This is a short primer for DM:s who want to create a cult quickly.
Maybe it sounds fake to use language as a shortcut to creating a cult, and also to convey that it is a cult in TTRPGs. However, language is more important than you think. Language is how some people distinguish themselves as educated. I’m sure you’ve also met the local language snob, with their complaints around how language is languishing and changing into something horrific. Language is used to include and it is used to exclude.
I’m sure you’ve met the CrossFit people with their liberal use of expressions. Speaking to someone into CrossFit and you’ll get to hear expressions like “girl” (not in the sense of young woman. Girl in a CrossFit context is something really heavy and painful – thanks patriarchy, we can talk about this later.) “hero-wod” (which, like girls, are really heavy workouts, but named after fallen soldiers and because of that are described in a respectful manner. We’ll talk about that too, patriarchy…), “murph”, “rft”, “ttb”… I’m sure you get it. If you’re not into CrossFit, you probably won’t get it. There isn’t a community that doesn’t do it. Everything from religious affiliations, the table-top RPG community, various hobbies etc. They all use language to distinguish and recognize fellow members. Once you’re in it, once you know the language, it feels pretty good. This power can be used for good, which I think we have to agree includes even CrossFit. But it can also be used for evil. The manosphere with the MGTOW1 community, incels2 and various other deeply misogynistic aspects like PUA3 use their language to convey a deep hatred for women. Women are seen as objects or means to an end, where that end is reproduction or sex.
I’m sure you understand where I’m going with this. Language allows practitioners to recognize each other and know they have something in common. For us TTRPG players it’s the same thing. D&D. DM or GM, D6, D8, D20. There are tons of expressions and abbreviations and acronyms that allow people playing TTRPGs to recognize each other.
I’m not saying CrossFit is a cult, or that TTRPGs are, but they do share aspects with movements that can be classified as cults. Yup, you got it. Language. Everyone entering those contexts need to learn the language in order to understand what’s going on. If that is understanding resistance rolls, saves or murphs doesn’t really matter. You have to learn to become a part of that context.
Once you do, it feels pretty good. It’s always nice to be part of a group. We are social creatures after all.
If the threshold is as low as language, it’s also a lot easier to be sucked in. If a cult immediately asked you to shave your head or give away all of your money, that might be a deterrent. Just like Neal Stephenson describes in Snow Crash, the first step is to hack your language centre in the brain. Once that’s done, you might be hooked.
So, how do I as a DM create a new language to my cult? First of all, there’s no need to create something completely new. Sometimes you can just change the meaning of words or tweak the word slightly to get it to sound more cultish. A scientific context might use more abbreviations or acronyms. A more fantasy setting might use more florid language.
Let’s say we’re creating a cult of Calligraphers who are also assassins. To write in cursive is no longer about joining letters, but about spying on a target. Bold is a well paid contract. Question mark is an unknown target and a period… well, you get the gist of it, I’m sure.
The most important part is looking at the context for the cult. As I mentioned above, a scientific or pseudo-scientific context is probably going to use science-y words, acronyms or abbreviations. A religious context will use religious words and expressions. A religious and scientific cult will mix it up. “Are you coming down for communion?” “Yes, but I need to send of a TikTok first.” Communion is dinner. A TikTok in this context is a prayer.
There are tons of ways to cultify language. Only your imagination sets the boundaries.
The easiest way to find words and expressions is to Google4 it. You can also use existing cult terminology and steal it. Landmark, the Scientology Church and Jehova’s Witnesses are useful. Various self-help contexts can also be helpful to find various expressions. If you want to go really deep and dark, look at the manosphere and alt-right movements, but don’t blame me for any radicalization or nightmares you might suffer. American politics under Trump gave us a number of new expressions like alternative facts (lies) and fake news (truthful reporting about what Trump had been up to).
Anything goes. But please don’t use this advice to create real cults, unless the purpose is benign and won’t hurt anyone.