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Tabletop Game / KULT

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One of the least disturbing monsters you'll find.

KULT is a Swedish Dark Fantasy/Splatterpunk (self-description) Role-Playing Game by authors Gunilla Jonsson and Michael Petersén. It takes place here and now, in the reality of today. But reality is not what we think. Around us the world is dark and dangerous and nothing is what it seems to be. Our reality is an illusion, created to keep us captive. We are imprisoned since the ages past by a dictatorial creator. The true world, invisible to us, is ruled by creatures who dominate the false facades, our prison wardens and torturers. And if your characters happen to slip too far into Evil, they might actually turn into monsters physically.

KULT can be used for any kind of horror game, from "splatter the attacking zombie hordes" to "solve the occult mysteries of the universe" to more subtle paranoia and conspiracies. Players play characters who somehow came into contact with darkness - whether purely theoretical, like students interested in the occult, Mad Scientists or Mad Artists; in reality, like muckrakers, private detectives or COPS; or actively fighting it, like soldiers, gang members or street fighters.

What can you do in KULT? You can fight evil... or become evil yourself... or simply go mad. Or outgrow such childish things as Good, Evil, Madness and Four-Dimensional Space-Time. But don't expect that to be easy.

A Powered by the Apocalypse reboot called KULT: Divinity Lost was released in 2018.

Warning: contains spoilers about the setting and characters.

Contains examples of:

  • A God Am I: One of the first steps to Awakening. The second step is realising that this isn't a delusion, and you're right
  • Alien Geometries: Everywhere outside The Illusion. Metropolis and Inferno are particularly easy to get lost in.
  • And I Must Scream: Both afterlives are this (Inferno is constant torture, Elysium is endless sensory deprivation) but they at least last for a finite time. Not so Purgatories, which do straight-up torture their victims for all eternity. This means the number of free souls are going down, and the Powers of the world are getting worried.
  • Amnesia Danger: The entire human race. Humans are immortal, reality-warping gods, we've just all forgotten that. The other creatures of the world are delighting in tormenting their former tyrants who could easily destroy them if they just knew — but some are getting worried that we are starting to remember.
  • Artifact of Doom: The Tarotica is a deck of Tarot cards that grant near complete power over the Illusion — but at its will and the will of the goddess that made it, not yours. Using it without being controlled is the plot of an entire campaign.
  • Ax-Crazy: Jackals have had everything but malevolence replaced in their souls, and now run around randomly killing, raping, torturing and otherwise spreading Infernal principles to the world.
  • Blessed with Suck: Luigi Cantorre is an extremely powerful death magician because he's the incarnation of Death Angel Togarini. He's possibly the most powerful incarnate of the Angels of Death, and is described as being more of Togarini's mobile citadel. He has to be, for the real citadel disappeared when Astaroth crushed Togarini for the latter's failed rebellion. Without the Citadel, Cantorre become the sole avatar of Togarini, and to kill him is to destroy Togarini for real as well.
  • Black-and-Black Morality: The setting is ultimately quite short on good guys: the primary cosmic conflict is between the Death Angels (sadistic monsters who delight in death and suffering) and the Archons (capricious tyrants and architects of humanity's enslavement), both of whom want to keep humans fettered, blind and exploited. Humans, for their part, used to be tyrants of the same kind, who enslaved entire species, plundered worlds, and did terrible things to those in their power — all other natives of Creation view our return to power as a worst-case scenario.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Most things people know are wrong, including most ethics. The true humans do not think even remotely like us, being primarily motivated by the endless pursuit of pleasure at all costs, and even those humans who are only partially aware quickly end up with goals radically different from any mainstream, archonic ethics.
  • Body Horror: When your mental balance plummets low enough, further shocks can cause your body to mutate.
  • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: Possibly the only inversion. It seems every other eldritch horror broke its arm trapping us in the illusion, and it seems inevitable that we will eventually break out.
  • Cannibal Clan: Jackals, people bound to the Principle of a Death Angel, often end up as this. Those bound to Nahemoth, embodiment of the worst parts of nature, in particular.
  • Corrupt Church: Most of humanity's churches fall under the control of Chokmah or the Black Madonna, and all are part of our prison.
  • The Corruption: Subverted with the Children of the Night, who appear to be being corrupted into inhuman monsters, but are actually shaking off the illusion and returning back to what they really are. Played straight with Jackals, whose minds and bodies are bent to a Death Angel principle, and their less common but no less dangerous Archonic counterparts.
  • Co-Dragons: Golab and Hareb-Serap, the two Angels of Death that are most loyal to Astaroth. They hate each other, but will ignore that for the time being.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: A rare inversion. Kult is not a world where reality doesn't care about you and you are nothing before the Cosmos. It's a world where all reality is made for you and your part in the cosmos is more grand and terrible then you could possible imagine. It's one of the few settings that draws horror — and a lot of it — from realizing just how important you really are.
  • Crapsack World: Most horror settings have at least one faction who are not pure evil, even if it's just the mundane police. In Kult, ALL the governments, religions, and armies of the world are puppets of the lictors or the Angels of Death, who want to keep mankind ignorant. Worse still, God Is Evil... and this is not a world where Satan Is Good.
  • The Dark Side: Negative Mental Balance turns you into a twisted reflection of your own neuroses, usually ending up with you incredibly powerful, utterly insane and unable to pass as even remotely human.
  • Dark World: In the forms of Metropolis and Gaia, representing urban and natural landscapes respectively. They're where humanity used to live when we were divine... but in our degraded state, they're both highly lethal places.
  • Demoted Memories: This is a core part of several recommended character backgrounds. The character starts out as a normal human with a denied supernatural or at least abnormal background.
  • Devil, but No God: There was a God, but he's gone missing without explanation. This leaves the Archons and their angels wracked in a devastating civil war (which, to be fair, might not be a bad thing) while putting Asteroth and the Death Angels in a prime position to become the dominant forces in the Illusion (which absolutely is a bad thing).
  • Disability Superpower: Schizophrenia is actually the ability to see behind the veil covering mundane reality. Mental illness in general is one of two roads to supernatural mojo. Sainthood is the other one, but power-wise they're mutually exclusive.
  • Disposable Vagrant: In the supplement Rumours, the Caregiver archetype says that monsters feed on vagrants.
  • Dream Land: Limbo. Most of it is incomprehensible chaos, but large chunks are ruled by the Dream Princes, humans who have fallen into dreams and subsumed large chunks of the subconscious to their will. Also, in "Divinity Lost", you can access it through the Internet.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Almost everything that exists, but most notable are the Forgotten Gods, who remain dangerous and beyond our understanding even after we Awaken. They're so powerful that the conflicts between Archons and Inferno (over reality itself) are beneath their concern.
  • Enemy Civil War: Since Demiurge's disappearance...
    • First the Archons start fighting each other. Hod, Yesod, Chesed and Chokmah were destroyed. The remaining Archons don't get along too well either, with Malkuth being the enemy of the rest (except Tiphareth, whose MO is to work everyone else's side to her own benefit).
    • In Inferno, Thaumiel, Togarini and Gamaliel rebel against Astaroth, with various degrees of success. Chagidiel also wants to join them, but doesn't have the courage to oppose Astaroth yet.
  • Enemy Mine: Notably Netzach, who will join forces with Malkuth or even Angels of Death if it will help him defeat Astaroth.
  • Enlightened Antagonist: Those on extremely high mental balance. Stripped of negative emotions and base desires, knowing great truths, free from the constraints of reality, and essentially sociopaths who care nothing for the mortal world in their pursuit to learn the truth of the universe.
  • Evil Counterpart: Angels of Death to Archons, and Astaroth to Demiurge. Actually Eviler than Thou Counterpart since neither of the pairs are truly good.
  • Expy: The Nepherites, the priestly torturers of Inferno, bear a great resemblance to the Cenobites from Hellraiser.
  • Extreme Doormat, Hikikomori: The first version of Nahemoth, the Death Angel of apathy. Nobody cares about him except Malkuth, and Malkuth only cares because she wants to kill him (and will probably succeed in due time).
  • Fighting a Shadow: Downplayed. Archons and other superbeings can have multiple incarnate avatars and it takes less than one day to create a replacement when one is destroyed. However, getting killed hurts and if several incarnates are killed in a short period, the pain can actually kill the being.
  • Freak Lab Accident: One possible archetype for player characters. Also a product of many of Malkuth's experiments.
  • Genius Loci: The Citadels of the Archons and Angels of Death are the true self of their owner.
  • Go Among Mad People: A non-therapy variant. Those who go beyond conventional madness into more...interesting mental states tend to form their own societies far outside the mainstream world. The lucky people who stumble onto them are attacked on sight. The unlucky end up talking to them...
  • God: The Demiurge claims to be this. The exact truth is a little more complex than that.
  • God Is Dead: And the Devil is the only one who wants him back. Also, God is dying retroactively, being dead further and further back in history.
  • God Is Evil: Humans were immortal superbeings before the Demiurge took all our powers away and made us what we are. Possibly inverted, as there are hints that humans were pretty awful themselves before the Demiurge imprisoned us.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: There are many things in this setting that can cause madness if you discover them. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, as insanity is the road to Awakening.
  • Have You Seen My God?: Even Astaroth is looking for him, since the Demiurge is the only one who gave his existence a meaning.
  • Heaven Versus Hell: The Archons and the Death Angels are constantly struggling to gain control of the Illusion and bend it to their Principles. This was a cold war up until the Demiurge died/vanished/whatever and Astaroth quit his job. Now the war is very hot, several Principles are dead, and the illusion is starting to crack at the edges.
  • Hell: Inferno. Nowadays most souls end up in Purgatory instead. Catch is, Astaroth no longer gives a damn about Inferno and lets his subordinate Death Angels manage the realm as they please. The Death Angels, of course, are less than fair, so you can end up getting punished for sins you never committed. And with fewer souls coming to Inferno, they will give you some extra (torturous) attention For the Lulz.
  • Heroic BSoD: One possible result of failing a terror throw.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Lictors and Razids, and every other monster that can appear human. Also, humans themselves, when they Awaken.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Despite being embodiments of evil, Angels of Death found that the darkness in humans' hearts surpasses theirs.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu: Humans are immortal superbeings, and viewed with fear and dread by all other beings; we are just slumbering and are unaware of our power.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: In a sense. While it's rather difficult to see the Demiurge/Archons as the good guys, the truth is that the divine, pre-Illusion humans were completely amoral bastards that destroyed untold numbers of lives and worlds and caused untold suffering to countless weaker species across the universe. Perhaps the setting's deepest, most interesting question would be "Do we deserve to Awaken?"
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: Jesus himself is still active in the world as the founder of one of the Ascension cults, ie the guys actively working to free humanity. He calls himself the son of the Demiurge, whatever that could mean, but doesn't seem to like his dad very much. The nature of their relationship remains unclear to the few who know him.
  • Knight Templar: Geburah is the embodiment of this trope, the principle of ruthless order and unyeilding law. In the modern age of bureaucracy, he's becoming a lot more powerful.
  • Light Is Not Good: The Demiurge. For all of human history, he masqueraded as the all-powerful, all-loving God of western religions, but he is the one who robbed humanity of our divinity and imprisoned us.
  • Love Transcends Spacetime: Our pre-imprisonment selves were beings of great lust, and not all of their desires are quenched by their imprisonment. Some souls are still seeking for each other even now.
  • Masquerade: Our reality is an illusion, a Veil created to keep us captive. We have been imprisoned for ages by a dictatorial creator. The player-characters are working to break free of the Veil and regain their innate godhood.
  • Masquerade Enforcer: If you are witnessed doing anything in public that might threaten the Veil, the agents of the Archons, like the Lectors, will appear in force to shut you down.
  • Mechanical Lifeforms: The Techrones are cybernetic creatures inhabit the Machine City, our former technological base, and still work the machines now. They're mostly harmless, but don't mind taking "spare peices" from you. In the illusion, they can take the form of any machine, including this screen right now.
  • Moral Guardians: Kult was and is, a very controversial game in Scandinavia thanks to two specific incidents: A teenage murder in the south of Sweden perpetrated by two boys who were alleged to have played KULT, and an incident in Norway where a teenage boy committed suicide mid-game. As a result, some stores removed the game from the shelves, and the Swedish parliament voted to cancel funding for roleplaying youth communities.
  • Neurodiversity Is Supernatural: All mental illness is the ability to see through the illusion— Schizophrenia is the ability to glimpse the truth, OCD is an echo of real magic rituals, Depression is a subconscious realization of what's been lost. Going utterly insane is one of the most reliable, if most dangerous, paths to Awakening.
  • Our Archons Are Different: The Archons are the ten servants and lieutenants of the Demiurge, tasked with maintaining the Illusion and keeping mankind enslaved. Each is associated with one of the Principles used to create the illusion of the material world and is served by a distinct choir of angels: they are Kether, upholder of Hierarchy and served by the Chayot Ha Kodesh; Chokmah, upholder of Submission and served by Ophanim; Binah, upholder of Community and served by the Eralim; Chesed, upholder of Hierarchy and served by the Hashmallim; Gheburah, upholder of Law and served by the Seraphim; Tipharet, upholder of Allure and served by the Malakhim; Netzach, upholder of Victory and served by the Elohim; Hod, upholder of Honor and served by the BeneiHa'Elohim; Yesod, upholder of Avarice and served by the Cherubim; and Malkuth, upholder of Conformity and served by the Ishim. Each also has a shadow and opposite in the form of one of the Death Angels who serve Astaroth. The Demiurge's disappearance threw them into chaos and internal conflict; Hod and Chesed were destroyed by the other Archons, Yesod narrowly avoided this fate and fled, and Malkuth is in open rebellion.
  • Police Brutality: The cops all work for the Archons, directly or indirectly, and are not your friends. The Law is a hostile principle that means you harm (literally and personally)
  • Possession Burnout: There is a kind of body stealer that will indulge in orgies of sex, drugs and violence after possessing a human body, with the result that said body really won't last very long.
  • Power Born of Madness: The more mentally imbalanced you become, the more of the True Reality you can perceive. Then there's also the spells you can cast if you learn the Lore of Madness.
  • Power Crutch: All humans can use all magic. As most humans don't really believe that, they have to use rituals to convince themselves its possible, but the Awakened can just cast spells at will with no need for chants or wants.
  • Reality Warping Is Not a Toy: All humans have incredible divine powers. Very few humans know this, and even fewer can reliably use them. This means it's very possible for people to accidentally create monsters or trap themselves in nightmares without even knowing they're doing it.
  • Religion of Evil: There is no shortage of psychopathic cults in this setting, but the major religions are also arguably evil, as they are all tools of the Archons to preserve the Illusion.
  • Religious Horror: Of both the standard and inverted models. Satan and his demons are very much a real threat, and the risk of possession and damnation is everpresent — some sell their souls and damn themselves to eternal torture without ever realizing it. However, the other side isn't any better. God Is Evil, and everything that could be considered "angelic" is part of his plan to dominate the universe forever. Heaven is a trap, endless emptiness until your soul empties in turn, and all faiths are lies spun by the Archons to control you. Both Heaven and Hell want to gain your soul for their own sinister ends, and both hate you. Personally. You can escape this by achieving enlightenment and ascending to a higher state of being, beyond the ties of mortality... but doing so also means inherently becoming something as evil, cruel and exploitative as the beings currently ruling existence.
  • Room 101:
    • The Abyss, the great chasm where Demiurge's citadel once was. Only Astaroth (arguably the most powerful being in the cosmos now that the Demiurge is gone) has ever entered the Abyss and returned, and only barely alive at that. And he refuses to speak about the experience at all.
    • Inferno specializes in this trope, as the Nepharites love to create personalized tortures which will drive you, and only you, completely insane.
  • Sanity Meter: The mental balance meter. However, it differs from traditional sanity meter that the sanest (i.e. closest to normal human) point of the meter is 0, and going either way makes you less sane/human in one way or another: positive number indicates a tendency towards order (and stoicism), while negative number indicates a tendency towards chaos (and emotion and instinct). Going too far in either way makes you no longer recognisable as a human being.
  • Satan: Astaroth fills this role in the setting, being the opponent and dark mirror-image of the Demiurge. Neither of them have ever had humanity's best interests at heart.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse:
    • The "Sexually Tantalizing" disadvantage from the first game. You're so beautiful that everyone wants a piece of you and nobody can listen to what you're saying.
    • Divinity Lost has the disadvantage "Object of Desire". Characters with this disadvantage have something about them that tends to ignite deep and unhealthy desires in other people that they are unable to keep in check. The Doll archetype, whose life has been made hell by the unwanted attentions of others and seeks to break free and take control of their own life, has this disadvantage by default.
  • Soulsaving Crusader: The player can potentially become one of these, since driving someone over the Despair Event Horizon can allow them to break free of the Illusion.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: Inverted, in that the horrible truths of the cosmos that cause insanity are actually things that Man used to know.
  • Torture Technician: All over the place. Golab is the prime example in the setting, but every faction has its ways of inflicting extreme suffering, and Inferno is basically an entire dimension of this.
  • The Unfettered: Community, Honor and Law are parts of the lie used to keep humanity bound, and the ancient divine humans were beholden to nothing but their whims and desires. A central part of Awakening consists of throwing off these restrictions, severing ties to cultural ethics and friend and family networks, and going back to being the unfettered tyrants of bygone days.
  • War Is Hell: Hareb-Serap is the personification of the meaningless battle with no winners. According to the Metropolis sourcebook, Netzach is this trope as well.
  • Weirdness Censor: Mentally balanced people (those at or near 0 Mental Balance) cannot see beyond the Illusion that is humanity's prison, and even when supernatural things happen in their presence, they tend to rationalize it away or just forget about it.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Malkuth's servants kidnap humans and perform horrific experiments on them. She actually wants to free all humans from the Illusion.
  • World Half Empty: All powers of the world are actively hostile (not just uncaring, hostile), there are monsters stalking every shadow, and we've all been stripped of the bulk of our selves. The only way out is to ascend... and become a horrifying monster in our own right.