From Campaign Magazine #2
(Corsair Publishing, December 2001)
Cult Leader
Prestige Class by Seth Johnson
Illustration by David Gulisano

"Two or three years ago, they were just another snake cult. Now, they're everywhere."

--from Conan the Barbarian

The path of the cleric is often one of patient faith, where the faithful take

their place in the structure of an organized religion and await the rewards of a pious life. But there are others whose worship of the gods' power is based not in respect but envy, who would rather that the adulations and donations of worshippers came to them rather than the church or temple. Some of these are doomed to lives of repressed dissatisfaction, but others have the charisma and intelligence needed to draw together a band of worshippers and lead them down a new and different path. These priests, whom their followers worship as much as any god, are the cult leaders.

Sometimes the cult leader remains in their established position within their former religion, whether to co-opt its resources or simply to provide a guise under which they can openly travel while spreading their new faith in secret. Other times they may remain true to their major deity but be making deals with lower-level deities, demons, or demigods to acquire the power they lust after.

But as the cult leader accumulates power, as more and more followers gather under their banner and local cabals are founded under their leadership, there is more and more of a chance that they will come to the attention of larger religions. Even—and in some cases especially—if a cult is a sect of the larger religion, both the leader of a cult and its members can find themselves up against something as simple as an inquisition or as dangerous as a holy war.

Hit Dice: d6


  • Alignment: Any non-Good alignment
  • Minimum Charisma of 15
  • Ability to cast divine spells
  • At least 8 ranks in Knowledge (Religion)

Class Skills: The class skills of the cult leader (and the key ability for each skill) are as follows: Alchemy (Int), Bluff (Cha), Concentration (Con), Decipher Script (Int), Diplomacy (Cha), Innuendo (Wis), Knowledge (arcane or religion) (Int), Scry (Int) and Spellcraft (Int).

Armor and Weapon Proficiencies: Cult leaders are proficient with all simple weapons, and all types of armor (light, medium, and heavy.) Armor penalties for armor heavier than leather apply to the Balance, Climb, Escape Artist, Hide, Jump, Move Silently, Pick Pocket, and Tumble skills. In addition, Swim checks suffer a -1 penalty for every 5 pounds of armor carried by the cult leader.

Skill Points at Each Level: 3 + Int Modifier

Level BA Fort Ref Will Special Spells
1 +0 +2 +0 +2 Leadership +1 caster level
2 +1 +3 +0 +3 Forbidden Knowledge
3 +2 +3 +1 +3 Specialized Metamagic +1 caster level
4 +3 +4 +1 +4 Forbidden Knowledge
5 +4 +4 +1 +4 Leadership +3 levels +1 caster level
6 +5 +5 +2 +5 Forbidden Knowledge
7 +6 +5 +2 +5 Specialized Metamagic +1 caster level
8 +6 +6 +2 +6 Forbidden Knowledge
9 +7 +6 +3 +6 Leadership +5 levels +1 caster level
10 +7 +7 +3 +7 Forbidden Knowledge


Leadership: The zealous devotion of and persuasive proselytizing of the occultist quickly draws followers. At first level, the cult leader receives the Leadership feat (see page 45 of Core Rulebook II.) At level 5, the cult leader's Leadership feat begins acting as if three levels higher than normal. At ninth level, the feat acts as if five levels higher than normal. These followers are the core devotees of the cult, following their spiritual leader's path and orders. They also form the nucleus of local cabals (see "Local Cabals" below.)

Cult leaders can replace lost followers more quickly than usual; a departed follower can be replaced in 1d4 days in a population of Hamlet size or larger (Core Rulebook II, p. 155.) If the cult leader was directly to blame for the death of a follower (outside of an accepted practice of the cult,) it takes 1d4 months, again in a population of Hamlet size or larger.

Forbidden Knowledge: Whether it come from studying obscure texts or making deals with demons and demigods, as cult leaders blaze their own path they gain access to a variety of new knowledge and abilities. At 2nd level and every other level thereafter (4th, 6th, etc.) the cult leader chooses one piece of forbidden knowledge from Table 1: Forbidden Knowledge. Their level in the cult leader class plus their Intelligence modifier determines which pieces of forbidden knowledge they can select. Each piece of forbidden knowledge can be acquired only once.

Table 1: Forbidden Knowledge

Level +

Secret Effect
1 Speak in Tongues Cult members can communicate in spoken language others cannot understand
2 Arcane Lore Bonus 3 + Int mod skill points
3 Black Blood +4 hit points
4 Burning Touch Can cast Cure Moderate Wounds on any cult member (including Cult Leader) once per day
5 Unholy Speed +2 to initiative
6 Malevolent Gaze Once per day, as per Fear spell
7 Dark Secret Additional feat
8 Revelation Any previously unknown skill at +8 ranks
9 Zealot's Fire Can cast Flame Strike once per day
10 Ominous Power One additional spell per day for level 1-3 spells

Specialized Metamagic: At third and seventh level, the cult leader can select any one Metamagic feat with no prerequisites (such as Maximize Spell) and link it to a spell they already know how to cast. Thereafter, the cult leader always has the option of casting that spell as though with the Metamagic feat. The feat cannot ever be used with any other spell than that chosen.

Spellcasting: A cult leader can continue to learn the methods of mainstream clerical magic, but their progress is slowed as they spend much of their time leading the cult and pursuing researches away from the typical path. As such, a cult leader only advances one clerical caster level for each two levels of cult leader achieved, advancing at 1st level and every other level thereafter (3rd, 5th, etc.) This is used to determine the number of spells available each day and the level of spells that can be cast, but should not be considered advancement in the cleric character class.

Local Cabals: Though a cult leader's followers (gained via the Leadership feat) are the core of their new faith, the cult leader can spread their new faith as they travel the land and hope to spark local cabals of followers. To do so, the cult leader must be in a population of Small Town size or larger (Core Rulebook II, p. 155.) The exact method of recruitment is left to the player and gamemaster, but after 1d8 members (roll is made in secret by the GM) have joined, locals members will begin to recruit until the cabal reaches its maximum size, d4+2 percent of the population.

To determine the nature of a specific member of a local cabal, the GM should roll on the following tables, then consult the NPC classes tables (Core Rulebook II, p. 36.)

Table 2: Local Cabal Members

d10 Member Type d10 Member Level
1 Adept 1-6 1


7-8 2
3-8 Commoner 9 3
9 Expert 10 4
10 Warrior

A local cabal will begin to dissipate in 1d6 weeks unless a follower of the cult leader is left behind to lead and maintain the cabal. In addition, a cult leader needs to maintain contact with each of their local cabals (either in writing at least once every three months or in person at least once per year) or there is a 10% chance every month (cumulative to 100%) thereafter that the cabal will break up as members lose faith and return to established religions.

Regardless of their original faith or the path they take as they begin to build their cult, cult leaders are permanently tainted by their ambition. If a cult leader is trying to deceive others as to the true nature of their faith, the use of the Detect spell appropriate to their alignment (used for at least three rounds, allowing the study of the cult leader's personal aura) or someone with a very keen ability to Sense Motive (DC 25) will reveal this taint.

Cult Leaders in Non-Fantasy Settings

A charismatic cult leader can be just as interesting a character in a campaign set in the modern day or future. If magical abilities are present in your campaign, the prestige class should be able to be used as is. If there is no magic in your game world, the gamemaster should replace entries such as Burning Touch and Zealot's Fire on the Forbidden Knowledge table with benefits more applicable to the setting and game mechanics in play. In addition, to make up for the lost ability to cast spells gamemasters might want to give cult leaders in non-magical campaigns the following special ability, with the assumption that money can sometimes equal power:

Tithe: Once per week a cult leader may approach any member of his cult and, with a successful use of the Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidation skill solicit a tithe of ten percent of the member's cash-in-hand, up to an amount equal to what they possessed to purchase starting equipment. If this amount was randomly determined, the gamemaster should make a roll to determine the maximum at each attempt at solicitation.