Devil worship? In Neverwinter? Why, my pretty lass, I’m afraid you’ve been misinformed. The Lord Protector does his job well, and I assure you we’re safe from such things. Now, why don’t you let me pour you another cup of wine? If you’re frightened, you can sit closer to me.
A secret society rules the shadows of Neverwinter’s surface streets. Few dare to even whisper their fears of it. After all, anyone could don a pleasant smile and still be a member of the Ashmadai, a brutal cult of devil worshipers sworn to Asmodeus.
The Ashmadai is well connected. In the past few decades—before and after the cataclysm—its members burrowed deep into every organization in Neverwinter. Now no one really knows who is a loyal friend and who is a devil-worshiping enemy.
Ashmadai cultists come from all walks of life— poor or wealthy, male or female, any race or creed. The three traits that unite them are a tendency toward arrogance, a shared faith in (and fear of ) Asmodeus, and a curious mark branded on their chests, which they usually take pains to hide. Often, members do not know one another on sight, and the brand is the only way they can identify each other.
Years before the cataclysm, cultists of Asmodeus— calling themselves the Ashmadai, or Messengers of the Raging Fiend—began working in the region as agents of Thay. The exact nature of the bargain between Szass Tam and the cult remains unclear. What is known is that Thay’s regent possessed a powerful magic scepter that the Ashmadai consider a holy relic. Originally, he employed cultists to meet the needs of surface operations in Neverwinter under his agent, Sylora Salm, a Red Wizard tasked with raising the Dread Ring in Neverwinter Wood.
It was Salm’s intent to manipulate a dwarf of Delzoun blood into releasing the primordial and thereby cause enough deaths to power the Dread Ring. But her plans ran afoul of a group of adventurers. Salm fled the region, causing the loyalty of the Ashmadai to waver until the lich Valindra Shadowmantle revealed her possession of the magic scepter. The cultists have not seen the scepter in some time, but they assume Valindra has secreted it away to keep it from them. In truth, Szass Tam has reclaimed it. Even though many Ashmadai cultists still serve Valindra, the cult’s aims have diverged from Thay’s.
The Ashmadai is split into two distinct sects. One is slavishly loyal to Asmodeus, and the other is populated by cunning and manipulative creatures who care more about acquiring power than paying homage to it. The former group, led by the dwarf Favria, consists of older and less studied cultists who still serve Thay as the scepter’s holder. The less fanatical branch, led by the tiefling Mordai Vell, is responsible for the Ashmadai’s rise in Neverwinter
as a shady, manipulative powerhouse. The two sects rarely interact, and most cultists don’t know members of their own branch, let alone ones in the other. However, the sect’s leaders meet often to discuss the cult’s machinations. In this way, the Ashmadai conducts its own business right under Valindra’s nose.
|The Ashmadai still pays lip service to Thay, but it advances plots of its own through Mordai Vell’s subtler branch of the cult. Members of the other Ashmadai cult are little more than thugs, loyal only to Asmodeus and his chosen representative, Favria.|
By Hook or by Crook
As befits servants of Asmodeus, the supreme master of the Nine Hells, Ashmadai cultists seek to control Neverwinter, either as daylight rulers or covertly through intimidation and blackmail. Lacking the numbers and individual power to flout Lord Neverember’s thugs, the cult cannot yet operate openly in the city. Therefore, Mordai Vell uses a pod system to
manage his sect and shroud it from prying eyes. The highest-ranking members report separately to Mordai and do not know each other. Each of those leaders has his or her own pod whose cultists report separately to that individual—and so on down through the ranks. Each higher-ranking member regularly assigns tasks to inferior cultists without disclosing the larger scheme. Many of these tasks involve recruiting young nobles and merchant scions who are easily swayed by promises of power, wealth, or influence.
Recently, Mordai has become more aggressive, instructing his followers to mark shellacked buildings and corpses with the sign of Asmodeus. By intimidating the community in this way, Mordai intends to cow the populace into quiescence, paving the way for genuine rulership. Favria disapproves of this strategy but can’t ignore its success. The townsfolk are increasingly fearful of what the symbol represents, and they more readily cooperate with cultists’ demands.
Resist the Aboleths
The Ashmadai are in a turf war for Neverwinter, and Mordai is determined to make sure the city falls to him and not the aboleths. Specifically, the Ashmadai seeks to undermine the Chasm in southeast Neverwinter. If possible, Mordai wants to seal it shut. Until then,
cultists actively hamper the Abolethic Sovereignty’s efforts to turn citizens into mind slaves (only Ashmadai should be people’s masters), and they make a special priority to drive out or kill known aboleth agents in the city. When the heroes come to the Ashmadai’s notice, enlisting their aid in these tasks—either through manipulation or open negotiations—becomes a high priority.
Ashmadai cultists are adept at applying pressure to gain what they want. In particular, they want to turn the tables on Szass Tam by recovering the scepter (which they believe Valindra has). They also covet Valindra’s phylactery because they’d like to pay back her abuses in kind. With either item in their possession—preferably both—the Ashmadai leaders are confident they’ll finally be able to throw off T hay for good and establish the cult as the dominant force in Neverwinter.
Little do they know that Szass Tam again has the scepter. Valindra’s phylactery is discussed on page 108, Neverwinter Campagin Guide.
Kidnap Mortal Souls
Few Ashmadai devil-worshipers have much power individually. But when they ritually combine their strength, they can summon devils. Thus, cultists assign imps, burning devils, legion devils, and others to bring chaos, devastation, and despair to their foes and people they just don’t like. Rituals to summon these fiends involve extensive bloodletting.
Because they’re Asmodeus’s devotees, the cultists have a unique pact with the Nine Hells. Every time the Ashmadai summons a devil, it must also bind a mortal creature to the essence of a devil. Thus, Ashmadai thugs regularly kidnap victims from across the region and deliver them to pens from which higher-ranking members can draw as needed for devil–spirit bindings. It might be possible to rescue a possessed individual, but the longer a fiend dwells inside a mortal body, the more the body decays. Within days, it is fit only for an unclean spirit.
You can run possessed individuals however you want. Perhaps their appearances don’t change, but infernal souls control their bodies. You could apply a template or a monster theme, or pair the victims’ bodies with devils’ statistics.
Being a secret society deeply interested in cloak-and bloody- dagger work, the Ashmadai keeps close tabs on other organizations operating in the city.
New Neverwinter: The Ashmadai try to corrupt New Neverwinter supporters at every opportunity. Cultists haven’t been able to sway Mayor Soman Galt, so they’ve begun focusing on the Mintarn mercenaries instead. Mordai Vell has his suspicions about Galt, but the sect leader wants more evidence before he marks the mayor for death. For now, Mordai is working on General Sabine, whom he regularly invites to his estate. Ultimately, the devil-worshipers aim to corrupt Lord Neverember and send him back to Waterdeep so the Ashmadai can actively run both cities. As for Neverember, he thoroughly enjoys Mordai’s company, and the two spend time together often.
Abolethic Sovereignty: The cultists actively work to thwart the aboleths, but whatever gains they’ve made have failed to convince the Sovereignty to consider the Ashmadai a serious threat. Likely, this indifference explains the cult’s continued existence.
Thayans: The Ashmadai cultists still pay some fealty to Valindra—at least enough to keep her from seeing the knife they hold poised behind her back. Once they recover the scepter or find her phylactery, they intend to move against the lich.
Netherese: The devil-worshipers are in awe of the Netherese, whose representatives have approached Mordai on several occasions. The cultists cannot allow the Thayans to see them in bed with the Netherese, however, so such meetings are kept a close secret.