There are some games out there that I've always meant to get around to reading. The games that sounded cool, but they were always on the edge of my peripheral vision. When my local gaming store had a big sale, I finally got around to picking up a copy of first edition Kult, a game I had fallen in love with even before seeing it (another game I'd like to get is Shattered Sky, but that seems to have evaporated just like it's publisher, Propaganda). I am very glad I finally did, and Kult very nearly lived up to be my high expectations.
The basic premise of the game is essentially Gnostic: the "real world" we see is actually a lie, a prison to trap our inherent divinity. The only way out of this trap is to pierce it, often by following a path that would make a person seem insane by his "normal" companions. Piercing the veil allows you to both see and draw the attention of Things Better Left Alone. The whole feel and set-up could be summed up as "the Cthulu Mythos, just more actively malicious." Kult is a game of infinite possibilities and horror, and I love it for that. Now I just have to restrain my urge to turn everything in Kult.
The book itself is divided into three sections, character creation, rules systems and setting, in that order. The first two sections offer really nothing innovative and noteworthy, other than the sanity system and magic. The interesting bit of sanity lies in that madness is both a blessing and a curse, and that madness can warp the body - as well as time and space. One of the best aspects of the game, however, is that the road "down" (as in being evil and naughty) can be just a legitimate a path to enlightenment as the road up (being good and kind and turning the other cheek). The explanation and implementation of this aspect of the sanity stat is superb, even is the sliding scale itself leaves something to be desired. Magic is interesting in that there are only a handful of types, all of which are really rather powerful. I was very surprised to discover how limited it was in use, however. All magic in Kult is "ritual" magic, taking hours of work and preparation. With the addition of lots of detail and flavor, I certainly am enamored of the system.
The die mechanic itself is not the game's attraction, however, it is a simply d20 roll below a skill and then a further roll to determine degree of success, not really elegant or attractive, but serviceable enough. It's the setting that makes Kult shine.
The last third of the book gives us a whirl-wind tour of the "real" world, Hell, and all realms in between. The dreamworlds, the minds of madmen, the realms where the dead wander and even Metropolis, the City Behind All Cities, are given sections of brilliant ideas and cosmologies that serve only to make me thirst for more as I drink down the addictive beverage of the outline of ideas that the writers deigned to tempt me with. That's really the only problem I have with the setting, that there isn't more of it.
The truth is that anyone with any sort of interest in bizarre horror or strange metaphysics and cosmologies needs to get Kult. This book is a setting masterpiece, like Blue Planet is but for completely different reasons. While the writing in the book is okay, and suffers from mistakes periodically, and the art is so-so, mainly due to it's small size, it is really the brilliant ideas that provide the book its inescapable attraction. The ideas presented in the book can be used to twist nearly any game around into a surreal masterpiece of malicious horror. It's just too much fun to destroy the player's hopes not to do it.
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)