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Secret Sects: The Ebon Cabal (Part II)

Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” ~ Benjamin Franklin (d.1790)

It’s a quote like this that makes you wonder who was really running security for the “Founding Fathers” as they plotted the Revolution…

The Ebon Cabal, a secret society that recruits “green” adventurers, was introduced last week, as discussed in the blog Secret Sects: The Ebon Cabal – Part I. The recruitment process comes in the form of a letter, which sends the prospective candidate to a remote settlement, where they meet with a shadowy individual representing the Cabal.

In Part II, it will be explained how the Ebon Cabal makes it’s “recruitment pitch”, and offers the heroes a taste of Power as they are sent them out into the world with a purpose.

The Ebon Cabal’s “Pitch”

After all the recruits have entered into Chamber of Secrecy, the hooded figure will invite them to sit, and will offer them refreshment. Often the young heroes will demand to know the nature of their host, and insist upon he or she reveal themselves. But often, the recruits are disappointed to find a naught but a non-descript man or woman is hiding beneath the cowled robe, usually of middle-age, and of almost no particular distinguishing features.

The Cabal representative will introduce themselves simply as “Hand”.

In my current campaign, my heroes know “Hand” as a bald human of mature years, but not old. His face is forgettable, neither ugly nor handsome, but rather plain and clean shaven. His voice is calm and resonant and the most distinguishable characteristic, aside from his rather piercing, dark eyes.

However, it should be noted that a “Hand” of the Ebon Cabal could be of either sex and of any race.

By way of introduction, “Hand” explains that the Ebon Cabal has existed in secret for many years, and that the Masters of the Cabal sponsor bands of heroes, and empower them through the knowledge and wealth gained from adventure. “Hand” will explain that there are several such groups operating across the world, and that he would become the mentor and sponsor of those present in the chamber of secrecy.

Of course, suspicious Characters will ask why the Masters of the Cabal would want to do this. But “Hand” will have a ready answer for them:

“Do you place your trust in the gods and their temples? Or perhaps you trust in the strength of your king? Do you trust in the power of a guild of mages, or in the primal might of the elements? Or is it in street gangs and underworld bosses where you place your trust? And why is it that you trust these forces? You trust them, for good or ill, because they have one thing that you currently lack – POWER!

But yet, there is Power laying about the land, in ancient knowledge, in artifacts of yore, and all waiting to fall into someone’s grasp… so why not your own? There are forces at work on this that may need to be opposed one day, and great heroes may be needed. Are you too afraid to answer the call to greatness?”

Of course, the Characters might are still worried about how the Cabal found them and why they were contacted. But again, “Hand” would have a ready answer:

“I can assure you it was not random chance that the invitation fell to you. Someone, some relation, an old mentor maybe, an aunt or uncle perhaps or a grandparent… has served the Cabal before… and may still… not that you would know. “

The Characters will certainly want to know what they would be doing for the Ebon Cabal, and “Hand” will explain the terms of their relationship:

“Ah… something for something and nothing for nothing yes? For the present the Ebon Cabal asks for nothing – you are free to continue your personal questing and follow your whims. But you may, in the future, be called to quest for the Cabal up to two times a year, for a period not longer than two months in total.

Not so great a thing, now is it?

And the Cabal will never ask you to do anything beyond your skills and abilities, as that would hardly befit our alliance. And while you are on a quest for the Cabal, anything you find along the way, be it gold or gems or magic, is yours… excepting, of course, that which the Cabal has sent you to seek out. And not all such quests are to retrieve some item or treasure or lost knowledge. Sometimes it is a task that needs to be completed, and you will be called upon to do it.”

But now, the Ebon Cabal wishes to offer you an item of power – a personal artifact if you will – if you agree to membership. This magical ring will grow as you do, gaining power commensurate with your progress, and can give you aid and insight.

This is your one and only chance to accept membership in the Ebon Cabal – you will not be offered admittance to the Cabal again. Choose now, or leave this place, for what follows is for only loyal members to know.”

In my campaign, the Characters were quite intrigued by the Ebon Cabal, and though still suspicious, chose to remain and become members. They were each given a gold ring setting, and told to place the teardrop of jet into the ring’s mounting, and gather around the brazier.

While extending their rings toward the brazier, “Hand” will intone a special Ritual, which is part oath and part item enchantment, which will fuse the gems to the rings, creating an item for each new member.

Jet Ring of the Ebon Cabal

Once the Ritual has been completed, “Hand” will bid them be on their way, and as the last Character leaves the chamber of secrecy, the doorway will vanish. Equipped with their rings, the adventuring team will be able to be contacted by “Hand” to receive mission instructions, or to contact each other in time of need. As they grow in prowess (levels), “Hand” may meet with them to add more powers to the ring, as a reward for service.

The Activities and Nature of the Ebon Cabal

The Ebon Cabal operates no base that any of its members have ever seen, and seems to operate in a series of “cells”, consisting of a few adventuring parties answering to a single “Hand”. Sometimes referred to as “Fingers” of the Cabal, they never operate together, and their identities are known only to their respective “Hand”. How many “Hands” and “Fingers” exist within the Ebon Cabal is also not known, although rumors of Cabal activities may reach the ears of the adventurers from time to time.

As to the shadowy Masters of the Cabal, their true agenda is unknown, and it is unlikely that Characters will encounter them before the high end of the Paragon Tier or even until the Epic Tier. From a Dungeon Master’s perspective, the best thing about the Ebon Cabal, in fact, is its secretive and unknown agenda.

When creating the Ebon Cabal, I had three motivations in mind:

  1. To gather Player-Characters from diverse backgrounds into a unit, and to give them a reason to adventure together.
  2. To create a team where, in the event of a permanent Character loss or death, a new member could be introduced without massive loss of continuity to the campaign.
  3. To explore the realm of secret societies in a campaign, where the Characters were allies rather than opponents.

Nearly all the cults and secret societies I have ever created in my many campaigns have been uniformly “bad”, or at the very least, dubious and self-serving. And so, the Ebon Cabal appears, at least on the surface, to be somewhat altruistic and even beneficial to the adventurers, providing them with lucrative adventure hooks, quest experience, and occasionally advice.

But is the Ebon Cabal what it appears to be?

The Ebon Cabal is really right now just a framework in my own campaign plotline that I have just begun to explore and manipulate. And before any of my Players reading this blog go into a state of apoplexy – No, I am not going to reveal the true nature of the Ebon Cabal here, so no spoiler warning is needed!

The Ebon Cabal may be a secret society of powerful heroes, seeking to create others like them, to help rid the world of some great evil. But then again, the Cabal may have a dark and terrible agenda, and may be using the adventurers as cats-paws to seek out and retrieve items of power and lost lore to bring about some terrible world-shattering event! By the time the Player-Characters enter their Epic Tier, they may find themselves at odds against the very Masters of the Ebon Cabal that they have so faithfully served for years – or perhaps, they may be welcomed into the ranks of the Masters themselves as new “Hands” to perpetuate the legacy!

The Ebon Cabal can be anything that a Dungeon Master wants it to be, and like all secret societies, even the highest of Masters may not be the true leader of the organization – can anyone truly know who or what really lurks behind the Grandmaster’s Throne?

I hope to continue the Secret Sect blog from time to time and bring to light other clandestine societies I use in my campaign. Secrest Societies lend a great deal of fun and intrigue, and I would welcome other DM’s feedback on this one and their own thoughts on such organizations in their campaigns.

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!


About The Author

Editor-in-Chief
Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.

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