The Cult of Mormo, pt 5: ...Mormo

Thursday, February 28, 2008 - 5:22 PM

Mormo is a coward.

An immortal creature that is terrified of dying, Mormo carries a grudge against all those to whom death is natural (mortals), and those who need never fear it (true gods). He is a dreadfully jealous and embittered monster who gluts himself on the suffering of anything weaker than he is. As noted previously, mere death does not satisfy his hatred, and now he feeds on the acts of desecration and defilement. They are a form of sustenance to him.

Whether or not Mormo was always this way is unknown, perhaps even to him.

There are many theories about his origins. Due to his furtive nature and his diligence at keeping himself hidden, Mormo's trail is a vague one at best. Those willing to examine his works in-depth might discover that the earliest traces of worship to Mormo emerge in the bleak land of Tiharanc, historically an area where disillusionment in religion and authority is high. Tiharanc's population has been crushed under the weight of many a tyrant, who often claim right of rulership through the local faith, and wield the church as a tool of authority.

Perhaps Mormo was some form of very powerful, hibernating ghoul that somehow absorbed all the bitterness and contempt from generations of oppression. Perhaps he was drawn there. There are no answers as to what began worship of Mormo, or whether it was him that approached potential followers, or the followers that approached him. Most theologians believe, like other godlings, Mormo was appealed to, and found worshippers to his liking.

He wanders constantly, skulking from hidden den to hidden den, occasionally lurking near his shrines to gather sustenance and amusement from followers or merely unfortunate passers-by. Most of his plots involve ruining the plans of other beings of power, rather than concocting schemes of his own. He just prefers to see others fail. In fact, he avoids any grand schemes that are in any way likely to be noticed, because he prefers not to draw any attention to himself.

However, Mormo is very good at manipulating others to take a fall on his behalf. His preferred prey in this regard are people of particular talent or potential who are ostracized from society for whatever reason. In whispers and omens, he talks to them, swaying them to a course of action that will feed his voracious hunger, and probably ruin their own life in the process. Despite his reputation as a crude, brutal godling, Mormo is capable of tremendous cunning and subtlety, and he prefers to take a cautious approach in whatever he does. This can result in some convoluted plots, where a charismatic bandit leader is influenced by a canny but unstable shaman, who in turn 'divines' advice from a voice in the woods (a ghoul taking orders from Mormo, hiding).

Primarily, Mormo is interested in surviving. Garnering worship feeds him, but more importantly it supplies him with tools to use. He trusts no one, and assumes that, in their true heart, all other creatures are like him, and therefore would prey on him if they could. He knows that he is formidable, and far beyond the skill of most mortals to defeat, but he still takes no chances. He treats a mere farmer the same way he treats a great hero; he prefers to attack them when they are helpless.

Secondary to survival is his hunger. Mormo does not need to eat, but he is a miserable creature, and glutting himself on the agony of others just makes him feel better... at least for a while. The physical embodiment of this appetite is his habit of eating corpses, which is one reason he is affiliated with ghouls. In fact, Mormo himself can easily be mistaken for a normal ghoul of the undead variety (much to the horror of some very, very unfortunate monster hunters), and he often turns his priests into ghouls upon their death.

Mormo has a particular loathing for those who are spiritually minded. Priests and other religious figures are sure targets for him. He despises faith, for he sees it as a pathetic crutch for the weak, but he also hates the surety and harmony that it seems to create in people. These are things he does not have, and he wants to take them away from others. As noted, Mormo prefers to spoil or ruin what others have made, or what they believe in. He certainly regards love and faith as weakness to be preyed on, but the truth is that he is not happy, and he will never rest until the rest of the world is as unhappy and emptied out as he is. Until then, he'll continue creeping about the edges and preying on what he can.

As might be expected, Mormo has no true allies. There are a small number of unpleasant godlings who he works with on occasion, but he is otherwise universally hated by most faiths and organizations, even the evil ones. Mormo wouldn't have it any other way; hate is the only form of sincerity that he understands.

Cult of Mormo part 4
Cult of Mormo part 3
Cult of Mormo part 2
Cult of Mormo part 1

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The Cult of Mormo, pt 4: Insider's Look

1:58 PM

Now that my players are finished smacking around the cult of Mormo, I'll post a lot they don't know, and a little that they do. I don't doubt that there will be some in-game research on the topic (just in case). From a design standpoint, these fellows were pretty much there to give Adun associates as bad as he was.

I'll emphasize that the cult of Mormo isn't the sort of thing that generates save-the-world plots. Though evocative in their own way, the stories they end up being part of are on a much smaller scale. In some respects, this makes them more personal as adversaries. Sometimes it is far easier for a group to get sympathetic about the capture of a single person than to work against the threat of a thousand people dying. Remember too that the cult of Mormo isn't likely to want to randomly off a thousand people. Somebody has to survive to suffer, after all. They prefer their work to be very, very personal. They aren't going to want to take over a town, say, rather than kidnap the mayor's son, do horrible things to him, cut off his nose and then send him home again.

In my campaign, the party discovered a rather large group of Mormo's followers. Later, they understood that this was quite unusual, and wondered just what the meeting was for (some reasons for that are revealed below). Last session, they discovered precisely why... someone else was recruiting, someone who had nothing to do with the cult of Mormo.

As it turns out, these sorts of cultists can make great fire-and-forget allies for the unscrupulous, so long as you keep an eye on them.

The cult of Mormo is a wide-scattered entity, with information about its rites and prayers transmitted to followers by Mormo's priests. These priests generally wander from shrine to shrine, pausing only to recruit new followers or plan some horrible offering. A few are called to watch over a shrine, and act as keepers of lore for the cult. These stationary priests are often the primary teachers of the cult, and they also have the unpleasant task of having to deal with Mormo himself when he happens by... which he might.

Becoming a priest of Mormo requires ruthlessness, an intensity of purpose, and either self-loathing or utter arrogance. Priests are ordained for their cunning, their expressions of hatred, and their capacity to needle secrets out of others. They must be concise in what they want from Mormo. Those without strong will or sense of purpose will forever hover at acolyte status, there to be used and abused by the priesthood.

An important facet of Mormo worship is Mormo's pact with his priests. He invests power in them in exchange for their service, but insists that their behavior is only what they want to do anyway. Mormo does not send specific orders, and he only has a small roster of tenets that he considers important to follow. It is implied that any of his priests may challenge him at any time, and that they may willfully disobey him if it suits their purposes. In fact, he expects it.

The iron fist within this threadbare glove is simple enough. Might makes right, and the priests know Mormo is far stronger than any of them. To challenge or disobey Mormo means one can expect a visit from him, and death would be the preferred outcome of such a visit. Few priests really know what it means to be Mormo's plaything, but none of them ever want to find out.
The basic tenets of Mormo's faith can be described as follows:

  • Love is forbidden in the faith of Mormo. If you love someone, you must hurt them or kill them. If someone loves you, you must use that to inflict great misery upon them, and then perhaps they will turn to Mormo to get revenge against you. In that way, they will become your ally.
  • Devotion is folly. Mormo offers concrete rewards, and asks only that you do what is natural to you. The more you make yourself strong, the more he will gift you with his power. He does not want worship, only food. You do not want to worship Mormo, you want to BE Mormo.
  • You are a monster. There is no right or wrong. Those who try to cling to right and wrong do so because it makes them feel powerful and protected. Nothing in the world can protect you except yourself.
  • Take joy in hurting the weak. It is what they are asking you to do, after all. The world is nothing more than the strong eating the weak. The weak submit and die. There is no reason to be merciful. All are your enemies, and they will do to you what you are doing to them, if they were stronger than you.
  • Some will attempt to convert you and make you redeem yourself or atone for your foul deeds. This is just a lie to bring you under their power. If you follow their rules, you become a pawn. Lie to them, instead, feign repentance and then betray them.
    Some will attempt to capture you to bring you to justice. Justice is another stupidity to make the weak feel better about themselves. Kill them all, for they will certainly kill you if they get the chance.
  • Laugh at torture, when it comes from those not of Mormo. They only prove your faith by doing it to you.
  • If you are not cruel, you will fail.
  • Wreck and destroy what is loved. The strong will leave it behind, and understand the truth. The weak will weep and you will laugh at them. It is your right to torment those who are so stupid as to cling to these useless trappings.
  • Stay hidden. Being secret gives you more power. The more your prey does not know, the easier it is to do your will. Mormo wanders in the shadows, and he knows best. There are those who wish to destroy you, because they fear you. Do not give them the opportunity.
  • If you want greater favors from Mormo, you must pay for them. He gives nothing for free. He is an honest god.

Favor from Mormo and personal power are the only real measurements of hierarchy in the cult of Mormo. As a result, strife between priests is common, and murder within the cult's ranks can happen at any time. Though Mormo does not care, he makes a point of punishing such murderers if he happens to be nearby. On the other hand, promotion sometimes occurs with a particularly clever assassination. Most priests are solitary as a result, preferring only to keep ignorant pawns and properly subjugated acolytes.

However, on occasion, word spreads from shrine to shrine (usually through magical messages via beetles), that a Ghoulfeast will be had, and this means all priests and followers must find their way to one of the greater shrines, those places where Mormo himself might arrive. It is not mandatory to show up, but a Ghoulfeast is called by either the strongest of Mormo's priests or Mormo himself, and that means a chance to win great favor... or sometimes have a chance at that elusive priest you've been trying to kill for a while now. Ghoulfeasts are usually called when offerings of great intricacy are planned, when something affecting the cult as a whole is occurring, or Mormo has chosen to personally ordain a group of would-be priests. Either way, the area in which a Ghoulfeast occurs is sure to be rife with unpleasant crimes for a few weeks, as all the Mormo cultists attempt to gather favor.

Mormo has refined tastes. His worshipers are expected to produce offerings on a weekly basis, but these can be small, petty things, such as stolen holy symbols or temple alms filched from a collection. Such petty offerings need not be physical in nature, either; slanderous gossip to break up harmony, for example, can be offered to Mormo. Followers are expected to start with these, and include sacrifices of things loved or treasured by them. The more pain that is caused with sacrifices, the better Mormo enjoys it.

Greater offerings are much more severe. Priests of Mormo steal holy relics, deface idols, break up marriages, kidnap children, or perform terrible acts while masquerading as members of other religions. Blood sacrifice is quite acceptable, but mere death is not enough to satisfy Mormo's hunger. The death must cause great misery or betrayal to feed him, but those who can provide such meals to Mormo will have his favor.

Next up: Who IS this Mormo guy, anyway?

The Cult of Mormo, part 3
The Cult of Mormo, part 2
The Cult of Mormo, part 1

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Sunday, February 24, 2008 - 6:42 PM

Next installment will be some insider information on Mormo and his followers. For now, I wanted to express smug satisfaction in watching a group of players sweat during a climactic encounter.

Did they catch Adun? Oh, yes, they killed him, but it wasn't easy. The canny dwarf spent time fortifying himself with magic while sending in successive waves of lackeys, and the party didn't see him at all until he blindsided the priest.... which hurt them, a lot. But eventually, they overcame the bandits, the corpse-men and the swarm-vomiting ghouls, and pulled Adun down.
It's always a wonderful thing to see the fire of accomplishment at the gaming table. My players left totally pumped up. They knew how close a fight it was, and they had some bad luck early on.

It is more than completion for this group, though. Having recently moved into level 11 (d20 3.5 DnD), the party is learning that they are no longer just local heroes, and that they are capable of making history instead of just living in it.

From a story standpoint, Adun's death represents the passage of the heroes into a new world. Adun was nasty, cunning and thoroughly evil, but he'd never be a threat on a grand scale. He was a terrible leader, relying entirely on fear and violence to get others to serve him, and he didn't have any vision beyond mere hurt, much like his patron. Next session, after they wrap up all the bloody loose ends Adun and his people left behind, they'll have completed a very long story arc, and can finally look forward without having to worry about what's behind them.

They have a lot to look forward to.

As a closing note, a good many people have asked me about 4th edition, and what I think about it. I'll let you know when it actually gets released, and I have a chance to take a good look. Until then, it isn't as if anyone is short on 3.5 material to use. I know I'm certainly not.

post scriptum: When the party rogue wants to crawl through ghoul burrows, don't let them do it. It's never a good idea.

The Cult of Mormo, pt 3

Friday, February 22, 2008 - 12:22 PM

This little bit can be used to provide some in-character information, printed as is. It also provides an example of how the cult of Mormo looks from the outside, to those attempting to investigate it. In the game I am running, the party cleric's research will uncover this letter.

A Letter from the Warden Banashur, to the Hierophant Tan-Gilil

To the dawn I send my hopes, and this letter to you, who calls down the secrets of the Sun.
It is true that my home city is plagued with the wretches who worship the Ghoul Mormo, and I am honored that you prevail so upon my wisdom to allow my words into the Archive. Here, I have enclosed all that I have discovered about the First Ghoul and his ways.

Know too that though we have caught and punished many of the First Ghoul's creatures, some yet prey on our people. We believe that a great shrine to this monster rests under the necropolis, defiling the rest of the dead, and soon I shall lead a mighty force to purge the place of it all.
Here then, are my accounts. Though being witness to such as this has blackened my heart, I know that in time and faith the blaze of the Fire Scorpion will purify me and make me whole again. Send what blessings you are permitted, O Renewing Light; I shall send word again as soon as may be.

Of the First Ghoul
Those who are blessed with understanding know that even among the Gods, some stand greater than others, and though the First Ghoul is a cunning and obscure creature, it is believed that he is a Godson, a monster of power beyond that of mortal life who nonetheless lives in the mortal world. Like other such Godsons, this implies that he is immortal, yet can die at the hands of a mighty hero. Such has been known to happen in the past.

It is an assurance, that the First Ghoul is so weak in compared to our own lofty deities, yet it is also a horror that he can walk among us freely if he chooses. And what can the common man do to withstand him? Nothing, or so we believe. He is a potence beyond the strength of even a well-blessed priest or faithkeeper.

The First Ghoul likely fears the judgment of his betters, however, and this is why he himself acts as do the most craven of his followers. He hides his power, and rarely emerges from his secret lairs, which must be horrible beyond belief, yet none of them have ever been found. Though we know little more of him, we know much more of those who besmirch their souls and follow his way.

Of the First Ghoul's Servants
So long as the monster lives, there will be men to follow him. It is a bitter drink for those of us who strive to promote peace, harmony and prosperity, but it is truth. So long as one man is willing to hurt another man, the First Ghoul's whispers might bind him.

It is important to distinguish the degrees of binding. There are many who serve the First Ghoul and do not know it, for his priests are subtle and full of cunning. It is their way to bait a man into sin by his own will, and then to confront him with the fear of justice or guilt, and so lead him further into the influence of their foul master.

As reported last season, we had captured an acolyte of Mormo, who has understood the depths of his villainy, and has chosen to redeem himself. His information comes to us freely now, and we have found it most instructive. In particular, we have received from him ample information on the recruitment and organization of the First Ghoul's servants, and what they are named by the priesthood.

Of the Corpses
The penitent reveals to us that grave-robbing is the term used by the priests to find Corpses, which are the lowest of the First Ghoul's followers. Corpses are pawns, often unaware of who they are being used by, and usually thugs or other low creatures paid to particular purpose. Alas, the vermin of humanity are always for sale, and they receive their just wages: such unfortunates are often left to take credit for the priest's foul plans, and suffer while he escapes.

Corpses are likely named as such for that reason.

Some Corpses are recruited through their own discontent, bitterness or hatred. The priests find them and take time to befriend such a person. They encourage the Corpse into doing what they wish; the penitent states that they will tailor events to spur their target into action. A man, fearing infidelity from his wife, might be incited to injure or even murder her, spurred on by false evidence.

The favorite poison to press innocents into service is blackmail. It is a dreadful thing, for he who works with them gives them more weight to press him down with. It is noted that they prefer to work quickly, fading like shadows afterwards. Those who resist their attempts at corruption for long are often killed.

The hope of the priest is to break their morality or their sanity, and make them into Flies.
For clarification, I note that cult refers to the actual practice of grave-robbing as 'finding dinner'.

Of the Flies
These poor creatures are those who believe they can do nothing else but what the priests of Mormo tell them. They are utterly bound, by blackmail or guilt or occasionally some curse or enchantment. In their fear and desperation, they will do whatever the priests tell them to do, in order to buy a chance at being free. Perhaps they have been given false promises; our penitent tells us that there is nothing the priesthood enjoys more than using what we love against us, to force us into evil in thinking it must be done to protect our own.

Blessings and sanctuary to those who are so afflicted!

Not all Flies are so hapless. Some are those used to indulgence in evil, or perhaps those with powerful hatred of their own sins and feel that it does not matter what they do. Whatever the case, Flies always know that they are being used, though they may not truly know by what, or feel they can do anything about it. Some of them, out of resignation or wickedness, choose to turn their backs on righteousness, and attempt to gain favor from the First Ghoul. These in turn become the acolytes of the cult, who are called Beetles.

Of the Beetles
Here, the cult finally begins to teach the secrets and true tenets of the First Ghoul. Beetles are subject to much scrutiny and abuse, as the First Ghoul hungers for only the most vile, and no doubt punishes the priests if less is offered up to him.

The penitent was one such acolyte, and he tells us that the first training is recruitment. Beetles must go forth and find Corpses and Flies, and must dedicate themselves to debasement, both of themselves and others. They are constantly exhorted to greater acts of humiliation, violence and defilement. Many such take joy in it. Favor from the priests is arbitrary, but often dependent on the achievements of the acolyte.

In the matter of our captive, the penitent was full of hatred for the rulers of our people, and so he found power to express that hatred in joining the cult of Mormo. He has done many horrible things out of hatred, and was willing to blacken himself further to accomplish more, thinking he could strike out at what he believed to be tyrants and oppressors.

May the Sun grant clarity to those whose eyes are shadowed!

He returned to virtue when he refused the command to kill a child, testifying to us that the priest wished him to do so for no other reasons than the child was precious to someone, that he could, and that the child could not stop it.

From what we can tell, this manner of spite pervades the cult of Mormo. It is not enough for them to merely do injury, or rob, or murder. They must ruin what is precious to others, and dedicate themselves to breaking faith in anything but self-indulgence and, apparently, self-loathing.

The penitent does not know what transition promotes beetle to ghoul, or priest. Ordination (or defilement, perhaps) is a secret event, witnessed only by the priesthood of the First Ghoul, and presumably hidden away in one of his shrines. Only the priests know these secrets.

Of the Ghouls
To know an enemy is to know how to destroy him, and we know little of the ghouls. The penitent tells us many things which are useful to know, but even that is little enough. What we may conclude is that these are the most disgusting and wicked of the First Ghoul's followers, and that they have chosen this. The penitent repeatedly testified that Mormo demands a conscious choice. Though his priests may go mad later, they must be in right mind when they swear themselves to service. Ghouls rarely work together, and it is implied that murder among their own is not uncommon.

Praise be to the Scorpion of Golden Virtue that evil turns on itself!

However, the First Ghoul is generous in his gifts to his priests. They are granted magical power, often to hide themselves and to harm others, and they are given power over certain crude forms of hungry dead. Indeed, some of them are ghouls in nature as well as title. The penitent testifies that a dead priest will often rise up again as a ghoul unless the body is burned, and many of the priests eat the flesh of the dead.

Though we do not yet know the truth, the penitent believes that on occasion, many priests will come together to desecrate a holy place in order to call their master to them and petition him for great favor. He believes this is the truth behind the words 'feeding the charnel pit', but he was not given to know these secrets. It was only through rumor.

I mention this because it may well explain why the cult has so persistently plagued this area for so long. Perhaps, in one stroke, we may make ruin of those whose creed is ruin.

O You who Bears the Morning Warmth, make use of this information as you may! I shall write again when next we have word.

-Warden Banashur, Temple of the Builder of Cities

A brief message, arriving a week after the previous, also from the Warden

Blessed are Those who Carry the Fire

Lament, for the penitent is slain. A swarm of black beetles devoured him alive in his cell. May his soul escape the monster he chose to fight against. Say prayers for him, if you will, and say prayers and burn incense for our acolyte, who has been kidnapped.

Cult of Mormo, part 2
Cult of Mormo, part 1

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The Cult of Mormo, pt 2

Saturday, February 16, 2008 - 1:30 PM

This item is intended to be informational, suitable as a handout in-game if someone happens to be investigating records about the cult. Wallace, the fellow giving the account, can certainly be a contact. Make him grizzled, a bit resigned, a little grumpy and very politely suspicious. The man made a living out of hunting down dangerous cults, after all, and he's never quite sure he got ALL of them.

“In all our years of searching, my men and I never found any more than two shrines dedicated to Mormo. One we found by accident, a mere happenstance. Mormo grants some power to his... holy places; it makes them metaphysically furtive, I suppose you could say. Seers overlook them, trails lead away from them. Now, unless you are interested in a trade like mine, I suggest you let them stay hidden, because Mormo's shrines are deceptive and dangerous.

The two we found... one of them was little more than a niche, cramped under the foundations of a temple in the deep city. The other was much larger, built into the burnt-out husk of an old church. Ah, I'll go ahead and talk about that one, as it was revealed to be a major shrine for the cult, and in researching the works of my peers, I discovered it was emblematic of Mormo's cult.
So, we were tracking our quarry, and our fesshound started whining. It was in the deep woods at night, and we were wary of ambush, so we kept on with weapons handy. Turns out it wasn't anything alive that bothered the 'hound.

The first thing we noticed were the thorns. There were creepers everywhere, and it made for slow going, but we pressed on, and saw the shrine. From the outside, it was a sprawling, hunched kind of building. We could hear some faint clattering and buzzing sounds from within, so we all made our prayers and approached. We figured out the place was nested in a ruin, and the Mormo cult was kind enough to let us know what kind of building it had been. See, in front of the low door, there was a little semi-circle of burnt, old skulls. They all had rusty holy symbols tied to their brows, remains of the faithful who used to pray there.

Inside... all right, before I continue, I have to mention the stink. The reek from inside was tremendous and thick, and all of us had watering eyes as we pressed on. From studying the accounts of my peers, I now know this isn't unusual.

Needless to say, we were careful, but we entered, and ... this is what we saw.

Scurrying away from our light were a number of large black beetles, disappearing into the stained and seamed walls. There were six pillars,each with a single iron spike jutting out from it, and hanging from one was the body of a child. The pillars were arranged in a circle, though the shrine was square in shape, and there were a pair of rusted shackles bolted to the floor in the middle. At the far end beyond the entry there was a stone chair with no back. It was empty, mossy and thickly moldy. On either side of this were troughs in the ground, and we could see heaps of something in these. Rot, mostly, leavings, the slime of decomposition, filth.

The walls were pitted with alcoves. Many of them had small items stuffed into them. Mostly these were trinkets or symbols of faith in various states of decrepitude or damage, but we also found a skeletal finger with a ring on it, and in another, the ruin of a child's doll. In the far corners of the place, there were piles of dead leaves, mold and worse, as if someone occasionally swept up the filth fallen from the pillars along with anything the world outside brought in.

A further search turned up a pair of stone bowls full of stagnant water, a few coils of fresh rope behind the stone chair, and a leather wallet, well-oiled, with a set of small, sharp butcher's tools in it.

Well, we took down the body, and we started cleaning the place out. The walls had some occasional writing, mostly slander against the faithful, but on one wall, there was a detailed painting of a pincer-like black moon, crushing a bleeding sun between its points. We knew for certain it was a place for Mormo, then, and we were just finishing up when the ghouls all came out of the pits in the back...”

--Wallace Rievenfeld, teaching at the Yhelm Academy

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The Cult of Mormo, pt 1

Thursday, February 14, 2008 - 12:13 PM

Here we begin a short series of in-character bits regarding the cult of Mormo. Any of these might be used as hand outs during the course of a game, or otherwise integrated into the story. Later, clarifications specifically for the GM will be posted.

“Paladins! You will not disgrace your faith and your position by executing cultists of Mormo immediately. You will bring them to trial like all other criminals. Do they deserve death? Yes. Are they the vilest of criminals? Yes. But due process of Law must be kept. That is your honor and your life. Trust in your God that justice will be done. And in the case of Mormo filth, it will be done.”
--Captain Carys ap Luthier of the Horizon Guard, addressing new recruits.

“Paladins? They're the weakest of the lot. Cattle, all of them, and we love sending them back ruined if we can. Putting your faith in anything other than yourself is pathetic...oh, what am I doing, you ask? I don't have faith in Mormo. I just know that he rewards me for doing what I'd want to do anyway. And you want to do the same to me, I can tell.”
--From the interrogation of a Mormo cultist, name stricken from the records after execution.

The Portraiture of the Demon called Mormo
Mormo's Titles are Thus: The Hungry Moon, the Black Knife, First Ghoul, the Desecration, Heartgrinder, Thornkeeper

Mormo favors the Colors of Dark Green, Grey and Black or Russet, though few but his most devout followers would openly wear them.

Mormo calls the Weasel, the Shrike, the Beetle, and the Ghoul as his creatures.

His Signs are a Black Crescent Moon, crushing a Sun between the Points; a Black and Eyeless Beetle; and a Red Ring of Thorns.

Mormo is the Lord of Desecration. He sucks in Power from the Ruination of hat which people Love, or put Faith in. He is a Bitter and Spiteful creature, who exhorts Befoulment and Malice, and chains his Followers to him with disgusting Deeds. He is the Patron of Grave-Robbers, Bandits, and Iconoclasts, and all Those who Love Hurt. This Demon has never yet been Seen, but his Power is evident, and he is Despised by all.

You will know the Trail of Mormo by the Broken Lives he leaves behind, and the Defilement of Innocents, and the Blasphemies against That which is Holy. His chosen are Furtive, and slip away from the Eyes of Sorcery. His Shrines are known as Hollows, and they too are Hidden by his Accursed Strength.

By Law, both Secular and Sacred, those who Damn themselves to Mormo are Sent Straightaway to the Hell which awaits them. Those who Slay the Innocent deserve no Honor, nor Mercy, nor Forgiveness. It is an Irrevocable Crime.

The Lore of Mormo is Sealed by Church Edict; go therefore to the Abbey of Kyrilaraun to seek it, if you must.
--From the notes of Ermina l'Onlumey, First Scribe to the Church of the White Lady

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Petty Evil

12:00 PM

Recurring villains in a campaign are a great deal of fun. If pacing is maintained, and your players don't get lucky or outwit you, you have a great opportunity for building a complex relationship between heroes and villains. This relationship only adds to the feelings of accomplishment and success when the heroes finally bring their adversary to justice... or just plain kill him, as some might vote to do.

The players in my DnD game have a handful of adversaries who, through distance, cunning or power, have managed to evade defeat. Against some surprising odds, they've pulled down some powerful opponents (as players are wont to do), but from as early as level 3, Adun Lemekvorr has evaded them.

Adun has betrayed his allies, bribed and blackmailed contacts and authorities, murdered, cheated and stolen in order to evade capture. He has even hurled other villains into the spotlight to attract the attention of the dogged heroes on his tail. As you can guess, he's done little to endear himself to our heroes, and they've been avid about running him down. He has managed to stay two steps ahead, however, and they lost him for quite a while.

Recently, they have recovered his trail, and this time he's finding it very hard to keep ahead.
Originally, they knew Adun paid fealty to some god of greed, but with their new sources, they've learned Adun has long since switched allegiances. Now they understand why he's been so difficult to locate. Adun's new patron is notorious for keeping his followers hidden, and as the party has discovered, the patron is notorious for other things, as well.

Sometimes, evil is just a petty, ugly thing. Adun's patron, Mormo, is just such a creature. This is not a cult with overarching plots and plans. It is a small, hateful knot that loves to spoil what other people hold precious. In the next couple of installments, I will reveal more about Adun, his patron, and the cult they are connected to.

  • A few notes about Mormo, from a designer standpoint:
    Mormo is a name from Greek mythology, one of a large number of little-known and seemingly incidental quasi-deities. Apparently Mormo was connected to Hecate in some way, but I've not found any specific references as to who or what specifically Mormo was, outside of some inferences that s/he bit bad children or bad people. The origin of Mormo's use in my campaign is actually from the H.P. Lovecraft story, “The Horror At Red Hook”, which inspired the cult as I use it. I do not claim that my version of Mormo has any real connection whatsoever to actual mythology. If anybody out there has some reliable sources that give more details about the original Mormo, I'd be happy to hear about them.
  • Second, as noted above, sometimes evil is just petty. I wanted a cult that didn't care about conquering the world or spreading evil. The cult of Mormo is designed to be utterly foul, a secretive cult that loves to hurt people for no real reason except that they can. This is the kind of garbage that heroes love to take out, and they should feel accomplished when they do it. But on the other side, the cult of Mormo isn't that alien or bizarre. There are reasons why people join it, after all. The sad fact is that most Mormo cultists aren't even insane (though most of the actual priests sure are). The other part of this kind of evil is that it can live next door. It's personal, in a brutal sort of way, and Mormo's brand of evil starts with simple discontent or jealousy or insecurity. Sometimes, all people need is the right excuse.

Just as a side note, occasionally, people hear about these ideas, and they say something like 'people aren't actually that bad, they really won't do that to each other'. For a blatant retort, I recommend they take a closer look at what's been happening in Africa these days.



Sunday, February 10, 2008 - 9:27 PM

"I don't actually have a personality of my own. I'm a warehouse full of characters."

This is a telling quote, but it doesn't cover everything.

Montgomery Mullen is a freelancer with a dusty art degree, one who has wrestled with office chaos and delved into the world of book appraisal. He has been fortunate enough to have put some fragments of inspiration into print... but there are plenty more in waiting.

For the Wanderer's Guild/3am Games:
Creatures of the Savage Snow (Wanderers Guild Guide to Arctic Monsters, stat work and plot seeds)
Lurkers Among Us (Wanderers Guild Guide to Urban Monsters, primary author)

For Margaret Weis Productions:
Castlemourn Campaign Setting (Stat work, short descriptions)

For Whitesilver Publications:
Verto Syzol's Legendaria Geographica (Labyrinth of Raneeve, the Barrow of Acarak)
Card Sharp: An Introductory Adventure for the Chronicles of Ramlar
Blackarrow Run (Demo module for Chronicles of Ramlar)

One-Shot, One-on-One modules for Chronicles of Ramlar:
  • The Devouring Library

  • Taransali's Riddle

  • Those Who Were Forgotten

  • The Last Flower of Spring

  • Kingmakers
  • Labels:


    Saturday, February 9, 2008 - 9:40 AM

    I was filing through the new Warhammer 40K RPG, Dark Heresy. While doing this, I had a sudden realization.

    Let me get the obligatory review part out of the way before I move on. Overall, I liked it. It's a tight, well-presented game that doesn't assume you know everything about the rather extensively detailed Warhammer universe. Further, it does a fair job of concisely explaining the moods and themes of that universe without getting too wordy. Sure, there's the usual spin to produce 'cool factor', but despite the usual tremendous-shoulder-pad-and-pervading-skull motif, it comes off well.

    I have some wariness about character creation, in that the system appears to allow heavy customization at first glance... but it doesn't, not really. Creation is easy, which is nice, but there was a lot of similarity in the twelve sample characters I drew up. I suspect that if I run this game, I will probably tweak things to allow for more options.

    Here's where the thoughts got provoked.

    Dark Heresy sold out on preorders alone. Now, anybody involved in gaming at all knows that Warhammer has a huge and loyal following, and I'm sure that has something to do with it. That Black Industries has produced fantastic work with the Warhammer Fantasy RPG is another strong reason (plus, they're fun people; I met them at GAMA this last year). There's no doubt there's an audience for it. What I wonder is how many dedicated RPGers will avoid it just because it has Warhammer attached to the title, perhaps assuming that it will be little more than a glorified miniatures game.

    Dungeons and Dragons has this problem, also. Many people assume that DnD is always some kind of door-kicking tactics party, with lots of math and a great deal of rules arguments. Sure, sometimes it is, and it is certainly true that 90% of the game mechanics are to do with combat... which means you can expect a fair amount of it.

    DnD doesn't have to be that way. The group I'm running right now is on session #70 of a campaign, and sure, in combat the rogue yelps at the tank for flanking. Sure, the conjuror is always looking for the best place to land her spells. But I have rarely seen such a tightly-knit web of character interaction. They have spent whole sessions meandering through character development, unravelling plotlines and figuring out their future. The progression of their story, from struggling against conspiracies to becoming local heroes and now to understanding what it takes (and means!) to change the world has been wonderful. These characters have grown, in all ways.

    There is no reason Dark Heresy can't be the same kind of game. In fact, combat being as nasty as it is, there's a strong implication that you Should try and talk your way through things. Now, I do make fun of what I call the 'Warhammer aesthetic' as much as the next guy, but sans shoulder-pads, the setting is really very evocative. Beyond the dark, science-fantasy grimness of it all, the setting has a lot of depth that is worth taking a closer look at, and I firmly believe that dedicated RPers can find a lot of stories to tell with that in mind.

    The next time you have a knee-jerk reaction to a game, be it DnD or Vampire or Dark Heresy, consider that a game can be run however you want it to be. A system is always just a framework. Mechanics will inevitably flavor the feel of the game, but you, be it player or GM, you are the one crafting the stories. Dark Heresy doesn't have to be about huge guns, outrageous armor and ridiculously toothy vehicles. It can be about the survival of the soul against oppression, the seeds of hope in faith, and the power to escape from ignorance.

    Of course, making sure your GM/fellow players share a similar vision is important, but that's a story for another time.

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    Friday, February 8, 2008 - 2:05 PM

    Why am I here?

    Creativity doesn't do anything useful unless you spread it around, and in part, that's the purpose of this website. I'm here to promote and share some of the ideas I've come up with, as well as some thoughts on the industry I'm aiming myself at.
    What you will find here:

    Observations and rantings and rambles, and other verbose wandering, because this is, after all, a blog. I reserve the right to ..never mind, this is my blog!

    Game design information: We'll have lots of fun here, including system, conflict resolution, interactive storytelling and whatever else I trip over. I love looking at game architecture, both from a system standpoint and a psychological one... which brings us to

    Game Industry: About games and gaming, and the gamers who game them. Fussed about 4th edition D&D? Want to speculate on why sourcebook glut is inevitable in today's business model? I have plenty to say on that, and more. That's the sort of thing you'll find here.

    GM Library: A catch-all for various bits and pieces of my world-building projects, including some information on 'A Reign of Ashes', a semi-finalist in the Wizards of the Coast setting search competition. This will also include some information about games I am currently running.

    Monster Design: Critters should be listed in the GM Library (and will be cross-referenced there), but for me, they deserve a special mention. The ubiquitous 'monster' is probably one of the finest tools for GM use, and I have a lot of thoughts... and a lot of examples... about how they can be used. I've done a lot of this, including projects like Castlemourn.

    Short Fiction: Writers must write, and I am no different. Above all, I'm a storyteller, be it collaborative in games or solo. This will be a place to read an ongoing series in the now-named 'urban supernatural' genre, in a world where the supernatural is real, everybody knows it, and generally tries not to think about it too much. There will also be fragments, props, poems and the occasional utterly fictional essay.

    Whoever you happen to be, my hope is that you come away from this site with something new you didn't think of before, and may it be something inspiring to you. Comments are welcome!