KULT: Divinity Lost (review)

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Let’s be perfectly clear: KULT: Divinity Lost is not a game for everyone. You need that certain passion for the dark, slightly obscene and forbidden to appreciate it. If KULT was a movie I would put it in the same category as the following:

  • David Cronenberg’s Videodrome
  • Lars von Trier’s Antichrist
  • Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession
  • David Lynch’s Lost Highway
  • Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs
  • Tony Randel’s Hellbound: Hellraiser II
  • Pascal Laugier’s Martys.

If you find these movies revolting or just not your cup of tea then stay away from KULT: Divinity Lost. Trust me, you won’t like it.

But if you are like me this is the game you have been waiting for. Even if it is dark and in some places horrible and grotesque it is at the same time so pure, beautiful and free. For some reason I think about a quote from the character Ash in the movie ALIEN (1979) when I seek the right words to describe KULT:

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Ash: You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? The perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.

Lambert : You admire it.

Ash : I admire its purity. A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality. “

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Okay, first some backstory.

KULT was first released in Sweden in 1991. It caused a huge debate among various conservative and religious groups who where shocked by the brutality, occultism and sexual nature of the game. There were debates in newspapers and on TV. KULT was banned from toy stores (together with all other Role Playing Games) and it made most parents worried. Murders and strange disappearances was said to be connected to the game. The first edition of KULT was translated to various languages and the reactions were similar. In Italy the Pope actually banned the game.

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The cover of the First Swedish Edition of KULT.

I got the first edition as soon it was released. I still own all the Swedish editions as well as every single English edition of the game. So was the first edition of KULT a perfect game?

No, of course not. It had many faults. The focus on combat, the broken horror system, the supernatural powers you got from martial arts, the metaplot of Astaroth planning an Invasion of earth to occupy it and so on. But! For the time it was released as a game it was absolutely new and mind blowing. Remember, this was released before Mage, Vampire and all the other World of Darkness games.

Well, the critique of KULT affected sales and the game company answered by removing a lot of the things that people found shocking. And they replaced it with gore. Some later editions tried to go back to more psychological horror but they instead messed up the gnostic world view and dared not stay close to that razor sharp and uncomfortable edge that was the core of KULT. They strove to be more common, more kind, more normal.

It is if someone would have said to David Lynch: “I really like what you have done with Twin Peaks, but how about take away all the weird stuff and just make it more, you know. Normal. Something for everyone to enjoy.

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The first, second and third edition of KULT.

And this started a sad spiral of decline for KULT as each following edition lost more and more of the core that made the game special. So, when a new edition, KULT: Divinity Lost, was announced I did not have high hopes.

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KULT: Divinity Lost, is it any good?

Oh yes. Holy F**k it is good. It is not just good. It is a masterpiece. And trust me, I seldom use that word. This New Edition of KULT is truly groundbreaking. It has manage to take a horror game from the early 90s and reshaped it into something completely new. I would go as far as to say that KULT: Divinity Lost is the game how it should have been from the very start. The core concepts are there but the writers for this new edition clearly understands the setting and the gnostic subtext and how to find the right rules for these kinds of stories.

KULT: Divinity Lost is a disturbing and intellectual game that challenge the players. And not just that, it is one of those profound books that may very well change how you view the world around you. It is steeped in gnosticism, touches on the problematic aspects of our own reality and asks the reader many hard questions about the nature of yourself and the Shadow inside you.

The piece of coal that was the first edition of KULT has been turned into a diamond. It has shown us its true potential. Finally we have been given a version with the right rules, the right vision and the mature understanding of a complex world worthy the concept.

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The Rules

The rules are borrowed from Apocalypse World (PbtA) but reshaped and balanced to fit the horror setting. It still retain the things that made Kult a classic. The Dark Secrets, The Advantages and Disadvantages. But gone are the abundance of skills, the silly martial arts, the obsessive focus on combat. The rules are fast, simple and perfect for horror. As a player your only real focus in portraying your character which make it ideal for beginners.

The stories are about the players characters. It is about their dark secrets and the horrors that they face when the Illusion starts to crumble. And the whole system reflects this. They creators have understood what KULT is and shaped the rules so that they match what the game is about.

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The Writing

The texts are hauntingly beautiful and often poetic even when they are at their darkest. This game is written with absolute dedication, honesty and seriousness. It is obvious that the two writers, Robin Liljenberg (Book I and II), and Petter Nallo (Book III) have given their everything. It is written with a natural self assurance and almost regal dignity. We are spared writers that tries to be cool and edgy, that makes stupid jokes, or avoid difficult subjects. In fact, the writers manages to create a game that is truly dark and horrible, without making it cheep at all.

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The Layout and Quality

Nothing about this game feels cheap. The art is beautiful, the layout with the added gold feels luxurious and the pages are thick and smooth. The text flows in strange ways since the margins are just chaotic, but is never hard to read. The fonts are strange and if one should believe what is said about them they are taken directly from religious iconography. To succeed with this is a wonder in itself and, Dan Algstrand, who created this layout has given birth to something that I could not describe in other way than unique.

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The Art

The art is very good. A lot of the the artworks portray alien, and still beautiful, creatures and locations. It is haunting, sexual, and horrifying. It has a strong religious atmosphere with poses and halos as if they were some strange religious icons. Still you can see traces of old KULT, they kept the idea of collages in the beginning of chapters for example. The cover is made by Bastien Lecouffe Deharme and is a clear homage to the first English edition of KULT with the angel in bondage. This time it is more of a delicate painting that makes me think of Gustav Klimt. The Creative Director, Petter Nallo, has really dressed KULT: Divinity Lost in a new shroud that still echos the original first edition. I am deeply impressed how well it all fits together in a mad perfection. The only thing I could complain about is that the Archetype stands out a bit from the rest of the art. But, perhaps it is a homage to old KULT where they did that as well.

Just some of the amazing art from KULT: Divinity Lost

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The Negative

I may be fanboyish but there are of course some negative things. As stated earlier, KULT: Divinity Lost is not for everyone. It won’t fit every group so you need to find the right players that dare to expose themselves. This is a horror game that dictates that the players should be invested in building the horror atmosphere.

As a Gamemaster there are many things that you need to keep track of: The world is complex, the scenarios often touches on difficult subject matters and when it comes to the rules you as a Gamemaster have a huge responsibility making the moves, call for rolls and keep all the players stories going towards their crescendo.

KULT: Divinity Lost is nothing I would recommend for a first time Gamemaster. That said, the book gives a lot of advice and support. And if you would do it for the first time play one of the shorter Quick Play Scenarios to get the hang of it.

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Summary

I guess it is obvious that I am in awe of KULT: Divinity Lost. So, if you like horror that are far beyond the mainstream. If you want a game that is mature and intellectually challenging. If you are interested in gnosticism. Well, if you just like a beautiful book and haunting writing worthy the imaginations of Clive Barker, Joe Hill and Neil Gaiman then KULT: Divinity Lost is for you.

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2 thoughts on “KULT: Divinity Lost (review)

    1. I can understand that if you are not a fan of the PbtA rules you might be hesitant. But I would say that the book holds up really well just as a sourcebook. I am a player that grew up with the classic systems but the KULT version of the PbtA ruleset is really well made.

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