The Dark Petals Cult
The Dark Petals Cult is an evil cult of primarily priests and assassins. Members don't necessarily have to be assassins (it is preferred though), but priests must be clerics of Thanatos. Other classes may also be accepted into the cult, but they are unlikely to be so unless they are utterly dedicated to the worship of Thanatos and somehow catch the eye of the cult. There is some need for warriors, thieves, and wizards in the cult, but the main portion of the cult consists of its clerics and assassins.
The purpose of the Dark Petals cult is to grow in power and spread thoughout the Known World. It ceaselessly seeks to turn the rulers of the various nations into its pawns and have them do their bidding, sometimes by causing wars against each other.
The cult is of predominantly lawful evil alignment. That may seem surprising in that Thanatos is a chaotic evil Immortal, but Thanatos is one of the most subtle and scheming Immortals, and juggles more plots and evil plans than all the other Immortals of entropy combined (according to WotI and other sources), so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. The clerics of Thanatos in the cult may know better, but they understand that more evil and chaos can be brought to Mystara if they pursue this goal in the cult - they plot even against the very cultists they command! The assassins and other cult members are just more pawns for Thanatos and his clerics to play with, and the cult itself is merely another plot by Thanatos to bring chaos and evil to the world. Other members of the cult may wonder why Thanatos and his clerics are believed to promote evil and chaos by outsiders, but they’re told by the clerics that these are just rumors spread by their deceitful enemies, when in truth that is just what the clerics are trying to bring about. If this can one day be done best by exposing the cult, then Thanatos, and his clerics, won’t hesitate to do so. Until then, the cult still has a lot of plotting and manipulation to do, which can cause serious damage to the various nations of the Known World.
The Cult does not want to actually gain power in a country officially, as they believe that members of the Cult should be selected by them, and that will just not be possible in an entire society, and they feel that “impure” elements may ‘corrupt’ the Cult in some way. Therefore they are content to ‘rule’ indirectly though their ‘sleeper-agents’ (see below). Any active member (non-‘sleeper’) in the cult may find worthy members, but these must be approved by one of the high-clerics of Thanatos, for only they know if Thanatos consideres the potential member worthy as well. By spreading secretly in this fashion, the Cult hopes to gain much religious power in a country (this is currently happening in Karameikos), but the Cult itself wants to remain underground. If an opportunity arises to expand their power and gain new members or ‘sleepers’ they will take it immediately, but they still want to be able to select members of the cult themselves.
The Dark Petals Cult is secret to the point of non-existence. No one outside the cult is allowed to even know of its existence, and if they find out, they won’t live long enough to make use of that knowledge!
The cult operates in some nations of the Known World. It is active mostly in Darokin. The fall of the Black Eagle in Karameikos hurt the Iron Ring there, leaving a power vacuum that the cult could exploit, so the cult has now spread to Karameikos as well. There are cells in nations such as Minrothad and Thyatis as well, but the cult’s operation in Sind was hurt by the invasion of the Master of the Desert Nomads, where it was already having a hard time due to the competition with the Buraiyas, another cult of assassins. At the DM’s discretion, the Dark Petals Cult may have spread to many other nations as well - it’s not as if they’re not trying, after all, and there are probably cells in most nations of the Known World.
The cult prefers to settle in major cities where they can work within the political system and influence and manipulate the local guilds and administrations.
The Dark Petals Cult is devided into several levels of importance. All members of the cult belong to one of these:
Sleepers: The Cult has so-called “sleepers”. Some of these aren’t very important, but some some are agents in powerful positions in their society. They “sleep” at the moment but the can be activated by the High Priest who made them into sleeper-agents, since he is the only one who knows who they are, and if he thinks it is necessary. In the meantime they pretend to be normal members of society. They attend the holy days of this cult (once every two months a human sacrifice has to be made to honor Thanatos), but when they do so they wear masks. The “sleepers” are often chosen and placed so that they can get to know whether the Cult is beginning to be noticed by the authorities in the country. If so the “sleepers” will get the assignment to do everything possible to get rid of any evidence or to persuade people to leave things be without revealing that they are members of the Cult themselves, of course. If things seem to get out of control, key people in the investigation, possibly the “sleeper” himself, will either disappear or die under mysterious circumstances.
Hoods: The warriors and wizards of the cult usually belong in this category, as do most of the assassins. These are the ‘working force’ of the cult - those who do the dirty work and carry out the everyday-chores of the cult. Some non-cleric members have been able to rise above this rank after years of dedicated service to the cult and fanatic worship of Thanatos, but they haven’t been many. Hoods are usually divided into cells of no more than five to ten members of Hoods and one Shade. They know the Shade who leads them, but have no knowledge of ‘sleepers’ or higher-ranking members of the cult. That way, a Hood, if captured, cannot be made to reveal the identities of other cult-members beyond those of his cell and the Shade above them, which can all be killed fairly easily by the rest of the cult. They attend the holy days of the cult, obviously, but since everybody there conceal their faces, they don’t learn their identities. At such meetings, Hoods usually wear hooded robes so large that they completely hide their faces, which is what earned them their name.
Shades: These are the coordinators of the cult and the leaders of the individual cells. The cult is devided into cells, so a cell will know only of a single Shade. A Shade will know one cell and have contact with a Black Lord above him, although it is extremely unusual for him to learn that Black Lord’s identity, since, if he did, he could reveal him if arrested. Though Shades don’t know each other or the Black Lords above them, they can still contact their Black Lord and arrange a meeting of the Shades. In such a meeting, all members remain hooded and unidentified, and the Black Lord controls the meeting. Such meeting are unusual but sometimes necessary when a cell has discovered something and needs the resources of the entire cult, mainly the other cells and Shades, to deal with it. Shades are usually clerics of Thanatos, but members of other classes may also rise to this rank if their administrative skills reveal them to have talent for it.
Black Lords: Above the Shades are the Black Lords. They inform the Shades on assignments and assemble teams. They are the ones who assign Shades to teams. Black Lords also have control of the ‘Sleepers’ of the cult. They are the only ones to know who their own ‘Sleepers’ are, though other cult-members may suspect. Because it is their job to enlist new ‘sleepers’, Black Lords are almost always clerics of Thanatos, since Thanatos grants them special powers and spells to accomplish this. A wizard with a spell that can accomplish the same thing might also be a Black Lord, though, and the Black Overlord might promote a particularly skillful Shade to Black Lord if he so chooses, even if that Black Lord cannot enlist new ‘Sleepers’. This is extremely unlikely, however.
Black Overlord: This is the leader of the cult. If he chooses, he may learn all the identities of the cult’s members, but it is not common for him to do so. The Black Overlord commands the cult in Darokin, but he may assign a Black Lord to function as Black Highlord with his own cult in another country. This has happened in Karameikos where the Black Highlord rules independently of the Black Overlord in Darokin. He is still a subordinate to the Black Overlord, though, and the Black Overlord may send assassins to kill him if he is not pleased with him.
Members of the cult are sent on assignments by the Black Lords and Shades, but occasionally they may also accept other ‘jobs’ (i.e., assassinations). They will be paid for this, of course, but half the pay must go to the Cult at all times - no member is allowed to keep more than half his earnings for an assassination or spying job.
Every two months, a human sacrifice must be made to Thanatos. All members of the cult, even the ‘Sleepers’ are required to attend these, although they are all required to remain anonymous during this meeting. The sacrifice is usually someone who has offended the cult in some way, and who has been especially captured for the very purpose of being sacrificed to the beautiful evil of Thanatos.
The meeting place for this ritual is determined by the Black Overlord and may change from time to time. The cult has several places where they can perform their dark rituals, but no member other than the Black Overlord will know where that is until a few days before the meeting takes place.
Example of the Cult:
Here is an example of the branch of the Dark Petals Cult in Karameikos. The Cult consists of approximately 30 members. 20-25 of these active members are priests or assassins, and the remaining 5-10 members are fighters or wizards (who are all Hoods). A team can be assembled (so there are no fixed cells) according to the job at hand. Teams are accompanied by higher level members of the Cult, the Shades.
Above the Shades are three Black Lords. They inform the Shades on assignments and assemble teams and assign Shades to these. Above these Black Lords is the Black Highlord, the local leader (in Karameikos. He reports directly to the Black Overlord in Darokin). He is the one to accept jobs from Ludwig Von Hendriks (who is trying to regain his position in Karameikos, though he doesn’t know much of the cult itself - they are just a convenient means for him to use… or so he thinks!). If need be, the Black Highlord will also accept jobs from other people, as long as they pay enough. Jobs do not necessarily have to assassinations, it could also be spying, infiltrating groups, guilds, foreign governments (although this will take a long time and a lot of money has to be paid for it, and must be approved by the Black Overlord in Darokin). Basically any job in which assassination or spying skills are necessary is within the field of the cult’s skills. The Cult is somewhat loyal to Von Hendriks, because he granted them freedom in the former Black Eagle Barony (the ‘Corruption of the Swords’ campaign is set after WotI and the fall of the Black Eagle in AC 1010). He has also promised that when he takes over power in Karameikos (his ultimate goal), they will be granted freedom of religious practice again, something they can't find any where else (Von Hendriks doesn’t know that the cult has worked against the Iron Ring and exploited the situation in Karameikos to their own advantage).
The Cult has been around for a long, long time. They once existed in Thyatis were the members were put to horrible deaths if they were caught. In order to avoid this they decided to eliminate anyone who could pose a threat to them. Because this seemed to work (the people died an even more gruesome death then the cult members did when they were caught), they decided to train themselves in the "art" of assassination. At this time they bribed (or forced) people in powerful position to tell them who knew what about the Cult.
This worked, although it also meant that the authorities were becoming aware of their existence, something they tried to avoid at all costs. At this point it was agreed that they had to get some members in key positions in the government, which they eventually succeeded in bringing about. It took a while, but after several years (in which they had to keep a low profile), members had risen to positions where they could manipulate on-going investigations on the Cult.
Rumours were then spread that the Cult had been completely destroyed by the Thyatian authorities, which were not fully believed at the time, and the Cult instead began to spread into Darokin. Meanwhile, investigations into the Cult were still conducted in Thyatis, and when Karameikos became a kingdom (and Thyatis seemed about to be overrun by Alphatians during the Great War), they quickly moved members there, who then, it was hoped, could rise quickly in this kingdom, and they moved the whole Cult of Thyatis to Karameikos, in order to get some "well deserved" rest from the Thyatian authorities. Unfortunately they hit upon several problems. The Karameikan authorities were just as dedicated to eradicating them as the Thyatians had been, and they soon discovered that another ruthless organization, the Iron Ring, was very active in Karameikos. So eventually, many members moved to help the cult in Darokin grow, which was quite succesful, although the cult remained somewhat active in Karameikos, and worked for Ludwig von Hendriks on occasion while seeking to infiltrate and control the Iron Ring. The Thyatian authorities do believe that the Cult has finally been destroyed, and now that the Black Eagle has been banished from Karameikos and the Iron Ring has been hurt, the problems may be about to start in Karameikos.
The Symbol of the Dark Petals Cult is, obviously, the darkened and withered petal of some dark-colored flower, usually a rose and preferably black. Of all the cult’s customs, this seems to be the only one to have become known to the public. Whenever a victim has been chosen for assassination, he is at some point, occasionally well before but usually at the very time of his death, given the single decayed, darkened, and withered petal of a rose… This custom was discovered during the cult’s history in Thyatis (see above under Origin) and so has escaped to become public knowledge, though today nobody is really sure where it originated, and most people just know that if they receive the dark petal of a rose, it means that they have been marked for death by someone, or that someone wishes death upon them. The truth of where this came from could be discovered if one looks deeply into Thyatian history, though. The custom, in part, unmasked the cult in Thyatis, so the cult considered abandoning it, but now they have found that people know of it in general and that some actually use it to intimidate or terrorize others. Because of this, they can continue their use of this custom, and so they do. Although the actual origin of the custom is generally unknown, it was introduced by the Dark Petals Cult because of its dark symbolism. A petal, rather than a flower itself, suggests that the flower is falling apart and dying, as otherwise it would be a flower and not one or more petals. Because of that, petals suggest some form of decay, particularly when they are dark and withered... And that is exactly what Thanatos is all about - decay and the corruption of beauty, such as the beauty of a flower.
Note: This cult was inspired by the ‘Black Rose Cult’ by Mal Martin in the Netbook of Cults by Dominique Crouzet.
Copyright © 2001, John Calvin, Max Monas, and Jens Schnabel. Used by permission. All rights reserved.