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Author Topic: Setting of [Kult] in [Sorcerer]  (Read 6737 times)
lachek
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« on: February 22, 2008, 08:30:20 AM »

One of my fave game settings of all time is in the Swedish horror RPG "Kult":
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kult

The game's base mechanics consist of your standard BRP-derived "roll under your skill", with some embellishments for quickly, deadly and extremely gruesome combat. There are rules for magic and summoning, but in the tradition of CoC, these tend to require giving up large chunks of the character's soul and/or sanity, and as such are mostly reserved for "teh evul" NPCs.

I've been itching for a ruleset to truly give the setting justice and put the focus on a personal horror experience rather than the we-pretend-to-be-investigators-but-really-we're-just-insane-heavy-weapons-specialists gameplay the stock rules tend to gravitate towards. It struck me that Sorcerer may be the game for it, complete with the central premise of "what will you do to get what you want".

Kult supplies "Archetypes" which maps nicely onto "Cover". It also forces characters to choose (often gruesome) "Dark Secrets" which might work in a roundabout way to create Kickers and Bangs. Most importantly, it has a "Mental Balance" stat, central to gameplay, which maps kind of - but not precisely - onto Humanity.

Mental Balance is a stat derived from the point totals of your Advantages and Disadvantages, and as such will be between -25 and +25 for most starting characters. The further away from 0 one gets, the less "human" the character is, with all what that entails. A high positive balance represents a saintly figure who have discarded their base desires, while with a high negative balance, you become a monstrosity ultimately driven by such desires. At +/-25, a psychiatrist would diagnose you with "mental problems requiring address". At +/-75, you're a complete basket case by "normal" standards. The game technically allows you to reach +/-500 before you are considered to have "transcended" your humanity entirely, and rewards the character with otherworldly powers at key steps along the path. The mechanics make it easier to move along your current direction than work backwards to 0, which along with the granting of superpowers tend to encourage players to let their characters descend deeper and deeper into madness.

It is easy to see how the positive scale of Mental Balance might map onto Sorcerer's Humanity score, or perhaps offset it such that Humanity 3 or 4 represents MB +/-0 with each point up or down representing 25 points or so of MB. I'm not sure that's a good solution, though - I may be missing something critical in the translation, or inadvertently causing some kind of screwed up reward loop that'll ultimately invalidate the premise of Sorcerer.

Will the Sorcerer and Soul supplement help me with this?

Any other ideas, especially from people familiar with Kult, would be greatly appreciated. Are there other parts of Kult I could emulate using Sorcerer? Are there any obviously incompatible areas? Has anyone tried something similar to this?
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Peter Nordstrand
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« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2008, 09:51:13 AM »

Actually, I think that Kult and Sorcerer are a really bad match. (Disclaimer: I have not played the game since the early 90s.)

Two reasons:

1. There is no stat in Sorcerer that is anything like Mental Balance (or Sanity in Call of Cthulhu, or Humanity in Vampire). For one thing, Humanity in Sorcerer does most certainly not work in a way that is even remotely similar. There is literally nothing that says that a Sorcerer character with a high score in Humanity is more humane (or sane or more empathic or whatever your definition of the trait is) than a character with a low Humanity. We can talk more about this if you want, but the short answer is that handling Humanity the way you propose will definitely break the game.

2. The setting in Kult is not suitable for Sorcerer play, at least not if you plan to treat the various supernatural entities of Kult as demons in Sorcerer. Functional Sorcerer play demands that demons are unnatural abominations that must not, cannot, do not exist. There is no supernatural hierarchies waiting to be uncovered. The premise of Kult, on the other hand, is quite the opposite: Demons do exist, in fact they are the real reality, while our mundane world is a lie, an illusion.

Does this help? Ask questions.

All the best,

Peter
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2008, 10:15:10 AM »

Both of Peter's points are good, and I think they support the idea that one cannot "do Kult" with Sorcerer. However, can one "do Sorcerer" with Kult-inspired material? Absolutely, and in fact I did that very thing my own self.

The setting ideas presented in chapter 7 of the core book and developed further in chapter 1 of Sex & Sorcery were inspired in part by Kult: specifically, the "paths" of occult development. Kult has five; I ended up with three. The thematic or setting-based issues for my approach are different - in Kult, you go more and more extreme with sex, for instance, to crack open your perceptions and see things the way they truly are, risking more and more destruction as you go. In this application of Sorcerer, you find a way for this kind of transgression to yield insight rather than destruction. They're similar in content but do not quite follow identical trajectories.

In my list of references for the core book material, I forgot to include Kult, and only remembered the influence later. So I was sure to include it as a stated influence in the Sex & Sorcery chapter.

Now, all that said, you are completely right that The Sorcerer's Soul is actually the most important supplement for the issues you've raised. The material in Sex & Sorcery builds on that supplement, specifically its chapters 2 and 3, and therefore will make less sense in isolation from it.

Best, Ron
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lachek
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« Reply #3 on: February 25, 2008, 10:24:09 AM »

I'm both encouraged and confused.

Both of Peter's points are good, and I think they support the idea that one cannot "do Kult" with Sorcerer. However, can one "do Sorcerer" with Kult-inspired material? Absolutely, and in fact I did that very thing my own self.

My intent was to "do Sorcerer" against the wicked backdrop of Kult. See, I know how to "do Sorcerer", but the idea of "doing Kult" is far more nebulous, even (maybe especially) with the Kult rule set. What does Kult play consist of? Do you fight against the forces of darkness? Do you unravel mysterious plots? Do you try to remain sane and alive in a universe hostile beyond your imaginings? Do you consciously transgress human boundaries and sanity in order to achieve true power? Or do you just go along with whatever plot the GM feeds you this session? I love the Kult setting, but ultimately I have no idea what the game is about.

In Sorcerer, I trade my humanity for power/control - or I do not, as the case may be. The game is very explicitly about this balancing act, with Kickers and Bangs acting essentially as loaded McGuffins to propel the narrative through the premise.

Does this map onto Kult in some way? It seems to, and that is the basis of my question.

So if we agree that one form of "doing Kult" consists of:

  • Having real human desires, values and wants,
  • Being able to conjure supernatural powers to fulfill those desires,
  • Requiring the sacrifice of your humanity in the process,
  • Yet, knowing that should that last spark of humanity disappear, all the desires, values and wants go along with it

then I would suggest that Mental Balance could map onto Humanity by some mechanic, and that if it drops off the bottom (let's face it, who really goes for positive MB in Kult?) then the character becomes unplayable by Sorcerer rules, rather than an enlightened madman (likely unplayable in practice) by Kult rules. The game, then, becomes about ensuring that despite your increased understanding of the cosmology and the power over reality (or Illusion, depending on your point of view) which that brings, you still maintain your sense of self.

This seems almost dead-on Sorcerer play to me. What am I missing?

1. There is no stat in Sorcerer that is anything like Mental Balance (or Sanity in Call of Cthulhu, or Humanity in Vampire)...

2. The setting in Kult is not suitable for Sorcerer play, at least not if you plan to treat the various supernatural entities of Kult as demons in Sorcerer....

Peter, can you elaborate on how these (very valid) points would break Sorcerer?

For your point #1,  are you saying that the number next to Humanity on your Sorcerer sheet is not a quantitative measure at all, but some sort of abstract game token with no representation in the fiction? That is, when a Sorcerer loses Humanity by performing a heinous act, they lose a "point" of "currency" and get closer to "losing" the "game", but this doesn't necessarily reflect in the internal or external state of the Sorcerer hirself? And when a Sorcerer banishes a demon, they "redeem" themselves and regain a "point"? This is counter to my limited understanding, but even if this is fact - would changing this behaviour to reflect the functionality of Kult's Mental Balance stat necessarily break Sorcerer? In what way and why?

For #2, I thought I was with you until you said "Functional Sorcerer play demands that demons are unnatural abominations that must not, cannot, do not exist". Is this a notion supplied in expansions I'm unfamiliar with? The demonic examples in Sorcerer proper lists a number of "demons" that are very, very real, like fighty robot jet fighters a la Macross, if memory serves. Perhaps more telling, while the text encourages players to go beyond such derivative tripe, it does admit that one of the most obvious interpretations of demons are Dante-esque torturers of the damned who hangs out in Inferno and tempts young sorcerers in exchange for their immortal souls. In light of such interpretations, how does Kult's setting invalidate Sorcerer's premise?

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Peter Nordstrand
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« Reply #4 on: February 26, 2008, 01:49:26 PM »

A good meaty post, indeed. However, I need time. Please be patient. Perhaps someone else will beat me to it.
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Marshall Burns
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« Reply #5 on: February 27, 2008, 03:13:53 PM »

For your point #1,  are you saying that the number next to Humanity on your Sorcerer sheet is not a quantitative measure at all, but some sort of abstract game token with no representation in the fiction? That is, when a Sorcerer loses Humanity by performing a heinous act, they lose a "point" of "currency" and get closer to "losing" the "game", but this doesn't necessarily reflect in the internal or external state of the Sorcerer hirself?

It was my understanding that Humanity is an either/or sort of thing; the character is either still human (Humanity 1+) or inhuman (Humanity 0-), with the meaning of "human" and "inhuman" depending on how Humanity is treated by the group.  I mean, take two characters who both have Lore 1 but have divided their other stats differently; is the guy who has 6 Stamina and 6 Will (and thus 6 Humanity) less human than the guy who has 4 Stamina and 8 Will (and thus 8 Humanity)?

At least, that's the way I thought it worked.

-Marshall
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Valamir
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« Reply #6 on: February 27, 2008, 10:24:22 PM »

Yeah, humanity is binary.

The analogy that helped me is to think of it as a lightswitch; a lightswitch that requires 10 pounds of pressure to flip.

If you start with Humanity 7, that means you've already got 3 pounds of pressure on the switch.  As you lose humanity you're adding more pressure to the switch, until finally at Humanity 0, you have the needed pressure and bam, the lights go out.

But right up until that last moment...the lights were still on.  And here's the important part.  They were on just as brightly...the increasing pressure on the switch, didn't cause the lights to dim at all, until they went out altogether.
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Peter Nordstrand
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« Reply #7 on: February 28, 2008, 04:24:15 AM »

As Marshall and Ralph said. I'll just add that players must always be in control of their character's actions. You can't demand that a character must act more crazy just because his humanity is low. Humanity mustn't be an indicator of how you should roleplay a character.

Why would introducing such a rule break the game? Because, players making decisions for their characters is what the game is about. Take that away, and you are left with a very different beast. The whole point of playing sorcerer is to have players making these decisions.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: February 28, 2008, 06:07:44 AM »

All of those are good points, but I think I can also see what you're talking about, Iachek. I am basing that on actually trying to prep Kult and in doing so adapt it to my preferences, over ten years ago. To do that, I found myself driving toward two things.

1. The setting's certainty regarding the horrific, "real" world would have to be diminished. Instead of cracking the illusory reality open so the player-characters could glimpse and eventually fully enter "the truth," I'd play it more as an interface between the normal experience of life and the horror/hell/whatever that shone forth every so often.

Unfortunately, doing that means that nearly all the support material or scenarios I'd bought were made almost useless, because casting off the illusion and seeing the horror/truth is a big deal in the game concept. My limitation here is that I have no interest in metaphysics like whether God is really the Demiurge, or whatever. As I discovered with trying to prep the original Vampire, I found myself too interested in the normal people and their stories to want to go cast all that off as mere illusion.

However, if someone else were to find a better or more functional balance among these concepts than I could generate, then Kult's setting could be Sorcerer-like. It'd merely have to be about the real people and normal situations as much as the blood streaming down the concrete walls or the bloated torturers stumping along the corridors that you never realized existed in your house before. And all that God-and-such stuff would have to become supposition within the setting rather than setting-as-agreed-upon at the player level.

2. The Humanity value would have to become descriptive of the character's appearance and apparent habits, but not prescriptive for what he or she might do under stress. That's a pretty big conceptual shift, actually. It's what makes Sorcerer Humanity distinct from the feature of the same name in Cyberpunk and Vampire.

Ultimately, I realized that to do all this with Kult meant that I'd be playing my game-in-design Sorcerer anyway, and playing Kult as written was not really possible for me based on points #1-2 as well as the phenomenal GM-control implicit in every published scenario. So I went with "be inspired by Kult for cool things in Sorcerer" instead.

However, should anyone think he or she could do it, I'd be interested. The game always impressed me with its guts; it somehow managed to combine splatter horror with human interest, and (although I don't know how) avoided mere adolescent excess even when it was indeed excessive.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: February 28, 2008, 08:33:40 AM »

Whoops, I mean Mental Balance, in #2 above.
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lachek
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« Reply #10 on: February 28, 2008, 09:09:59 AM »

Aha! I hadn't picked up on the binary nature of Humanity in Sorcerer, thanks for cluing me in.
As Marshall and Ralph said. I'll just add that players must always be in control of their character's actions. You can't demand that a character must act more crazy just because his humanity is low. Humanity mustn't be an indicator of how you should roleplay a character.

Why would introducing such a rule break the game? Because, players making decisions for their characters is what the game is about. Take that away, and you are left with a very different beast. The whole point of playing sorcerer is to have players making these decisions.

Gotcha. So to adapt Mental Balance into Sorcerer play, all I have to do is allow players to interpret their current Humanity score in whatever way they would like without feeling like they're being judged by their peers or themselves? Or did I misunderstand?

I realize now that Humanity is not actually on a sliding scale (the 10 lbs of pressure light switch is a great analogy), but are there potential game-breaking pitfalls in treating it as such? Assuming we recognize the subjective nature of it and avoid judgment of a player's ability and willingness to play it out in a way that fits with our own perceptions, of course.

To answer my own question, I suppose that if a player feels their actions are being pulled a certain way based on their Humanity stat, it could remove some of the emotional impact of having to make such decisions your own damn self, without relying on "what the character would do". Then again, if someone really wants to use reverse-pawn-stance, they could point to any of the other stats - Stamina, Will, Cover, Lore - and claim the same: "I did it because it's what a low-Will high-Cover police officer would do."

The Humanity value would have to become descriptive of the character's appearance and apparent habits, but not prescriptive for what he or she might do under stress.

So Humanity is descriptive, not prescriptive. Short, sweet, effective. I like it.

What about Lore? One of Kult's basic premises, like Mage: the Awakening or the Matrix movies, is that reality as we know it is an illusion - and the more we know about the real world, the more control we have over the illusion. In Kult, this is reflected in skills like the schools of magic, Dreaming, various low- or high-Mental Balance powers and The Dark Art. Can we map these skills onto Lore without game-breaking effects? Perhaps by treating the effects as some sort of temporary, instantaneous Demons? I feel like I'm way out on dark, weak ice with this one, but I'd appreciate comments.

The setting's certainty regarding the horrific, "real" world would have to be diminished. Instead of cracking the illusory reality open so the player-characters could glimpse and eventually fully enter "the truth," I'd play it more as an interface between the normal experience of life and the horror/hell/whatever that shone forth every so often.

Because if you used the setting and the ultimate nature of humanity intact then, as in Vampire, you'd implicitly encourage people to shed their humanity because it misleads and weakens them, am I right? After running Kult for a while, the at least semi-human characters we'd start the game with would be turned into, essentially, dark superheroes devoid of emotions and human connections, going on fantastic journeys to more and more gruesome locales to kill ever-scarier monsters with ridiculous guns (which, ironically, I think is actually the starting point for Mutant Chronicles). This is exactly the effect I'm trying to prevent by using Sorcerer in the Kult setting - I'm hoping to switch the game goals towards preserving your humanity to make the game about human horror, not shedding it in favour of dark fantasy no player can have any emotional connections to.

Could I do this - maybe better - by using Sorcerer proper? Well, duh. But I do like the Kult setting material... and my driving force here is largely based around salvaging childhood disappointments.

Any other tips and tricks for integrating Kult's setting into functional Sorcerer play?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: February 28, 2008, 11:26:21 AM »

Hi,

I think I can help with everything you wrote starting with "What about Lore" with a pretty basic idea: that Lore, in Sorcerer, is never certain at the metaphysical level. Even if the demon is bright red, has a pointy-tipped tail, speaks Hebrew or Coptic or something, reminisces about Solomon, and seems obsessed with the character's immortal soul, that doesn't mean all the occult and Biblical references from which this stuff is drawn are established as true in the game setting. In this game, nothing can be so established, as far as Lore (and sorcery, and demons) is concerned.

Nor does the character's certainty about any of it mean a damn thing either - in fact, the descriptor Belief System was chosen in order to characterize such certainty and to emphasize that it's a feature of personality rather than a key or window into what's "really out there." That's also why there is no Lore descriptor called True Knowledge; the closest thing to it is Mad, and I hope that makes my point about that.

I will discuss how this concept applies to fighter-jet-AI-spaceships and similar 'solid' things later. Right now we will stick with Kult.

So to "do Kult" with Sorcerer concepts firing, the whole setting notion has to change. Instead of reality being an illusion, and Lore being access to truth, reality is real, these awful/horror things may also be real, and Lore is a way to cope with the contradictions and questions at the interface of the two. So any of the paths of magic or the skills that apply to such things are all means of coping with and manipulating that interface.

Does that help, or make sense?

Best, Ron
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lachek
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« Reply #12 on: February 28, 2008, 02:36:00 PM »

Does that help, or make sense?

It does, yes. In other words, your Lore is like your Arete in Mage: tA - it reflects the degree of comfort and flexibility you enjoy with your Paradigm, allowing you to extend it to affect reality more effectively. It doesn't explain reality - it doesn't explain what lies behind reality - but it compensates for the disjointed intersections between them and allow you to create more for your personal benefit.

So why is it so important for "reality" to be "real" in Sorcerer? Is it to prevent the GM from being the Keeper of Reality who says what goes and what doesn't? I can't see that being a problem in Kult - the setting material is vague and the details are intended to fluctuate from group to group, game to game. If it's a player authorship issue, I can definitely cope.

Or is it to lend legitimacy to the idea of sorcerer's dealing in mundane affairs, like buying milk and having one night stands? If that is it, I have a counter-proposal. The idea I like about having a false reality, an Illusion, and to slowly reveal it to characters (and/or players) a la Kult, is that at some point they will have to make the same choice Cypher had to make in The Matrix: leave the Illusion and embrace power and truth in Reality, or remain in the Illusion by closing your eyes to Reality (with limited success, of course). Sorcerer's rules would make such a choice be between leaving or remaining in the game, which might cause players to naturally gravitate towards Illusion and high Humanity. Kult doesn't really offer this choice so much as it assumes, by natural progression, that you will move through the storyline towards Reality with an extreme Mental Balance.

Is this approach workable? If not, why? I have no particular reason to resist the idea of making both worlds "real", other than that I'm trying as hard as possible to use the original Kult setting.

Thanks for helping me with this, everyone. In addition to learning about interfacing the games, I'm definitely learning about both Sorcerer and Kult as individual games.
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joshua neff
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« Reply #13 on: February 28, 2008, 04:42:23 PM »

Iachek,

I hope this doesn't come off as a smackdown. It's certainly not meant as one. But as someone who came to Sorcerer after playing a number of World of Darkness games and similar things, I think I have some...well, some insight into this.

There are a lot of "hidden reality" games out there: Kult, Mage and the other World of Darkness games, Call of Cthulhu, and more. In these games, there is a hidden, occult truth to the world, and the people who can access it go mad or get great power (or both). Sorcerer is not one of these games. Sorcerer is about arrogant people who willingly risk their very humanity and enter into a dysfunctional relationship to get more power. The demons in Sorcerer are absolutely not part of an occult reality. They are UNreality; they are literally from nowhere and they should not exist in our world at all.

I think of Sorcerer as one of the great existentialist RPGs (The Shadow of Yesterday and Dogs in the Vineyard are two others, by the way). Reality ultimately has no meaning, and the PCs make their own meaning in the world. Not in the Mage sense of bending reality through their enlightened powers, but in the real world way all of us make our own meaning: by living life and ascribing meaning to our actions and the actions around us. In Sorcerer, a lot of that takes "real" form as demons, but the demons aren't there to signify occult truth or enlightenment. They're there as a dramatic convention to show the lengths people will go to gain power in the world. In Mage, the ultimate truth is that mages (and sleepers to a lesser extent) shape reality. In Sorcerer, the ultimate truth is that there is no ultimate truth, and any occult revelations or enlightened truths a Sorcerer discovers will be personal and in no way universal.

Does that make sense? Does that help at all?
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--josh

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lachek
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« Reply #14 on: February 28, 2008, 09:41:38 PM »

Okay, I must admit, the nature of reality seems to be the major hang-up here and its emphasis continues to puzzle me.

Ron says that for a Sorcerer/Kult hybrid to work, both Illusion and Reality must be real. Joshua explains it by naming Existentialism a major part of what makes Sorcerer work - there mustn't be any reality that is "truer", or any underlying purpose to reality and life for that matter, since that would rob players of their ability to truly make choices and creating meaning for their characters (man, talk about a "Fruitful Void").

So, hey, without pulling in preconceived notions of Kult or Mage or Cyberpunk or whatever, can we talk about why the philosophical basis for Existentialism wouldn't work if you're placed in a new, cold, hostile world equally - if not more so - devoid of meaning than the one you thought you came from? Yeah, in a twisted way, Kult does point the characters in a certain direction. There is a degree of hope in Kult that doesn't exist in, say, Call of Cthulhu - humans are secretly divine and possess the ability to escape their imprisonment and fight back. I fully intend to rob a potential Sorcerer/Kult hybrid of this glimmer of hope, since it would seriously fuck with Sorcerer's premise.

Robbed of this external hope, I can't see that Kult's concept of Reality would screw with Existentialist ideas. Screw Nietzche's God is dead - in Kult's Reality, not only is He either dead, missing or completely uncaring, He's not even God. His lieutenants, the Archons, are fighting amongst themselves and are no more benevolent towards humanity than their malevolent reflections, the Death Angels, are. The ironic thing about Kult's Reality is that the world beyond the veil offers absolutely no answers and demands nothing less than complete personal responsibility or total annihilation.

Does that sound like a suitable backdrop for Existentialist play? Or, Ron and others, are there reasons for ensuring "reality" is "true" other than not focusing play around the elimination or manipulation of external forces?

Now, on the issue of the reality of demons. How important is it that demons be "from nowhere and should not exist at all"? This has been repeated multiple times in different ways, and I'm still not understanding why that it - other than as a reflection of the above, to ensure players take responsibility for their actions by negating the existence of higher truths.
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