Dark cults, evil secret societies, and hidden orders of killers are a standard part of most d20 settings.
Yet it’s very hard to say where they come from. These are d20 universes here. You don’t have to join a dark cult to obtain mystic secrets, and any library holds out the promise of arcane power. Why bother with a secret society when you can just move to an evil realm where your activities – however heinous – will be regarded as tame? What evil order of killers has ever been as effective at killing as a party of adventurers?
Most of those evil organizations seem to have no real POINT outside of being stumbling-blocks and experience-point mines for parties of adventurers.
So where do they come from?
Gods have a very hard time gaining experience points. Finding a suitable challenge that you can go after WITHOUT upsetting a lot of other gods or wrecking the universe gets pretty awkward at that power level.
Fortunately, as demonstrated by the creation of magical items, there ARE ways to transfer experience points around, even if they aren’t very efficient.
When you’re a god, there are always options.
Thus the Dark Imbuement – a type of intangible artifact.
When a suitably evil mortal is granted – or “finds” and accepts – a Dark Imbuement, he or she is granted an incredible surge of power, gaining (1d6+14) levels.
If said mortal opts to spend a month or two investing some of those levels into followers, he or she gains followers with a total number of levels equal to (the number of levels given up x 12) – although none of them may have a total level exceeding one-half that of their boss.
So if Yondar the Pestiferous (a sixth level evil sorcerer) takes up a Dark Imbuement, he might gain eighteen levels (and become Yondar the Malevolent, twenty-fourth level Dark Lord of Khadath).
Not knowing what to do with himself (and not wanting to be worth that many XP until he gets level-appropriate equipment) he invests eight of those levels into minions to go out and get him some money and equipment. Besides, as the Dark Imbuement will instinctively inform him, when heroes kill one of his minions – provided only that they’ve been in his service for at least a few months – he’ll get one-half the experience that the heroes do.
So that’s (8 x 12) = 96 levels of minions, who can each be of up to level eight since Yondar has a current effective level of sixteen.
Call it eight of second level, five of fourth level, two of sixth level, and six henchmen of eighth level.
Now, as minions get killed, the power that’s invested in them will return to Yondar – either to be reinvested if he spends a few months recruiting or to boost his own effective level again.
For example, when he’s down to 48 levels of minions, he’ll only have four levels invested in them – and the Dark Imbuement will be granting him fourteen levels on top of the extra XP he’s getting.
Given that that XP is going to his base level of six, that can be pretty useful.
Now, when Yondar does eventually fall to some pesky heroes, the God who created the Dark Imbuement will gain one-half the experience that the heroes got for killing him – and can reclaim the Dark Imbuement to pass it on to some other suitable candidate.
Yes, that’s D&D: the Evil Reverse Ponzi Scheme! You too can make a profit by exploiting your deluded cultists!
Do you need to track this in detail?
No, not really. But now you know why evil bosses seem to rise to prominence overnight from nowhere, why they seem to have indefinite supplies of lower-level minions, why they trickle them at the heroes at just the right rate to have “balanced encounters” and build them up (since that – rather than using their resources effectively – gains them the most XP of their own), why they often seem to have no clear idea of how to use their power effectively, why they haven’t cut a swathe across the country gathering all the XP they need to reach level 20+, why they seem to get stronger as their minions are eliminated, where those insane prestige classes that require that you kill someone else with the class before you can join it come from (from bosses who can grant levels in crazy classes to normal people and WANT them to die fighting), and why there always seems to be another evil boss around.
You want a true and lasting victory? Find some way to put an end to that Dark Imbuement.
The god behind it will probably just make another one, but it will be a lot of work – and he or she will be out all the power they put into the first one. Keep it up long enough, and you might defeat that god handily without ever getting into a direct confrontation with him or her.
- Analysis of Experience Points (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- Living Magic – The Harvest (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Hell Chronicles and Alignment-less Templates (ruscumag.wordpress.com)