This is it! This is the Ken Hite/Greg Stolze material we’ve been waiting for; this is the legendary material that was mentioned as an upcoming supplement in the original Delta Green book. Two of the best horror setting guys out there, and if anything’s going to put a new spin on Delta Green, this is. It’s around 120 pages and I’ve probably hyped it too much already, even to myself, so it’s time to see what we’ve got.
Opener: an explanation of what the Cult is all about. It’s a Nyarlathotep cult, of course. At this point in the evolution of the Call of Cthulhu branch of the Mythos, he’s firmly established as the deity who runs human cults. And let’s not forget that Stephen King’s Randall Flagg, the Walking Man, is likewise an avatar of Nyarlathotep.
There’s going to have to be a contrast to Stephen Alzis and the Fate. We’ll see if it gets mentioned explicitly, or if it’s executed through silent comparison. If I understand the chronology correctly, the Delta Green material on the Fate was published after the initial Cult of Transcendence material was written, so we’re talking about parallel evolution here.
The Cult’s general thing is, well, transcending. It’s based on purity, specifically the purity of power. This goal is built on four Sees, each one run by a Bishop, each one dedicated to taking advantage of a negative aspect of humanity. Nice little reversal there, and it says a lot about the arrogance of the leadership. I also like that it’s based in Stockholm; that plays on all the stereotypes of austere Scandinavia.
Oh, and there’s the sidebar discussion of the Fate. There’s a comparison, an acknowledgment, and GMs are encouraged to make their own decisions. Appropriate enough, and I don’t think the two organizations are as similar as all that anyhow.
OK, lots of history. To summarize: evil tome corrupting those who read it. Templars. Secret cabals of bankers. The Great Game. Cromwell. Freemasons. Illuminati. Unexpected consequences. Rasputin. I’m thinking Ken Hite was somehow involved in this, and it’s pretty good — yeah, it’s the old conspiracy stuff, but the shadowy Alta Vendita is imperfect and flawed, which makes it a much better conspiracy.
On to the current state of the Cult. It’s nearly, you will forgive me, Kult-like in its embrace of alienation. The difference is that in Kult, that’s a desirable state. One really interesting note is that this all works: “several Masters have utterly escaped this mortal plane and now dance at the court of Azathoth.” That single sentence may be the first time any Call of Cthulhu product has ever hinted that worshiping the Elder Gods can be a good idea.
There are several pages explaining the structure of the Cult, which is the classic pyramid. The twist, again, is that the pyramid scheme works. Most of the pyramid is dedicated to amassing power, but the goal is to allow individuals to transcend, and gaining power is a means towards isolating individuals from humanity. This creates a rather elegant tension.
The pyramidal nature is emphasized by an organization chart, which is such an elegant use of banality. It also serves as an introduction to the major players and a listing of the fronts through which the Cult works. These range from self-actualization cultists to racial supremacists to UFO theorists. I take these as rooting the Cult back in Delta Green soil.
Ten or eleven pages in, and we hit the next section: the top level of the Cult. The Transcended Masters are completely incomprehensible entities who spit out incomprehensible instructions to the Bishops. In an homage to AD&D’s Deities and Demigods, they nonetheless have stats. The history of each Master is evocative, interesting, and definitely sheds light on the Cult as a whole; also, they seem like useful plot tools, as one can never be certain why they do the things they do. Surreal intrusion into a PCs life? Sure.
The Vagnoptus Manor is presented next, which is awesome, because that tells us that this twisted home base is just as much part of the leadership of the Cult as the Bishops. The Manor matters. It’s a horrendous creepy place and I would reread House of Leaves before using it in a game.
Which is telling. I don’t want to bet on it just yet, but the Cult feels like transgressive horror to me: the horror that comes when our world is somehow wrong. The Vagnoptus Manor has two particular types of creature infesting it. Neither of them are monsters from beyond. They’re both humans, warped and twisted by foul rituals. Likewise, the Masters were once human.
Using the Cult as a primary antagonist in your Delta Green game means you’re replacing the Mi-go with human beings. There’s some comfort in knowing that the things which make your word horrible are at least inhuman. The Cult strips away your ability to do that and reminds you that humanity can be plenty awful enough. It makes the horror far more personal.
That’ll do for now, I think. I’m stopping in the middle of a section, but the Bishops and Acolytes are up next and I imagine I’ll have a lot to say about them.