- What Are Occult Adventures?
- Psychic Magic
- Occult Classes
- Running an Occult Game
- Incorporating The Occult
- Occult Elements
- Occult Themes
Enter a world where nothing is as it seems—where the battlefield might be within your mind, and the prize might be your immortal soul. Through the esoteric secrets of the occult, bold seekers of knowledge can bring a candle to light the darkness of the unknown, and begin to unravel that strangest of all riddles: the truth.
Within this hidden world, you’ll find strange and wondrous new powers, vast and unknowable enemies, and unlikely allies who request strange favors in return for the esoteric lore they hoard. You’ll voyage into the mind, out of your body, and onto other planes of existence. If you keep your wits about you, you may return alive—but even then, few survive such an experience unchanged. To achieve your goals, what will you lose of yourself? What will you be willing to sacrifice? Who will you become?
Practitioners of occult lore often refer to the hidden magical traditions of the occult as psychic magic. Casting a psychic spell relies entirely on the thoughts and emotions surging through your mind and spirit, rather than on incantations or gestures. In this way, occult practitioners can hide in plain sight amongst other spellcasters. Your village’s local sorcerer might be a kindly psychic searching for the solution to a karmic riddle, or a cunning mesmerist slowly building a cult of mind-controlled followers. Yet in the world of the occult, mysteries contain layers upon layers, and the solution to the psychic’s karmic riddle might release a horror trapped on the Astral Plane, while the mesmerist’s mindcontrolled cult may be there to protect the villagers from a great evil sealed deep beneath the town.
Protecting innocents from dangers they can’t see or even comprehend requires a unique breed of heroes, those initiated in esoteric lore and willing to take risks with not just their bodies, but their minds and souls as well. Occult power comes at a price, and even if you’re willing to pay it, you may find the responsibilities it brings largely thankless. When a paladin uses her holy might to stop an army of undead from rampaging through the king’s lands, she might gain a knighthood or noble title, not to mention the adulation of the kingdom.
But when an occultist uses his object lore to prevent a mad architect from changing the geometry of city districts until it blends and merges with that of a malevolent sentient metropolis from an alien dimension, he and the architect may be the only ones who truly understand the threat. And if the architect is beloved by citizens and authorities alike for his philanthropic works and grand civic monuments, the occultist who saved the city may well need to flee before he finds himself in a prison cell.
And even then, will he avoid the wrath of other members of the architect’s secret society and their monstrous interdimensional patrons? Such are the lives of those who labor at the edge of mortal understanding, and who know that each action, however well intentioned, has unintended consequences, like ripples in a pond.
Any adventure could incorporate occult elements, from mystery cults to creatures that attack the psyche, so in a world where wizards and clerics ply their spells in the open and magic is accepted and understood, what separates an occult adventure from any other adventure?
The core concept that drives an occult adventure is that raw power isn’t everything. In a typical campaign, adventurers strive to improve their might so they can take on bigger and bigger challenges. But a student of the occult knows that power can corrupt, that some battles can never be won by brawn, and that there are beings capable of ignoring the normal rules of the multiverse, walking among even the greatest and most powerful like a wolf among sheep.
One of the hallmarks of an occult campaign is a focus on the mind over direct combat and confrontation.
Most occult classes possess more mental abilities than physical, and they have the tools to peer into thoughts, ask for aid from the beyond, and unravel mysteries. Rather than exploring only physical ruins, occult adventurers uncover the psychic history of places and objects. When magical weapons can’t defend against vengeful spirits, a treatise on the manifestation of extraplanar beings may hold the key. Subverting the doctrines of a cult proves a more certain method of ending its threat than killing its leader would.
An occult adventure is a study in complications and paradoxes, in which uncovering a mystery reveals an even greater mystery. Knowledge is the only way to deal with an occult problem, but learning more invites even greater danger. Exploration of a strange plane or dreamscape might show that the place is even more complex than initially thought. A crusade to defeat a dark and unknowable force can lead to a climactic encounter in which the adventurers discover their quarry doesn’t fear its own destruction or banishment. Likewise, occult creatures and forces can find adventurers just as mystifying and contradictory as the adventurers find the denizens of the occult.
Suggestions for running occult adventures, as well as common elements that appear within them, are detailed in Running an Occult Game.
Occult spellcasters draw on the vast reserves of their own minds to access magical abilities. Psychic magic is an entirely new type of spellcasting that follows different principles than arcane and divine magic. A psychic spellcaster doesn’t have to obey the same restrictions as an arcane or divine caster, and forgoes the physical components of spells entirely. She doesn’t need to wave her arms, speak words laden with magical portent, or burn up symbolic physical matter in the process of casting. Instead, she need only keep her mind aligned properly, providing a detailed mental image or bringing up a particular emotion to cast her psychic spell. Even someone bound or paralyzed can cast a psychic spell, as long as her intellectual and emotional states aren’t compromised. Self-doubt, lack of concentration, and fear are the enemies of a psychic caster, not the depredations of the physical world.
For all their differences, psychic spells are still spells, and psychic spellcasters are still spellcasters. Most of the spells a psychic character can cast resemble those of her arcane and divine allies, albeit accessed in an alternative way. Consequently, the spell lists for psychic spellcasters largely consist of existing spells, and nonpsychic casters can also choose many of the spells in Occult Adventures.
Where are the heroes who can save the world from the unknowable threats of the occult? Right here in this chapter, which includes six new occult classes! Not only are these classes a perfect fit for a game steeped in the occult themes found throughout this book, they also contain the same variety of themes, concepts, and play styles that you’ve come to expect from base classes, allowing them to flourish in nearly any campaign, from a game of somber horror to a lighthearted dungeon romp. The following is a quick overview of some of the most interesting and iconic features of each class.
Archetypes: Bring the power of the occult to all your favorite classes or customize the new occult classes with dozens of archetypes. In addition, you’ll find new alchemist discoveries, cavalier orders, sorcerer bloodlines, and witch patrons. Will you play a psychic detective or a battle host? A ghost rider or a tome eater? No matter what kind of character you like to play, this section has plenty of fun new options for you to explore.
Feats: This section contains dozens of feats some supporting the new classes, others available to any character looking to dip her toes into the occult, and still others that tie into the new occult rules. From a teamwork feat allowing you to combine two elemental blasts into a composite one to a feat allowing you to open your mind to other people’s emotions at the cost of weakening your mental defenses, these feats allow you to build all sorts of occult characters.
Psychic Magic: This section introduces psychic magic, a completely new type of magic that’s neither arcane nor divine, and that uses thought and emotion components instead of verbal and somatic ones. Of the panoply of new spells in this section, several are spells that can be undercast with this new type of tiered spells, spellcasters who know them are also able to cast all the weaker versions. Whether you use akashic form to keep a copy of yourself that you can employ to escape death, or create an enormous vessel to sail the Dimension of Dreams with dream voyage, you’ll never be the same again (especially if you cast major mind swap to switch bodies forever)!
Occult Rules: This section contains a variety of exciting new subsystems that are part and parcel of an occult game but also fit easily into any game, either on their own or taken all together.
Skill Unlocks: Occult skill unlocks build on the idea of skill unlocks for the rogue, adding new and wondrous applications to your favorite skills that are open to occult characters and psychic sensitives alike. Use Linguistics for automatic writing to foretell the future, Appraise for psychometry to learn more about an object’s past, Heal to perform startling acts of faith healing, and much more.
Auras: Those attuned to the occult can learn much about a creature, object, or place from its aura. While magic and alignment auras have been in the game since the start, this section details aura types such as emotion and health, and adds new depth to the metaphysical meaning of auras.
Chakras: By studying the esoteric lore of chakras, you can learn a deeper application of ki and use kundalini serpent-fire energy to awaken the chakras within you. By successively opening your chakras, you become increasingly powerful as battle continues so long as you can survive the strain!
Psychic Duels: Enter an inner dueling ground where the only limits to what you can do are your own imagination. When your foe calls forth a thought-form cobra, counter it with a thought-form hydra. When she threatens you with psychic vines, unleash a storm of inner fire. Such battling is exhausting, and never undertaken lightly for despite the unreality of the mindscape in which you fight, the stakes of such a duel are life and death.
Psychic Possession: Possession and body-swapping spells can be crucial to occult adventures, and this short section provides you with everything you need to know to play a body-snatching character with ease.
Occult Rituals: Some of the deepest and darkest secrets of the occult, these esoteric rituals are vanishingly rare and challenging to perform, but provide fantastic power to any character who can complete them even those not normally able to cast spells. A GM can choose from the variety of sample rituals or design her own, but one thing’s for sure—with occult rituals, you’ll never look at spellcasting quite the same way.
Running an Occult Game: This section is your official advisor on how to infuse your game with mystery, secrets, and menace, and is full of useful tips and lore on the esoteric mindset.
Elements, themes, and Adventure Seeds: This section is a perfect guide to running occult games for dabblers and adepts alike. It begins with definitions of occult elements—the building blocks of a successful occult game—interweaves those elements into themes, and finally draws from those themes to create a variety of occult adventure seeds ready for your next occult adventure.
Occult Locations: Occult locations often have mysterious elements that can grant those who explore them information or power—at a cost. The new options in this section enhance the narrative aspect of a haunt’s mechanics. Conversely, the new loci spirits represent a benevolent option for lingering spiritual energy. Ley lines crisscross the multiverse and lend power to any spellcaster who finds the rare spots where she can tap them. Mindscapes are mental landscapes that open the door to fantastic and exciting adventures in a creature’s mind, or psychically created worlds where the normal rules no longer apply.
Esoteric Planes: This section explores the esoteric view of the multiverse held by occult scholars. The occult view of the multiverse is full of mysteries, secrets, and unusual parallelisms. Learn more about some of the odd realms that are paramount in the esoteric view, from the Dimension of Dreams to the Akashic Record and beyond.
Occult Rewards: The only way to fight against some of the harshest and most alien occult threats is armed with objects of occult power. From simple mundane gear that can amplify occult skill unlocks to the mightiest artifacts, occult rewards are strange and exceptional. In this section, you’ll find items and esoterica from a variety of occult traditions, from a lucky four-leaf clover to the mighty stannum crown. You’ll discover ways to travel to realms beyond imagining, such as the bizarre flying skiff or the enigmatic portal network. Will you tempt fate by reaping the benefits of a cursed monkey’s paw or maniac hand, knowing they may turn against you and those you love? As with all things in the world of the occult, what seems too good to be true probably is, and may come at a price you can only begin to comprehend.
Running an Occult Game the word —occult— refers to that which is hidden or occluded, and it encompasses a wide range of strange disciplines known to only a few. Ancient though they may be, the mysteries of the occult remain obscure, protected by hermetic orders or locked within esoteric repositories of knowledge.
In an occult adventure, the characters uncover clues as they search for the meaning behind perplexing events and supernatural phenomena. The tone is usually ominous and laden with secrecy and veiled threats as the characters untangle each portentous thread of occult mystery.
Ordinary folk seldom recognize the patterns beneath events; only the truly initiated, undaunted by the risks to mind, body, and soul, dare plumb the depths of the occult in order to protect their world from unseen dangers.
Incorporating occult themes into games where magic is commonplace requires careful consideration.
Think of the occult like layers of an onion. By peeling back these layers one at a time, PCs can be at first perplexed by, then increasingly familiar with, the strange rules that govern this parallel world. But once PCs become comfortable with one occult reality, they discover a new deeper, darker layer.
In occult adventures, each new piece of the puzzle opens up more questions than it answers, and the mysteries of the story and plot are carefully nested like so many matryoshka dolls. In such games, haunts do not hesitate to reveal the causes for their spiritual contamination, and ritually marked corpses are far more than atmospheric window dressing. The very locations adventurers investigate may themselves be intrinsically linked by mysterious ley lines to other locations with similarly disturbing histories.
As characters in an occult campaign start to discover the hidden strands that connect seemingly unrelated events, they begin to interact with the bizarre, esoteric trappings of occult stories, including the following elements.
Standard adventures present a problem, obstacles in the form of monsters and traps, and a resolution. By comparison, occult adventures are subtler. The key to the adventurers’ success often lies in investigating the unknown and the inexplicable, or following a trail of clues to its source. Strange phenomena, bizarre murders, and eerie occurrences are regular hooks in occult adventures, and the characters must peel away layer after layer to find the truth. The Mysteries and Investigations rules provide advice for structuring a mystery adventure; occult adventures use a similar structure, intermingled with the atmospheric clues and story trappings of the occult elements detailed in this section.
This is not to say that an occult adventure can’t also include heroic battles, dungeon exploration, or swashbuckling. It’s a good idea to vary the tone and pacing of the campaign from time to time, and sometimes seemingly ominous portents can turn out to be red herrings, which have their own value in occult adventures.
The occult elements in your story might also fade in and out of a campaign with an altogether different main theme, recurring every few adventures as side treks that at first have little to do with one another—or so it would seem. The further the PCs progress in the campaign story, the more clearly they begin to distinguish the patterns underlying all of their adventures. For example, the PCs might discover that all of the unearthed graves they encountered throughout several adventures were the resting places of an order of scribes who penned a tome foretelling the apocalypse. When it’s time to reintroduce the occult storyline, the GM need only present a fresh clue that ties back to earlier adventures to draw the characters once again into the world of the occult.
Piecemeal Mysteries: Mystery adventures can be tricky to write, as the GM cannot always foresee when clues are too obvious or too obscure, and either case may be frustrating for the players.
Bringing the occult into the campaign one small piece at a time creates the illusion of unseen forces moving in secret, even if neither the GM nor the players know the nature of the mystery at the beginning of the campaign. As the campaign progresses and more pieces fall into place, the mystery reveals itself and takes a definite shape.
Clues Only for the Initiated: Game Masters often try to conceal vital information in games to preserve mysteries for fateful, well-timed reveals. And all too often, canny PCs find a way to acquire the information early, disrupting the GM’s carefully planned adventure and spoiling its momentum through overreliance on a few choice clues. While such reticence may sometimes be necessary to preserve intrigue and guide PCs, occult games dole out information more readily and more frequently, but in a slightly different manner. Because the most significant clues in an occult mystery may be hard to even recognize as clues, such methods can not only more easily screen the key bits of information that do propel the plot forward, but also create a more mysterious atmosphere.
Red Herrings That Aren’t: Red herrings should not always be dead ends. Instead, they may serve to set up further adventures for the PCs, leaving them with the uneasy sense that strange events driven by bizarre, eldritch motivations are hidden in the world all around them. For example, while the PCs are on the trail of a murderous demon cult, misinformation might lead them to a secret society involved in unusual initiation rites. While the lead may be a dead end in terms of their original investigation, perhaps the PCs discover the group’s seemingly innocuous initiations actually involve dangerous necromancy.
Building PC Involvement: Sometimes the best way to involve the PCs in a campaign is to ask them what they want. At the beginning of your occult campaign, ask each player to come up with a personal mystery for his or her character, such as having witnessed an unusual phenomenon or having experienced an inexplicable event as a teenager. A PC may have brief flashbacks to her childhood of visits by men in blood-red robes and disturbing animal masks, for example. The character’s search to discover the meaning of this memory may lead her down dark paths, particularly when she spots a street preacher wearing the tattered remains of one of the robes in a nearby city, and discovers from him that as a child, the PC was a candidate for an apocalyptic cult. Other hooks might include the unknown fate of a friend or relative, or the significance of a city monument’s unconventional design. It may center on a certain location, like a place seen in recurring dreams or the ghost-haunted gardens of some overgrown manor. It could have to do with a mysterious object, such as a locket that throbs painfully in the hands of a psychometrist or an ancient tome containing twisting, backwards writing in which a new word is scribbled each day.
Some hooks may play major roles in the campaign, While others turn out to be minor anecdotes. Regardless, an adventure hook based on a character’s curiosity, need, or longing is an invaluable tool for building player investment in the story.
When running an occult game, consider replacing some of the NPCs who broker information with spirits, daemons, otherworldly entities, and mortals who traffic in the occult, such as a medium who channels spirits from a ramshackle wooden hut at the edge of a misty bog. Occult adventures emphasize the search for obscure, hidden knowledge beyond the ken of mortal minds.
Such information is the province of spirits and lost souls who wander those rarely trod paths.
Some buildings may have mysterious symbols hidden in their architecture, or were designed to attract or channel occult power. For instance, adventurers who disturb the cairn of a powerful sorcerer might soon discover that the occult nature of the structure itself kept his soul in check. And, of course, GMs should design interconnected webs of intrigue that subtly display these patterns, daring PCs to pull the loose threads of reality and unravel all that they know, exposing the terrible secrets that lie beneath.
In a campaign steeped in occult lore and practice, spirits and demons might be the major questgivers, regular allies, foils, or adversaries, and their machinations pull the PCs in multiple directions. They might all seem virtuous, or may all seem reprehensible, but they all want something, and they are willing to use the PCs as pawns to achieve it. An uncooperative angel may give the characters information only grudgingly, Whereas a devil who wants something might be more forthcoming.
The quest for knowledge features prominently in occult adventures. Knowledge and power invariably come at a price, however, even if the cost isn’t immediately evident.
Calamity strikes when mortals rush blindly in, throwing open the doors to powers that they do not yet comprehend.
As the characters begin to perceive the occult world that surrounds them, consider the dreadful fates and terrible sacrifices that they might face as they immerse themselves ever deeper into the occult. The price of knowledge or power may seem cheap at first—the memory of a PC’s first kiss or the smell of a spring rain—but in the end, these snippets of humanity are a terrible price to pay, and the characters’ own desires or desperation may prove their undoing.
In the depths of the occult underworld, initiates barter for the true names of demon princes, exchange rare formulae for the creation of artificial life, and broker in corpses that conceal terrible secrets. Such mystical bargains are rarely fair trades of power, and hermetic orders and cults manipulate these exchanges to devalue the knowledge traded away and inflate the value of the knowledge earned.
Strange Rules and Peculiar Patterns the behavior of occult denizens often falls into unusual patterns. As discussed above, these patterns often manifest in architecture, but they also show up as odd coincidences that have significance for occult investigators, such as corpses discovered in symbolic patterns. Occult creatures themselves are beings of eccentric habits, and PCs may exploit their patterns of behavior to expose or confront them, perhaps discovering the celestial alignments that must happen in order for some diabolical plan to finally come to fruition.
Knowledge of these strange rules and peculiar patterns often holds the key to an antagonist’s defeat. In a typical mystery adventure, the GM might keep secret the means of causing a monster’s demise. But occult knowledge could give investigating player characters unusual opportunities to learn more about their foes. Perhaps divinations or phrenological readings reveal multiple weaknesses characters could exploit, though not all of them are real, and some may even empower the antagonist. Ultimately, the only way to find out may be to encounter the antagonist directly, but putting the acquired knowledge to the test may be a more dangerous affair than the PCs initially realized.
When death is final and unknown, it is as mysterious to living beings as it is terrifying. Characters accustomed to communicating with spirits, however, know that death is not the end. In fact, characters skilled in the occult might willingly wander the Ethereal Plane to quest, converse, and mingle among the bodiless spirits that reside there.
In these games, characters usually have a pretty good idea of what fate awaits them, and what the final reward—or punishment—will be for their actions in life.
In occult adventures where characters can leave their bodies, travel in dreams, and project their forms onto the Astral Plane, the death of the physical body could come to hold less significance. Therefore, present the characters with fates worse than death. This might amount to a torturous —living— death, such as the eternal enslavement and torture of the soul or a debilitating madness that gradually renders a psychic creature mindless and insane. Since death in fantasy roleplaying games is typically either the end of a character’s story or a small inconvenience before resurrection, look for ways to offer an escape from death using occult characters’ knowledge of the spirit world—but at significant cost to their bodies, minds, or souls.
Setting the scene is important in occult adventures, which rely upon creating an eerie atmosphere of tension, dread, and wonder in the presence of the supernatural. GMs can use props and tools to create a physical atmosphere around their players that draws them in to the emotional realm of the adventure. A room illuminated by flickering candles suggests darkened seance chambers or occult rituals, and a prepared library of sounds and voices brings settings and characters to life.
If the characters are occult initiates or psychics, or they consult a fortune-teller or a medium, consider using cards, crystals, talismans, talking boards, and other such items as props in those scenes. Challenge yourself to give the players goose bumps a few times over the course of your campaign.
The following campaign themes combine the elements of occult adventures in different ways, and are meant to serve as packages to help GMs open the door of the occult in their campaign worlds.
The Unseen Realms and Strange Rules and Peculiar Patterns elements introduce an occult underworld that operates beneath the veneer of everyday life. Members of the occult underworld masquerade as the ordinary folk who occupy every stratum of society. In adventures that use this theme, an air of paranoia and dread looms as the characters investigate dark mysteries. No one is safe. No one can be trusted.
Not every secret society holds a dark agenda, however, and indeed some secret orders exist to oppose the machinations of evil cults. In time, the characters in an occult adventure might join such an order, or the party itself may come to be recognized as its own faction amongst the occult underworld.
Moving the antagonists’ goals forward creates tension and a sense of urgency, and helps to motivate the characters. Even if the characters manage to anticipate the villains’ every move, you can heighten the feeling of dark agendas running beneath the surface of your campaign by creating a list of minor, unrelated victories for the secret factions the characters oppose. Perhaps while the characters are distracted stopping a cult from transforming the city gates into a portal to Hell, elsewhere a smaller branch of the cult summons a powerful devil as the first step in another part of the cult leader’s overarching plan.
Another way to impress the theme of a ubiquitous occult underworld upon the characters is to hit them close to home. Choose an important NPC dear to one of the characters to be a member of a secret society or a cult that the characters oppose. Consider the scenes in which your NPC has appeared and create an ulterior motive for the character within those scenes that advances the agenda of the secret society or cult to which the NPC belongs.
Handled well, this character’s motivations will seem clear to the PCs in hindsight, as if you had planned the betrayal from the beginning.
Occult elements such as Mysteries within Mysteries, the Price and Power of Knowledge, and Fates Worse Than Death can combine to create a powerful overriding campaign theme highlighting the struggle for dominance between the worlds of the living and the dead.
The veils between the worlds are worn thin. Haunts, ghosts, and lost souls are commonplace, though they are not the true antagonists; in such campaigns, the real villains are often powerful outsiders with legions of minions who specialize in the harvesting of souls for a profitable black market in the nether realms.
Spirits who seek rest are a common occurrence, and PCs are tasked with discovering the means to help the dead move on one way or another, either through completing tasks a soul left incomplete in life, or by laying the spirit to rest permanently through force of might. Stakes are high in such games, and death is never the end.
GMs who explore the Power and Price of Knowledge and Unseen Realms elements will eventually reveal the presence of parallel realities to this Material Plane. Rather than venturing outward to distant lands, your occult adventurers might turn their focus inward to the strange realms of thoughts, dreams, spirits, and the soul.
When planning adventures along this theme, think about ways the characters can probe the realities before their eyes on a deeper level. For instance, as they investigate mysteries, you may want to occasionally provide ways for them to explore the Transitive Planes, and even the Outer Planes, to discover clues.
A mindscape is typically a surreal puzzle environment where the characters accomplish their tasks by navigating the mindscape and deceiving or satisfying the controlling mind, overcoming its defenses, unlocking its doors, and learning the secrets buried deep within. GMs should be prepared to adjudicate scenes where the characters project themselves into nonphysical realms.
Adventures along this theme might find the characters entering the twisted mindscape of an insane or possessed victim, or they might enter the mindscape of an enemy to steal hidden knowledge or implant subconscious suggestions.
The Mysteries within Mysteries and Unseen Realms elements emphasize the feeling of otherworldly awe that the occult inspires by showing how the everyday world reacts to eerie phenomena. In occult adventures, ordinary people tend to fear unknown circumstances over which they have little control. Rumor and superstition only exacerbate their distress, and a frightened populace can swiftly resort to extreme measures, including holy inquisitions and witch hunts, in order to regain some assurance of security, no matter how short-lived it be.
As a result of societal paranoia, the occult might be a forbidden art for the characters, and one that they must keep secret. Adventures might involve finding and communicating with other occult initiates by signals, tokens, or a specialized cant, While the adventurers bravely fight a shadow war on behalf of a world that shuns them.
As another take on this theme, the common crowd could develop a worshipful fascination toward people or entities skilled in the occult arts, consulting them for knowledge of the future or employing their psychic talents to quickly learn what ordinary folk cannot normally see or know. On the other hand, twisted individuals who wield occult power often attract lackeys and slaves willing to serve the dark arts, and the ranks of wicked cults teem with dangerous, unscrupulous predators enraptured by their charismatic cult leaders.
GMs who wish to fully immerse PCs in an exclusively occult campaign will likely incorporate most or all of the occult elements, and brew multiple, overlapping themes to propel their campaigns toward darker realms.
Without changing any game mechanics, arcane and divine classes can share in a game in which the characters are exceptional beings who dare to use powers beyond mortal ken.
NPCs with supernatural powers should be rare, or should conceal themselves from the world at large. Large and powerful churches may exist, exerting significant economic and political power, but only a few individuals ever perform miracles, and even these persons of extraordinary faith may fall out of favor with church doctrine. Perhaps in such campaigns there are no true gods, or their status as divine entities cannot be proven.
It may be that the so-called gods are actually various spirits and other inscrutable forces that occupy the space between dimensions. The Outer Planes and the gods who dwell there may be just a shared manifestation of the collective consciousness, which appears to exist only because people believe that it does.
The following adventure seeds play on the elements and themes integral to occult adventures.
Rumors of the corpses of strange creatures appearing for sale in the city are confirmed with the display of a brace of dead imps in a local market. Where are they from, and why are they here?
Discovery: The characters overhear the rush of fear and excitement when the corpses of two imps appear for sale in a local bazaar. It is soon revealed that the source of the corpses is a local ragpicker with some knowledge of the occult, who discovered the imps discarded behind an old lodge building of a defunct fraternal society. Soon, another pair is discovered, and more pairs follow on its heels. What could be causing their appearance, and who is killing them two at a time?
Adversary: The imps are actually the messengers of a powerful devil once in league with the defunct secret society. A sorcerer recently took up residence in the old lodge, and the imps began appearing with tempting offerings from their diabolical master. The sorcerer slew the daily emissaries and disposed of their bodies. Their master is angered by the spellcaster’s violent response to his daily demands, and soon more powerful forces well out of the sorcerer’s league may appear to exact revenge. Can the PCs come to the sorcerer’s aid, or are they already too late?
Further Adventures: The PCs may gain a new ally in the form of the sorcerer, or a powerful antagonist if she takes the devil’s bargain. Does the ragpicker know more than he is willing to admit? What dark secrets does the lodge hold that the devil may seek for himself ? Feast of Souls With alarming frequency, the rising of the morning sun reveals multiple brutal murders from the night before, and the victims’ souls, now separated from their mortal vessels, have failed to answer their bereaved relatives’ calls during seances. Someone, or something, is harvesting the souls of the deceased before they can reach their ultimate reward.
Discovery: The PCs encounter two competing seance circles that seek to uncover the murderer and the fate of the victims’ souls. But both groups’ ambitions are murky, and their combativeness threatens to rip the community apart. The PCs enter this chaotic scene as desperation sets in among the victims’ families, who only want the comfort of knowing their relatives’ souls have found final rest.
Adversary: The seance circles began with good intentions, but one of them is unwittingly the pawn of a night hag, unknowingly concealing her dread ambitions. The night hag has extorted the local thieves’ guild to gain its services by holding its leader hostage with her dream haunting ability. The guild is now murdering innocent victims so that she can bind their souls to her heartstone. She has also extorted a talented spiritualist in service to one seance circle to use his phantom in place of the rival circle’s summoned spirits, sabotaging the group closest to discovering the terrible secret behind the murders by spreading disinformation and deceit. The PCs must reveal the truth behind these proceedings by exposing the fraudulent spiritualist or infiltrating the thieves’ guild to discover the identity of the true mastermind behind the murders, before they can finally shatter the hag’s heartstone and bring rest to the souls of the dead.
Further Adventures: Destroying the hag’s heartstone frees the bound souls within, but did the hag have a deeper, more insidious motivation than the mere collection of souls for profit in the evil planes? Perhaps she had captured the spirit of a powerful, corrupt entity that now threatens the city with darker strife after gaining its freedom. The PCs have brought peace to the community for a time, but at what price, and what deadly machinations await?
Years ago, a vicious purge sought to wipe the poor and wretched from their homes in the city’s slums, until a mysterious creature came to their salvation. Now, a generation later, the bodies of city authorities are left broken on the slum’s streets for all to see.
Discovery: The PCs are called on to investigate the murders and find the corpses brutally smashed and savagely disfigured in ways hardly possible for mortal man. Locals suspect a dimwitted strongman from a traveling freak show, but the true culprit is a deadly clay golem once built for protection.
Adversary: The secret society responsible for the original purge is planning another. They decided it would be truly poetic if the same protector that stopped the previous purge became the spark for the new one. Using the awaken construct spell, the son of the purge’s original architect awakened the old protector, whose creator had since died of old age, and convinced it that he was its father. After sending it out to commit murders of authorities and build anger against the slums, the young aristocrat plans to betray the golem and come out of that betrayal as the hero who stopped the murders, as he leads a second retributive purge of the slums.
Further Adventures: The PCs may defeat the golem, but unless they uncover the true plans of the secret society, they haven’t thwarted the new purge. Will the PCs come to the rescue of those who cannot protect themselves? Convincing the golem of the truth might net the PCs a powerful ally, but if they destroyed it, they might need to find the old golem crafter’s notes and try to teach themselves the occult rituals he used so they can fashion a new golem, if they are to have any hope of defeating the cult’s foul undertaking.
When a wise and benevolent ruler mysteriously falls unconscious and begins to waste away, turmoil erupts throughout the land as various factions vie for power.
Discovery: The ruler’s regent, a skilled spiritualist, desperately seeks the PCs. The PCs must take a dangerous psychic journey to the Ethereal Plane, the Dimension of Dreams, or both, in order to find the monarch’s errant mind or soul and bring it back before the body dies and the land is divided by strife. If the PCs perish while on this journey, their bodies suffer the same fate as the ruler.
Adversary: The ruler has no desire to return to the sorrows of life on the Material Plane, and opposes the PCs at every turn. On the Ethereal Plane, the ruler’s spirit makes a procession toward Heaven accompanied by the spirits of loyal knights. The procession visits the ethereal versions of three places significant to the ruler in life. If the characters travel to the Dimension of Dreams, these places are idealized memories rather than ethereal haunts. Regardless of the reality the PCs visit, the ruler resists them. The characters must learn the true reasons for the ruler’s sorrow and convince the mind or soul to return to the body. Along the way, they may clash with the ruler’s champions as they seek to accomplish their goals.
Further Adventures: If the ruler’s coma was result of the dark arts or an attempted assassination, the true culprits may lurk in ambush for the characters as they voyage through these strange realms. And as the characters explore, they find the processions of other rulers heading toward Heaven or Hell. Are these events all somehow connected?
Every generation, the people of a village on a windswept moor venture out to a solitary menhir, where they join hands and say old words in a language that’s been passed down from generation to generation. Farther from this place, in a hidden hillside glen, is a smaller circle of stones—one for every generation— with human bones buried below, the remains of offerings.
Discovery: The PCs stop at the village during the course of their adventures. During their stay, the villagers welcome them and throw a feast, declaring one PC to be the —monarch— of the harvest and a villager the PC’s symbolic —consort.— During the night, the villagers make a clumsy attempt to abduct the honored PC and bring him to the menhir (if they fail to abduct the PC, they snatch a second villager instead). The villagers abandon their homes and gather around the menhir, chanting words in a forgotten language. The chosen monarchs are within the circle, seemingly unharmed. If the PCs don’t interfere, the next day the king and queen are simply gone, and the villagers claim ignorance of their whereabouts and seem reluctant to investigate.
Adversary: A psychic ghost or aberrant horror bound to the menhir manifests every generation to feed on the offerings provided by the villagers. When the being feeds, the menhir glows with a soft golden radiance, and the land for miles around becomes rich and fertile for a whole generation. If the PCs stake out the menhir during the night of the sacrifice, they have a chance to fight the creature, and if they rescue the sacrifices, the creature comes after them.
Further Adventures: Creatures of psychic power are attracted to a ley line passing through the menhir. Following the ley line leads to other villages with their own menhirs; those that were denied their sacrifices are now surrounded by dry and desolate land where nothing lives. Ley lines lead from these menhirs as well, on and on throughout the world. Generation after generation, the beings bound to these menhirs feed and grow more powerful. How can the PCs release the common folk from these mysterious horrors?
The PCs find a remarkable amount of success during their exploits, but all is not as it seems.
Discovery: After concluding a previous adventure, the PCs celebrate a job well done. During their revelry, they meet a woman who is excited for their success and invites them to her villa. She offers comfortable beds, fine foods and drinks, and the run of her abode. She tells them they are welcome to stay as long as they like, if they help her with a simple task.
Adversary: The woman is actually the consciousness of an ancient being imprisoned within an immersive mindscape. It long ago stopped trying to escape its mental prison, and now all it wants is some companionship. The PCs were unknowingly drawn into the consciousness’s mindscape at some point during their previous adventure, and are now trapped there with it. The consciousness creates whatever the characters desire, weaving a compelling tapestry of experience at first indistinguishable from the material world. Eventually, the characters figure out that wealth, fame, and fortune are falling into their laps just a little too easily and realize they must find a way out of the mindscape.
Further Adventures: The PCs might decide to destroy the mindscape—perhaps by traveling to the Dimension of Dreams, and possibly even freeing the ancient consciousness in the process. Other trapped creatures might exist inside the mindscape, and freeing them might provide the characters with future contacts or adversaries.
Following a series of disasters or a virulent plague, the desperate populace places its faith in a fanatical faction of an otherwise reputable church. With great resources now at their disposal, the zealots promise to undo the curse by appeasing the gods through punishment of evildoers and heretics.
Discovery: Witch hunters begin an inquisition and arrest anyone who dabbles in magic or the supernatural, including clerics of other faiths. The PCs enter the scene when the witch hunters attempt to arrest them or their allies, or when family members and close associates are captured by the order.
Adversary: Outwardly, the leader of the order, the Truthseeker, appears to be its most rational and penitent member. In truth, this person is a psychic tyrant who uses his abilities to read minds and expose enemies of the order. In short time, the splinter faction becomes a powerful cult as the Truthseeker trains the witch hunters to read minds and tell the future. The PCs might simply rescue their allies from the order, or they might expose the Truthseeker.
Further Adventures: As the Truthseeker’s cult gathers power, how does the original church respond? How many cities and towns has it infiltrated, and how readily does it swell its numbers? Did the cultists cause the tragic events that led to their rise to power? Even if the PCs stop the Truthseeker, is another cult member ready to take up the mantle?
The PCs are tasked with looking into a series of disappearances in a major city. During their investigation, they accidentally come across evidence that implicates a local noble. While the evidence is conclusive in their eyes, it’s inadmissible to the local courts, and they soon find themselves at odds with the accused. The PCs are unaware that their suspect is the owner of a soul portrait.
Discovery: As the PCs delve into the background of the accused, they learn that despite her youthful appearance, she is well into her seventies. Further research reveals that a series of her acquaintances, competitors, and family members disappeared in the years following her thirtieth birthday. Detailed investigation discovers the accused’s obsession with a portrait commissioned in her late twenties, a portrait that some visitors describe as a vision of a rare and radiant beauty, and others speak of only in haunted whispers.
Adversary: The accused noble is defended by a legion of mercenaries who are too powerful for the PCs to assault directly. The soul portrait prevents divinations that would reveal her true nature, projecting the image of her innocent younger self. While the PCs are sure she is the cause of the disappearances and other crimes, the noble deflects any blame by means of her sizable wealth and perceived charitable nature. When the PCs truly become a threat to her, the noble attacks those closest to them using various forms of harassment and torture. The PCs have to contend with a foe empowered by the (mistaken) belief that she can suffer no consequences from her actions. Eventually, unless the PCs find a way to catch the accused in a situation where her portrait can’t protect her, they are forced to take the law into their own hands.
Further Adventures: When the accused is defeated, her image moves to the background of the soul portrait, and the PCs are left with the unsavory task of deciding what to do with the artifact. Less scrupulous PCs may decide to take it for themselves, commissioning an artist to add their likenesses to the canvas, having learned of the powers bequeathed by the portrait. PCs with stronger morals might seek to destroy the artifact, but will soon learn that only the owner of a soul portrait can destroy it— and at the high cost of another’s life.
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Occult Adventures © 2015, Paizo Inc.; Authors: John Bennett, Logan Bonner, Robert Brookes, Jason Bulmahn, Ross Byers, John Compton, Adam Daigle, Jim Groves, Thurston Hillman, Eric Hindley, Brandon Hodge, Ben McFarland, Erik Mona, Jason Nelson, Tom Phillips, Stephen Radney-MacFarland, Thomas M. Reid, Alex Riggs, Robert Schwalb, Mark Seifter, Russ Taylor, and Steve Townshend.