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KULT: a slice of my self

This started as a comment on  Paul Beakley’s post about the KULT RPG Kickstarter but then it sort of grew out of it so here it is… I might link it into your comment thread Paul. Also reeling in Scott Martin since he’s been trudging these hunting grounds lately and triggered all kinds of emotional responses in me that I’m thankful for.

“Okay. I feel like I should say something here. But first just a trigger-warning here, (that might be completely and utterly superfluous considering the topic) because I feel compelled to shut my self-censoring completely off due to the nature of this game.

It was 1991. We were 18, immortal, and free. In those days, black was the new black, and you could be certain you were wearing your own fucking dr martens after last nights party because the pile of martens inside the door all looked the same… Drunken stupor dictates that if they all look the same they probably are and you shouldn’t give a fuck either way. This was the time we all claimed NOT to care about how we looked or what we wore, whilst at the same time we all fit the same mold so damn hard we might as well had been from the same fashion womb. Goth-clones. Really fucking rebellious, individual and independent clones.

“Entreat” was playing so loud in my earphones, my ears were ringing, head spinning and tears running down my face when she said no.

We played a lot of RPGs back then. It seemed like all we did. School was just another excuse to get together and play.

1991 was the perfect storm, we travelled across the conventions like a scourge playing Call of Cthulhu mostly when a couple of things collapsed around us. Vampire the Masquerade and KULT.

810px-kult_1autgc3a5van_box_framsida

We were smack in the middle of that shit-storm. Balls deep in Barker, Rice and Gaiman. It might sound like I’m making this up but not all of us made it out alive.

The brains behind KULT created a distilled version of everything that was awesome about this era in the most horrible sense possible. They tapped into the vein of the young adult angst-ridden attitude that insisted that Pinhead lines were poetry and the only stories worth telling. Splatterpunk was the word de jour and it mixed the horror from classics like Dracula and Frankenstein with the modern in-your-face-style of cyberpunk. KULT was everything I ever wanted out of a role-playing game. There were no limits to the dread, no taboos. The horror here is raw, obnoxious and runs deep. The reason is the setting of the game is linked to enough pseudo occult babble to make it almost connected to the real world. Just like Vampire:TM built a world just real enough for you to fill in the blanks, so did KULT. It felt like, almost real, it touched a nerve we didn’t even knew we had. The myth, the conspiracies, the horror was in the numbers between the worlds. Realms of dream, passion and madness all collided making a beautiful collage of dread.

There was only two flaws to this game. Fist of the system sucked. Big time. I appreciate the attempt at a double edge sanity system, but other than that it was abysmal. As a result, most scenarios we ever played were free-form. The second problem was a bit trickier and the main reason why the game died (at least for me) and that was the fact that it’s creators (IMO) didn’t really understand the greatness of it.

I talked to them a couple of times especially as a GM for scenarios that they wrote for conventions, and every time I got the feeling that they didn’t get it. It’s hard to explain why I felt this way, in part it might be the teenagers eternal complaint that more “grown up” persons never get it, I suppose, but I still think I was right about this.

Let me make an analogy here for a second. What if you invented the world of Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman”… and then used it to tell the story of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”… wouldn’t you have wasted an opportunity there, unless you made a real effort to change it so that the world shone through and transformed the story into something else? That was my main gripe with their adventures. They focused too much on the gore and almost nothing on the mythos. Too many cheap shock-effects and not enough grandeur. This game was aiming at so much, much more.

So we did our own stuff. Like kids do. Most of us lived to tell the tale.”

/ulf

The New KULT Kickstarter

Mutant

I wrote this a while back on a private forum, but since I was recently asked by a gentleman on G+ to share some more insights into the classic Mutant setting, I thought I should share.

“Just could not resist posting this here.
When I was maybe 10 or 11 years old I played my first “Post-Apocalyptic” RPG.

It was a Swedish game called “Mutant”. 

 
Over the years this game has evolved and been re-published by different companies with slightly different flavours, at one point there was even a cyberpunk version that had almost nothing in common with the original.

  

There was even a SciFi / Space Opera era called Mutan: R.Y.M.D. (space)

  

And yes, as you might glean from this picture this in turn spawned the Mutant: Chronicles franchise, that got its own life.

  

But at this point in time the wierd original Mutant game I remembered as a kid was long gone. Instead we had some sort of Warhammer 40,000 rip-off that did not appeal to me one single bit.

Then someone finally picked it up and went back to the roots. And for years we had “Mutant: Undergångens Arvtagare” (Heirs of the Apocalypse)

  

And it was glorious! They published campaigns that include some of the hands-down best stuff ever written for a Swedish RPG. But when they felt like they had done their bit and their “Campaign Arc” was complete, they decided to “quit while we are ahead” so they let the line and the license die out again. I’m not blaming them. They probably did a really good thing.

There was even a short film made!

https://youtu.be/yX1bcDumZBw
Now just last year another company picked up the legacy that is now Mutant. and they published a game that was EVEN MORE back to basics. Called Mutant: År Noll (year zero). The Swedish version has been out for a while. And recently they announced it will be available soon in English!!!

  

For more about this game in English check out Fria Ligan!

The Scary Stuff – Part 4

“In the end I returned and lived, but my nights are filled with strange memories, nor have I ever permitted a doctor to give me opium again.” – H.P. Lovecraft

…Continued from Last… Year?

This is it. The End of my series.

There will be no new games presented here. But rather a summary of what I have learned over the years. Some hints and pointers to what I think makes a good Horror Story and how you can achieve that in a Role Playing Game.

Guiding Stars

The Mystery is infinitely more exciting than the truth behind it!

Fear of the unknown, playing of the fantasy of the audience/players, keeping some of the secrets hidden even after the grand finale. Remember the old X-Files series? Remember how everyone agreed that the conspiracy episodes were SO much better than the “another mutant who needs some sort of bodily fluid from other humans to survive” kind of episodes? Why? Because one of them added more fuel to the mystery-fire, the other one didn’t. Also note how many episodes about this conspiracy could go by without actually revealing much of anything, and yet all these bits and pieces made you want to try to put the puzzle together… to explore how they fit and let your imagination do some heavy lifting. THAT’s what kept the X-Files alive. The Mystery. The urge to solve the puzzle. Every episode you thought you got one more piece to the puzzle, but in reality you were probably just right back where you started.

Reality always trumps fiction!

It might not look like it at first but some of the most horrific stories of our time have actually happened for real. If you want to tell a good horror story you should always try to tie in Real World events and or elements, to ground it in reality and let it grow into fiction along the way is the best way to both build Player “suspension of disbelief”, get inspiration to your story and also come to some logical conclusions about a lot of the potential holes in your story.

Some of the absolute best horror session I’ve played have been based on real (or slightly-tweaked-real) events. Some of the “hand-outs” even being based on real police reports and evidence…

Example: A Call of Cthulhu Adventure with a King in Yellow Backdrop, about Trepanation. Citing real journal entries on the subject,

“After some time there was an ominous sounding schlurp and the sound of bubbling. I drew the trepan out and the gurgling continued. It sounded like air bubbles running under the skull as they were pressed out. I looked at the trepan and there was a bit of bone in it. At last!”

– source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trepanning#Voluntary_trepanation

“The horror face” by gregyb

Corner Stones of Horror

  1. Helplessness
    It doesn’t matter what you do. You cannot shield yourself from the dread that grows within your own mind. You are chained, and forced to watch your loved one cut in half with a chainsaw, and there is not a damn thing you can do about it.
  2. Isolation
    The bridge has fallen, the phones are dead. No one will help you, no one will hear you scream. You are all alone, except of course… the terror out there. This is also something that can damage the human mind (in and of itself) from lack of contact with others. See Cabin Fever, Stir Crazy and other similar conditions. It makes you unbalanced, irritable, short tempered, violent and prone to look at other human beings as strange or intolerable.
  3. Alienation of Self
    Are you changing? Is something growing inside you? Did you really kill that man? Why can’t you remember where all the blood comes from? Why is your left hand holding a knife you don’t remember picking up? And who the FUCK is that person in the mirror looking back at you with an evil, knowing grin on his faces!?
  4. Paranoia
    Who can you trust? Who is this person sitting next to you, really? Why does the friendly neighbour always ask you how your day was? How long has that car been parked outside? Why does it feel like you’ve seen the person behind you in the supermarket line before?
  5. Fear of the Unknown
    What is making those noises in the basement? What is casting that moving shadow on the wall? Again this reminds us of the usefulness of the Mystery. If the GM keeps things vague and unspecific, the players will fear the opposition even more, their imagination will run away with them and come up with all kinds of sick demented horrors that will probably beat anything you could have told them or described to them. The longer you can wait before revealing the big bad, the better. Sometimes you can get away without ever showing clearly it at all.
  6. Reality dissolution
    How can you say you’ve been at home all day when I had lunch with you down town, are you saying I had lunch with someone else? I know I who I am, why is everyone treating me like I’m someone else? How can this woman be charging me with a kitchen knife when I know I killed her last night? And just what the FUCK is that THING in the sky laughing at me?!
  7. Violence
    In my book, violence is a tricky one. I mean it is scary as all hell in movies and books, but usually the threat of violence or violence happening to someone else or the fact that violence is happening to you and there is nothing you can do to stop it, is usually what elicits a sense of terror and dread… and those categories sort of fall into items above rather than violence itself. There is a lot of violence in “Rambo” but not many truly horrific moments where you are scared shitless. And yet… Rambo is fiction, told as an Action Story. Soldiers in the real world face short intense bursts of actual horror in every fire-fight. The problem here is that violence in games always have a tendency to be presented as Action Scenes rather than horror scenes. You roll initiative and take it from there, right? Not very horrific. But the ever present threat of violence is what ultimately sets the horror in motion. You are afraid to get hurt, to die or be maimed. You are afraid of pain. You fear what it will feel like when that lunatic lets his axe drop into the flesh of your arm… As a GM you just have to make sure you understand the difference between when violence is used as an element of horror or as an Action Scene to keep the audience awake.

A GM that can balance these elements and exploit the heck out of each piece, keep the mystery alive and a minimum of TWO of these corner stone front and centre at all times, will NEVER fail to compel his/her audience.

They will come back for more, week after week.

/wolf

The Scary Stuff – Part 3

The ninety and nine are with dreams, content
but the hope of the world made new,
is the hundredth man who is grimly bent
on making those dreams come true.
-Edgar Allan Poe

…Continued from Last Month.

Kult ultimately failed for me. I wanted to love that game so bad. But it seemed the creators of this little gem had no idea what they had stumbled upon. They seemed intent on making the least of it. I have spoken to both designers on several occasions since they wrote some convention scenarios that I GM’d. And the way they urged everone they talked to to “bring on the gore” and asked questions, when they popped in during a session, like “Have you ripped out their intestines yet?” made me wonder if this game was anything but a complete accident.

Don’t get me wrong, Penicillin was also an accident, right?

The designers of this beautiful game (not looking at the horrible system here) was apparently completely blind to what made it special. Because trust me, it was NEVER about the blood and gore.

I started to think about that Stephen King quote I started this series with. About “Gross-Out” basically meaning you failed and went for something else and I found my self hating the system and hating every adventures they put out.

So… now we moved on, still playing WoD stuff when in 1996 this happened:

I mean… WOW! Talk about revitalizing a genre! Holy crap! We all fell madly in love with this CoC version… I mean, MADLY! 😉

We were all in awe of how brilliant this was. Why didn’t anyone catch on to this type of horror setting sooner? It was so brilliant!

No sooner had our campaign in this universe started before this came along:

Now here was something “fresh”. Unknown Armies lived on the edge of Kult with it’s false reality that was falling apart and the WoD shtick with “clans” etc. The rules worked, were simple yet innovative enough to allow you to recognize and learn them AND find them new and exciting all at the same time. The sanity system was out of this world cool and we all loved it. There was just one thing missing… monsters.

Both UA and DG are two of my favourites still. We still play them from time to time and I’ve done cross-overs between them as well, that way I can add monsters as much as I wanted!

Around this time I experimented a lot trying to come up with a system for “investigation”. Looking at the building block of motif, means and opportunity and playing around with clues being technical, or anecdotal etc.

It was going to be a long long wait until I felt like buying another Horror RPG. And when I finally did it was almost like yet another refresh of CoC, because it was this:

Funny thing is, this game did what I’d been trying to do for years! It actually treated the “Investigation” part of the game separately. But it had taken a completely different approach to it than I had tried.

I smacked my fore-head and cried out in utter agony on how brilliant this was. And promptly cross-bred this into my DG/UA game. So now it was a DG/UA/ToC hybrid… that actually worked remarkably well.  (If I may say so myself).

I use the Sanity System, System for Skills, Stats and Combat from UA (The crunchy bits). I use the setting and adventures from DG (The world). I use the Core Clue mechanics from ToC (The Story mechanics) and OFF WE GO!

It is worth noting that between 1996 and 2008 I was very little movement in the Horror RPG department. Sure there were games like, “Conspiracy X” (1997) and “Dark*Matter” (1999). I bought them and read them and was inspired by some of it, but they all just felt like bleak copies of DG.

To be concluded in “The Scary Stuff – Part 4”

In the meantime let’s discuss:

  1. What is your take on Gore? Bring it ON! Or Less or More? (see… I even rhyme!)
  2. Have you created your own Cross-Overs? If so what did you mix?
  3. What other Horror RPGs have you played?
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Claustrophobia, a bad feeling or a good game.

Last weekend my wife and daughter where on a scrapbooking marathon. My plan was that me and my son (10 years old) should do some playing. We did, however not as much as I wanted, there was other things that he wanted to do (Star Wars the clone Wars season 4, and then he spent some time playing Minecraft. However we actually did play one game that he have asked for a lot, we revitalised and played the game Claustrophobia by Croc from Asmodee.

What is Claustrophobia?

This is a dungeon crawler set in 1634, where the Redeemer together with some condemned prisoners enters the dungeons under the city of New Jerusalem, all with the one purpose to clean the underworlds from the hordes of evil. The country of the setting is Helldorado,

There is quite a lot of background material to this setting that I have not, or not yet, familiarised completely with. This includes a novel and other material

The game itself is a miniature game and a tile laying, like Castle Ravenloft or maybe more close to Space Hulk. I purchased this because I played Spacehulk but that is not available at any decent price. Then worth noting is that Claustrophobia is by no means a cheap game, it definitely, is in the higher price class. When buying it a few years ago I remember being very satisfied with the quality of the components. All minis come decent pre-painted and all the tiles are in good quality cardboard. If I should say some negative then it would be the quality of the boxes for the character tiles for the good side, these feel a bit week.

From a rule perspective the game is rather easy, the 24 page rulebook is written in rather good language, plenty of illustrations. I would say that the rules could with no problem be understood even by a non-serious gamer. The rule book also includes 6 scenarios to play. Rather little you could imagine, but the randomness of the floor tiles as well as the mechanic for laying the tiles creates a rather good replayability.

The mechanics works from two different perspectives, playing as good you get as many dice as character you control, the results of these dice then reveals the types of stats the characters will have the next round. The dice are put on the character board to the appropriate character and is locked for that round. When stats are sealed the good can move, fight ore explore during the round.

The evil get three dice, the result from these dice should be placed on an evil board of destiny. Here the player face a number of choices, what to do, there are choices that ar continuous and choices that are one of. When the dice of destiny are placed and revealed, the evil can summon his evil beings. The rules for summoning are rather easy, it need to be an empty tile with an open ending. There are of cause tiles with special possibilities.

The fighting is solved in using dice, the humans and the monsters all have two stats one fight and one defence, the fight number is the amount of diced to be used in the attack, the defence value is the what the result the fighting dice need to reach to be a hit.

In solving a hit the good player have to block one line of action in the character board of that character, in that way limiting the possible choices of actions. There are two types of monsters, first the troglodytes, a simple hit on one of these terminates them. The boss monsters have hitpoints that are marked with hit tokens.

So what happened?

I actually had a read through of the rules on Friday evening accompanied with a glass of good red wine. Then after lunch I did prepare the game for us where I should be playing the evil hordes and my son should be the good side.

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I decided that we should play the first scenario, called the survivors, in this scenario the redeemer and three of his condemned fighter need to find their way out through the labyrinth.

It started out very quick for him since he managed to explore four tiles out of ten the first round, and also block my possibilities to summon any troglodytes. I managed to slow his pace down, a few rounds later, with 6 troglodytes and one ”boss”. The dice where however not on my side this afternoon. So basically on time, around 45 minutes, my son manages to escape the dungeon and all four champions still alive. I had just managed to inflict four levels of damage totally. It is good that I am a happy looser…

So with this brutal setting how do this work with children?

1) Mechanically it is easier for children to play the good side, less to read, and or remember

2) When playing as good side it is generally knowledge of the meaning of handful cards, not more that they can be kept in memory.

3) The setting is brutal but the monster minis are kind of cute.

4) The timing and immediate action is good to keep children concentrated.

5) There is a strategic element that definitely adds value for children, as well as adults.

So my final judgement on this one is still very positive, I do like to play it. I do like the timing, in under one hour. There is definitely complexity enough to also play with adults.

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There is also an expansion to this game; De Profundis, I have the expansion but have not come around to play it yet. The expansion adds more replayability with quite a few more scenarios. It also adds new monsters that could be summoned as well as two new condemned fighters. This time it is two female fighters to balance the game from the point of equality.