Cha’alt (5e/OSR) — Mind-Bending Psychotropic Madhouse

Beneath the unforgiving dual suns of Cha’alt, the week-long trek through the desert wasteland known as S’kbah has left your party of adventurers hanging by a thread. Armor has been shed to avoid exhaustion, loot has been forsaken in favor of water, and with radiation pills in short supply Cha’alt’s irradiated landscape has taken its toll. Three members of the group suffer from mutations that have left them permanently and horribly disfigured — one’s face now resembles a rat, another’s eyes have sprouted stalks and the third has grown a scorpion’s tail. The perils of Cha’alt are numerous, but the rumors of vast treasure hoards hidden within the legendary Black Pyramid drive your party forward — despite the knowledge that few, if any, have ever returned from the maddening journey within. Mutations be damned. Endless riches await. 

Your journey began in the city of Kra’adumek, Cha’alt’s cosmopolitan technological slave city under the psionic dominion of the Purple Demon-Worm. A recent solar storm, however, had rendered the Demon Worm frozen, neutralizing its psionic hold over the population. Amidst the ensuing anarchy, your party looted what it could from the underworld beneath the city. 

But now, after an arduous trek past bands of spice frackers, hunter killer droids and desert pirates — along with an entertaining stop at the richly populated intergalactic way station known as Gamma Incel Cantina — you and your companions stand before the entrance to the legendary Black Pyramid, a rabbit hole of reality-bending madness, the 111 circles of purgatory, “the obsidian jewel of Cha’alt’s demon crown.” Rumors abound as to why the Black Pyramid exists: It was built by aliens as the precursor to an invasion; it is an inter-dimensional prison; it is a doorway to the denizens of hell; or perhaps it arrived on Cha’alt by its own will, drawn to the zoth that flows like rivers under the sand. 

Zoth is Cha’alt’s prized natural resource and the primary reason why the planet has become a popular destination for interplanetary treasure seekers. Zoth is the blood of the Great Old Ones, the chartreuse ichor released by the gargantuan decaying bodies of these old gods who were defeated by the technological prowess of Cha’alt’s inhabitants during the Apocalypse. Now, zoth is mined by intergalactic spice frackers who refine the ichor into mela’anj, a spice that connects mortals to the gods and extends lifespans. In its raw form, zoth can be used to increase the potency of magic and weaponry. Zoth is the reason Cha’alt percolates with wondrous and fantastic reality-bending features.

Eons ago, Cha’alt was once the dominion of the Old Ones. It was a legendary planet populated by elves, dwarves, dragons and wizards who worshipped at the altars of these gargantuan gods. The Old Ones, however, were twisted gods. They corrupted the planet with malevolence and then drifted off into an ages-long slumber, during which the corrupted settled into the subterranean regions of the planet while the surface dwellers evolved into a technologically advanced civilization that connected with other interplanetary and intergalactic civilizations and which, ultimately, forsook their connection to the old gods. Meanwhile, in the dark underworld of Cha’alt, demonic sorcery was used to wake the Old Ones who, upon rising, found a planet whose surface inhabitants no longer worshipped them, and instead worshipped their technology — vid-screens, wrist communicators and fearsome galactic battlecruisers. 

Angered at having been abandoned, the gargantuan gods waged war upon the planet — unsuccessfully. The technologically advanced surface civilization narrowly overcame the Old Ones, but at great cost. Cha’alt was reduced to a barren, lawless and radioactive desert. 

Now, as your party stands at the entrance to the planet’s mythical monolith, the Black Pyramid, the perils of a psychotropic madhouse await.

— — —

The Cha’alt Landscape

Cha’alt is the 216-page magnum opus of Venger Satanis, the man behind Kort’thalis Publishing and an outspoken OSR occultist. Cha’alt is designed for both OSR and 5e play, and provides a wholly unique world, rife with pop culture references: Dune, Lovecraft, Star Wars, Terminator, Mad Max, Land of the Lost, Pee Wee Herman, Logan’s Run and many, many more. It’s oftentimes an R-rated adventure that doesn’t shy away from satirizing anything. It’s like John Waters directing a Russ Meyers sci-fi/horror movie.

Gold Foil-Stamped Clothbound Hardcover

One of the very first things that stands out about Cha’alt is the level of pride that went into the publishing. Not only is the book covered by a beautiful 4-color dust jacket, but underneath the jacket, no expense was spared. It is a cloth-bound hardcover, with a gold foil stamped “Cha’alt” logo. The interior features Smyth-sewn binding and as an admitted book-sniffer myself, I confess I’ve gotten rather high flipping through this tome with my face buried in these pages on more than one occasion.

The book is basically divided into four parts: an overview, two introductory adventures, a mid-wasteland stopover at the Gamma Incel Cantina, and the Black Pyramid — the 111-room megadungeon that is Cha’alt‘s main event. 

The Gigantic Spider-Droids of Cha’alt

The overview provides a map of the Cha’alt landscape and its points of interest, many of which only get a brief description (assuming they will be fleshed out in later supplements). Multiple factions — the pirate Skeevers and spice frackers, for instance — roam the wasteland, along with numerous monstrosities — Sand Worms, Scorpion Devils and Gigantic Spider Droids. Before PCs head out into S’kbah — the irradiated desert of Cha’alt — two introductory adventures are provided — “Beneath Kra’adumek” and “Inside the Violet Demon-Worm”.

The Violet Demon-Worm of Cha’alt

The Violet Demon-Worm normally holds psionic dominion over the inhabitants of Kra’adumek. But following a recent solar storm, the worm has been rendered frozen — freeing the citizens of Kra’adumek from the worm’s mind control and resulting in something of an anarchic looting frenzy of the dungeon beneath the city. And the massive Demon-Worm, being petrified, is open to exploration as well. 

These brief adventures, however, only give a taste of the madness to come. The Black Pyramid megadungeon and the rumors of untold treasure within will likely be the main draw for loot-hungry murder hobos looking to satiate their dungeon crawling animal lusts. So it’s off into the desert wasteland for a week-long journey — with a mid-way stopover at the Gamma Incel Cantina where lively and imaginative GMs will be able to really flex their roleplaying muscles. With 69 different NPCs populating the joint, Gamma Incel is where rumors abound — along with a healthy helping of prurient potential. This is a wild west mentality. Nothing politically correct about it. It’s worth noting — Cha’alt is for of-age adventurers. 

Ultimately, the point of this campaign is to lead the party to the crown jewel — the Black Pyramid, 111 rooms of pop culture madness, horrific dangers, imaginative peril and far more treasure than any one party could ever hope to carry out of there — if they survive. The pyramid is mind-bending and extremely challenging, with numerous save-or-die encounters peppered throughout. It will be worth encouraging players to take more than one PC each inside the pyramid — or at least convince a few NPCs to journey with, and serve as guinea pigs. The foolhardy and quick-to-battle will never make it through the pyramid to the end.

— — —

One thing that really sticks out about the pyramid is the complete disconnectedness of the 111 rooms. To avoid spoiling the adventure for any potential players, I won’t go into detail of the rooms, but this disconnectedness doesn’t seem haphazard or incidental. Rather, it seems to be a distinct part of the nihilistic philosophy behind Cha’alt. This philosophy is best summed up by an introductory section to the pyramid entitled “There Are No Coincidences”.

Although the Black Pyramid juggles “disparate aspects of pure chaos”, players will “see a pattern because they choose to see it, because they want it to be real. That’s exactly what The Black Pyramid wants. It desires interconnectivity … “

The Black Pyramid is Satanis’ world of pure disparate chaos, a playground of meaninglessness — yet even within this playground of meaninglessness, we are still able to find meaning. Because as humans that’s what we do. 

The purposelessness of this meaninglessness is meaning itself. We already have a word for that: nihilism. So if we exist in a universe devoid of meaning, we might as well enjoy ourselves. Cha’alt certainly succeeds in that regard.

If adventurers do manage to reach the 111th room of the end of the pyramid, I think they will find Satanis’ philosophical easter egg awaiting them. 

— — —

Taking into account all of the pop culture and political satire, the enormous amount of imagination and creativity, along with a nihilistic philosophical undercurrent, Cha’alt really does add up to more than a game. Like the works of Camus and Sartre, who created worlds of utter meaninglessness, Cha’alt is literature. Read into it what you will.

Marc Star


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