“Let their bodies be consumed, so that their souls may be healed” (Consumption 1-1)
Possibly the most feared mercenary group in Moonbound, the Cannibals begun as a mental ward in the Emperor’s Army during the Crusades. To understand the behavior of the Cannibals, one must first examine the controversial history of the Crusades themselves.
Started soon after the establishment of the first Empire of Narcis, the Crusades were launched against the Empire’s southern border, the Jungles of Osconia. The official mantra was that the natives were performing witchcraft in hopes of undermining the Emperor Julius’s power, and that only by annihilating the jungle and all those who inhabited it could peace be restored to the land.
Unknown to the rank and file, the Jungles of Osconia were the perfect staging ground for a massive invasion of Tyon, a neighbor that had recently balked at a trading agreement offered by the Empire. Instead of resorting to diplomatic channels the Bishops had forced the issue, hoping to browbeat Tyon into submission. What they had not planned on, however, was the influence of their own missionaries.
From the diary of a soldier of the Cannibals, found inside his tomb
Augustus 5th, the Year of Steely Faith The footing inside this jungle is bloody awful, you can’t get a solid push off anything. It’s the heat too, every man is roasting inside his armor because of the flames coming from the trees behind us. Hell, but no one’s thinking about that, I don’t even really care about the bloody mosquitoes that we’ve got to swipe every minute or so. No, what I’m thinking about is the town we just attacked. It sure didn’t look like a demon-worshipping place, the villagers looked like my family, and I’m pretty sure I saw the Pinnacle inside their holy place. They didn’t fight either, we took them by surprise, killing everyone by order of the priests. We were told that the enemy shamans are capable of doing great illusions, but as I cut down one of the women, I saw something flash on her chest. Bending over, I looked down to see the Pinnacle, in all its glory, resting in a chain around her neck, just like mine. I am sitting here, wondering whether I have been possessed or duped by some spiritual presence, because I can still see it in my hand. It’s covered in blood, but it’s definitely the Pinnacle, I’d swear my soul on it.
The Three Weeks of Enlightenment
The missionaries of the Emperor had already conquered the Jungle long before the Crusades reached the trees; most historians guess that there were more followers of Narcis in the Jungle than in the Empire of Narcis. At first, the soldiers hacked blindly away at the foliage and the villagers, but after one raiding party came destroyed the home of a missionary of Narcis and slew the missionary himself, morale plummeted. The soldiers no longer believed the tales of illusions and witchcraft, and the population of the army’s mental wards tripled in a week. Ignoring these setbacks, the Bishops ordered the army to increase its pace, and with their war machine working at a fever pitch, settled back to their comfortable lifestyles. Things went well for another week, then the messengers stopped returning to the Capitol. The Bishops’ frantic inquires were answered in the final week when someone spotted the remnants of their army marching towards the city.
The Flag of the Pinnacle was thrust at the sky, but now there was a crudely painted skull placed over the top. The formerly white background was rust-red, as if the Flag had been drenched in blood, and the flag shed red flakes in the morning sun. Julius and the Bishops looked on in horror at the army assembled below, the soldiers were dressed in chaotic mixes of half-destroyed paladin armor and poorly constructed replacement parts made from bone. The struggle was brief, the Capitol fell in an hour, and the clergy were rounded up and held at sword point in the Chapel.
Exert from the writings of Father Mast, former priest of the Faith of Narcis
The soldiers who surrounded us snarled like beasts, faces concealed by helmets and strange ornamentation. Their armor, clearly made of human bones, was terrifying to behold, as was their leader, who bore open wounds and barked orders to the hulking nightmares that obeyed him fearfully. He stalked to the pulpit that the Bishops would give sermons from and drew forth his sword. Hefting it carefully and taking aim, he swung the blade in a tight arc straight through the lectern. Now, every eye in the courtyard was fixed upon him as he drew out a Pinnacle necklace from inside his armor, brandishing it in front of the congregation and the splintered wood beneath his boots. “Do you know where I got this?” His voice sounds very strange, almost like he was choked with grief. “I got it from one of our priests, specifically, one of our missionaries that we killed.” There is no sound except the jingling of the chain that held the Pinnacle that I noticed was stained with blood. “Liars.” He hissed, “you filthy bunch of VERMIN!” “You knew that there were no witches in the Jungle.” He continued, “I don’t know why we killed those of our own faith, but we did it at your behest. And for that, you shall suffer.” Now I could feel myself quaking with fear, and saw others around me doing the same. The creature raised his hand again to still our quivering. “The just among you have nothing to fear.” He proclaimed, “we may have been driven mad by your betrayal, but it does not mean we are not just.” He motioned to the soldiers, who roughly dragged us to our feet. “In my insanity, I have been blessed with a second sight; you shall all be judged by this second sight, and your guilt determined.” With this final statement, he stepped down from the podium, ripping his sword from its ruins and sheathing it. With one gauntlet removed, he approached the first priest, Father Donas. Suddenly, the beast’s hand rested on Donas’s forehead, and the whole congregation held its breath, except for Donas, who could be heard panicking. For a long second, nothing happened; then the leader smiled a bloody grin, and removed his hand from Donas’s forehead, moving to the next man, a Bishop of some stature. He too trembled as the hand descended upon him, but the trembling quickly turned to a scream as smoke rose from the man’s face, his whole body writhing. This time when the creature removed his hand, his smile was bigger, and he announced, “Those with the burn stay here, those without will be escorted outside.” Then came the waiting, during which I closed my eyes, but every so often I would catch a glimpse of someone rolling around on the ground, clutching their face. And then he stood in front of me, hand outstretched for my head once more. I could feel his cold, calloused fingers on my head, but no burning. I opened my eyes to see that he had already moved on to the next person. I relaxed, only to be shocked out of my relief by hearing the piercing scream of the man two down from me. After 10 more agonizing minutes, the unburned ones were taken outside the courtyard and ordered to leave the city. As we left, we heard a screaming that made the previous ones pale by comparison…
It has been pieced together that a few days after the Bishops ordered the increase in fighting, the patients of the mental wards rebelled. It was a long a bloody battle, but in the end, the mental patients defeated the exhausted Crusaders, and followed the Prophet back to the source of their pain: the Capitol. They were lead by a former general who now refers to himself as a Prophet of Narcis, claiming to have special powers of insight into mortal souls. While he has not proven this claim, there are many allegations of supernatural occurrences while in his presence. He leads the Cannibals today with an iron fist, tolerating no disobedience and adhering to a set of rules.
The Cannibals’ Rules
The Cannibals got their nickname from that infamous incident at the Capitol of Narcis when they ate the members of the clergy who they deemed guilty for continuing the war after it was clear that they were killing members of the Faith of Narcis. Today, they are swords for hire, but they operate on a complex and unclear system of morals that makes them potentially deadly to their employers. Though many of their rules seem codified (they often quote from some sort of holy book that no one has ever seen), many people suspect that they follow the guidance of their leader, the enigmatic and self-proclaimed Prophet. Since he and all of his followers are undeniably insane, it would explain the high level of unpredictability that they display; yet the force as a whole adheres to certain patterns that they seem unwilling to violate.
Rule Number 1: “And the Prophet did say, ‘Punish the guilty and the foul-hearted so that they may never rise again.’” (Mutilation 3-11)
This rule is also quoted as
“Narcis saw the Evil, and commanded the mad to rise as his justicars so that fear could be known to those who inspire fear” (Redemption 2-6)
Rule Number 2: “only the Prophet may judge those who have no power” (Consumption 4-1)
This rule is also quoted as
“Let the sufferers be spared, except at the command of Narcis” (Hunting 3-4).
In addition to these more steadfast rules, the Cannibals are known for dealing out punishment regardless of their employer’s wishes. The Cannibals believe that the punishments cleanse the soul so that the person will not have to suffer in the afterlife. Thievery is punished with cutting off a hand, murder is punished with torture, wrongful imprisonment with slavery and treachery with being eaten. It is the custom of the Cannibals to offer their victim of treachery the opportunity to eat the traitor, but once they have been turned down (as is always the case), they dig in themselves.
When hired, the Cannibals will always want to know the reason for their employment, which along with their enmity with most of the major religions makes them an unlikely hire. However, no one can deny their effectiveness and their very sustainable price, which keeps them in business. They do not actively recruit members, but many skilled fighters have joined the Cannibals’ already-formidable ranks after being driven mad by their own cultures.
Despite their mental conditions, the Cannibals are very clever tacticians, using a wide variety of ambushes and sneak attacks to accomplish any missions that they are given outside the field of battle. Strangely enough, the Cannibals’ sense of honor bars them from using ranged weapons, instead preferring the use of large and intimidating melee weapons that are decorated with personal trophies from their previous battles. When they are contracted to aid in an actual war, the Cannibals break into teams of 20-30 members that all have a vague objective. After accomplishing their objectives (often securing a tactical position), the Cannibals focus on demoralizing the enemy army, often putting on extremely grotesque puppet shows with the bodies of opposing soldiers.
Roleplaying Notes and Plot Hooks
It should be noted that the PCs will very likely be aware of the Cannibals’s existence, for stories concerning them are common in every armed force. Their force is about 150 strong, all skilled fighters who are the veterans of many a campaign. The Cannibals’ everyday life will also attract some level of attention, they move nomadically throughout Moonbound, exchanging protective services for food and shelter from towns. Occasionally, the Prophet will give sermons to anyone who passes by, which accounts for much of what is known about the Cannibals today.
The Cannibals attract trouble naturally, so it shouldn’t be a stretch to get the PCs involved, but here are some ideas to get them started.
Betrayal- A man who is being pursued by the Cannibals for ordering his brother killed for personal gain stumbles upon the PCs in a quiet town. Do the PCs ensure the man’s right to a fair trial, do they try to capture the prisoner and bargain with the Cannibals (a dangerous proposition), or do they merely look on as the man is devoured before their eyes.
Time does not heal all wounds- The new Bishop of the Faith of Narcis has gained some standing in the country where the Cannibals are currently residing. He finds the Prophet’s interpretation of his religion to be blasphemy, and hires the PCs to infiltrate the camp and dispatch the Prophet. Simultaneously, the Cannibals have learned of the Bishop’s existence and are currently mobilizing their forces to quell what might be an opposing voice.
A last ditch effort- A duke has just lost a critical battle in his quest to dethrone a rival lord, and now plans to hire the Cannibals to protect his own land. The duke’s enemy has caught wind of this development, and asks the PCs to sabotage the duke’s efforts.
Rebellion- During a war that the Cannibals had been hired for, a third of their forces break off under the banner of a new Prophet. The PCs can choose to support either side, but they must choose carefully, for they are stationed inside the rebel camp.