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How to Rant Like a Cultist


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#1 Laraqua

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Posted 18 April 2017 - 03:18 AM

So during Masks of Nyarlathotep my players have run up against a fair few cultists and they've gotten to the point where they're used to the usual schtick and rolling their eyes at the cultists, which is a fun point to reach, but now I need to transcend it.  Basically most cult ramblings have included the following main themes (no spoilers included):

 

"You cannot comprehend their glory!"

"You have no idea what you're up against!"

"There are many of us!"

 

"Our god is great and will be triumphant!"

 

*various threats to friends and family members*

 

"I have been given great power through my worship...."

 

One mentioned supping at *her* clammy breast, and that got some interest and quirked eyebrows (thankfully no snickers) but I need better material.  Even been reading Lovecraft fiction and haven't quite hit on it!  My players are so over the megalomaniac rants and while the next two cult leaders I'll be throwing at them in later adventures are massive megalomaniacs, I need to separate the wheat from the chaff and come up with other cultist babble for the lackeys.  Any ideas?  What do you do?


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#2 MasterFwiffo

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Posted 18 April 2017 - 09:53 AM

Have one be so self assured in the victory that they don't even bother to banter. Have them dismissively wave off the Investigators and have their mob/hideous awful beast do the work for them, maybe with a "I don't have time for you."

Or have one simply be creepily enthusiastic, utterly convinced that what they are doing will bring about a greater world. "Don't you want the joy of Nylarhoteps glory?"

And the final villain trope I enjoy is the one who just enjoys a good fight. When they finish off the mob/hideous awful beast, "You have spirit! Oh this glorious battle will surely bring honor to Cthulhu! Have at thee!" and have them complement and critique their fighting style while enjoying themselves, even if they lose.

Not all cultists are gibbering loons, but they are all villains.

Though admittedly a lot of these are more pulpy.

Edited by MasterFwiffo, 18 April 2017 - 09:54 AM.


#3 Wembley

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Posted 18 April 2017 - 02:07 PM

"This is yuge! It's the greatest cult ever, let me tell you. Other religions are for losers - FAKE GODS. This is the biggest, when He arrives it'll be the most beautiful thing, everyone wants to be part of it...I know this deity, and he's absolutely the best. And I speak as the world's Number One authority on gods."

 

Too megalaomaniac for you? Too wildly implausible?



#4 mvincent

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Posted 18 April 2017 - 05:21 PM

My cultists tend be insane, yet earnest. They honestly believe what they are doing is correct, and try to say convincing things like:

 

- "There are untold billions of each of us in an infinite number of realities. In the grand scope, who cares what happens to just a few?"

- "Your mind could not comprehend these beings. Imagine trying to describe a third dimension to a creature that existed in only two dimensions. Now multiply that by a thousand."

- "You still don't see the big picture. Morality is subjective, based only on what is good for our own species. But a vastly more intelligent species merits greater consideration."

- "We've seen all this before - done all this before. Time is circular."

- "These creatures don't see time as we do. It's not linear to them."

- "There is no need to torture me: I will willingly and gladly tell you everything you should know. But be warned: you mind may not be able to handle such revelations."

- "Our world is just an illusion: a trick of the mind that is inconsequential to genuine reality."

 

Given a chance, they will try to convert the PC's to believe as they do (indeed, they might even be correct in their insane beliefs).


Edited by mvincent, 18 April 2017 - 09:09 PM.


#5 chicklewis

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Posted 18 April 2017 - 06:02 PM

Wow, MVincent, you have me ready to convert !!

Hand me the kool-aid !!
"Men choose as their prophets those who tell them that their hopes are true."
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#6 JeffErwin

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Posted 18 April 2017 - 06:02 PM

Given a chance, they will try to convert the PC's to believe as they do (indeed, they might even be correct in their insane beliefs).


I agree. My best work has always included at least an element of truth to what the cultists believe (if they're truly a cult and not just amoral sorcerers/scientists). Otherwise why would they join? A cult of one can be rooted in madness, but the folly of a crowd works differently. I also like making the players wonder if they are on the right side sometimes.

#7 JeffErwin

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Posted 18 April 2017 - 06:29 PM

This article is very interesting and could be used as a model for constructing a cult based around students:

 

https://www.theatlan...tm_source=atlfb

 

Quote: "That semester, we became close friends. Early on, I felt as though Tyler often tried to manipulate people into doing what he wanted, but he was also a committed Christian, zealous and humble. Inspired by his sensitivity toward others and bravery in confronting his personal demons, I learned to ignore my initial reservations and trust him.

Two years later, in the summer of 2007, Tyler returned from a trip to Pakistan and announced that God was going to launch a spiritual revolution on our campus. Those of us who knew him well were surprised by the changes in his personality. He had always been extraordinarily perceptive, but now this ability had reached uncanny levels. He could describe conversations he wasn’t involved in that were taking place on the other side of campus. He said God was always speaking. He claimed he could tell what we were thinking, when we were sinning; he said he could feel in his own body what God felt about us."



#8 dulcamara

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Posted 18 April 2017 - 06:30 PM

Yeah, I play around with the idea that "sanity is subjective" a bit.

 

In the world as most of us know it, the beliefs of said cultists are completely insane. But CoC posits that we're actually just wholly ignorant of beings & mechanisms far more powerful & older than ourselves - in a way the cultists are enlightened beyond the run of normal society.

 

Because human minds weren't built for that knowledge, many cultists have snapped and thus do & say typically wacky cultist stuff. But some have more durable and/or flexible brains and are able to keep it together - if anything, IMO they can be played as *more* sane (or at least more informed & composed) than the investigators. At least they have certitude of their cause and are making more knowledgeable decisions. But their knowledge has transformed them, so the keeper should figure out ways to portray them as "different" that don't necessarily include frothing one-liners.

 

I've gradually introduced one cult, Knights of the Awakened God - they're primarily composed of ex Austro-Hungarian & Prussian secret police from the Great War & before (my goal is to re-introduce them a couple decades later for an Achtung Cthulhu scenario). Seasoned professionals, and if anything they appear more well-adjusted than the average war veteran because the perspective imparted by their glimpses of the Mythos makes their own traumas seem insignificant. Next session my players have a meeting with one of their charming, composed, and urbane leaders, they know he's up to something but not the extent. During a pivotal point in the hyper-reasonable negotiation I plan to have his mask slip for a moment - his eyes will go flat and the investigators (Psychology roll succeeded) will get the sense they're staring into a pair of endless abysses filled with horror beyond imagining, his facial muscles will contort in some horribly unnatural manner, maybe his normally steady hands will palsy, etc. This will only last a second, then he'll be back to his normally unflappable self and continue the negotiation as though nothing happened.

 

I feel like these contrasts are more effective in setting both mood & plausible adversaries than cartoonish rants, although for me the latter can also be pretty fun & cathartic to play.



#9 yronimoswhateley

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Posted 18 April 2017 - 07:22 PM

This has come up before in another thread (link), but the way I think of CoC cultists has evolved since then.  Now, I would say that the word "cultist" in Call of Cthulhu is mostly a red herring, a distraction, disinformation spread by unreliable narrators.

 

What we're referring to as "cultists" are not, in the traditional sense, actually cultists.

 

These are instead probably ordinary people who have suddenly discovered some monstrous intrusion into their lives, and are dealing with it as best as they can.

 

As a result, "ranting like a cultist", I believe, would sound a lot like the sort of thing that any ordinary people do when trying to deal the best they can with situations that are impossible to deal with head-on.... expect a lot of excuse-making, self-justification, apparently sincere claims that the "Mythos" isn't that bad and the "cult" can stop doing bad things any time it wants, that it's "only" one sacrifice every full moon, that the problems are blown out of proportion by "haters" or whatever, that the Deep Ones are usually easier to get along with than humans are and the "cultists" and their victims are responsible for all the horrors and abuses and indignities the Deep Ones heap upon them, that the "progress" and "benefits" being made by the discovery/scheme/monster/whatever far outweighs the risks and costs, that Cthulhu is Hope, that freedom from the Mi-Go is slavery, that normal governments and mild Earth religions are far worse than anything the Cult of Nyarlathotep has ever done, that it's the investigators' fault that the "cultists" have to resort to violence because the investigators were nosy/mind their own business/courageous/cowardly/violent/peaceful/whatever, that it's not the "cultist's" decision to do whatever awfulness the cultist is doing but instead the cultist has no choice, that the cultist is just following orders, if the cultist doesn't do the awful things then the "Mythos" will find someone even worse to work with, that the cultist is doing the investigators and the world a favor by doing awful things, that there's worse things the "cult" might be doing, that some sort of end (maybe not even one offered by "the Mythos") justifies the "cult's" means and the cult's awfulness will make everything better in the long run if just a few "small" sacrifices are made, that if nobody upsets the "Mythos" and does what it says then the "Mythos" will (mostly) leave everyone alone, that the "cultists" deserve the "privilege" of doing something a little awful every now and then, that the "cultists" bear an uncommon and lonely "responsibility" to do awful things for everyone else's own good, etc.

 

 

Consider your typical investigators with a few scenarios behind them:  they've probably left a trail of bodies behind, have probably gotten a few "close friends" and "long lost relatives" killed in one way or another, have probably burned down a few buildings, have perhaps made a questionable alliance or bargain or two, have read a couple foul and sanity-blasting books of forbidden lore, have perhaps cast one or two horrible spells, have committed a number of home invasions and illegal searches-and-seizures, have broken numerous gun laws, have lied to authorities, have concealed evidence and threatened witnesses, etc. 

 

If you were to ask them whether they are heroes or villains, those investigators would probably insist they are heroes - and, if you were to ask them to describe the "heroic" things they've done, or to explain the trail of death and destruction they've left behind them, think about what the investigators might say.  Chances are good that those same sorts of things would probably be the sorts of things that Call of Cthulhu "cultists" might "rave" about.

 

 

If you think of each cultist as the hero of his/her own Call of Cthulhu horror story, trying to do the best he/she can do, or perhaps trying not to "rock the boat", or at least trying not to make things worse, then I suspect their rants will start to write themselves.

 

"We didn't have a choice:  we had to sacrifice a few children to Shub-Niggurath.  We'd had one bad harvest too many, and we were about to starve - it was either make a few sacrifices here and there, or see EVERYONE starve!  It wasn't easy making the choices we had to make, but after the first child was... was 'blessed' by the Goat, and the harvest came in stronger than ever, we knew we'd made the right decision.  It's easy for YOU to say we did the wrong thing, but you didn't have to see starving children - a deal with Shub-Niggurath is a small price to pay, and we'd all pay it again.  Or, most of us would - not everyone agreed, some wanted to go to the state authorities, but we couldn't let that happen;  we didn't want to kill anyone, nobody wanted to do that, but the whistle-blowers forced us to silence them - if only they'd kept the oath!  We tried to make it quick and painless, but it wasn't our choice, what the Dark Young did to them... and what we did, we did for the children!  If we'd gotten raided and arrested or killed, what would have happened to the children we'd saved from starvation?  Do you know what they do to children in your city orphanages?  Better to lose a couple whistle-blowers, than to abandon our kids to a fate worse than death... and better to live with a little blood on our hands than to lose the whole town.  But then you city people had to go and poke your nose where it didn't belong!  We had things under control here, we'd come to an arrangement, and Shub-Niggurath wasn't that hard to deal with, until you showed up... it could have been a better world, all we needed was another harvest or two to get back on our feet, we could have sealed the bargain and closed the portal forever, but then you showed up, and we had to set the Dark Young loose to stop you, and now She is on her guard, now we owe Her even more, and the Black Goat changed her bargain, and now thanks to you the High Priest is dead and nobody can close the portal without making a new bargain, with a new priest!  At least the last priest was mostly human - we're not quite sure what the new high priest is!  You're lucky we're killing you, and not the new High Priest... Ia!  Shub-Niggurath!  You think the Dark Young are bad?  Pray that you never have to hear that priest's voice, or see the shadows it casts upon the veil it hides behind!"


"I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time." - Blaise Pascal


#10 mvincent

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Posted 18 April 2017 - 08:01 PM

yronimoswhateley: nicely done!



#11 Judgetrev

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Posted 18 April 2017 - 08:11 PM

Yes yronimos!!

#12 chicklewis

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Posted 19 April 2017 - 03:25 AM

Completely plausible.  Kudos.  


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#13 yronimoswhateley

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Posted 19 April 2017 - 02:45 PM

Thank you, everyone - I hope it helps!

 

I actually blame my sister for the insight, she's a psychologist.

 

It might also be helpful to consider the "cultist" as a normal human being subject to any one of the "five stages of grief" caused by an intrusion from the Mythos: 

  • Denial - "This can't be happening!"  "This isn't bad, it's not all lost, we can still fix it...."  "If I close my eyes, pretend everything is normal, and try not to think of it, it'll go away...."  "I can't deal with this right now, I'll just put it off until next week, or the week after that..."
  • Anger - "Why me?  It's not fair!"  "Someone has to be responsible for this and has to answer for it, and if it's not me, then it must be investigators, God or gods, or [insert minority here], or [insert convenient scapegoat here]...." (one might wonder just how many "Mythos cult sacrifices" in the history of the world were actually mobs of people lashing out against convenient scapegoats gathered up in panicked witch-hunts?)
  • Bargaining - "If only this situation were to improve/return to normal/go away, I promise I would work harder and be a better person!"  "If we give it what it wants, maybe it'll all go back to the way it was before!"  (this would account for many of the rest of those sacrifices....)
  • Depression - "It's hopeless, there's no point in resistance, we're doomed!"
  • Acceptance - "The 'Mythos' is a normal part of our lives, it can't be stopped, it can't be bargained with, we might as well live with it and make the most of it...."

Edited by yronimoswhateley, 19 April 2017 - 03:30 PM.

"I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time." - Blaise Pascal


#14 Cthulhushiba

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Posted 19 April 2017 - 03:13 PM

What we're referring to as "cultists" are not, in the traditional sense, actually cultists.

 

These are instead probably ordinary people who have suddenly discovered some monstrous intrusion into their lives, and are dealing with it as best as they can.

 

This post has transformed the way I think about cultists. Brilliant stuff!



#15 yronimoswhateley

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Posted 19 April 2017 - 04:07 PM

Thank you, Cthulhushiba. 

 

In a way, Sandy Petersen originally formulated the idea, by explaining elsewhere in the YSDC forums that he doesn't see cultists as traditionally motivated by religion, doctrine, or dogma, but rather by something a little more selfish... I think he sees them as being a bit more like pulp gangsters, but it got me thinking a lot about exactly who these cultists really are, who tells us they are cultists, and why they differ from cultists in the real world.  From there, I realized that cultists in many ways are simply failed investigators: people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, who stumbled across the wrong secret, and in spite of their best efforts just couldn't quite beat "The Mythos", so they just had to learn to live with it and survive it...


"I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time." - Blaise Pascal


#16 Enerod

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Posted 20 April 2017 - 12:30 AM

I would add that you also have "not that implied" cultists, especially in the biggest cult : people who were drawn into it not really by choice but by some kind of necessity like not having enough money, the opportunity to talk with dead relatives that seems to really work, or even some kind of group dynamic ( "you know, my brother is truly involved in this strange religion, I've tried to stop him, but the best I can do was to follow him and try to protect him as much as I can"). You can also have the outer layer of the cult, with people involved as much as most believers around, thatmight not understand truly what is going on, but will not hesitate to protect another member of their church (then, the rant could go like "how dare you attack this old man ? He's a nice fellow in our community ! Without him, my daughter would not be able to go to school ! You make me sick !" ). Those are not the completely crazy ones and the players might even convinced them that they are doing terrible things, but they also bring, I think, a lot of humanity within the cultists. Take for example Innsmouth : the town was dead if not for the cult that brought fish and gold : is it that bad to sacrifice sometimes some strangers and having to take a deep one as a mate ? Maybe, but at the moment, it may not have been that bad, and in fact, a lot of the inhabitant of innsmouth are not particularly evil, they just fear the rest of the community and the look of the others, and will cooperate with the order of dagon, because it's their autority figure (at least, that how I saw it). Now, you can transpose that to other location : a poor neighborhood where a local cult end up being a way to live correctly, a fraternity in a small coal mining colony...

#17 yronimoswhateley

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Posted 20 April 2017 - 03:25 PM

Excellent points, Enerod!

 

And I should also mention that there are at least two "races" of cultists:

- Cultists you interrogate, interview, make deals with, etc.

- "Mooks" - cultists who are just there as satisfying targets for investigators to work out their frustration, aggression, and terror on.

 

Cultists you interrogate do go home at night to their families, and wake up and look at themselves in the mirror the next morning, and have opinions about what they see and do.

 

Mooks don't need any motivation or development - they are born waving daggers at investigators and chanting "Eeeyah Cthulhu!", and they go to sleep at the end of the day riddled with shotgun blasts, laying forgotten and unnamed in an unmarked grave.


"I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time." - Blaise Pascal


#18 dulcamara

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Posted 20 April 2017 - 05:51 PM

 

Mooks don't need any motivation or development - they are born waving daggers at investigators and chanting "Eeeyah Cthulhu!", and they go to sleep at the end of the day riddled with shotgun blasts, laying forgotten and unnamed in an unmarked grave.

 

Not to belabor this point or state the obvious, but IMO it's worth noting that the vast majority of cultists in the primary source material were in fact these sorts of degenerates, usually with HPL's typical "mongrel inferior races" descriptors as a projection of his own weird hangups & bigotry (off the top of my head Horror At Red Hook would be the most egregious). Personally I feel a little responsibility to move away from those characterizations, and it feels like most in this thread are agreement. It's an interesting evolution in a game that otherwise still hews pretty close to its source material 90 years later.



#19 yronimoswhateley

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Posted 20 April 2017 - 06:20 PM

True enough, but what I mean is that there is something to say for using the right tool for the job.  Things get just as stale, cliched, and cringe-worthy when every Orc is a Baby Orc, as they do when every Orc is a mook.  And nobody is going to notice much or care much when that cultist that was on-screen just long enough to get shot actually had a personality, but things do grind to a halt when a cultist who should have some depth... just doesn't.

 

In real life, everyone is a rich, detailed character with at least a little depth, and some hopes and dreams, and qualities both good and bad and also in between.  But in RPGs and other drama, for better or worse, most people just exist to carry spears and stand in the background saying "rhubarb" a lot....

 

The caveat is mainly for those anxious, inexperienced keepers (you know who you are):  don't feel pressured to give every cultist a personality.  If you have one or two two- or three-dimensional Cultists in every mob of one-dimensional mooks, I'm sure you'll do just fine.


Edited by yronimoswhateley, 20 April 2017 - 06:22 PM.

"I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time." - Blaise Pascal


#20 dulcamara

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Posted 20 April 2017 - 07:47 PM

Well said. For the record, I wasn't challenging your post - just pointing out what I thought was an interesting dynamic between Lovecraft's worldview and how to adapt the game for a contemporary audience without being too anachronistic.