Referee’s Bookshelf: Adventures of 1st Edition Kult

The English-language Kult line’s 1st edition was cut short. If you want proof, you can take a look in the back of the two adventure supplements put out for it – Fallen Angels and Taroticum – and there’s a series of products promoted as forthcoming which were simply never released in their English versions. As well as a Player’s Companion and a GM’s Companion, there was also the epic adventure The Black Madonna, which is quite well-regarded by those who can read the languages it has been translated into. Most frustrating is the fact that apparently the manuscripts for all those products were done – it’s just that Metropolis never managed to get the layout and art done and the print runs ordered before they died a death.

What few adventures did come out for the 1st Edition line were both translations of releases for the orignal Swedish line – in fact, both supplements are written by Gunilla Johnsson and Michael Petersén, the game’s original creators. That being the case, would they provide definitive answers to the question of “What do you do in a Kult campaign?”, or would they just be typical crappy 1990s railroad shovelware adventures?

Spoiler: they’re the latter.

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Sinister People, Secret Places: the English Supplements of 1st Edition Kult

Having previously reviewed (and thought favourably of) the first English-language edition of gnostic horrorRPG Kult, I thought I would check out the supplements that were released for it. Both of these were translations of material originally released for the Swedish version of the game; Legions of Darkness translates a supplement written for the Swedish 1st Edition by game creators Gunilla Johnsson and Michael Petersén, and is therefore closest in style and presentation to the core book, whilst Metropolis was originally written by different authors for the Swedish 2nd Edition, which introduces a number of cosmology tweaks. (For instance, this seems to be where the English 2nd/3rd Editions got the idea for the Demiurge’s palace being present in Metropolis but vacant, rather than being absent with a terrifying chasm that even the Devil himself fears to descend in its place.)

Let’s start with Legions of Darkness. As with the core rulebook, the original Swedish version of this was a boxed set of three booklets that was turned into a single book for the English version. Whilst it is a slight shame that the English 1st Edition didn’t come as a box so that referees could pass the player’s book around the table without exposing the players to referee-only secrets, in this case I don’t really think anything is lost from the slight change in format, since all this material is GM-only stuff anyway and turning it into a boxed set seems kind of pointless.

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Referee’s Bookshelf: Kult

More or less emerging simultaneously with the release of Vampire: the Masquerade (the two games being published within a month or two of each other), Kult hit the RPG scene at just the right time to ride the wave of horror games focused on pessimistic modern-day settings, though it came from a very different angle compared with White Wolf’s output. Whereas Vampire and its offspring cast the player characters as entities set apart from the common run of humanity, Kult was based around the premise that “humanity” as a category is broader, more powerful, and far more sinister than you think it is. Whilst the World of Darkness games tried to claim highbrow inspirations, Kult showed no aversion to embracing the most outrageously surreal end of the splatterpunk spectrum. Whereas White Wolf would occasionally try to moderate their content, if only for the sake of not losing sales (at least at first – the Black Dog era would rather change that), Kult is a game specifically about transgression and paid absolutely no heed to any boundaries suggested by good taste or common sense, and caught a certain amount of grief in its native Sweden as a result, being cited by pundits in murder and Satanism cases in a manner parallel to the way American panic-mongers would try to latch onto Dungeons & Dragons. (The English versions of Kult didn’t attract that sort of attention very much at all, though, possibly because the peak of the Satanic Panic had passed and the likes of Pat Pulling had been exhaustively discredited by that point.)

Kult has been stubbornly out of print in English for a while now, but I recently had an opportunity to snag the 1st and 3rd Edition cheap and thought I’d do the old compare-and-contrast (and then eBay them if I decide not to keep either because they go for silly money on eBay). The first edition, penned by game creators Gunilla Johnsson and Michael Petersén, is a well laid-out and very readable rulebook which suffers a little here and there from slightly diffuse organisation (though actually, having read through it once I reckon I could reasonably quickly find any particular bit of information there – it enjoys an index which is actually functional too, which is a nice bonus). Following the split of subject matter from the original Swedish boxed set, the book is divided into The Lie (character creation and experience rules), The Madness (the rest of the rules systems, including magic) and The Truth (the cosmology underpinning everything).

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