Mystery Cults were one of the three flavours of Hellenic religion, and one that hasn't been gamed anywhere near hard enough. Typically RPG religion is a matter of worshipping Angry-Jesus or Pretty-Standard-Nice-Jesus or maybe even Probably-A-Little-Bit-Racist-But-Mostly-Harmless-Shaman-Jesus, and only that. How dreary.
The Hellenes recognised the multiplicity of man and thus offered a rich platter of spirituality in the form of three main branches: the state or local religion (the standard idea of what religion is), mystery cults, and philosophic religions. One person would typically follow the local religion, possibly a mystery cult or two, and rarely a philosophic religion unless they were of the upper classes.
Traits of a Mystery Cult:
- Observance of the seasonal cycles. Death and renewal were central themes.
- A focus on secret ceremonies and initiations. Each layer of mystery unveiled offered the initiate new insight into the cult's god.
- Mystery cults have no interest in doctrine or correct beliefs. It's all about making a strong emotional connection with the initiates with the aim of becoming closer to god.
- Inducing religious ecstasy, usually through theatre, chanting, dancing or drugs. You can see the influence of mystery cults on Christian passion plays.
- The primary goal of a member of the religion was union with god, or whatever it is they worship. Possibly in the form of salvation, spiritual or physical immortality, or redemption.
You can see that the a major difference between this and a state religion is that one is for the masses and one is for the individual. A mystery religion is a very personal experience centred around your journey to unity with the godhead, in whatever way that was appropriate. This system can happily be set alongside traditional cleric classes or my previously explored ideas of killing them off and replacing them with random tables of stuff. You can have a religion and be part of a mystery cult or two (or three) as long as your god doesn't have a problem with it. Even then, it's conceivable that a god would have many mystery cults dedicated to them. Think about all the Christian heresies, look at the passion plays, go read about the cult of Mary. Easy stuff.
Jabóbos flourish in Prior Kairnlaw as they do nowhere else on earth. The beasts are big quasi-bipeds, about twice the size of a man. They are cleanly (they wash themselves in the manner of cats), short-muzzled, small-eared and, except for their thick, stubbish tails and huge thighs, have a rather anthropoid aspect. They are valued for their milk, not their flesh, and no more males than are needed for breeding are ever raised. The females have remarkably pronounced mammary developments which are, if I may so phrase it, directly and immediately exploitable by men. The herdsman’s feeling of communion with such a breed is—imaginably—great. Not to put too fine a point on it, jabóbo cults—originating in various fertility-promoting rituals informally practised by herdsmen—now abound in Prior Kairnlaw. Sacred herds are designated and the rituals centred on them are reported—probably reliably—to have both dionysiac and priapic features. The herds are often called, by local cynics, “sacred seraglios.”
Better to build strong children than repair broken men.
Initiation: The initiate is staked to the ground while a heard of jabóbos are allowed to meander around them. If the herd settles and grooms then they are accepted into the first mystery. (Reaction test adding your wisdom bonus to the roll, needing 6+)
Reward: Your next character's strength and constitution will be at least 13.
If your herd is strong you can make the devil plough.
Initiation: The initiates must suckle from the breast of the herd matron. To do so they must wrestle the the young (though still enormous) young away and be accepted by the matron. They must successfully wrestle away D4 STR 14 young and either have a reaction test of 9 (adding your wis bonus) or wrestle her for 2 rounds (the matron is strength 20). If the young pin them or the matron rejects and resists them then they have failed.
Reward: The character has one chance to say no to the GM, and he must accept it. Once it has been used it is gone.
We reap as we sow.
Initiation: The initiates are set amongst the herd naked to engage in the jabóbo mating season. Men must secure a strong female for copulation and possibly defend themselves against an enraged bull (strength 18), asserting their authority over him. Women must attract the amorous attention of the bull.
Reward: The character is incredibly fecund. Any sex will result in pregnancy and those children will be strong and healthy. What's more, for each child the character spawns they will receive an additional single use rebuttal as seen in the 2nd mystery.
What is bred in the bone will not leave the flesh.
Initiation: Initiates attempting the 4th mystery present themselves to a Golden Calf. One will be selected to bear its child and shall enter the final circle of the mystery. Men will bear this child, the details are up to you to decide (caesareans are very advanced in the Kairnlaw since they are a nation of herdsmen).
Reward: The character will produce children with anything they have sex with. Any man, any woman, any animal. Their fertility is boundless. However when copulating with members of other species consult the following tables:
1 - The child is a healthy human blessed by the gods, roll 4d6 and keep the best three for its stats.
2-5 - An animal is born. It is especially fine in every way.
6 - A Golden Calf is born, a chimera of both its parents.
Golden Calf chart:
- It has the head of the animal that spawned it, 1 in 6 chance it can't speak human language. The thick pelt extends down its back to the base of its spine.
- The child matures at an astounding rate. Within a month it will be fully grown.
- Their skin is that of the animal. Their natural armour class is now 13.
- It looks exactly like its animal parent, except it can talk and is incredibly wise from the moment it's born.
- They have ungulate legs where human ones should be. They move twice as fast as normal.
- A tail adorns the base of their spine. It twitches and whirls with a mind of its own but is not altogether unattractive.
- They are barrel chested and thickly muscled. Strength and constitution 18 when they mature.
- It receives unquestioning adoration from all those who view it. Save vs. magic or be positively inclined towards it. Save again to strike it, and each future attempt.
- The child has all the rewards of the highest initiation in the mystery cult.
- They can talk to animals.
- Roll twice (re-roll 11s or 12s)
- Roll three times (re-roll 11s or 12s)
Rumours born of jealousy of those seen as being too successful or too popular are often accused of being golden calves. None in the Kairnlaw would take it as a point of pride to be accused of being the love child of a cultist and a beast.
I think this is all gameable in its current form, but let me know if you think I've left anything out and I'll clear it up. All this stuff has been part of my campaign world for ages so it's easy to forget bits that seem obvious to me.