Further detail on the Cults of the Maddening

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Shortly before the present, the Interstellar Society noticed a strange trend, where inhabitants of remote settlements were founding new religions with outlandish rituals.

No one knows how or why the phenomenon started. Shortly before it did, a mysterious supernova was seen in the vicinity of the galactic centre, but this could just be a coincidence.

The appearance of the cults often (but not always) led to infighting, anarchy, and the complete collapse of whole societies. The trend was called the Maddening, because it seemed that entire planets were being gripped by religious mania – often with disastrous consequences.

Most of the new cults quickly self-combusted, but three withdrew from the Interstellar Society and started to attack their neighbours. These are known as the Cult of Pharphex, the Cult of Shamfaal, and the Cult of Gluttuk.

The Cult of Pharphex

Artist’s impression of Pharphex

After sampling the hallucinogenic spores of their local biome, the people of Gelos III heard the laughter of a god called Pharphex, who urged them to rejoice and be merry.

The discovery caught on like wildfire. Within months, a few scattered parties had turned into a planet-wide orgy, with everyone freely ingesting the spores. The diehards who survived the revels eventually formed a “party convoy” of spaceships, most of which crashed after takeoff.

The rest of the cultists are still at large. Their religion is a kind of cosmic absurdism, with rituals based on drug-induced euphoria. They have no particular name for themselves, but outsiders call them the Cult of Pharphex.

Light infantry, Cult of Pharphex

The Interstellar Society sees them as a nuisance, rather than a serious threat. The cultists are bad at holding territory because they don’t have the attention span to do so. Instead, they move through the galaxy like locusts, exhausting what they find before they get bored and move on. Their weapons and vehicles are whatever they can seize and scavenge, and their sole logistical concern is the need for a constant supply of hallucinogenic spores. They have no particular grudges, but will freely attack outsiders (whom they call “squares”) and invade smaller settlements (which they call “gatecrashing”). They also capture and keep slaves, since they’re rarely in a fit state to do their own admin.

Quad bike rider, Cult of Pharphex

The cult doesn’t seem to be growing, but, against all odds, it isn’t shrinking either. They are incapable of making (or even properly servicing) their own Moller Fields, and they exist as a wholly itinerant faction, living on stolen starships. They somehow manage to reproduce, but infant mortality is assumed to be very high because of their chaotic lifestyle. Most of their new members join as slaves, eventually being offered the spores.

The Cult of Shamfaal

Artist’s impression of Shamfaal

Poena V has a lush ecosystem, notable for its very large sessile lifeforms (where “sessile” means fixed in one place). Unlike mature specimens, the juveniles are highly mobile, with some even flying before they settle down and take root.

In a forest of such lifeforms, explorers found an enormous alien creature, which followed them out of the forest and lingered nearby. It seemed to exert a curious influence on the explorers, who came to believe it was an avatar of a god called Shamfaal. They also felt that, by communing with the creature, they had learned the path of perfect self-knowledge.

The creature found on Poena V

When the explorers returned to civilisation, they exuded a strange new charisma that made their claims hard to ignore. The Church of Shamfaal became a major religion on Poena V, soon controlling the whole colony.

For the cultists, self-knowledge takes the form of self-loathing, which requires them to punish themselves – and, crucially, other people – for perceived wrongdoing. After some internal power struggles, the cult became increasingly hard-line, until they eventually declared war on everyone who refused to join them. Naturally, this included the Interstellar Society, whose authority they no longer recognise.

Infantry, Cult of Shamfaal

The Society considers them to a fairly credible threat. Their self-discipline makes them effective in combat and logistics, and, unlike the Cult of Pharphex, they form stable (albeit joyless) communities. Like the Interstellar Society, they make their own weapons and armour, and they use guided evolution to make beasts of war. They can make and service Moller Fields and do their own scientific research. They have subjugated a small number of worlds and send fleets to attack others.

Beast of war, Cult of Shamfaal

The cult is growing, albeit slowly. Cultists (and the people they subjugate) are expected to take drugs to mortify their sexual urges. Reproduction occurs through artificial insemination, and few of the children thrive under the cult’s regime of constant punishment and self-denial. Those who do become adults who are very self-disciplined and utterly devoted to Shamfaal.

The Cult of Gluttuk

Artist’s impression of Gluttuk

Unfortunately, very little is known about the Cult of Gluttuk. It was founded on a world called Thalia IV, but no one knows how or why.

Gluttuk himself is sometimes called the Great Glutton. He is thought to personify the supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy. His religion is based on feasting, ritual butchery, and cannibalism. “Eating competitions” are thought to be involved, possibly as a way of selecting priests or leaders.

Priest, Cult of Gluttuk

The cultists are capable of forming societies, but they are barely more sophisticated than those of the Krulaks. They also tend to collapse if they get too large, mostly due to the fractious nature of the cultists. They do have ranged weapons, but they take more pleasure in melee combat, often using meat cleavers that are thought to have ritual significance.

Infantry, Cult of Gluttuk

They can’t make starships or Moller Fields from scratch, but they often seize and are able to service them. They have conquered a small number of settlements, and they also make ramshackle colonies of parked ships, similar to those of the Krulaks. At the time of writing, nothing is known about their reproduction habits.

Next: Some more notes on armed conflict

Previous: Some notes on armed conflict

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