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I have a campaign I'm running that heavily involves cultists working to save the planes in a kind of "we live here too and would prefer not to die" motivation. There is a cultist that one of the players has a history with.

The party consists of a warlock, ranger (the one with the history w/ the cultist), fighter, wizard, and paladin (who I expect will have the most trouble with accepting help from a cultist).

The group is currently working for a church that, unknowingly to them, actually trying to purge the world which is what the cultists are actively working against.

I want to introduce this cultist NPC to help them out a little, and guide them to the knowledge that their church is actually working against them, but want to be able to do so without the group immediately going to kill them. Is there a way to do this, or have I dug myself into a hole?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Take the tour. It may be useful to describe the conditions under which the campaign takes place. That is, I can imagine this being much easier if you've available extended sessions and expect the campaign to last several years but much harder if you're running 20-min. sessions on a lunch break and expect the campaign to only last a few sessions. Thank you for participating and have fun! \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jul 2 '18 at 14:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you tell us more about your group? Alignments (and whether or not alignment is a thing at your table) and how and why they've previously treated NPCs? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jul 2 '18 at 14:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ The group has a Lawful Good Warlock, True Neutral Wizard, Lawful Good Paladin, Lawful Good Fighter, and Neutral Good Ranger. They fit their roles pretty well, especially the Paladin. They've been good with most NPC's, giving them the benefit of the doubt before they attack, but generally show Cultists no mercy aside from the Ranger who has opted to try to find out specifically why they're doing what they do. \$\endgroup\$ – crackedcook Jul 2 '18 at 14:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do your players' characters typically murder people as soon as they meet them? (This is not a rhetorical question.) If that's the case, you may want to investigate other Q/A's about how to keep your players from murdering anybody they meet, since that might be a more serious problem. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Jul 2 '18 at 16:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ They're generally good about normal NPCs, but they're not as forgiving with people that look like they're in a cult \$\endgroup\$ – crackedcook Jul 2 '18 at 16:13
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A few options for introducing the cultist:

  • Introduce via a trusted third party. The PCs' friends can vouch for the cultist.
  • Inherit trust from others. The cultist is already well-known and respected by friends of the party, or by civilization at large. Bonus points scored by foreshadowing the cultist's identity before he is relevant, perhaps as a shop-keep or local celebrity.
  • Have the party seek them out. The NPC is known to have knowledge or information sought by the PC's.

Once introduced, establish trust. Have the cultist offer a useful tidbit of information, or speak up for the party in difficult circumstances. Perhaps have the cultist be the subject of a rescue from forces the PC's deem villainous. Essentially, put the cultist on the opposite side to known enemies. Then, when he tries to persuade them of what's going on, they'll have a reason to at least hear him out.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Perfect opportunity for a big reveal moment. Have the whole session be the party following clues/hunting for a mysterious contact that has valuable information. Make it very clear that this person wants to help, probably with the first point of having a trusted third party set the party after them. Once they finally solve the clues and meet up, you can end the session on the reveal of who their new contact really is. Give the group some time out of game to come to terms with things so that they don't immediately start trying to roll for initiative that session \$\endgroup\$ – D.Spetz Jul 2 '18 at 17:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like these suggestions. I think it's important to introduce the character outside of a combat context. If you introduce a cult-like figure in the middle of a dungeon crawl he will be marked for death rather than if he's introduced in town or, as suggested, through other characters. Puts the NPC firmly in a story zone rather than a combat zone where approach/conversation is more likely. \$\endgroup\$ – PeskyToaster Jul 2 '18 at 20:29
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Do not label him as 'a cultist'

You know he works for a cult and is associated with some shady powers. But these kinda things are usually not written on someone's face. Introduce him as an 'informant' who might have some information that might interest the party (maybe even charge for it). Or simply give him another role. He might worship Azazel on every full moon, but he might just be a baker or mayor usually. When asked where he got the information, refuse to tell them. If they are curious, they might unearth it, but by then they have the info.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The Ranger does know the cultist as something other than that, but when trying to give the information to the party on them as a person, the Ranger was almost killed. So I feel that the NPC may already be in danger before I've introduced them to anyone else. \$\endgroup\$ – crackedcook Jul 2 '18 at 14:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @crackedcook Sorry, but I do not understand the situation you describe. The ranger approached the party when they didn't know him and was attacked? \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Jul 2 '18 at 14:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ They've all known each other for quite some time now. The ranger was just stuck in a situation alone where he got to speak with the cultist one on one before being introduced to the party. He trusts her, but when talking about her to the party he was threatened. \$\endgroup\$ – crackedcook Jul 2 '18 at 14:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @crackedcook So shooting arrows right past their ears in a fight is a-ok, but mention of a shady friend gets him lynched? I do not see the logic in this. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Jul 2 '18 at 15:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a great answer. I've known several real life "cultists" who were surprisingly normal once you got to know them, and were quite willing to cooperate reasonably and do other things to get along in society that "normal" people do. \$\endgroup\$ – Robert Columbia Jul 2 '18 at 19:50
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How much magic can the cult muster? I had a GM who used to use Illusion spells, I forget which ones, to good effect after we worked out that the guy we had been working for was crazy and out to take over the world. He was able to keep the character for exposition while also keeping him out of line-of-sight of the Ranger. We found out after the campaign that that character was 11th level so he had access to a reasonable array of spell options but nothing from the very top end. Depending on how badly the cult wants to talk and how many resources they can throw at the problem they may be able to pull the same set up.

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You could introduce them in the market square of a city. If they assault the cultist, the guard will be on their backs right away.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you done something similar in your own games? How has it worked? You should elaborate on your suggestion to support it better. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 3 '18 at 8:51
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Show, Don't Tell

If at all possible, a very effective method can be to leave behind evidence or find scenarios where said cultist can showcase that he is in it for the greater good. It can be notes or clues left behind, or maybe the party stumbles across him in an encounter fighting a greater enemy. Furthermore, a combat encounter where your NPC is clearly in trouble can distract the PCs with a dangerous opponent while he gets some lines of dialogue in, and shows that he has a common goal with the party.

In a previous session, I had a group of bandits engaged with a rather large beastie (that the players needed to deal with), that clearly had the better of them. When the players saw this, and saw the opportunity to get a leg up on this beast, they prioritized engaging it instead of the bandits. This allowed me to get some intense, in-combat dialogue where the bandits could explain themselves and provide information to the PCs, and develop a neutral ground to discuss from.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you done something similar in your own games? How has it worked? You should elaborate on your suggestion to support it better. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 5 '18 at 17:09
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Let the party kill the NPC, if they are so trigger-happy. Make the NPC have some documents or other evidence against the church on him/her.

Then let the players figure it out. They could ignore the evidence, and proceed to help the church do their purge. They could find more evidence in other ways. If you want to have the NPC, they could end up with the only option of resurrecting the killed NPC...

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you done something similar in your own games? How has it worked? You should elaborate on your suggestion to support it better. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 5 '18 at 17:09
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Introduce him while the party is incapacitated/captured.

Like Indiana Jones captured by the nazis or Bilbo and the dwarves having to escape prison in barrels there's something exciting about adding a point in your story where your heroes were completely helpless, and only escaped later by sheer pluck or rescue from an ally.

If you want to make sure your players don't attack this guy, the only certain way is to make them unable to attack this guy. Have them get captured and thrown in a dungeon or tied up, weapons taken away, mages mouths gagged so they can't speak to cast spells. The informant could be with the party that captures them, and while they are still tied up/imprisoned he gets a chance to talk to them alone. Depending on how you want to play it the informant could offer to help them recover their weapons and sneak out of the dungeon.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hmm, but I have tables of players who would certainly attack anyway, no matter how hopeless the odds. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Grant Jul 3 '18 at 16:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thing is if you set up the situation right then they can't attack even if they want to. Remember that you don't have to let people roll for a feat if you think it is completely impossible. If someone asks to roll strength to bust out of their shackles and punch the guy, you can just say "no, even a nat 20 with advantage and modifiers would not be enough. The shackles are too strong. You can't move." \$\endgroup\$ – Jared K Jul 3 '18 at 16:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sure you can disable them, but then you get to the "recover their weapons and sneak out" part. And instead they charge once more into the breach. YMMV. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Grant Jul 3 '18 at 16:59

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