WHERE HELL COMES TO PREY 04: Running Nightwick Abbey 04



After 13 (!) sessions of Where Hell Comes To Prey, my campaign in Miranda Elkin’s Nightwick Abbey, a character has finally gone and gotten themselves inducted into one of the Abbey’s cults. How did that happen? Certainly not by DM planning, but instead as a result of the emergent play old-school games and megadungeons are famous for.I thought I would blog about this emergent result because while emergent play is often referenced, usually little is done to describe how it arises (other than “from play”) nor, IMO, how it is carried forward in subsequent sessions.

With that in mind, in the below blog post I will (1) review how we got to this point in the game and (2) show my DM notes on how I will be proceeding forward with incorporating this player’s choices into the greater game world.


This “neat” moment arose through the use of the multiple utilitarian mechanisms that spin under the hood of old-school games: random restocking, random treasure, encounter reaction roll, and finally hireling loyalty. Often by modern play standards, each is a vistigal organ of an earlier form of the game- quaint, but more likely to cause problems than provide solutions like wisdom teeth. Extraction is often best. However, I find this is not an apt description, so let me explain why and perhaps convince you to add these mechanisms back in your own D&D games.

Restocking Creates Opportunity: Cleared rooms don’t stay that way for long in megadungeons and Nightwick Abbey is no different. While stocking a room with features related to the Baroness, I ended up rolling “monster with treasure” and then “2d6 cultists”- I rolled an “8”. Okay so looking at the entry for cultists, it is noted that for cults related to the baroness, 6+ cultist are lead by a berserker. Great! Now we have the seed of an interesting encounter.

Random Treasure Creates Character: So what does this big group have? Cultist are listed as treasure type “U” and upon rolling I get “1200gp jewelry”. Hmm. Since we have a leader, why not signify that leader with the jewelry? But what kind of jewelry would stand out? Since we are prepping a sorta blood cult, how about a shroud-like executioner’s hood of garnet & ruby blood drops shaped like an executioner’s hood. Sorta like below, but with more red gleaming gems. That’s eye-catching!

Random Reaction Roll Creates Choice: Now that I have a shallow but serviceable group of cultists, the last bit is determining how they are going to act. Now certainly for four level 1 to 2 PCs a fight against these cultists would mean maybe 1 PC death, but worth it for the 1200xp treasure. However, the encounter reaction roll yielded “extort” which is my own house rules entry for a negative, but not combat, reaction that initiates a negotiation with the players. The leader, in a red-gem encrusted shroud, announces to the room that those who have arrived at the foral gate of the Baroness (Level 2) must have come “seeking admission into the cult and have brought sacrifices to bless their holy union to the Baroness!”

Random Hireling Roll Creates Action: As in most megadungeons, Nightwick Abbey has rules for hireling recruitment. Most are woodsmen and peasants, but few can be special. For this outing the PCs agreed to hire one of the special ones: a hooked-handed religious fantatic. So when this individual is confronted with the cult and their bargain I decided to test the loyalty of the hireling to remain in rank-and-file with the party or charge ahead. 

That check roll over their loyalty score, and the fanatic rushed before the party to stutter out a response! And this is where a great PC choice was made, one of the changelings, Maylay, brought down an ax to the back of the fanatic killing them in one blow! “This is our offering” the changeling stated with eerie calm and then proceeded to share in some of the flesh with the cult.


I have an exciting climax to an adventure session with the players making very deliberate choices in unexpected ways. So how do I carry through this excitement?

The first thing that I wanted was the player to see a tangible change. They committed a terrible act inside a cursed abbey. So thinking back to my PSYCHOLOGICAL WEIGHT IN SLOT_BASED ENCUMBRANCE post, I had the player write “SIN” in capital letters in one of their open encumbrance slots.

Now thinking from the player’s point of view: so what? What does this act mean for the player? And what do I want this to mean for the Abbey/campaign? 

Helpfully Nightwick Abbey provides a section on “The Cult of the Baroness” which lists the cult's goals and compositions of their forces: berserkers, bats, and blood-cultist. Its a cult of blood, personality, and a “false” Mary-type.

But what does it mean to invest more into the cult? There are rules for “possession” which occur in 3 stages with the final one being a PC is completely taken over by the Abbey. I like the 3 stage approach, but I would like there to be continual “boons” at each stage of cult advancement that might tempt the player to continue forward, this will help naturalize the choices of the character in-game– that balance of power with ruin. If its all negative, then no one would ever try to be in a cult. I want to players to understand what the Abbey offers. Why would humans, raised in an environment that venerates LAW, start dealing with a well-known monument to hubris run by forces of the Pit.

So to that end, let’s create digetic cult advancement by linking boons to things the character has to do in the game world. And as a bonus, lets create a table to spice up blood cult encounters known that they are a more known faction to the PCs (see also: STRAIGHT UP VILLIAN)


The Mark of The Beast

For each SIN collected fill an inventory slot

First Sin: You have eaten the flesh of man and it has changed you: cast Fear 1/day 

Transgression: Eat with a Berserker or eat at the Butcher’s table, but now NPCs generally do not like you or trust you, but can’t explain why

Second Sin: All are but lambs to the slaughter and you the wolf: cast Hold Person 1/day

Transgression: Remove your face and wear only one of those you have killed outside the Abbey or a wolf, all children of Law will shun you, hunt you and even “evil” beings feel uneasy in your presence

Third SIN: There is no other except HER: permanent Growth potion effect
Transgression: You must find the Baroness, survive the encounter, and lay with her as a lover and take from her as a babe; anytime you attempt to leave the Abbey make a save vs. spells if you fail you are POSESSED (as per Nightwick rules).

The Cult of the Baroness

I do think creating some variability in groups of enemies is a fun thing to do especially when those enemies are 1/2HD to 1HD. We can take the generic cultists found in Nightwick Abbey and add the flavoring suggested by the Cult of the Baroness write-up. I previously discussed a way to divide gang/mob/group forces by melee/range vs damage/special in the Grendel Mendal post, so let try to use some of that advice here too:

1-2 hp    Starved Wretches (melee, special) AC 9 collared and caged humans who’ve lost their minds and will scramble toward PCs with a manic zeal attempting to weight them down; bite for 1d4 dmg; on a hit, PC movement slows to 10’

3-4 hp Cult Nightkin (range, special) AC 10 cowled in white robes; a swarm of bats cling to their bare chests underneath their robes; they swarm around MU and clerics in particular; otherwise cultis attack with short swords

5-6 hp Blood Cultists (melee, dmg) AC 10 cowled with blood-streaked white robes; attack with a short sword 1d6 dmg

7-8 hp Berserkers (melee, dmg) AC 12 covered in leather of human skin; ferocious attack (+2 to-hit) with an axe 1d8 dmg (Only 1 per every 5 cultists)

How this works: So lets say a random encounter is for 2d6 cultists in a room/on a level with the Baroness’ cult. I roll 2d6 and get a “6”. So then I roll 1d8 for each HD and get “1, 2, 1, 1, 7, 4”. So our cultist band contains 4 starved wretches, 1 cult nightkin, and 1 berserker. May narrate as such:

The party turns the corner an see four pitiful naked people groveling on the ground before a fifth hooded figure prodding them with a barbed spear and tugging rope tied around each one’s neck. The hooded figure shouts an alarm, drops the leads, and raises its arms! At that moment a shadow, two heads taller than the “hounds-master” looms up… roll initiative as the four crazed emaciated human figures run toward you on four limbs!


We now have a PC neophyte cultist, a 3 step process to damnation, and a stronger cult identity. This should get us the next couple of sessions of play. For future play, I might should think of asks of the Baroness’ cult. What do they want and why should the PCs give it to them?


  1. I love this. So many details generated from a handful of die rolls and some unexpected player choices. Love it.

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  2. Take 2: Hey thanks for continuing to read! I agree its amazing what can tumble out of a few dice rolls.

    I do fear that more recent editions of D&D do not do enough to show new players just how powerful those simple tables can be and that you can get a solid experience out of them.

    Instead adventure running a game is shown to be a far more elaborate process which I think contributes to a lack of DMs

    1. I think you're exactly right there. You can run complicated, elaborate games, of course, but you can also run very simple games with a map and some random rolls (and maybe not even a map!) and I don't think the latter is really pushed as much in "new-school" circles as much as it should.