The Cult of the Dragon
- "And naught will be left save shattered thrones with no rulers. But the dead dragons shall rule the world entire..."
- As the purple robed figure on the platform continued to intone the litany, Harnath Tommor, lesser mage of the Cult of the Dragon, gave only part of his attention to the speaker. The other half was focused on the incredible sight before him: an aged blue dragon, its serpentine form at rest on the platform next to the Wearer of Purple. As he watched the ceremony continue, Harnath's chest swelled with pride. At last, here was the day that he had waited and worked for since he first joined the Cult. Today, he would see the ultimate proof of Sammaster's wisdom as the dragon abandoned its fetters of life and became a Sacred one—a dracolich.
- ". . . and the dominion of the dead dragons shall endure until the end of all things. So we swear," concluded the Wearer of Purple.
- "So we swear," echoed the dozens of cultists who stood expectantly within the Chamber of Ascendance. From somewhere within the folds of his ceremonial garb, the officiating cultist withdrew two objects: a clay flask and an enormous ruby. Unstoppering the flask, the cultist proffered it to the dragon. Gracefully, the blue wyrm opened its huge maw. The cultist obliged, pouring the contents of the flask onto its tongue. A collective "ahhh" went through the watching cultists, and Harnath thought that he could catch a hint of a strange scent in the air. Sulfer?
- Suddenly the dragon's jaws clenched tightly together, and the Wearer of Purple snatched his hand away barely in time. A spasm wracked the great creature's body, and then it slumped forward on the platform and lay still. A brilliant light filled the ruby, spilling over into the band of the Wearer of the Purple. The light flared once, and then receded until it became a muted but constant glow. It was done. The first part of the transformation was complete. By the time the sun set this evening, Faerûn would know a new terror.
The members of the Cult of the Dragon believe that it is Faerûn's destiny to be ruled by undead dragons. The Cult takes upon itself the responsibility of helping that destiny along, directing all its plans and energies toward gaining the wealth and magical power necessary to transform living dragons into undead dracoliches. Cult members undertake magical research, espionage, mercantilism, and a variety of criminal activities to fund and support their goal in anticipation of the day when the undead dragons will hold sway over the entire world. Many Cult members are therefore criminals, though in their minds and in the minds of their peers they are heroic and devoted individuals who take great personal risks on behalf of the organization.
More than one adventurer has remarked on the fact that the minds of the Cult's current members (including the Cult's founder, the archmage Sammaster) are not always entirely balanced. Indeed, some are quite mad, though their insanity makes them all the more dangerous in the deadly serious pursuit of their goals. The cultists venerate dragons to the point of worshiping them as deities, and certain dragons—lured by promises of eternal unlife and overwhelming power—revel in the attention.
Over four centuries have passed since the Cult of the Dragon first appeared in Faerûn, and another century before that since the Cult's founder and first leader, Sammaster First-Speaker, was born. Sammaaster was a powerful archmage who became one of Mystra's Chosen, an honor that proved too great a burden. The archmage's mind could not bear the divine power, and Sammaster eventually went insane. By the time the deity rescinded her gift, it was too late: Sammaster was incurably mad.
Suffering from terrible delusions, the mad archmage insisted that he possessed special insight into the future of Toril, its people, and its deities. He began collecting both well-known and obscure works of oracular knowledge and translating them (or reinterpreting them, as the Cult's detractors and enemies would have it) as validation of his claims. In the pages of one of these tomes, Maglas's Chronicle of Tears to Come, Sammaster discovered a cryptic prophecy that he believed predicted that undead dragons would eventually rule the world. Thus inspired, the irrational archmage gathered a band of followers and persuaded them that his foretelling of the future was accurate. In 902 DR the "Cult of the Dragon" created its first dracolich, using necromantic formulas that Sammaster inscribed in his magnum opus, Tome of the Dragon. Sammaster eventually died—or, as some Cult members believe, became a lich and disappeared. Today, the inheritors of his terrible knowledge continue to carry out his legacy.
The Cult of the Dragon continues its founder's work by organizing itself into a number of independent cells, each with a specific purpose and role to play in the group's larger plans. The teachings of Sammaster have attracted a limited number of followers, some of them as delusional as he was, others lured by the promise of great rewards gained by means other than honest toil. Many of the Cult's current members are sane (so far) but exhibit other defects of mind or character that convince them that the Cult offers a path to their desires that is quicker and easier than any other. Virtually all cultists are human.
Individual cells comprise the basic units of the Cult's organizational structure. Even as each cell is specialized, so too do rank, function, and purpose differentiate the members' roles. Any given cell normally has from ten to one hundred members, depending on its relative importance in the Cult's great schemes. The cell's hierarchy is based on a structure followed throughout the Cult.
So called because of their purple ceremonial robes, the Wearers of Purple are the chief authority in every cell. Small cells have only one Wearer of Purple at the helm, but larger cells can have several, all acting (theoretically) in concert as part of a coalition. More than a few Wearers of Purple are necromancers who seek out Cult of the Dragon cells for the specific purpose of joining their ranks. These necromancers oversee the complex process by which a living dragon is transformed into a dracolich. They also create magic items, both for use by Cult members and as gifts and bribes to evil dragons. It is additionally their burden to make up the shortfalls faced by the Cult due to the scarcity of clerics among its membership. These wizards cannot afford to be armchair generals if the Cult is to achieve its goals. When a cell faces danger from enemies, the Wearers of Purple must lead their forces against the enemy.
The Cult offers necromancers access to the otherwise difficult-to-find research conducted by Sammaster, and the chance to work directly with some of the most powerful undead creatures in all Faerûn. Others join to further their own ambitions or because they found the endless internal conflicts of other organizations (such as the Zhentarim) unsatisfactory to their tastes.
Below the Wearers of Purple are the lesser members of the cell, their designations determined by the cell's specific function.
*Information on the individual cells has been cut out to reduce content. See source for complete details.
Motivation and Goals
The senior members of the Cult are unequally divided into two camps: those who believe completely and wholeheartedly in Sammaster's prophecies, and those who pretend to do so for their own reasons. The latter few are most often individuals who see membership in the Cult as a way to fulfill whatever personal desires they may have for power, wealth, self-importance, magical knowledge, or even amusement. What's the harm in working towards a Faerûn ruled by undead dragons, they reason, if it makes me rich, powerful, and important along the way? These members suspect that the Cult won't ever reach its goals, but there's no denying that having a dracolich or two as an ally certainly makes a life of crime a lot easier.
The fanatics, however, are the really dangerous members of the Cult, and they make up the bulk of the membership at the higher levels. They believe so strongly and completely in their insane goal that they are willing not only to die for it, but also to take anyone else who may get in their way along with them.
Many people who aid the Cult of the Dragon don't even know that they are doing so. These folk are the bandits, mercenaries, merchants, and smugglers who go about their normal activities in return for payment, unknowing and uncaring of their employer's identity. But some do know, and purposefully seek out the Cult with the intention of becoming members. Why would an otherwise ordinary person decide to join a group of power-hungry wizards who use the demented ravings of a long-dead madman to transform dragons into undead monstrosities as a prelude to conquering the world?
For starters, some power-hungry recruits lack the talent, wealth, or charisma to attain that power on their own. The Cult offers them a way to sate that hunger in a way that's more viable than vague self-generated plans to conquer the world. Others are greedy and relish the coin that the Cult generates; the promise of future power is merely an added enticement to the avaricious. Still others are the descendants of previous members, and they intend to carry on the family tradition. A fair—some might say alarming—number of the "average" Cultists either believe or come to believe very strongly in the prophetic doom pronounced by Sammaster.
Those who have seen the terrible grandeur and awesome power of a dracolich begin to believe that the crazy old archmage may have been onto something after all. To many ordinary folk, a dragon might as well be a deity: It might not be able to grant divine spells, but it ranks among the most powerful mortal creatures on Toril.
When the chance of one's patron deity coming to one's aid in times of difficulty is unlikely at best, the Cult's dracoliches and evil dragons can serve as reliable allies. Additionally, the notion of an impending apocalypse is appealing to some people, particularly those who are convinced that only the "true believers" will survive the doomsday and then inherit the world.
The Cult of the Dragon has mixed feelings about new recruits. On the one hand, there's no denying that the Cult needs fresh blood to replace those members who either die of old age (rather than become liches, an option actively sought by some) or who perish at the swords of enemies. And the more members the Cult has, the more quickly it can bring about the subjugation of Faerûn under the claws of the dracoliches.
On the other hand, the Cult has been the victim of countless infiltration attempts sponsored by its enemies. Several of the Cult's weaker cells have been wiped out by foes, and it takes time, money, and effort to recover these losses. So how does the Cult deal with the double-edged sword of the prospective recruit?
Simple: It doesn't. The Wearers of Purple trust in the word of Sammaster, who wrote: ". . . and all our enemies shall be revealed in good time. Those who would oppose us shall fall to ruin and death in the jaws of the dead dragons. And their bodies shall crack and their hair shall burn, and they will know in their last moments that theirs was the path of folly. For the reign of the dead dragons cannot be forestalled, cannot be thwarted, cannot be broken." Despite the fact that the Cult's enemies do sometimes succeed in infiltrating its ranks and wreaking havoc with operations, the Wearers of Purple nonetheless cling stubbornly to their belief that all the efforts of their foes will prove, ultimately, to be futile.
The most common allies of the Cult are evil dragons and the dracoliches that the Cult creates. The Cult is not averse to cooperating temporarily with evil monsters or even a few evil adventurers, and certainly its necromancers are capable of creating undead creatures to serve many different functions. Individual members have been known to make deals with chaotic and evil outsiders, though Cult policy discourages interacting with demons and devils. The church of Cyric is a sometimes ally, though this is a less common occurrence since Cyric lost the portfolio of death.
Its members know the dracoliches created by the Cult as "Sacred Onces," since they are the forces destined to reign supreme over the world. The process of creating a dracolich, and the statistics for these fell creatures, are detailed in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting.
Dealing with Dragons
Dragons in general are a notoriously self-centered race, and none more so than the evil dragons of Faerûn. Yet the Cult approaches these incredibly powerful beings routinely, visiting their lairs to advise them of the great destiny that awaits them. Cultists bring large gifts of treasure to the dragons they visit, as a contribution to their hoards (another reason why the Cult requires such a large amount of cash). They flatter the dragons, praise their skill and cunning, offer to provide any services that the dragons may desire, and—usually on a visit subsequent to the first—read to the dragon from Sammaster's Tome of the Dragon.
Some evil dragons deal regularly with the cultists, exchanging the Cult's services for permission to shelter in the dragon's lair in times of emergency. Cult cells serve as the eyes and ears of the evil dragons with which they have allied. Others dismiss the cultists as crazed fools, and the cultists generally leave these dragons alone, at least for a generation or two. more than one dragon that rejected a deputation from the Cult of the Dragon centuries ago is more disposed to treat with them after two or three hundred years have passed, particularly the lesser dragons that haven't done as well for themselves as they had hoped to do. There's no harm, these creatures reason, in allowing the cultists to add some new traps to the lair if all that's required is paying attention to some ancient prophetic writings (which many evil dragons find quite interesting when they actually pay attention).
While the cultists venerate the evil dragons, their visitations and offers of aid do have ulterior motives: first to persuade the dragons to cooperate actively with the Cult, and second to eventually convince the dragons to undergo the transformation into lichdom.
The Sacred Ones
Many folk mistakenly assume that the Cult of the Dragon exercises complete control over the dracoliches it creates. Dracoliches are, just like living dragons, independent-minded creatures that can and do embark on plans and schemes of their own (presumably to keep themselves occupied while they wait for Sammaster's predictions to come true). Dracoliches do cooperate regularly with the Cult, however, exchanging their protection for the cultists' services. A dracolich might agree to destroy a merchant vessel or caravan, for instance, so that a Cult cell can persuade a noble or merchant to cooperate. In return the Cult brings the dracolich offerings of treasure and valuable information, and provides reassurance that the end times for Faerûn are indeed approaching quickly.
Most Faerûnians see the Cult of the Dragon as a dangerous group of lunatics. But the Cult doesn't receive as much attention as the Zhentarim, the church of Cyric, or the shades because the threat posed by the Cult seems less immediate. (At least, it seems less immediate to anyone who has never watched in stupefied horror as a dracolich makes mincemeat out of her adventuring companions, or smashes a Sembian warship into so many splinters.) Nevertheless, the Cult of the Dragon has its enemies, principally those groups who either compete with the Cult for resources and turf, or those dedicated to ensuring that evil folk do not prevail.
The Cult of the Dragon is content to leave the Red Wizards of Thay to their own devices, secure in the knowledge that Thay will eventually be just another vassal state when the undead dragons rule the world. Indeed, recent relations between the Cult and the Red Wizards have been businesslike and professional to the point of courteousness, because the Cult has discovered that it's quicker and easier to purchase magic items at an enclave than to create its own. But individual Red Wizards continue to plague the organization: They have an annoying habit of attempting to acquire the Cult's necromantic knowledge for themselves, and an even more annoying habit of trying to subvert the evil dragons allied to the Cult. However, strife between the organizations is generally limited to individual Red Wizards and Cult cells rather than to society-wide warfare.
Wherever the Cult of the Dragon maintains criminal cells, it comes into conflict with the local crime lords. Whether it's the Night Masks in Westgate or the Iron Throne in Sembia, the Cult runs afoul of those competing for the same ill-gotten gains. These conflicts can be as inconsequential as a disagreement over territory that is settled by a pact or a sum of compensating gold paid to one side or the other. They can also be as desperate as full-scale armed opposition with both factions struggling openly for control of the desired prize. The Cult prefers to bargain its way out of these problems, but when it can't, its members dig in and fight. The Wearers of Purple devise the strategy their cells employ against rival organizations, and they also join the rank and file in the fighting.
Not surprisingly, the Cult of the Dragon and the Harpers have battled one another ever since the Cult came into being. The Harpers oppose the Cult the same way that they oppose all individuals or groups who seek to force their will on others (or conquer the world, a much broader application of the same concept). Harper agents continually attempt to infiltrate Cult cells and disrupt their operations. Some individual Harpers have dedicated their entire lives to identifying and stopping Cult agents, while others merely strive against the cultists whenever they are encountered. It's a special event for a cell when a cell when a Harper spy is discovered in its midst: After taking the agent prisoner, the cultists usually convey him or her to the nearest allied evil dragon or dracolich to be messily devoured. This sight never fails to bring broad smiles to the faces of the attending cultists.
Special Items and Supernatural Abilities
The Cult of the Dragon possesses a sacred book, written by Sammaster First-Speaker himself, entitled Tome of the Dragon. The tome is a thick stack of vellum pages, bound together inside a cover made of cured red dragon hide. The Cult symbol appears in gilt on the front cover. The original copy contains details on all the insane archmage's research in creating dracoliches. It also holds the complete text of his prophecies regarding the fate of Toril, the reign of the undead dragons, and the role of the Cult in administering the new world order. Morever, it holds all the Player's Handbook spells from the school of Necromancy, and details the process that must be followed to turn a dragon into a dracolich (see the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting).
The book is written in a cipher invented by Sammaster. The solution to the code is one of the Cult's most closely guarded secrets, and only the Wearers of Purple are permitted to learn it. The Cult has made several copies of the original, and most cells have their own copy kept in the possession of its Wearer of Purple. All members of the Cult are expected to guard their cell's copy of Tome of the Dragon with their lives, if necessary.