The prompt I was given for this was semiurge's prompt. It was "A cult that worships puppets, and at least one of their precious objects". That left a lot up to interpretation, but the first thing I thought when puppets was marionettes, so I've gone for a more theater-like vibe from this. Below is an NPC that leads a cult with stats, a monster and several magical items that all follow the puppeteer theme.
The Puppeteer is a cult leader, and a performer who uses his arts to obtain forbidden magics. He's well aware that the right words spoken at the right time in the right stage will accomplish extremely powerful magic feats, and has invested lots of time, money and sanity into making sure things are perfect for his final performance. His ultimate aim is to use the perfectly crafted puppet body he has created, by binding the soul of his god to it and allowing him to reign free from his prison. In game terms, I'd make the Puppeteer a Wizard or otherwise a Magic-User with a several enchantment spells. Friends, Charm Person and Suggestion are all great spell choices. Necromancy spells are also a good choice.
However on the surface, the Puppeteer is a man of the community, and a popular playwright, who goes by the name of William Chekhov. Chekhov supplements his performances with magical special effects, and his performances always fill the theaters he plays at. Chekhov only writes these non-magical plays to fund the creation of his magnum opus and the venue it is to be performed in- his sole goal is to bring his dark saviour to our world and expand the cult. Chekhov first encountered the entity after losing his arm. The entity replaced his arm with a perfect wooden duplicate, in exchange for his service. Having learned of his patron's true power, Chekhov is completely insane and dedicated to his overlord.
William Chekhov, the Puppeteer
- Armour: None
- Hit Dice: 8th level Wizard
- Hit Points: 19
- Move: Standard
- Damage: 1d4 Dagger and 1d6 wooden fist
- Typical Spells: Magic Missile, Scare, Web, Charm Person, Friends, Suggestion, Ray of Enfeeblement, Darkness, Haste, Barkskin etc
- Wooden Fist: Chekhov fights as a 5HD monster.
- Optional- bard stuff: Chekhov is a performer and playwright by trade. If you have bards in your game, you might want to give Chekhov some bardic abilities or change him from a wizard to a bard.
While Chekhov has many followers, a few individuals that had promise in the cult do not follow his teachings. These unfortunate individuals are ritually sacrificed, and then their bodies twisted and broken, eventually to be re-purposed into undead marionettes that serve the cult. These wretched creatures are occasionally used on stage. When they are, an illusion spell will be used to make their flesh look like wood, and a drama mask will hide their undead features.
Their true nature hidden away from the public eye, Chekhov's Man-Puppets have the following statistics:
- Armour: As leather. They aren't physically tough, but move very fast and with jerky movements that make it difficult to hit them. If they are restrained or paralysed, their AC is considered unarmored in addition to the other bonuses from restraining.
- Hit Dice: 2
- Hit Points: 11
- Move: 1.5x Standard, matching climb speed
- Damage: 1d6 claw
- Undead: These nasty creatures are undead, with whatever rules do or don't apply for that in your game.
- Suspended on cords: Each Man-Puppet is held aloft by four clearly visible, but incorporeal cords. The Man-Puppet can once per day use the Jump spell and then immediately attack as they glide on the cords. During this glide attack, the man-puppet has +1d8 to hit and +1d8 to damage. Roll separately or together, whatever you feel is best. Any magic attack or attack with a silver weapon diverted to these cords can split them. If all of the cords are severed, the Man-Puppet disintegrates.
- Falling: As long as a man-puppet has at least one cord, it doesn't take any fall damage. It floats down almost gracefully on these cords. Almost, because while it descends, it will continue to shake, like a poorly-controlled puppet.
While on the surface most of Chekhov's magic looks perfectly harmless, there are many magic items and treasures he has imbued with power thanks to his patron, some of them are listed below:
- A blank marionette. When a wizard holds this marionette, they can attempt to control a creature within 60ft. That creature gets a save vs magic as normal. On a failed save, the creatures' limbs are all under the control of the person using the marionette, and the likeness of the marionette shifts to resemble the person it is controlling. This lasts for up to 10 minutes, but can be shortened by removing the marionette from the grasp of the person using it. Someone can use these marionettes to break another's limbs- this is what Chekhov does to get information out of captured foes who risk exposing the cult. If the strings on the marionette are severed while it is controlling someone, the item is destroyed, but the shock inflicts 3d6 damage to the unfortunate victim and they spasm uncontrollably for that many rounds.
- Drama masks, each with a face painted on it in a different expression. Each one is created by Chekhov to make the wearer's physical body look like that of a wooden marionette. If you have a spell in your system that could do that job, Chekhov has that spell as well, for when there is a shortage of available masks.
- Mask of Geppetto. When you put this mask on, your skin will gradually change to wood. Once complete, it functions like a permanent Barkskin spell, unless Dispel Magic, Remove Curse or something similar is cast on you. Chekhov's inner circle all wear these masks. However, you also take one additional point of fire damage per die once the transformation is complete.
- The Wooden Body. This marionette is made from living wood carved from a fey tree or some other magical tree in your setting. The wooden body can be used as a substitute for the actual body of someone if a cadaver is required to bring them back to life. If someone is brought into this world through the wooden body, the wood rapidly changes to look like their previous body. This body is identical, except Shock damage you take is reduced by 1 point per die, and Fire damage you take is increased by 1 point per die. Chekhov plans to use this body to bring back his overlord, but the PCs can use it for a different cause. Biologically, the body is basically a clone of the original once the transformation is complete. Someone brought back in the wooden body cannot use a Mask of Geppetto.
- Chekhov's Play, First Draft. This book is incomplete, and assuming the PCs get hold of it, probably won't ever get completed. The book isn't completely useless though. It contains 1d4 spells that Chekhov knows. However, studying this book gives a drawback. While your face doesn't change, people regard it as a creepily accurate mask, rather than an actual face. Nobody's going to figure out what it is that makes them uncomfortable about your face, but there's something there. Charisma checks at disadvantage unless your face is hidden. Remove Curse lifts this curse. The curse is pretty much Uncanny Valley applied to you, except people can't figure out what it is about your face that is wrong.
- Shadow puppets. Anyone who puts one on their hand casts two separate shadows. Each of these shadow puppets summons a shadow monster, that promptly serves the person who used it until either called back or killed. Only one person can use a shadow puppet. The shadows have the following stats: Armour as leather, HD 3, HP 15, Move standard, Attacks 1d6 claw- drains one point of strength on a hit too. Strength is regained 10 minutes later if survived. If the shadow dies, the puppet disintegrates and the character who used it only casts one shadow again. The shadow monsters take half damage from non-magical or un-silvered weapons.
- An enchanted mannequin face that changes when you aren't looking. When this mask is put on your face, it immediately disappears and you can remove your face, revealing blank skin underneath. Despite being featureless, you can see, hear, smell, speak and breathe with no difficulty even when without a face. You can also remove the face of any creature you have killed, and put any face on your blank skin and assume the likeness of that face, the rest of your body changing to match. However, anyone can pull a mask you are wearing off to reveal your blank face underneath. It's probably pretty obvious that the magic used by this mask is not good-aligned magic.
- A light crossbow that once per day lets the user shoot a spectral bolt. If it hits, the target must save vs spell. A failure means that what the target is strung up by spectral cords not unlike the ones that hold up the Man-Puppets. If this happens, they are effectively ensnared by a Web spell or something similar.
- A creepy theater mask. The user can once per day have the illusory properties of the mask make it look like the face of a snarling eldritch horror to one victim within a short range (I'd recommend about 10ft maximum). They must save vs spell or be frightened as if the "Scare" spell has been cast on them.