Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Cult of Blood and Briar

Cultists by Matthew Adams

The Cult of Blood and Briar is a relatively recent institution in Horned Mountain Valley, dating back only a couple of generations. They began rather benignly (probably as a response to the valley's growing population) holding low key ceremonies among old growth trees, to mark important yearly celestial events such as the solstice and equinox. Over time they became more and more radicalized, preaching your run of the mill pro-wilderness/anti-civilization doctrines. They took to planting brambles and other painful plants, like poison sumac and nettles, throughout the vale to promote a "return to the wild". Although they possessed no real power, they had a great flair for elaborate ritual and a deep, burning hatred of the Goldmother. Their hatred springs from two fonts. First, they believe the Goldmother abandoned the valley and took her blessing from the trees and land. Second, they believe she should never have allowed humans to settle in, and thus profane, the valley in the first place (lots of self loathing).

Sorceress Orana and the cult took to one another immediately upon their first meeting after she arrived in the valley. She started talking about "points of light in the wilderness" beliefs, displayed actual power, and they swore themselves to her cause without hesitation. In turn she taught them a number of magical rituals so they could aid her as she leads the valley and then the world into the new wilderness.

Cult members are almost all from the Flam(tallowmakers), Mull(merchants), and Textor(weavers) families and HIGHLY secretive. There is no official rank or hierarchy to the cult but Rowan Mull[STATBLOCK] is in many ways the de facto leader due to his successful infiltration and manipulation of the Utag clan (and he's the only one who communicates with Orana directly). Max Flam[STATBLOCK] and Violet Textor[STATBLOCK] are effectively his lieutenants and give the most consistently powerful and impassioned speeches.

Nudity, Red Paint and Briars:
Eschewing robes and common cultist attire, members of the Cult of Blood and Briar hold their meetings and perform their rituals naked and masked as it is the closest to nature they can be. Now that Orana has come to the vale they have adjusted this in two subtle ways. The cultists now mask their face using thorny briars (see Briar Shield below), and they paint their bodies completely red. This red paint makes them immune to poison and impervious to the effects of painful plants (e.g., poison ivy, poison sumac, etc).

What does the Cult Want?
To return the world to a primal, natural state
To assist Orana in any way possible
To find where the Goldmother fled and make her suffer for abandoning them

What does the Cult NOT want?
To be discovered or found out
To rapidly induct new recruits
For the valley folk to be united on any front or topic. There must always be dissent.

What else?
Orana taught the cultists five rituals of wild terror. Under normal circumstances, require 20 minutes of preparation, and 10 minutes of casting, or a total of 30 minutes from start to finish. At least two cultists are required for a ritual, and they must each cut themselves with a natural blade (quartz or bone preferred), and incorporate 1d4+1 HP worth of their blood into the spell. They can cast rituals into Splinters of Corruption (detailed below), but doing so requires at least four cultists and 1d6+1 HP of blood from each. Prepared splinters can be broken to instantly release the spell within.

Splinter of Corruption
Splinters can only come from a plant or animal that has died due to a splinter of corruption, and the cultists favor using fragments from antlers and blighted aspens. The normal ritual (2 cultists, 30 minutes, 1d4+1 HP of blood from each), can create 1d6+1 charged splinters. Each additional cultist participating in the ritual ad adding their own blood, charges an additional 1d4 splinters. A virgin may be sacrificed in place of cultists providing their own blood, and will yield 1d6 splinters for each cultist participating in the ritual. Charged splinters glow with a black aura and splinters loaded with another spell glow red (not enough to see by but enough to be seen).

If a charged splinter is inserted into a living organism it will burrow deeply into it and cause it to rot from the inside out. This prevents any natural healing and deals 1d6 HP of necrotic damage each day. Attempting to remove one by non-magical means is extremely difficult. The infected organism must make a Constitution DC20 save whenever the bloated, feverish wound is touched, or immediately go into a feral rage, striking and biting at anything nearby. The pain of touching the wound is so great that even trees will try and hit you away. Anything dying to a splinter will begin to split, crack, and ooze purplish goo. Particularly dense sections of the organism (bones, antlers, hardwood, etc) will appear to blossom into vile looking fractal flowers of potential splinters. The number of potential splinters yielded by a corpse depends on its size and amount of dense biomass, so a small dense creature with bony plates will likely yield more than a medium sized creature made of mostly squishy stuff.

Potential Splinters

Mutate Beast
Works on unintelligent beasts and animals and is pretty much what it says on the tin. In addition to the mutation animals mutated by this spell have a 25% chance to gibber incessantly, and of those, a 10% chance to whisper one true, evil secret over and over in an ancient language.

Mutation Table 3d4
Mutation Table (3d4)
Two Heads
One head is "obviously evil" (black with red eyes). When not foaming at the mouth it breathes fire (5' cone, 1d8 damage)
Fungal Friend
Tiny black and purple mushrooms sprout in its footsteps. Hallucinogenic.
Inner Glow
Stops breathing, sweating and excreting, and begins to emit heat and light. May catch on fire if it gets too active. Normally live 3d6 days before burning up from overexertion.
Glistens with sweat and pants continually. If stationary for 5 minutes, sticky puddles form beneath it. They stink and should be treated as difficult terrain.
Walks Wrong
The creature moves at normal movement speed, but now, walks on its hind legs, moves sideways only, moves backwards only, or has large hairy spider legs.
Sprouts 1d6 coral snakes on its body. 25% chance the animal and snakes don't get along.
Its skin cracks and stuff drips out that looks like strawberry jam. Gains pseudopod attack (1d6 bludgeoning)
Creature bloats and struggles to walk (half speed). If its skin is cut or punctured it will burst, forming a poison cloud (10' diameter, DC12 constitution save, 3d6 damage and poisoned on failed save)
Obviously Evil
Turns black with red glowing eyes. Poisonous or painful plants grow faster when it is near, but the animal is totally normal in all other regards.
Poisonous Carnivore
Grows a scorpion tail and hungers insatiably for raw meat. Tends to live about 1d6 days before succumbing to hunger and eating itself.

Vile Plants
As a ritual, Vile Plants can be cast with half the requirements of others (1 cultist, 15 minutes, 2 HP of caster's blood). The spell can have two different, but related, outcomes (determined by caster).
1. All poisonous, carnivorous or thorny plants in an area 20' in diameter will grow from seed to full adult size over the next 24 hours.
2. The caster can pass through plants and undergrowth without leaving any traces of their passage for 2 hours (no broken branches, torn leaves or bent grass). Footprints are still left in the dirt, but the plants provide exceptional cover. Additionally, any intelligent creature disturbing any plants touched by the caster for the next day will break out with a severe rash, as if they'd been in poison ivy.

Briar Shield
The caster is able to instantly grow thorny briars on or over an organic object. As the briars grow the caster can shape them to their wishes and must determine an "unlock" passphrase. The thorns dig into the organic material covered (causing no real pain), in such a way that if they are forcibly removed the object covered is destroyed, or at least defaced. The Cult of Blood and Briar uses this spell most frequently to hide their faces so that if their mask is removed without their consent their face is ripped off with it, preserving the secret of their identity. They have also been known to use this spell to hide hostages and treasure. Being covered in the briars provides protection as leather armor (AC 11) and deals 1d4 damage if used offensively. Briars last for 3 days or until unlocked.

Sweet Thorn
This ritual requires two whole thorny plants (roots and all), which transform into 10 sweet thorns (plus an additional 1d4 for each extra participating cultist). The thorns look like large bramble thorns (2" to 3" long), and smell like buttery cookies pulled fresh from the oven. If these thorns are stabbed into, or carried by a creature, the cultists who created the thorns are able to scry the carrier using a bowl filled with the blood of animals less than 6 weeks old.

Aster Flam, proprietor of Tallowyck's Candle Shop in Shearing, recently began making short, fat, sweet smelling candles using these thorns as the wick. When burned in this manner they emit a strong, but initially pleasant, cloying scent that sticks to clothes and hair for about 6 hours. While the cultists cannot track or scry anyone covered in these odor clouds, the smell attracts albino ravens[PAGE].

1 comment:

  1. Wonderuful backwater cult I will be using as soon as my players will leave the big city.

    Thanks for having posted this.