Hello, Kultists! This blog post is written by Chrystal, a prominent and highly valued member of the Kult community whom you may recognize. The Summit is a controversial scenario, and in her review Chrystal tries to shed some light on mistakes made, ideas worth praising and what could have been. I hope you enjoy! //Kraetyz
After reading the summit my conclusion is there is a good scenario in there, somewhere. The following review is based on myself and Auburney’s conversation about the topic. As we have consensus of the scenario, I have included with permission some of his comments as if my own.
I will break this down into sections:
- An overview and what is worthy in the scenario: the Summit
- What is wrong with it from an agency and PbtA view.
- Exploring mature themes and my feelings about them as it relates to the Summit.
- Converting what is worthy in the Summit into a scenario that is more accessible to Kult: Divinity Lost.
1. An overview and what is worthy in the scenario: the Summit
The Summit is a scenario about isolation, and the horrors humans will perpetuate when pushed to insanity. The characters have something precious to them stolen and rush after it seeking its recovery. They will go from the regular part of the city and upon crossing the bridge, enter an abandoned section of the city, visiting body horror and the increasingly revolting tableaus to reach the Monarch Apartment Complex, ascending to the final floor to either recover that which was taken or join the debased cult of the pin-stripe man known as Monarch.
What is definitely worthy in this scenario is the setup and introduction, the location when introduced has this wonderful complexity of opportunities for exploration, it raises questions during the introductory ambush and the stealing of something precious to them and the tension when they have to chase it down to the abandoned section of the city. The motif of Monarch Apartments as a skyscraper of doom is very much an intriguing one.
I am sure there are groups who have successfully played through this scenario. However, that I feel would be more of a reflection of the skill of the group than the strength of the scenario, as the GM has to tease out the good elements and change-out the subpar ones.
2. What is wrong with it from an agency and PbtA view.
Beyond the crystallisation of the worthiness in the scenario, the number of items terrible in this scenario are many. The proposed player character groups are all with no strong reasons to go into the abandoned section of the city, let alone prepared to see or even participate in the horrors along the way. The reasons why they would continue is only due to GM fiat.
Re-reading through the scenario, the player-characters could choose to be a group of high-schoolers, who upon entering the foyer of the Monarch Apartments would be forced to participate in an orgy with little to no escape from it. There are other themes of body horror and hyper sexualization through-out the scenario, but this one struck me as the most wrong among the options.
I am going to ask you to pause, and try to imagine having no choice but to play this scene in front of other players of different genders, age groups, family and relationship statuses, without it being frankly personally traumatic and scarring.
This highlights though some of the cardinal sins of the scenario, which is the lack of a formalised consent structure for the players and a strong lack of agency with the characters through-out it.
In the Summit, as the characters progress into the abandoned section of the city and finally into Monarch apartments they end up with little to no choices in following the dictates of the GM. The only way to pass through the Monarch apartment complex is to get to the penthouse. If they die they end up on the ground floor and have to go through the same arbitrary traps and scenes again without recourse to skip over.
From a Powered by the Apocalypse perspective, the GM is supposed to be an advocate for the player allowing them great amounts of agency beyond that of just die rolls. It allows the players through their characters greater autonomy and world building opportunities over the entire world. This agency is sorely lacking in the Summit.
3. Exploring mature themes and my feelings about them.
The themes in the Summit are said to be isolation, violence and desperation. The question as they ascend both physically and mentally is how far will the characters go in losing their humanity to reach their goals.
When dealing with mature subjects, one has to be cognisant they are played out in the minds of the players. It is the responsibility of the GM for the players to be aware in detail what they are going to expect when going in and how to stop it and what are the options as the character to escape from it.
It is thus important to have a warning section prior to delving into the scenario explaining from a meta-language perspective to the prospective GM the themes in detail, what is trying to be achieved and how to scale it back so that it follows the themes of the scenario, while still being a safe environment for each player.
The Summit is missing most if not all the safeties as they are being led by the GM and often have no choice in the matter of how the scene will play out. When the GM is influencing the character through the player and having this broader power due to the lack of player agency, the player reaches a point where they stop reacting and will mechanically go with the words of the GM. This can ultimately create a fertile ground for genuine trauma.
For me, if the scenario would be played as written, I would leave the group, never to talk to them again. The reason being, I would have to experience the GM telling me how he’s essentially going to rape/murder/torture me by proxy over and over again in the Monarch Apartment Complex. I would also feel cheated finding out this was the incremental reveal at the end and that no matter which of the scenario options I choose at the finale, it will always result in a Pyrrhic victory to me.
4. Converting what is worthy in the Summit into a scenario that is more accessible to Kult: Divinity Lost.
There are still some good concepts inside of this scenario and what I would like to do is deconstruct the scenario and rebuild it to become Kult-like.
From the Pit to the Pinnacle: A reconfiguration of the Summit
Short synopsis of the scenario: The group needs to reach the pinnacle of the Monarch Apartment Complex while having to make increasingly difficult choices between the easier immoral options and the much harder moral ones.
Themes: The scenario is about whether stripping away our humanity truly makes us strong.
- Discuss what topics and themes you are willing and unwilling to explore and to what degree. Refer back to this every time when fleshing out the scenario and during game-play.
- Discuss with your group, should the types (sacrifices, secrets and rumours) also be shared with select player characters of the group or not. If you choose to share, this can create further interplay and tension between player characters. You may find the best interplay by sharing one of each type with a different player character.
Notes: You below refers to your character.
Questions for generating the scenario:
- What kind of goal would make you willing to sacrifice everything?
- What type of mundane group would be willing to reach that goal?
- What would create urgency in reaching that goal?
- Action for each PC: Write down 3 things you would be willing to sacrifice to reach that goal. Once complete, show them to the GM only.
Questions about the location:
- How do you enter the abandoned part of the city?
- What is supernaturally unusual about that abandoned part of the city?
- What are some of the elements that make you uneasy while moving in that abandoned part of the city? (Discuss what a description of a street would look like)
- Why won’t help come for you in this abandoned part of the city?
- Action for each PC: You have all lived here before. Write down 1 terrible and unconscionable secret act you did to cause you to flee and never return. Once complete, show it to the GM only.
Questions about Pin-Stripe and the inhabitants:
- Why does Pin-Stripe have absolute control of this section of the city?
- How does its will manifest against you?
- What control does Pin-Stripe have over its inhabitants?
- What would an example inhabitant clinging to the remnants of their humanity be like to elicit revulsion and sympathy?
- What would an example inhabitant who embraced their monstrousness be like to elicit fear?
- Each PC: Write down 2 rumours about what makes Pin-Stripe a terror (mundane or supernatural). Once complete, show them to the GM only.
Questions about the Monarch Apartment Complex:
- What makes the Monarch stand out among the rest of the abandoned part of the city?
- How is the Monarch an extension of the will of Pin-Stripe?
- What kind of terror do you feel as you approach it? (Discuss how does the terror manifest with the PCs and also in the environment)
- What would an example abandoned apartment in Monarch be like to elicit abhorrence and despair?
- What would an example inhabited apartment in Monarch be like to elicit dread?
During game play:
Locations in the abandoned section of the city:
- What was this place and what is it now?
- What senses are now engaged?
- Who or what inhabit this location?
- Pick a sacrifice from among the player characters they would have to complete to pass.
Locations in the Monarch Apartment Complex:
- What is this place?
- Is it abandoned or occupied?
- What emotions are now engaged?
- Pick a sacrifice from among the player characters they would have to complete to pass.
The Monarch Penthouse:
- What is unusual or jarring about this place?
- What is generating that sense of terror you feel?
- Who or what else is here beyond Pin-Stripe?
- Pick a sacrifice from each player character they would each have to complete to reach their goal.
- What was the final outcome?
- What stories have remained uncompleted?
- Where are you six months from now and how have you been reminded of the events in the Monarch Penthouse?
Thank you to Chrystal for allowing me to post this review on my blog! You can find her and myself on the Kult – Elysium Discord server.