Introduction to Cults
Mythos cults typically center around the worship of a particular Great Old One or Outer God. They seek to please or at least placate this deity figure in order to avoid its dreadful attention, earn some tiny fragment of its vast power or knowledge, or nudge its terrible influence toward a personally satisfying end, such as destroying the cult’s enemies, real or perceived.
In general, Mythos cults are not concerned with theology or esoterica, and the bulk of cultists are almost entirely disinterested in spiritual matters. Instead, they are materialistic, wholly focused on immediate or near future rewards. No one expects an afterlife within these cults—though immortality is certainly one of the rewards some cults crave, they do not look toward any kind of heaven.
The Mythos gives rise to hundreds of different cults, of which a selection is presented in this chapter.
The list includes cults to several of the most imposing Mythos entities, but almost any important entity could have a cult grow up around it. If your campaign features Atlach-Nacha, feel free to adjust the details of one of the included cults (such as replacing the goat themes of the Cult of the Black Goat with spider themes).
Each cult entry offers a list of “gifts” associated with the cult. These include character options for which the cult trains its members, items the cult crafts, spells it teaches, services it provides, and unusual and strange benefits of association.
Black Goat Cult
Shub-Niggurath resembles a perverted fertility goddess, and her cultists follow her example. They revel in lust and gluttony and often react with anger and aggression, and while they are not necessarily stupid, their raw emotions rule rather than intellect. Their cult rituals seem like bloodthirsty orgies to outsiders. Their own lives no longer matter, as they are caught up in service to the goddess and her needs.
Many of her cultists are lowly deviants, rejected from society as perverts or lunatics. Higher class devotees often start out as dilettantes and hedonists, but soon make the changeover to full, paranoid madness. Most members eventually become depraved and licentious serial killers.
Though insane, cultists of the Black Goat generally manage to keep their madness under wraps most of the time, allowing them to appear more or less normal around others. They live a secret life, in which they are devoted to the Goat, alongside a normal life, in which their neighbors and friends may have no idea about the awful horrors beneath the surface.
Like other Mythos sects, the cultists of the Black Goat are not focused on any kind of coherent afterlife: their reward is in the here and now. Indeed, the cult’s massive orgies are their reward for worship. Finding new members increases the pleasure and depth of these demented worship services, in which the awful offspring of the Black Goat take full part. Constantly seeking new meat for their goddess’s pleasure, cultists evangelize and lure unsuspecting recruits deeper into the mysteries with promises of increasingly intense carnality.
Sometimes cultists are able to build up a cult in a city or developed area, while other times they restrict their activities to the woodlands and wilderness.
Depravity can be found everywhere, and the Goat is flexible and undiscriminating.
Typically, the cult leaders of the Goat are not human: Shub-Niggurath prefers dark young, fungi from Yuggoth, ghouls, and other monstrous forces to lead the lesser human mob. Monstrous minions are often more reliable, particularly compared to the bulk of human cultists whose minds are often warped by the orgies and rituals of the Black Goat’s worship. Also, if and when the authorities descend upon such a cult, seeding the ranks with monstrous combatants helps the cult survive. The mi-go make particularly effective masters of these cults, infusing the organization with their alien technology and using the mad humans for breeding purposes.
Some cults of the Black Goat are able to take over entire communities. In these cases, they often encourage or force most community members to crossbreed with satyrs and other monsters and drink of the mother’s milk, thus devolving into monstrosities themselves. In due course, entire villages of monsters can arise in which everyone is a Mythos satyr, ghoul, or other hybrid. of course, the most deformed villagers stay in hiding except after dark, while those who look more normal wear clothing to attempt to conceal their true natures. If the cult is careful, other folks may travel through or even visit the cursed land and never know the truth.
Black Goat Cult Gifts
- Fertility: The cultists’ fields, animals, and even their persons are all subject to the influence of Shub-Niggurath’s horrific fertility powers. Their cattle might all birth triplets. Of course, those triplets are likely to be two-headed or otherwise deformed, but they are still useful for milking and slaughter.
- Frenzy: The cultists’ total devotion to their emotions allows them to go berserk in combat, ignoring their own safety in their bloodlust. This makes them surprisingly dangerous in a fight, even when unarmed. They often gain the delirium warrior barbarian archetype.
- Gift of the Mother: Shub-Niggurath often gives her cult leaders and those who have done her services special “presents”—living horrors they can (mostly) control and keep for their own. These monsters include mutated animal companions, outer mutant familiars, and even dark young.
- The Milk of the Mother: Shub-Niggurath’s own maternal secretions have amazing mutagenic powers. (See milk of Shub- Niggurath.)
- Treasures: Goat cultists led by the mi-go can sometimes procure their technology, including brain cylinders, sensory machines, and mist projectors.
Crawling Chaos Cult
Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos, is notorious for his thousand forms, every one representing a different aspect of the god. As a result, each of his cults functions differently, often worshiping a different aspect to suit Nyarlathotep’s needs for that time and place. All are designed to cause chaos, evoke horror, and sow madness among mortal societies.
Nyarlathotep does not often have large or well-organized cults but instead instigates worship as needed for specific jobs or purposes. His devotees are mostly members of small organizations—witch covens, gangs of political dissidents, or outcast tribes—who have often been rejected by their neighbors.
Cultists of Nyarlathotep hope that, in gaining his approval, they will also curry favor with the Outer Gods he serves. Perhaps they are correct or perhaps not, but the natural laws of the universe seem to bend to aid them. They tend to have more good fortune, their spells are likelier to work, and random or haphazard events often come out in their favor.
Crawling Chaos Cult Gifts
Nyarlathotep’s cults share these features:
- Command Monster: Cultists are given special privileges with all monsters associated with Nyarlathotep. They may still need to pay a hunting horror’s price to get its services, but the monster will not attack them.
- Emissary of the Outer Gods: Service to Nyarlathotep means cultists are also accepted, at least to a degree, by the other Outer Gods that he serves. Such entities are less likely to harm or impede them.
- Million Favored Ones: As they age and progress through life, each of Nyarlathotep’s followers will wither and devolve into one of the million favored ones: mindless wraiths that accompany Nyarlathotep and do his behest in service to the other Outer Gods. It’s not much of an afterlife, but it is eternal.
- Treasures: Cultists can generally gain access to brazen heads, gates, Leng glass, a lamp of Alhazred, space mead, and yithian lightning guns.
As the Howler, Nyarlathotep takes the shape of a gigantic thing that, instead of a face, has a long tentacle that reaches quivering to the stars while it shrieks a litany to the Outer Gods. This is one of the most-feared aspects of the Crawling Chaos, and as such, it is a very commonly-worshiped aspect among his cults. After all, the safest way to avoid the god’s enmity is to serve him.
The Howler inspires large groups of cultists, such as lost tribes, whole villages, or breakaway sects, all of them seeking the Howler’s favor in their quest to seize power. Typically, the entire social unit of the local area is devoted to the Howler, who enthusiastically serves Nyarlathotep’s purposes.
To maintain the Howler’s form for any length of time or to awaken his presence, constant and aggressive acts of sacrifice and obeisance must be performed.
When sufficient death, pain, and madness has been caused by the cult, the ritual to summon the Howler to the mortal plane of existence can be completed. This normally means that a large and organized body of cultists must work together to bring about the Howler’s presence, inevitably sacrificing secrecy and causing significant harm even before they conjure up their dark god.
Once summoned, for whatever length of time the Howler takes to vocalize, his cult can benefit from his special gifts.
- Flight: The cultists of the Howler gain the ability to fly as the spell. They can do this for the entirety of his howling, and his form drips a hideous sap from his chest which can be collected and stored for later use. When a user’s body is covered by the sap (this typically takes a liter or more), they can fly until the substance dries out, which typically takes 1d3 hours.
- Summoning: When the Howler appears, normally one or more of Nyarlathotep’s monstrous minions arrive with him. These typically remain behind after the Howler departs, and the cult can call upon their services for an extended period of time.
The Dark Demon
The Dark Demon is rarely worshiped directly, and usually manifests only as an adjunct to another Crawling Chaos cult. Occasionally, a person who seeks contact with Nyarlathotep may summon the Dark Demon by accident, not realizing the true horror of the Dark Demon’s possession until it is too late.
A person transformed by the Dark Demon’s effect is sometimes revered as one touched by their god, and is sometimes mocked and reviled as a fool.
The Shadow Pharaoh
The Shadow Pharaoh is worshiped by the underside of society, typically in large cities or nations. His cultists operate in secret; they are inspired by his will to overthrow the current political or social order. They do not replace the forces of authority they overthrow but instead they substitute the existing social order for the horror and anarchy of the Crawling Chaos.
The Shadow Pharaoh’s clandestine forces operate in effect like an organized crime family focused on fomenting nihilism and destruction. Some disenfranchised individuals may begin by joining the Shadow Pharaoh’s cult in the hopes of disrupting a corrupt social order or to bring about a the dawn of a new age. Over time, however, they sink into madness and hatred, and their original goals are subsumed in the devastation his worship unleashes.
The Shadow Pharaoh typically provides these benefits to his followers:
- Contagious Madness: With a ceremony, the Shadow Pharaoh can infect his cultists and an audience with a type of frenzied lust for destruction. This effect creates a dangerous mob that contaminates other people as they draw near, spreading their insanity and vandalism wide. Entire cities can be destroyed in the process. This particular result of the Shadow Pharaoh’s cult requires a sort of critical mass, as well as the Shadow Pharaoh’s physical presence during the frantic demolition process. When the Pharaoh leaves, those who were once his militant foes come to their senses, usually horrified by what they have wrought. Inevitably, some few among them exult in secret and find themselves hoping for more of the same. These the cult seeks out to refresh its numbers.
- One-time adjunct spells: By signing his dread contract, the Pharaoh’s most loyal cultists gain a spell (regardless of any spellcasting ability or lack thereof) which they can use one time only to serve his ends (whether intentionally or not). Cultists so blessed must summon the Shadow Pharaoh again and do his bidding before they can receive another spell.
- Secret knowledge: The Shadow Pharaoh knows the weaknesses and dark hidden things of those whom his forces would wish to destroy. With this knowledge, they can expose the failings of the high-born, undermine important religious or social leaders, or blackmail the mighty.
The Black Man
Nyarlathotep can choose to take the form of an ordinary human with flesh, eyes, teeth, and nails of blackest pitch. In this form, he presides at the meetings of witches and wizards that worship him. The Black Man has no true cult in the sense of an organization, but his awakened followers occasionally work together to learn spells and secrets from the god.
The Bloated Woman
In this form, Nyarlathotep eschews cult worship in favor of a small group of devoted followers. They are secretive and operate outside normal society, in a somewhat similar fashion to the more cerebral followers of the Shadow Pharaoh, but the Bloated Woman’s followers are emotional, instinctive, and radical.
- Berserker Frenzy: Cultists are unable to resist the Bloated Woman’s every whim and madly seek out her favor. They will do anything to be once more permitted into her presence, and so are the most loyal of fanatics. When prevented from serving her, they fly into mad rages.
- Contagious Madness: The Bloated Woman’s contagious madness is similar to that brought about by the Shadow Pharaoh, except that the mob tends to be more focused on killing people en masse, rather than vandalizing structures. The Bloated Woman herself presides over the destruction.
The Haunter of the Dark
In this form, Nyarlathotep can only exist in the absence of light, so he typically makes his appearance in underground caverns or windowless structures. As the Haunter of the Dark, he creates cults which are (at least on the surface) respectable religions. They may have structures built right in the middle of cities, where all can see them, and present the semblance of legitimate faith whilst hiding their true nature. Most of the rituals and services do not invoke the Haunter directly but instead focus upon its emblem: a Shining Trapezohedron. Even the trapezohedron need not be physically exposed to the congregation’s eyes. It can be kept inside a container or a statue, and thus even many of the actual cultists are deceived as to the true nature of their faith.
The Haunter likes to prey physically upon his own cultists, to keep them from straying or simply as a terrifying surprise for them. This partially sates Nyarlathotep’s need not only for devastation but also for human madness and terror.
The Haunter offers a significant and ruthless benefit for his cultists.
- The Haunter Strikes: On moonless nights, the priests can send forth the Haunter to destroy those who oppose them. When used to find information about a victim of the Haunter, divination spells and even direct communion with one’s god are limited by the Haunter’s power.
Anyone trying to find out what caused a person’s death can only learn that it was the Haunter of the Dark, but not who sent forth the Haunter or for what reason it was done. Nyarlathotep’s power absorbs any other attempts to uncover the nature of his cult. He can even block wishes and other powerful means of discovery. Cultists thus have a useful means of murder at a distance, which cannot readily be traced back to them.
The sole purpose of a Cthulhu cult is reverence for— and service to—Great Cthulhu and his siblings. Their goal is to provide sacrifices for abyssal monsters, keep the cult secret by murdering nosy outsiders, and ultimately to awaken Cthulhu when his time inevitably comes.
Cultists believe that after Cthulhu rises—when he will roam wild across the world—they will be free to consume, kill, and take pleasure as they please along with him. This is his promise. Naturally, his cult attracts the vilest of individuals.
Cthulhu’s cult is almost exclusively coastal, or among those who live on ships. Those who are landlocked cannot easily access the wealth that Cthulhu offers, so typically they follow other Great Old Ones.
The cult of Cthulhu has three main categories of members: Humanoids: Normal humanoids who worship Cthulhu form the vast bulk of the cult, seeking two distinct rewards. First, they are promised that when Cthulhu comes to clear the world, they will be free to engage in indiscriminate violence, as described above.
Second, they gain deep-sea bounty and wealth via contact with abyssal horrors. This wealth often takes the form of valuable objects (statuettes or jewelry) made of gold or silver that mysteriously appear in their fishing nets.
Tainted Hybrids: If the deep ones are in an area, they almost always organize as a cult of Dagon (a subset of Cthulhu followers). Humans in such a cult who interbreed with the deep ones produce hybrid offspring who start out looking human but over the years degenerate into the full deep one form. The promise for the humans is that their children will be immortal, while the promise for the hybrids is that they will one day join deep one society. and of course, once the entire community is composed of hybrids—a process that takes only a single generation—their deep one heritage ensures loyalty to the Great Old One’s goals.
Deep Ones: The deep ones are not an ancient species and did not interact with the true primordial entities, such as the yithians or elder things. They were created a few thousand years ago by the starspawn, Cthulhu’s own race, who sought to form a species which could communicate with, monitor, and if need be, wipe out humanity or the other surface folk. The deep ones possess the same physical realities as a normal species: bones, digestion, a need to breathe, and so forth.
Where they diverge is in their ability to cross-breed with other vertebrate species that should be completely incompatible from an evolutionary perspective. The deep ones are absolutely loyal to Cthulhu and work to advance his aims whenever possible.
Cthulhu Cult Gifts
- Abyssal Horrors: Starspawn recognize and work with human cultists. Usually, the starspawn is in charge, but occasionally Cthulhu sets things up the other way around for unknown reasons.
- Blessed of Cthulhu: Certain special cultists are given the mark of Cthulhu. This generally means that part of the cultist’s body is transformed into one or more worm-like tentacles. For instance, a blessed one might have an eye replaced with a tendril or their hand might become a cluster of writhing worm-like protrusions. Other possibilities include a circlet of tentacles on the chest or a forest of them in place of hair. Typically, the transformed part of the body—the mark—is kept hidden by the cultist except during special ceremonies. This transformation bestows no special abilities, but it does give the cultist special benefits in dealing with Cthulhu and his minions.
- Dreams: Cultists are able to get special instructions and information from Cthulhu via dream telepathy.
- Shoggoth-twsha: Certain deep ones are appointed to become shoggoth-twshas, specialists who are able to control shoggoths. The shoggoth-handlers do so with a small amount of enchanted tissue of their personal shoggoth, which they carry with them at all times (see twsha on page 147). Each shoggoth-twsha has one particular shoggoth. These individuals are, naturally enough, guarded by the cult, because their death leads to a dangerously uncontrolled shoggoth. Usually, only deep ones gain this blessing, but very rarely, a human might be granted a shoggoth to control, such as if the creature is needed far inland where deep ones prefer not to tread.
- Y’ha-Nthlei: Human cultists know how to contact the deep ones off almost any coast, generally using the ritual contact deep ones.
- Treasures: Cultists can generally access chains of the deep, idols of Cthulhu, starstones of Mnar, tiaras of Mnar, and yithian lightning guns.
No one in their right mind ever wants Azathoth to come to their world, as such a calamity would lead to nothing but destruction. Also, Azathoth itself is blind, idiotic, and incapable of caring about any kind of worship process, let alone responding to it. Azathoth is essentially the bleak, impersonal nature of the universe made into awful, living reality.
Those who want Azathoth’s favor typically go about it by worshiping the Crawling Chaos instead.
But there exist occasional outbreaks of those who worship Azathoth directly, despite the lack of obvious benefits. Perhaps a servitor of the Outer Gods orchestrated the irrational worship or perhaps a mortal found a secret she should not have seen, but it only takes one spark for the madness of Azathoth to begin to spread.
The cult of Azathoth, by definition, is composed of lunatics, and will usually call attention to itself eventually. Awareness of Azathoth that spreads too far starts to contaminate people. Madwomen begin to dance frantically in the street. Lunatics shriek and gnash their teeth. Those already insane start to focus their madness on Azathoth and the uncaring, hostile universe around them. This sudden outbreak of contagious madness in a region may come as the result of one of the Crawling Chaos’s plots reaching fruition or of Azathoth being summoned to the area and staying too long. It has no understandable purpose other than its own propagation: insanity for its own sake.
Other Mythos cults have insane individuals in their service, but they usually make an effort to conceal their madness, either by caution or isolation. In an epidemic of Azathoth worship, those affected make no effort to hide their growing psychosis. They may believe they are someone else and loudly proclaim their true identity, experience severe mood swings of mania and stark depression, or descend into dementia, violence, or paranoia. They frequently see visions and hear voices, sometimes real, but other times just from their own minds. Regardless of its apparent form, their lunacy is also channeled into service of the Blind Idiot God.
Usually, the spread of the Azathoth cult burns itself out, typically when the authorities wipe out its members, but it can cause great damage during its duration. If the cultists manage to awaken Azathoth, and bring it into dire reality in our dimension, it can ravage entire lands or even continents. In the worst-case scenario, a whole solar system can be destroyed by an uncontrolled spread of Azathothic knowledge.
Azathoth Cult Gifts
Manifest Lunacy: Each madness is amplified and strengthened by Azathoth. For example, a cultist with multiple personalities that generally manifest only as different voices or occasional dissociative episodes might have each personality become a distinct person (via illusory or shapechanging magic), wearing unique costumes and having their own separate class levels. If a cultist hallucinates voices, those voices become actual physical entities that can take action (at least similar to unseen servants but potentially as servitors of the Outer Gods. If a cultist is withdrawn and comatose, she becomes rock-like and impossible to harm or otherwise stimulate (as iron body).
Each case is unique and profoundly unsettling.
Treasures: Cultists can generally access Abhoth slime, gates, and flutes of the servitors.
Opener of the Way Cult
The Opener’s followers are typically lone sorcerers, wizards, or other outcasts who seek Yog-Sothoth’s power and knowledge. They walk a reckless path, as the Opener wants them to help him return to the world, which is likely to destroy everything mortal.
They view their role as support for the Opener and his minions: the god itself is supposed to do the greatest tasks while his worshipers merely assist.
Generally, followers of the Opener owe him their loyalty out of carnal obsession and/or familial obligation. Yog-Sothoth often breeds with them directly or with their descendants, producing outer mutants, abominations, or spawn. Thus, the follower’s descendants can inherit the world.
At times, a group of like-minded spellcasters may band together under Yog-Sothoth’s guidance for a short time, but the Opener’s worship more often produces a wider, looser fraternity. Such a far-flung network involves wizards in several places, all working together, who maintain contact through periodic travel, sending of familiars, or spells. Joseph Curwen leads such a loose-knit group in Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
More importantly, Yog-Sothoth is a widely known entity among those who study the arcane, so wizards almost everywhere can access his powers, summon him or his servants (by mistake or otherwise), and try to tap into the arcane influence he commands. Thus, while Yog-Sothoth does not have a tight or strict organization, he is respected, feared, and spoken of among other Mythos cults. Thus, it is possible for almost any cult’s members to access Yog-Sothoth’s eldritch powers and summon his monsters. The Opener’s purpose is always the same and quite direct—to expand his influence and enter the world.
Opener Cult Gifts
- Channel Power: Many of the Opener’s worshipers have great mystical might but lack physical strength. They can channel mystical power into their own bodies in order to gain physical strength and prowess when fighting. They favor the Arcane Strike feat and the spell ferox.
- Immortality: The Opener can greatly extend the life of his worshipers, though there is always a cost. Always. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward contains one such cost: the horrific demise of one’s descendants to allow for self-resurrection.
- Summoning: The Opener can be brought physically (at least in part) to the mortal realm, where he can carry out his will, including the creation of outer mutants, abominations, and spawn.
- They Break Through: Yog-Sothoth’s followers are more easily able to create gates to other places, or portals through which the Old Ones can come. In addition, the gates they create can often access times or realms unavailable to other cults. Followers of the Opener often take the ritualist wizard archetype and have an easier time procuring obscure focuses for plane shift.
- Time and Space: When a cultist of the Opener is traveling through space or time via magic or technology, the Opener can act as a guide so no error is made, and they arrive where they intend.
- Treasures: Cultists can usually access Abhoth slime, gates, Plutonian drugs, space mead, and silver keys.
Cult of the Sleeper
Tsathoggua is keenly interested in worshipers because he is always hungry for sacrifice. His cult follows the same natural cycle in almost every case (see below). All the stages of the cult may be present simultaneously on a world or continent, but in any one region or nation, only one stage manifests at a time.
At all times and at all stages, the primary function of the cult is to keep Tsathoggua fed so that he continues to reward his worshipers. Unlike other Mythos cultists, cultists of the Sleeper are often sane and rational, if callously so. Tsathoggua places no premium on madness or destruction for its own sake, and thus his cult can operate in an ordered society—at least for a while.
Sleeper Cult Beginnings
Initially, only a few unlucky individuals in any given region know about Tsathoggua. The Great Old One may make personal appearances or his formless spawn may contact likely individuals. These people begin worshiping Tsathoggua and start organizing services for fellow cultists. Tsathoggua’s cult at this early stage often seems more or less harmless. Only animals (dogs, cows, etc.) are sacrificed to their foul deity, and the obvious benefits of the cult make it seem attractive, at least to those of a low moral nature.
At this stage, the cult may be limited to a particular clan, race, or guild, but it always looks to expand. The cult is not an exclusionary organization and welcomes outsiders as adherents.
The Rise of the Sleeper Cult
Eventually, the Cult of the Sleeper becomes large and forms a proper church. At this point it is grouped into congregations, each of which has formal worship services, one or more temples, and an organized hierarchy with initiates, acolytes, and priests. These congregations work together as groups to capture and provide victims for the awakening of Tsathoggua.
When possible, they attempt to bring their cult to a position of importance in their land.
At this stage, the cult is strong and bold enough to begin kidnapping humans and other intelligent victims to sacrifice to their god. The benefits they receive from this are obvious, even to outsiders, and the cult continues to grow. Typically, the cult still attempts to keep the sacrificial nature and true purpose of the religion at least somewhat hidden.
Downfall of the Sleeper Cult
Unless the cult is able to achieve a stranglehold on an entire nation, eventually its prominence leads to disaster. The vile practices, kidnappings, and murders of the cult, as well as its dealings with hideous formless spawn and other monsters (such as serpent folk), lead the forces of law and order to strike back and try to suppress the Sleeper.
Even if the Sleeper Cult does manage to gain support in high places (for example, by converting a nation’s king or vizier to its number), this can lead to a mass revolt against the horrors it perpetrates. The natural response to the Sleeper is a call for its official ban or even a pogrom against the cult. Sleeper worshipers go into hiding or engage in pitched battles with the authorities. Usually the Sleeper Cult is exposed before it has grown too powerful to be stopped, and thus it is eventually doomed to widespread destruction.
But even then it is not gone.
The Sleeper in Secret
A few cultists almost always remain, often the most intelligent and potent. They carry on the lore and the legend of their god. Even if most of the cult dies out, lone individuals sometimes find out about and choose to serve the Sleeper.
These few isolated cultists must function within an overall society in which worship of the Sleeper has been banned. But they still remember the purpose of their god—and, even in secret, kidnap people to provide victims for Tsathoggua.
The Sleeper Forgotten Ultimately, the memory of the Sleeper Cult’s crimes fades into history and society as a whole forgets the danger the cult poses or even its name. The cycle begins anew with small bands of cultists, just as at first.
Sleeper Cult Gifts
- Ancient Sorcery: Tsathoggua’s connections enable cultists to learn obscure or rare spells directly from him without the need of texts or magical research.
- Cursed Slumber: A cultist can call upon the power of Tsathoggua to enter sleep without interruption for weeks, days, or months. During this time, the cultist needs no sustenance. This can be useful to hide for prolonged periods, which is particularly helpful during a time of suppression.
- Energy Nexus: Tsathoggua’s powers of precognition will warn a cultist before something terrible happens, either personally or to the cult, often through an item such as a ring of Eibon or a spell such as divination, foresight, or temporal energy nexus.
- Items and Lore: Church-based cultists always maintain a temple, which contains either a magic portal leading to Tsathoggua, or else a special statue through which the god can manifest. In return for their service, Tsathoggua, when he manifests, grants them knowledge of minor magic spells or limited-use magic items, including temporary versions of permanent items that last only until it is time to feed again.
- Treasures: Cultists usually have access to clithni, gates, formless spawn, and rings of Eibon.
Those who worship Ithaqua the Windwalker know that their ultimate fate is likely to become a wendigo—a cannibalistic monster that moves with the wind. The Windwalker attracts mostly wild folk, trappers, or other explorers who dwell in the polar regions and form unsophisticated but brutal and murderous cults.
In a very real sense, worship of the Windwalker is not a choice, but a logical consequence of his followers’ increasing blood lust and ferocity.
Typically, such a cult cannot coexist with an agrarian civilization, though raiders or nomads sworn to the Windwalker often maintain a high standard of living parasitically by preying on others. They pillage and loot more stable cities or lands, taking what they will and destroying the rest.
When the Windwalker’s cult reaches a certain critical mass, it begins to spread as a plague, and waves of frantic cultists hurl themselves against entire nation-states, destroying them, and moving on as their thirst for plunder and destruction requires.
The Windwalker cult starts out small and grows through three stages until it reaches a bloody crescendo of cannibalistic carnage.
The Loneliest Cultist
In the beginning, Ithaqua is merely a horrendous monster. He preys on individuals, driving them mad until they begin to eat the flesh of their own kind and one day turn into wendigos. Over time these cannibalistic criminals may grow to sufficient numbers to reach the next level of the Windwalker cult.
During this period, the Windwalker primarily acts as the source of some particularly dangerous wilderness predators. He is not determined to craft a cult but merely to give rise to as many wendigos as possible, sowing the seeds of madness and destruction.
The Robber Band Eventually, enough would-be wendigos and their allies create an organization of criminals to prey on others.
At first, they may only strike at outlying homes or small groups of wanderers, then eventually escalate their campaign to attacking small settlements. They may participate in piracy.
At this point, Windwalker cultists often come in contact with a gnoph-keh, and some of their number are well on the path toward becoming wendigos. All are inspired by Ithaqua’s personality and look forward to his increasingly common visits to the mortal realm.
By this time, they can present as organized opponents to a whole band of adventurers. They may even have a home base from which to operate.
The Ice Crusades
As multiple rapacious bands join together and Ithaqua’s influence spreads, eventually whole tribes may fall under his sway, and in the end, Ithaqua’s awful army goes on the march. The winter winds howl and the snow blasts as the Great Old One and his minions descend upon the rest of the world in the fury of total war. Heedless of the outcome, they throw themselves with unholy abandon at the forces of rationality, civilization, and learning, desiring only to rend and devour flesh.
Windwalker Cult Gifts
- The Lesser Transformation: The cultist begins the process of becoming a wendigo (page 396). Killing and eating more victims allows for the completion of the transformation.
- The Greater Transformation: Rare and difficult, this gift begins the process of turning a wendigo into a windwalker wendigo. This process is harder than the transformation into a wendigo, but the end result is far more terrifying.
- True Ferox: The Windwalker’s cultist becomes savage and deadly, toughening skin into natural armor, fingernails into claws, and teeth into fangs. The cultist gains the advanced creature simple template and 2 claws and a bite attack.
- Cannibalistic Healing: Eating dead humanoids heals a cultist more quickly. Cultists often gain the combat feast rage power.
- Howling Wind: Cultists of the Windwalker favor the terrifying howl barbarian rage power.
- Frozen Flesh: Cultists of the Windwalker never suffer harm from exposure or harm from cold weather.
- Treasures: Cultists often have access to disks of the Hyades and mist projectors taken from mi-go.
Yellow Sign Cult
Cultists of the Yellow Sign tend to have an artistic temperament, and to view their horrible master, the King in Yellow, as the ultimate performance artist.
They see the destruction and havoc he wreaks as a great display, and in a sense, they are absolutely correct. of course, only the cultists are fully able to appreciate the king’s creativity.
Many Yellow Sign cultists are cunningly insane: deceptively refined serial killers and urbane sociopaths.
Often they only “realize” that they are devoted to the Yellow Sign after years of compulsive cruelty, often in the name of art.
The Yellow Sign gives cultists free rein to their whims while the cult provides aid for their goals and machinations.
The King in Yellow is among the most accessible of all the Great Old Ones, and his cultists enjoy a great deal of his personal patronage. Wise beyond belief and unusually attentive to his followers, the King in Yellow appears periodically at cult services or the doorsteps of those who believe in him, ready to dispense gifts or knowledge. He might leave a single pot of paint with a cultist or group, that they might create the perfect color for their mural. He might instead leave a small razor, for use in carving away the body feature that prevents their loved one’s physical perfection.
Exploiting their madness, the King in Yellow often communicates with cultists in ways undetectable to sane individuals. For example, a cultist might derive meaning from a random phrase overheard on the street, from the direction that a bird flies overhead, or from the distorted shape of a tree’s shadow in the late afternoon. Or perhaps what the cultist interprets becomes the King’s intent. It’s hard to say because to a follower of the King in Yellow, madness, reality, and art become one.
The King’s unholy text is also a play, simply entitled The King in Yellow. Either reading the play or watching it performed can lead to madness and worship of the King. Those aware of the danger it poses are constantly at risk of being exposed to the Yellow Sign and being magically compelled to serve the King in Yellow, since it is easy to create and innocuous to the uninitiated.
The Yellow Sign is not as tightly-organized as many cults. Cultists occasionally meet in groups for activities other than worship, as signaled to them through the King’s insane mental dramas. For instance, a cultist might realize that his cat’s persistent meowing for food is a call from the King, while another might hear the summons by looking closely at the pattern formed by wine she accidentally spilled.
The Yellow Sign does not have persistent cult leaders. When they meet, regardless of how they came together this time or originally, one of them naturally takes the lead. This may be a different cultist each time.
Usually, the person who takes over is the one most suited for the task at hand. For instance, if they need to capture a yithian-possessed person and torture him for information, a cultist who has a deep sadistic nature might become the leader. If they have to organize a performance of the King’s play, the most artistically-inclined might take over instead.
Because of the King in Yellow’s foreknowledge, he can send his cultists to seek out and extract wisdom from other beings. For example, they make a regular practice of hunting down those possessed by the great race of yith and also round up non-humanoids for creative torture. Even ghouls and deep ones fear being taken by the Yellow Sign’s cult, whose ingenuity and extravagance in causing pain is beyond compare.
Yellow Cult Gifts
- Commune with the King: The King himself, at his pleasure, can give the cultists information, useful items, or direction. Usually, this is not in person, but one might, for example, recognize the King’s handiwork in something scrawled on a wall.
- Desecration: Creative atrocities can cause the King in Yellow to manifest and bless cultists and their activities.
- Passion: When cultists focus on something (spellcasting, an objet d’art, a dance, or the like), their concentration often consumes them. They favor the Mad Passion feat.
- The Pallid Mask: A cultist can become an avatar of the King in Yellow by wearing the Pallid Mask. After an avatar has departed or been destroyed, a lesser pallid mask remains behind.
- Third Eye: Cultists are able to see other realms more easily than others, either in divinely-granted glimpses or by way of the Third Eye Masterpiece bardic masterpiece, and only their madness helps them comprehend what they see. This also tends to make Yellow Sign cultists take actions that seem even more bizarre and crazy to those who only exist in the normal plane of existence.
- Treasures: Cultists often have access to clithni, the lamp of Alhazred, pigments from Yuggoth, selenine, and wine of Pnoth.
Many of the Elder Beings not noted above have cults, though they are rarer and less powerful, but not necessarily less dangerous.
Abhoth is not known to have traditional mortal worshipers such as humans, and the filth it spawns are in no way devoted to their maker. However, the twin blasphemies Nug and Yeb, of which little is known, occasionally lead cults of monsters that worship Abhoth. Normally subterranean, these monstrous cults focus primarily on using and abusing the filth. They abuse rather than worship Abhoth’s spawn, including sacrifice and consumption, gruesome rituals, and horrible experiments. Often these cults attempt to draw portions of Abhoth into subterranean lairs in their own regions where its body does not already abide.
A proper cult of Atlach-Nacha is a rare thing, as the Great Old One knows only two drives: to eat and to spin the Forever Web. Organizations that follow Atlach-Nacha may support these desires—providing convenient prey in the form of sacrifices and largely getting out of the way of Atlach-Nacha’s spinning— but their purpose is usually the acquisition of lore and hidden knowledge.
Sages and magicians may study the web to learn arcane dimensional secrets or spells hidden in the pattern. In tracing its paths and connections, students can use the web to travel more easily between locations and to other dimensions. They may seek to speak personally with Atlach-Nacha to learn deeper secrets, in which case they are sure to bring along a live meal for him. As Atlach-Nacha does not enjoy distractions, the length of the conversation is exactly as long as it takes the Great Old One to consume the offered meal.
A cultist who calls upon Atlach-Nacha without a prepared meal usually becomes one.
The cult is far from harmless, particularly if it focuses specifically on helping its master complete the Forever Web. Atlach-Nacha spins the web at locations across the universe: once it is “complete” on a particular region or planet, that location collapses into a singularity, destroying it utterly. Various cult sects attempt to divert or manipulate Atlach-Nacha’s path such that he completes the web as an act of mass destruction against an enemy or an entire world. The sect will defend key vulnerable portions of the web to prevent their own destruction—at least until they have also destroyed their enemies. They may also seek to use the remnant of a destroyed world for their own purposes, possibly contrary to Atlach-Nacha’s intentions.
Atlach-Nacha sometimes gifts his venom to his servants.
In areas where land-dwelling races have taken over swamps, river deltas, or seashore regions from aquatic races, the conquerors may unfortunately find that the defeated foe worshiped Bokrug, and the cessation of their placating worship serves to enrage the Great Old One. In these cases, they must constantly atone for their sins to avert destruction, persuading Bokrug that their worship is a suitable replacement for that of their predecessors.
Aquatic races who serve Bokrug wield his power against their enemies to ruin roads and break cities.
Ultimately with Bokrug’s aid, they can completely revert enemy lands to their wild primordial state.
Bokrug’s servants are given Bokrug eggs to call forth ghosts of Ib when Bokrug does not deign to make a personal appearance.
Cults of Byatis provide it with sacrifices so that it can grow, and in return, Byatis may provide worshipers with spells or wisdom. They may also have as their goal access to other Great Old Ones or Outer Gods through the gates that Byatis will create once sufficiently nourished. Because places where Byatis has been summoned suffer from his amnesia-inducing power, cults that retain knowledge of what they worship necessarily dwell some distance away, and must periodically make pilgrimages to worship and interact with their god. However, this is in part a boon: enemies who follow pilgrims on this journey soon come under the mental influence of Byatis, forgetting their mission and purpose and often being drawn down to its lair as a meal.
Some cults that grow around Byatis actually live in its vicinity, generally led by a powerful magician who may have first summoned it there. In these cases, the magician is inevitably overcome by Byatis’s influence and eaten. When this occurs, the general membership of the cult will eventually forget exactly what it worships or why its members feel compelled to offer it sacrifice.
They may even let Byatis loose on the neighboring countryside periodically. Visitors and adventurers may thus sincerely be told that the dark being that dwells in yonder dungeon is a dragon, demonic monster, or some other creature—anything but Byatis. None know the truth, even those who worship the Great Old One itself.
Cults of Chaugnar Faugn must first create a statue of their deity from expensive materials with masterwork craftsmanship and potent enchantments. The massive effort and lavish resources invested in this process often attract attention, which can lead to the destruction of the cult then and there. Assuming the cult is able to deflect suspicion, they complete the idol and summon Chaugnar Faugn itself. The Great Old One generally lingers so long as the cult plies him continuously with sacrifices and power, though eventually he becomes sated and departs. For this reason, cults may produce multiple statues from which they can summon the Great Old One, so that they need never risk being without direct access to the god.
Chaugnar Faugn is primarily worshiped by his own creations, such as the amphibious monstrous race of miri nigri, as well as by the Tcho-Tcho, whose development he guided. Like other Great Old Ones, Chaugnar Faugn knows vast numbers of secret spells and possesses great wisdom and knowledge. He is happy to impart these things to devoted cultists. He also has a predilection for using his proboscis to alter the flesh of creatures, especially worshipers. For example, he may reshape a cultist or several cultists together into his own image. Chaugnar Faugn also creates new creatures by taking apart or combining existing ones. These sculpting actions always seem intended to improve or uplift the physical form of his chosen canvas, at least in his own alien eyes.
Cthugha is not itself a permanent entity, but a collective of millions of fire vampires, making it an unusual object of worship. The fire vampires do, however, have a use for mortals, in that—with the proper ritual preparation and ordination—the souls of humans and other mortal races can add to the collective’s power as though they were themselves fire vampires.
The number of the immortal fire vampires is limited, and the greatest height they can reach without external support is the formation of Cthugha. However, when cultists are added to the equation, greater collectives can be realized. The goal of these cults is to form such a stage beyond that of Cthugha: a supernova that can destroy entire worlds. There are stages even beyond this, which can potentially cause a massive explosion so powerful it can birth entire universes. Some sages believe this is how our own reality came to be, at the dawn of creation.
Mortal worshipers of Cthugha are sophisticated and, in their own odd way, high-minded and forward-looking.
They believe it inevitable that the natural and supernatural forces of death, darkness, and cold will someday overtake all existence. In replicating the unimaginably powerful event that they believe birthed the universe by forming a mega-Cthugha, they hope to reset this course and lengthen the life of the universe.
Gathering enough souls dedicated to such a cause may require populations larger than a single world, perhaps requiring an entire star system of worshipers bonding with fire vampires in a great collective ritual. Then and only then, the cult of Cthugha can bring about the death of this universe and the birth of a new one.
Father Dagon and Mother Hydra
All deep ones honor and follow Father Dagon, and they form cults such as the Esoteric Order of Dagon to force their human followers and hybrid spawn to worship him. This worship strengthens him and empowers his supernatural abilities. A major purpose of the cult is to carry out the military, political, and religious functions of deep one society.
Less well known to non-deep ones (even among their land-dwelling allies and hybrid children) is their servitude to Mother Hydra. As with Father Dagon, the deep ones do not truly worship her but pay her homage as the one in charge of continued development of the species. Deep ones sworn to Mother Hydra may be mutated or keep deep-sea monsters as pets.
Cultists of Ghatanothoa primarily work to appease their dread deity so that it does not issue forth from its fiery lair and destroy those who live in the volcano’s vicinity. Ghatanothoa prefers live sentient creatures for sacrifices for this purpose. Unlike most Mythos cults, this one serves a useful purpose and its priests see worship as a civic duty. The cult estimates the number of sacrifices required each year to stay the god’s wrath, works with political and military leaders to ensure a sufficient number are obtained, and carries out the necessary rituals. For example, the local general captures as many war prisoners as possible by raiding, and then the priests hold lotteries among their own people to determine who will be sacrificed to make up the remainder.
One might think it madness that people dare to reside so near to Ghatanothoa’s volcano, but the constant mixture of lava and ash makes the soil of the surrounding countryside fertile and lush. The cult can also beseech Ghatanothoa to project gnarled roots or otherwise shift the nearby land, such as to neutralize an invading army. Also, those aware of the curse of Ghatanothoa’s presence in lands where it is worshiped rarely have an interest in raiding or otherwise directly interfering with the people there.
The cult has spread at times to other lands, geographically far from Ghatanothoa’s volcano itself.
These cults are heinous groups, often led by a lich or demi-lich mummified by Ghatanothoa, which use the god to further their own ends. In their rituals, they open a magical portal to the distant volcano’s interior that they might reveal Ghatanothoa and deliver sacrifices, in return for which their god extends rootlets of itself through numerous portals to attack and torment the cult’s foes. Additionally, constantly viewing the Great Old One and invoking its presence allows its mummified spellcasting worshipers to form accurate illusions of it as needed to aid in terrifying and destroying enemies.
Cults to Nyogtha worship it as the inverse of existence.
Studying and learning from it reveals to devotees the nature of pure negation or anti-creation. They may seek oblivion for themselves, their entire world, or all of creation. Worshipers frequently become undead in their journey of faith, though even the negative energy of undeath does not approach the horrible infinite nothingness of the Thing that Should Not Be.
Since Nyogtha tends to dwell in darkness and the vast emptiness of subterranean caverns are reminiscent of its nature, cults worship it at entrances to the underworld. In some cases, the living worship under the sun beside a shrine and the undead cultists worship in the dark beneath the same shrine.
Cults of the Green Flame seek all manner of eldritch knowledge and the secrets of the Outer Gods, with whom Tulzscha dwells at the center of existence. They accomplish this primarily by summoning an avatar and gazing into its light. Tulzscha may reveal specific secrets, driving its worshipers to take a particular course of action, such as seeking out enigmatic tomes so their secrets can be revealed in Tulzscha’s light; illuminating pathways of travel through time and space; or manipulating them into unwittingly summoning Azathoth the Daemon Sultan itself.
Cults may also weaponize their god by summoning Tulzscha in areas occupied by their enemies, where all of a foe’s secrets will be exposed and the people be driven mad by the sight of the Outer God. Indeed, cults love to summon the god as frequently as possible, as it protects them, exposes enemy agents, and provides an inexhaustible amount of knowledge and magic.
The father of serpents is worshiped primarily in those lands abundant in venomous snakes. Even there, the worship he receives is usually mere propitiation to avert his wrath during seasons in which snakes are most active and breeding. Yig jealously seeks vengeance against any who slay a snake in areas he rules. Usually, the wrongdoer is slain quickly by a messenger of Yig, but sometimes the god takes his revenge by cursing the offender or its future offspring to transform into reptilian mutants, which are sometimes pitiful, and other times robustly monstrous.
Some peoples, after years devoted to preventing Yig’s wrath, convert completely to worshiping him as their primary god. In time, Yig rewards them such that they can be counted among his own children. First, they become immune to the venom of the snakes their nation once feared and loathed, which are now their siblings. Next, they may obtain magic and spells from Yig, usually related to poisons, snakes, shapeshifting, and curses. Ultimately, after these blessings, the people mystically mutates and degenerates into a sort of snake-like hybrid race, and may eventually become unintelligent venomous snakes, slithering amidst the fallen wreckage of their civilization. This degeneration can happen surprisingly quickly—in only one or two generations after the folk have fully devoted themselves to Yig.
Cultists of Yig often use serpentfolk alchemy to produce metamorphic venom.
Sandy Petersen’s Cthulhu Mythos, © 2017, Petersen Games; Authors: Sandy Petersen, Arthur Petersen, Ian Starcher.