"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."
THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.
Sunday, January 20, 2019
Sunday, December 23, 2018
Tuesday, November 27, 2018
My one concern is that so much of this is based on pure luck. Kult: Divinity Lost characters have ten core Attributes, such as Willpower, Reason, Charisma, or Violence (brilliantly these correspond to the Sephiroth of Kabbalah, or in the Kult universe, to one of the ten Archons created by the Demiurge to shape mankind's prison). Each Move a player executes is keyed to one of these Attributes and receives a bonus from them. The problem here is, the bonus from an Attribute ranges from +0 to +3 (in play an Attribute can be advanced to +4). Again, there are no skills in this edition of Kult. Archetypes simply allow new kinds of Moves, not additional skill bonuses. Remembering that to avoid negative consequences you need to roll above a 15, and that a 9 or less is generally a failure (or at least a very messy success), the character's progress through the story relies mainly on pure luck. The influence of actual skill or expertise is minimal. Powerlessness is a common feature of horror roleplaying, but I can already hear my players balking at this.
The other side effect of adopting the Apocalypse engine over those used in previous editions is that it makes some major shifts to the lore.
An important feature in previous versions of Kult was the concept of the character's Mental Balance. Essentially this was a number determined by comparing all the values of your positive and negative traits. Sleepers--humans blinded by the Illusion, with no real awareness of the reality behind it--were balanced. In other words, their positive and negative traits evened out. As characters began to approach extremes, either very high or very low Mental Balances, they started to break through the Illusion and were now Enlightened. Breaking through the Illusion by pursuing a positive Mental Balance was the Light Path; breaking through by pursuing a negative Mental Balance was the Dark Path. This was a fascinating feature of the game. You could pursue Enlightenment either by becoming increasingly superhuman or increasingly monstrous.
Nothing like this really exists in Kult: Divinity Lost. There is no Dark or Light Path. The Apocalypse engine eschews bookkeeping of this sort in favor of Moves and a fairly simple Wounds and Stability bar. Characters still can and do evolve from Sleepers to the Aware, and then to Enlightened, but this is handled via a much more abstract system of taking enough Advancements.
Additionally, the removal of skills from the system removes the occult sciences characters used to have to pierce the Illusion. For example, Kabbalah provided knowledge of the Archons, Alchemy studied the substances the Illusion was made from, and Voodoo was the science of breaking the hold of death. These things could still exist in the setting, and might be introduced later, but for now this rich level of setting detail is all gone. The same is also true of the remarkably rich and eerie spells that added so much texture to the previous edition. The new magic system is extremely thin and freeform; not something I object to in a general sense, but it does deprive newcomers to Kult of the deep lore that made the setting such a dark jewel. If you happen to have previous editions of Kult or your shelf it would be easy to port more of the lore in, but as things stand there is a lot more style in Kult: Divinity Lost, but a lot less substance.
This is hands down the best looking edition of Kult. Arranged in 22 chapters (like the Tarot Trumps) the full color book is flawless in its visual presentation. The art pulls no punches, which is consistent with the spirit of a game (in)famous for its unflinching approach to horror. Neither does the text. Particularly in the wake of issues plaguing the latest release of Vampire (we want our horror edgy but not that edgy), Kult: Divinity Lost goes "all in" on the horrific. Kult can afford to be this bold because of its audience; while Vampire or Call of Cthulhu can be extremely horrific, there are large swathes of those communities that want the games more "Anne Rice romantic" or "genteel Lovecraftian." People come to Kult because they have strong stomachs and like their horror relentless.
Divinity Lost hews close to the spirit of previous editions, and while I am not quite willing to call it a "better" game than Kult: Beyond the Veil, it does offer the much more narrative, story-based approach the people expect from games powered by the Apocalypse. Unfortunately, Divinity Lost does seem to assume prior knowledge of that system. It throws terms like Moves and Holds at you right away and gets into detail later. If you have never played anything like Apocalypse World or Monsterhearts, the initial chapters can be unclear.
In the end, if you like games powered by the Apocalypse you will like Divinity Lost. If that isn't your cup of tea, I would recommend at least giving it a try. The system's approach to gaming fits the macabre setting well, and might change your mind even if you disliked the way the mechanics model high fantasy or supers. Previous Kult fans are going to find a promising but quite more scaled back game here. We'll have to wait and see how it expands into something closer to the scope of the previous edition.