Remixed TEW: Rethinking the Tzeentch cults (long)

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Theo
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As I’m getting ready to run the second “season” of my remixed The Enemy Within campaign, based on Death on the Reik, I’m going to have to start making some decisions about the Chaos cults working behind the scenes and driving some of the plots. I thought I’d do some brainstorming here and I welcome other ideas.

For reasons I’ll try to elaborate below, the various “official” descriptions of the Purple Hand and its aims don’t quite work with my – admittedly idiosyncratic – take on the Old World. Some things are mismatched because of my modifications of the background, some things just never made sense to me.

What I like and want to keep about the PH:
I like the whole faux-Illuminati “shadowy cabal of rich and powerful people secretly pulling strings” thing, so that’s definitely a keeper. I also like how they have their people in high places everywhere.

On the other hand, I also like the Hand’s bungling inefficiency and tendency to cripple itself with secrecy and miscommunication, while still being a genuine threat.

I also want them to be a truly evil force, although individual members could be deluded rather than wicked in many cases.


What I don’t like:
The originally stated aims of the PH, to “overthrow” or “dismantle” the Empire, always seemed a bit weaksauce to me. _Why_ do they want that exactly? What do they want in its stead? Tzeentch or whoever might just want change and instability for its own sake (though I think that’s a fairly boring motivation even for a god) but what’s in it for the cultists?

I suppose it works if you buy into the in-game propaganda (mainly of later editions) where Sigmar and the Empire is humanity’s great shield against Chaos, but that doesn’t really work in my version of the setting, where (as largely implied in 1E) the Empire is corrupt, complacent and not particularly worried about Chaos on the official level (the superstitious peasants, of course, are more concerned but they’re always on about something…).


So I've tried to write a version of these cults that makes a little more sense to me. But your mileage may vary, and I'd like to hear others' thoughts. I’m working on a longer document I’ll post when it’s more ready, but this is some brief notes on what I’m thinking so far:


The Purple Hand
My PH will be a shamelessly derivative mashup of ideas and influences. Apart from the various notes on the cult in official adventures, I’ll be borrowing from influences such as the Order of Esoteric Discoverie from Clockwork & Cthulhu, the Cult of Illumination from the 2E WFRP Companion, Lovecraft’s Church of Starry Wisdom, the N.I.C.E. and the Macrobes from C. S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength, and real-world cults like Scientology.

Very briefly my version of the PH can be summarized as:

- A mystery cult ostensibly dedicated to collecting lost and forbidden knowledge, and employing this knowledge for power and advancement (with a penchant for political conspiracies). Its members are gradually initiated into the secrets and mysteries as they rise through the ranks. The cult also teaches some real magic to advancing members, which is a big deal in my very magic-restricted setting. The “truth” they perceive about the universe is a more Lovecraftian view than traditional Warhammer Chaos lore (I haven’t decided how much of it is actually true).

- The inner circles of the PH know about the hidden Masters: ancient, unimaginably powerful beings that uninitiated humanity can only tremble before. Some of these can be exploited and even controlled, some can be bargained with, and some need mortal middlemen in the world.
The inner circles of the PH cooperate with some of these beings for mutual benefit. To truly understand the world and gain true insight (and power), one must adopt the inhuman perspectives of the Masters.

The “Masters” more or less map onto greater and lesser Chaos gods and Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones and Outer Gods. Most important to the PH and in fact its chief sponsor is a being known as “the Messenger”, with elements of Tzeentch as well as (mainly) Lovecraft’s Nyarlathotep. In fact at its heart the cult is the instrument of the Messenger, but many of the mid- to high-ranking cultists believe it’s more of a mutual cooperation as outlined above.


- The PH, along with other groups who have studied similar forbidden sources of knowledge, believe an apocalypse is coming – not necessarily the end of the world, but a time of great catastrophes and changes. Already we’re seeing the signs as the world is lurching wildly into the messy Early Modern period, becoming visibly more unstable and ever-changing.

The inner PH believe the coming apocalypse will serve the ends of the Masters, and the PH will play a part in it and come out on top - either as their favoured servants or even, in some interpretations, as true Masters themselves. It’s also consistent with the Masters’ will to help bring about conditions for the apocalypse by sowing discord, chaos and fear.


- While the PH has a fairly strict vertical hierarchy in ranks of initiation, “horizontally” it’s a loose networks of cells and Lodges that usually don’t cooperate and may compete for resources. The high-ranking Magisters can sometimes coordinate several Lodges.


On the entry level the PH looks like a fairly unexceptional, perhaps mildly subversive, upper-crust secret society concerned with some intellectual pursuit but at least as much with mutual backscratching and making influential contacts and intrigue, soon seasoned with hints of both magical power and political conspiracies.


In practice: the Purple Hand in my campaign
As will be seen, this setup allows the PH to act pretty much as it’s shown doing in TEW. Most cultists the PCs meet during DotR will be low-to-mid-ranking, with a limited understanding of the cult’s true nature and in all probability not suicidally fanatical. In fact, since the late Esther Lieberung was a high-ranking Magister, most cultists will approach the lookalike PC with a measure of fearful respect.

As the PH barely figures into PBtT as written, despite the main antagonist being their leader, I’ll have to do quite a bit more rewriting there. I’ll get back to that.


The Red Crown
My version of the RC is actually a splinter group split off from the PH over disagreement in theology and policy. The inner RC also believes in the coming apocalypse, but they envision it as coming sooner, faster and bloodier. Civilisation as we know it is ending in fire and blood – soon – and the true followers of the Masters will rise from the ashes. They prepare for their coming time by arming themselves (both with actual weapons and with magic) and recruiting mutant outcasts, beastmen and other outsiders to build an army of the forsaken – as well as using these pawns to accelerate the coming downfall. Basically, they’re fantasy survivalists.

The hostility between the two cults, as implied above, is both theological and political. They differ on esoteric but important points in their beliefs about the “secrets”, and obviously both groups think they will be the true chosen ones of the Masters. More practically, the PH consider the antics of the RC at best a distraction and at worst an active threat to their own plans (while they don’t mind sowing discord and small-c chaos, they prefer the powers that be to remain oblivious and complacent about Chaos rather than terrorized into vigilance). The RC, meanwhile, consider the PH’s elaborate conspiracies self-serving delusions that will count for nothing in the true apocalypse.

Any thoughts? :)
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totsuzenheni
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Theo wrote:
Wed Jan 09, 2019 6:29 am
What I like and want to keep about the PH:

[ ... ] I also want them to be a truly evil force, although individual members could be deluded rather than wicked in many cases.
I'm not sure where you are drawing the line between 'truly evil' and 'deluded'. Someone can be deluded and commit evil acts. Someone can commit evil acts because they are deluded, perhaps specifically because they believe that these acts are good, not evil.

Also, 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions', as it were. That is, someone can commit evil acts because they are the means and in their mind the ends justify the means, either specifically or generally. They may ( also ) believe they are choosing the lesser evil.

It might also be worth thinking about some scapegoats for the Purple Hand as a whole and for individual cultists. Those who commit evil acts tend to blame the bad consequences, if not more directly the need to act, on other people or events.
Theo wrote:
Wed Jan 09, 2019 6:29 am
What I don’t like:

The originally stated aims of the PH, to “overthrow” or “dismantle” the Empire, always seemed a bit weaksauce to me. _Why_ do they want that exactly? What do they want in its stead? Tzeentch or whoever might just want change and instability for its own sake (though I think that’s a fairly boring motivation even for a god) but what’s in it for the cultists?
Tzeentch, as i recall of early Warhammer lore, is in some sense change manifest, and so he might 'want' change as an act of self extension, 'physically' and/or temporally. Tzeentch aside, in the vein of paving the way to hell, the cultists might be thinking of chaos in other terms, such as freedom. Perhaps, for example, they are fundamentalist free-market libertarians who believe that taxes should be abolished and that the individual should be sovereign.
Theo wrote:
Wed Jan 09, 2019 6:29 am
Very briefly my version of the PH can be summarized as:

[ ... ] - While the PH has a fairly strict vertical hierarchy in ranks of initiation, “horizontally” it’s a loose networks of cells and Lodges that usually don’t cooperate and may compete for resources. The high-ranking Magisters can sometimes coordinate several Lodges.
It might be worth considering the idea that members of any given cell ( or lodge ) think of their cell as the entirety of the Purple Hand, or the entirety of some other cult with some other name which the cell member's don't realise is a part of the Purple Hand.
Theo
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totsuzenheni wrote:I'm not sure where you are drawing the line between 'truly evil' and 'deluded'. Someone can be deluded and commit evil acts. Someone can commit evil acts because they are deluded, perhaps specifically because they believe that these acts are good, not evil.
I was a bit unclear here. I quite agree, that's how I think of it.

Another idea I had is that the cult, or individual lodges, will operate various front organisations.

totsuzenheni wrote:It might be worth considering the idea that members of any given cell ( or lodge ) think of their cell as the entirety of the Purple Hand, or the entirety of some other cult with some other name which the cell member's don't realise is a part of the Purple Hand.
Yeah, that's the idea. And conversely, there are other groups in the world without direct affiliation or contact with the Hand that have arrived at similar conclusions and/or practices from seeking forbidden knowledge.


Though it might not be as obvious from this thread as from my campaign thread, I play fast and loose with Warhammer canon and my take on the setting is heavily modified. For instance, I tend toward a more Lovecraftian interpretation of the Ruinous Powers.
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totsuzenheni
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Personally i like the overall direction you've taken it. I wonder how the Cubicle 7 version of The Enemy Within Campaign will compare.
Theo wrote:
Thu Jan 10, 2019 3:20 am
Another idea I had is that the cult, or individual lodges, will operate various front organisations.

[ ... ] there are other groups in the world without direct affiliation or contact with the Hand that have arrived at similar conclusions and/or practices from seeking forbidden knowledge.
Sounds good. Of course you could use a mix of all these things to different degrees in different places in the Empire. I think i would keep an eye on population. That is i would make sure that i stay aware of how much of the population of any given settlement ( village / town / city ) is involved with the Purple Hand and how much power they wield as a group so that i didn't suddenly find that i had inadvertently made half the population of a settlement into Purple Hand affliates of one sort or another by implication, or that i had inadvertently turned a settlement into a strangely underactive Purple Hand power house. I'd want to leave room for other cults, organisations, and of course general folk, if such exist. For example, if i have created a third tier ( up ) Purple Hand cultist then how many ( lower ranking ) second tier and first tier cultists does that mean also exist by implication? Where are all these cultists? How much of the population of that place are therefore Purple Hand cultists?


Other things that come to mind as perhaps worth considering:

What happens if a ( low ranking, perhaps not too bright or naïve ) member of the cult decides to get their mate in on the good times? In general how do people join the cult? Is there a process?

What happens if someone decides they're not into this whole thing, whatever they think it is, and wants to leave? What happens when someone leaves or tries to leave the cult?

Are there any incentives for joining the cult? Do cultists make extra money? What effect do any bonuses cultists receive have on their status, wealth, attitude and outlook, etc.?
Theo
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totsuzenheni wrote:
Thu Jan 10, 2019 6:35 am
Personally i like the overall direction you've taken it. I wonder how the Cubicle 7 version of The Enemy Within Campaign will compare.
Thanks! Yeah, I'm curious about the new version as well.

totsuzenheni wrote:
Thu Jan 10, 2019 6:35 am
Sounds good. Of course you could use a mix of all these things to different degrees in different places in the Empire. I think i would keep an eye on population. That is i would make sure that i stay aware of how much of the population of any given settlement ( village / town / city ) is involved with the Purple Hand and how much power they wield as a group so that i didn't suddenly find that i had inadvertently made half the population of a settlement into Purple Hand affliates of one sort or another by implication, or that i had inadvertently turned a settlement into a strangely underactive Purple Hand power house. I'd want to leave room for other cults, organisations, and of course general folk, if such exist. For example, if i have created a third tier ( up ) Purple Hand cultist then how many ( lower ranking ) second tier and first tier cultists does that mean also exist by implication? Where are all these cultists? How much of the population of that place are therefore Purple Hand cultists?
Yeah, I imagine overall numbers will actually be small, and they won't be everywhere - not even in every city. (They have no presence in Bogenhafen, for instance.) I'll do some more thinking about how widespread and numerous they actually are.

totsuzenheni wrote:
Thu Jan 10, 2019 6:35 am
Other things that come to mind as perhaps worth considering:

What happens if a ( low ranking, perhaps not too bright or naïve ) member of the cult decides to get their mate in on the good times? In general how do people join the cult? Is there a process?

What happens if someone decides they're not into this whole thing, whatever they think it is, and wants to leave? What happens when someone leaves or tries to leave the cult?

Are there any incentives for joining the cult? Do cultists make extra money? What effect do any bonuses cultists receive have on their status, wealth, attitude and outlook, etc.?
I'm going into this more in the longer text I'm working on, but here's the bit I wrote on the rank structure:

0 - Associate. Not actually a cultist, but a (fairly) trusted outsider who will provide useful and discreet help for cash or favours, often criminals, or someone being considered for induction.


1 - Novice. Initiated in a solemn but largely cosmetic ritual, attended by all local members. Novices mainly perceive the cult as a fraternal society and use its contacts and influence for personal gain. (They may even initially be unaware that the Lodge they joined is part of a larger network.) Their regular duties involve just paying a tithe and attending various rituals, but they may be required to perform favours for senior members. Usually the seniors try to get all novices to incriminate themselves somehow by these “favours”. Novices also take an oath of loyalty and secrecy.


2 - Initiate. Initiated in a secret ritual involving a (renewed and strengthened) blood oath of loyalty to the cult. New Initiates are taught a spell as part of their initiation and may learn more, but only very minor spells are taught to this rank.*) Of course, an Initiate might learn magic by other means. Initiates are taught some of the “secrets of the universe” but not yet about the hidden Masters.


3 - Acolyte. These are inducted into more of the secrets of the cult, including the hidden Masters. They are also initiated into the true Dark Arts, but as yet taught only very limited magic. (Again, an enterprising Acolyte might seek out and learn much more magic on their own.) Acolytes and upward consider themselves an inner ring within the cult, and many lower-ranking cultists are unaware that there are higher ranks, interpreting “Magister” as an honorary title. A local Lodge will usually have an Acolyte as a leader, and perhaps a small “inner circle” of them - in some places, several Lodges may report to a single Acolyte. More often than not, Acolytes are also upstanding members of society.


4 - Magister. The truly initiated and the leadership of the cult, mostly truly dedicated to serving their dark Masters (though they may also harbour great ambitions of their own). They are fully initiated in the dark Arts and may know a great deal of magic. Some have been “gifted” with obvious mutations, forcing them to stay out of sight and work behind the scenes, others are still outwardly normal and often in positions of power and influence. A Magister usually oversees several Lodges in an area and may travel widely. The largest clusters of Lodges in the great cities may have several Magisters providing a modicum of coordination - though equally often they will be at each other’s throats.

5 - Lumen. The innermost circle (or is it?). Very little is known about it even by cult members. (To be elaborated...)


*) My version of the setting differentiates between "magic rituals" - spells that anyone who learns them and performs them exactly right can cast - and true "dark arts" which can only be learned and cast by an initiated magician.

The spells taught to Initiates are of the former kinds, but higher ranks are initiated as actual magicians.
I'll get back to the question of leaving, gotta run now. :)
Karanthir
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I remember reading your original campaign notes over on StS and really liking your ideas for remixing the Old World. Once again, you have lots of great ideas that I want to keep in mind for if I ever get round to doing something similar myself!
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totsuzenheni
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0 - Associate. [ ... ] often criminals [ ... ]

1 - Novice. [ ... ]

2 - Initiate. [ ... ]

3 - Acolyte. [ ... ] A local Lodge will usually have an Acolyte as a leader, and perhaps a small “inner circle” of them - in some places, several Lodges may report to a single Acolyte. More often than not, Acolytes are also upstanding members of society.

4 - Magister. [ ... ] A Magister usually oversees several Lodges in an area and may travel widely. The largest clusters of Lodges in the great cities may have several Magisters providing a modicum of coordination - though equally often they will be at each other’s throats.

5 - Lumen. The innermost circle (or is it?).
The Lumen is your addition isn't it? Is the PBT villian still the head of the cult in your version?

I'm going to take Altdolf from the gazetteer in Shadows Over Bogenhafen and the ranks you've given to use in an example of keeping an eye on the population. I don't know how many Associates, Novices and Acolytes you were thinking there would be per lodge, so i'll just make up some numbers for the sake of the example.

The population of Altdorf is 15000. Let's say there is 1 Lumen, 1 Magister, 3 Acolytes and 3 lodges in Altdorf, each of which has 5 Initiates and 10 Novices, and that there are an additional 50 Associates, giving a total of 100 cult members and associates, which is more than 0.66% of Altdorf's population, or 1 cultist or associate for every 149 non cultists or associates. If there are 9 other cults of the same size ( and no membership overlap ) in Altdorf then that's over 6.66% of Altdorf's population, or 1 cultist or associate for every 14 non cultists or associates.
Theo wrote:
Thu Jan 10, 2019 8:19 am
(They have no presence in Bogenhafen, for instance.)
Just to note that there is ( or was ) an associate of the Red Crown in Bogenhafen.
Theo
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Karanthir wrote:
Thu Jan 10, 2019 9:29 am
I remember reading your original campaign notes over on StS and really liking your ideas for remixing the Old World. Once again, you have lots of great ideas that I want to keep in mind for if I ever get round to doing something similar myself!
Thank you. :) I'm (slowly) working on setting up a blog to document the campaign properly.
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Orin J.
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Honestly, i don't see the appeal of trying to cross the chaos gods over to the old ones when the two are wildly contrary elements

beyond that, you seem to have totally lost track of an important element- why are the cultists as individuals backing this? you've made the mistake of looking at the cult as a single organism in function for the most part with the singular cultist honestly getting nothing from it except at the top. with greater motivation, the lower cells have no impetuous to operate and the whole thing falls apart. what does the base initiate derive from joining the cult besides the risk of being found out? it's not clear.
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