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Is Kult the most visceral horror roleplaying game ever?

Roleplaying games have been well served in the horror genre for a long time. The two pillars of horror roleplaying are almost polar opposites in many ways:

  • Call of Cthulhu is pulp horror, whereby ordinary folk in various historical settings (default 1920s) investigate and usually fleetingly encounter eldrich horrors mankind was not meant to know. There is a conservative sensibility to Lovecraft’s writings, largely centering on the fear of the alien unknown where characters’ sanity is constantly under threat.

  • Vampire: The Masquerade is romantic horror, where characters are enrolled into a clandestine, modern society, as a newly embraced and newly empowered vampires. They encounter strict rules of conduct for their eternal existance while their ‘humanity’ is constantly under threat through their own personal drives. There is a liberal sensiibilty in the writings through the themes of competing sects (“Anarchs vs Camarilla”) and the pitting the young vampires, generally, against the machinations of ancient and alien Elders who may have been scheming for eons. So in all, it’s a direct contrast to the themes presented in Call of Cthulhu.

Other horror games have sometimes found it hard to create a niche of their own, when up against these two very archetypal premises. Of all the rest, I feel, Kult is the one that makes the most impact.

It has actually been around a lot time, but found popularity with English speaking audiences about the same time as Vampire’s World of Darkness series became popular. The Kult setting was actually adopted by the World of Darkness as a type of deep overlay, in several articles published in White Wolf’s then house magazine. The reason for this being the meticulous nature of the gnostic world view that, for the most part, actually informs a lot of the iconography of modern horror. As such, Kult has a very intellectual basis in it’s premise. However, married to this are concepts and imagery that hit you on a much more gut wrenching level.

As a European designed RPG, there seems to be a greater tolerance and ready market for adult-only RPGs. Kult is the one that, more than any other, seems to push the button the most. While you don’t play ‘monsters’ as such, the realisation (no spoilers) of the role that characters play in the setting can present them with real threats to their own morality also. And through their investigations their own sanities are quite literally tested to the core too.

I personally, haven’t found any other rpg or indeed any other medium of horror, that is quite as transgressional as Kult is. From the art, through the conceptual writing, through the scenarios presented - everything seems designed to ‘shock and awe’ the audience. Has anybody else found something more provocative?

I suppose that in a few ways Noctum RPG is more visceral than Kult. It’s not a well known game, you might never heard of it (I don’t think it is being developed anymore, though it is still available as POD on DrivethruRPG). It is not as provocative or transgressive as Kult, because it is not an intelectual game, but the way Noctum approaches insanity, mental conditions, drug addictions, fetishisms, sexual deviations and violence is gut-wrenching. A bit more brutal than the original Kult, and - as far as I know - also the current edition of Kult.

Yes, in that way I never found anything else as disturbing as Kult. But I would like to, and I’ll be paying attention to this thread in case someone suggests any interesting RPG that I don’t know about.

I can’t remember if Twin Peaks was credited as a source of inspiration for the game, but there were one or two quotes on the 1st edition corebook and some mentions on Players Companion too. In fact, I ran a Kult campaign based on Twin Peaks - the first 2 seasons, not the new one, it was 15 years ago - and it was very easy to mix TP lore and Kultish cosmology,

In Dark Alleys and Pandemonio have that «Kult» vibe.

And I think that VTM’s earlier editions aren’t opposite to COC, anymore that, let’s say, Chill. They’re different kind of animals.

This is a bit off-topic, but not too much: I suppose you have tried the new edition. I haven’t. But I have a weird feeling about it being PBtA. Not that I liked the original rules that much, they were a product of it’s time, but they weren’t overtly complex so, in my experience at least, they didn’t get in the way. PBtA on the other hand has those player moves, GM moves, soft and hard… I know they are supposed to make the game more story driven, but I never liked the narrativistic stuff and I wonder if it will spoil Kult for me…

Thank you for you reply. You addressed a concern that I didn’t mention on my post, but that has been also on my mind whenever I ponder purchasing the new edition: Mental Balance. That particular mechanic was rather important for me as game master. Not really because of the extremes you mention (my players never went that far), but because its progression is a good tool to express the degrading mental state of the characters. The lack of conjurer characters doesn’t bother me, but no Mental Balance makes it a hard choice to make. I suppose I’ll just wait for further sourcebooks, maybe they’ll introduce something new.

Yet, in Chill, SAVE agents weren’t ordinary folk - they had access to kwlz powerz.

Come to think of it, Chill kinda did it first, with its Creature Feature supplement.

There was also the “hidden world” concept developed by the Nightlife RPG, among other sparks.

Vampire was quite a game-changer, though I never quite looked at it as a horror game. Supernatural, of course, but it was a lot more about angst and existencial crysis than psychological horror - most of the time. And quite a lot of intrigue and backstabbing,

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Well, I had a long run with Kult over the years, since the early 90s. But my group had a weird relationship with the game. Everybody loved horror, everybody loved the idea of a psychological horror RPG, after that initial period when the players aren’t supposed to know about The Truth two of my players even bought the core book and read some of the lore, but in game, in character, no one cared to explore it. I suppose they grew too fond of their characters to have them die in a gruesome way, or go insane. Eventualy I had to convince them to play other campaings, so we could deal with the lore in a more meaningful way.

The Black Madonna and Taroticum are the main reasons I’m still interested in the new edition despite being PBta. Taroticum I bought in english, but never got around to play it, but the Black Madonna sounded like a more interesting campaign. I even bought the french edition, but my french isn’t good enough to run a campaign. Even if I give up on the new rules, I think I’ll still end up playing both Taroticum and Black Madonna.

I found quite long and different review that trashed the game: http://projects.inklesspen.com/fatal-and-friends/purplexvi/kult-divinity-lost/

Without any quick-start or preview materials it is hardly possible to get impression other than reading something on the internet, biased or not. :slight_smile:

This is obviously a long rant, but informative to some extent. I searched for other blogs and forums, always brief or not detailed enough. I am no longer doing leap of faith with game systems and expensive books (because of the shipping), therefore must make informative decision.

Is there a good stuff on YouTube or other resources that I can check?

I still haven’t picked up the new edition, and probably never will (I hate Powered by the Apocalypse rules), but the reviewer in the link above really hates the setting more than anything else.
Anyway, I haven’t found a diversity of reviews for this new edition. There’s a capsule review on RPG.net, but you get much information from that. Then there’s this one: https://www.geeknative.com/62413/uncommonly-adult-rpg-kult-divinity-lost
If you would rather look at to some gameplay, there’s these guys: https://www.youtube.com/RedMoonRoleplaying

Hi there,

well, I have three other games I am quite happy about, though cannot for sure say, they are MORE provocative, than Kult. The intro on The Abyss fairly well sums up, what I like about the game and it’s allure. Maybe a lot of it’s notorious reputation comes from the fact it filled a certain niche on the role-playing landscape.

The first one of the other games is ‘SLA Industries’, which offers a mixture of several themes, like horror, sci-fi, cyberpunk, maybe even a bit pulp. It was also quite hard to get, though I have read somewhere, that it is still around (don’t know the publisher atm.).

The second one is ‘Unknown Armies’, which I haven’t managed to read wholly, since I don’t own it. But I was very interested at some point, when I failed to get hold of Kult, because it became unavailable for quite a while. It also has a occult background, but a bit weirder, maybe more like David Lynch movies, if I recall correctly.

The third one is ‘Eclipse Phase’, which is really hard sci-fi with a lot of horror elements, though no occult ones. I am a total fan of it :wink:

I can certainly recommend these for inspiration and cross-over settings.

Cheers

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Sorry, I missed this post previously, but I’ll try to respond now.

I know of all these games, and I’m a fan of each of them for different reasons. However, I don’t regard any of them as being especially transgressional, by comparison to Kult.

In the case of SLA Industries, it was released a few years after the original Swedish version of Kult, but about the same time as the first English translation of Kult. ‘Dark’ roleplaying was predominantly popular in the early 1990s, and so both featured that tonal style accordingly. In the case of SLA Industries, this was mostly expressed as a sort of sci-fi satire against media and capitalism…along with lots of big guns. I don’t think it was unltimately that successful as a game however, as it’s backstory was too convoluted and wordy and the gameplay was, to me at least, a little one dimensional. Indeed, even though it was dark - I never had the sense that the default scenario of carrying out missions was actually any more edgy than a typical session of Paranoia. The art was pretty good though.

Unknown Armies had some excellent writing and terrific scenarios to boot, and certainly encompassed the same sort of weirdness that you could find in David Lynch movies, along with a bunch of other sources (Tim Powers novels, for example, or Tarantino films). The essential background, however, was critically Moorcockian, however: Chaotic Magickal Adepts vs Lawful Archetypal Avatars. It did satirise mid-American sub-cultures very well, but while the magical systems were creative, ironic and fun, the game actually shied away from representing real occult or religious beliefs within the game. It was a more adult-orientated type of dark modern fantasy in many respects, although it did nominally fit the bill as a horror game.

Eclipse Phase is a very interesting sci-fi game that extrapolates on the work done in other Transhumanist rpgs and fiction, towards being a post-apocalyptic setting. The horrors, I feel are mainly to do with the alien-ness of playing and/or encountering trans or even post-human characters. While this can be done in a very atmospheric way, and the ideas can be evocative, again I’m not sure they are really transgressional in the same way Kult is.

Allow to explain. Kult is fundamentally based upon a re-framing of Judeo-Christian ideas in such a way that could be considered blasphemous to some and mind-blowing to others. The background of the game is meticulously constructed to be persuasive. While I know the setting is pure fantasy, it’s definitely something I wouldn’t give to kids or any other impressionable mind on that basis alone. The actual premise appears to encourage extremism as a form of divinity, while the imagery also leaves the darker recesses of the imagination very activated.

While the games you cite all reflect some dark concepts - and all have their evocative qualities - I don’t think any of them would ever come close to censorship in the same way Kult has, for example. Kult pushes boundaries more. As such, I wouldn’t call them more provocative.

Heyas dTerm!

One thing I can say about SLA is that (having owned it and from playing it) its a total and utter disappointment. It makes no sense, isn’t that cool, nor topical, or horrific.
Waste of time and effort.

Eclipse Phase, remains quite hip (pun) and horrifying, trying and often succeeding in showing what could be, plus engineering a realistic setting that transports you effortless into it’s dark entrails. Well deserved Origin Award.

UA’s tone is less horrific and more transgressive americana. Like a product of S King and Q Tarantino/Russ Meyer, with a bit of Leonard Elmore and HG Lewis.

IMOHO.

HtH!

I am sorry to hear, that you dismissed SLA Industries, but accept your experience playing it, which I never had the chance doing so. Skimming through it was a joy nontheless, well at least 25 years ago.

I second your comment on UA, which I felt too was more strange than horrific.

Eclipse Phase is still my total favorite, together with Kult that is to say, though it took ‘Prometheus’ for me to fully grasp the evermore terror of FUD becoming pysical horror. :smiley:

Cheers

(where’s the pun in hip? HtH == hit the hat?) :wink:

Hiyas back

HtH: “Hope that helps”.

“Hip” as in the most outré concept that somehow caught on like fire (thinking about it, more like sarcasm).

SLA: sadly, the more we delved into it, the more it fell apart. A heartbreaker before the term.

Cheers!