Kult (1993)

This week, let’s have a look at some horror games of the 1990s, awash with secret histories, conspiracies and pre-millennial tensions. First up, Kult! This is the first English edition (imported by Terry K. Amthor, of Shadow World fame) from 1993, but the original Swedish game is from 1991.

So, reality is actually a metaphysical prison constructed by the Demiurge in order to suppress humanity’s inherent divinity (see: Gnosticism, Phil Dick). However, the big D (the Demiurge, not Phil) has vanished and his illusion is starting to slip, giving humanity the chance for…something. Fulfilling that potential isn’t a walk in the park and even if players somehow attain it, the world beyond the illusion is pretty horrible — the haunted Metropolis, the burning Inferno, the swirling Vortex.

Like many ‘90s RPGs of this sort, players take the role of characters on the fringes of society who congregate in a sort of occult underground. The main mechanic here is mental balance. Those with zero are centered, normal, bought in to the Demiurge’s lie. Extremes in either direction open up the path to divinity. On the positive side are things like caring for people or throwing oneself into creativity. On the negative side are things like being exposed to supernatural horrors, indulging in drugs, witnessing violence and so on. It is far easier to tailspin into the negatives, which are often exacerbated by each character’s Secret (suffering from a mystical curse, for instance). It is likely that characters like this will burn up in the course of their investigations long before they have to worry about divinity. Which is sort of the point and half the fun (the long arc of mental balance is more like a freeform guideline rather than a usable mechanic anyway).

Kult was originally part of the greater web of Basic Role-Playing derived games (coming to the system via Drakar Och Demoner, but now it is Powered by the Apocalypse). It’s unapologetic approach to morality, religion, sex and substance abuse sparked a bit of a moral panic over the game in Sweden, while in the States it got a mature readers warning. The benefits of having weathered the Satanic Panic, I guess.

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