One November Sunday, me and the wife were bored. Slightly stoned and with nothing planned for the day, I suggested we bring out the Kult tarot deck, perform a reading to create a character, and play a zero commitment one-shot scenario over the next few hours. The result of this experience was The last days of Zoe Riemann, which you can find a recap for here. This was a revelation for me. In the past, I’ve always strongly believed that I require at least some preparation in order to perform as a game master, especially for a game with as involved a mythology as Kult, but in just one afternoon I proved myself wrong. This may seem silly to some of you, as I imagine some amount of my readers are far more versed in Powered by the Apocalypse and this approach to roleplaying than I am. I come from a traditional-esque Dungeons & Dragons background, and so my deep dive into Kult: Divinity Lost over the past years has broadened my horizons. Like, a lot.
Welcome to Reflections! This is a blog segment in which I hope to explore some of my thoughts on stories I’ve shared in the past. This may include musings on the creative process, fun anecdotes from live sessions or downtime, mistakes I hope to never repeat or interesting paths left unexplored. Being a game master is challenging, so by sharing my experiences I hope to both gain a new understanding of my own work and share something interesting for readers to digest. One note is that these segments are not suitable to read if you are a Kult: Divinity Lost player who does not have full insight into the game’s mythos. Lore spoilers ahead.
The tarot reading we performed follows much the same process as outlined in my previous article on the subject. My wife flipped through the Player Manual, skimming over the archetypes and their features until we settled on two to keep in mind: The Occultist and The Artist. Revealing and explaining the cards took very little time – my wife insisted we do not linger too long on each card before the full spread had been revealed.
Core Characteristic: 9 of Eyes (Inferno)
Past Event: Demiurgos (The Lost Ruler) and Binah (Community)
Driving Ambition: 8 of Roses (Obsession)
Weakness or Problem: 6 of Skulls (Flesh)
Strength or Asset: 9 of Eyes (Enlightenment)
We knew from the very first card revealed that this would be a rather unpleasant person in some aspect, a person more aligned to the dark forces of Inferno than anything else. That knowledge alone was enough for us to settle on an Archetype out of the two we had picked, and Zoe thus became an Occultist. Her Obsession would be with her family and the spirit world, the one thing that keeps her sane after some traumatic event in her past which left her entirely without a community. The weakness of 6 of Skulls, representing dead flesh as a container for the soul, had us explore many different ideas. By reviewing the Disadvantages, I really liked the idea of giving Zoe a mental compulsion towards self-harm, which in my mind suited the 6 of Skulls very well. We both agreed that her greatest strength would be how open she is to the world beyond the Veil, and her knowledge of it.
While making a character using this tarot spread worked well, the immediate nature of a zero-prep scenario meant that I would have to read the cards for my own devices alongside Zoe’s creation process. Luckily, the ominous reveal of Demiurgos manifested through the Archon Binah gave me some immediate inspiration for the character, and I allowed the insight to guide me throughout the scenario. Demiurgos and Binah can together represent a tragic loss of community and togetherness, but it also depicts the Eralims’ fate during the war of the Archons, following the Demiurge’s disappearance. Placing this as the background for the scenario, I decided early on the Truth of the character: Zoe Riemann is not human. She is one of Binah’s angels, an Eralim who escaped into Elysium to escape her traumatic past. She now has a human persona and has completely forgotten her angelic origins. My only real goal for this one-shot was to then play on that, try and make Zoe remember that she once was an angel. Since the Eralim all look alike, I figured her discovering a person who looks exactly like her would be a really kickass starting point towards revealing the truth. This idea of an identical person Zoe doesn’t know was the first idea I had for how the scenario would play out, and I shaped almost everything else in relation to that event.
Throughout the scenario, I tried to hold on for dear life to the themes present in the reading. They were not only there to make a compelling character. I treated the tarot cards as the only pieces I could play with at all, since I knew from the start that this would be a single session scenario. Limiting myself in this way proved very helpful, since I couldn’t tempt myself to spin new lies and truths on the fly. I stuck with the cards, and through that the story remained (I think) rather cohesive. The Six of Skulls (Flesh) provided us with Zoe’s attitude towards human bodies and Sarinil’s love of death. Nine of Skulls (Inferno) together with Nine of Eyes (Enlightenment) illustrated Zoe’s final decision: she would either become enlightened and rediscover her angelic nature, or be dragged into Inferno by Sathariel’s nepharite Sarinil which had tormented her for so long. The Eight of Roses (Obsession) was perhaps a little underplayed on my end, but my wife made plenty use of it in how she acted Zoe with everything from the constant research and preparation to her desire to be in contact with her family.
On the subject of recaps, this one is perhaps the most doctored of all the ones I’ve written. The nature of improvisation is that things don’t always fall into place the way you want them, or you can’t find the right words at the right time. Idle conversations about Zoe’s experiences with the supernatural were condensed into the dream segment about her previous summoning, which I thought was the best way to capture a concept we’d built up throughout the session’s runtime. The rolls for Repressed Memories and See Through The Illusion were also heavily expanded on. While I knew even at the time what the Truth was, improvising ways to present it without giving too much or too little away was and I think always will be a challenge. The original flashbacks and visions were not quite so cohesive as they are in the finished writeup, and I think that’s okay. Mistakes happen: sometimes you flub a line, forget to include something, or just don’t call for dice rolls that you really should have. That’s the nature of the game! I’m still immensely happy with how this scenario played out. My goal is to play many more games of Kult like it.