Taroticum by Red Moon Roleplaying!

The best podcast if you want material for KULT: Divinity Lost is without doubt Red Moon Roleplaying. They have now started to play through Taroticum. A really interesting scenario that is featured in the book Taroticum and Other Tales.

Listen to the first episode here:

The second part is here:

I am really looking forward to where this is heading and I really love the atmosphere of the whole show!

The Awakened – a Metaphorical Attempt to Explain Them

Razors Through Flesh proudly presents another guest article by Auburney! He has already explained his thoughts regarding the Archon Yesod and now he is back with an in depth metaphor on how we might think about Awakening and how it means to be Awakened in KULT: Divinity Lost. 

Awakening

The Awakening is one of the central concepts in the Kult mythos. But it is also one of the things that are described in the least detail.

Over and over again, I have read or heard people asking about it, on various forums, social networks, and in real life. And admittedly, it is a hard to grasp concept.

What does a character actually have to do to become Awakened?

What are the Awakened like? What can they do?

What does it feel like to be Awakened?

And, last but not least, Will there be rules for playing them as PCs in the game?

These are all good and entirely valid questions – and I myself have also spent a lot of time thinking about them…

Okay, so the Awakened have shed the bonds of the Illusions and can see the Truth. Good for them, I guess… But how can we imagine that?

Okay, so Time is meaningless to them, because they see it for the Lie it is…

Space is under their complete command, because they wander across and between it at their every whim…

Death to them is a non-occurrence, or at most a passing diversion perhaps…

Dreams, Madness, and Passions do no longer scare them, because they see through these things, and realize they are no longer greater than themselves, and it’s all just a game to them…

So, we are effectively talking about teleporting, time-travelling, immortal wishmasters, here.

And then, while thinking about this, it hit me:

It’s all just a game to them.

Like… a roleplaying game.

So yeah, Kult is a roleplaying game, obviously. But that’s not what I’m getting at. I’m thinking about RPGs in general. This is the epiphany that I had:

An Awakened Person would be as far above and beyond a Sleeper, as a player in an RPG is above and beyond their character – as much more complex and insightful and powerful and complete, as you yourself are compared to any given PC you’ve ever played in an RPG.

And I realized that, in the light of that:

Of course sex, gender, ethnicity, class etc. are meaningless and interchangeable Illusions to them, and can vary freely between incarnations – because don’t we ourselves choose all of those things for our PCs at a mere whim, sometimes sticking with the same things we chose last time, sometimes going for something completely different this time around?

Of course they can hop back and forth through Time and Space as they wish, and even visit other worlds just by wishing themselves there – just like we sometimes have these discussions like:

“So guys, what would you like to do for our next game, then?”

“Ooh, can we be, like, occult investigators in Chicago in the 1930ies?!”

“Early 20th Century is fine with me, but I’d like to do something Asia-based actually, perhaps exploring the jungles of India?”

“I was hoping we could maybe do this Ancient Rome family drama thing already that we’ve been talking about for ages!”

“I don’t know, I just really wanna play some Mechwarrior… anyone up for that!?”

I imagine it would be something like that when a group of Awakened Souls choose their next incarnations in the Illusion.

Also, regarding Time:

At many, if not most, RPG tables out there, in-game time is frequently messed with during the game sessions themselves. Events, and the order of events, are getting invented, retconned, abolished, changed around.

“Boring” passages of time (train rides, waiting at the dentist, going to school/work) are regularly skipped entirely, in order to “get to the good parts” that much sooner. Flashback scenes may be played, and past events and experiences of characters get discussed (and, in doing so, invented on the spot).

Even entire scenes may be re-played, if a group decides they’re unhappy with them and wanna give them a do-over.

Space is highly relative in RPGs, as well:

It’s very often a case of the GM handwaving things in the style of “yeah, yeah… you can get there in time for that, no problem…” if it’s not a particularly gripping issue. Oftentimes, when spatial distances and relations do matter in RPGs, it’s because of dramatic reasons much more than for considerations of real geography or actual city layouts.

(Although you could, in theory, of course use Google Maps or some other such app to determine actual distances and travelling times when playing, say, a New York City based campaign – but I have yet to hear of the GM who actually does this. It seems “The Awakened” mostly just don’t really care enough about those details – it’s just us “Sleepers” who are subjects to the strict laws that govern those. )

So, we as roleplayers (and especially as GMs) do regularly bend, break, and twist the rules of Time and Space freely enough indeed.

But also Death (the death of our characters, that is) holds little to no fear factor to us.

After all, we’ll just quickly write up a new character, and jump right back into the game if we want to. Or maybe we take a little break from it, go back to read the rulebook some more, figure out what we wanna play next. Or we find some other game to play, because this one’s really not all that fun after all…?

Some players keep making the (virtually) same characters over and over again. I believe everybody knows that guy or girl who always wants to be a dwarven cleric, say, or has to play an orc street-samurai, every time… right?

Other players vary it up more, pride themselves on being “able to play anything”, or are at least curious to try out different character classes, archetypes, clans, or what have you in any given game they join.

And both are perfectly fine – they are just style choices to us, after all!

It is the same with Dreams, Madness, and Passions: They don’t scare us, as concerning our characters having them. On the contrary, they are highly entertaining in fact!

Nightmare creatures that pursue me back into the waking world? Unsettling visions of hidden Truths glimpsed in my sleep / amidst the throes of my mental and emotional distress? An insane longing or depraved fixation on desires not approved as wholesome by my social and cultural environment? Yes please!

All of those sound like intriguing and entertaining angles when I’m contemplating them for use in a character concept! 

This is how it must feel like to be Awakened.

And that is also why I couldn’t see it making any sense to have rules to cover them in the game.

They transcend the limits of their own illusory reality, which means they would transcend the game.

And that is intrinsically impossible to represent with the rules of the game.

I mean, how on earth would you model a character 1.) becoming aware of itself being a mere character, 2.) that character slowly ascending to become a player in their own right, and 3.) attain full, Awakened, agency – such as possibly wandering off to do whatever… (like, perhaps find its own group of players to GM its own kinds of games for) ?

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Afterthought:

Now, playing in a roleplaying game is in one fundamental way different from imprisonment in the Illusion in Kult, in that is is a voluntary activity, of course. This is where this metaphor is weak, I realize. But just imagine it like this for a minute, if you will:

Canon Lore doesn’t specify exactly how the Demiurge got Mankind to be trapped in the Illusion – but sometimes hints at the possibility that we may have been tricked by Him. If this is indeed what happened, it just may have gone something like this:

Demiurgos, who was known far and wide amongst His Divine Peers as one of the Greatest Game Makers of all Time and Space, had announced His newest Game not too long ago, and Humans interested in participating were already flocking to the Azghouls in charge of registrations for it in huge numbers.

Nobody knew as of yet what the new Game would entail, or even what it would be about, but an incredible hype was already starting to build around it. His last couple of Games had all been huge successes, providing welcome distractions, thrills, and entertainments for the jaded and bored divine crowd that attended them.

When Demiurgos released his next announcement via his dutiful messenger-servants, the hype attained an even greater momentum – for it was revealed that this time, everyone could participate, no limit on the number of players. In fact, the more the merrier. Or so went the promise which the messengers conveyed, anyways.

This may have been a carefully calculated move by Demiurgos, who may have known full well that, through a combination of the sheer jaded curiosity, peer pressure and universal boredom, which were all so widespread amongst His peers, everybody would indeed ultimately sign up for the Game…

and so it came to pass.

It was to be a Game in which people assumed fictional roles in an artificially constructed world. This was not new to many of his Players, as his previous Games had entailed similar concepts before.

It was also a Game in which the players would have to struggle with powerlessness, imperfect knowledge, and where, ultimately, the entire game world posed a huge riddle for them to be solved, in order to win the Game.

His Players thought this was a most exciting concept! They eagerly agreed to all of His terms… even the ones that included a temporary erasure of their own memories and knowledge. For of course, such measures were simply recognized to be necessary for the “immersive” experience that the jaded, bored Gods had been carefully led to crave so much.

And then, something went terribly wrong…

Or perhaps, it went exactly according to plan…?

In this thought experiment, we may imagine the Demiurge as the GM of the Greatest LARP of All Time… a combination of an “Escape the Room” premis, an aim for perfect immersion by imposing temporary amnesia upon all participating players, and an emphasis on playful submission to powerlessness (not unlike it can be found in (responsible) BDSM for example, or actual Escape the Room games – or even Tabletop Roleplaying Games, in fact).

Perhaps eventually, when we ultimately all manage to Awaken, we will all get together at some great feast, or wild orgy, or both… and share a big laugh about it all in hindsight?

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Interview with the Creators of KULT: Divinity Lost team!

It is a great honor to present an interview with the core creators of KULT: Divinity Lost. Robin Liljenberg and Petter Nallo The questions are by me primarily but I have had contributions from Sebastian Ste, Carlos Torrealba Cavo and Míchel González.

So let us begin!

Robin Liljenberg

Petter Nallo

Can you describe how the project moved from the fan hack Illusionens Fångar (Prisoners of the Illusion) to KULT: Divinity Lost?

Robin: Well, the reason for the transformation of my original Apocalypse World hack into the game we have today have been Marco Behrmann and Petter Nallo motivating and assisting me. I can remember that Marco wanted to create a full fledged tabletop RPG after some play sessions. I was a little bit sceptical in the beginning but got more convinced after listening to them. After that is was just a question of writing down all my thoughts on paper and letting Marco, Petter and other roleplayers playtest and provide critique. KULT: Divinity Losts rulesystem today is the result of thousands of hours of playtesting. My own view on my work was that everything that didn’t contribute to the experience in some way should be thrown out. The only things left is rules to enhance the stories you play.

Petter: Illusionens Fångar was a fun thing to be involved in. At that time it was only a fan hack of Apocalypse World that Robin developed further and further. I was really into doing some dark art in photoshop so that was mainly my contribution. It felt really indie, like doing a fanzine or something like that. But the result really became outstanding and Robin spent so much time playtesting and working on the Archetypes and the Rules. In the end me and Marco felt that we should take it to the next level. So we met with the owners of the Kult license and show them what we had done. And they were impressed and we got a deal through quite quickly.

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Robin, as I understand it you were the one that started the KULT project and decided to change the rules to the Powered By the Apocalypse ruleset. What was the main reasons that you decided to use this system instead of the old ones?

Robin: When I decided to play KULT with powered by the Apocalypse I had played Apocalypse World for a while and really liked the feeling of freedom as a gamemaster. I remember there was these two playbooks called The Hoarder and The Operator which had player moves that you rolled for in the beginning of the play session. Depending on the result of your roll things went smooth or shit happened for you. I was thinking that these kind of mechanics could be a cool way of simulating disadvantages in KULT and started to make the disadvantages in the first Swedish version of KULT into moves. For the first story I used the rules for Apocalypse World with some additional advantages and disadvantages and gave the players freedom to create their own archetypes. The result was mindblowing and after that it felt wrong to not going forward with the idea. Those first archetypes was actually the first seeds for what later should evolve into the archetypes The Prophet, The Fixer and The Careerist.

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What was the hardest part when it came to adopting the Kult setting to 2018?

Robin: The most important thing for me was to renew the setting without losing touch with what made it cool in 1991. We were able to cut out the things that is cheesy with today’s standards and add elements from fiction that have been created since then. After reading every forum thread on old KULT I could find online I was convinced that we needed to put more effort in explaining the different dimensions and what could happen if a player character stumbled into them. I wanted KULT: Divinity Lost to provide world chapters that gave you some kind of reasoning for each of the dimensions in the complex universe of KULT. I think Petters ability to read the old texts and then build on them really have made these chapters great. I also like the idea of letting KULTs twisted universe explain things happening today. One vision I had on an early stage was of the sleepers and how the humanity in some sense had dulled themself by using the Internet, TV and constant flow of entertainment today. In old KULT people were forced to un-see the cracks in Reality. In KULT: Divinity Lost they miss it because they are staring into their smartphones with music playing in their earplugs. Now it is only the ones that have a reason to stare out in the darkness that will notice something.

Petter: I don’t think it was that hard when it came to the setting itself. I know that Michael and Gunilla (the writers of the first edition of KULT) use to say that KULT is very much stuck in the 90s: Sisters of Mercy, Leather coats, UZI submachine guns, the whole goth style. And that it is important that the players have an basic understanding in Christianity since the game sort of deals with the Death of God.

But I feel that KULT transcends all that. Sure the first edition of KULT was released in 91 and was a child of its time but that isn’t what KULT is for me. It is the whole gnostic backdrop that is KULT.  You can take KULT and place it in another time and another place of the world and it still works.

So the biggest thing was to actually use the Gnostic world building and tie it into the setting. Creating the principles, tying them to the illusion. Sort of make a logical machinery of it all where the Archons and the Death Angels have true influence over Elysium and us that live there.

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Can you describe your collaboration with Michael and Gunilla, the writers of the first edition of KULT?

Robin: Rulewise they haven’t been involved at all, but I haved played with them to show my vision of how KULT could be played with the new rule mechanics and we had a great time together. For me it was important to show how KULT: Divinity Lost differs from the original in term of storytelling focus, narrative mechanics and player influence. When people experienced that for the first time and see how well it works compared to older more traditional systems it’s usually a mind blowing experience.

Petter: First they were a bit cautious.It was a little bit of “What are you going to do with our baby” but they soon became very positive. I sent them the mythos chapters one by one to Michael and Gunilla and got their feedback. But mostly it was just “Great”, “Go on”, “Better than we could have imagined” and other really positive comments. So it was a very smooth collaboration. The only chapter where I had more direct input was Beyond the Dream which I never got to work. And they had some nice ideas there and I think it is one of the best chapters in the book.

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What are your own favorite campaign/scenario moments when playing KULT: Divinity Lost.

Robin: I have played it so much over the years that the different stories intertwine in my memories. Most of my campaigns have been created with the players with the method I describe in the Setting up a story chapter in KULT: Divinity Lost which means I have no preparations at all before we create the player characters. Together with the players a setting is chosen and then we base the story on the player characters, their dark secrets and disadvantages. The first story we ever created have a special place for me. It evolved around three adults that have known each other as kids, but were separated by a terrible event in an old house ten years ago. When the scenario started the characters past catch up to them and they had to get together and confront those events. I would say it got both emotional and scary and there was some memorable moments when things just worked out perfectly. Especially a scene where one of the player character’s girlfriend had been posessed by the purgatide of a friend lost in the event from the past, who had harassed them with threats and calls. Two player characters saw through the Illusion and experienced the threat as the purgatide while the boyfriend saw that it was his own girlfriend. She were threatening to cut of one of her fingers with a wire cutter and the boyfriend begged for the purgatide to not hurt her. It ended with the two other characters shooting down the possessed girl (which they thought to be a crazy killer) and the boyfriend watched in horror as his girlfriends spirit were dragged screaming into hell.

Petter: There are many memorable moments. Especially during the development of Illusionens Fångar and then KULT: Divinity Lost when we tried the rules and explored different parts of the setting. And it has been a joy playtesting the game with new people that know nothing of KULT or haven’t played an RPG before just to see their reactions.

But for myself as a player I would say that everything that Robin has led has been of extremely high quality. Robin is such a good game master that in his hands almost everything becomes intense and very personal. If I should name one that I still think back on it is The House of Masques. It was set in London in 1897. The KULT mythos went full on victorian gothic. Robin was the gamemaster and I know we experimented a lot with getting the Dark Secrets to work and really drive the story.

maskernas_hus___house_of_masques_by_infernallo_d513ox0-fullviewThe Player characters from the KULT: Divinity Lost campaign the The House of Masques illustrated by Petter Nallo.

Petter, in the book you are credited for additional Game Design. Is there any particular parts you have been involved in?

Petter: Robin was the one that almost all of the game design. He really knew what he wanted with the game. I think I was the one that always pushed it further and further away from the Apocalypse World rules so it was always a struggle back and forth how far and different (or perhaps closer towards trad-rpg) we should take it while Marco and Robin were more classic PbtA. Mostly because I wanted to weave the system really, really close to the setting. Some of the things I am guilty of are:

That there are Ten Attributes and they are shaped like a Sephiroth. I always felt that 5 attributes (the normal amount in PbtA) was to few. And I also wanted them tied to Archon/Death Angel pair. So that Kether/Thaumiel is Willpower, Tiphareth/Togarini is Perception, Netzach/Hareb-Serap is Violence and so on. It just felt so right for KULT: Divinity Lost that the higher powers even exist on the character sheet.

The Dramatic Hooks was something I had developed for the RPG Eon. So I just brought them to KULT. I feel it work very well to create drama and gives incentives to push characters in new directions.

I worked quite a bit on the Opponents and how they should be described. The Attributes: Combat, Influence and Magic and unique moves tied to them was designed because I wanted a Game master to easily be able to measure different opponents against each other. Robin did almost all of the writing and polished that design.  

The system for Relationships where you have Neutral, Meaningful and Vital relations and those are your main source of regaining stability was largely inspired by a similar system in the RPG Noir that me and Marco worked on. It replaced a more traditional HX system. Also I think it works very well in KULT since you become much more vulnerable as a character when you need to have individuals that you care about.

I also worked and slimmed down the Endure Injury move from a quite bulky start. And I added some results for when you reach 0 Stability you actually might gain some insights in the world, change archetype or undergo some change . To go mad in KULT should not be just a bad thing. There are truths to be learned.

Also worth noting is that Marco Berhmann was involved in the design as well. And he is very scrutinous and finds unbalances like none other.

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Most Role Playing Games, especially those in the horror genre, tend to have a section in the beginning of the book that says “This is just a game”. KULT: Divinity Lost lacks this all together, was this a conscious decision?

Petter: Yes.

Robin: Well it is a game!

KULT: Divinity Lost is a visually stunning game with the art and layout. Did you draw from any certain inspiration when developing the style of the game?

Petter: I wanted the game to have a religious atmosphere. My reference to our Graphic Designer Dan Algstrand (who did the amazing layout) was that it should look like a mix of an old ortodox book with religious icons and something dark and quite vulgar (which i will not name).

The biggest change when it came to earlier editions of KULT was that I wanted to show the creatures. I was inspired with the first Hellraiser Movie and an interview with Clive Barker where he was very specific that he wanted to show the demons (the cenobites) full on. So, I felt that it was what I wanted to do as well. And the creatures themselves got a religious tone often using poses and hand gestures and of course halos behind their heads that you find on religious icons. And when I showed the creatures I also wanted to show the worlds. So that one could get a hint of how Metropolis would look. There was always a desire to weave in symbolism in the artworks. Leave subtle hints. Small mysteries for the reader to find.

In the end I would say it Dan and our Artists that made the books so great. Especially Bastien Lecouffe-Deharme for the beautiful cover artworks. But Marcin Tomalak, Daniel Comerci, Kamil Mickiewicz, Ander Plana and Alfred Khamidullin provided interior art that people seem to really love.

kult__divinity_lost_layout_concepts_by_infernallo_dcrr265-fullviewLayout concepts made by Petter Nallo in the beginning of the KULT: Divinity Lost project to be used by Dan Algstrand as a template for the layout and style of the book. 

There are a lot of Archetypes in the core rules. You find the ones from the original KULT but there are also many others. What where the thoughts behind these new archetypes?

Robin: In the beginning there were only ten archetypes inspired by the on the ones from the first KULT. We playtested and revised those archetypes for years. I had only added The Deceiver, The Ronin and The Academic and was thinking that we could use them for future supplements. When the kickstarter reached its end Petter and Marco was thinking up new pledge goals they asked me if they could add some more archetypes. I said, “Hell, no! It takes forever to design and make the archetypes balanced.” But Marco said that we never would reach those goals anyway so I didn’t need to worry. All of the archetypes was of course unlocked so I had to spend a Summer to create those new ones based on Marco and Petters texts on the kickstarter page. In hindsight I think I managed to add weird concepts and story seeds that weren’t there before. The Doll is all about abuse but also how attraction can corrupt people. The Condemned added concepts of desperation. The Drifter is the perfect choice for road trip stories. The Descendant added the weight of blood lineage and were a twist on the classical monster hunter and dilettante. I tried to make The Occultist into a messed up person guilt stricken by his past dabbling with the occult or at least on the edge of disaster. It was important to make concepts that inspire drama and give the players and gamemaster ideas for stories. Lastly we added the Enligthened archetypes which were supposed to be in a future book. I think you should wait playing those until we have given more guidelines, and instead use them as inspiration for non-player characters in your stories.

Petter: As Robin says me and Marco went a little bit overboard in the goals in the kickstarter when it came to new archetypes. But I still think they came out really well and interesting. I have always liked the archetype the Avenger in KULT since it is not a profession or calling but something that drives you. I think that the new archetypes followed in the same vein and they are very memorable and different. Robin truly did do a great job with the seeds we gave him.   

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In the previous editions of KULT, many lictors are involved in a conspiracy against their masters. When they died, their memories were erased in order to not “sell” their allies. In KDL this isn’t true. Why the change?

Petter: I never felt that it brought that much to the table. The Lictors are the primary tools of the Archons and if you remove them from the game board the Death Angels and their servants becomes a bit overwhelming. I see Lictors to be more individualistic after the fall. The Archons are there yes. But the Lictors are the ones that are the primary force in Elysium and sure, some of them may allie themselves with a Death Angel. But others will rather define more to themselves how things should be run.

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Now that KULT: Divinity Lost is soon released in stores everywhere what kind of books can we expect in the future? Will you for example create a book about magic?

Robin: I will provide a book or several books with rules for playing Enligthened stories where the player characters explore more of the other dimensions and secrets of the KULT universe. Magic will be a crucial part of that. The Death Magician already provide rules for Death magic and I will create similar rules for the other schools.

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A big thanks to Robin and Petter for partaking in this interview! 

Dare to be Unpleasant

Dare to Be Unpleasant

In chapter 5 of the core rules of KULT: Divinity Lost we learn about the Horror Contract. And in this excellent (and quite unique) guide in how to portray Horror we get the following advice: Dare to be Unpleasant. Take things in different directions and further than the RPG norm when it comes to horror.

So how do you do that?

How are you Unpleasant in an interesting way?

I find that the loss of control is a very efficient way of creating tense and memorable situations. There is an example in the core rules when a Lictor uses its commanding voice on a Player Character and makes him/her lift up an infant child. And the description of how warm and soft the skin is, how it chuckles and laugh is in stark contrast to the fact that it is carried towards the oven.

Just reading that gave me chills. The good kind. What would you not promise, what would you not swear to do to let the Lictor let go of its mental grasp.

But I think there is a key learning in this. Making the players observe disturbing things is one thing. Making their characters partake in it. That takes it to a whole new level.

Why let a player watch a cannibal act if you can force the player to eat the raw, steaming meat!

So dare to involve the players. And make them partake in the gritty scenes!

The Island of the Dead from Red Moon Roleplaying

Red Moon Roleplaying has again created something really nice. The first session of the mini campaign Island of the Dead. The adventure is written by Robin Liljenberg who is also the Gamemaster in this scenario.  The scenario is from the book “Taroticum and Other Tales”. You can get your own copy of that book, The Black Madonna, the Core Rules and many more in Helmgast’s shop right here: https://webshop.helmgast.se/en/kult/

I have written a review of the scenario here: https://kultrpg428229752.wordpress.com/2018/09/28/the-island-of-the-dead-scenario-review/

The Moral Panic of the 1990s

In the early 90s the Satanic Panic reached Sweden. It was not just a fear of satanism and occult practices it was a general panic about RPGs and that they caused a moral degeneration of the youth. Not only that, it made them dangerous.

Some of the newspaper articles from that time. Many of them of course mentioning KULT. 

When KULT was released in 1991 it was like if Antichrist himself had been summoned into the middle of the comfortable Swedish society. Conservative and religious groups pulled out every argument they had to stop this age of degeneration.

KULT and Role Playing Games in general were said inspire demonology, witchcraft, voodoo, murder, rape, blasphemy, suicide, assassination, insanity, sex perversion, homosexuality, prostitution, satanic type rituals, gambling, barbarism, cannibalism, sadism, desecration, demon summoning, necromantics, divination and much, much more.

A book was published called The Army of the Abandoned (De Övergivnas Arme) where two “experts” on the subject gave their view on the dangers of Role Playing Games. Their biggest warning was not only was the youth culture morally dangerous, there was also a big risk that it turned into a violent, militant, political movement. The evidence for this was the many rules regarding combat and weaponry in the books. It could only mean that they were secretly training for a military coup.

Yes you read it right. A whole army of role players would look at the weapon charts in Kult, read the rules for armed combat and explosives and then forge plans to take control over Sweden. Yeah… right. Let’s be honest. The ones I played with at least was not the most physical types back then.

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The Army of the Abandoned (De Övergivnas Arme) a book about RPGs written without any facts or rhyme or reason explaining how dangerous RPGs were to society. 

Livets Ord, literally Word of Life, a christian megachurch in Uppsala (it may be viewed as a Swedish expression similar to Pentecostal elements in American Christianity), did see it as their mission to rid Sweden of RPGs and save the youth and get some nice PR at the same time since they were newly founded. They claimed that role playing games leads to satanism, sacrificial rites and suicide. A clear warning sign of this was if your teenage child was wearing dark clothes, had an interest in metal music, did not have an interest in Christianity, behaved disrespectful towards the parents, or just felt that he or she could not understand them.

Again, this sounds like pretty much every friend I had at that time. Yes, we were goth and we were angsty.

Ulf Ekman

Ulf Ekman, founder of The Word of Life (Livets Ord) and crusader against Role Playing Games and everything not strict christian. 

If that was not enough there was a murder in the small town of Bjuv in 1994 that was immediately tied to KULT by the media. The one that was murdered had played KULT with the two brothers that murdered him and it became a big scandal. The police that investigated the whole thing did not find any evidence that KULT had anything to do with the murder. But that was of course ignored. If you understand Swedish there is a very good radio documentary that goes into the detail of the whole affair of the Bjuv killing.

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Headlines in the aftermath of the Bjuv Killing.

Everything just piled up and soon stores that sold the games where forced to remove all role playing games. You could only get them via mail order or from special gaming stores that only existed in the big cities. Also, the adults that read the newspapers were worried and many young people had the games removed from them and they had to play them in secret.

Kult became legendary in all this. It was so dark, so despised and so hated that it was this really special atmosphere to play the game. It felt adult, serious and almost forbidden. All the collective disgust and worry from the adult world had infused the game with a strange sort of power.

Of course, on a deeper level that we did not understand back then, the gnostic and occult nature of KULT was a thorn in the side of Christianity. Through history they have tried to wipe out everyone that tried to gain insight in those religious teachings. Now it appeared again like a ghost from the past but not as a religious sect but as a game aimed at rebellious and searching teens. Perhaps this was their worry. That the old gnostic teachings would flare up again?

In hindsight, the critics were of course wrong. A  militant coup orchestrated by role players never took place. They did not became violent outcasts in society. In fact, many role players became extremely creative and now have influential positions in the society with normal family lives.

So, it was a trial by fire where sadly the RPGs lost the battle but they won the War and is now stronger than ever.

KULT Rollspelet

The three books that made up the first edition of KULT. The Lie, The Madness, The Truth. If you ever doubt that words have power. Here you have the evidence that a Role Playing Game can influence a large part of a society to think that the words written within will destroy a whole generation and society as we know it.  

Thoughts about the White Wolf affair

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This blog is of course dedicated to KULT: Divinity Lost but I have been a long time World of Darkness fan. Vampire the Masquerade, Mage the Ascension and Wraith the Oblivion are games that I’ve played for hundreds of hours and I have been on countless Vampire LARPs in the late 90s.

The recent situation regarding the fifth edition of Vampire the Masquerade and the controversies surrounding White Wolf have made me feel frustrated and sad. If you have missed it you can read up on it here.

White Wolf, since it was reformed, have had a strained relationship with a certain grouping within its fan base. This has led to several flame wars regarding the direction the new edition of Vampire the Masquerade took. The things that White Wolf did that caused the most controversy were:

  • They hired a writer for a side product (a mobile game). This writer is said to have behaved badly online. This may or may not be true, but this writer is no longer involved with White Wolf.
  • They have said they will use real world politics and drama as a backdrop for The World of Darkness. They will touch on difficult subjects such as abuse, genocide, terrorist attacks weaved into the supernatural plots of the setting.
  • They released a scenario where you could play a vampire who liked to fed on young people. This turned out to a full blown “White Wolf endorses pedophilia”.
  • They said that you could play a person with right-wing (yes even racist) views in their contemporary horror game.
  • They had a dice combination in one of the example texts and that could be a code to the right wing movement that they were invited to play the game.

Some of these accusations goes full blown conspiracy theory: White Wolf placing Right Wing messages in code in their games, that they endorse pedophilia by having one character in one scenario that feeds on young people. Really? Does it not feel a little bit far fetched? And sure, it is not good to hire writers that may or may not have an abusive history online but that writer was let go. But these issues, however trivial they may seem, were the first steps that led to the fact that White Wolf now has been disassembled as a company.

Looking at this from the outside it is almost like a farce. But the thing is it isn’t funny. It is sickly and infested. Sure, White Wolf may not have have been as skillful in communication as you could have desired but the hatred and the anger that came from this baffled me.

It is clear that White Wolf has a very divided fan base. And that they have a hard time to cater to both of these sides. One part of the fan base wants the game to be really dark and gritty, the other wants it to be dark – but not to dark. And that things they find offensive is excluded from the game.

Now, there has been quite a lot of voices from those that wants a dark World of Darkness that explore real life horrors over that White Wolf have bowed down to the criticism. There are endless threads and forum posts with anger and pie throwing between these groups.

Most fans, such as myself, have mostly been silent not wanted to get involved because of all of the vitriol and hate flying around.

White Wolf went out and apologized. They promise that the fans would be involved in the creative process, that they did not make a game for nazis, that they would strive to be caring and inclusive. So for a while it calmed down. Vampire 5th edition was released according to plan.

And then Chechnya happened.

The thing is, there has been this really unpleasant atmosphere on the online forums. I have just got the feeling that the fan base that was upset were just waiting and deep inside hoping that White Wolf would botch. They have looked for something to prove them right.

And then White Wolf, released two books detailing the Camarilla and the Anarchs and in these books there was a text that claims that the ethnic cleansing of homosexual in Chechnya is part of a vampiric plot. Was it the most sensitive thing to do? Perhaps not. It was handled a bit clumsily but the spark was enough to set of an explosion. Now the mob have spoken (or rather shouted) and the mob has won.

Paradox (the company that owns White Wolf) have reported that they have fired the creative lead of White Wolf and that the company is swallowed up by Paradox. They will work with licensing from now on. And the sad things are that you can see the quotes online now from the fans that pulled down the mighty wolf: “We Won! We beat them, Finally! Hurray.” It is almost euphoric and surreal how high they seem to be on their victory.

How did it end up this badly? How did a gaming company become completely ripped apart by a group of their own fans? Well here are my thoughts.

Two Audiences 

White Wolfs audience is clearly divided in two loud groups.

1. Those that want it dark and edgy. No holds barred. Abuse, murder, genocide, abuse, terrorism. Ancient vampires ruling ISIS from the shadows and our real world blended with The World of Darkness.

2. Those that wants a dark horror game but that certain subjects and real world events are sacred and should not be part of a horror game. They want to protect those that have been part of situations like abuse, or belong to ethnic groups that have been subject to racism to feel safe when reading the books. Also, they want the vampire game to be aimed at liberal and leftist views. And be non attractive to right-wingers.

White Wolf would have needed to which of these audience they made the game for and been very clear with that. And then made a game for that audience. And hold out to the end and fight for the vision.

Politics and old grudges

I am sure there are something else that lies beneath it all. The controversies would not at all has been bad and big if there weren’t hidden interests and old conflicts. Probably it has to do with the division between Onyx Path (that made Vampire Requiem) and White Wolf and influencers on both side that battled over the brand: World of Darkness. There are clearly something infected there, when the documentary about Vampire and the World of Darkness was released Onyx Path was not even mentioned. And right now fans are fighting about which edition of Vampire is the best. Requiem and V5 that exists simultaneously (something that is confusing for new Vampire players).

V5 was not as good as it needed to be

Had Vampire 5th Edition been a truly great game it could have solidified the new vision of World of Darkness and made the majority of the Vampire fans hyped. They could then win over the majority that would have stepped up and defended the new direction because it was so awesome. They would have supported White Wolf as fans do when conflicts flared up. But, sadly, V5 was quite a mess both when it came to content, vision and artwork. It did not help strengthen the belief in White Wolf but instead gave ammunition to the critical crown.

White Wolf have painted themselves into a corner with apologies

When the accusations became to many and the rage became to intense online the white wolf lay down on its back and reveled its throat in a sign of submission. They have said sorry again and again in press releases and live streams: “We were insensitive, we did wrong, forgive us, we will do better”.

Of course it is noble to apologize if you feel you have done something wrong but what they did was to put their creative power in the hands of the fans. This is not a situation you want to be in as a developer where you let the fans dictate the products you make.

To me it became uncomfortable and almost Kafka like. White Wolf were expected to answer to made up arguments. Swear that they are not making a games for nazis and pedophiles. They had been so tainted by the accusations that were thrown against them that they had to apologize to things that bordered on the surreal.

Owned by Paradox

The computer game company Paradox owns White Wolf and it was clear that it was them in the end that fired the creative leads of White Wolf and assumed control over the company. Had not White Wolf been a part of this company they could probably more boldly created the game they wished to create and without any pressure from “the top”.

So what are my thoughts?

This is a sad situation. I am one of those players that like when a game is allowed to be really dark, and that if you play a modern horror game you should intertwine the politics of the day with it – in fact I would even claim that is something that makes it interesting. And then on the gaming table you talk with your group and decide in what is okay and what is not okay. But hey, that is just me. But I have a need for the dark. I find it alluring, beautiful and I want to touch the forbidden and ghastly with my thoughts. And when a mob use harassment and scare tactic I am never in favor of that.

And I am actually worried about the mob mentality that gathers online and what it will mean for future creativity. Players that like it “Dark” are categorized as unemphatic right-wingers that are disturbed or just stupid or edgy and there is a truly oppressive atmosphere. It is almost a religious fervor in their behavior like they are fighting for some higher good. If you not accept their definitions of what is okay and what is not okay you are the enemy.

I am myself quite disappointed in V5 and don’t see myself playing this edition. But that comes from the general direction of the game and the style of the book. But to me the controversy is not the game itself it is everything surrounding the game and a fan rage that borders on the extremes. And the insane conspiracy theories, the total lack of being able to judge the game as a whole but to pick out snippets and point at those to prove their points.

As a final note. I of course think that people on both sides of the fan base should behave. There are probably many horrible stories of the “edgy” players that have threatened someone or used harsh words. But these one did not dismantle the evil that was White Wolf.

 

Death is Only The Beginning, a Review

Death is only the beginning

Berlin in the summer of 2017 is a city where reality is starting to fall apart. The old capital of the Prince-Electors is the border between the world we know and the world we have chosen to forget. In abandoned buildings covered by graffiti, doors are opening into the metropolis left behind by humanity. Beneath the villas at Wannsee, a black citadel appears. An old hospital built by angels holds secrets from the time when artists tore down walls and defied authority. A Swedish sculptor comes here, searching for inspiration. Instead, she finds the path to Inferno.

This is my review of Death is Only the Beginning. Written by the authors of the first edition of KULT, Gunilla Jonsson and Michael Petersen. Worth noting that I read this book in Swedish. It is planned to be published in English in a close future.

The book is set in Berlin in our present day. And we get dragged into an intrigue that is very close to the classic movie Hellraiser where a person escapes Inferno and takes the form of relative to escape his pursuers. It revolves in the art scene and combines magic, brutality and sex in ways that feels a lot like old KULT.

There are some truly wondrous scenes that still stick in my mind. A Torture Scene in Inferno where a piece of brain is scoped out and memories stolen. A Lictor that works in the police force and actually has an interesting and melancholic personality (and seems sympathetic to the main character Amanda) and a sex scene with a half demon that has the right amount if grit in it.

For every KULT fans there is much to enjoy. And if you have read or played the Black Madonna you can sort of feel that atmosphere echo through the book.

There are some negative things that somewhat lessens the experience. There are far to many characters so you can’t really keep track off and/or care about them. The story is a bit slow and hard to get into but what I find most problematic is that there is no sense of wonder in things that should be wondrous and mind boggling. When the main character is led into Metropolis it is just written in a way that it kills all mood and realism.  “This is another dimension, we used this ancient city that once were the home of mankind to smuggle refuges from east Berlin when the Berlin wall was still standing.” And the main character sort of shrugs and says okay, whatever.

I would say that Death is Only the Beginning unsurprisingly feels like old KULT. And this I mean in a negative way. The new edition KULT: Divinity Lost took the old game and gave it new life, updated it and deepened it on a spiritual level. It made the changes that needed to made for it not to feel like a remnant of the 90s.

Still, if you are a fan of KULT or horror that breathes of Clive Barker you really should check it in. You will not be disappointed. If you live in Sweden you can order it from here: Fria Ligans Webbutik

 

 

 

 

 

Prepping the Disadvantages

Disadvantages

When I am GM:ing KULT: Divinity Lost things tend to move on in a quite nice pace.  The characters have their Disadvantages, the Antagonists have their plans and NPCs act on things that happen. And of course, since I know the most of the plot I can also predict things that the Player Characters might do or at least locations that they most likely will visit.

Now, to get most out of it I do something that is often frowned upon in the PbtA community. I Plan and Prepare specific scenes. The thing is that I am not that great at improvising all the time, I find that I can craft scenes that really puts the players on the spot and that they remember but then I need to put some time building that scene in my mind. This is extra helpful with the Disadvantages. For example. A character that has the Disadvantage Haunted. Well I can plan a really nasty scene in quite the detail with sights, sounds, smells and then save it in my back pocket until I want to activate that hold. Sure, I can do it in the spur of the moment during play. But if I have time to plan it I can create a more difficult dilemma and a more powerful and memorable situation.

Also, in some morbid way I like to have these scenes in my mind between the sessions and sort of reiterate them again and again. Coming up with the worst possible way of doing it. Or the way that is most fitting for the campaign.

So this is my advice.

Look at the player characters and the Disadvantages they have chosen. These will come into play. Now, sit down, and start to write down different scenarios how they could play out. Just a sentence or two. Do this for each Disadvantage.

Then, pick the ones that seems most interesting and start working on them. What scenes do you want too paint for the players. What is the sensation, the smell, the setting, the situation. What fits the theme of the campaign and what has happened so far in the scenario.

See to it so that you at least have one scene for each disadvantage. Save them. These are your bombs. And you will find that they can carry quite a more powerful punch if you spend some time on them.

A Theory About Yesod

Razors Through Flesh proudly presents a guest article by Auburney, a devoted KULTIST, that helped to bring KULT: Divinity Lost to life. Here he takes us on a philosophical inquiry regarding the Archon Yesod.

A Theory About Yesod

When looking at the Archons and Death Angels and their Principles, we find that some of the pairs don’t exactly match up very perfectly or obviously.

In some cases, an Archon and its corresponding Death Angel are pretty much the opposites of each other. For example: Hierarchy vs. Usurpation, Safety vs. Fear, or Community vs. Exclusion.

In other cases, the DA’s principles are sort of “dark corruptions” or “evil excess” versions of their Archon counterparts (Honor/Vengeance, Victory/Conflict).

But some don’t really match up. Laws vs. Torment for example doesn’t seems immediately obvious, as does Allure vs. Compulsion… but the most obviously weird one is clearly the Yesod/Gamaliel pair-up: Avarice/Lust.

Now, how to make sense of this?

Well, under the earlier editions (when we had little to no information about any of the “dead” Archons), I had always houseruled Yesod to stand for Chastity, simply out of the obvious consideration – to counterpoint Gamaliel’s Perverted Sexuality.

It seemed to fit well with the whole Christian shtick of the Archons, and also with the fact that Yesod was one of the Lost Archons – since Chastity is observably all but dead in the modern 1st world.

The whole Capitalism thing I gave to Netzach (since competition and the drive to make the biggest profit seemed close to his principle; also, the military-industrial complex does nicely combine capitalistic and martialistic agendas into one whole clusterfuck of a mess, which was an added bonus) in cooperation with Tipharet (global networks seem to be her thing, which may easily include economic networks and cooperations).

Geburah copy

But it turns out the new edition’s authors have their own drift on things – and why wouldn’t they?

It is possible to see some similarity between Yesod and Gamaliel, though. One theory I have contemplated is that perhaps the terms are just not so ideal for easy understanding. “Lust” perhaps isn’t really all that Gamaliel is about, and therefore it looks weird next to “Greed” for Yesod. But it can make sense if you see Yesod’s principle as being “the urge to accumulate and own things”*

… and Gamaliel as the perversion of that, “the perverted Lust, the excessive Greed, the overboarding Craving to control and own stuff/people/money – an overreaching and transgressive desire which then destroys the thing that is desired”

* under the Demiurge’s system, this would have been an important part of “keeping the order of things”, to know what belongs to whom. For example, the Feudal system determined very precisely who owned what, and who had rights to claim/covet which things in life – and who didn’t.

Gamaliel would pervert and corrupt this “divine order”, of course, by making people want the “forbidden” things…

(Similar to how Kether’s principle of Hierarchy” (another important part of the “divine order”) is subverted, undermined, and corrupted by Thaumiel’s usurpation and urge for unlawful ascendance…)

Geburah copy

But I was still not quite ready to give up on my “Chastity” spin for Yesod, just yet – and I came up with another theory.  One that might reconcile the two versions outlined above:

 

Yesod copyThe symbol of Yesod

Yesod could have changed his Principle.

Now stick with me on this for a minute.

Malkuth did it as well, switching from her initial principle of Conformity (as opposed to Nahemoth’s Discord) to Awakening.

Why not have Yesod stand for Chastity (and modesty, monogamy, celibate, heteronormativity, and repressive sexual morals in general) initially, but either drift away from that slowly or change more abruptly after being destroyed in the War between the Archons that followed Malkuth’s rebellion?

After his (near) destruction, canon now tells us that some part(s) of him survived, and have found shelter under Tipharet’s protection – exploited by her for the time being, but growing stronger and more forceful as time goes by.

And his new Principle is now Avarice, thus associating him with greed, wealth, thriftiness, capitalism… but also theft, debt, poverty, and bankruptcy (there are always victims of excessive greed and wealth after all)

I’m thinking that maybe this change in Principle might:

1.) have been brought upon (or enabled somehow) by his near destruction. Arguably, Malkuth’s initial rebellion, which went hand in hand with her changing her Principle (however that happened, we have no idea) could have weakened the Divine Order between the Archons which the Demiurge initially constructed. Such a drastic disruption as one Archon going completely rogue on the whole system could well have left some major rifts in the underlying metaphysical structure of Reality itself ([i]our reality[/i] at least, if not the True Reality necessarily) – and if Yesod somehow “fell into one of these rifts”, so to speak, it would stand to reason that a change of Principle was, while perhaps not inevitable, but at least was “in the cards” for things that could happen when (and if) he (or what was left of him) emerged again.

2.) in fact be less random than it might on first glance appear.

If his Principle originally was Chastity, that would be strongly associated with suppressing sexual urges and energies. In fact, Yesod might have been one of the most important Archons for the purpose of keeping the Illusion upright, since his job would have been to ward off humanity against Passion. Which is after all one of the fundamental, all-pervading pillars of Reality as we all know.

But what happens with suppressed sexual energy? It is described in the Passion chapter as an elementary drive and a direct connection to our inner divinity. Psychology tells us that such energies can either be repressed (which is bad because they will fester and boil in your subconscious mind) or sublimated, i.e. transformed and channeled into other endeavors.

After many centuries of Yesod’s influence in the world, we see great empires rise across all cultures. Incidentally, the height of Imperialism, namely the British Empire’s largest expansion (they owned and/or controlled fully 1/4th of the earth’s land mass at one point!), occurred during the Victorian era – a time well known, even notorious, for its repressive sexual mores, such as its obsession with chastity, modesty, marital faithfulness, virginity, etc. (and it’s supplementary demonization of extramarital sex, adultery, prostitution, etc.)

Could it be argued, therefore, that Yesod’s influence has always (or for a very long time anyways) caused people to find ways how to release their sexual tensions and primal urges in sublimated forms?

Could we therefore assume that where such forms led to industriousness and diligence, financial and material success was not far off? (Even under the strict hierarchy of Kether, with its feudal systems and castes and whatnot, one might advance oneself some tiny little bit – such as the rise of the middle class during the late medieval period showcases on a grand scale)

With financial and material success come wealth, jealousy, greed and so on…

So, arguably, the Avarice aspect has been a part of Yesod, if not since forever, then at least for a very long time: All organized religions everywhere have always tended to amass large amounts of money, after all – most commonly collected from their followers, but also often from church-owned business ventures (e.g. medieval monasteries with their trade of wine, honey, and other refined goods).

(There might be a good reason the Lictors included “Thou shalt not covet anything that is thy neighbor’s” in the laws they gave to (who we remember as) Moses. And why it’s put right next to “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife” in that list – as both seem pretty close to Yesod’s principle / agenda…)  

So possibly, by the time Yesod got destroyed, the prevalence for avarice was so widespread and deeply ingrained in many of his followers and agents, that when he came back, that was all that was left of him. Cue the rise of capitalism, the sexual revolution happening, resulting in chastity and modesty being all but dead in the modern 1st world, but rampant greed and crass extremes of rich and poor at an all-time high…

Geburah copy

Thank you Auburney for this great article. It is really interesting to speculate about Yesod and the principles for the other Archons.