Review of Cults of Chaos

I was quite affected by my first viewing of the Wicker Man (the original thriller, not the comedy starring Nicholas “not the bees!” Cage).

I didn’t relate to the protagonist;  a stodgy, puritanical officer of the law. His stern, no-nonsense  demeanour – mixed with flashbacks of painfully familiar church attendance – was steeped in a predictable banality.

When contrasted with the strange, pagan villagers, I felt more empathy towards the latter. Sex positive nature lovers will always be more appealing to me than modern, urban sterility.

Then again, I’ve always identified more with movie and cartoon villains as a child. They always seemed more… Alive and vibrant. Sensual, perhaps.

Anyway, coupled with my ever-increasing interest in the occult and pagan spirituality, I was very eager for Cults of Chaos. Here was a book that promised a more historical take on occult organizations. At least, how people in the real middle ages thought of them. Written by a supposed actual history buff and occultist. I was rather excited.

Did Cults of Chaos disappoint?

cultsofchaosRPGPundit and Dominique Crouzet’s official supplement for Dark Albion (a mostly system-agnostic take on historical fantasy in 16th century England) is 92 pages of densely packed material to generate all manner of Satanic Chaos cults. What sets it apart from the many other books out there already covering the same subject is the ever present feeling of historicity. Despite having the Judeo-Christian serial numbers filed off and replaced with the forces of Law (the Unconquered Sun and Chaos), it still oozes a real world feel.

Perhaps an actual cultural anthropologist or historian might find plenty to nitpick but for a casual history / occult buff like me it seems genuine. Not in an offensive way to any faiths, mind you: this book isn’t meant to be an accurate portrayal of authentic pagans, Wicca or whomever. It seems to be based more on real world perceptions (or misconceptions) and fears about “Devil” worshippers.  The author sure seemed to have done his homework.

As an aside I think that the author – whom I believe is a devout Christian and spiritualist – didn’t sensationalise the subject matter or approach it with an adolescent heavy metal band type of brush. Sure there are some gruesome and disturbing details but never in an exploitative or “aw yeah” sort of way.

product_thumbnailJust like Dark Albion, Cults of Chaos is densely packed with historical artwork. It goes without saying that this adds to the eerie, historical feel. I noticed a few modern illustrations though, which, while technically competent, felt a little out of place. Not a big deal, though.

The layout, graphic design and typography are all top notch. Even if text wraps around the outline of some art pieces, it is never to the detriment of readability.

What I really liked was the approach on presenting different types of cult-generators for the social class levels of the setting (pseudo medieval Europe). Any generated cults felt better matchedto different settings or contexts. Hugely useful for many different tiers of play: from creepy rural villages, secret guild societies in urban settings and decadent, bored noble conspiracies. All of which can be tied into actual historical events and figures.

There are so many opportunities for mystery, intrigue, tragedy and horror in these tables. My mind still reels from the inspired possibilities. You could even end up with:

  • a manipulated peasant cult that worships a false deity and led by a scheming noble who’s embroiled in difficult wartime politics.
  • Or a merchant guild who’s most successful members made a doomed pact with a devil who’s actually just a nature deity who wants revenge on the descendants of those who destroyed her forests.
  • Or a town making offerings to a totally benign Arcadian (i.e. Greco-Roman) god of agriculture in exchange for ensuring a successful harvest: but they’re under heavy scrutiny by witch hunters because of a series of unrelated serial killings by a mentally ill mortal man.

I was hugely impressed.

Cults of Chaos is a worthy addition to any Referee’s library because of how useful it could be to a diverse range of games: from 20th Century Call of Cthulhu, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (any edition) or even more high fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons (for any edition or any of its derivatives / retroclones).

So no, Cults of Chaos didn’t disappoint. I only wish it were longer. Otherwise it’s a great book and I’m very glad that I acquired it.

You can get Cults of Chaos at DrivethruRPG or Lulu.