How often are your players traveling along a road and you roll a minor encounter and have nothing interesting for them on any of the roll tables you have tucked behind your DM screen? How often do you wish for an NPC and a location to populate your map and make it seem lived-in and multifaceted? How often are you left looking for small story hooks and curiosities to drag your players deeper into the fiction of your game?
If you answered, “So often, Possum!” to any or all of those obviously rhetorical questions, you’re in the right place, because this is the place for that. I can’t guarantee this will be remotely helpful to you, but now it exists, so you can use it if you need it.
Roll 1d20 for a roadside cultist (in the small-c sense of the word from pre-Lovecraft times) and 1d20 for a roadside altar, or just pick and choose and mix and match as you please. I’m not the boss.
Cultists You Meet at a Roadside Altar
Marik, who mourns his dead wife in stained robes of red and claims to be on pilgrimage. Secretly, he killed her, and is fleeing the law and his own guilty conscience.
A quartz block, with a crudely carved relief of a dancing woman surrounded by wolves playing flutes and drums. It was smoothed by the weather. All who touch it roll 1d4 and gain 1HP on a 4, once per day.
Allan, who stands muddy and nude and drapes himself with fronds of a weeping willow tree. He prays for a halt to man’s march toward civilization.
A wooden hut containing a reredos of porcelain. A lonely sprig of scented smokewillow burns before it. Time and vandalism have worn the paint off.
Daros, who wears an ascetic’s loincloth and is pocked with burns from the embers of the towering incense cones he shoulders. A deposed aristocrat, he atones for his family’s misdeeds.
A profoundly disconcerting statue of a man bound with ropes. Weeds do not grow near it. All who gaze upon it are fraught with nightmarish visions of their own weaknesses.
Ombrine, who wears peasant clothes and speaks only in religious placations and tautologies. Her faith is resolute and fierce. She quotes scripture that suggests a calamitous war approaches, and she favors adherents to her cause.
A round granite stone rubbed smooth by generations of worshippers. Hundreds of candles are burnt to puddles atop it. All who touch it roll 1d20. On a roll of 20, roll on your favorite beneficial blessings table.
Ilyania, who hums hymns and rocks back and forth with virtually no awareness of her surroundings. She is half-starved and hallucinates her own death approaching; her home is close, guarded by her cruel stepmother.
A sheer sheet of rock with a mural painted upon it depicting the sun warming travelers. A pile of various coins sits, surprisingly untouched, spilling over a clay pot. A calm pervades the area.
Aubrea, who stands over the skinned carcass of a slaughtered goat, bloody-handed. She offers sacrifice for favor in her attempts to seduce a married official of a nearby town.
A beautiful stone structure built around a small waterfall trickling peacefully into an underground lake. All who pray here to any god may roll with a bonus of +1 on their next save of any kind.
Braun, whose loose clothes are speckled with pigments, secretly prays to his god to guide his hand as he tries to paint a local temple dedicated to another god under the vindictive watch of the priest.
A flat slab of stone on which layers of rusty bloodstains mark ages of local beliefs. All who offer blood sacrifice of any kind here roll 1d100; on 98+, gain +1WIS permanently – once only.
Tia, who drinks solemnly from a wooden bowl of liquor and stares purposefully at a dagger laid out before her. She prepares to commit a heinous crime to satisfy her blood debt.
A simple pillar of blue stone with large sigils of a lost language carved into its surface, filled in now with lichen. All who sleep near it see visions of an ancient age.
Orimm, whose vacant expression belies his devotion to his god, preaches loudly about supplication to chaos. His teeth are filed sharp and he smells of coppery human blood.
A black and ominous obelisk of marble, relic of a bygone age. It looms like a threat which must be placated. Animals left near it grow sick; dead birds litter the ground.
Rocard, who sits serenely clad in scarves and robes of many colors. He has bid his traveling mercantile caravan to leave him here as he has found the voice of god.
A towering totem of wood and iron, placed here by the blacksmiths and carpenters of a dead guild. Nailed to it are hundreds of wishes. Nailing your own wish is permitted.
Fausch, whose weathered, diseased body is marked by years of illness, whimpers before the altar and begs incessantly for entrance to heaven as his bloody cough worsens.
A clay urn, ten feet tall and five feet wide, heavier than a cart and horse. It has been chipped away by the faithful looking for talismans to ward off trouble. Such a talisman provides a +1 bonus to a save vs Death, but is consumed in the process.
Kerc, who dresses in the attire of a monk, sits with his eyes closed and meditates. His fists are swollen and bruised as if recently used. He has run away from his monastery after an incident with another adherent.
A large rock cut into an angular face with a high brow and cheekbones. It stands taller than the average person and was carefully sculpted by a stonemason centuries ago. It has several shiny corners worn by the hands of supplicants.
Helennia, who is scarred from a lifetime of battle, kneels before her sword and prays silently. She is a fugitive from justice, accused of war crimes in a distant land and pursued by bounty hunters.
A tree trunk, wider than a house, long ago shattered by lightning. The top was used for dwellings, but the trunk remains, countless names and messages carved into its surface.
Mabel, who hangs heavy, dark cloth in layers over her pale skin. She licks her lips constantly and mutters to herself in a sing-song voice punctuated with wails of loss. She was cast out of the towering manor of a wealthy recluse.
A bone, not unlike a femur but of a colossal scale. Only part of it is exposed, and it bears inscriptions which claim it brings good auspices to the township nearby. It vibrates faintly before storms.
Anna, whose leathery skin implies years of toil and travel beneath the harsh sun, prays beside her tired mule. She has no home or land and travels and works as she pleases.
A jutting teardrop meteorite, ensconced in the stone it pierced eons ago, surrounded by a grassy crater. Strange animals can be seen nearby. Those who spend too long here risk rolling on a mutation table.
Dawn, who is clad in a templemaiden’s flowing gown. She cries silently, and refuses to speak about the bloodstains in the shape of childrens’ hands on her legs.
A huge jade toad on a lilypad. Its origin is unknown, but it is called Grandfather Frog by the locals and considered utterly sacred. No footsteps tread on the tall grass around it.
Margetta, who hides her face behind a featureless clay mask. She murmurs in a trance, gripping the blade of a dagger too tightly in her hands, and responds violently toward any who disturb her vigil.
A carefully-tended column of striking purple marble with a basin of flaming oil sat upon it. Spending the night here, which is always safe from harm, grants +1 on all saves vs Sleep for a full day afterward.
Rana, whose nude form is covered in lashes, shouts remonstrations at the gods for abandoning her. She claims to have been gifted with miracle powers, but left powerless when confronted for witchcraft.
A tabernacle of wood planks and canvas. The rustic fashion is ornamented with russet paint in geometric designs. It exudes a hospitable air.
Paolettia, who is crowned with a tiara of thorny brambles and wears only the fur and hide of coyotes. She seems at a loss while watching others come and go from the altar.
A squat wooden awning over a natural font that slowly burbles out of the ground and pours down a rivulet away from the road. Candles sit here. Drinking from the fountain restores half of all lost HP.
Hernan, who wears a tabard of a noble family. He failed in his commission and seeks a sign of his future from the gods. He can be hired as an NPC man-at-arms with an unshakable resolve if approached by a suitably convincing patron.
A ruined site where the remains of a statue have been ground to dust beneath the boots of thugs. Gore is festooned across the splinters and shards of what still stands.