Kult (role-playing game)
|Designer(s)||Petter Nallo, Robin Liljenberg|
|Publisher(s)||Helmgast AB, Cabinet Entertainment|
|Publication date||Fourth Edition, 2018|
|System(s)||Powered by the Apocalypse|
|Designer(s)||Gunilla Jonsson, Michael Petersén|
|Publisher(s)||Paradox Entertainment, 7ème Cercle|
|Publication date||Third Edition, 2001 / 2004|
Kult or KULT is a contemporary horror role-playing game originally created by Gunilla Jonsson and Michael Petersén with illustrations by Nils Gulliksson, first published in Sweden by Äventyrsspel (later Target Games) in 1991. Kult is notable for its philosophical and religious depth as well as for its mature and controversial content.
In 2018 current licensor Helmgast released the fourth edition called KULT: Divinity Lost created by Robin Liljenberg and Petter Nallo. This edition moved the setting from the 1990s to the present and was completely rewritten with new art, layout and a ruleset based on Powered by the Apocalypse. The new edition was well received by critics and fans and won two ennies for Best Writing and Best Cover 2019, and was also nominated for Best Interior Art.
The default backdrop of Kult is modern-day real-life larger cities; players taking the roles of contemporary multi-genre protagonists, such as private investigators and femme fatales, vigilantes and drug dealers, artists and journalists, or secret agents and mad scientists. In the game, however, all this and the entire world we see, is an "illusion" held together by a monotheistic belief which is unravelling to reveal a darker backdrop where nightmarish monsters lurk, called "reality" in the game. This illusion was created by the Demiurge to hold humanity prisoner and to prevent mankind from regaining the divinity it once had. In the absence of this Demiurge, sinister forces plot to keep us from realizing the truth, or even to plunge the world into an apocalyptic war to restore humanity's ignorance and blind faith in the divine order.
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.
The notion of an originally divine mankind being held captive by sinister forces is borrowed from gnosticism. The cosmological backdrop of Kult is largely based on the Tree of life, 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 represents 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 Underworld where strange people from lost worlds lives in the depth close to infinity. Limbo, the Dream World where Dream Princes create their kingdoms and dream wanderers explore tattered dreams close to Vortex (a place of chaos and creation).
The original system is a skill-based system utilizing 20-sided dice (related to the BRP system used by Äventyrsspel for their Drakar och Demoner rpgs), 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 needs 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.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (February 2016)
The recent edition KULT: Divinity Lost uses rules that are based on the Apocalypse World rules engine. You roll two ten-sided dice, add possible modifications, and try to reach at least 10 to avoid failure or 15 to gain a complete success. KULT: Divinity Lost also has a system where the Gamemaster builds the campaign around the Player Characters and aims to reach true personal horror.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (January 2015)
There are several different official rulesets for combat. The second and third English edition rules use a system based on Damage Effect Factors (DEF). The fourth edition, KULT: Divinity Lost, has less focus on combat than previous editions.
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.
Central to the game is the aspect of Mental Balance, which is a sanity-gauge of sorts. In the game's cosmology humans can - at least in theory - regain their lost divine status through a game concept called Awakening in which characters with an extremely high (or low, the game never values positive or moral traits higher than negative or immoral ones) mental balance are no longer restrained by the rules of the Illusion. Effectively, they escape the prison and become gods.
The closer to equilibrium the character is, the more they are 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. On the other hand, this protects them from becoming traumatized or insane. The further from this balance point (zero) the character's Mental Balance gets, the more easily they will become emotionally and mentally unbalanced by shocking events. A Kult character can have positive or negative mental balance affected by trauma, 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 they shed their 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.
In the fourth edition of Kult the Mental Balance system has been removed, the reason made by the developers is that even if it is interesting it was practically impossible to use other than as a concept. instead you transcend between different types of Archetypes: The Sleeper, The Aware, The Enlightened that moves you towards Awakening.
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, Spanish and French.
Metropolis Ltd. published the English-language game through three editions and new supplements, with a new US background and a revised page design and editing led by Terry K. Amthor.
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, though copies can be purchased through secondary and specialized markets.
The former publishers were 7ème Cercle (French) and Raven Distribution (Italian).
The license has been the property of first Target Games, then Paradox Entertainment, and, in 2015, Cabinet Holdings.
A 2016 Kickstarter campaign funded a new edition of the game, entitled 'Kult: Divinity Lost'. This edition uses a different rules engine than previous editions, one based on Apocalypse World and its Powered by the Apocalypse rules engine. It updates the setting to answer the question “What would Kult had been like if it was released in 2016 instead of 1991?” The game was released in 2018.
In 2017 Free League Publishing published Anders Fager's novel "För Gudinnan" (for the love of the goddess) set in the Kult universe. Fager has also written an audiolouge called "Faraday" set in the Kult adventure Tarroticum.
In 2018 and 2020 Free League Publishing published two novels written by the original creators of Kult, Gunilla Jonsson and Michael Petersén. They are both set in the Kult universe called "Döden är bara början" (Death is only the beginning, 2018) and "De levande döda" (The living dead, 2020)
Similar to the moral panic of Dungeons & Dragons in the United States in the 1980s, Kult figured in Swedish controversies of the 1990s. At the time of the game's initial publication, role-playing games in Sweden were still sold primarily through toy stores rather than bookstores or specialized hobby shops. Kult was noted by the general press several times during the decade after its initial publication, and in 1997 the Kult core rules were 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 the Bjuv Murder, where a 15-year-old in a small town in southern Sweden called Bjuv was killed by two 16- and 17-year-old friends who (according to the legal motion) were influenced by Kult.
Writer Didi Örnstedt and painter Björn Sjöstedt wrote a book, De Övergivnas Armé (Army of the Abandoned), where they warn against the role-playing game hobby, with a particular focus on the game Kult. The title refers to children supposedly ignored by their parents and therefore susceptible to a projected radicalization of the rpg movement.
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.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (November 2020)
Jeff Koke reviewed Kult for Pyramid #3 (Sept./Oct., 1993), and stated that "All in all, Kult is a very good system and background for roleplayers who are mature enough to delve into truly dark roleplaying. Even for those players who dislike being immersed in depressing, hopeless worlds, the background has enough tidbits of bleak imagery and morsels of horrific scenery that it's worth the cover price just to browse through the Metropolis."
- RPG.net (2018)
- Geeknative.com (2018)
- White Wolf #39 (1994)
- Shadis #25 (March, 1996)
- Arcane #20 - 2nd edition
- Kult (card game) by Bryan Winter.
- In August–November 2011, Dark Horse Comics released a 4 issue mini series based on the RPG.
- Speltidningen.se (in Swedish)
- "2019 ENnie Winners!". ENnie Awards. 2019-08-03. Archived from the original on 2019-09-05. Retrieved 2019-09-05.
- Kult, 1st edition, Book one (The Lie), pp 22
- Kult, 1st edition, Book three (The Truth), pages 3-5
- "KULT Divinity Lost". Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2016-02-25.
- Interview with Petter Nallo, Helmgast (KULT: Divinity Lost, Horror RPG), retrieved 2019-09-05
- "Helmgast - Helmgast ger ut Kult".
- "KULT: DIVINITY LOST".
- "KULT: Divinity Lost - Horror Roleplaying Game (RPG) by Helmgast AB — Kickstarter". Kickstarter.
- From the parliament archives (in Swedish)
- Bjorn.foxtail.nu Archived 2011-07-24 at the Wayback Machine (unofficial source). (in Swedish)
- Finna Dolda Ting (2016), Chapter "The Moral Panic", Anna-Karin Linder Krauklis, Daniel Linder Krauklis, ISBN 9170378738
- Aftonbladet.se Archived 2004-11-22 at the Wayback Machine, (in Swedish)
- Pub.tv2.no, Nettavisen. (in Norwegian)
- "Kult #1 :: Profile :: Dark Horse Comics".