NPC Hook: The Betrayed Priest

I’ve just finished The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden and it really hit me that there’s a great NPC archetype that doesn’t get enough attention. Warning, looking at this archetype is an unavoidable spoiler!

The priest in TBatN, Father Konstantin, is a very typical vainglorious, priest full of his own glory as a sign of his selection by God. Konstantin is banished to the rural area of the book’s protagonist as a way to diminish his increasing popularity and to remove him from the political scene of Moscow.

This in and of itself isn’t all that unique an archetype, though it often makes for a great antagonist (or irritant). What makes Konstantin great is that he has been visited by God. Well, not really God, but a malevolent spirit from Russian folklore.

This spirit imitates God in the novel and convinces the father to invoke him, giving him some degree of power from a ritualistic perspective. This eventually leads to the spirit tricking the father into doing a number of things that weren’t completely out of character, but that he might not have done without the divine push. I’m trying to be a bit vague for the sake of those who’ve forged ahead regardless of the spoiler warning 🙂

The entire time I read this exchange, I couldn’t help but think that this was a great fit for Cthulhu-mythos stories (or any horror story in general). The idea of the NPC who still thinks they’re serving their original master is great and makes for a very believable character, much more so than the typical cultist. Even better, there are a number of directions you can take a character like this after the reveal. The priest (or other supernaturally-minded authority figure) in your story might immediately repent and turn to help the characters. Maybe they fully embrace the tricker’s viewpoint and turns fully to their side. Perhaps this creates a fervent mistrust in all supernatural creatures, turning the character into some form of hunter of the supernatural.

As a story point, this sort of betrayal makes for a rich story element. And because it impacts a negative NPC, it doesn’t carry the risk of backlash that betrayals in an RPG often carry. Even better, it could turn your antagonist into a sympathetic character that your characters look forward to seeing from game to game!

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