And The Rockets Red Glare – Reflections

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 anything else I think is worth saying about a scenario. These segments may not be suitable to read if you are a Kult: Divinity Lost player who does not have insight into the game’s mythos.

This post concerns my playthrough of And The Rockets Red Glare. You can read the recap of that here.

When the PDF of And The Rockets Red Glare was first made available, I bought it without even a second’s hesitation. Something as baffling and internationally impactful as American politics deserves to be explored in Kult, and especially so the 2016 election. Bryk (the author) makes no effort to hide her feelings about the Trump campaign, and the scenario is much better off for it. By presenting Donald Trump and Mike Pence as literal inhuman monsters, Rockets Red Glare taps into the shock and horror that some portion of America felt as Trump won the election. As delightful as the subject matter is, however, I’m not a political blogger and would never aspire to be. Instead, I’d like to explore the scenario’s presentation, and how I went about running it.

Characters

The character library of Rockets Red Glare is, to my knowledge, rather unique in its presentation. The players are Sleepers, but the scenario does away with all the mechanics normally associated with them. There are no dark secrets, no disadvantages, no distractions. What’s left are ten single paragraph descriptions of different interns to play, and the typical spread of modifiers to assign the ten Attributes. When playing Rockets Red Glare, the only things that matter to the players are the fiction and the basic moves. Each character introduction is also decisively mundane. You won’t be playing typical Kult characters in this scenario, struggling with deep-seated personal traumas and inherited demons. The scenario places the focus of the horror on the election itself and everything leading up to it. The players are expected to expand on their characters, make them interesting and flawed humans, but the purpose of this isn’t to make them the center of horrific events. Rather, it serves to encourage and give depth to the interactions between the players. We’ll come back to that.

It is a bold choice to present a scenario with such barebones characters and avoid involving the mechanics of the game. Rockets Red Glare is a bold scenario. The players are free to, and must, focus only on the fiction of their character. What do they think, where do they come from, how do they feel about Trump and the Republican party, and most importantly, why did they seek this internship position? That last question is key to character creation. The scenario only works if the characters are deeply invested in their internship and how it will help them in the future. The motivation here needs to be well established and central to the characters. Without it, simply leaving when things get rough is an easy out that deprives the scenario of its best content. Each character description has some hint as to why this internship matters to them, but it is up to the players to embrace that and make it important to themselves.

I played And The Rockets Red Glare with three players, none of which had played Kult: Divinity Lost before. I found that the mechanically simplified characters helped quite a lot in reducing my work load for the scenario, and it made explaining the system much easier. The scenario has a very demanding schedule to stick to, jumping from scene to scene to build the story and atmosphere. By focusing more on the fiction and reducing the players’ options to only the basic moves, scenes are less likely to spiral entirely out of hand. The Powered by the Apocalypse system revels in the chaotic outcomes and far-reaching consequences of dice rolls, but Rockets Red Glare doesn’t, can’t, function according to that ideal. To get through the story, sacrifices to player agency have to be made. For more on my thoughts on player agency, see here.

Linearity

And The Rockets Red Glare is very linear. It takes place over three days. Each day, the scenario presents some number of scenes that must happen. On the third, these scenes must lead up to the final blood sacrifice, and then you are done. You may see this as a negative, but I think the scenario offers alternatives to player choice that makes it engaging in other ways than control over the plot. It is important, however, that you as a GM respect this linearity and take steps in sticking to the schedule. Rockets Red Glare is supposed to be a one-shot scenario, and so dawdling about and not pushing onward to the end may well dilute its stressful nature. I had two different methods that I used to make sure that we stayed somewhat on time, both in and out of the fiction.

1. Be strict about starting and ending scenes

As a GM, I have a tendency not to end scenes. As a scene’s central point concludes, I let the players continue to roleplay their lives until a new sceneworthy situation arises. This is a habit I had to kick for Rockets Red Glare. The scenes provided in the scenario have start points and end points, and they work best if you play them exactly as such. This may be basic knowledge to more experienced PbtA game masters, but I am not one of them. When a scene is coming to a close, wrap up any conversation happening, quickly establish the players’ thoughts and plans, and then move on. Describe the setup for the next scene, no matter how much time has passed and where everyone was before. The scenario is fast paced, scene after scene after scene, so be proactive about putting an end to scenes once they’ve served their purpose.

The setting is actually very helpful in this regard. The characters are interns, constantly bossed around by managers and with a stressful work schedule. All the time in the fiction, the characters are at work with a hundred things to do. You can end nearly any scene by simply saying that the characters get back to their duties. Minutes or hours can pass and the characters might find themselves anywhere in Trump Tower performing some menial task or catching just a minute’s rest from the stress. Use this to your advantage. By being efficient with how your scenes start and end, you’re also managing the time out of the game efficiently.

2. Make a scene schedule

The scenario is structured as a list of scenes, read in roughly chronological order from Dawn to Victory’s Price. Simply eyeing through these will give you an overview of how the story will play out, but that is only the first step. A lot of the scenes can be used out of order, or multiple times, or skipped altogether if you want. Rockets Red Glare is linear, but you will need to construct the rails yourself. I did this by writing down exactly which scenes I was going to run, in exactly the order I was going to run them. I will note that this was not a comprehensive list. Character interactions and scenes borne from player decision making were slotted into the schedule as necessary. The important thing is that you, as GM, always know what the next scenario scene is. They need to happen, and knowing when and how helps a lot in keeping up the pace. It also lets you provide foreshadowing in a more coherent way.

Down The Hall is a special kind of scene in the scenario, and deserves special attention. These scenes are aimed primarily at amping up the atmosphere and wearing down the player characters. Something terrible and spooky happens when a character is alone, they react to it, and the story continues. I recommend writing several of these scenes in advance, possibly multiple per PC. Some might be tailored for a specific character or pair of characters, others could be written as to be applied to any of them. This has several benefits. For starters, it allows you to fit some or all of these Down The Hall scenes into your scene schedule, which could allow you to switch focus between characters and give each of your players some time in the spotlight at opportune moments. It also allows you to give out additional hints and information about what’s really going on at Trump Tower. I find that if I have a coherent view of what info I want to give the players before the game even starts, I have a much easier time managing that flow of information during the game. It also lets you flex your creativity. Not all of the Down The Hall scenes need to be fully fleshed out events, and you may spot many more opportunities to fit in personal scares between scenes. Let your prepared Down The Hall scenes be a safe jumping off point to do more improvised horror.

Character Expression

With the linearity of Rockets Red Glare so evident, we know from the start that the players will not have a huge say on how the story progresses. What they do have a say on, however, is how their characters feel and react to that story. This is, in my opinion, the real meat of And The Rockets Red Glare. The mundane character creation and inevitable narrative lend themselves both very well to a scenario where the player characters’ primary function is to express their feelings towards what’s going on. It’s the kind of scenario where, sometimes, you as a GM just lean back for twenty minutes or so and let the players talk to each other. While you’re telling the story, you must always listen to how the players are reasoning and nudge them towards one another, especially if they won’t interact on their own. This is a lot of what you’re going to insert into your scene schedule, often on the fly. As much as you can, encourage the players to have arcs and goals of their own, auxillary to the scenario’s overall plot. Allow them to affect things which are left undefined or vague in the mandatory scenes. These are all basic things that most GMs will be familiar with, but I place emphasis on it here because it is most of what you’ll be doing in Rockets Red Glare. If you play a linear scenario and you don’t provide these opportunities for the players to express themselves as their characters, you’re going completely on rails and I’ve yet to meet a person who enjoys that.

Looking back at my playthrough of And The Rockets Red Glare, I can point to several moments where the players’ will to express and perform were significant to the story. I’ll share a few of these.

  • Kate’s tarot readings. The decision to make Kate do tarot was a decision made by the player, and we both hoped and looked for opportunities to use this fact. I consider her reading on the night to election day to be the best Down The Hall scene I ran in the scenario. The tarot hammered home the strictly supernatural nature of the events unfolding. Yesod and Gamichicoth even made appearances, though the players of course didn’t understand the significance of this, nor did I expect them to.
  • June’s suicide. The suicide scene in my playthrough replaced the scenario scene Enemies At The Gate, which I felt unnecessary to run given the circumstances. This scene only happened because Ian told Mike Pence that he wanted June nominated for a special commendation. In an effort not to water down the final sacrifice scene by introducing an NPC, I realized that June had to be removed somehow. By allowing her sleep-deprived mind to experience supernatural premonitions about her fate, I could both get her out of the picture and make Ian feel terrible about his choice of commendation. Win-win!
  • So many of Blake and Kate’s interactions… and the extended character interactions in general. It feels really good to dedicate half an hour of play to the characters deciding to talk to each other. Blake was foremost in this, pushing both Ian and Kate to talk if only to calm himself (it didn’t work). These scenes rarely happened during the already established scenes from the scenario, but were inserted into the narrative as convenient and possible.
  • Ian going fucking crazy. Ian rolled a Keep It Together partial success at the end of the first day, and the player decided to go for the Obsessed outcome. He delivered on that something fierce. I felt that I had basically no control over Ian, what he was going to do or why he was going to do it. His conversations with the other characters sometimes went completely off the walls in a way I couldn’t hope to capture in the recap, which fed into a lot of the others’ paranoias and fears too. It was a spectacle to behold, and I had nothing to do with it.

All of these examples led to a highly enjoyable playthrough. It should be noted that these scenes fall under the same constrictions as the rest, as per the linearity and limited scope of the scenario. Do not let these sort of side endeavors take over the story, and do not let them happen at any time. The players must know that their characters are interns, slaves to Kellyanne Conway and by proxy Donald Trump. When you feel that a scene has gone on for long enough, you have all the tools at your disposal to end it. If the players are trying to start a scene but you have something else in your schedule, tell them that it will have to happen later. There just isn’t time in the characters’ busy days to go do whatever they want. When they do, however, make sure they feel that it counts in some, small way.

Victory’s Price and Ending It All

It all comes down to this. Really, it does. This ending is amazing, and you should treat it with the respect and importance that it deserves. No matter what exactly happens, the setup ensures that it will be memorable. The players stand face to face with the future leader of their nation, and he asks for one of them to become a blood sacrifice. When Trump presents the players with this, the only way to secure his presidency, the game demands a choice from them. How do they want this story to end? Whether they are pitted against each other to decide who dies, attempt to flee, hopelessly go up in a fight against two lictors and a razide, or someone willingly steps up to save the rest, Victory’s Price is a scene that delivers exactly the energy that the scenario wants to build up. The simplified character creation comes in to shine again here. This is the only scene which has a very real threat of violence, and it’s a situation in which the odds are stacked strictly in favor of the opposition. The players can look at their character sheets all they like, but that should only further convince them that they are out of their depth. The scene illustrates their helplessness in the face of the vast, churning madness that is American politics, and forces them to fight amongst themselves while their leaders look on with amusement.

For this scene to hit home as hard as it should, you should be keeping it in mind all the time while you’re GMing. You know from the first Dawn scene that this is going to happen. It has to happen. Without this scene, the scenario has no real ending. Whenever you make a Move, whenever you introduce something to the story or nudge a player in a certain direction, it should serve to benefit Victory’s Price. When this scene comes, the other plot threads you’ve been running must either be resolved or be cut short. This should explain to you the purpose of the scenario’s linearity. Don’t fight that – embrace the linear structure and use it to ram the players at full speed into a brick wall. That’s how Victory’s Price should feel. Once the scene has resolved, someone (or several people) have died, Donald J. Trump is the 45th President of the United States, and any survivors of the events that took place in his inner sanctum are sent away with some money and scars to last them for life.

You don’t have to linger on these last moments. You can, of course. Some players may want to detail what becomes of their life after such a traumatic event. I would still advise to keep it brief. The scenario has showed off its pièce de résistance, and everything after that is, well… that’s the world we live in.

And The Rockets Red Glare was the best experience I’ve had with a pre-written scenario for any game, to my memory. A lot of that has to do with my players, who were all fantastic at playing their parts and pulling their weight. If you haven’t played the scenario yet, I hope this article will help you in making it as good as it can be. Keep the scenes focused and move at a rapid pace, give the players just enough breathing room to express themselves, and deliver on the finale. To those of you who have played the scenario: How did it go? I’d love to hear your experiences and perspectives, because all I can write about is my own. If you think I have missed something, or if you think there’s better ways to run the scenario, share that too! As game masters we have to be open about our methods and strategies, so we can learn from each other and appreciate different approaches to roleplaying.

The last days of Zoe Riemann

This post contains self-harm, dead bodies and gore.

Also available as PDF and EPUB.

Zoe wakes up as her snoozed alarm calls on her for the third time this morning. She grabs her phone, rolls over, and fails to get out of bed. Her feet are cold, and she can hear the wind screaming outside her rattling window. There’s no burning desire in her to get out of bed to deal with that. Instead, Zoe spends what’s left of her free time in bed, reading an anonymous poster’s second rate creepypasta. When she hauls herself out of bed, kicking dirty clothes into a corner and pushing aside two empty cereal boxes to grab a pop tart for breakfast, it’s already time to leave for her work at the morgue. Same as yesterday, Zoe forgets or simply doesn’t bother to brush through her short black hair. A foul mood has already taken over when she leaves her old, dirty apartment building to face the icy streets of Toronto.

The streetcar ride is miserable. Despite her layers, the cold seeps in everywhere. Zoe keeps her eyes on her phone, looking for new scans of old books on demonology and witchcraft, strange disappearances, anything dealing with magic and the unseen world. She has a collection of these things, books imported or bought from sketchy ads and a digital library on her Dropbox. Her job is a way to survive – this research is what Zoe actually does. While reading a low quality photograph of someone’s handwriting, supposed to be the words needed to summon the demon Sarinil, the peripheral of Zoe’s vision is occupied by eyes on her. The rest of the streetcar is staring, the passengers’ faces all turned to her. She looks up, wondering if she’s seeing things, but is convinced that though everyone seems occupied by their phones, books, and newspapers, there were several strangers Zoe caught looking away when she lifted her head. She glares daggers at the miserable bastards surrounding her, stewing in annoyance at the very presence of other people.

Zoe is alone, has been alone for a long while. Questions about her adolescence feel unanswerable, it is all gone in a blur and replaced with a vague, traumatic sense of loss. Zoe had a family, a large one, but after one night of terror of which she can recall only the faintest glimpses, they were all gone. She hears them in her mind at times, especially when she cuts, the only family she’s ever had and ever will have. Their voices always echo the harsh reality she lives: she is alone, she has lost the only life worth caring about, and nothing she does will regain it. Without them, solitude is the only option. As such, Zoe has never formed a close bond with anyone else. She has some internet friends, freaks from assorted forums and message boards as damaged as she is, and at least three people at her workplace recognize her face. She’s long lost the desire to feel closer to anyone. Slicing her thighs, Zoe can at least recall the voices of those she actually loved, whoever they were.

Work is slow. Accompanied only by cold corpses in a basement, Zoe is left with a lot of dead time. She checks her emails and performs the minimum amount of her expected duties, but for most of her morning Zoe reads from her book on demonology, one of many strange things she carries with her. An old manuscript translated from German, it gives attestations of the deeds of various demons, people who received blessings from them and some who were cursed. She again encounters the name Sarinil, a death-loving demon who offers secret knowledge, guidance to hidden things and power to those who appease it. A voice in the back of her mind, familiar, whispers to her. “This one.” Zoe is put on high alert immediately. Her family knows this entity.1 She re-reads the book’s depiction of the demon with this understanding, and goes back to the note about Sarinil she’d read on the bus. From there, Zoe finds herself lost in her sea of loosely sorted PDFs and images, archived forum threads and text conversations from alleged possessions. Not much is written coherently or conclusively, but after a few hours of laborious note-taking, peeking up once in a while to make sure no one needs her to do her job, Zoe forms what she believes to be a clear picture of Sarinil, how to summon it, and what makes it dangerous. 1 Occult Library
Full Success
  • What do I need?
  • Which dimension?

The summoning rite is by no means simple, but she can at least formulate a step by step list for herself. Dead bodies surrounding a large sigil on the floor, black candles, protective runes drawn on her own body, speaking the medieval German summoning phrase and stating the purpose of calling upon Sarinil. Zoe knows she could do that, but to what end? This demon is important to those she lost, but in what sense, she cannot say. The dangers associated with summoning Sarinil are as plentiful as they are gruesome. Cruel curses, the dead come to life, and traceless disappearances are all noted or alluded to in some manner. Perhaps she can protect herself against these things using the right fetishes, runes, or other symbols of safety, but the texts she finds make clear that Sarinil is immensely powerful, and easily insulted. Whatever relation Zoe’s family has to this entity, she is deeply concerned about what it might mean for her.

As the afternoon approaches, Zoe is required to actually perform her duties as a coroner. Her coworker Mark comes in to remind her of this, and begrudgingly Zoe gets off the chair and puts the dusty old tome she’d been reading away in her duffel bag. Mark and Zoe are close enough in age, and distant in all other respects. He is eager to chit chat with Zoe, despite her clear indication that she wants nothing to do with him or his positive attitude. They have a physical examination to perform of a stabbing victim. The police report needs full detail on the wounds. The cause of death isn’t hard to discern. Seven stab wounds across face, arms and torso will have that effect on people, Zoe thinks to herself as they bring the corpse out. Mark tries to mentally prepare for the task of handling a dead person, but Zoe interrupts him and tells him to get to work. She just wants the task over and done with – the sooner they finish, the sooner Mark will leave. Handling the cold, heavy meat doesn’t bother her. It’s just flesh, like them. Making measurements and taking notes, the two get to work. Mark eventually gives up on his attempts to talk to Zoe, her cold green-eyed stare unnerving him as much as the corpse.

Something about the number seven irks Zoe. The wounds were doubtlessly caused by some frantic and unplanned attack, deep cuts and stabs at random as the attacker and victim struggled. She confirms the depth and width of a cut to Mark, who notes it on his own clipboard. “Punctured lung, then?” he asks, neither expecting nor receiving a response. They’ll confirm all that later, and they both know it. Zoe pauses in her inspection.The injuries seem familiar to her, orchestrated or a picture perfect replica of another attack.2 Without warning, Zoe’s mind explodes with the sounds of suffering. Someone is screaming behind her, there’s gunfire on the other side of a wall, and things are burning. A family member, someone she once must’ve known, is stumbling towards her. Their clothes are singed and torn, pale bare flesh decorated with deep red cuts identical to the body in front of her. Zoe’s beloved relative reaches their hands out, begging for help. She remains frozen in time and space, watching the horrors unfold, and then the corpse on the table grabs her lab coat. Reality comes crashing back, the sterile room’s cold lights nothing like the flickering flames of her vision.3 Zoe stumbles backwards, nauseated and horrified, and covers her mouth with one hand as her wide eyes examine the brutalized corpse, motionless on the examination table. 2 Repressed Memories
Partial Success

3 Keep It Together
Partial Success
  • Scared
Mark’s voice is too loud when he speaks. “Zoe? Are you okay?” She continues to stare at the body which moments ago had been grasping for her clothes. “No, I’m not. I need to…” Zoe trails off, and excuses herself. With hurried steps, she leaves and heads for the washrooms. Her heart is beating fast as she feels the tip of the scalpel she swiped before leaving Mark alone. Sitting on the toilet and chasing away the fear, she cuts into her thigh and watches with instant relief as old, crooked scars again burst open under the blade. The searing pain carries with it the voices of the dead, comforting her with the fact that she is alone and unwanted. She surely imagined the body moving. Nothing out there cares about Zoe enough to want her, no one is interested. With family on her side and blood dripping down her right leg, Zoe can finally calm herself down a bit. “Now cut deeper.” The voice is clear in her mind and instantly carries with it an air of respect, though as always Zoe cannot say who it might have belonged to. She tries to resist the temptation, she’s at work and it would take too long to heal, people would notice. The voices are insistent. The scalpel plunges deep into her flesh – flesh is all it is.4 Its tip scrapes against the bone, pain engulfs existence, and Zoe immediately passes out. 4 Endure Injury
Failure
  • Serious Wound

Zoe wakes up in a pool of her own blood with a pounding headache. Disoriented, she hangs on to the toilet bowl and heaves herself up into a sitting position. Leg’s still bleeding, that can’t be good. It’s a struggle to stand up, and even worse to try and clean up the mess. Zoe limps out of the washroom and hurries to a storage room, the empty corridors a saving grace until she wraps her thigh up with tape and gauze. The lab coat is drenched in blood, she has no option but to throw it out. Still in a lot of pain but at least with clear purpose, she returns to where she’d left all her blood stains and starts to clean it up. No one needs to know about this. It doesn’t take long, however, before there’s a knock on the door. “Are you in there, Zoe?” Mark again, of course. “How are you doing?” Zoe feels bile rising in her throat. “I’m bad,” she responds with an angry hiss. She pretends to be sick, which causes Mark and their manager Prakash to worry some. Refusing to give more details, she soon leaves work early. The snow has picked up throughout the day, but sitting down in the rattling, snail-paced streetcar lets Zoe rest her leg for a while.

Once Zoe gets home, she returns to the tedium of existence by wasting away at her computer. The tiny apartment is a mess, unclean and filled with small objects both strange and mundane. The wooden box of animal skulls beside her computer has a crumpled wad of toilet paper balanced on top of it from when Zoe spilled some water last week, and the only thing covering the smell of dirty laundry is the thick incense gushing out from her burner. The lights are kept dimmed or off, and Zoe feels her tired mind turn off just the same. The loneliness is all she knows, but it eats at her.5 With nothing catching her interest, still in pain, everything a bore, Zoe instead grabs a razor blade. Her right thigh is way too fucked up to cut into at all, but there’s plenty of almost healed flesh to disfigure on the left. Her meat splits open under the sharp edge, juicy and bloody, and Zoe once more feels the presence of family. Their voices bubble out from the cuts, each line splitting the soft skin open giving voice to another beloved’s words. Zoe hears them all, distinct yet implacable, and begs them for insight. Who is Sarinil? Did the demon kill her family? Do they know it? What is she supposed to do? “Summon it.” They answer in unison and without pause, their demand hitting Zoe all at once as though someone had upended a bucket of icy water over her. She doesn’t hesitate. After waiting for herself to stop bleeding, Zoe cleans herself off and calls into work. She’ll stay late tomorrow night, to make up for lost time today. She wouldn’t normally extend such courtesies to her workplace, but she needs to be there. Where else would she find bodies for the ritual? Zoe goes to bed late, the rest of her evening spent researching and preparing for tomorrow with a rarely experienced sense of purpose. 5 Mental Compulsion
  • -1 Serious Wound
  • -1 Stability
Partial Success

Nightmares disturb Zoe’s sleep. She may be looking forward to summoning Sarinil, but in her mind linger worries from the last time she attempted to call on an entity like it. Eyes in the darkness reflected in her washroom mirror, muttering and murmuring from behind her black shower curtain. The lights wouldn’t turn on for weeks, and Zoe had stopped using her own washroom entirely until whatever lived there left. In her dreams, the being of black crust and rows of red eyes never left. As she sleeps, it cracks open the washroom door, finally finding its way out, and skitters across the ceiling to above Zoe’s bed. It whispers to her, that nagging hiss she struggled so hard to get out of her head. She knows what the being wants her to do, and she doesn’t want to do it. The mere thought frightens her. As mists fill her dark room and the whisper echoes from every corner, Zoe lets out a quiet sob and finally gives in. She’ll do it, anything to end this. The many-eyed monster goes quiet and the mists evaporate. Then, a crack in the wall. Snow rushes in and fills the room, and the icy blast wakes Zoe up. Still night, but her cold sweat and colder apartment keeps her awake. It was just a dream. She never agreed to do it. Zoe tells herself over and over just that, tries to remember that the entity left on its own. She’ll do better this time. She was careless with her first summoning and it bit her in the ass, but none of that tonight. Unable to fall back asleep, Zoe wraps herself in her heavy blanket and spends until morning on her computer. The sun never breaks through the thick clouds, the world taking on melancholy shades of gray outside Zoe’s window.

Zoe spends the better part of her day at work reading, researching, and preparing for the ritual. Her worn, black duffel bag is stuffed full with trinkets and materials from home: bones, crayons and body paints, protective charms made from wood and colored string, incense, candles, and anything else she might come to need. Can’t be too safe. Early in the day, a man rolls a covered body on a gurney into the morgue, probably expecting Zoe to take care of it or at least have a look. She gives him a wave, music playing loudly in her earbuds, and returns to her own thoughts. She’ll deal with it eventually, her unfriendly stare tells him, and he knows better than to approach. Neither of them want to talk to the other.6 Zoe double and triple checks her notes, practices drawing the protective signs both on paper and on herself until her legs are covered in smudged paint. Her flowing black skirt hides that, as well as her scars. As the plan solidifies, Zoe decides that the early 19th century note about a blood or flesh sacrifice has to be worth it. She can’t afford to get on the demon’s wrong side, and appeasing it with a piece of her own body, already mutilated, is an easy act. The alternative is to risk being beset by the violent undead, according to multiple sources. The ritual requires dead bodies, and the hope is that they remain dead. The proper offering will, with any luck, ensure her safety. 6 Observe A Situation
  • -1 Serious Wound
Full Success
  • What can I use?
  • What to look out for?
Zoe supposes that, eventually, she should have a look at that body. Jane Doe, estimated age 28, same as Zoe, bloodwork normal, cause of death unknown. Curious about the mysterious stranger on the gurney, Zoe pulls the white sheet off the corpse and comes face to face with… herself. Same face. Same body. Same hairstyle, even, short and unruly. Same color nipples, same green eyes, all the same birthmarks, same age, same everything. Zoe freezes in place and stares in disbelief at the body. Seconds go by, and she comes no closer to finding an appropriate reaction to what’s in front of her. The difference, she finally determines, between herself and this otherwise identical stranger, is that she has no scars on her legs, or anywhere else. She also lacks Zoe’s facial piercings, just clean, still lips. Zoe traces her fingers across the cold flesh, taking in every detail with growing unease. She picks up the chart again and looks for any more information7 but other than sharing her blood type, Zoe finds nothing that would explain who this doppelganger is or where she came from. The only people who might know about this person and why she looks like Zoe would be Zoe’s family. Dead though they are, she could still reach out to them. She covers up the doppelganger once more, slips into the washrooms, and lifts her skirt to trace several long cuts along her left thigh. The sting of her skin splitting apart opens Zoe’s mind, allows her to hear that noisy chorus of voices, far in the distance. 7 Investigate
  • -1 Serious Wound
Partial Success
  • How can I find out more?

Zoe is at a loss for what to think. The corpse is definitely a bad omen. How can someone look just like her? Even if they did, how could they possibly maintain exactly the same figure, the same hair? There has to be a reason for this, this has to be important. She reaches out for the spirits, hoping for some light, but all she receives is darkness. Someone who was once important to her, a voice of concern, responds to Zoe with a plea for her to end this senseless search for understanding. Her double is dead, and even if she were not it would do nothing to cure Zoe’s eternal loneliness. The family once again speaks united, a thousand words saying only one thing: Zoe can not, will not, find anyone else. Her family is all the connection she has, all she can have, and she has no choice but to bow before their will. They do not want her to investigate this disturbing omen, don’t want her to even ponder it. Put the corpse away, out of sight and out of mind. Zoe yields to her family’s collective wisdom, but the ache in her heart remains. Something is deeply wrong about this, and she can not, apparently should not, find clarity.

She cannot help herself. Somewhat begrudgingly, Zoe pages Mark and asks him to come down to the morgue to help her with an examination. He gets down the elevator quickly and steps into the well-lit room, curious and confused. When was the last time Zoe messaged him for anything? “So, you needed help looking at this?” He barely looks down at the body, eyes fixed on Zoe’s silent and tense expression, until he’s right by the gurney. His eyes fall to the corpse, wondering what the issue is, and then he sees it and goes quiet, jaw slack. “Does that look like me?” Zoe points to the corpse and asks without betraying the fear of whatever answer Mark might give. It does look like her, he confirms, and the two agree that it is weird as hell. Mark asks a lot of questions, none of which Zoe can answer. With his task of confirming Zoe’s grasp of reality done, he is ushered away so that she can think for herself.8 Frustrated, Zoe hurries to put the body into a freezer, where it can damn well stay. She knows this makes sense. In the back of her mind, connections are being made that she’d never considered before, but the conscious mind is slow and either way unwilling to hear it. Zoe’s family told her it was not important, so it cannot be. 8 Repressed Memories
  • -1 Stability
  • -1 Serious Wound
Full Success
The rest of the evening passes in a blur, Zoe visiting the setting sun briefly for her dinner break. She puts her mind to the ritual, to the possibility of meeting a demon her family knows, a being they cared about, somehow. A daring flicker of hope, the faintest of a positive emotion in her otherwise bleak husk of a soul, focuses Zoe’s thoughts and buries her worries about the doppelganger in freezer 7B. Once the sun has set and the halls have emptied in the hospital basement, the time comes to call upon Sarinil9. One by one, she brings the bodies out onto gurneys and tables, which she drags into particular positions around the chalked out symbol on the floor. Men and women, adolescents and the elderly, Zoe manages the flesh as a summoning instrument and nothing more. She looks into a man’s face, pale and wrinkled, and opens his mouth to place a black candle inside it. Zoe leaves the morgue lit only by her black candles. Two incense burners fill the room with the scents of opium and sandalwood, chasing away the normally so oppressive sterile atmosphere. Body paints inscribe not just the chests and face of the dead around Zoe, but her own legs and arms as well. The room’s air is heavy each time Zoe breathes, and the dark corners beyond the flickering candle light feel full, ready to burst. 9 Dabbler In The Occult
  • -1 Serious Wound
Partial Success

With everything done, every word of power whispered to the meat Zoe has surrounded herself with and every sigil completed with steady hand, there is nothing more to than speak the words. Zoe doesn’t know a word of Old High German, but she has listened again and again to an audio recording of the phrase being spoken and practiced it, syllable by syllable. She stands in front of Sarinil’s symbol on the floor, speaks the summoning phrase in a loud, clear voice with her eyes right across to the darkness between two corpses, one with part of its head missing. Zoe lifts her skirt and the scalpel goes across her left thigh, by now as sorely abused as her right. With no regard for herself she cuts off a slab of skin, an inch and a half across. It’s placed in a small measuring bowl in front of Sarinil’s symbol, surrounded by skulls of rats and birds. When Zoe lifts her head, the room exhales. The candles dim out to glowing red points as all air disappears. Everything becomes distant from Zoe, disappearing across an endless expanse in the darkness until she doesn’t know where she is. When the room takes another breath and the sad, lonely meat bags are once more lit up by the candles flaring up in spectacular yellows and whites, a new presence overtakes Zoe’s senses. The emptiness between the open skull and the young girl with a gunshot in her stomach is occupied by Sarinil.

Zoe stands face to face with the demon, separated only by the circle of complete blackness on the floor where the summoning symbol once was. Light is cast onto its edges, yet the floor defiantly refuses to be lit. The creaking of old machinery follows the demon’s hissing breath. Sarinil appears only as a skeleton, draped in tattered robes so faded from the world that the bones underneath are cleanly visible. Screwed together with bolts and wire of rusted iron, Sarinil’s movements are slow and laborious. The demon carries in its chest a complex machine, lungs and heart wrought from ancient copper and connected to the black-socketed skull via several pipes. The machinery toils away despite the grating and screeching, somehow it must serve to keep Sarinil alive. With a voice like the icy wind howling outside the hospital, the demon asks Zoe what the purpose of this ritual is. It moves little, merely hovering a few inches off the ground and turning its head to observe the many bodies around them. From the darkness where the candles won’t reach, the corners of the room, marches forth a legion of naked men and women. Their feet and hands are worn to the bone, their intestines wrap around genitals and legs, they stumble and crawl in silence to encircle the room and the site of the summoning. Zoe’s eyes dart all around her before returning to the skeletal apparition. She could see no familiar faces in the throng of undead witnesses. She straightens her back and announces that Sarinil must tell her how she can see her family again.

Again the room rushes into darkness and back, another heaving sigh in the fabric of reality. The demon responds, revealing to Zoe that her family has only one path in mind for her. “What path?” she asks, pressing on without hesitation. She has come too far for that now. There is one more ritual to perform, and it seems like Sarinil’s skull smiles as the words rise into existence. The apparition’s voice comes from the emptiness on the floor, not from itself. A chorus of voices erupts around Zoe as the witnesses brought in speak up in unison. “Perform the ritual.” It will guide you into forgetfulness, Sarinil continues. Zoe feels in her gut an immediate resistance, but without daring to consider it she shoves her instincts deep down and ignores them. When she is asked to step inside the circle of nothing, which no light can reach, she does so before her worries can catch up. As she crosses the threshold, a sense of disconnect overwhelms Zoe. This one step serves as the first in cutting her off from the rest of the world. “Forget us. You have achieved solitude.” the undead choir chants again, and Zoe’s head begins to spin10. This emptiness beneath her feet, the endless dark through which no voice can carry, no understanding be had, she once knew it. She once fought it. 10 See Through The Illusion
  • -1 Serious Wound
Full Success

Knowing so well that expanse of loneliness, so well as an instinct might tell you to pull your hand away from the fire, Zoe’s brain overloads entirely. She is beset by memories, impossibly clear yet without context. For the first time, she remembers her family, a vast community bound by blood and purpose. They lived and died as a whole, joyful in the task they had been appointed since long before Zoe’s time. Always, at all times, they must reject and fight that foul place below her feet. They stood against it in thought and action, a shining example of what family could accomplish should it not be divided by smaller wills, crueller dispositions or tactless rejection. Zoe and her sister walk along an aisle, carrying between them an infant child. They kiss the child on its cheeks, and pass it on to the arms of another, who carries it away. They all share Zoe’s face, which in her memory is nothing more than a comforting reminder of their connection. Of course they look the same, they always have and always will. Family is one. Almost toppled over as she gazes into the abyss, Zoe snaps back into reality with a bewildered look on her face. Neither Sarinil nor the friends it brought along acknowledge her when she speaks up. “I don’t want to forget!” It is the only path to reach her family, the demon drones on. The circle beneath her has grown now, nothing within the circle of gurneys and dead bodies lit. Inside this darkness, all Zoe can make out is Sarinil.

“Forget us, as we forgot you.” Their voices weigh heavy on her. Zoe’s stomach churns as she comes to recognize the voices praising Sarinil and edging Zoe closer to an empty mind. She has heard them all her life, so long as she can remember either way. They do not look like her, they’re not like her sister whose freezer she can still make out in the borderlands of the candles’ light. It seems so far away now, with the domains of solitude and forgetfulness stretching out across the room. One of the gurneys fall down into it, the young girl beside Sarinil diving helplessly into the bottomless pit Zoe stands atop. She hears a faint scream as the corpse disappears, though perhaps it’s only herself screaming. Sarinil’s screeching voice pierces her mind with more poisoned insight. Zoe’s family is gone, long gone. They do not carry her in their mind, for they have no mind with which to carry the memory. To join them is to forget, to take the path which leads her to the same place which they occupy, where no memory can rouse longing and no hope can disturb the stillness. Zoe could hope the demon is wrong, but her tired soul cannot muster to argue. Hiding away and excluding herself from connection is how Zoe has lived her life. She need only fulfill it now.

All of reality fades away. There is no floor, no walls, no ceiling. When light does not exist, it seems redundant to acknowledge the dark. Zoe can sit, though she does not know on what. Sarinil has vanished, as has its morbid choir. The voices are quiet. In this place, with nothing but the clothes on her body and a scalpel in hand, Zoe is allowed room to remember, and to forget. She can’t tell if any blood flows as she does the only action left allowed to her. Her family’s faces, all alike, come out from the deep recesses of her mind one by one and are cut down the same. They don’t look like Zoe, but perhaps Zoe never looked like Zoe. Their beautiful home, with its high-roofed cathedral halls where children were born and elders were cherished, is a bitter memory to her now. With how deep she’s cut, Zoe knows she should bleed to death now, but neither blood nor death seems to come. Nothing to do but continue. Once time itself is pointless to Zoe, the memories she knows she once had fade once and for all. The joy of protecting her community and guiding others, the sacred sense of pride she always felt when looking upon the altars and draperies dedicated to a power higher than herself, the limitless love for her family…

Zoe shears the last bit of flesh from her body with the ruined scalpel, and reflects one last time on her past before it leaves her for good. A beautiful past it was, but forever lost. Zoe stands up from the pile of refuse that was once her body. Flesh and feathers, duty and pride, all is left behind her as she joins with the void, as empty as she is.

The last days of Zoe Riemann – Reflections

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.

Jessy’s Return

Hello, Kultists! I hope you are enjoying your holiday season. I’m writing a lot, though unfortunately a lot of it is for projects unrelated to this blog. You will see it in due time. On the horizon in the short term is another one-shot recap, and the return to Jessy’s Story. Likely in early spring of next year, the second arc of Jessy’s Story will be posted with some regularity. Each session will still have an illustration by my illustrious wife. I am super excited for this, and hopefully you will be too after checking out the dope art and sneak peak below!

“The cult of Dehu and Mil undresses, spreading out through the large conference hall and helping Tan prepare for the ceremony. Tables are pushed aside, kisses are exchanged, a large black cloth is unfolded below the dark stone throne towering at the far end of the room. All of this is done under Tan’s guidance and watchful eye, directing his flock from the elevated platform the throne sits on and surrounded by truly grotesque, surreal art of a being with two goat heads breaking chains and violently penetrating its lessers.”

Art by my glorious friend Casey Oster

And The Rockets Red Glare: November 8th, 2016

This is a session recap for the Kult: Divinity Lost scenario And The Rockets Red Glare, written by Jacqueline Bryk. The art is by my excellent wife. Me and my three friends played this scenario in two sessions over voice chat. This post contains spoilers for the entirety of the scenario’s story.

This post contains suicide, murder, and homophobic and racist slogans.

Previous

It’s well past midnight. Kate, Blake and Ian cannot sleep. Blake is pacing around the condo, at one time trying to lay down, at another stress smoking by the window. Bad things are happening and he feels horribly powerless. Ian has turned inward, consumed by a gnawing madness. He stares at Gavin sleeping in the bed next to his and considers but briefly a sacrifice. To what end or dedicated to who, he cannot say. Kate, feeling the weight of the last few horrible days and the stressful months before, wants to ground herself with a tarot reading. Yes, it’s late, but she can’t sleep anyway and tarot has helped her calm down in the past. She sends Ian a text, telling him that she’ll head to a break room in the southwest corner of their floor. If she’s not back by morning, please come looking for her. She doesn’t risk disappearing without a trace, and it does feel like a risk.

Kate sits down facing the windows to the south and west in the break room, a place she’s retreated to before to get away from everything. It’s clean, neatly decorated, and private, especially at night. She keeps an eye on the view over Manhattan while shuffling the tarot deck. What was it she saw outside before? As she lays the first card, The Moon in reverse, Kate immediately feels a twinge of hesitation. She’s committed to laying out a full cross and staff spread, but what if something bad happens? She steels herself for whatever might come. The Eight of Swords. The Five of Wands, reversed. She doesn’t like this. As the reading unfolds, Kate’s worries are not eased.

The King of Pentacles represents wealth, business… represents Donald Trump. It feels obvious to make the connection, but Kate does not in the least like it. He occupies the future, and the implication of how election day will turn out immediately darkens her thoughts. With a mix of her knowledge of tarot and deeply unsettling intuition, a churning of her stomach, she sees the division about to plague the country, with The Tower illustrating both the incoming political upheaval of the United States and the very skyscrapers that surround them. It starts here, and it ends here. The Two of Cups make clear reference to a union, a binding, a deal, but she can’t quite make out between what or who.

As the insight reaches her, a cold gust of wind at Kate’s back makes the light flicker and die around her1. Her cards seem far away, or hidden underneath some strange and murky veil. She reaches out to touch them, and the room’s sudden darkness reveals the cards as something entirely different. The illustrations shift, the bright Ace of Swords instead a single green Skull on darkness and the Tower replaced by a chaotic and hateful skeleton, dancing upon the suffering masses. When the King of Pentacles on his throne is cast into the shape of a bald man, counting money before two begging men, Kate is not blind to the connection. The vision is both instant, and forever. The image burns into her mind, unwelcome clarity which gives her so many answers yet so many more questions. 1 See Through The Illusion
Result: 15+

These cards may be new to Kate, but their insights brew up from deep within her as if their secrets were always there, somewhere. She sees the spider in its web, the external influence in the staff of her reading, glow with a bright yellow until her eyes sting and water. The reading mocks her – neither thought nor feeling or intuition can help her. This is a prison which she is born with, and she will die with. If she wants a different ending to the story unfolding around her, Kate will need to shed her tainted and bound flesh and return to that eternal place embodied by the Ace of Skulls.

Kate looks outside, Manhattan a dark city with skyscrapers wrought in dark glass and rusted metal. It is a grandiose view, but foreboding, and she feels at once in the right place and completely lost. Kate collects her tarot deck off the filthy table, averting her eyes from the card labeled Yesod. With a death grip on her deck and taking two deep breaths, she stands up. The lights immediately flicker back on and her entire body feels as if twisting around its own axis, and she immediately empties her stomach’s contents onto the table. Kate stumbles back, and decides that rather than make sense of this overwhelming experience she’d rather go brush her teeth. There’s too much to think about, and too little time.

When Kate gets back to the condo, Blake is smoking by the window. The last person she wants to talk to, yet it’s always him that greets her. Their conversation is stilted as Blake tries to figure out if Kate has the situation more under control than he does. Since she’s holding gypsy cards, as he puts it, maybe she’s got this mess figured out. Kate admits that she’s freaking out because she keeps seeing some city that’s not New York outside the windows, and Blake creeping on her is not fucking helping. She clutches the can of mace in her pocket, never out of reach, all too ready to use it if Blake takes a single step towards her. Their conversation turns into an argument which becomes a fight, getting louder and louder until finally they both take a deep breath each and agree that now is not the time. Blake lights another cigarette.

“Look, Kate, I don’t like you. As a person.” – Blake

“Fuck you too.” – Kate

As they try to review their options, Ian emerges from his room. He only says a few words, trivializing their worries of prison and future opportunities in the face of aliens and otherwordly monsters controlling their lives. Nothing they’ve done or will do matters, reality is a lie. They realize that if the conversation continues, they’ll no doubt wake everyone up. They agree to continue their talks on election day, and try to catch some sleep. The unresolved conversation and tension between them weighs heavy, as do their knowledge of the Truth and worries of the future.

Banging on all the condo doors wake the interns up. Loud yelling from senior campaign staff forces them all out of bed, yanking blankets off of people and threatening to drag them out by the hair. It’s not-quite-four in the morning, and Melania Trump has just arrived. She’s waiting down in the lobby, and needs help with her bags. Move. Kate takes her time, on principle, which seems to make their professional harasser thoroughly annoyed. She has ceased to care. Everyone is thoroughly unhappy with the menial task at this ungodly hour, but grouchily stumble into the elevator and head down.

Melania, in a bright yellow coat, waits with a struggling doorman when the interns make their way down the Trump Tower golden escalators. Most of them perform their job in groggy silence while Melania chats way, talking about Mar-a-Lago and how nice it is of all of them to help her. Rey and Blake speak briefly with her, but considering what he’s seen the last few days Blake is thoroughly suspicious of the woman. Conspicuously, republican sweetheart June remains quiet and with her head down. She looks as tired as Kate, who cannot muster any care for Mrs. Trump until partway up the elevators. It is then she realizes that Melania’s yellow jacket burns in her eyes with the exact same shade of yellow as the spider card last night.

Melania’s chatter dies down the moment she enters the penthouse apartment. Her smile fades, replaced with a cold and disinterested look when Mr. Trump approaches her. They greet, but while the interns haul Melania’s gigantic suitcases and luggage bags out of the elevator they do not even see the two touch. There’s palpable tension between the couple. When they leave, Melania turns to them and gives a small wave.

“Try to keep each other safe.” – Melania Trump

The strange goodbye sticks with them for a while, but the interns are all too unwashed and hungry to think much about it, or Trump’s grunt of annoyance when she says it. They all head back down towards their condo, fighting for a spot in the bathroom. Before Blake can get there, though, June stops him in the hallway with a quiet plea for attention. She waits until they’re alone to speak. She seems to be sick, or exhausted, and Blake expertly feigns worry for her.

June is at her wit’s end and feels she can only trust Blake with this, because he at least cares about the campaign. She’s not been able to sleep since yesterday, not even a five minute nap. Stumbling over her words, she admits to having visions of Donald Trump smiling at her, before blood rushes in and drowns everything. She can smell it. Every time she closes her eyes it’s the same thing, and she doesn’t want to let this get to her when all she has to do it push through for election day. She’s scared. With June almost in tears, Blake puts an arm around her for comfort and tells her that he gets it. All she needs is some rest. The stress is getting to everyone, but he can get June a sleeping pill and let her lay down for a few hours. Blake convinces her that really, that is all she needs. He’ll cover for her too, of course, or so he claims. She nods in agreement, wiping tears, and Blake leads her back to the condo.

Once June is put to bed, Blake gets a word with Ian. When he tells Ian about what June just said, Blake only gets laughter in response. It’s just so much. He finally tells Blake that he went to Pence’s office yesterday and nominated June for a “special commendation”. So, yeah, they’re probably going to eat her. While Ian is laughing, Blake gets a distinct feeling that the guy is losing his grip entirely, even worse than yesterday. He’s mad that Ian never told them that he went to Pence’s office, he probably should have mentioned that in his crazed ramblings.

The day continues, way too long already. Election day is chaos, everyone simultaneously working with laser focus and breaking down from the stress. The campaign has always had a taboo from mentioning losing, but today there’s a significant shift in tone. Trump might actually win. Ignoring their work, Kate manages to catch Ian and lead him off somewhere secluded. They sneak off to empty conference room, Blake spotting them and tagging along uninvited. Kate doesn’t welcome him, but at least allows him to join so long as she can still keep a death grip on her mace. They have to figure out what to do somehow.

Their conversation must sound like madness to anyone else. Kate explains what she saw during her tarot reading last night, the other city outside Trump Tower and the strange cards she understood though she’d never seen them. Blake is convinced by now that the entire leadership of the campaign and everyone who associates with them are evil. Melania, Kellyanne, they all have to be in on it, there’s no way they’re not. Ian’s theories range from aliens to extra-dimensional demons, but they can make sense of none of it. He suggests they cross over into the other city Kate saw to learn more. She did it by accident, so there must be some way. What could that possibly help, though? In six hours, their nation might be ruled by a giant slug monster. Kate cannot believe those words escape her mouth, but they are true. Their options seem futile. They could try to expose the truth, but how? Who would believe them? What is the truth? They could just run away, but it’s all so close to ending. They find no common ground and admit, dejected, that all they can do is wait and hope that maybe, just maybe, things will work out, or that they’ll at least be ready if it doesn’t.

When they get back to the situation room, it’s not long before Kellyanne Conway, looking for June, instead grabs hold of Blake and asks him a favor. Ian and Kate are waved over as well, she thinks it might be better to send a group. They are to deliver a gift to Mrs. Hillary Clinton, a show of goodwill and sportsmanship from Mr. Trump towards her campaign. Initially Blake is apprehensive to accepting the gift bag, fearing the worst after the past few days, but looking into it he sees only a bottle of scotch. An exquisite bottle, with a label stating, among other things, Anno MCMXVI. The group is to take a limo to Brooklyn and deliver this to Mrs. Clinton herself.

Outside Trump Tower, the crowd of protesters grows. They’ve been there for months, people from all creeds and backgrounds who loathe the possibility of Donald Trump becoming president. The protests have largely been peaceful, but as the interns’ limo drives past to leers and jeers, they feel something brewing. Anger is thick in the air, and the police are ready for it already.

When they arrive at the Democratic campaign headquarters, the three are greeted by a small group of interns much like themselves. They look overworked, underpaid, and haggard. There’s a healthy amount of suspicion. Still, some smalltalk between the camps occurs and Kate admits to one of the Clinton interns that of course she voted Clinton and that she regrets ever thinking she could do good in Trump’s campaign. Her conversational partner admits that he also regrets his internship. The look he gives her tells her that things must have gone horribly wrong for them as well.

Mrs. Hillary Clinton greets them with a small smile in her office, a spacious room which the small woman seems to fill out comfortably. She’s tired, and old-looking, but at least willing to appear amiable. Kate smiles at her, trying to let her stress from the past months and days wash off of her so she can meet one of her role models, face to face. Blake steps forward to deliver the bottle, and Mrs. Clinton thanks him with a small nod. She takes the bottle out of the glossy black gift bag, and her smile and any cordial facade drains from Hillary’s face.

Get out, she growls at them. The lights buzz and flicker, casting her office in so many moving shadows until it seems her own is growing larger from her feet. Mrs. Clinton is clutching her chest at this point, but this doesn’t look like one of the sick spells she’s had in the past. This is different – the bones are rolling and twisting under her skin. Blake and Ian are quick to turn around, decisively done, but Kate refuses. She refuses to believe that this would even be happening, not Hillary. She stays, and Clinton takes a few steps towards her. Short, hunched over, yet an intimidating presence hinting at much more rage and power than Kate could ever oppose. Get out, you little bitch.

Kate freezes for a moment2. No. She won’t get out. She needs answers, please just tell her what’s going on at Trump Tower. They deserve to know who, or what, the next president will be. Blake and Ian are standing by the door, silent, eager to leave and wondering what the hell Kate thinks she’s doing. 2 Act Under Pressure
Result: 20+

The thing that by this point is clearly only portraying Hillary Clinton gets close. Her voice seems fake, as if someone behind those eyes is doing a very good impression of the woman. Yet, it is her, telling Kate that understanding it won’t do any good. That, despite what she knows or has seen, it does not matter. The thing that is Hillary spits out that it is not for her to intervene in this, that Kate should go run her little errands and get out of her way. She will fight until the end, but Kate’s meager little existence will not make a difference in that battle. Again, Mrs. Clinton tells her to leave or face the fucking consequences, and with that Kate hurries out with a nausea so heavy that every step makes her want to vomit.

She doesn’t say a word. Instead of turning back towards the limo, Kate simply walks away. Down the street, at a brisk pace, towards the nearest subway station. She has nothing left. Having seen the deep end of American politics has created a gaping hole in her soul and nothing will heal that. The only option left for Kate is to go home. If the world is ending, she’d rather be with her family in Pennsylvania than at Trump Tower. Blake runs after her, asking if she’s okay, which she is not. They share a few words, wishing life over death to one another at the very least, and then part ways.

“What the fuck makes you think I’m okay?” – Kate

Ian and Blake only speak briefly on their way back to Trump Tower. They both know they might be heading towards their doom, but neither is willing to admit that Kate made the right choice. Outside Trump Tower, the protests have heated up. Rocks have been thrown, barricades overturned, and police are dragging away beaten civilians while others scream at them or watch in fuming silence. So many enraged people, yet none of them know the depths of Trump’s deceptions. The two interns head in quickly, enduring a barrage of hateful taunts from the campaign’s opponents.

They enter their condo for a quick break, just a few hours left to weather before election day is over. Unfortunately, there is a scene unfolding in there which Blake and Ian should have seen coming, but didn’t. Rey is crying. Gavin is standing stone-faced beside her, shaking. Kellyanne Conway and two other senior campaign staff are pacing around the room, talking to each other and the interns. There’s a large pool of blood on the floor, leaking out from the door to the bathroom.

June’s wrists are slit. She’s on the bathroom floor, two streams of blood creating a checkered pattern over the floor tiling. Kellyanne seizes Ian when he tries to leave and orders him to stay. The conversation between her, Ian and Blake is as brief as it is harsh. They are not to speak of this, not spread it, not even allude to it, until the election is over. June’s family will be notified, it will all be handled properly and empathetically… but not yet. She can not, will not have an upset like this on Mr. Trump’s winning day. Both Ian and Blake agree, shocked but ultimately not in a position to argue.

Blake attempts to ask a few questions3, trying to tease out whether Kellyanne might have known about this ahead of time. He only manages to annoy and insult her, and with a curt goodbye she sends all the interns away to do their job while she does hers. She is not in the mood to be dealing with this, not now. 3 Read A Person
Result: <9

Blake and Ian split off, almost without taking note of the other. While Blake is trying to keep composed and wait out the madness, feeling horribly alone and powerless, Ian has a plan. He knows exactly what he wants to do, the only thing he can do. He pockets a knife from a break room, a safety measure, then finds a set of maintenance stairs and makes the long climb up towards the penthouse.

As the election results start coming in, everyone in the situation room tense waiting for the win, Blake feels a heavy hand on his shoulder. He spins around and stands face to face with Mr. Pence, a calm and sensible smile on the man’s face. Come with him. No questions are asked, Blake knows by now that he’s not in a position to refuse. They take the elevator to the penthouse, the short time alone with Mike Pence feeling like a dreadful eternity. They reach the top, and exiting into a hallway there is a loud banging on a closed, locked door. Blake starts at the sudden noise, while Pence doesn’t even raise an eyebrow and instructs him to open the door.

Ian is let into the penthouse, Pence waiting for the two to have a hurried conversation. Ian is surprised to see Blake up there, but for once Blake seems more freaked out than him. For how twitchy Ian has been the last few days, he is almost eerily calm now. Decisive. He’s not even surprised when Blake tells him that Mike Pence knew that he was behind the door. The two follow Mr. Pence along to the presidential candidate’s office, and are welcomed for the first and last time into Donald Trump’s inner sanctum.

For a second, it feels as though they’ve stepped into some absurd parody of the Oval Office, which seems to be the exact intent judging from how Mr. Trump’s office is set up. The soon to be president is sitting at his large mahogany desk, behind him a floor-to-ceiling window revealing Manhattan and the WTC 1 towering up right behind Mr. Trump. Once Pence has closed the door behind Blake and Ian, he joins Trump beside his desk. There are two others in the room, Melania Trump with a small smile on her face and an unwell looking Ivanka Trump. Both Blake and Ian recognize her, but her skin is slimy and desaturated, her expression sick or bored or both. Neither of them say anything, waiting until Donald greets the interns with a disdainful look on his face.

Trump speaks, giving them a bland thanks for their service, and then explains in simple terms that before the end of the night, they will need a blood sacrifice. Time seems to stop for a second after he says it, Blake barely containing his panic as a cold sweat locks him in place and soaks his clothes. Ian says nothing, simply taking in his surroundings and the lunatic event unfolding. Blake asks about June – didn’t they already get their sacrifice? – and Michael Pence steps forward to explain with a twisted smile that while, yes, June was supposed to be the sacrifice, it seems she caught wind of their plan and decided to commit suicide. Unfortunate, but these things happen. Instead, it will have to be either Ian or Blake. It is a shame Kate could not come to weigh in on the decision.

Finally, Ian speaks.

“I know the truth – or at least a piece of it. Weak minds can’t handle it – June killed herself. Kate ran away. Blake would rather pretend this didn’t happen. But not me. I’ve accepted this. I hunger for something more. I go unappreciated no matter how hard I try. I could care less what happens to these people. I give myself freely. Use me as a tool for your will. There is nothing left for me here.” – Ian

The rant brings a smile to Mike Pence’s face, an unpleasantly genuine smile. Blake feels a weight off his shoulders, eyes widening and turning to look at Ian. He is willingly giving himself up, and Mr. Pence is guiding him to the large desk. Blake doesn’t have to do it. He will be fine. He readily helps Pence with tying Ian to the desk, hefty ropes binding him foot and hand until he’s completely locked down in front of Donald Trump, his family watching on silently. Before joining Ivanka and Melania to the side, Blake leans in close to Ian and whispers to him.

You know, guess I was right about you. Ian was always a doormat. With that, he stands aside and allows Mike Pence, having taken Ian’s knife from him, to get to work. Ian is cut into pieces by Pence, who is smiling gleefully with those teeth too large for his mouth, and Blake watches quietly as Ian screams and writhes in pain and sweet relief. It’s done. Ian is doing his part, knowing in his heart that this is the future. Pence produces from behind the desk a large chalice in patinated copper, and when the black liquid from it is poured over Ian’s face and chest, the smell of burnt flesh and roses fill the room and Ian’s screams finally die out.

Outside the window, behind Donald Trump, Ian watches the world warp and change in his last moments. The sky turns a filthy, dark gray, and among the Manhattan skyscrapers massive signs and billboards flicker into existence. Defend Your Country, Report Sodomy. The American Dream is the White Dream. No Asylum for Criminal Races. Above it all towers the World Trade Center, and the wide smile of the country’s new president. Once Ian’s flesh is singed and melted and his blood has seeped into the floor boards, the visions fade and his soul is allowed escape.

The election is over. Donald J. Trump has won, and will be sworn in early next year. The blood sacrifice was successful, the pact is sealed, and life continues. Blake is given a handsome bonus for his excellent work in the campaign and a glowing recommendation from the vice president that’s sure to take him far in life. Despite some tough times, he saw it through to the end. It was eye opening. He understands the world a little better now, and is certain that his future will be bright.

And that was And The Rockets Red Glare. Special thanks to my players: 2Lainz (Ian), Caphriel (Kate), and Jeremy Bearson (Blake). This scenario was a blast to GM, and though it was challenging I hope that I represented it well! Thank you for reading.

And The Rockets Red Glare: November 7th, 2016

This is a session recap for the Kult: Divinity Lost scenario And The Rockets Red Glare, written by Jacqueline Bryk. The art is by my excellent wife. Me and my three friends played this scenario in two sessions over voice chat. This post contains spoilers for the entirety of the scenario’s story.

This post contains violent, racist imagery.

PreviousNext

The interns for the Trump campaign wake up early, same as every day. The sun is just about to crest over the horizon and make everyone’s morning miserable with its burning light, but they have little time to dwell on their frustrations. Today, there is to be a press junket in Mr. Trump’s penthouse. Both him and Mr. Pence will be there, answering questions for a battalion of reporters. This has to run smoothly and there is no room for error. Everyone working on the campaign needs to be on full alert, ready for anything. One by one they head up towards the penthouse suite, most of them for the first time.

Kate, who took an extra minute or two to enjoy her tea, leaves last. She knows there is much to do, and though she loathes to do it there’s really no option but to hurry now. When the elevator doors finally open for her, she darts inside and immediately regrets it. Eric Trump, the son of the presidential candidate, is on his way up as well. Kate takes one look at the man, recognizes him, and wishes desperately that she was somewhere else. Eric speaks with her, though his only intent seems to be identifying and categorizing her. What does she do? Where is she from? Simple questions, asked with a degree of almost robotic efficiency. He doesn’t do great with small talk, and his loud voice makes Kate’s anxiety spike. She’s locked in with the man, and he frightens her.

The cologne Eric is wearing burns her nose and throat. It fills the entire elevator, and despite her best efforts Kate cannot help but hack and cough1. Doing so makes Eric step closer to her, towering over the much shorter Kate and asking her in his off-beat cadence if she needs help. She does her best to dissuade him with a wheezing response, wanting him gone, out of her sight. When the elevator finally stops at the penthouse, after what feels like an eternity, Kate finally has room to breathe again, but she remains frightened and with a hard ball of anxiety in her chest. 1 Act Under Pressure
Result: <9

While everyone is hard at work, Blake recognizes the press junket for what it is: his biggest chance yet to look good and get recognized as the prodigy he is. This is a high stakes situation, and he doesn’t intend to waste it by simply doing a good job. He has to make himself invaluable. Looking around the room, with techs and campaign staff running all about, Blake finds his opportunity for just that. Gavin, another intern and to Blake yet another doormat, has been put to work setting up the cameras in the room. There’s a whole host of them, and they all need to be hooked up to a central system through a series of cables, computers and switches. If Gavin were to fail, for instance if he failed to find some crucial bit of technology that happens to be hid away, then Blake could save the day without having to do a bit of work.

Blake knows how to pull this scheme. Some to-him inscrutable box into which the camera feeds must go is still waiting to be set up. Gavin is far too busy to notice, so when Blake in his professional and decisively republican attire asks two hapless techs in a firm voice to move it to another room, they do so. It’s easy. Feeling smug, Blake now simply stands back and waits until hell breaks loose. Gavin eventually realizes that something has gone wrong, and he calls for Kellyanne to explain the situation. She comes down hard on him. Useless, jeopardizing the entire event, a waste of time and space. Fix it. Blake finds his moment to step in. Did Gavin misplace something? He might know how to fix this. With a clap on Gavin’s back, he ‘miraculously’ finds the missing piece of the puzzle and presents it with a condescending smirk to Gavin. Kellyanne thanks Blake, as sincerely as she can muster, and tells him that he did them all a huge favor today. When the interviews start, Blake still has done nearly nothing, while Ian has been laying cable and Kate bossed around a million menial missions. He’s still the hero.

Kate slips away unseen right as the interviews begin. Her experience with Eric followed by the humiliating demands of techs and campaign staff has pushed her to a breaking point, and her choices were either to set fire to the building or cry in the bathroom. She chooses the latter, though not without regret. While she’s away, Ian and Blake watch Trump and Pence talk to the press. All goes well, at first. The presidential candidate answers questions in his usual manner, confident and booming next to the much less expressive Mr. Pence. Blake has shuffled his way forward, as close as he can, so he has a good view of Donald Trump’s face as it cracks. It looks like the interview makeup is breaking up or melting under the harsh lights, but the thin spiderweb cracks are too deep. Worse yet, when Mike Pence opens his mouth to speak, Blake sees nothing but rows of gleaming sharp teeth, too large to even fit in the man’s mouth. Pence’s lips move, and sounds come out, and no one but Blake seems to notice the horror that he’s becoming.

Sitting silently in the back of the room, Ian watches the absurd sight with rising panic. Yesterday was bad, but today… he must be hallucinating, or something. He grabs his can of Monster energy drink and chugs the entire thing, desperate to do anything except to look at that. When he places the can down, though2, the entire room has changed. Clear as day, he sees Mr. Trump’s makeup for what it is: a shell, a paper thin illusion concealing something large, white and slimy underneath. It peers out at the interviewers, all cast in shadow, and answers them so loudly that it makes the room shake. The reporters eat it all up. Beside him, in Mr. Pence’s place, sits something entirely inhuman, incomprehensible. It’s not a chair it sits on, but a throne constructed of heads, a hundred decapitated African men and women supporting the bloody horror, their deaths raising it up high. It speaks calmly to the press in its raspy, gargling voice. Ian can’t make out the words.

When Kate finally returns to the press junket, it’s already ending. She can tell immediately that something is wrong with Ian. The guy is always weird and jumpy, but right now he’s shaking. Cautiously, she tries to ask him what’s going on3. He’s seen something terrifying, and it refuses to leave his mind. He’s obsessing and panicking. When Ian tries to explain the things he saw talking to the reporters, Kate offers him a way to understand the situation. They’ve both witnessed some very strange things in the past days, and perhaps a tarot reading could at least help calm them. It’s dumb, and not real, but Kate has had good experiences with it in the past.
2 See Through The Illusion
Result: 10-14

3 Read A Person
Result: 15+

“I don’t even know how to describe what Pence is.” – Ian

Meanwhile, Blake has left the penthouse and is rushing somewhere, anywhere, to be alone. In a bathroom mirror, he tries to inspect his own teeth. The image of Mike Pence’s lips parting and the gleaming fangs behind not even fitting inside the man’s skull won’t leave. Blake has never seen anything like it before, not in real life anyway. Studying his own mouth and realizing the impossibility of the vision makes him wish to never see it again, either.

Kate explains to Ian that it’s been a while since she’s done a reading. She hopes that it will at least clear his mind a little and besides, what harm could it do? A simple celtic cross will suffice, and it is one of the only spreads she still remembers how to do. The first two cards present nothing out of the ordinary. Ian has an opportunity on his hands, a way for growth and success, though it will come at a heavy price. The reading takes a troublesome turn after Justice is revealed in reverse… along with the rest of the cards. By the end, Kate is disturbed and shaken. She tries to conceal the worst from Ian, but he is headed towards a horrible future, and that the best he can hope for is to achieve inner peace before all is lost. The cards, save the Ace of Wands and King of Pentacles, were revealed in reverse. She explains to Ian that her teacher would have attributed that to a malign influence. Something is wrong in Trump Tower.

“You court damnation!” – Kate

After disappearing to be alone, Kate heads back towards the situation room. The day is not done, though the sun has already fallen past the horizon outside. Walking through one of the spacious empty corridors of Trump tower, a row of tall windows facing south to overlook downtown Manhattan. The view looks weird somehow, out of place, and after passing several windows with this creeping realization Kate stops to look outside. It’s dark, and Manhattan is never dark. The only thing visible on the island cast in night is the World Trade Center One. Kate can’t even see any other skyscrapers, it’s as if they’ve turned to rubble. No lights outside, no stars nor moon, only the WTC with a green light glowing out its windows. Confused and with rising panic, Kate picks up her pace. The darkness is all she can see. She’s no closer to understanding what she’s looking at by the time the corridor turns, and Kate can see the lights and buildings of eastern Manhattan as she takes the corner. She spins around on the spot, looking back south. The world is as it should, skyscrapers dominating the skyline and the WTC towering proudly above it all.

Reaching the situation room, there is no respite to Kate’s stress. Michael Pence is back with donuts, to thank everyone for their great work during the press event. None of the three interns eat what he’s offering. Again, his boring little speech turns into the stuttered gibberish which seems to entirely pass by everyone else. They listen intently, spell bound by his unintelligible muttering. Ian can hear it too this time, and freezes in place. All he can do is stop breathing and try not to freak out. After staring at Mr. Pence’s suit, in vain trying to make sense of its strange angles, Blake locks eyes with Kate4. He needs to know what they should do about this. Kate seems at least determined to weather out whatever the hell is happening and talk about it later. Blake decides to do the same. 4 Read A Person
Result: 15+

A few minutes after the speech has ended and Mike Pence has left the room with a cold smile towards all his hard-working supporters, Ian is approached by a member of the campaign staff. He explains that Ian has been invited to come see Mr. Pence in private. Those who hear this crane their necks: that’s big news. While those around Ian seem impressed with it all, he is trying his hardest to stay calm and not run for his life. He can’t say no, of course, and heads for the elevator back up to the penthouse.

Mike Pence’s office, a converted spare room of Mr. Trump’s penthouse, is not lit well enough. The plastic American flag on his desk would seem out of place, were it not for the rest of his gaudy decorations: souvenirs from around the country, a Route 66 sign, a red, white and blue cowboy hat, and much more. Ian steps inside and is greeted by Pence sitting behind the large wooden desk. He offers coffee, high quality stuff, and tells Ian to sit down. The electric fireplace plugged in next to the desk plays a sparkling sound effect, though that’s not what makes the room warm enough to make Ian sweat. He is told, after some small talk, that he’s been recognized for his hard work for the campaign. He has been an invaluable help, truly outstanding. For his efforts, Mr. Pence would like him to nominate someone else to receive a special commendation on election night. Which one of the interns does he feel deserves the recognition?

Ian listens to Pence drum out an arrhythmic beat against the desk as he speaks, struggling to make sense of the words. He needs to choose someone, needs to respond, not even registering the unfairness of the situation until well after the fact. Ian picks June. He doesn’t know her, but she’s been the loudest worker of the group and he’s pretty sure she doesn’t sleep. Considering how much she’s hounded him, she is the first person he thinks of when it comes to hard work in the campaign. Pence asks first to make sure he knows who Ian is speaking about, then smiles and allows Ian to leave. Unsure how to parse the situation, Ian leaves in a hurry. He wants out of that claustrophobic, burning hot office and heads back down to the interns’ apartment.

While Ian is called to speak with Mr. Pence, Kate heads back to her bedroom. She is seeing things, hearing things, and none of her efforts to isolate herself are helping. She locks the door into the girls’ bedroom and picks up her tarot deck left out. She idly shuffles it, pacing back and forth and thinking about the day. She will give herself a full spread tomorrow, that might be good. Or really, really bad. A hard knock on the door snaps Kate out of her thoughts, she lets out a surprised yelp and drops the tarot deck. The cards explode out across the floor, all with their backs facing her except for Justice, reversed from where she’s standing.

Blake tries to get Kate to open the door. He seems agitated, and Kate initially refuses. She’s frightened by Blake, but once she hears him rambling about something being wrong and Pence’s teeth being all fucked up, she opens the door holding on to only the Justice card. The two try to think over all the possibilities. Eric was wearing enough cologne to cover up just about any stench. Blake suggests there might be a gas leak, or what if they’re testing something on them, some MK Ultra shit? Kate tells Blake everything Ian told her, and while Blake thinks the guy looks like a mass shooting waiting to happen, there’s no doubt he’s experiencing the same thing they are. Kate locks herself in the bedroom again, desperate for some alone time.

“Huge fucking teeth. Like, I don’t know how the guy chews his food-big.” – Blake

Blake goes to get Ian, but runs into him just outside the condo, coming back from Mr. Pence’s office. The two try to get each other up to speed, and Ian hearing everything Blake’s experienced finally convinces him that something big has happened. There’s more out there than just them. They must have been given some gift of sight, to expose whatever the truth is. He’s read about it online, fragments of proof that they’re being deceived, not just by the republican party but by leaders everywhere. Now they have a chance to find out for themselves what’s going on. It sounds insane, but they have nothing else to go on. Either they’re all going crazy in the same way, or Ian is right.

And The Rockets Red Glare: November 6th, 2016

This is a session recap for the Kult: Divinity Lost scenario And The Rockets Red Glare, written by Jacqueline Bryk. The art is by my excellent wife. Me and my three friends played this scenario in two sessions over voice chat. This post contains spoilers for the entirety of the scenario’s story.

Next

A mostly unfurnished condo on one of the upper floors of Trump Tower is brought to life by a cacophony of cell phone alarms. It’s six in the morning, and while the November day outside the black-glass skyscraper promises warmth, the people waking up in the condo have no time to be excited about it. They’re interns, working for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. They’ve been at it non-stop for months, long grueling days running errands or staring at a computer screen as the internet slows down yet again. Just three more days until the election. Once they get out of their cots and folding spare beds their entire day will be dedicated to Make America Great Again.

Kate Warren, a junior from Wharton University, wakes up quick and heads to the cafeteria for tea. She would normally get coffee, but hundreds of humiliating coffee runs for men who call her ‘coffee girl’ has ruined the drink for her. She greets Rey in the morning, the closest thing she has to a friend in all of Trump Tower. The rest of them can burn when Trump inevitably loses. She’s a registered democrat, but Kate actually thought at the start of all this that she could create some positive change by taking this internship. Seems foolish now. Of course, on the outside she must remain a stout devotee of the republican candidate. Even hinting at Trump’s eventual loss is a complete taboo in professional conversation.

Ian Alexander did not get much sleep. He was up well past midnight, doing the menial Excel sheet maintenance that everyone else ‘forgot’ to do. He’s a senior from Princeton University, studying computer science and as such has been relegated to ‘tech support IT guy’ for the campaign headquarters. New computers to hook up, lack of Wi-Fi signal, and the endless stream of information to be processed and entered into databases and analysis software. It’s miserable work and it never ends, but Ian could really use the recommendation. This is a big opportunity, so working his ass off is only reasonable, he tells himself. Gavin is ready to help, but what help is that? Ian knows that it will all end up on his shoulders anyway.

The person in the condo least willing to get his head from the pillow is Blake Stablecamp. Blake is rich, his family is rich and always has been, and he joined the campaign from Columbia University to see and be seen by the people that matter. He’d disappeared last night to go drinking, and the decision weighs on his head now. June, an intern roommate, heckles him to get ready to help him, so he spends a good twenty minutes putting on his tie. He has more interesting people to make a good impression on than her. He’ll be upstairs when he’s damn well ready.

Upstairs, or rather twelve floors up, is the ‘Situation Room’. On the penultimate floor, right below Mr. Trump’s penthouse apartment, it’s the central hub for all incoming and outgoing media relating to the Trump campaign. It is a mess of laptops, cables running through corridors and rooms like endless hordes of snakes, screeching printers, and paper. So much paper. The interns perform most of their duties here, always hounded by campaign staffers eager to dump more work on them, or ask for personal favors.

This day, like every day for the past week, Ian has been put in charge of Mr. Trump’s social media, including and most importantly his Twitter. America’s Most Honest Candidate was determined to benefit from some kind of filter, so Ian was given the opportunity to tweet in his place. He’s to encourage people to vote and push out campaign propaganda as inoffensively as possible without losing the signature flair of the presidential candidate. Something is different this morning, though. @realDonaldTrump receives a direct message, a rarity in itself. Mr. Trump only accepts DMs from accounts he follows, and those are few enough. The oddness doesn’t end there, though. The message is from an account marked as ‘invalid-user’, and clicking on the profile or trying to respond only produces an error stating that the account does not exist. The message is short: We know. Ian tries to respond, but is given the same error message every time.

At the other end of the situation room, staying visible and busy while doing little, Blake offers a favor to a senior staffer. He could get something of their choice on Mr. Trump’s Twitter. A retweet, a comment, anything they like. Everyone in here has their own pet cause and their own agenda, something Blake is eager to exploit any way he can. He sees Ian as a doormat, so getting something onto Trump’s twitter shouldn’t be difficult. With a winning smile, he greets Ian and offers a cigarette from his pocket. Blake has found this a good motivator for some, since pleasures are hard to come by while working the campaign. Ian declines, no time and he doesn’t smoke anyway. Blake casually suggests he retweets something from a republican think tank in Oklahoma, which he does without objection or interest. Ian tries to show Blake the strange message, which was sent again just an hour after the first one, but he doesn’t seem to get it. Surely it’s just some 4chan kid with a hacked account or something. Ian tries to explain that that’s not how it works, but Blake loses interest quickly and leaves Ian with a friendly pat on the back. Kellyanne Conway, the campaign manager, is no more help than Blake. She shrugs and says the strange recurring message is simply ‘something to deal with’, and tells Ian to do just that. Strange things happen every day, you can’t dwell on them.

Ian doesn’t get much work done for the rest of the day. Instead, he gets more and more determined to figure out how this message could even be sent. Hunting through Google results and StackExchange, creating and deleting a dozen Twitter accounts, and scouring through security issue logs. Nothing he finds can explain it. The only real distraction from his confusion comes a bit after lunch, when Michael Pence makes an unexpected visit to the Situation Room. As thanks for everyone’s hard work, the vice presidential candidate has brought donuts. Ian digs in and lets the jelly-filled sweetness take his mind off of things. Mr. Pence stays around for a bit, giving whatever workers have the time and will to listen to a boring speech. He goes on and on about the value of everyone’s hard work. It feels pointless to most, but appears well meaning. Except to Kate and Blake.

Kate spent some of her morning picking up loose papers and determining (with a healthy bit of antagonism towards the campaign) whether they should be delivered somewhere or conveniently shredded. She stops for a moment to listen to the drudgery that is Mike Pence’s speech. Blake has moved close to the man, appearing busy with a note block in hand to make sure Mr. Pence sees him hard at work while he listens. What they hear, though, is not the speech or even a language they recognize. What Pence says is vaguely recognizable as English, it all seems to be disconnected syllables with no meaning at all. He repeats this strange, stuttered droning for a long while, but as Blake and Kate look around they only lock eyes with each other. No one else has realized that Mr. Pence is speaking nonsense. The speech ends, and the campaign work resumes. Kate tries to move on with her day as if nothing happened, but Pence’s garbled speech sticks out in her mind and doesn’t leave.

Blake is shaken by what just happened. He tries to talk to Ian about it, but Ian shrugs and admits that he was more focused on the donuts. One ‘friendly’ clap on Ian’s back later, he instead tries to look for Kate. Blake knows how guarded she is, especially around men, but it’s not his first time finding ways to talk to a reluctant woman. He finds her alone in a corridor, and Kate’s death grip on the little can of mace in her purse lets up a bit when she realizes that her and Blake did hear the same thing, and they probably should talk about it. Were people afraid to say something? Surely they were not alone in hearing Mr. Pence’s disturbing chant, Blake says it felt like the guy was having a stroke in front of the whole crew and everyone applauded him for it. Kate agrees, but keeps to herself that she actually recognized the words Pence spoke. She can’t recall exactly from where or what they mean, and either way she’s still not comfortable speaking with Blake alone. Instead, she confides in Rey. Later, once the two are alone in the room they share with June, Kate tries to explain the situation to her. Rey doesn’t understand. She missed Mr. Pence’s speech, but can’t even imagine what Kate describes to her. She asks questions upon questions for Kate to clarify, what actually happened, what did he say? By the end of it, Kate only feels like she’s made herself look crazy. Rey looks at her differently, a bit distanced.

Late in the evening, and with his head still swimming with thoughts and theories about the anonymous messages he’d been sent, Ian heads to the shower in their condo. He’s not washed off for a few days, he’s not really had time and still doesn’t, but he knows that tomorrow is important and would rather be clean for it. We know. What could it mean? Who sent it? And more importantly, how? After a long, steaming hot shower, Ian takes a step out of the shower and halts in shock.

The large mirror on the other side of the bathroom is fogged over from the steam, but he can still make out something terribly wrong in its muddled reflection. Several shapes, human in size and form but with no features Ian can distinguish, stand in the room’s reflection. Ian looks around the room and sees nothing. The shapes stand close to his reflection, still as statues. Cautiously he takes a step forward, and in the mirror’s reflection the shapes surrounding him move with him. They’re coming closer1. He blinks, and they’re gone. 1 Keep It Together
Result: 10-14 Obsessed

Ian hurriedly dries himself off and heads to his bed, but sleep does not take him. His day just went from bad to worse, and his mind refuses to let go of it. Something is going on. He feels it deep inside of him, that it’s not just coincidences and dumb paranoia. It’s all too wrong.

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.