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Cover for Kult: Death is Only the Beginning
|Designer(s)||Gunilla Jonsson, Michael Petersén|
|Publisher(s)||Paradox Entertainment, 7ème Cercle|
|Publication date||Third Edition, 2001 / 2004|
Kult is a contemporary fantasy horror role-playing game originally designed by Gunilla Jonsson and Michael Petersén, first published in Sweden by Äventyrsspel in 1991 that became Target Games. The first English edition was published in 1993 by Metropolis Ltd., a now defunct American publisher. The game is no longer published in either language, though copies can be purchased through secondary and specialized markets. Kult is notable for its philosophical and religious depth as well as for its mature content.
Kult is set in contemporary times, usually in large, real-life cities and metropols. In the game, the world we see is an Illusion which is unravelling to reveal an even darker backdrop which in the game is called Reality. This Illusion was created by the Demiurge to hold humanity prisoner and to prevent mankind from regaining the divinity it once had. The notion of an originally divine mankind being held captive by sinister forces is borrowed from gnosticism. In the game's cosmology humans can regain their lost divine status through a game concept called Awakening in which characters with an extremely high or low mental balance are no longer restrained by the rules of the Illusion. See more about mental balance below.
The cosmological backdrop of Kult is largely based on the Tree of Life from kabbalistic lore, the Sephirot and the Qliphoth. It is balanced with the Demiurge and his Archons on one side and Astaroth and his Death Angels on the other. Each Archon or Death Angel represent a value, group or an action (aid organisations, child abuse, mafia, apathy, judicial systems, etc.) over which they have great influence. The Archons and Death Angels have various creatures and cults (thereby the name of the game) to do their bidding and promote their values. Many of these are our jailers who work to maintain the Illusion. Many of the adventures revolve around how these entities' conflicts affect the player characters and the world around them.
Disappearance of the Demiurge
One of the more central elements of the game is that the Demiurge has disappeared since just before the 20th century, and since then Astaroth, the Archons and the Death Angels have been struggling for power. Many entities have vanished since, and the Illusion has been weakened. The game leaves a lot to the imagination of interpretive game masters regarding reasons for the Demiurge's disappearance as well as the earlier mentioned divinity of mankind.
The game concept relies on there being several realities that may appear when the Illusion shatters: Metropolis, the original city which interconnects with all great cities; Inferno and its purgatories, where humans are held captive and tortured after death; and Gaia, which connects to nature and nature's destructive forces.
The system is a skill based system utilizing 20-sided dice (it is however not the d20 system published by Wizards of the Coast), with point based characters. In the game, a natural 1 usually is great success with added bonuses and a natural 20 means a complete failure. Normal characters usually have skill ranges of 3 to 20; to succeed in a skill roll, the player need to roll equal or below his character's skill. The lower the player rolls below the skill number, the greater the success. Extraordinary characters and inhuman entities can have skill values far above the normal range.
Some symbols and creatures appearing in Kult can also be seen in other Swedish games to which the Kult authors and production team also have contributed. The Mutant Chronicles universe (created by Nils Gulliksson and Michael Stenmark) its spin-offs share creatures such as Nepharites and Razides which appear in the game.
Central to the game is the aspect of Mental Balance, which is a sanity-gauge of sorts. The closer to equilibrium the character is, the more he is anchored in everyday human reality and the harder it is for the character to see through the veil of The Illusion to the true reality beneath. The lower the character's Mental Balance gets, the more easily he or she will become emotionally and mentally unbalanced by shocking events. A Kult character can have positive or negative mental balance affected by traumata, influence from creatures or places, or by advantages and disadvantages. The advantages and disadvantages are typically talents and traits that work for or against the character, such as (on the positive side) having animal friendship, artistic talent, body awareness, a code of honor, or (from the negative spectrum) being socially inept, suffering from a drug addiction, sex addiction, paranoia, mystic curse or similar.
Both an unusually high or unusually low (+25/-25) Mental Balance will affect how normal people and animals react to the character in question. The further the character strays away from the zero point, the more sociopathic, strange or eccentric he becomes, as he sheds his human quirks and viewpoints and becomes more inhuman. Characters with a very high or very low Mental Balance will start to involuntarily manifest outward physical signs of their ascent or descent; they become either detached saints or Children of the Night. If Mental Balance ever reaches +500/-500, the character Awakens and regains their true potential.
There are two different official rulesets for combat. The second and third English rules use a system based on Damage Effect Factors (DEF).
Kult's magic system is largely drawn on the same real-world occult belief systems as some modern magick societies. Sorcerers can cast spells from one (or rarely more) of five different Lores; Death, Dream, Madness, Passion and Time & Space. Because these spells have (very) long casting times (up to several days), highly specific and exacting verbal, material and somatic requirements, and can only be cast inside the sorcerer's consecrated temple, these spells are actually more like quasi-religious rituals.
Kult was originally published by the company Target Games in 1991 as a Swedish role-playing game, and has later been translated into several other languages. Kult has been published in Swedish, German, English, Italian, Polish, Spanish and French.
The third English edition of Kult had two English books released in print form: a player's handbook named "Kult Rumours" in 2001 and the core rulebook, subtitled Beyond The Veil, printed in 2004. Both are currently out of print, and indications seem to point towards the English line being moved to a strictly electronic format, PDF. The current state of the French production line is also vague at the moment, due to poor sales of supplements.
In Sweden, Kult has been noted by the general press several times, and in 1997 the Kult core rules was quoted in a motion in the Parliament of Sweden. The motion was to stop taxpayer funding of youth groups that were active with role playing. It refers to a murder in a small town in southern Sweden called Bjuv, where a 15-year-old was killed by two 16- and 17-year-old friends who (according to the legal motion) were influenced by Kult.
The local newspaper Tønsbergs Blad in Tønsberg, Norway similarly used Kult in relation to the disappearance of a boy called Andreas Hammer on July 1, 1994. Andreas Hammer allegedly played Kult the week prior to his disappearance. He is still missing.
- Kult Collectible Card Game by Bryan Winter.
- In August-November 2011, Dark Horse Comics released a 4 issue mini series based on the RPG.