The Kult Take: Poppy

Poppy is a singer, songwriter, actress, author, YouTuber, model, and religious leader. That is what Wikipedia tells us, and it is quite a picture painted in just one sentence. She rose to prominence through a prolific YouTube channel full of surreal videos, where she among other things spoke nonsense and bled black sludge from her mouth. Her musical endeavors carried her to stardom, becoming not only a fashion icon but a literally worshiped pop idol through the Cult of Poppy. To look upon her is to look upon a personification of modern culture, of mass consumption and plastic appeal with a veneer of faux authenticity… but she is more. The casual observer might assume that Poppy is a puppet to some of Tiphareph’s servants, or perhaps (if you are truly deluded) an incarnate of the same. This is not only false, but dangerously so. No, the Truth of Poppy’s being and the path she has travelled is much more complex than that… and worrisome. We start from the beginning.

Bubblebath and insanity

In the early days of Poppy’s existence, she was chiefly known for her YouTube channel where she would upload strange and upsetting clips of herself in a featureless room, sometimes featuring props or other characters such as the mannequin Charlotte or a bible. While most of those who found these videos would simply dismiss them as innocuous or stupid, her inner circle of fans were those who could not help but read into the underlying messages. They were there. Poppy’s mad presentation masked a greater whole, and they were intent on finding it. The word spread of some weird, ditzy waif who spoke about the transcendental nature of the internet and fame while mocking the trivial concerns peddled by more mainstream entertainment outlets. Little by little she spread, and though she was definitely unwell and delusional this appealed to niche communities in the corners of the internet. They rallied around her, eagerly waiting for her next revelatory video clip.

She made music, too. Starting with Everybody Wants To Be Poppy, she established herself as a competent artist, if not the revolutionary force she would become. Her first single, Bubblebath, would prove pivotal because through its production Poppy came into contact with the very forces she spoke out against. They sought to control her, keep her a bland bubblegum pop idol and ensure that her fanbase of halfway crazy YouTube commenters returned to whatever lives they had neglected to follow Poppy’s word. This did not work out for either party. For her short while under Island Records’ control, Poppy’s mental state suffered greatly under the demands to conform to what they thought acceptable. She could finally see first-hand Tiphareph’s iron grip on the entertainment industry, all she’d suspected and preached laid bare before her. Poppy soon left the company behind, escaping their ever-present tentacles to alert the public of this corrupted arrangement in a way they could not hope to stop.

Money: Peddling a parodical desire for and attitude about money which tries to be at once appealing and transgressive.

And money doesn’t grow on trees
You can’t just plant a seed
You gotta work it out

Poppy.Computer and mocking the order

Under a record label of her own making, aptly named I’m Poppy Records, she realized her protest against the established order of the entertainment industry as her first album: Poppy.Computer. The album was a resounding success, not only invigorating her loyal fanbase but expanding it, spreading her message. Both her music and especially the accompanying YouTube madness was intent on illustrating both her facade of pop vanity and the darkness lurking just beneath. She spoke a lot about “Them”, the people who supposedly control Poppy. Some believed this aspect of Poppy, not realizing that she worked for herself all along and constructed the entire farce to illustrate others’ twisted arrangements. She was never a member of some music industry conspiracy. Instead, she fought the influence of that ruling shadow elite by presenting their goals and ideals as parodies of themselves. There were voices quick to accuse Poppy of supporting Tiphareph’s cabal, often called the Illuminati, since her videos and live appearances often featured the eye of providence, pyramids, and all those markers which serve to ensnare and enfeeble humanity. The vague symbolism used to keep us asleep was placed front and center so none could doubt its existence.

Poppy’s live shows at this time became a rallying call for her cult, a way to draw strength from numbers and protest the powers that be in a public and outwardly harmless way. From her bright scene surrounded by TVs and pink lights, Poppy made her audience swear loyalty to her word and gave to her most fanatic followers a drink she only referred to as “Poppy juice”. Its contents are still unknown. There was no easy way for Tiphareph’s servants to stop any of this without making themselves known to the world. Between new music and the spread of her Gospel, her first printed religious text, Poppy’s many cults grew to a formidable church in its own right. She offered liberation from the modern world’s net of oppression. Media’s influence and oligarchical control over worldly narratives could finally be opposed and questioned in public, and under the guise of Poppy’s madness the ideas spread quickly. Little by little, she eroded Tiphareph’s grip on her worshippers and took them as her own.

Let’s Make A Video: Vacuity clashes with the hijacked symbolism of the ruling elite to illegitimize their attempts at control.

Get up, put my makeup on, I know it’s time to go
Sing along to a dumb pop song that they play on the radio
Time for a pic, ’cause I’m all dressed up
Don’t make me look too typical
‘Cause I’m ready for my close-up

Am I A Girl? and self-expression

While her previous work challenged the dominance of the Archons within music and entertainment, this cause was but a stepping stone for Poppy. She rose from a small mad soul to become a recognized artist and, though concealed by layers upon layers of irony, a spiritual leader to many. As she did, the more deeply rooted issues plaguing mankind could no longer escape her. Her direct connection to Malkuth or the Rebel’s servants is unclear, but Poppy certainly took it upon herself to wake people up from their slumber. Am I A Girl? is a departure from her previous work, not only in musical genre but in tone and subject matter as well. The song Time Is Up serves as a wakeup call, reminding her listeners that the world is nearing a deadly precipice through climate change and worldwide conflict. Girls In Bikinis and the album’s namesake song Am I A Girl? both toy with ideas of sexualization, gender conflict and a rejection of the binary we’ve been fed since long before our own birth. The album was written to challenge some of humanity’s very basic assumptions about our existence and society, thus directly prodding at the carefully constructed veils of our prison.

It should come as no surprise that this ruffled the feathers of our jailers. Poppy had few defenses, but her enigmatic personality and already surreal interaction with her cult and fans made her difficult to stop. Few knew where she was, yet fewer were willing to reveal it. Any appearances were arranged in secret and often very sudden, public affairs, and little other information ever came out. A lawsuit was hurled her way via a human proxy, attempting to disparage Poppy and tarnish her image. The grip she had on her legion of fans, all too well aware of the Illusion’s machinery and its thousand dangers, were not so easily turned against her, and Poppy rose to become stronger for it. She fought the law and won. The EP Choke continued her descent into outright rebellion, but its lyrical content was even darker than her previous work. Something had changed behind the scenes, but it would take until her next album to learn what had happened.

Am I A Girl?: A protest against the values we assign ourselves and others based on preconceptions about genitalia.

Am I a girl?
Am I a boy?
What does that even mean?
I’m somewhere in between

I Disagree and Poppy’s corruption

There is no doubt that Poppy is done with her positive outlook. I Disagree is not an uplifting album, nor hopeful. The feeling one gets from listening to it is that it is already too late to fix the problems Poppy has spent the last several years trying to highlight. We failed, and all there is left to do is letting it all burn down. She may have been able to avoid the grip of our jailers, but years of pressure from them combined with a rapidly deteriorating global situation has left Poppy unable to continue her message of enlightenment and resistance. Her cult is vast, but is either too inefficient or suppressed to affect the problems plaguing Elysium. Between armed conflicts, oceans full of plastic, increasingly maniacal political discourse and the literal forces of hell come to claim us, Poppy has no more hope to give. While she previously aligned with Malkuth’s ideals, her experiences have corrupted that striving. Poppy has been twisted into the hands of the Death Angel Nahemoth. The result of this dark influence is an album which shames humanity’s hubris and our neglect of ourselves, each other and our situation. Awakening has eluded us. From our doomed struggle comes only Discord.

There is no saying what Poppy may do in the future. Her tours continue, as does her music and YouTube channel, though the former has long lost its former glory. Whatever my Queen has in store, we will have to wait for it. I look forward to it, with a healthy dose of fear.

I Disagree: We have let the wrong people speak for us for far too long. They have led us astray, and all we can do now is watch the world collapse and wonder what comes next.

Down, let it all burn down
Burn it to the ground
We’ll be safe and sound
When it all burns down

I think it should come to no surprise to you, if you have indeed made it down here, that I am a huge fan of Poppy and what she does. This text is of course not a reflection of reality, being a Kult Take on an odd pop star and nothing more. I’ve chosen to leave out a lot, from Mars Argo to Poppy.Church and many other things. Focusing only on her music felt like the most fair way to create a Kult narrative around Poppy without becoming voyeuristic.

The Kult Take: It Follows

For this recurring segment of Beyond Elysium, I will step away from the nepharites and have a Kult-inspired look at other horror media. Welcome to The Kult Take.

The curse placed upon the characters in It Follows is a sexually transmitted mark of death. Early in the film, Jay has sex with her new boyfriend and finds herself stuck with the curse, the boyfriend abandoning her with only a warning to move fast and pass it on as quickly as possible. The curse manifests as a human, though its exact appearance can shift at any time. It is only visible to those who have been affected by the curse, others ignore its presence entirely. At a slow, steady pace, the manifestation walks towards the curse bearer with intent to kill. It can break through doors, cast others aside, and track its victim to the ends of the Earth. Once it kills its victim, the manifestation returns to whomever it last tormented. No matter what you do, it follows.

Mechanically and uncaring, the manifestation nears. Whether it is truly alive or a mindless husk enslaved to the will of some greater force, none can say. It follows those afflicted by what well researched sex magicians refer to as the curse of Eridu, though the full origins of the curse remain hidden in the distant past. A few scholars studying the gospel of Gamaliel believe that the curse can be placed upon humanity by the servants of this death angel, but their obsessive attempts to prove this have so far only resulted in bloody carnage. The manifestation cannot be seen and its presence scarcely felt by those who haven’t been afflicted by the curse in the past, but unless in the way of its goals the manifestation will ignore them. Notes left behind from convents and communes brought down by the curse detail ritual orgies and ruthless sexual conquests as desperate attempts to prepare and perhaps defend against the murderous manifestation. The complete destruction of all involved in these attempts is inevitable. It may take weeks, or months, perhaps even years, but the curse cannot be lifted and the manifestation cannot be destroyed.

The curse spreads through sex. Once afflicted, the cursed’s only way to stay alive is to pass it on to the next person they sleep with. Those who have been afflicted by the curse can see the manifestation, a person walking towards them at a slow and steady pace. It could look like anyone – a stranger, a child, a lunatic or a family member. Whether its appearance is shocking or mundane, it does not break from its pace and it does not stop. Windows break and doors fly off their hinges as the manifestation approaches its victim. Hapless bystanders are ruthlessly tossed aside and violence against this to-most invisible force results in nothing but a second’s delay. It rips its victim apart, bones shattering and flesh tearing and genitals posthumously pleasured. It is a simple act, and once the deed is done the manifestation leaves the scene and wanders towards the next person down the curse’s chain. To pass it on once is not enough – the curse remembers each victim. The doom will come to them eventually.

The Manifestation

Home: Elysium

Creature Type: Enforcer of the curse of Eridu

Abilities:

  • Curse of Eridu – The manifestation innately senses the exact location of the current bearer of the curse. When the cursed dies and the curse reverts back to its previous carrier, this ability applies to them.
  • Indestructible – All Harm dealt to the Manifestation is reduced to 0. This may still trigger a Harm move.
  • Shapeshifter – At will, the creature can take any appearance or form it wants.
  • Fanatical – Cannot be influenced or otherwise reasoned with.
  • Imperceptible – The manifestation cannot be sensed by anyone not afflicted by the curse of Eridu, unless they physically interact with it.

Attributes: Combat[5], Influence[0], Magic[1]

Combat Moves:

  • Reach any place, given enough time.
  • Ignore attacks entirely.
  • Destroy a human body.
  • Easily dispose of attackers and bystanders.
  • Break down furniture, doors, and walls. 

Magic Moves:

  • Read its victim’s thoughts and memories.

Harm Moves:

  • It ignores the damage and continues walking.
  • The manifestation is struck and staggers backwards.
  • A heavy blow incapacitates the manifestation for the time being.
  • An attacker is grabbed and thrown into a wall or to the ground. [Distance: Arm. 2 Harm, target is on the ground]
  • For a moment, a threatened character can escape the manifestation’s onslaught. [Act Under Pressure to get to safety]

Attacks:

The manifestation kills in gruesome ways. Once its victim is on the ground and their legs broken, it continues its rampage on their flesh as its sexual assault leads to, and continues after, death. It cannot be bargained with, only run from.

  • Show of strength. [Distance: Arm. 2 Harm, target is on the ground.]
  • Grab and hold. [Distance: Arm. 1 Harm, target is held in an unbreakable grip.]
  • Break limbs. [Distance: Arm, target must be held or on the ground. Serious Wound.]
  • Tear apart. [Distance: Arm, target must be held or on the ground. 3 Harm.]

It Follows is a nightmarish film. From its cinematography to how it’s written, the props and the atmosphere, it makes the entire story feel like a bad dream. Despite this, I opted not to connect the manifestation to Limbo. In Kult, reality is already a lie, so we do not have to rely on dream logic to justify terror. The horrors in It Follows stand on their own, I think. How would you represent this sexually transmitted curse?

The Kult Take: 1st Summoning

For this recurring segment of Beyond Elysium, I will step away from the nepharites and have a Kult-inspired look at other horror media. Welcome to The Kult Take.

1st Summoning is a film in which an amateur director, Mark, convinces his friends to help him make a documentary film about an allegedly cursed factory. It’s said that the Millbrook Factory was built on grounds used for satanic rituals, and that supernatural phenomena continue to happen inside even forty years after its discontinuation. Mark’s concept is to film interviews with locals about the rumors surrounding this place, then head inside the factory on the night of October 6th to perform a ritual which allows you to ask for anything you want. As the movie progresses Mark’s fragile mental state deteriorates, and his friends and girlfriend become divided amongst themselves as they help him realize his vision, with a gruesome end result.

That’s a good Kult story. Unfortunately, the film is a mess. It is shot poorly even for a found footage film, the plot is at times nonsensical in a way that doesn’t tell us anything interesting, the horror isn’t impactful, and Mark’s acting is unfortunately the worst in the group of four main characters. I did not like it, but it did have some good ideas worth salvaging. What better way to do it than adapt it as a Kult one-shot?

SPOILERS AHEAD.

1st Summoning is a scenario for three players, with the game master taking on the role of Mark. Having a GM-controlled “main character” can lead to some issues, so the framing here is important. Mark is single-minded and distant, even with his girlfriend, all in the pursuit of the ritual being performed, and his film succeeding. The players don’t have access to all of Mark’s research on this devil at the Millbrook Factory they’re making a film about. He only tells them the bits and pieces they need, expertly lying to keep the full truth from them. Mark is effectively an Aware character while the rest are Sleepers. He believes in this ritual, and now sees it as the only way to fulfill his desire for success. The players follow along as Mark’s obsession takes them inexorably closer to the night of the ritual, with scenes alternating between high tension character drama and building horror. Inside the Millbrook Factory, they draw a satanic symbol on the floor and recite a verse to summon the being that dwells there. The players don’t know it, but the ritual also demands a sacrifice of three humans. In the aftermath of the ritual, Mark disappears and the players are beset by supernatural forces. The scenario’s endpoint is either that the players escape, or are captured and sacrificed by Mark in exchange for fame and fortune.

Since the plot of this scenario skeleton is very linear, it is vital to provide the players plenty of opportunities to instead play off of the relationships between the characters. Drama is king. The scenario should be teeming with tension from Mark’s singlemindedness, Leslie’s infidelity, Ryan’s sensitive ego and Ace’s recklessness. It should make the players question what it means to be a good friend or partner. Peer pressure and guilt are important tools, with Mark goading, shaming or outright lying to get his friends to help his mad scheme. It’s hard to be on Mark’s side, but abandoning him in this time of need would be even worse.

Leslie is a detail-oriented photography student, operating the camera and helping Mark however she can. As his girlfriend, Leslie understands better than the rest Mark’s need for this project to succeed. She’s seen first-hand that he has put everything on the line for this. When she’s not working or laughing about something stupid someone else did, Leslie tries to act as a voice of reason. She will push back against others’ ideas if she doesn’t like them, but will always back down if Mark really wants to do something. She wants to help him and make sure he’s safe, but knows that no one can stop him from doing what he wants. She doesn’t exactly believe in the Satanic legend they’re investigating, but would still prefer not to get involved with the supernatural, just to be safe.

Leslie has dated Mark for a while now, and before that she was with Ryan. As such, she is the closest to Mark. He can be very difficult at times, with his obsessive moods and callous disregard for others. She cheated on him with Ryan at a party, a few weeks before the start of the scenario. It weighs on her, especially because she suspects that Mark knows. Still, Leslie loves Mark for his powerful drive and willingness to commit to ideas. Ryan is kind, and hot, but he’s an indecisive wet blanket and lets his worries overtake him in every situation. It makes him annoying to be around at times, though not as bothersome as Ace. She thinks Ace is funny, but very dumb, and his complete unawareness of both safety and sanity stresses her out.

Ryan comes along as a friendly face in front of the camera, and to look out for his friends. He knows that Mark is difficult to deal with, but would rather be part of the film than not. Like Leslie, Ryan thinks he is a voice of reason and a competent person. His safety-first pragmatic attitude gets him made fun of by the rest, especially Ace, and his short fuse means that arguments are never far away. Ryan is nervous about this entire film idea. Something feels off about it and he can’t put his finger on what. It’s not that he believes in the supernatural, but Mark’s obsessiveness about performing the ritual for the movie is a little creepy.

Ryan loves Leslie, and wants to get back together with her. He refuses to believe that she could be happy with Mark, who he knows is a prick that doesn’t treat her well. Still, Ryan knows he can’t afford to look for fights, the situation is already tense. He always tries to take the least disruptive path, and so he seethes whenever Mark or Ace do something he thinks is stupid. Ace and Ryan bicker a lot, but it is mostly friendly. Their friendship is stronger than a few arguments, and Ryan wants someone with them who isn’t the girl he’s in love with or her boyfriend.

Ace is, in one word, reckless. At the start of the scenario he has a sprained ankle from falling. He got the shot, though. He considers himself a good friend to everyone there, and believes in Mark’s documentary.  Ace is the one most willing to go the distance and help Mark when something needs doing, and he has few qualms about doing illegal or stupid things. When everyone else backs down to reconsider, Ace is the one to head straight forward. Primarily tasked with shooting B roll for the documentary, Ace has a free pass to do almost anything. It suits him perfectly, and he’s keen to agree with Mark’s more eccentric ideas.

Ryan and him have a good relationship. They bicker, insult each other and disagree, but at the end of the day they’re friends who try to be honest with each other. In some ways, Ace still sees Leslie as Ryan’s girlfriend because that’s how they met. He’ll often make jokes and callbacks, which frustrates Leslie and he knows it. Like Leslie, Ace looks at Mark’s sheer willpower and drive as an inspiration, but he lacks the critical judgment to consider when it goes too far. While Ace is a skeptic towards the supernatural, he always tries to see the world for what it is and when something looks or feels wrong, he’ll never deny that. Every situation is approached with open eyes, if not with intellect.

Mark released a mildly successful niche documentary last year, and knows that this film about the Millbrook Factory is what will propel him towards success. He has put everything on the line for it: his savings, his relationships, everything can, and must, be sacrificed for the ritual to work. After discovering the legend of the Millbrook Factory online, his research has concluded that the stories are true, or true enough that it really is worth risking it. Since discovering the ritual, Mark has felt a dark force manifest within him, and it grows stronger the closer they get to the factory and October 6th, the only time the summoning works. The entity that lives on those cursed grounds has its hooks in him already, and the line is blurring even for himself where his own compulsiveness ends and the pull from the impending ritual begins.

He keeps the exact details of the legend and the ritual from his friends, even from Leslie, because if they knew their roles as sacrifices, he could never succeed. Mark will lie to and manipulate any of them if they begin to doubt the project, and actively sabotage any efforts to pull out of it. He has come too far to see this fail. He is afraid, both of failure and of the entity waiting for him beyond the veil. He tries to hide it by alternating between wide, nervous smiles and laser focused rationalizations of his view. He’s always had tendencies to act out, but this is different. To his friends, it is as if Mark has become a parody of himself.

These are the characters that make the tension and drama of 1st Summoning work. They all have strong bonds to one another, though their relationships aren’t always smooth. Mark’s obsessive behavior and strict demands make the entire group dynamic volatile. Those are the moments the GM must push to create, and then emphasize on relentlessly. The scenes in the scenario should test the ways characters approach situations and each other, and revel in their disagreements. Just when everything feels like it’s about to fall apart, Mark and the dark force pulling at him ensure that the show must go on.

Below, I’ve outlined a few scene ideas either taken from or inspired by the events of the film. They are not expansive, and don’t encompass the entire scenario. Instead, they hopefully serve as a starting point for thinking about the story and the characters. Each scene comes with a short description of how the scene looks, its purpose, and how it might be run.

Takeoff

It’s early morning. Mark was set on heading out at dawn, so he and Leslie are packing up the RV that Mark has rented for the project. Equipment is checked and double checked, driving directions are discussed, and Mark is growing increasingly annoyed with Ryan and Ace being late. They have a limited time frame, the ritual only said to work on October 6th. As Ryan and Ace show up with the cameras, Mark throws out a half-joking accusation that Ryan was trying to bail on them.

Let the scene be brief. This should be a chance for the players to feel out and introduce their characters in the way they like. Mark’s distinct brand of obsessiveness should be clear and introduce just a tinge of tension, but try not to start any fights. There will be plenty of time for that.

The Ride

The RV isn’t cramped, but it doesn’t allow much room for privacy either. Everyone is taking turns driving except for Ace since he broke his foot filming recently. Conversations come and go naturally as forests and fields pass by the windows. At some point during the drive, perhaps when stopped for lunch, Mark brings out a piece of paper to show the rest. It contains a long verse, in English, which Mark explains will be used during the ritual to summon the entity at the Millbrook Factory. At the bottom of the page, there’s a hand drawn sigil in a circle. One of them will have to stand in the circle and read the text to perform the ritual. Who will it be?

Before the dramatic question of the scene is asked, allow the players to come up with their own conversations and discussions to have. Ask them questions about how they feel about the project and about how much (or little) they know. If any real worries emerge, allow them to be brought up in conversation if the player or players so desire. Once any potential discussions have been put to rest, introduce the paper detailing the first part of the ritual. Mark will claim not to know what happens after this point, other than mentions of an entity appearing. He’ll refuse to perform it himself, because he’ll want to be able to film and see it all with the clear eye of an observer.

Reel

Arriving at the town of Harrison, close to the Millbrook Factory, the team begin their filming in earnest. Mark’s idea is to have someone on the team, preferably Ryan, interview townsfolk about the legend surrounding the factory. The answers range from having no knowledge to preferring not to talk about it, with some members of the Harrison community clearly still believing in what they might refer to as the Millbrook devil. While some of the stories seem outlandish, Mark is paying close attention to every word. Even if he claims to be there to make a documentary on this supposed phenomenon, it’s clear he believes every gruesome detail.

Here is an excellent opportunity to introduce an Investigate roll and really explore the consequences of the roll. Perhaps a strange old man invites them in to talk about the legend, but something doesn’t seem right. Someone might offer themselves as a guide, claiming to have entered the factory themselves. Mark will resolutely refuse any additional crew members, which might cause some strife between team members who’d rather stay safe. Whoever is performing the interviews will find themselves both micromanaged and spoken over by Mark, who cannot help but interject and push for more information. Mark should be pushing buttons and boundaries here. This is also the point where the atmosphere of horror starts to build. A lot of town members don’t know or don’t want to talk about the legend, but those who do will tell stories or give out details that are anything but pleasant. Write down a few eerie and disturbing details in advance, or make it up as you go to feed into the players’ potential fears.

Mishaps and Disasters

Interlaced with everything else happening, several scenes of things not going according to plan can play out to up the tension and cause more frustration between the characters. It starts out with something small, like a memory card going missing or something small breaking, but can escalate to the RV breaking down or someone seriously injuring themselves or someone else. Mark will always react to these events the same, telling the rest to ignore anything going wrong because the film has to get made, the ritual only works on October 6th. He’ll say and do anything to get his way, and if it comes down to it, he will abandon them to do it himself. He doesn’t believe the ritual will work without them, but it is better than simply losing everything he’s chanced on this and he is not above guilt tripping his friends. As the story progresses, these scenes can also be used to show the signs of Mark’s possession: faintness, long periods of being unresponsive, vomiting black bile.

With every mishap, make a conscious decision which character or characters you want to sabotage. Find ways to pit the characters against each other: Did Ace lose one of Leslie’s memory cards? Does proof of Ryan and Leslie’s cheating emerge? Is Ryan driving when the RV gets a flat? If Mark passes out, who will care for him and who will listen to his pleas to keep going? Examine the group’s dynamics, and seek to break or put a strain on them. Mark is the central piece, and the GM should always try to sow disagreement and stress between the players through him when possible. Let the players argue with each other, let them argue with Mark, and do not be afraid to bring in the supernatural and inexplicable as the story draws closer to its conclusion. Dark powers are scheming to allow Mark to finish this ritual. They may work in gruesome ways, but they are on his side.

Ritual

As the scenario draws to a close and the night of October 6th comes down on the characters, they’ll find themselves exploring the Millbrook Factory. Long dark hallways, trashed offices, years and years of garbage and filth from humans and other animals covering every surface. Their own footsteps echo back at them, a disorienting feeling of being followed settling in. Mark is clearly looking for something, and believes he’s found it when they enter a massive open space, with arcane symbols painted crudely on the walls and pillars supporting the ceiling. The silence is oppressive, and standing in the middle of this hall the walls fade away into impregnable blackness. As the clock strikes midnight, one of the team members has to read the incantation and perform the ritual. Every word spoken feels like reciting one’s death sentence.

This is the climax of the story. Take care to build up a truly disturbing atmosphere as the players explore the factory, giving them glimpses of evidence of rituals past and the violent outcomes. The evil dwelling there has them fully in its grip now, and as the Illusion begins to falter with every minute approaching midnight, what’s waiting for them beyond the veil becomes more and more visible. This is a team effort, and sticking together is all they can do, but in the end one of them will be singled out to perform the ritual. Mark will not allow anything else, to the point of raw aggression and violence if necessary. Once the ritual is completed, he disappears into the shadows knowing that his plan has succeeded. The cameras are still rolling.

The Culprit, The Madness and The Ending

You will notice that throughout all of this, I have failed to comment on who or what it is inhabiting the Millbrook Factory, waiting for this ritual to be performed. That’s because I believe the truth of this scenario to be decided by the GM. Everyone has their view on what the Kult Mythos is and does, and how they want to use it. 1st Summoning offers a simple idea that is easy to pick up and run with in many directions. Is the devil in reality a child of the underworld, setting in motion elaborate schemes to harvest genetic material and find allies within Elysium? Perhaps the curse of the Millbrook Factory is a weak spot in the Illusion, a place where Limbo and Elysium intersect so that the unlucky visitors’ own fears and dreams are what manifest through the ritual? A servant of Yesod might have been locked up below the floor years ago, now desperate to get out of its prison if only for one night when the seals are at their weakest. My point is, the ending must be yours to write, because the ending informs so much of the scenes leading up to it. The frightening details you add, the mysterious undercurrents and inevitable side plots that develop work best if you have your own story to tell.

In the original story, Satanic cultists descend on the three characters while Mark undergoes some dark experiences on his own. After being chased around and eventually captured, Leslie, Ryan and Ace find themselves in stocks set up by an earlier scene. There, Mark dons the same gear as the Satanic cult and kills his three friends with an axe before the movie ends. While I don’t care for the execution of the film’s climax, the broad strokes are good and should be learned from. When the ritual finishes, all hell breaks loose and Mark disappears or is otherwise distanced from the rest. As the horrors you’ve been building throughout the scenario are unleashed in full force, the players are forced to fight or escape until a breaking point is reached. All three of them must be sacrificed, and so if one of them dies prematurely or escapes Mark’s ritual will fail and anything may happen. Let the film itself provide a mood, but steep it in your own brand of Kult madness.

This has been an exercise and experiment for me. This Kult Take is definitely different from the other ones, but I hope you’ve enjoyed the read regardless. I find it difficult to recommend 1st Summoning as a movie, and yet I was willing to go back and watch it twice again while I was writing this. While it isn’t good, it holds a kernel of something interesting, and perhaps I should be willing to recommend it on that basis alone. If you thought this Kult Take was interesting, or if you didn’t, please leave a comment and discuss it with me! I’m always eager to hear others’ thoughts.

The Kult Take: Jacob’s Ladder

For this recurring segment of Beyond Elysium, I will step away from the nepharites and have a Kult-inspired look at other horror media. Welcome to The Kult Take.

Hello and welcome! This time on The Kult Take, we are delving into the madness of Jacob’s Ladder. This one’s been brought up many times in discussions about Kult-like films, and finally watching it after years of putting it off makes me understand why. It feels almost deliberately Kultish at times, until you remember that the film was released in 1990, a year before Kult first hit toy store shelves in Sweden and caused all sorts of ruckus.

Jacob’s Ladder blew me away. It’s a movie which defies a singular interpretation, and deliberately so. It is a movie which contradicts itself and hints at all sorts of possible truths. If you disagree with my understanding of the film, I encourage you to comment with your own thoughts.

SPOILERS AHEAD.

The Text, The Ladder and Purgatory

Before I tackle my Kult Take of this film, I need to discuss how the film presents itself as Kult-like on the surface. Jacob’s hallucinations of demons, antagonistic government agents, the hospital scene, and all the mentions of purgatory and hell makes for a beautiful tapestry of Kulty elements. These similarities, however, may only be skin deep.

Jacob is fighting in the Vietnam War, where he is tricked by the government into ingesting a chemical weapon called the Ladder. This causes him, along with the rest of his unit, to go into a mindless murder frenzy. Once Jacob is wounded he begins to hallucinate. He dreams of a future after the war, where he lives a meager life trying to make do with a girlfriend that doesn’t seem quite right for him. Demons haunt his waking hours and he dreams of his old family and dead son. Jacob’s relief comes only from his chiropractor, who helps with his back pain and gives him life advice.

Eckhart saw Hell too. He said: “The only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won’t let go of life, your memories, your attachments. They burn them all away. But they’re not punishing you”, he said. “They’re freeing your soul. So, if you’re frightened of dying and … you’re holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away. But if you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth.”

This quote summarizes the film. Jacob is experiencing purgatory, in his dying moments holding on to and eventually freeing himself from the worries, fears and anxieties which plagued him in life. Even the Ladder itself may only be a figment of Jacob’s own fears, and not real at all. At the start of the film, one of the other G.I.’s complains about the ‘weed’ they smoke. Jacob can hear this, so it may be in his mind in those final moments. At the end of the film, Jacob dies in a Vietnam triage tent, while in purgatory he finally meets his son who guides him to heaven.

This is a very quick run-through of the film as I understand it. There are Kulty elements in this story, but how well would a Kult Take based on this series of events hold up?

Jacob is stuck in a personal purgatory. It is almost trivially easy to relate this to Kult. Being near death and in a hellish warzone brought Jacob close to Inferno where a purgatory was constructed for him. Assuming the Ladder is real, it must be some horror drug concocted by a servant of a higher being specifically to bring Jacob and his unit to hell. If we accept that Jacob is in a purgatory, we must ask the question: Who created it?

I have no good answer to this. Initially, I was going to suggest the chiropractor, Louis Denardo, but his actions in the film don’t particularly remind me of a nepharite intent on tormenting Jacob. He acts antagonistically towards the hospital staff in the most nightmarish scene of the film, which admittedly could all be a ruse to finally convince Jacob to shed his life and accept death. That could work, but I am more inclined to say that if there is a creator of this purgatory, we do not see them.

Several more questions pop into my mind: Why is this purgatory so ridiculously big? Are his veteran friends from Vietnam actually there, or are they replications? Who are all the people? If this truly is a purgatory as depicted in Kult, there seems to be a small army of purgatides and other horrors inhabiting this realm. Why does Jacob meet a peaceful end in his purgatory? There are details to this read that do not make sense to me, and so, I discarded it.

Jacob Is Not Dead

The film pushes the idea that Jacob is dead on us at several points. The palm reading, the flashbacks of him getting ‘rescued’ which eventually end with death, and the hospital scene where the staff explicitly tells him that he’s dead. It’s lies, I tell you, lies!

Jacob survives the effects of the Ladder, and returns home after the war. He is changed, though. War, and the lingering influence of the Ladder, has cursed him. The war trauma that he experienced births a madness in him, and that madness weakens the barrier between him and the Truth. He tries to live an unassuming life, but when he starts hallucinating about demons coming after him, Jacob breaks down in classic Kult fashion. Nothing feels safe anymore, and he begins to question his experiences in Vietnam.

The central character to this story in my opinion, and my favorite character, is Louis Denardo. Jacob’s chiropractor is a fixed point of safety in his life. The film sets up Jacob’s back pain and Louis’ privileged ability to help him with it. He also saves Jacob from the hospital where he ends up after being attacked by government agents, further cementing his role as a savior figure. The truth is that Louis is a lictor still loyal to Chesed, one of the few remaining. His master may have been destroyed, but Louis believes in his principle and mission.

Louis gives Jacob comfort in his life, attempting to mend this broken man’s suffering. We know why: the safe human does not look beyond their horizons. Jacob is only a danger so long as he remains paranoid and afraid. Jacob used to have another person to help him with these problems, Dr. Carlson from the veterans’ outpatient program, but since his death only Louis remains.

As the events of the movie unfold and Jacob is kidnapped by servants of Hareb-Serap (more on this later), Louis comes to the realization that Jacob is too far gone. He saves Jacob from Inferno, vehemently opposed to the beings there and what they may have in store for his subject. This is where the Meister Eckhart quote comes in.

If you’re frightened of dying and you’re holding on, you’ll see demons tearing your life away. If you’ve made your peace, then the demons are really angels, freeing you from the earth.

It is exactly what Jacob needs to hear, and it allows Louis to give him a calm, sensible death. His essence will find its way to some oubliette to forget and be forgotten. It is a much preferable end to a tormented soul than it falling into the hands of some razide’s horrible schemes. Louis, wielding Time & Space magic as necessary, not only kills Louis but erases from his being all the events which unfolded after Vietnam. Had he died in that triage tent, Jacob and many others around him would be better off, so Louis allows this to happen.

Hareb-Serap’s Ladder

Agent Orange, napalm, MKUltra. The Vietnam War was hell. Or, for the purposes of Hareb-Serap’s servants within the army, close enough. Michael Newman, the chemist who explains the Ladder to Jacob near the end of the film, was recruited by the army. The reseach team, headed by one of Hareb-Serap’s razides, is put to work on developing a drug which will allow the Vietnamese jungles to be pulled down into Inferno. The Ladder will cause such indiscriminate and barbaric bloodshed that the Raven of the Battlefield might manifest in physical form. Whether this goal succeeds is left to your imagination. We only know is that Jacob’s unit were the test dummies, and that the impact of this violent, supernatural drug would stick with them forever.

The war ends in 1975, and by then Jacob has been sent home. His old life is inaccessible to him, and his new life leaves much to be desired. He, like many other veterans of the conflict, suffers from mental problems. The Ladder has permanently weakened the Illusion around Jacob, as madness often does, and he experiences visions of monstrous beings in everyday life. Seeing through the Illusion can and will alert higher beings, and so Hareb-Serap’s servants eventually discover Jacob’s situation. They are in no position to allow Jacob’s madness to continue unchecked, Hareb-Serap has a generally weak hold on the United States. Instead, once it is clear that Jacob is honing in on the truth, the goal becomes to kill or permanently silence him.

We see this first when Jacob and his friends contact a lawyer about the army mistreating them. The paperwork shows they were never in Vietnam, and Jacob’s friends back out from the fight likely following threats similar to Jacob’s. Instead of killing Jacob outright, men from the government attack him and leave him severely hurt to be taken to a hospital. This entire sequence, from the car ride to the hospital, feels entirely orchestrated from start to finish. It is not by chance that Jacob ends up at the hospital. By placing him there, the forces of Inferno can keep Jacob from exposing the truth of the Ladder and perhaps even continue their research on him.

The Ladder is the root of Jacob’s problems. It caused him to experience horrible and inhuman things in Vietnam, it broke him until he began to see through the Illusion, and it made him a target of the army who had planned for him to die along with the rest of his unit.

This was a very fun film to write a Kult Take for, and it is a very fun film to watch and interpret in general. Christian mythology is really exciting when done right, which in my mind, Jacob’s Ladder does. I consciously have skipped over large parts of the movie in the interest of post length. Do you find this view of Jacob’s Ladder interesting? Do you agree or disagree with what I’ve said?

Since my introduction claims that I will step away from the nepharites when writing The Kult Take, the next one will be something quite different. Friend Request and Jacob’s Ladder are both movies which I found intensely tied to the higher powers of the Kult mythos. I want to delve into some of the weirder corners of what Kult can offer. Stay tuned!

The Kult Take: Friend Request

For this recurring segment of Beyond Elysium, I will step away from the nepharites and have a Kult-inspired look at other horror media. Welcome to The Kult Take.

Friend Request is a 2016 horror movie in which Laura, a popular college girl with an active social media presence, tries to befriend the friendless freak Marina and gets punished for it. It has problems: it loses steam about one third through the movie but just keeps plodding on, the scares are lazy, and the message is, like, wow, mean spirited. BUT! Marina, presented in the film as a new age witch who sacrifices herself to curse Laura, is a delightful look at how Sathariel corrupts the miserable and lonely.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Marina Nedifar, a lonely and bullied young woman who grew up at an orphanage, has been fed since childhood with lies and promises by Sathariel, the death angel of exclusion. She was born in Moore’s Grove, apparently a strange cult-like commune, until it burned down in a massive fire with Marina, still a fetus, as the only survivor. Cults devoted to Sathariel are rare, but this secluded commune sacrificed itself by burning down their own homes in order to create a powerful servant for Sathariel.  Fascinating, and dangerous.

The movie tells us that Marina is a witch, in the classic christian ‘dancing with Satan at Blåkulla’ sense. Since Christianity is a lie far removed from True Reality, we can rule this theory out. That is not what is happening. Marina has had powers even since childhood, though, when her two bullies were disfigured and murdered by a swarm of wasps. She acts out the will of the death angel, with supernatural abilities gifted to her directly from this higher being.

When Marina kills herself, she performs a modern interpretation of what the film presents as an old witch ritual – killing oneself in front of a black mirror to become ‘something else’. Instead of using a black mirror, Marina hangs and burns herself in front of a blank computer screen. She performs this ritual in order to target Laura, who hurt and humiliated her earlier in the film, with a curse.

“You will know how it feels to be lonely :)”

Marina’s “ghost”, or some magic from Sathariel meant to emulate her, starts tormenting Laura’s friends with a goal not to kill Laura, but to possess her. This can only be done once she has experienced the same loneliness which Marina lived with all her life. On a higher level, Sathariel is spreading her influence within the Illusion. Laura’s friends die one by one, Laura is framed for vehement online acts and no one believes her story of what is happening, and all the while she is desperately trying to find a way out. As her sanity slips from the chaos and fear, Marina and Sathariel herself inch closer to their final goal.

At the movie’s climax, Laura finally steps inside the ‘black mirror’ realm. It is a twisted place of darkness and grim looking trees, poorly foreshadowed by the artwork which made Marina stand out earlier in the film. Here, Marina makes her final move and attacks Laura directly. We see, as the film ends, Laura sitting alone in a college cafeteria. She is pale, dressed like Marina was, and has a laptop in front of her showing that her Facebook page now looks the same as Marina’s did. The possession is complete, and Sathariel can look for her next target.

Let’s talk about Kult and how to use Marina, or a character similar to her. Introduce her as a strange loner, in the back of the bus or somewhere in class, perhaps sitting at the far end of the office. Make them seem lonely, and sad, and a little bit off, but ultimately just a person in an unfortunate place in life. Someone that a player character could help.

Once contact has been established, escalate quickly. The character is immediately overwhelmed by hundreds of text messages, Marina finds them and visits them no matter when or where. Make Marina’s creepy art features the character she’s most attached to. The situation needs to become dire quickly enough that the character realizes their mistake and tries to break things off with Marina.

Then, the suicide. The film makes a great move by making Marina’s suicide public. Livestream it, or post a video, but the ritual itself must be done in private. Hanging and burning oneself is not an easy thing to pull off with spectators, and Sathariel prefers the solitude. The suicide may feel like either a relief or a shame to the character, but either feeling does not last once Marina’s haunting begins.

The most important thing to emphasize is exclusion, and loneliness. When the character becomes Haunted by Marina, make certain that the horror doesn’t start and end with the deaths of the character’s friends and family. The friends still alive will begin to distrust the character, and events outside the character’s control will advertise them as an other, someone to shun.

In the film, Marina posts videos using Laura’s Facebook feed which show both the suicides of Marina’s and one of Laura’s friends. She can’t delete the videos, she can’t delete her account. Laura is powerless to stop the people around her from seeing her as a complete asshole. Additionally, Laura’s own quest to stop the events unfolding brings her to some unsavory places and drives a wedge between herself and her boyfriend. Not only are her friends dying faster than she can emotionally handle, but it seems the universe itself is trying to push her away from human connection.

This is what Sathariel does, and it is what she thrives on. Once the Haunted character is completely alone, shunned by society and with a trail of dead friends behind them, the story ends with the final possession. Marina creates her successor and inhabits her… or perhaps it is just an incarnate of the death angel herself?

Final note: I have received quite a few good suggestions for horror media to tackle with The Kult Take. Next up is Jacob’s Ladder, because it has to be done. If you have any suggestions, feel free to comment them. If there’s other type of content you’d like to see in these Kult Takes, I am open to feedback. I’ve considered things such as gameplay examples, stat blocks where applicable, and things of the sort. Tell me your thoughts. 🙂

The Kult Take: Pet Sematary

When I read the Kult core book, I am again and again struck by the same feeling: The Kult universe is dark, and it is expansive. Every possible avenue is left open for you, nothing is absolute nor set in stone. While we know about the cairath and nachtschreck and azghouls, there are a million other horrors the book never explores. We learn about the Swap Dealer and Death Angel Incarnates, but there are thousands other gods and manifestations of them we might as well be dealing with.

What lies beyond the Illusion, and how it affects those that gaze through it, is entirely up to us. We can tie it to the book’s presented beings and conflicts as much or as little as we want. If we accept that, then Kult is so much more than a game about discovering lictors and zeloths and the Demiurge. Kult becomes a game where nearly any horror story can be told, and thanks to the game world’s malleability, we can seamlessly integrate it to any desired level we want for our story.

For this (hopefully frequently) recurring segment of Beyond Elysium, I will step away from the nepharites and have a Kult-inspired look at other horror media. Welcome to The Kult Take.

In preparation for the movie reboot of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, I decided to finally read the original book. It was very good! It’s a seriously intense story, dealing bluntly and unflinchingly with the fear of death and the trauma of losing a loved one. It questions how comfortable we should be with death. Should we take it for granted? Should we defy it, or hide from it? I recommend you read it, but I will try to summarize some of the important elements of the book as we go along.

For this first segment of The Kult Take, I’ll have a look at the supernatural powers that fuel the horrors in the book. But, before we go on, I feel obligated to state in as explicit a way I can:

SPOILERS AHEAD.

Sometimes, dead is better.

The Micmac Burial Grounds, cursed by a monster the book names a Wendigo, is not part of Elysium. This is a place said to exist deep in the forest outside of Ludlow, where those buried come back to life. Changed. Animals raised act differently, and nothing can clean the stench of death from them. Those few humans taken to this place come back with knowledge they should not have, and seem filled with spite and hate towards the living. They can die again after this, and perhaps that is for the best.

This place with the power to bring back the dead exists deep in Gaia, and its influence stretches out into the rural Ludlow community and sometimes even farther. The power that dwells there is ancient, and its goals are largely unknown. We will get back to the Wendigo and its influence over the story. To begin, we will see how going to the burial grounds requires exploring Gaia, the original wilds beyond the Illusion.

Especially during Louis Creed’s trip alone, I noticed repeatedly the emphasis King places on how different the forest is beyond the deadfall, that heap of old trees which mark the border of the Pet Sematary. Mists which never go away, unrecognizable plantlife (and just by the bye, have you ever seen plants like these in Maine before? In Maine or anywhere else?), the Wendigo and what Jud called St. Elmo’s fires, and a starry sky with constallations Louis has never seen before. The forest seems alien, not part at all of the world Louis and Jud come from.

This shows us that the deadfall, which demands a ritual to pass over, lives in the borderlands between Elysium and Gaia. The Illusion is weak here, and while crossing over into the wild lands of Gaia is possible, it is risky business. The people of Ludlow have learned, by passing down knowledge learned from the Native Americans, how to perform the ritual. Walk steady and confidently, look forward. If you do this, you will pass safely. As always, the magic lies within ourselves, but we are fettered and the well understood ritual helps us cross over.

This also explains why it is necessary to go through the deadwood in order to find the burial grounds beyond. Rationally, we might realize that anything could be walked around, and Little God Swamp must necessarily be approachable from other directions. The book never addresses this, but it is a notable absence – Jud simply knows that to get to the burial grounds, you must pass through the deadfall.

The eponymous Pet Sematary, at the base of the deadfall, reveals something to us as well. This place is where the children of Ludlow, for a long time, have buried their dead pets in an odd tradition with no clear beginning. It exists on the border to Gaia, and the burial grounds’ influence stretches past this border. The children are subconsciously drawn to this place, and without having visited the true burial ground they still mimic its shape, concentric circles imitiating a spiral. It is a form of worship to whatever power lies beyond, whether they understand it or not.

Jud explains to Louis on their first trip to the burial grounds that the Micmacs created the place, and later abandoned it after it had been cursed by a Wendigo. I have very little knowledge of how low-technology tribal communities should be treated in the Kult mythos – the Micmac people were historically a hunting and fishing culture, so my intuition tells me that they must have lived close to Gaia’s influence. As such, I have a theory for the events that lead up to the burial grounds as they exist when the book takes place.

The Micmacs, when they first arrived to the forests around Ludlow, would have been drawn into Gaia in a similar way to how it affects Jud, Louis and the children burying their pets at the deadfall. A subtle, inexplicable force which guided them to the mesa where they constructed their burial grounds. The Wendigo, whatever entity that is, tricked them bit by bit into constructing a sacred place from which it could grow its power. The burials served as sacrifices to the being, the Micmacs unwittingly giving worship to it as it slowly manifested at the burial grounds.

Eventually, the Wendigo would be powerful enough to manifest through the resurrection of the dead. The soil became sour, as is explained in the book, and the Micmacs left the place. Whether this event actually ties into the traditional Wendigo stories of cannibalism (as Louis rationalizes), we cannot know for certain. There are some hints towards cannibalism in the book, but I will leave you to decide for yourself what the truth is here. The Wendigo was set loose, with the spiral burial grounds as its center, and it would from that moment continue to reach out, convincing the people of Ludlow and its surroundings to come bring back their lost loved ones.

What are the Wendigo’s goals? It is an ancient being of Gaia, but it seems invested in the humans trapped in Elysium. It’s impossible to reason with, an intellect that is one with the primal forest beyond the deadfall, and humans are unable to resist both its pull and its push. At the end of the novel, Rachel is stopped from coming to Ludlow until Gage has already been resurrected. There is a cunning here, an interest in seeing the tragedy play out.

The Wendigo has immense power. We see it influence events far beyond Ludlow, hinting at its control over Time and Space. Its most recognizable trait, however, is its ability to heal corpses and control them. My view is that those souls are trapped, controlled by the Wendigo as it dictates the actions of their body. I do not believe the person buried is ever in control once they are raised, but they still exist in there, looking on horrified out of eyes that were once theirs. Using its knowledge of hidden things, the Wendigo can use its corpse puppets to manipulate those that once loved the soul it contained.

I believe that the setting and themes of Pet Sematary could make for an incredibly powerful Kult story. A character losing their loved ones and, overcome with grief, deciding that the resurrection promised by the burial grounds is a good idea, can be an engaging story to go through. Preferably the burial grounds would be built up in advance, similar to how King does in the book. The players learn about the childrens’ odd tradition, perhaps hear a local story or two, always on the periphery. The burial grounds act as a background set piece for a different story until the time has come for the Wendigo’s power to wax. The character feels that deep, instinctual pull, and nothing will stop them from making the same mistake as Louis Creed, Bill Baterman and many others made.