Written by: James S.
Cultists are typically individuals who have forsaken mainstream beliefs to follow a dark path. They often wear hooded robes, carry ritualistic tools, and bear symbols associated with their forbidden faith. Cultists are driven by fanatical devotion to their cause, often involving the pursuit of forbidden knowledge or the summoning of eldritch horrors. Consider using the unsettling "Eldritch Church" Czepeku battlemap for a cultist encounter. Consider these elements:
- A ritual is performed which will summon a god and usher in a new world.
- At a crucial moment, Crusaders arrive to halt the ceremony.
- Each round, the high priest speaks a word of power and changes the battlefield conditions.
- Everyone, including the players, is at risk.
- The players face a choice. Do they defend the ritual or stop it before it’s too late?
This encounter could take place at the end of a short campaign about a cult summoning a new god into the world. The players could even take the role of cultists. Perhaps throughout the game, they have been working towards this event, and now they are tasked with defending the final ritual. This moment represents the culmination of their efforts.
The cult is dedicated to a creature long thought dead, killed in a great war. But it was not killed, merely banished. It has been rebuilding its broken form in an extradimensional womb ever since. For years, the cult grew its power in secret, pursuing its silent agenda, and increasing its flock one by one. This temple was built by the cultists’ hands as the eventual birthplace of their god, a nexus of power that has been slowly accumulating. In the campaign thus far, perhaps the players have been gathering followers, finding parts of the ritual, subduing opponents of the cult. And now, they stand here, ready to end it all.
The corpse of a huge, many-armed giant lies in front of an open portal that hums with a sickening radiance. Around it are assembled dozens of cultists, all kneeling and mumbling their prayers. A high priest presides over it all, holding an ancient book of profane liturgy. The ritual aims to resurrect this corpse, which, with its immense strength, will pull the god through from the other side. Parts of the god jut through the portal, but it seems stuck. What the god looks like is up to you, depending on what kind of flavour you want for the cult. Perhaps its appendages are hundreds of long, knobbly limbs with hands outstretched, pleading for someone to pull it free. Perhaps it consists of bulbous masses of mottled, slimy flesh. Or perhaps some good old-fashioned tentacles, thick and disgusting cilia that wave and curl from the glowing portal.
Just as the ritual is about to begin, however, the doors of the temple are broken down by a band of crusading zealots of another religion. They are hell-bent on stopping the ritual and destroying the cult in its entirety for the good of the entire world, they say. This blasphemy cannot be allowed; it cannot come to pass. Thus, the fight for the end of the world begins.
At some point during the ritual, the players may realise the danger that this ritual poses to their lives. They are faced with a decision. Should they continue to defend the high priest and finish the ritual, or should they turn against their brethren, stopping the ritual in its tracks?
From the first round of fighting, the high priest rushes to finish the necessary steps, uttering one word per turn. The words echo around the temple at an impossible volume. Spoken in the true language, they sound like the guttural ravings of a madman. To the initiated, however, their meaning rings out like a note of crystal clarity:
- “The Footsteps Of Approaching Destiny.”
A tremor shakes the entire temple. On the first turn, there is a 1-in-6 chance that masonry will fall from the ceiling. On the second turn, there’s a 2-in-6 chance, and so on. Those beneath the falling stone should make a Dexterity save or be crushed by it.
- “The World Mourns Its Forsaken Future.”
Surfaces begin to ooze an ominous liquid, thick and oily. The temple floor is flooded with it to a depth of one foot. The battlefield counts as difficult terrain, and anyone who falls beneath the surface is poisoned.
- “Life Is Kindled From Inert Matter.”
Things begin to move amongst the slime, tiny things, wormlike and frantic. Anyone who has not been prepared for this must make a Constitution save or throw up, losing their action that turn. Those who do vomit find, to their horror, the same wriggling, abhorrent things moving amongst their own bodily fluids.
- “Myriad Forms Unveiled To A New World.”
All in the vicinity must make another Constitution save. Those who fail are wracked with unbelievable pain as their bodies begin to contort. Their bodies twist and change, growing new limbs, eyes, horns, teeth, tentacles, and perhaps even entire new heads. The children of a new reality.
- “The Revelation Of Awakening Desires.”
A hunger is born in the hearts of those who hear this word, a deep and gnawing hunger that compels them to feast on whatever is nearest, whether friend or foe, living or dead.
- “The Old Is Anointed By The New.”
Upon the utterance of the final word, the high priest pours sacred oil over the body of the dead giant, and the ritual is complete. The massive corpse stirs into motion, its many hands holding its broken body together. Two hands clamp around its cloven head; another holds its jaw in place. More wrap around its shattered rib cage, but it still has many free hands, which it will use for its dark purpose. With this, the high priest’s work is done, and he simply stares at the spectacle while all around him descends into total chaos. At this stage, he will not even notice swords, arrows, or even teeth biting into his flesh.
When the undead giant is fully upright, it will reach towards the portal and grasp the outstretched appendages of the new god, using its immense strength to pull this god into the material plane and, like a farmer births a calf, heave it from its womb. This is the last chance for anyone to stop what is to come.
The giant will not waver from its task unless killed. It will not take actions towards anything other than the creature on the other side of the portal. For stats, give it an amount of hit points appropriate to a giant of the correct challenge rating, but also allow it something like a zombie’s Undead Fortitude ability. This will increase the tension, making those final dice rolls very exciting. As this happens, be sure to emphasise just how abhorrent this new deity is, more horrifying than the stories told, more than the cultists themselves even imagined.
If the giant is not slain in time and it pulls the new god into the world, the game is over in spectacular fashion. Its body pours from the portal as though a blockage has been removed, clawing and grasping at everything in sight. The new god does not require mortal servants now. It will grow unceasingly until it devours the world. The high priest’s promises of a reward were just lies unless your idea of a reward is to witness cosmic horror on an unimaginable scale. Each to their own. Being present at the birth is, of course, an unforgettable spectacle, but no one will be alive to remember it for much longer anyway.
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