The Darkness may corrupt your soul and melt your mind down to a bestial being of sin and hunger, but it does offer power. The temptation of power has always attracted people, from sinister and powerful sorcerers to easily duped fools. When the opportunity presents itself, those who have access to the Dark’s power often try to become its gatekeepers, demanding loyalty and servitude in exchange for access to Tainted places and the secrets of Caligines.
Some cults are devout practitioners of fringe beliefs, others are cynical organizations designed to accrue power and wealth for their leaders. Cults worshipping the Outer Dark are exclusively of the latter variety. Whatever creed of sin and hopelessness they preach, it is merely a tool for controlling the lives of the cultists or luring in fresh recruits. Many Dark cults aren’t exactly well run and they can be almost transparent in promising immoral power to their members (and if people aren’t tempted, locking them up in a Tainted area often takes care of those pesky morals). Such cults rarely last long, even without a Princess around the police usually take care of them, or victims of the cultists become Stormwracked and avenge themselves.
It is usually Darkened or Mnemosyne who lead the Dark’s cults for both are human enough to interact with people and human enough to desire power and luxury. Status in a cult of the Darkness is represented by the Mystery Cult Initiation Merit [GMC 168]. Becoming a creature of the Darkness (usually by gaining the Darkened Condition) is required to advance to four dots in the Merit.
The Broken Dreams SocietyEdit
Pain. Sadness. Suffering. Misery. None may escape these things completely.
The Broken Dreams Society preaches that one should seek them out. Embrace them. The Society is a Darkness-influenced organization that idolizes suffering, elevating it as the only genuine noble thing in human life. Happiness is a sham and only through suffering do we experience reality and have the opportunity to grow. Its temples are built on Tainted places, its leaders seeking out to spread misery and indoctrinate more and more people into the fold.
Members are always on the lookout for those who are suffering from a tragedy or another, and don’t know how to deal with it. In some cases, members actually arrange for tragedy to happen (their beliefs allow them to rationalize it as being for the victim’s own good - “real” pain being preferable to “fake” happiness). They then approach the prospective recruit, telling them how they bounced back from their own sob stories, and mention the Society that helped them find meaning in their own darkest hour. They are encouraged to attend society meetings, where they are met by sympathetic members who “know what it feels like”, and offer moral support at first. But, step-by-step, indoctrination begins.
Slowly but surely, the prospective members are exposed to the Society’s ideology and taught to define themselves by their suffering. At the same time, they are encouraged to participate in exercises where they inflict physical pain upon themselves; the official purpose is to become stronger by learning how to handle the pain, but as time progresses, the self-torture becomes harsher and harsher. This encourages them to rationalize and justify their involvement with the group.
As indoctrination progresses, the recruits are eventually taught to see happiness as a sham, and to dismiss as unreal anything that isn’t based on misery. Their self-torture progresses to become emotional in nature, as they are encouraged to willingly abandon their dreams and cut ties with loved ones... except where doing otherwise would serve the Society’s goals. Some of the more promising members are selected to join the Society’s inner circle, and are brought to one of its “temples”. The latter are always located in Tainted areas; with enough time, those brought there become Darkened.
• New recruits are shown how to torture their own bodies, to steel them for the pain of living. The knowledge applies for torturing others too; the recruit thus gains a free Intimidation specialty in Torture.
•• Full members are partly hardened against physical pain; they receive one dot of Iron Stamina [CofD 48] free of charge.
••• Promising members start a course of study within a temple, learning to expose others to the reality of pain. On completing it they gain the Vice-Ridden Merit [CofD 46] granting a Vice of Cruel.
•••• The inner circle of the Society are expected to take students/victims. They have three dots in Retainers [CofD 53] allocated as the player wishes.
••••• The Society’s leaders know a mystical phrase which shows its hearers, ineluctably, that nothing of them is true but their pain. They receive the Caligo Handful of Dust free of charge, without the Shadows required for it (though that usually isn’t an issue.)
“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” Civilization, laws, morals - all these are cages. The free man, the true man, is a barbarian, a wolf who walks the world, taking what he wishes, stalking the sheep who stay fearfully within their fenced pastures. Those who build the fences are predators too, just cleverer hypocrites than the honest wolves who break them. So says the Pleasure Principle, who will help anyone who asks to shed their inhibitions and indulge all their appetites.
For this cult, the early stages of recruitment are fairly easy. They fish regularly in the clubs and bars where people go to drink themselves blind and find sexual partners whom they can forget the morning after, baiting their hook with offers of nights of pleasure beyond what most ever experience. While the claim is not untrue - the Pleasure Principle does know how to stage an orgy - the cult’s masters carefully study anyone who accepts their invitation, looking for the vices they keep secret from the world. Once these are identified, the cult arranges situations to tempt the prospect, break down his sense of shame, and keep him coming back for more. Tainted places with the right kind of curses come in handy for staging these.
Deeper initiation reveals more and more of the cultist’s life outside the Pleasure Principle to be a foolish self-imposed crippling of what he ought to be: an illimitable appetite. The bonds of the criminal law, of conscience formed in childhood, of friendship and family, all must yield to naked desire. Those who accept this doctrine are brought to live in the cult’s Tainted houses of pleasure. For those who balk when they hear it ... well, there’s always blackmail. No one gets far enough to learn what the Pleasure Principle is about without doing something they were once ashamed of, and if they insist on wearing a leash, the cult is happy to hold its other end.
• For the recent recruit, the Pleasure Principle is a constant party with hints of depravity to add spice. Regular attendance gives a recruit a free Socialize specialty in Seduction, Carousing, Debauchery, or some other kind of sensual indulgence.
•• Junior initiates are taught to assess people’s weaknesses and exploit them for social advantage. They gain the Pusher Merit [CofD 53] free of charge.
••• Those who fully accept the Pleasure Principle can feast on others’ reserves of will; caresses, or more intimate relations, become opportunities to feed. Even if they haven’t yet become Darkened, trusted and established members can use the Enervation Caligo.
•••• The higher ranks of the cult define themselves by their appetites, and easily insinuate themselves among those who share it. The free specialty they gained from the first dot becomes Interdisciplinary [CofD 45] and they gain a variant of the Barfly Merit [CofD 50] tied to places where that specialty commonly applies.
••••• The masters of the Pleasure Principle can bring out anyone’s darkest desires, given a few moments alone with him. They gain the Sin Whisperer Caligo free of charge.
Sodality of the HarpuiaiEdit
“Behind every great fortune there is a crime,” and that crime ought to be punished. Let anyone who has profited from a sin be shamed, disgraced, held up to scorn, outcast; the Sodality of the Harpuiai gladly bear the duty of humiliating them and driving them into the wilderness. Secretly they know that to be wealthy or successful, to be learned or trained, even to be born with an unusual talent - in short, to be in any way better than some poor wretch born in squalor - is to profit from a crime; all are guilty, so any may be punished.
The Sodality named itself after the wind-spirits of Greek myth, who were divine punishers and torturers. Its methods are as bodiless as a wind, and as cutting: the members are masters of rumormongery, spreading scandal, and judicious character assassination. Those with the ill luck to cross the Sodality soon find themselves the subject of malicious tales, coming from almost any direction and untraceable to its source. If they are only moderately unlucky they will be baseless (though hard to refute); but the Sodality has an unnerving nose for the embarrassing or humiliating truth.
In prior decades a cult like the Sodality would have faced great difficulties in establishing itself, but the rise of the Internet has given this cult incredible opportunities for expansion and recruiting. These days a Harpuai need only log onto a forum where college students go to discuss the latest political cause and drop a few honeyed suggestions, and dozens of prospects will fall over themselves to learn from the Sodality. Demonstrating the heady power of destroying an opponent with a few whispered words leads to personal meetings with the fascinated recruits, where the credo that advantage as such is criminal and should be punished can be thoroughly taught.
The effects of this doctrine, when believed and followed, are not pretty. Sodality members are far more inclined to defame and sabotage the work of other people than to attain excellence on their own merits (since to have merit is itself proof of complicity in crime) and therefore consistently alienate themselves from anyone who does not share their beliefs. Older cultists, self-deprived of any healthy aspirations, take pleasure only in denigrating the “guilty”, blight their environment with Taint, and fall to the Darkness almost without noticing. Among Dark cults, the Harpuiai are unusual for not seeking out Tainted areas to live in - and alarming, because they seldom need to. Taint permeates their homes just from what they usually do.
• Good prospects for the Sodality learn the delicate art of verbal knife-work. They gain a free Expression specialty in Damaging Reputations.
•• Full initiates have been trained to look for the small but telling detail that exposes a shameful secret. They gain the one-dot version of the Trained Observer Merit [CofD 46] free of charge.
••• Senior Harpuiai have not only mastered character assassination, but can apply it to a host of problems; they acquire the Area of Expertise [CofD 44] and the Interdisciplinary Specialty [CofD 45] Merits, both for the Damaging Reputations specialty they gained at the first dot.
•••• When the Darkness first enfolds Sodality members, it grants them insight into the crimes of others. They gain the Taste of Sin Caligo free of charge.
••••• The oldest members of the Sodality of the Harpuiai can destroy a reputation with a single accusation. They gain the Scapegoat Caligo free of charge.
Throughout the world there are folk tales of people bargaining with evil spirits to gain power over their neighbors. While the vast majority of those tales are no more than paranoid fantasies, a few are accurate. The Upas Covens are a network of old families whose ancestors learned to summon devils and damned ghosts (or so they thought) from places made unholy by murder. They have handed down their secrets, father to son, mother to daughter, for centuries, and refined what they knew into an anti-theology that worships the Darkness.
The Covens’ normal practice is to search for Tainted places, buy the properties, build shrines to the dark powers they venerate on them, call to any spirits across the Gauntlet that feed on the Tainted resonances, and bargain with the creatures who answer. As the cult has no qualms about deepening a Tainted area’s curses, or using their spirits’ powers for commercial or political gain, the Covens accumulate wealth and enemies at fairly quick rates; they tend to arrive somewhere as refugees from “persecution”, build up a fortune over a few generations by ruining rivals, only to have their demon-worship exposed, forcing them to flee again.
The Covens recruit strictly by inheritance. It is possible for outsiders to join the cult by marrying in, but the family elders won’t approve a marriage unless the bride or groom already has an interest in black magic. To compensate for this the Covens go to great lengths to make sure their children follow the family tradition, participate in the rituals, and make pacts with the cult’s pet demons. Children of a Coven who escape becoming Darkened before their maturity are rare, and every generation has produced at least one Mnemosyne.
• Children of the Covens are taught the basics on evil spirits from their infancy, and new in-laws are drilled on the subject. They gain a free Occult specialty in Tainted areas and their spirits.
•• The Covens have a traditional system of apprenticeship; each family member is tutored by a more experienced elder, who is also supposed to be their advocate within the cult. They gain one free dot in Mentor [CofD 51] to represent this tutor.
••• The Covens expect a good general grounding on the supernatural from their adult members. Those who pass their apprenticeships have learned enough to gain a free dot in the Occult Skill.
•••• Senior members of the Covens can reliably use the central rite of the cult to summon spirits in Tainted places. They gain the Encacogen Caligo at two dots, free of charge.
••••• The Covens’ elders cultivate the twisted spirits of Taint, trading favors with them regularly. Each elder has three dots of Allies (Tainted spirits) [CofD 50] that they can call on like mundane Allies. They may exchange their free Mentor dot from the second level of initiation for a fourth dot in this Merit; most elders do so, as their tutors are now peers, or dead.
Fiction: Dreams are for Suckers