So You Want To Form A Cult

We’ve been a bit coy about portrayal of cults in Clockwork Empires because we’ve wanted to keep them mysterious. Don’t show the monster. But if a cult forms in the woods and no one bothers to really tell the player what’s going on, did it matter? Perhaps not.

Add three black mana to your pool.

Add three black mana to your pool.

Aside from that, the mechanics we built made it in the player’s best interest to instantly execute anyone they suspect of forming a cult, which happens when you give people any kind of free time. Which is kinda interesting in a brutal way, but if another day of executions is the only valid response to cults, then is this not simply eldritch whackamole?

So we sat back and asked ourselves: Where do we want to go with cults? What player choice should they involve – why would a player want to keep a cult around (aside from morbid curiosity which, granted, our players seem to have in abundance)? How much do we tell the player and how much do we keep as a Fun Surprise?

Cause And Effect

Cults should form for a reason. Some supernatural experience will plant a seed in the head of a colonist. Given certain traits and a touch of madness, that seed will take root. Sometimes literally. A colonist will struggle with their maddening visions until they either suppress them or embrace them. Upon embracing them, the colonist starts to think it’s a good idea to invite others into these visions – and that’s where it begins.

(I should mention, we gave Madness an overhaul. It’s no longer an emotion alongside happy/sad/etc. but rather a value to show just how much experience a character has had with Things Beyond Science, Reason, and Sanity. The more supernatural experiences a character has, the more likely they are to crack and advance a level down the madness track, which opens up new … possibilities. Booze, of course, will enhance resistance to these supernatural effects and certain potent curatives may even lower Madness.)

Breaking the first two rules of Cult Club

Giving the player a more omniscient view into what cults were up to was instantly more interesting than hiding it. This includes not only the minutiae of character actions and emotions, but also just writing out what’s going on to the text ticker. See here:

From your first sacrifice to your last dyin' day, you're a Wizard of Magick you're a Wizard all the way!

From your first sacrifice to your last dyin’ day, when you’re a Wizard of Magick you’re a Wizard all the way!

Instantly there is a sense of compounding cause and effect, of events and consequences and potential conflict and loyalties being formed. The risk of course is to have all of this going on without the ability for the player to intervene — the above shots are the sped-up in-development versions where everything is a bit supercharged. We must be mindful throughout to signal clearly to the player what is going on and in many cases say straight out what sort of actions they can take to deal with The Cult Problem.

And we’re really trying to avoid having quite so many summary executions. So:

What possible advantage could having a cult around have?

Easy: people in cults are irrationally happy. They’re treated like garbage by their leader, have to all wear the same shoes, and are generally forced to live in squalid communal bunks. And yet they act really, creepily happy. This is key!

The Frontier sucks. The food is bad, the housing is bad, and your colonists are probably going to lose friends to one thing or another. Making good houses, good food, and ensuring safety is expensive and takes lots of bureaucratic effort — allowing cults to keep your people in line may well opiate your masses to their suffering so long as  you’re willing to risk a little erratic behaviour and the possibility of offending the Church a little bit.

We discussed Character Events last week. The system for interacting with cults, of setting policy of tolerance or persecution toward these “new religions”, builds upon the exact same framework with the distinction of targeting collections of characters rather than individuals. But it’s easy and it’s all right there!

There may be other, more eldritch “benefits” to fostering powerful cults, but the Empire frowns upon discussing such topics so we shan’t say a word more.

What a lovely lost underwater city! Pity it's all I can dream about anymore.

What a lovely lost underwater city! Pity it’s all I can dream about anymore.

Posted in Clockwork Empires, Game Design | Tagged , , , , , , ,

13 Responses to “So You Want To Form A Cult”

  1. Sapphire Crook says:

    When I dream of lost underwater cities, its always with a lost, underwater real estate agent trying to sell me the worst lot. It doesn’t even have running water!

    OT: What is this strange new captcha? I just click and it knows? It seems the occult and eldritch have invaded our machines!

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  2. PeterK says:

    Awesome. Can’t wait to nudge some cultists around.

    Cultists are happy all the time because madness covers all the ills of happy engagement in a close society of shared interests.

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  3. Kiojan says:

    Yes, but doesn’t the existing Church of the Holy Cog already kind of fulfill that role? How would the Church differ from cults? Would the cults make people even more happy? Provide more tangible benefits such as offerings of food from Fishpeople ala the Lovecraftian classic Shadows Over Innsmouth?

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    • Yobgod says:

      The peace of the Cog be with you.

      But what would attract the weak of spirit to cults? EXCLUSIVITY! The Cog loves us all and welcomes us all, but Nub Shiggurath only selects a few chosen ones to carry on his great work. To the underclasses especially, being *special* is a potent drug. To the nobility, the opportunity to rule over a throng of “special” cultists may also be a potent drug…

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    • AdminDavid Baumgart says:

      Cults would be rather more effective at making people happy regardless of their condition – with a lot more attendant risks.

      The Church is more structured, disciplined, and restrained. It’s safe, but what it provides probably won’t make the maddened discontents happy (certain traits push certain characters toward cultism, certain other traits make them very happy to participate in Official Church activities).

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  4. Headjack says:

    Why not just have them hide their existence if you’ve historically executed other cults.

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  5. Starlight says:

    I would love to see benefits to Cults other than happiness – such as productivity, access to items not otherwise available, single-mindedness of purpose (useful for some military tasks).

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  6. The Chaplain says:

    David, have you lads thought about Colonial law enforcement – a mixture of old Metropolitan Police in London and Spanish Inquisition (Nobody expects the Imperial Occult Purging Service!)?

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  7. Ghin says:

    The cabbage lords sleep and wait for the appointed time. “Soon,” they whisper.

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