Abandon hope all ye who enter here - a Mephisto review
(Warning: Kult present are very dark world with religious aspects in an extremely explicit way - people offended by the themes should avoid this game despite this five stars review)
Kult - Divinity Lost
When Kult appeared in the 90s, it was a roleplaying game that attracted a lot of attention. At a time when roleplaying games were in the process of expanding strongly from the classic fantasy background with its radiant heroes to different, even darker game worlds with rather ambivalent characters, the aim of Kult seemed to be to shock and polarize with its background and especially with its presentation. After 30 years of showing in many fictional worlds what readers, players and viewers can be confronted with nowadays, Kult is now back in a fourth edition. And one thing should be said right at the beginning: This edition of roleplaying can also polarize. With its occult and gnostic background, explicit themes, an explicit writing style and also the matching illustrations, the game will definitely not become everybody's cup of tea: A game that so openly deals with occultism, religion, sex and violence still challenges those who like to criticize roleplaying games...
The whole world is an illusion
The basic idea of cult uses some mystical, occult and gnostic concepts. The terrible truth, which is recognized by very few inhabitants of the game world, is that the world as we see it is only an illusion. At first glance, the world looks like ours, but at its core, it is nothing more than a prison designed to keep humanity weak and rob it of its special powers. Behind this is the fact that humankind itself originally consisted of almost god-like beings, until the so-called Demiurge locked it into the illusion and robbed it of its powers. The ten archons of the Demiurge created the principles that were to keep humanity bound: Principles such as honor, hierarchy, community or law were used to rob humankind of its freedom and power. But whoever the Demiurge was, with his disappearance this eternal order began to collapse. The Archons confront each other, and the illusion that holds humanity captive is starting to crack. Even the Demiurge's dark shadow, Astaroth, and his ten Angels of Death are gaining influence and have their own goals.
In this dark world, the player characters have the misfortune to take a first look behind the illusion and to be confronted with the horrors that lie behind it...
Everything one size smaller
While the basic background puts the entire existence of the universe and humanity in a different light, the player characters are only gradually confronted with the truth. They can experience monsters walking among humans and hunting them down. Perhaps they realize that dark types of magic are real, or they stumble into one of the places that lead from illusion to other, terrifying areas of reality. The personal horror that Kult has to offer is thus extremely diverse: monsters, brutal cults, senseless crimes, and even cosmological powers that not only want to enslave humanity but have done so for ages, are part of the arsenal that Kult unleashes on player characters. And it's absolutely clear that much of what lurks behind the illusion is more than a few numbers too big for player characters.
Also, the player characters are not designed as radiant heroes in the roleplaying game. Instead, in many ways, they are pragmatists at best, but more likely opportunists or anti-heroes who are tainted with dark secrets and terrible flaws. How they deal with the confrontation with the truth will depend on the players, but even in the long run, there is no happy ending to be expected in the world of Kult - and maybe it would be easier if the player characters didn't even suspect what their world is really like...
Rules and systems
While Kult used its own rules system in the earlier editions, Kult - Divinity Lost uses the Apocalypse World system at its core - but with some adjustments. The classic two six-sided dice are replaced by two ten-sided dice, thus adjusting the value range. Nevertheless, the basic principle still applies that the two dice are added together and modified by a statistic of the character. The result indicates whether the player character has a full success, partial success or no success at all. As usual for Apocalypse World, the possible actions of the characters are summarized in so-called Moves, which cover basic actions and tests. Again, the game master never rolls dice and his characters, therefore, have different game values. The game master's moves consist less of concrete actions and more of narrative techniques to challenge the players. With a total of ten game statistics, Kult already offers a relatively high number of statistics, but this is small compared to the many dark secrets as well as advantages and disadvantages that more strongly characterize a character. While the dark secrets give the character more background and thus determine his motivations, the advantages and disadvantages offer rule aspects. The disadvantages often revolve around the fact that under certain conditions, dark sides of the character appear if the character does not keep under control. Advantages, on the other hand, allow additional moves or modify existing ones. Also relevant for the player characters are the so-called relations, which determine the relationships between the characters and also to non-player characters and can also influence dice rolls. Besides the rules of how physical injuries affect the player characters, there are also rules for stability, which defines the mental capacity of a character. As usual for Apocalypse World systems, character creation is basically very simple, as the player chooses one of 20 archetypes and makes a few decisions for elaboration. In total there are 25 archetypes, but five archetypes have reached the state of not only having a first glimpse behind the illusion but already reached a certain level of enlightenment, while one archetype is still entirely in the dark and therefore more challenging to play. Each archetype brings with it a few choices, especially in the dark secrets, as well as advantages and disadvantages, and has some descriptive elements.
On the other side
The rules relevant to the players make up about one-third of the book, while the second part is aimed at the game master. Here the traits of the game master are explained, but above all, the general atmosphere of Kult is introduced. Besides the question of how to deal with the sensitive and sometimes difficult topics of Kult in a gaming group, very practical tools like the intrigue map for planning adventures are also presented. Especially for the first game round, there are additional tips. Also, the handling of non-player characters, which function differently than player characters, is described accordingly.
Horror behind the illusion
The third part of the book is the truth of the world of Kult. Here the complex background with the Demiurge, the Archons and the different worlds is described in detail. However, here too, Kult is deliberately vague in many aspects, although much is explicitly addressed. Much is hinted at, but an unambiguous, clear picture is usefully left out. Thus the ten Archons appear rather abstract, which however corresponds exactly to their nature since they are to be understood more as concepts than as physical beings.
The chapter offers a detailed tour through the world of Kult and begins first in the illusion that corresponds to the world as we know it - with some darker aspects that are fortunately missing in our reality. Thus, the illusion contains stranded gods, lictors, fallen angels and other horrors whose encounter can be fatal for an average person.
Furthermore, madness, but also passions and dreams, can open the way to other worlds. These worlds include the Underworld, Metropolis, the Inferno or even Limbo. A central role is played by the endless city of Metropolis, as this seems to be the original home of humankind. However, with the imprisonment of humanity, Metropolis stands empty and is only roamed by a few dangerous creatures. Nevertheless, there are places that can lead to Metropolis to confront players with the terrible truth. On the other hand, Limbo is the world of dreams, where some extraordinary people have created their own dream realms - which are often just as terrible and dangerous. That the Inferno, the origin of the DeathAngels, is not a pleasant place to be, is needless to say...
Kult not only has a very unusual background but also tries to convey its drastic world in a correspondingly vivid way. This happens on the one hand in many sample texts, which sometimes work with hints and sometimes with very explicit descriptions. On the other hand, the illustrations in the rulebook are drastic and like to combine nudity with wounds and monstrosities, while the surroundings often combine cyclopean buildings and other fantastic sights.
No game for everyone
With a background in which, similar to the gnostic conception, the seemingly divine Demiurge appears rather as an enemy of humanity and in which basically all structures based on order, laws and hierarchies - be it churches or states - are only part of an illusion that is supposed to keep humankind small and in chains, K**ult can certainly cause offence already from the basic concept. Combined with the fact that the game does not only address sensitive topics such as insanity, rape, mutilation, abuse, senseless violence and other horrors in texts but also depicts them figuratively, Kult is not only a roleplaying game for adults but only for adults who are willing to get involved with these topics. From my point of view, it is easy to understand when someone, just by leafing through it, quickly makes the decision that Kult** is definitely not the roleplaying game for him.
On the other hand, the ideas of the roleplaying game are well and consistently thought out, and the textual and graphical implementation is also quite impressive. Already in the first edition, Kult was a roleplaying game that wanted to polarize, and he certainly succeeds in doing so in the new version.
Here it is probably worth remembering that Kult is nothing more than a game that challenges you to test your limits - and explicitly demands that you recognize these limits within the gaming group and not simply cross them. As usual in the horror genre, Kult deliberately presents things that are meant to scare players - and as long as this ultimately serves the fun of the game, that's fine.
In my opinion, Kult - Divinity Lost offers a very exciting background. Many of the themes and ideas are cleverly linked to urban myths, but also religious mythologies and offer a very wide range of themes that can become part of the game. The fact that much of the background is diffuse is essential, in my opinion. Too much concrete information would certainly have destroyed the atmosphere. Also, the fact that the player characters are not heroes but characters with distinct dark sides fits the genre. The choice of the Apocalypse World system for this setting is a good approach, as the focus is on storytelling and fewer rule mechanics. It also fits that many of the creatures and creatures presented have no game statistics at all since it often makes little sense anyway that the player characters compete with them in battle (And Kult is not a scenario that players can "win" by defeating the horrors in battle).
Even though Kult is already testing limits in some places, I find the new edition of the roleplaying game quite impressive. With the memory, how the edition of the 90s already polarized the players, I used it again for comparison: Here, too, you can see very clearly how much time has passed, because the rule book of the first edition is quite tame against the new edition. Apparently, tolerance thresholds are much higher nowadays...
Kult - Divinity Lost is a roleplaying game that covers topics that might bother players. If you are not deterred by this, you will get a horror roleplaying game, which is impressively implemented in terms of text, rules and graphics and offers a wide range of exciting stories with its background.
[5 of 5 Stars!]