We’ve got a review of the latest 5E publication from Kobold Press, Demon Cults & Secret Societies.
Kobold Press has been putting out some good good books lately, friends. If you have not clapped your eyes on their Tome of Beasts, you are missing out on one of the coolest monster compendiums out there for 5E, for instance. And they are following up their excellent Tome o’ Beasts with a collection of sinister secret societies and dastardly demonic dangers in Demon Cults & Secret Societies.
When I go looking for a new RPG supplement, I’m almost always considering how I’m going to use it when creating my own campaign. Coming up with my own storyline, adventures, encounters, and NPCs is a huge part of the draw of RPGs. Demon Cults &Secret Societies delivers exactly that. Inside its 173 pages you’ll find new monsters, new NPCs, new hooks–all designed around the idea of using them to develop your own campaign.
Where supplements like the Curse of Strahd or Storm King’s Thunder outline these big epic plots that adventurers are drawn into, Demon Cults & Secret Societies is designed to pull your adventurers in. You’ll find 13 different cults: the twisted, alien fey worshippers of the Black Goat’s Flock, the Fire-obssessed followers of the Burning Rune–the sun-sensitive Derro and vampires of the Chosen of the Demon Bat…the list goes on. But each of these evil organizations exists with their own distinct goals, leaders/prominent NPCs, specialized monsters, related magic items, and plot hooks.
DC&SS gives you everything you need to put together an adventure with these organizations–but they leave the final recipe up to you. You don’t have encounters built in, or a rail-like plot that hooks players and waits for them to hop on–instead what you’ll find are these lists of ingredients and examples of how they fit together. Each Cult/Society’s entry comes with what you need to get your head around how they feel, and how they play. So, if you’re running with the Doomspeakers, for instance, you get an idea that these are deformed servants of demonic devastation. Their power corrupts them physically, even to the point of causing them harm as they bring about destruction in the name of their dark masters.
And then you can see these themes reflected in the mechanics of their NPCs and monsters. Destruction is the watchword for these cultists with their champions being able to call upon infernal energy to deal extra damage or devastate an area around them, or to cause various status effects always flavored as “invoking a doom.” Whatever the effect, each member of this organization has the ability to call upon the extraplanar power of their masters. And many of them have a rampage-like effect or the ability to sow despair in their foes as they kill. It makes it easy to take a look at get a feel for how to run them against your PCs.
On top of that they also give you some adventure hooks that detail how these creatures can be used in your own campaign. They’ve got something for just about every tier of adventurers–offering plot hooks and encounter ideas for low, mid, and high-level characters. And each one of these could be strung together to create a campaign or a long adventure, but they aren’t dependent on each other. The real treasure here is their use in showing how these cults operate. For instance, low-level characters might learn that caravans have been attacked by mysterious walking corpses (from other caravans) and along the way encounter a Doomspeaker who is using an army of the undead to raid caravans to satisfy his henchmen’s need for food and battle
Mid-level characters might encounter refugees of a war who are making for a town rumored to offer shelter–but instead it’s all a trap by the Doomspeakers who have merely been putting up the appearance of a refuge, while actually they have been enslaving the vulnerable refugees for their demonic masters.
And high level adventurers might run into the Doomspeaker himself–or at least find evidence of the leader of the cult’s activities as they’re pulled into direct confrontation. Taken together this could be a mounting adventure–or as I’d probably do it, a series of interconnected adventures, where at first the cult is sort of in the background. The characters could appear to win out over the evil spellcaster/gnoll combination and then encounter the weird demon influence later, only to in the end learn it was all the work of a single cult who is much bigger than they could have imagined. Then the game could be about discovering their influence and rooting it out.
Or alternately, they just make some very flavorful villains. Either way, you get an in-depth look at what they’re doing–it reminds me of the in-depth look at monsters that you’d see in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, a little. Though they don’t have sample lairs, that’s actually not a bad look–you’ll learn how these cults act and exist in their world, and I find it very empowering as a DM to have that “aha!” moment as you figure out how to use them.
All of the above is just a small fraction of the amount of detail for each of these cults. It’s one of the more thematic books I’ve found–I’ve already experimented with some of these guys in my home game, and I wager it’ll just be a matter of time before they crop up in NeverQuest. At any rate, this book is well worth checking out. It’s not a campaign/adventure path, so if you’re looking for that–you won’t find it here. You’ll have to take the ingredients they give and cook that narrative up yourself, but, I feel like they do a good job of showing “hey here’s how these fit together thematically.
That last part is one of the most invaluable things a prospective GM can learn. It’s what takes your games from a series of random encounters and starts to give them a little bit of mechanical framework. Especially if you’re creating your own narrative (which is hard enough on its own), seeing how these kinds of monsters work together gives you a enough of a structure that you have some limits to explore. Instead of having the wide open area of “anything and everything in my imagination” you’ve got a lens that focuses on a particular aspect. And exploring the bounds of that ‘focus area’ helps your game start to feel cohesive.
So check out Demon Cults and Secret Societies today. It’s definitely worth a look.
Demon Cults and Secret Societies – $39.99/$17.99 (pdf)
Demon Cults & Secret Societies brings 13 nefarious organizations to your tabletop game, each with its own sinister agenda. Their plots range from the conquest of nations to daring heists of the greatest of treasures, from redefining the nature of truth to extinguishing the sun itself!
Compatible with the 5th Edition of the world’s first roleplaying game, this 176-page volume contains:
- 13 deadly cults and secret societies, including the Burning Rune, the Chosen of the Demon Bat, and the Creed of All Flesh
- Each cult’s beliefs and agenda, with complete stats for their top leaders—most in a diverse range of levels, to reflect masterminds and lieutenants
- Acolytes, soldiers, and minions to oppose PCs of many levels
- Adventure seeds with cultist plots and schemes, ranging from low-level skirmishes to epic, career-capping challenges
- New cult-related artifacts, spells, magic items, feats, monsters, vehicles, and more!
Great campaigns need worthy villains. Discover conspiracies, plots, and mayhem to thrill and entertain your players for years!
As the followers of the deep ocean lords might say, time to grab this book and get Kraken.