Hello, Kultists! Last year on this blog, I presented session recaps of my ongoing Kult campaign titled Jessy’s Story. It got so far as eight sessions in, when I decided that a hiatus was in order to allow my wife and artist some time to move on to other projects and commissions. At long last (read: a bit overdue), Jessy’s Story is finally returning! The preliminary schedule will be to have one session posted every three weeks until the campaign is DONE! There is quite a ways to go, so there is lots of content to look forward to if you enjoy Jessy’s descent into madness (and eventual rise to power). However, I imagine there are those who either haven’t read all the first eight sessions, or have forgotten much of the details. Not to worry – below is a summary containing some of the major characters of the story, and what happened in each session.
Jessy’s Story – Session 9 will be posted on Friday, February 28th, some time in the evening (GMT -5)!
Jessy Button – Real name, Jessica Buckle. The deceitful homewrecker whose life this story follows. Sleuthing about for details about the strange ring she inherited from her mother, Jessy comes into contact with dark and alluring forces. Some are her enemies, with others it is not so easy to tell. Jessy’s greed, both for money and for knowledge, knows no bounds, and through stubbornness and an infinite stream of lies she always gets what she wants. No matter the cost.
Tan – A rich and incredibly charming man, interested in both Jessy’s ring and her body. He is deeply religious, worshipping a strange and obscure twin deity represented by a pair of goats. It seems to be in his and his religion’s nature to be socially and sexually dominating at every opportunity.
Wilma – She appears in Jessy’s dreams, a vicious woman wearing gorgeous jewelry and an unchanging mask of anger and resentment. All she wants is Jessy’s ring, creating nightmarish visions to wear Jessy down until she finally gives in and hands it over.
Artyom – This emotionless Russian man, bald and clad in expensive suits, is what Tan refers to as a razide. Beyond Artyom’s human visage lurks a ragged shape of rusted metal and torn flesh. Jessy cannot help but pursue this enigmatic being who revels in causing others pain and suffering. Whatever his true purpose, he offers Jessy deep insights at the cost of her sanity.
Carl Hunt – An older man whose money Jessy has been taking in exchange for charming smalltalk and the occasional private picture on Instagram. Seems to have a fascination with Jessy and her likeness to his own daughter.
Jeremiah Redwood – Cofounder and senior designer for Granger Fine Jewelry, the business from which Jessy’s ring originated.
Abbas Ali – A former developer for Instagram, somehow involved with Granger Fine Jewelry and associated with Artyom. Appears ageless.
Session 1 At a party for developers and influencers of a recently launched app called MyGems, Jessy seeks out woman named Andi to discuss with her the design and history of her ring. Andi explains that similar rings, also from Granger Fine Jewelry, have been seen on the fingers of powerful people all over the world. This is also where she runs into Tan, dressed in a colorful suit, who she immediately takes an interest in. Her curiousity is reciprocated, and Tan invites her to a private room with the founder of MyGems, David Clap, and many other influential men and their dainty dates. Tan seems to know all of them, and after many drugs and celebrating with a drink which tasted suspiciously like blood, Jessy agrees to go to an afterparty with Tan. She doesn’t remember any of it the day after, waking up in her own bed with vomit-covered clothes and a strange goat mask in stone strapped to her face.
Session 2 The morning after, Jessy receives a message on Instagram from an anonymous and seemingly glitched account, asking her pointed questions about her night with Tan. The person on the other side offers up money for any information she can get on Tan, and encourages her to see him again. She spends the day with her friends, but when a snowstorm hits Toronto she’s forced to go down into the underground PATH to find her way to a hotel. Unwashed homeless people seem to stare her down, but she hurries along and tries to put them out of her mind. At the hotel, a young girl named Elise tries to hide in Jessy’s room before being dragged off by men who, according to Elise, intend to kill her. Hotel security does nothing. Jessy is beset by nightmares, concrete corridors and vast abysses guiding her into the deep.
Session 3 Jessy meets with Andi, who has some contacts which may prove valuable in finding out more about Granger Fine Jewelry and the tumultous crimes attributed to the company in the late 70s, right around the time Jessy’s ring is estimated to have been made. The nightmares continue, leaving Jessy sleepless and disoriented. At a breaking point, she descends again into the paths beneath Toronto in hopes of finding a clue as to why these dreams persist. Instead, she is lured deep down into maintenance tunnels and filth-caked corridors where she encounters a truly horrific beast. Lost for what feels like an eternity, she is eventually drawn back to reality by the sound of a subway train.
Session 4 A elderly woman with alzheimers named Agatha serves as Jessy’s emotional dumping ground and fake grandmother. Her week of hellish nightmares is capped off by accompanying Tan to a luxurious party hosted by a man named Eduardo Sarmento. Here, Jessy meets Artyom. She recognizes him as one of the men who kidnapped the girl at the hotel, but after Tan aggrevates him she sees him for what he truly is – a monster. Jessy becomes absolutely fascinated with Artyom and can’t get the image of his tattered body out of her head. The evening ends in disaster as Eduardo dies a grisly and public death, though with nothing to go on and lab results inconclusive, the police eventually lets everyone go. Tan, seemingly unphased by the horrific fate of his acquaintance, offers Jessy to come stay at a hotel with him and not let the night end just yet.
Session 5 Alone with Tan at an upscale hotel, Jessy speaks with him at length about his worship of the Twin God. He lights candles, decorates the room with figurines of goat-headed men, and seduces Jessy with a promise of transcendental knowledge. Through harsh love, he intends to reveal higher truths to Jessy, but she is not ready and is hurt deeply both physically and emotionally. Once asleep, she is drawn deeper into her nightmares and finally meets Wilma, the woman behind Jessy’s sleeplessness. She demands the ring, threatens a defiant Jessy, and eventually shunts Jessy out of her short rest for yet another night of staring at the dark ceiling. Once she finally leaves for home, Jessy discovers that her apartment has been broken in to. Someone was hunting for her, and she recognizes the threat Wilma poses.
Session 6 Jessy speaks with Carl Hunt about her apartment being broken into, since he is the one who pays for it. They agree she should be staying with friends until he can sort something out, so Jessy drifts in and out of the homes of people she’s lured into her orbit online, boyfriends and girlfriends all. She also digs deeper into the dealings of Granger Fine Jewerly, discovering that the man Abbas Ali which she saw at Eduardo’s party apparently worked for them in the 70’s and looked no different then than he does now, as if he hasn’t aged a day. She gets into contact with Abbas, who in turn helps her reach out to Artyom for a private meeting. Jessy visits him at a rundown hotel in Etobicoke, where they discuss many things, including Tan’s foolishness in playing with powers far beyond his control. She is unexpectedly forced into performing torturous acts on a man named Simon. He seems to be enjoying the entire procedure, and Artyom allows Jessy to delve deep into the euphorias of causing others pain.
Session 7 Leaving her ‘boyfriend’ Ethan’s apartment to buy some food, Jessy is stalked and assaulted by two homeless people seemingly working for Wilma, but with pepper spray in hand she disables one and forces the other, Honey, to become her guide. She learns from him that Wilma abuses them through their nightmares and keeps them sleep deprived and tortured until they have to do her bidding, and that they’ve been hunting Jessy for at least a year. They descend beneath Toronto together, but after a skinless monstrosity attacks them Jessy kills it and unwittingly uses the magic of her ring to bring them much, much deeper. Now lost and fumbling in the dark, they stop to rest in an abandoned cathedral to some unknown god. In a dream, Wilma appears again before Jessy and the two exchange threats. Jessy is coming for her, not to deliver the ring but to put an end to this lunacy.
Session 8 With her arm wounded from the monster’s attack, a deranged, sleepless mind and filth covering her entire body, Jessy forces herself and Honey to press on. They don’t know where they are, but must continue to move until Honey might recognize their surroundings. Silence rules these parts of the world, only broken up by the strange beings which live in the dark. After a long while and with both of them hungry and thirsty, Honey finally sees a path he knows will lead to Wilma. They push onward and enter the bunker complex which she has made her lair, home to folks in tattered clothing and gruff looking squatters. Brought before her tormentor, Jessy sees that Wilma is in fact an old woman, decrepit and withering with a shrill voice, hard on the ears. She demands the ring, and with her servants keeping Jessy under close guard the situation seems hopeless until she manages to incite some doubt and dissent into their ranks. Chaos erupts, and Jessy leaps onto Wilma. Her knife is plunged deep into the hag’s body, but she has no time to celebrate before a hard object strikes her in the back of her head and the world goes black.
And, of course, don’t forget to check out my artist’s Instagram and Facebook pages, where she posts the art made for Beyond Elysium along with some of her other work. She also has a personal website with more projects and contact information.
Hello! This post’s intended audience is Kult players and GMs with a competent understanding of the game’s mythos. It may feel very inaccessible to people outside that intended audience. You have been advised. 🙂
A discussion I see cropping up every so often is that of the Archons and the Death Angels, and how their Principles do or do not “match”. I always love when the subject gets brought up, because everyone seems to have their own view and vision of what this all means. It’s really enlightening to see people’s different perspectives on the Kult mythos, how Elysium keeps us imprisoned, and what ideals the Archons and Death Angels actually operate on, and their methods. There are many ways to read into this dark universe and make sense of it. In this post, I would like to go over some of my favorite Archons and their Death Angel counterparts, highlighting why I think their Principles are interesting to the world and stories told, and how they connect to and interact with each other.
Binah (Community) – Sathariel (Exclusion)
To begin with, let us examine some piece of lore. When the Demiurge forged ten Principles with which to fetter us, he personified them (in some sense) as the Archons. The Archons are more than mere entities, however, they are cosmic forces in their own right. As these came into being, so too did their shadows, the Death Angels. Let us avoid the discussion on the specifics of how this occurred. The Archons represent humanity’s values and base desires – they are integral to our view of ourselves. That is what Kult tells us. Humans in Elysium are defined by their need and acceptance of hierarchy amongst themselves, the need to submit to the greater will, and indeed the community to which they belong. Binah, the Black Madonna, with her Principle of Community, lays out plain the idea that humanity requires and craves community in order to be whole. Looking around the world, this seems to me an uncontroversial statement. We seek family, seek friends and likeminded strangers, connect with our countrymen and those we share our faith with. This is Binah’s power within Elysium, it is she who guides us to look for these connections.
In our striving to find community, however, we often overlook the natural consequence of defining an ingroup to belong to: there will without fail exist an outgroup. Those who do not belong in your community. It cannot be helped – some will not fit in. There is family, and there are strangers. There are communists, and there are capitalists. There is your faith, and there are heathens. Binah’s shadow, her Principle’s outcome for the unlucky and unloved, is Exclusion, and it is from this that we see Sathariel born. She is the Death Angel of all those who can’t or won’t find belonging. I really enjoy this. The Archons define and represent our most pervasive ideals and wishes, while the Death Angels highlight the dark outcomes of the same. This is the approach I take to understanding the sephirot and qliphoth of Kult myth, as you’ll see in the remaining comparisons.
Chesed (Safety) – Gamichicoth (Fear)
Without a doubt, Chesed is my favorite Archon. Destroyed though he is, the Principle he stood for is vitally important to understand if we want to grasp how Kult views humanity and its progress since industrialization. I suppose that it is worth pointing out here that Kult is rather “Western” in its myth making and writing, and so this approach may come off as, eh, problematic to some. It can’t be helped. We must take at face value that the Demiurge’s fall and the War of the Archons coincides with the industrialization of Europe and North America, and that this is hugely impactful to humanity globally. These are not mere coincidences, but conscious choices. Chesed was destroyed as Europe propelled itself into a new age, where anything could be achieved. What we had for so long thought out of reach and things we’d never even imagined possible were suddenly right among us, and any sense of comfort and safety quickly dissolved as the masses were thrust into the industrial era.
Chesed’s principle was Safety, which might also be read as comfort. Prior to the Archon’s fall, humanity lived rather sheltered lives. We knew little and saw less, with the exception of a brave few travellers and those who had the luxury of education and wealth. Thanks to Chesed’s influence, this was idyllic in some ways. We knew the world as far as the horizon line, recognized the faces around us, and told stories which would explain the world and its intricacies in simple ways none would find time to question. When you don’t know how little you know, it would seem that everything is explained. Ignorance is bliss. The shadow of this idea, of course, manifests as the fear of the unknown. What might challenge your secluded little world view must be regarded not just with suspicion, but as outright dangerous. Gamichicoth, the Death Angel of Fear, incarnates as all the things outside your pool of knowledge. Where Chesed tells you that what you know is all you need to stay safe, Gamichicoth posits that what you don’t know must be rejected as dangerous, only because you don’t already know it.
The War of the Archons began as Malkuth utterly annihilated Chesed (and we’ll talk more about this later in this post), and this signals a massive shift in how we humans viewed the world. Industrialisation brought many things upon us. We saw more, from the rise of trains and cars to massive factories spouting smoke. We knew more, with physics and biology dissecting and revealing what was once the domain of God. There was no longer an excuse for ignorance as scientific and economic advances steamrolled the old world for the new, and what were we left with? Certainly not a sense of safety, but larger and larger unknowns. A wider scope. More things to fear. Gamichicoth still lives in the shadow of Safety. We may never again return to the world where we could imagine a comfortable and common sense existence, but must instead face an endless stream of the new, the unknown, the things we cannot and will not understand. In the new world, there is no safety. Only fear.
Yesod (Avarice) – Gamaliel (Lust)
Avarice, the need to have and to own, is a strong notion. It is not only greed for the things we do not have, but coveting and protecting what we do. Humanity really does want to have things, to say that this is mine and mine alone. Yesod imbues humanity with its individualism. We are told that until the industrial revolution, Yesod was often suppressed by the other Archons, which I would argue alludes to the fact that the absolute rulers and their noble castes of earlier ages equally suppressed the individual power of all those beneath them. Slavery, serfdom and feudal power meant that there was little that the smallfolk could have. The industrial revolution, Kult would have us believe, relieved much of that pressure. In an age where nothing was off limits and everything could be gained, humanity’s avarice became dominant. We could have more, so why shouldn’t we? I’ll refrain from commenting on the subsequent fall of Yesod and Tiphareph’s enslavement of the fallen Archon, because that seems a very complex subject for this analysis.
The big question here, then, is: Where does this leave Gamaliel? The father of perversion is associated with Lust, and this is something I’ve seen remarked on as confounding. In fact, fellow Kultist Auburney wrote an excellent article a while back discussing this exact subject. His theory is honestly enlightening, and a fascinating take on how Chastity as a principle could breed the Avarice which Yesod would come to represent. However, I must personally disagree with it, and I hope to show you why. Gamaliel is the shadow of Yesod in two important aspects, and I think we do not need to make any additions to the Mythos in order to explain their connection. First, the Principle of Avarice represents the need to have things. The natural consequence of this, and separate because it meaningfully alters how we humans approach reality, is the need to gain things. We love what we have, and we lust for what we don’t. Where Yesod makes us look at what’s in our grasp, Gamaliel makes us eye the things outside it. This is a dark thing indeed, because it means that so long as we are under Gamaliel’s influence, we will never be satisfied and we will always crave what someone else has. It causes conflict, frustration, and drives us to madness.
The second way in which Lust is a shadow of Avarice is in the more… fleshy sense. Gamaliel is intrinsically tied to sexual perversions and forbidden pleasures, the wonders and horrors of the body. This is because Yesod is concerned about material goods, the world around us, the things humans find and make. Gamaliel states that this is not enough. You can look at a broader scope and see that humans themselves are, and always have been, up for the taking. There is much to gain from this perspective. We make full use of the body we have, and when that is no longer enough we lustily reach for others. Sex becomes the ultimate way to express the desire to gain and take more, to expand what you have and what you’ve experienced. Yesod encourages you to have, Gamaliel makes the demand that you should take. This is how Lust becomes the shadow of Avarice.
Finally, we reach the bottom of the tree of life and the Archon of Awakening, the Rebel, the Babe, Malkuth. As the de facto patron saint of humans striving to escape Elysium, what her Principle(s) actually represent may not be immediately evident. The Kult: Divinity Lost core book doesn’t spend much time exploring Malkuth’s original purpose. We know that she crafted the physical world of Elysium, taming Gaia to create a world where order reigned. This order, conformity to universal constants and replicable patterns, is vitally important to understanding humanity. We use the movement of stars to guide our ships, the changing of the seasons to grow our food, and we comfort ourselves by reminding each other that after rain comes sunshine. Malkuth was always tied to the natural sciences and science in general, which then makes it no surprise that she has a significant role to play in the industrial revolution. The Demiurge’s disappearance or no, it is clear that the success we found in using and abusing Malkuth’s creation required her to act. The annihilation of Chesed is a direct consequence of humanity shining the harsh, revelatory light of science on old wisdoms and misconceptions. Industrialisation was a massive turning point. Instead of passively viewing the world and learning its cycles, we forced ourselves deeper. We studied automation, atoms, radiation, we viewed the stars not just as a map to follow but a place to get to. Humans no longer respected the universe’s conformity, instead we tore it apart in our desperate desire to break free. In enforcing her principle, Malkuth pushed us too far and in essence became a victim of her own Principle. Whether she was convinced by our actions or our scientists’ combined divine wills forced the Archon to shift her Principle, it did change during this time. She still represents science and the study of nature, as she did in the past, but the purpose of it has forever changed. Malkuth now represents Awakening, the scientific demand for a higher and more complete truth.
Because of this, Nahemoth’s manifestations have changed too. The Death Angel of Discord is certainly deeply rooted in Gaia itself. Malkuth tamed Gaia, made sense of nature, but Gaia cannot be tamed. We can never expect nature to conform, not really, and Nahemoth represents the hubris of trying to understand that which can never be tamed. She is one with lightning storms, floods and forest fires, everything that undoes what Malkuth has crafted. In ages past, where humanity was still learning what it meant to respect the conformity of nature, she showed us that we shouldn’t, couldn’t, trust our own knowledge. Nahemoth is Discord, but she is also doubt and punishment for hubris. No more is this evident than looking at how she manifests in the modern age. Malkuth has brought us into a world of nuclear reactors, massive factories and consumerism so extreme that we eat the world itself in our quest for progress. The shadow this casts is immense, and horrifying. In the modern age, Nahemoth finds herself woven into greenhouse gases, bushfires, rivers clogged with pollution and mountains of plastic drifting out at sea. Everything the enlightening science of Malkuth has given us gives us just as many problems. Nahemoth’s principle is still Discord, but her power doesn’t just come from the chaos of Gaia anymore. We feed her with our own quest to bend Gaia to our will. She is the cost of progress.
The Archons are more than just big scary god monsters, though they can be that as well. The mere existence of what they represent is what powers them, and the creatures tied to them. Whenever anyone in the world accepts their place within a hierarchy, Kether is there, and when they no longer feel content with that place, Thaumiel gains strength. Every time a community is formed or welcomes a new member, that is Binah’s doing, whether her servants are there or not. Every time you litter, Nahemoth smiles. The Death Angels don’t just exist to be ‘evil’ versions of the Archons. By some unexplained force of cosmic balance (also known as ‘it makes for better allegory’), the Death Angels exist out of necessity, because that is simply how godlike beings work. If you hold an object in the light, a shadow is cast. Actions have consequences. Dedication to an idea implies the existence of an alternative. Who is to say that the Death Angels are more evil than the Archons (other than the Archons themselves)? They represent the consequences of our ideals, the alternative to our accepted norms. We can only say they are the evil ones by declaring the Archons’ Principles as good, and personally, I’m not willing to do that.
Our thoughts and actions, controlled by these Principles which were imposed on us by the Demiurge, feed the Archons and strengthen the machinery of Elysium to keep us imprisoned. With this in mind, it must be understood that breaking free from Elysium and reclaiming one’s divinity is a horrible and monumental task. You cannot simply fight the order given to the world by the Archons, because in fighting it you come closer to embracing the Death Angels, who also do not have your interests in mind. By fighting it, you still accept into your mind the idea of the Principle’s existence, and that too will allow it to live on within you. The rejection of these Principles must be so complete, so sincere, and you must remove them all from your soul so that no shadow can be cast. Then, and only then, you might experience the true and unbroken divine light of your own soul.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What do I need?
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.
Keep It Together
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.
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.
-1 Serious Wound
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.
Observe A Situation
-1 Serious Wound
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.
-1 Serious Wound
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.
-1 Serious Wound
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.
Dabbler In The Occult
-1 Serious Wound
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.
See Through The Illusion
-1 Serious Wound
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
See Through The Illusion
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.
Act Under Pressure
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.
Read A Person
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.