The Cult of Apophis

A Sinister Opponent for GURPS and Other Roleplaying Games

by Montejon Smith

Art by andi jones

Apophis, the Eye of Night, is also known to Humans as Apep, Eater of Stars and The Formless Shadow. He is a dark god of the maw-and-tentacle variety. His totem is the Kraken, his color is black, and his symbol is the Eightfold Eye. The essence of Apophis is darkness and cold, and he prefers to operate by stealth and treachery rather than through direct assault. His worship is popular with Fishmen (GURPS Fantasy Folk, p. 70), and it may be that Apophis is also The Lord Beneath the Ice (GURPS Horror, p. 69). The multi-tentacled horror in GURPS Supers Adventures is probably one of his vessels.

Servants

The Cult of Apophis Even the rankest initiate of the Cult of Apophis, called Spawn, must wear black at all times and attend weekly services. These services, while eerie, do not involve anything considered really illegal. In fantasy worlds and unfree nations, of course, the Cult of Apophis may be outlawed directly. Initiates of the cult are also expected to attend as many monthly sacrifices as they can and avoid sunlight and open flame as much as possible. These requirements amount to no more than a Quirk in GURPS terms, unless Apophianism is outlawed. Being a known servant of Apophis may bear with it a social stigma or bad reputation, depending on how much of the true nature of the cult is known.

The lesser leaders of the faith are called Deacons in regions with a strong Christian or Satanist influence, and Greater Spawn elsewhere. These leaders, who have advanced in the Cult but who have not yet achieved the notice of their dark god, have all the same requirements as the initiates plus a few more. In addition to the requirement that they wear black and attend monthly sacrifice, they must attend all weekly gatherings, where they have a leadership role. They may not start fires. In modern campaigns they are forbidden to turn on a light switch. In GURPS terms these proscription and requirements amount to Disciplines of Faith at the -5 point level. Lesser Spawn eager for advancement may, of course, undertake to observe these disciplines.

The middle managers of the faith, called Archdeacons or Spawnmasters, have even more requirements. They lead the weekly gatherings, and assist the local priest in monthly sacrifice. Like the deacons, they are forbidden to start a fire or turn on a light. Nor may they use artifacts of refined metal. In the modern world, and some fantasy worlds, archdeacons are also forbidden to fly. In GURPS, this amounts to Disciplines of Faith at the -10 point level. Archdeacons have a few benefits to balance their limitations, however. See the section on Characters, below.

Priests and High Priests have no more behavioral requirements than do the archdeacons, but do have different roles. Priests are the ones who actually behead the monthly sacrifices, and only High Priests may perform human sacrifice. It is, of course, not common knowledge that the Cult of Apophis undertakes human sacrifice at all. There is no inherent sexual bias in the cult, and there are may be more priestesses than priests, depending on how the GM views the effects of the Yin-Yang Imbalance.

There will be one priest for every few hundred initiates, and one high priest for every 20 or so priests. If you need a total number of high priests, 1d6+3 should do nicely. You can extrapolate backwards from there to determine about how many cultists there are worldwide.

Characters

What follows is a synopsis of cultists in GURPS terms. It ranges from the Archdeacons to the High Priests. They are not presented as complete templates, because it is expected that these traits will be grafted onto characters with other professions. Being a cultists is not a particularly profitable venture, even for the priesthood. The cult does not collect a tithe in the manner of Christian churches, and the selfish nature of the faith prevents much in the way of voluntary offerings. Where the cult is strong they may support a priest in the tradition of your classic evil fantasy priest, but in most places the priest will have a day job.

Archdeacon

Attributes: ST 10 [0], DX 10 [0], IQ 12 [20], HT 10 [0].
Advantages: Clerical Investment (Rank 1) [5], Literacy [10], Night Vision [10], Power Investiture 1 [10].
Disadvantages: Disciplines of Faith (Apophianism) [-10], Duty (Cult of Apophis, 12 or less) [-5].
Skills: Performance/Ritual (Apophianism) IQ [2], Theology (Apophianism) IQ [4], Fast Talk IQ [2], Sacrifice IQ-2 [1], Dancing DX -1 [1].
0-Point Trait: The character's "zone of comfort" is shifted downwards 10 degrees.

Priest

Attributes: ST 10 [0], DX 10 [0], IQ 13 [30], HT 10 [0].
Advantages: Clerical Investment (Rank 2) [10], Dark Vision [25], Literacy [10], Power Investiture 2 [20].
Disadvantages: Color Blindness [-10], Disciplines of Faith (Apophianism) [-10], Duty (Cult of Apophis, 15 or less) [-10], Secret (Attends human sacrifices) [-20], Yin-Yang Imbalance (Yin) [-5 or -10].
Skills: Performance/Ritual (Apophianism) IQ+1 [4], Theology (Apophianism) IQ+1 [6], Fast Talk IQ+1 [4], Sacrifice IQ [4], Dancing DX +1 [4].
0-Point Trait: The character's "zone of comfort" is shifted downwards 10 degrees.

High Priest

Attributes: ST 10 [0], DX 10 [0], IQ 14 [45], HT 10 [0]
Advantages: Clerical Investment (Rank 3) [15], Dark Vision [25], Literacy [10], Power Investiture 3 [30].
Disadvantages: Color Blindness [-10], Disciplines of Faith (Apophianism) [-10], Extremely Hazardous Duty (Cult of Apophis) [-20], Secret (Performs human sacrifice) [-30], Yin-Yang Imbalance (Yin) [-5 or -10].
Skills: Performance/Ritual (Apophianism) IQ+2 [6], Theology (Apophianism) IQ+2 [8], Fast Talk IQ+1 [4], Sacrifice IQ+1 [6], Dancing DX +1 [4].
0-Point Trait: The character's "zone of comfort" is shifted downwards 10 degrees.

Services, Holy and Unholy Days

Weekly services are simple. A dozen to two dozen cultists will gather someplace dark, damp and chilly. There they chant and perform ritual dances. The archdeacon will spend some time ranting about why the worship of Apophis is so important and special. Then everyone will chant, perform a final dance, and go home. Worshipers will find themselves strangely exhausted, but slightly euphoric. In GURPS, those leaving a weekly service will be at one half Fatigue. They will also have a penalty to DX and IQ equal to half the number of Fatigue points lost (round up), to a maximum of -3. This penalty is removed at the rate of 1 point recovered per hour, but Fatigue loss can only be recovered through sleep. Occasionally a weekly service will involve the sacrifice of a cold-blooded animal. Usually the skull of the sacrifice is ritually crushed with a large wooden mallet, but small creatures will be smashed between two flat stones inscribed with the Eightfold Eye.

Monthly services are more complex, and always take place on the night of the new moon (or one particular moon if on a world with multiple moons). Several groups of cultists with gather in some ritual space or hidden temple. The size of the congregation may range from a few dozen to a few hundred. They will sing and chant, the archdeacons will rant in unison, and the priest will behead the sacrifice, which will always be a warm-blooded creature. Most beheadings are performed with an obsidian or glass dagger. The body of the sacrifice is then thrown into a sacred pool, and the officiating priest reads the pattern of blood and water for omens. The head of the sacrifice is then smashed (whether with the mallet or the stones). What is done with the resultant mess is up to the priest. The service wraps up with more chanting and dancing, and everyone goes home. Attendees will suffer the same weakness and euphoria as they would after a weekly service.

Apophis has no fixed holy days. However, a partial solar eclipse or any lunar eclipse counts as a Holy Day for its duration (see GURPS Religion, p. 103). During a full solar eclipse clerics of Apophis function as during a High Holy Day. During the hours before and after high noon Apophis' clerics suffer as during a Day of Weakness. On the day of the summer solstice Apophis is especially weak.

Special services are performed during a full solar eclipse. Such services always include sacrifice, and are the only services performed above the ground. Usually they do not include human sacrifice, however, because solar eclipses don't last long enough to do such a gory ritual justice.

Although the cult dabbles in human sacrifice, it does not dabble in that other practice of the stereotypical evil cult -- the orgy. Such passion clearly goes against the chilly and withdrawn worldview of the cult. While there is no moral injunction against such a practice, neither is there any encouragement. Apophis himself, although referred to using male pronouns, is considered to be hermaphroditic and mateless.

Goals and Motivations

The cult teaches that the world is a cold and unfriendly place, and that in order to survive the cultists must adapt to its chilling realities. It promotes a sort of communal solitude, in which the worshipers gather together, but share no real friendship or relationship. They are simply bound together by a common need for survival. Although those who advance in the cult of Apophis are clearly fanatics dedicated to the cult as an organization, they have no interest in the well-being of their fellow cultists as people. Betrayal and mistrust are not simply accepted, they are expected.

Apophis' personal goals are held to be freezing the world and devouring the sun. In the frozen world which follows his victory, he and his chill servants will sweep over the earth, ruling it for their own benefit.

The primary motivation for worshipers of Apophis is personal power. There is also a subtext of justice for the underdog, and for this reason it is very popular with adolescents and young adults who feel alienated from their peers.

Magic of the Cult

Priests cast spells much as wizards do. They should use the UMana rules even if the wizards in your campaign world don't, and can be considered to have the normal Recovery of 8 and Threshold of 30. Recovery occurs at dusk rather than dawn, of course.

Calamities use the following table:

3, 4: Nothing bad happens, and Apophis mysteriously shows mercy to his servant. The priest gets (1d5) points of free, instant Recovery.
5-9: Nothing bad happens . . . Yet.
10: Gloom surrounds the priest, as if two levels of the Gloom spell had been cast upon him. These levels of Gloom darken the priest's own vision as well! They are not affected by his Night or Dark Vision. This effect lasts for 3d minutes.
11: The priest is struck with an awesome chill, and shivers so much he can undertake no new action for 3d turns (3d minutes if a HT roll is failed). Treat the priest as physically stunned while he is shivering. The effects of 10 are also applied.
12: The priest is stricken by his dark god. He is reduced to one half his current Fatigue and has a -4 penalty to his DX and IQ. The priest may make a HT roll every hour. Each successful HT roll reduces the penalties to DX and IQ by one level, but the Fatigue loss must be recovered normally.
13: The priest's god comes to visit his dreams for 4d days. After the first visitation the priest is at -2 to DX, IQ and related Skills. These penalties last until the priest gets a night's sleep without a visit.
14: Any failed spellcasting roll counts as a critical failure. This effect lasts for 1d+1 weeks.
15: The priest's mind is twisted in retribution for exceeding his authority. The GM should assign the character one debilitating Mental Disadvantage with a value of 1-5 points. This takes effect immediately and lasts for 24 hours. Each day thereafter the priest may make a Will roll to shake off the effect.
16: The priest has angered Apophis and reduced his god's favor. His Threshold for the next 1d weeks is reduced by 2d+5. The priest is aware of a drop, but not of it's severity! Result 10 also applies any time the priest casts any spell, successful or not, for the duration of effect 16.
17: The caster gains a 5-point disadvantage. After 3d days have passed, the priest has the option of buying it off (it will simply fade away). If the priest does not wish to, or doesn't have the points, then it becomes permanent. Any disadvantage is legal; the priest can get ugly, go insane, and so on.
18: The priest's Threshold is reduced by 4d+10; the change lasts 1d months! In addition, the priest's spellcasting will be at a -3 penalty for 2d weeks. Result 10 also applies any time the priest casts any spell, successful or not, for the duration of effect 18.
19: As per 17, but the disad is worth either 10 or 15 points (50/50 chance of either).
20: The priest is aged 2d+13 years, or a number of years equal to the energy cost of the spell that caused the calamity, whichever is worse!
21: Roll again (same modifier) but the result affects a companion of the priest (chosen randomly).
22: The priest gains multiple disads worth a total of (2dx5) points. These are permanent.
23: The priest loses permanently the ability to cast a single spell. The skill is still known, but it cannot be cast. The priest must make a (Will-6) roll. If it is successful, he chooses which spell "dies." If not, the spell is chosen at random. On a critical failure, the GM chooses the priest's most useful or favorite spell!
24: The priest loses 1d x 5 points of advantages (or has an attribute lowered). Choose randomly.
25: The priest becomes a wandering Low Sanctity zone. Spells cost double within a 10-mile radius of the priest, and Recovery is halted in the same area. Obviously these limits only affect priests of Apophis. The duration, in days, of this effect is equal to the cost of the errant spell, plus one. Result 10 also applies for the duration of effect 25 and is always on.
26: The priest's skill at spells is reduced by 3d+5. The priest must make a Will roll. If it is successful, the penalty will heal at a rate of one per day. If not, the healing rate is one per week!
27: A plague or curse (e.g. constant rain, regional impotence) descends on the region, lasting for 3d+ weeks. No one will be able to trace this to the priest (-20 to divination attempts on the subject). In secret magic or modern-day investigative campaigns, replace this effect with effect 29.
28: The spell propagates out of control. Harmful Regular or Area spells will affect everybody and every thing nearby, allies and enemies alike. Information magic will overload the priest's mind (Fright Check at -20); Missile Spells will seem normal to the caster, but have so much punch that they drill through their target and through everything else for miles beyond, etc. In secret magic or modern-day investigative campaigns, replace this effect with effect 29.
29: The priest permanently loses the ability to cast spells, but not the skills. At this level and above, the spell that causes the roll fails unless a Will roll is made by the priest. The roll is at a penalty equal to the current "excess bonus" (Excess/5 for most priests), and at a bonus equal to triple the priest's level of Power Investiture.
30-39: As per 29, and something happens to the region the priest is in -- the weather, birth rate, crops, or something else will be affected. It will be a subtle change, but the priest will know what is going on. The change is good on an even roll, and bad on an odd roll. The duration is equal to the cost of the spell, in days.
40+: As per 30-39, but a global change occurs. In addition, the priest must make a HT roll at -6. If this roll is failed, the priest is consumed in a backlash of deific rage, and shatters in a shower of frozen shards. The explosion does concussion/freezing damage. It does the priest's (Will+Power Investiture) dice of damage as if a fragmentation grenade had gone off in the priest's hex. If the HT-6 roll is made, the backlash is less dramatic; the priest takes 1d2d of internal freezing damage, and doesn't shatter.

Spells of the Cult

Priests buy spells as skills, just as wizards do. However, they have a special approach to prerequisites. Certain spells are only available to certain levels of the priesthood. Also, if the spell has prerequisites and those prerequisites are on the list of spells available to all cultists, the cultist must take the prerequisite spell.

The following spells are available to all cultists with Power Investiture: Hide Thoughts, Hide Emotion, Shape Water, Swim, Walk Through Water, Darkness, Night Vision, Gloom, Seek Water, Foul Water, Resist Water, Cold, Resist Cold, Freeze, Frost, , Frostbite (Touch only), Coolness, Steal Health (Special), Desecrate, Ice Slick, Snow Shoes.

The following spells are only available to Priests: Insignificance, Create Water, Breathe Air, Breathe Water, Water Vision, Body of Water, Water Jet, Fog,, Icy Weapon, Ice Sphere, Ice Dagger, Frostbite, Create Ice, Snow Jet, Icy Touch, Icy Breath, Icy Missiles, Blur, Hide, Dark Vision, Shape Darkness, Curse (Maximum level 2), Fear, Panic, Terror, Nightmare, Mystic Mist.

The following spells are only available to High Priests: Presence, Whirlpool, Waves, Tide, Snow, Hail, Flesh to Ice, Body of Ice, Rain of Ice Daggers, Body of Shadow, Fascinate, Death Vision, Animate Shadow, Curse.

Note that it is possible to be both a priest of Apophis and a mage.

The Steal Health spell of the Cult is special:

Steal Health (Apophis) Regular; Resisted by HT

Lets the caster take Hit Points from the subject to reduce his own Threshold penalty. The caster must touch the subject. The spell stops when the caster's Threshold is fully restored, when the subject breaks away, when the caster decides to stop, or when the subject's Hits reaches -HT. Hits cannot be drained from a subject at -HT, but the subject must still roll versus HT to stay alive. Hits may be drained at the rate of 1 per second. If the subject breaks away, untallied Hit Points fade at the rate of one per minute and the spell can be begun again from where the caster left off.
Duration: Permanent.
Cost: None to the caster. For every 3 full Hits drained, the caster regains 1 THRESH.
Time to Cast: 3 seconds.
Prerequisite: Frostbite and Desecrate.

Final Words

The Cult of Apophis is designed to serve as a long-term enemy for a long-term campaign. It is, in fact, designed for my own homegrown dark fantasy world. It doesn't take much to tweak it into the world of GURPS Black Ops, GURPS Technomancer, or the like. Dumping it into a GURPS Traveller campaign might prove to be a little more difficult, but if you don't mind mixing your sci-fi with the occult, have at it! The Cult's modular design should make it easy to use for any GM.




Article publication date: July 2, 1999


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