2, 9 for 3, etc.) in addition to having successfully completed the necessary promotion ritual in game. Any Cultist who has a copy of their Holy Writ may buy additional rituals for 1 XP per ritual.

Coming into play as a Rank 1 Cultist marks you as having advanced beyond the stage of Neophyte to become fully recognized as a Cultist of your faith. As such, you enter play with 3 Rites available to you and a copy of your faith’s Holy Writ. It costs 3xp and 10 glory to start play as a Rank 1 Cultist.

A Rank 4 is the highest level that characters should expect to achieve in game, as Rank 5 Cultists are considered so central to the faith that their duties will inevitably lead them off the stage of the game and into other parts of the world.

If a cultist of a major religion converts to a different faith, their rituals stay on their sheet and they can still attempt to cast the rituals of their old faith, but each time an attempt is made it would be as if the cultist received the worst result on the divine wrath roll chart.

Those who wish to enter play as a cultist of a smaller cult must pay the necessary glory to enter play as a cultist of the parent religion (such as the Benalian for the Broken Bough, or a cultist of the Spirits for the Glimmering Lady) as well as 2 glory come in as a cultist of the smaller cult and to enter play with a copy of its Holy Writ and already beholden to the necessary vows. If the parent religion has different types they may enter play as one of those specific types of cultist as well as a cultist of the small cult, assuming that the vows of each do not interfere. For example, a cultist could spend 10 glory and 3 xp to enter play as a Benalian Lurite as well as spending 2 glory to a member of the cult of Mama Mort, for a total of 12 glory and 3xp. Any character can only enter play belonging to one small cult.

The Holy Writ

A copy of the Holy Writ is part of every initiation of a Rank 1 Cultist. This writ contains a copy of the rituals of the faith, as well as the bits of the faith’s holy texts that are available to all. In the world as it stands, much of the original gospels or holy books of each religion are scattered and lost. Copies and bits and pieces remain, but must be sought out, discovered, and pieced together by scholars.

This writ is a tagged Masterwork item that any literate Cultist may create over the space of a downtime using a blank book. In addition to the tag and any liturgy or creative embellishment/decorations the player would like to add, the writ must contain an OOC writeup detailing the rites’ Rank, Orthodoxy, Observances, and mechanical effects so they may be referenced in the event of a rules dispute. While the tag itself can be stolen, this OOC writeup cannot and should be returned to the player or staff after the item has been stolen. If at any time a player does not have the full written details of the rite in either a Holy Text or OOC reference form, any attempted rite fails automatically and while it does not incur Divine Wrath, any Offering Observance is consumed.

It is the tagged Holy Writ that allows Cultists to buy new rituals in their faith, and functions as a self-teach list for these rituals. If it is stolen or misplaced, a Cultist may not buy any further rituals in their faith until they have replaced it. In order to initiate a new Cultist, the person inducing them and performing the initiation ritual must copy their own – or another’s – Holy Writ throughout a Downtime in order to present it to the new Cultist.

Officiating

The act of performing a rite is called an Officiation, and may be performed by any who have been Ordained as a cultist of the religion. In order to officiate a rite the cultist must possess the text of the rite in written form, most often in the form of a holy text, and any material foci or offerings the rite demands.

Each ritual will be associated with a constellation found in the night sky. Though the Nemians have been the most dutiful mappers of these constellations and their names are what are most often used in common parlance, their use and order is universal. They are frequently mapped upon the Lunar Calendar in the following order: Arnab (Rabbit), Tariq (Road), Jamus (Buffalo), Saqir (Falcon), Aldhiyib (Wolf), Tanin (Dragon), Ramah (Spear), Sahm (Arrow), Ghazal (Gazelle), Sahalia (Lizard), Nahr (River) and Jabal (Mountain).

 

In order to officiate the rite, the cultist must perform all the Observances of the rite prescribed in the holy text. A cultist is always in possession of 12 Star Stones, one Divine Wrath die (1d12), and the Lunar Calendar.

When officiating a rite the cultist must assemble all materials demanded by the Observances and present them visibly before beginning the rite. They then must begin the rite with the first Observance and continue in order through the remaining Observances as they are presented in the text of the rite. They perform any orations and movements the Observances demand, retaining any religious foci involved while components are consumed. The cultist may substitute inaccurate materials or actions, making the relevant Observance vulgar, and risking the failure of the rite. If a cultist chooses to go through the rite without any Observance at all, not even substituting it, the ritual fails and the cultist invokes divine wrath automatically.

They then draw one Star Stone from their bag, blindly, presenting its marked face obviously for any observers to see. If this stone falls within the range of their Orthodoxy, the rite is successfully performed. If it does not, they lose all material offerings and the rite does nothing.

Rituals will often call for intense scenes and actions, but at no point should a player actually perform actions that are painful, dangerous, invasive to another player, or that make another player feel uncomfortable or pushed past their boundaries in any way. When a ritual calls for an uncomfortable activity, it is expected that this action will be mimed or performed in a way that the participating players are comfortable with. It is important to remember the check-in system and receive consent before any physical roleplay is initiated. This includes activities that involve undressing or partial nudity, eating gross things, restraining a sacrifice, acts of ritual violence, anything that might damage a costume or makeup, etc. Should players decide to engage in any partial undressing for a rite, special care should be taken to ensure it is to the level of comfort for all participants, and should be kept to private areas that people can remove themselves from. For safety, when a ritual involves other participants, we recommend having each participant read the OOC Holy Writ write-up of the ritual before starting to ensure they have advance notice of what is to come, and the participant may choose to give the go-ahead, discuss, or fade to black.

Success or Failure

The Cultist’s Orthodoxy is their ability to recall and perform the necessary Observances in such a way that the divine power being beseeched will look favorably upon the faithful and gives the rite the desired effect. This is a measure of the Cultists personal zeal combined with their understanding and skill in the performance of ritual, and the manner in which they live their life in accordance with the precepts of the faith.

Officiating a rite is a complex combination of potent prayer, zealous belief, and traditional practice steeped in meaning and significance that is at once deeply personal and tangibly universal to those who see the teachings of their faith as truth. Though each cultist’s experience is individual and often unique to their own practice in their lives, the weight of tradition lends the weight of authority to their actions and importance to performing the rite in an orthodox and proper way. As such religious rites are treated with solemnity even in celebration, and deviation from the prescribed officiation are met with palpable horror and fear of divine retribution as often as not.

The Orthodoxy of the Cultist is determined by summing together their Faith Attribute and the number of ranks they have purchased in the Occult skill branch (Willpower 1 and 2 count as Occult 1 or 2 for the purpose of this calculation).

Every rite has an Orthodoxy level as well as a Rank, which affect the performance of officiating a rite. The Orthodoxy level denotes how difficult or strenuous the rite is for the Cultist, while the Rank denotes how much authority the Cultist must have within the faith to legitimately officiate the rite. Officiating a rite becomes more or less difficult based on if you equal these ranks. If the Cultist has all the materials and matches the Orthodoxy and Rank of the rite, the cultist can almost certainly succeed in officiating the rite.

Orthodoxy determines the number of Stones that determine the success of your rite. At its regular Orthodoxy, a ritual can only succeed if the caster pulls the corresponding Stone with the Star Sign of the ritual, as indicated in the name of the rite, making it almost certain to fail the Cultist when they officiate it. For every point above 0 that the priest has in Faith, they may add the two constellations on each side as possible successes. 

[In Example: If a rite is officiated under the constellation of Tariq, by a caster with Faith 2, they have access to all constellations Jabal through Saqir]. 

If all Observances are performed without Vulgarity, three additional constellations on each side are added as possible successes, with one subtracted for each Vulgarity the rite has. [In Example: The same Cultist performs all Observances perfectly, they will ONLY fail if Sahm is pulled, giving them an almost guaranteed success]. For each Rank the rite exceeds the Rank of the Cultist, the Rite gains two Vulgarity, subtracting two constellations from each side. For every level of Orthodoxy the Rite exceeds the Cultist’s Orthodoxy, the Cultist must subtract one constellation from each side of the Lunar Calendar but the rite does not gain any additional Vulgarity. If ever the rite is reduced to no Star Stones at all it fails automatically with no further effect. If a rite attains 3 or more Vulgarity, it will require a Divine Wrath roll if performed.

Observances

The process of officiating a rite is outlined by a series of specific words, actions, and materials brought forth in a specific order and manner to best please the deity the rite is beseeching. These are called Observances, and they come in four forms: Liturgy (specific words to be spoken aloud), Acts (physical actions such as movements or hand signs, or freeform speaking), Offerings (items that are consumed by the rite), and Foci (items that must be present but are not consumed by the rite). The use of Offerings and Foci also often involve using them in a specific way much like an Act, and in such cases they are treated as one Observance for the purposes of Vulgarity.

Observances must be performed in the order they are presented in the rite, and if any are skipped or are performed out of order the rite immediately gains 3 Vulgarity, fails automatically, and a Divine Wrath roll is required..

Vulgarity

Vulgarity is obtained in a few different ways, but is most commonly gained when an Observance is performed incorrectly but is similarly substituted, such as using a pine branch rather than a holly branch in a Focus Observance, changing a word in a Liturgy, or performing an Act with the left hand rather than the right. These incorrect Observances are still similar in theme, for if they are more dire (such as making up your own speech rather than reciting the Liturgy or skipping an Act altogether) the mockery of a rite will accomplish nothing more than offending the flock. 

Another way a rite can gain Vulgarity is when it is being performed by a cultist of lower Rank than the rite. When a cultist of lower Rank attempts a rite above their station, they are seen to be overstepping their authority and risk offending the divine. Two Vulgarity are gained for each Rank the rite exceeds the Rank of the Cultist.

The third way a rite can gain Vulgarity is when the rite is being performed by or on someone who is Faith in Self. Belief is a significant part of a rite, and the presence of nonbelievers when attempting miracles interferes with the solemn observance of these rituals in a way that pleases the divine. The exception to this rule is when a person is being used as a Focus or Offering in the rite, such as in a ritual baptism or human sacrifice. In such cases the faith of the individual in question is irrelevant. Otherwise whenever a cultist or target of a rite is Faith in Self, such as in the performance of a wedding, the rite gains Vulgarity. Interestingly, only one Vulgarity can be gained in this way, and it does not matter if one or one hundred Faith in Self people participate in a rite.

The final way a rite can gain Vulgarity is if the Cultist is Damned, for such things are often interpreted as the wrath of the divine and interfere with the ability of the ordained to commune with the source of their power. If they are suffering from the Damned state, all rites they officiate suffer from one additional Vulgarity. Rites where the target has the Damned state are not affected in this way, unless the target is also the cultist officiating the rite.

For each Vulgarity obtained, the Cultist must subtract one constellation from each side of their Lunar Calendar as possible successes, and if 3 Vulgarity are obtained the rite becomes so offensive it risks the wrath of the divine. Regardless of whether a rite succeeds or fails in this way, a Divine Wrath roll is required.

Divine Wrath

No matter what religion you practice, there is always a risk of offending the very powers you worship through unorthodox practice. Whenever a rite obtaines 3 or more Vulgarity by any of the above mentioned means, the cultist must roll their Divine Wrath die. The result determines how angry the divine is with the cultist for performing the rite poorly. For every Vulgarity above 3, the cultist subtracts 1 from their Divine Wrath roll to a minimum result of 1.

 

Roll Interpretation Mechanics
7-12 It was bad, but not so bad to raise the ire of the divine. No Effect
4-6 You have upset the divine, and will pay the price.  Gain the Damned state.
2-3 Your transgression is dire, and you must suffer trials to redeem yourself. Gain the Damned state and Despair. 
1 The divine is enraged, and wishes you to pay with blood. Gain the Damned state and initiate a plot. Inform Staff immediately.

 

Interrupted Officiation

Once the Officiation has begun it must be completed or be lost. If the Cultist makes a mistake in performing a Liturgy or Act Observance, they may either accept Vulgarity or abort the rite and start again. Once an Offering Observance has been performed the Offering is consumed, and if the rite must be stopped and restarted a new Offering must be provided that was not used in the previous attempt of the rite. If the Cultist pauses for more than a few moments or performs an action not spelled out in the Observances (such as swinging a sword to fend off someone intent on disrupting the rite), the rite fails and they must start again from the beginning. It is not possible to complete part of a rite and hold onto it to finish at the appropriate moment.