Evil cults seem one dimensional and occasionally short-sighted. Burn down the town, appease the Blood God, and move on. I often imagine how a well managed cult with long-term organizational goals would do. The kind of organization that is willing to put in a school so it’s serfs are more productive, or a hospital to increase the surplus population…
Modern evil organizations often win temporary support of the populace by fulfilling basic services and providing security. What if joining the cult was in the material self interest of most people? How would your players wrest the town from the cult when the cult keeps the town safe from the darkness?
Written with Onceuponapost
The stretch of packed dirt road that lead out of town had never seemed so foreign. Surrounded by strange beasts and the hordes of undead, or what the townsfolk presumed to be undead, the road looked more a circus than the road that cut out to the miller’s place. For all that, the mayor and the town council held their heads high as they marched toward their uncertain fate. They had come together to arrange the surrender of their town with the head of this unholy congregation; Calamine, the lead negotiator for the Blood God’s Cult.
Few on the council were comfortable with the arrangements, and some were less amenable to their erstwhile hosts that others. The low grumbling of the group was punctuated with points of particular ire from the louder members, even as the Mayor desperately attempted to keep them all alive.
“Traitor,” mumbled the gnome, recognizing the human Calamine for what he was.
“Remove your foul beasts at once,” shouted a thin one, ducking low when eyes turned his way.
“We will never give into your accursed demands,” Calamine found this one particularly entertaining, as it was clear the geriatric mound had not walked here of his own accord, let alone might be able to muster arms. That didn’t keep him from gaining support.
“Yes. He’s right whatever it is you want, you won’t get it!” someone blabbered in a high pitched wail.
Somewhere in this, when their bravado had run cold, the council came to the clear realization that they had little actual power here. Calamine held silent until the realization washed over them fully before he finally spoke.
“The actual question here is what do you want?”
The group in front of him, which had seemed to sway and bob with every breath, paused collectively. This was different.
The cultist representative continued, brusquely, but not unkindly “I want you think about what you really want. What do you strive to do for your people? What is the legacy you want to leave to them?”
Where stunned stillness had been, true silence rushed in, as the motley crew took in Calamine’s questions. The blank quizzical stare from the mayor was encouraging. Their moment of dumbfounded confusion gave Calamine time to dive into the pitch that he’d perfected from town to town over the past decade.
“Let me explain,’ he began, oozing a cool camaraderie that drew the mayor in close, “You all toil in this agrarian economy, and for what? So that raiders, orcs, or whomever can come and take it? When was the last time the Empire actually sent an army out here to help you out?” He calculated his incredulity to perfection, catching the mayor just out of step.
The mayor stumbled for an answer even as people made the count across their fingers and toes, “Ten? Ten. Ten years ago”
“Like I thought,” Calamine continued, “and when was the last time a tax collector came through?”
The geriatric mound glowered, his deep voice booming. “Every year. They come every year at harvest”
Calamine shook his head ruefully, “And what does that mean? That your money is more important to them than you. I work for a Blood God and even they don’t treat me like that!”
The pause permeated the room, just as Calamine intended. People were starting to think. This was going far too well.
Finally, Calamine broke the tense silence, “I am going to bet that all you really want is a little security in an insecure world,” his tone told them he agreed, “A point of light in the darkness. You want to keep the crops you grow, and not worry about what monster, petty noble, or out of work adventurers are going to come over that hill,” he’d built to the top of the crescendo, now to bring them into the fold.
“And our consortium can offer that to you.”
That damned gnome piped up in back, his thin voice carrying impossibly far across the crowded tent, “You only want power over people’s lives for your dark rituals”
Damn it. There was always someone that asked the question that no one wanted the answer to. Calamine’s predecessors had not made his job easy with their careless destruction of the countryside.
“Those are the cults of old,” he assured them, but when he saw looks of incredulity, he knew he’d need add a touch of honesty, “Sure. Fine. 40 years ago I’ll admit we were running around slicing people up trying to summon demons out of their skulls. And frankly, I am not going to lie to you, there is still some of that. We are a blood cult.” How in the hell did these people think they had gotten this far anyway? He continued blithely, “That is, as it were, what we do. However, we have evolved. We took a long look at ourselves, and decided that our,” Calamine took a deep breath, "impetuous actions weren’t lining up with our long term strategic goals. We don’t want complete control, we want your support.”
The gnome’s wheezing was faintly audible in the silence.
Calamine continued, “I suppose we could slaughter your town now, and, sure, that would appease our Dark Gods, but for the long haul, that is poor planning. We have armies, administrators, and people. That means we need supplies, roads, and housing, and we need a population that can support that. Long term. He emphasized his point, clapping the mayor on the back.
“And if you’re going to support us we are going to support you.” With his hand still on the mayor’s shoulder, he turned to look at the crowd, “We offer jobs for your workers, hospitals for your sick, and schools for your children. We want you to grow. When you do well, we do well.
I mean, I don’t want to sound insulting but, do you have any idea what the infant mortality rate or literacy level are around here?”
The mayor slowly formed the words with his mouth, chewing each syllable. “Infant… literacy… level?”
Calamine looked around, making eye contact with the square woman that had sidled forward during his first pitch “Do you even have a school in this place?” His voice dripped with concerned sincerity.
The mayor shook his head. Several members of the town council were now closely examining the state of their shoes.
Calamine sighed, feigning resignation, and pulled out a sheaf of paper, “Here is our standard contract. Take it home, take it to your advocate, and read it over tonight. Let me know your concerns and I’ll see what I can do. How about we meet for a late noon-meal tomorrow, say first tone?”
The mayor took the contract. Clutching it to his breast, he and the town council shuffled out.
“Fuck that guy,” the gnome muttered as the tent flap swung closed..
The bell tolled three times. Calamine looked up from the papers, weary after hours of negotiations. “You have a problem with paragraph 37?”
The mayor nodded his affirmation, “We feel that the ‘shovel ready’ projects should be constructed with local labor first. Then, and only then, can you open it up to other cult members. Everyone who who is local who wants a job, should be able to get one.”
This was ridiculous. “It has to be contingent on ability,” Calamine explained patiently as if to a child. “How about this though,” he placated, seeing restlessness growing from the council behind the mayor, “We create a training program for locals, and those that pass get first preference. Say a 10 point rating bump when determining qualification?” Not generally a standard offer, but worth it for the size of the town.
The mayor glanced at the rest of the council. Heads bobbed in assent..
“Agreed” he said.
“This is all bullshit,” squeaked the gnome, looking around for anyone in the crowd that might follow his lead. “You’re selling out our people!”
Calamine glared at that shit of a gnome- they were always incorruptible. Something about growing up in a mystic land of fey orgies and gumdrops that made them immune to suffering in the human world. They were idealists to the very core.
Calamine noticed that the mayor was scowling too. Humans, he knew, they were practical, and could be depended upon to act in their own best interest. Mostly.
The mayor started again, ignoring the pest, “Last point. The sacrifices and levies. We think one percent per annum is adequate for your so-called ‘blood god’. Not the five indicated.”
Deep inhale, and pinch between his eyes. “I’ll tell you what,” Calamine said, “I’m tired. So let’s wrap this up. Three percent, and that’s the lowest I can go. You provide the equipment.” That wasn’t true, of course. Calamine was authorized to drop to one percent, but they didn’t need to know that. He saw one of the fat one’s head give a slight bob, so he continued “And,” the nodding stopped.
“I want the gnome. Tied up in a bag.”
A tense pause. The mayor looked back to the council. Nods.
“Deal,” he reached for the pen.
“WHAT?” Came a small shriek from the back. Then a thump, and the sound a small staunch idealist hitting the floor.
“Wait just a second,” Calamine said, pulling out a dagger. “Its got to be in blood.” He shrugged “Some things never change.”