September 7, 2016 by Bret Kramer (aka WinstonP)
Last week we covered the basics of cults in Lovecraftian RPGs (and lets be clear, I mainly mean the Call of Cthulhu RPG). I thought perhaps this week we might move on to a very brief overview of the existing cults in the Lovecraft Country setting. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to just stick to the ‘canonical’ sources, those products published by Chaosium and/or Lovecraft.
I am going to use the designation ‘cult’ for any opposition group that has some human component, even those that are not structured like a traditional cult.
One trend you will note below is that none of these cults is essential to any of the scenarios published by Chaosium. I think they were generally reserved for the Keeper to develop their own scenarios – letting one focus on building up a conflict rather than designing one from scratch. I’ll mention a few scenarios that make use of these cults below.
- the Arkham Witch cult: Lead by Keziah Mason (from “The Dreams in the Witch House“), Arkham’s witch cult dates back to the earliest days of settlement. The membership of the coven is given in overview with some discussion of the cult’s activities and membership goals but they are mostly given as a background menance for the Keeper to develop. A few scenarios (see below) include them, mostly as a mean to complicate investigator actions. Could easily be the anchor of a whole campaign.
- Ghouls: Not precisely non-canonical in Arkham, but extrapolated from “Pickman’s Model“. Ghouls are mentioned as being endemic in Arkham but no overt human allies are mentioned; the implications of “Pickman’s Model” however suggest that there are at least some ‘changelings’ in the Arkham area, so some humans with ties to Arkham’s ghouls are likely. At least one scenario proposes some hierarchy to Arkham’s ghoul community which might be integrated into some cult structure.
- The Kingsport Cult: Extrapolated from the details given in “The Festival“. At least one member is detailed in H.P. Lovecraft’s Kingsport and another deceased one plays a role in a scenario in the book. Lovecraft names one other probable member (Rev. Tobias Crabbe) in “The Festival”. A few scenarios mention the cult, but it is not central to any.
the Esoteric Order of Dagon: As presented in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth“. The human membership is given in some detail, mostly based on Lovecraft with a little bit of Derleth. Really central of the location, they show up in nearly every scenario with some strong Innsmouth element.
- the Believers: Extrapolated from a few hints given in “The Dunwich Horror“, the membership of the nouveau witch-cult is discussed in detail in H.P. Lovecraft’s Dunwich and a lot of interpersonal dynamics are established creating a lot of potential in play.
- The ‘Chesuncook Witch Cult’: Plays a secondary roll in “The Thing on the Doorstep“. Mention in passing but not involved in any central role in scenarios.
- The ‘Vermont Mi-Go cult’: Mentioned in “The Whisperer in Darkness“; human agents in Arkham are discussed in H.P. Lovecraft’s Arkham and in [Redacted].
Scenarios of note:
- The Arkham Witch Cult – “Dark Rivals” established a conflict between Arkham’s witches and ghouls; “The Condemned” and “Season of the Witch” have a former member of the witch-cult return from something like death but do very little interacting with the living cult.
- Arkham’s ghouls – “Spare the Rod” provided details about the ghoul’s connection to Goody Fowler
- Kingport Cult – “Dead in the Water” has a plot motivated by a now-dead member of the cult; “The Ghosts of the Florentina” and “Malice Everlasting” also have plots driven by the activities of a now dead cult member and what they’ve left behind.
- The Esoteric Order of Dagon – Appears ubiquitously in “Escape from Innsouth” and “The Raid on Innsmouth”; work to keep Innsmouth’s secrets in “Freak Show”, “The Hopeful”, “Mary” and “Old Acquaintance”.
- The Believers – Do not really feature heavily into any scenario, though I believe they show up in “Spirit of Industry”.
Of the ‘cults’ detailed in the Lovecraft Country books, the two best detailed are the Esoteric Order of Dagon and the Believers. While neither gets the same level of detail you might get in a ‘Delta Green’ cult description, both include enough interpersonal conflict and differing motivation for members to make both cults dynamic and compelling as an opposition group. The presentation of the Believers is especially keyed toward finding ways to draw investigators into the groups’ internal conflicts, perhaps aided by the fact that they might serve as ally or enemy, unlike the E.o.D., which is most likely to serve solely in an antagonist. I think the new Keeper should look to the Believers as a model for how to build their own cult groups, at least those that would serve a significant role in a campaign.
Let’s start making our own cult (or cults?). I’m open to suggestions as to location and type of cult – please post your thoughts in the comments!