Hi, gang. Last week, we took five to dish a little on our design philosophy behind the Arisen. This week, we’re back to spoiling the hell out of our new game–in this case, cults. From a WoD design perspective, I wanted cults to fill the role filled in other games by elements like bloodlines (Vampire) or lodges (Werewolf). Going into the writing process, I knew I wanted the cult system to be strong and customizable to each mummy character. Join me in welcoming the inimitable Greg Stolze, who I assigned the task of making my design a working Stortyelling System reality.
When you hear the word “cult” you might picture chanting figures in hoods performing sinister ceremonies in dimly-lit caverns. Many Arisen would agree, and they arrange their agents along tribal or religious lines: Obedience to Sekhem’s master is an identity, reiterated by chants, rites, initiations and behavioral prescriptions. Those who serve are set apart, by expectation and by choice, from outsiders who cannot be allowed to see the reasons for their dedication—not least because they might not understand them.
While the Arisen command strange powers, their makers did not anticipate that, after thousands of years, they’d need to deal with paper currency and telecommunications. Loyal followers who can stay current for generations while their master slumbers are essential for bridging the gap between the mummy’s ancient mindset and the modern world in which they must operate.
To give players bands of aides who fit their personal style or desire, mummy cults break into three rough organizational styles. As described, some of these societies are set up along traditional lines and gather followers who are looking for meaning. This oldest structure doesn’t have to be religious, but can be. It’s robust, but needy. Mummies who set themselves atop an authoritarian pyramid have to accept the responsibilities that come with being the unquestionable boss. Once your answers to the hard questions cease to satisfy, you aren’t just disappointing one person, you’re undermining the entire foundation of your position.
Arisen who prefer the mores of more recent ages often set up a conspiracy and tell their followers they’re working for the CIA or the Bilderbergers. This spiderweb catches a different breed of fly, one that isn’t looking for answers so much as advantage, preferably an unfair one. As long as a mummy keeps her amoral actors supplied with the money or information or protection they want, they pursue her agenda without much curiosity about what it ultimately is. You may not get a lot of initiative or loyalty in this structure, but if you have to have a disposable underling to throw under a bus, it’s consoling to think that he’s a selfish wretch who’d happily betray you if the price was right.
The third option, and probably the most modern, is to hide in plain sight with a legitimate enterprise. The group doesn’t have “run errands for mummies” on its mission statement—it could be a profit-generating private equity firm, or an NGO, or a think tank, as far as the outsiders are concerned. Moreover, it could employ scores of people, a veritable army of chauffeurs, receptionists, and research assistants. Few of them need to have any idea what’s really pulling their strings. This type of group has the advantage of seeming as legit as the Boy Scouts or a Super PAC, because it is. Its drawback is that the salarymen in its ranks are far less willing to break the law. Even if they can be persuaded, they may not be any good at it. (If you’re having someone commit a crime on your behalf, do you really want it to be his first crime?) If you want something legal, and the advantages of being in the wealthy elite, this is a good choice. If you think you’re going to need bodies hid, you may prefer going back to the secret-name-and-handshake crowd. There’s a reason they’ve been around so long, after all.
Until next time,