Encountering the cultist

Director's commentary


The main purpose of this session is exposition and to move along the "plot". Now, the player has been introduced to the world of magic, but more importantly the competing interests between its practitioners and the suppression bureau. It's time to draw them in.

  1. Meeting with the cultist

    The cultist will refuse to speak about anything substantial in the open. The player must allow themselves to be blindfolded, then lead to another location.
    As your eyes blink open, you see you're in a dark room lit entirely by candles. Books and scraps of paper are piled about (orderly or messy — depends on the cultist). Strange symbols and etchings dot the floor.
    The cultist has been studying magic on their own, clandestinely. They have just begun to understand its power, but are running up against a wall. Despite their overwhelming preference to study on their own and keep all the power themselves, they must admit that they need help. They are also worried their growing involvement with the arcane may soon draw attention from the suppression bureau, so the fact that Douglas trusts the player is valuable. That doesn't mean that they are readily open — quite the opposite. The player will need to speak with them to gain information about magic and an initially uncomfortable partnership. In this conversation, the cultist should reveal:
    • the role of the suppression bureau: that they work for the crown to ostensibly stamp out magic, but it seems more truthfully that they practice themselves; what could be their motivation to limit the knowledge of the general population, then?
    • there are different branches of magic, each with different concentrations and powers; but not what they are (the cultist isn't so forthcoming with their hard-earned knowledge!)
    • some more information about the specific lore chosen by the player character: its name and its fundamental focus
      my friend chose Moth as the lore: they will learn that Moth is the principle of "change, whimsy, unreason, secrecy, and nature, especially associated with barbers and the shedding of unnecessaary things; its followers are characterised by stealth, erratic behaviour, and agendas known only to themselves"
    • if asked about the book from Morland's in which the cultist left the note: the cultist read the book a while ago, which introduced the principle they are studying (the same one chosen by the player) and explains its fundamental focus
    • some backstory about the cultist, if desired
      My friend choose Porter as the cultist: Porter started as a barber, but soon he found he's mesmerised not only by shearing, but more generally by change of the form, especially of flesh. He is precise and calculating, yet artistic. The Moth calls him because he wants to experiment more drastically and scientifically with form manipulation. Physical tools hold him back and create a distance between him and his medium — he wants to directly touch and scult. Specifically, the form of my friend's character intrigues him, since he has never seen a dragonborn before, and wonders what manipulations he can materialise on him. Without full knowledge and systematic methods, Porter has been practicing unstructured magic by necessity, but it is distasteful to him.
      • class: rogue
      • proficiencies
        • skills: deception, sleight of hand, stealth, insight
        • languages: common
        • tools: thieves' tools, shortswords, rapiers
        • saving throws: dexterity, intelligence
      • stats:
        • ac: 8
        • hp: 7
        • str: -2
        • dex: +3
        • int: +1
        • wis: +0
        • cha: +1

    Besides exposition, the main purpose of this conversation is for the player to prove themselves to the cultist. They need to bring something to the table: offer their help but also prove they are trustworthy somehow. The actual requirement can be cultist-specific and doesn't need to be too involved.

    For Porter, since he is fascinated with metamorphasis and transformation, the player needs to offer something bodily: give him some scales or hair, a blood pact, allow him to tattoo or brand you, etc.
  2. The spirit

    "I have a matter that's rather... delicate."
    Specifically, the cultist has managed to summon a spirit, which they have successfully restrained, but are now struggling to control and learn from it. The cultist will be tight-lipped about how they managed to do so and no manner of questioning or other tactics from the player can get them to divulge any information yet. Choose a low level summons from the original video game that ideally overlaps principles with the one that the player character chose.
    My player has chosen Moth, so Porter will have a Burgeoning Risen. In the original game, a Moth lore piece can be used with a corpse and Winter influence to raise a corpse. [A Barber's warning: A power of the Wood enjoys the separation of the lock from the scalp. For attention, burn it. For opportunity, bury it.] Porter has created a chilly atmosphere (Winter influence) simply through his reputation — during the trial, he kept his tendancies to himself and said nothing when questioned. He had begun to collect names, using his profession as a barber to observe and note down people. Some of these people are still alive, but all who are dead were buried sheared. No one knows where the hair has gone, but these people all had one thing in common: they had visited Porter for a shave at one point or another.

    The growths of the Wood have encompassed the corpse's organs, swelled its skull like a gourd, twined around its heart. Its eyes are moist with cunning, and it moves with jerky puppet grace. Its bones are rotten wood, and soon it will take root.
    • languages: common
    • stats:
      • ac: 6
      • hp: 15
      • str: +2
      • dex: -1
      • int: -2
      • wis: -1
      • cha: -1
    • weapon: biting (1d8 piercing), vines (1d6 slashing), thwacking (1d6 bludgeoning)
    Porter has restrained the spirit with clinically neat knots. He refuses to answer any questions about the spirit or how it got there. It's pretty obvious it's a corpse that's been...repurposed.
    The player needs to confront the spirit, either outsmarting it (social interaction depending on skill checks, e.g. proposing and winning some game or riddle) or defeating it in combat. Doing so will prove their usefulness to the cultist. Afterwards, the spirit will depart (evaporate, die, or whatever is appropriate), leaving only a map where it was. Successfully addressing the spirit yields 25xp.
  3. Decoding the map

    This map corresponds to the first scrap of what are Secret Histories in the original video game.
    Secret histories are layered beneath the one we know, like the notes in rare wine. This is a detail from one of those histories.
    The player and the cultist will need to decode it together, in their first act of teamwork. This interaction is purely social: the two should talk, build trust, and do skill checks together once it's sufficiently clear they're working in tandem.

    Cracking it will reveal the site of the player's first expedition: the Congregation of St. Felix of Schüren.
    A Nonconformist enclave of a heterodox sect of a Calvinist offshoot, tucked away in an odd corner of the city. They belt out hymns with unsuitable gusto, in a throat-scraping language that is very much not quite Latin.
    The first task is to identify that the map is an old map of the Capital. It is not immediately recognisable as such because it is decades old. As long as the player character makes any mention of thinking that this map may be of a real (in-universe) place and trying to figure out where it is, the player character can do a perception check to see whether they notice some geometric similarities with a current map of the Capital that the cultist has on the wall. Otherwise, the cultist can make the connection.

    The second task is figuring out what the map depicts (the Congregation). There will be an anatomical heart and a cross on the map marking its location. The cross symbolism is self-explanatory. As for the eye: the rewards from this expedition in the original video game are several books that yield low-to-mid level lore in Edge, Winter, Lantern, Grail, and Knock — so the vibes are definitely sinister. I imagine this heterodox sect centers around using human flesh as the eucharist. (I recently read Earthlings by Sayaka Murata, ok). The heart contains both the body and the blood (bread and wine, conventionally), and thus is the central component to their communion. The back of the map lays out the philosophy as well as the instructions for performing this communion, but in Greek. Either the player character will need to translate it, or they will need to convince the cultist to translate it and share the translation.
    Since my friend's character is dumb as rocks, it's likely that Porter will have to translate it. My friend's character will instead have to rely on his charisma and charm to wheedle the information out of him. For his part, I imagine Porter will not be particularly repulsed by the idea, since he is of Moth persuasion and has already been experimenting with body parts (shearing people) for his magical rites.
    Finally, the two will need to agree to go investigate this location together. Again, the player character will need to use their charm, charisma, persuasion, or force to receive the cultist's co-operation.
    Porter will be interested in going to learn more about rites that can be performed with body parts, and maybe even... dragon parts? Of course, he will keep this last speculation from George. While reluctant, he probably acknowledges the value of having some extra muscle in the form of George. However, he will already jealously lay claim to the expected findings, either in knowledge or treasure. George will need to speak with him to hammer out an agreement, partnership, or something else.

Session recap