Cha'alt Review

If you’re hankering to see Venger’s big black pyramid, slick and filled with zoth, the blood of the Great Old Ones (and might even be bigger on the inside), then you gotta check out Cha’alt!

There's more to it than meets the eyes.
Cha’alt is the name of the world, not the pyramid, but even though Cha’alt in the RPG product sense says it’s a campaign setting, it feels more like, I dunno, most of one? There’s a page of history that describes how the Old Ones destroyed every reality but one, went to Cha’alt, corrupted a bunch of people, and then went to sleep because wiping out nigh-infinite realities probably tuckers you out.

While the Old Ones slept, the uncorrupted portion of the population favored technological advancement in place of magic, which they eventually forgot. The Old Ones eventually woke up (as they are wont to do), there was a huge war, and in the end the planet was utterly devastated. A lot of the Old Ones were slain, and it's their death that causes magic to come back, and also energizes the (big) Black Pyramid.

I think it’s enough to set the overall tone and feel, which to me is a mashup of Rifts, Fallout, Dark Sun, and the Mad Max series, but you only get one region mapped out, a sweeping expanse of radioactive, obsidian-shelled desert (likely one of many) known as S’kbah. Granted it’s a pretty big swath, and there are several locations and dungeons besides Venger’s BBP, definitely enough to keep you going for awhile, just don’t go in thinking you’re getting a broad strokes world to go with the rest of his package.

Since the book is primarily built around the desert, you get some rules for dealing with it. Rather than show a unit of distance such as miles, the map shows you how far you can go in 1-7 days (there’s a bar divided into seven segments). You need one canteen of water a day to avoid dehydration, riding a suitable beast cuts time in half, and riding a vehicle lets you travel an entire day’s worth of distance in only three hours.

Wearing armor and carrying too much shit is bad: there’s a 1 or 2 in 6 chance of keeling over from heatstroke. Finally, unless you’re taking radiation pills, too much exposure to one or more Cha’alt's two suns (but fortunately not it's 3-7 moons) can cause radiation sickness and mutation (and true to Venger form there’s a table with 30 possible mutations).

I should note that Cha’alt is very unforgiving. I noticed a lot of stuff where you can just die, though sometimes you get to make a save. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just making sure you’re aware that you’re very likely to lose characters in actual play (and the book even recommends either starting at 3rd-level, or having three 0- or 1st-level characters on hand, which also makes me think of Dark Sun).

I know the main attraction of Cha’alt is Venger’s BBP, and I’m sure you’re all chomping at the bit to see what it’s all about, to caress its smooth, hard surface, and explore every nook and cranny. Don’t worry, we’ll get to it. But before that let’s scope out the environment wrapped around its prodigious girth.

First off you got some settlements. Among them are a city built from obsidian, glass and steel, where everyone’s thoughts are controlled by a demon-worm, a city ruled by women who worship a goddess of feminism, pride, vanity, isolation, and revenge, and a high-tech, domed city that managed to avoid destruction during the apocalypse.

Most initially get about a half-page treatment, but a few are elaborated on later. For the ones that don’t you’ll definitely need to do some planning if your players are intending to visit by force, choice, or happenstance. I don’t know Venger’s long term plans for Cha’alt, but these areas could definitely do with a supplement to help flesh them out.

Though, hrmm...maybe it'd be a better use of his time to flesh out other regions. Or worlds. There are mentions of spacecraft, Federation planets, and robots coming from said planets. Could be cool to see what those are all about, or even completely different planets (zoth is, after all, used to make spice mela'anj). Maybe there's another, similar pyramid somewhere else? You could also hit up the dimension where the demon stone used to build the pyramid came from?

There’s also a couple sections that detail various factions (Old One cults, robots set on wiping out organic life, spice frackers trying to get zoth out of the ground so they can refine it into the spice mela’anj, etc), monstrous denizens of the desert (including giant scorpions and the obligatory massive sand worm), and a random treasure table (including and a half-dozen magic items if you happen to roll that on the aforementioned table).

My only gripe about the table is the random stuff result, because there’s only 8 things mentioned (including a USA flag, so looks like the damn dirty Old Ones blew it up). I don't know how often you'll use the table, so maybe it's not that big a deal, but I think having that result point to another, more expansive table would have been pretty rad (something to add in a Cha'alt supplement, wink wink).

Now that you more or less understand what Cha’alt looks like and how it works, the book shifts gears to adventure time! If you aren’t interested in Venger’s BBP (why wouldn’t you be?), or want to make your players wait or, you know, work for it, you’ve got several choices: they can check out the tunnels beneath Kra’adumek, the bowels of the demon-worm next door (also named Kra’adumek, which caused some confusion at first), or hit up the Gamma Incel Cantina.

Skimming the demon-worm because it sounded the coolest (and I don’t want to go over every side-dungeon and spoil everything), it’s a giant psychic worm that you can just walk on into and explore. Some of the stuff you can find includes a Goldschläger gelatinous cube (it has gold flakes swirling about within it), a reference to Zardoz (er, sorry, Zarda’as), and likely many more pop culture references that I either didn’t catch or forgot.

On pop culture references: I don't think they're inherently bad, but you might. This is pretty commonplace in Venger's stuff though. I'm guessing if you don't like them then you already knew this wasn't for you, and if you weren't, now you are. I do have one criticism though: the gelatinous cube can’t get you drunk by damaging you or sucking you in!

With all that out of the way, it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for: Venger’s big. Black. Pyramid.

I think you’d call this a megadungeon. Not sure, as I couldn’t find a definition online, but it’s got 111 rooms in case, you know, size matters. There’s also a bunch of associated tables for stuff like why you came to the desert, and rumors about the BBP, in case you were trying to gradually edge your players towards it, and slowly build to a satisfying climax.

Once the characters are sweaty and exhausted, and are prepared to head back to what amounts to civilization with loads upon loads of, ahem, loot, there are also a few tables for what happens when you try to leave, what happened elsewhere while you were gone, and what happens when they come back, hungry for more messy pyramid action.

As a nitpick, the order of the first two tables is what happened while you were away, and then leaving the pyramid, which seems odd: I would have flipped them, but they’re both on the same page spread so it’s not that big of a deal. The table for what happens when you come back doesn’t pop up until seven pages later, and I think it would have made more sense to keep it with the rest, so the GM has them all in one spot.

There’s also a table for random monsters, NPCs that don’t already exist in the pyramid, and a half-dozen minor gods, each with their own religion within the pyramid, plus a seventh god that they overthrew and is waiting for a shot at revenge. Something to throw at the characters later, if you wish.

As for the actual room content, as I said before there’s a hundred and eleven rooms (used to be one-twelve, but something happened to one apparently).

I haven’t played this, so I have no idea how it works out in actual play, how interesting they all are, if they hold up to player intrusion, though I heard this guy played it and really liked it. I’m not going to go into detail on every room, as that would take forever and spoil too much. Instead, I will say that the contents are pretty random. Or at least seemingly random. One passage states that, “by the end of their exploration, certain things will be made clear.”

I have no idea if that’s true or not because, again, haven’t played it (and there's a bit about connections being subjective, anyway), but for some context one room has an old-timey theatre, another Pee-Wee’s playhouse by another name (I feel like Captain America in that “I got that one”), and yet another has anthropomorphic fruit psyching themselves up to charge into another room, killing everyone that refuses to bow to them, like a marauding, murder-hobo parody of the Veggie Tales.

This is yet another not-a-criticism. I don’t know if this would be fun to play or not. For all the chaos it looks interesting, and I’d certainly give it a try had I the time and group willing to deviate from our usual gaming. But, I don’t think it would appeal much to players that like a big-backstory, long, drawn out plots that take numerous sessions to wrap up, and/or having some sort of destiny to fulfill. It seems too chaotic and deadly for that sort of thing.

In terms of room formatting, I wish treasure would have been clearly marked in its own section or box so as to make it a bit easier to find. For the stat-blocks (which have actually been scattered about the book, I just didn’t think to comment on them until right now), I like the upper part, but think the lower shouldn’t have a border around the box so everything matches. Maybe add some cell padding, too. But this is all hindsight as the book is already out, and it’s more of a taste thing, anyway.

I do like that the map is color-coded (it’s color-coded in-game as well, with each room having a colored stripe running across the ceiling), and that there are these pyramid markers on the edge of the page that let you know which area you’re in. Nice little touch. Actually, much of the book is color-coded. For example, in the purple demon worm section the room headings and stat-blocks are purple, and in the BBP they're green and black.

Since I’m talking about graphics, I might as well talk about the art: there’s a lot of it. Some of it looks 3d rendered, or was drawn over cosplaying models (or they might have been mucked around with by Photoshop). I’m not often a fan of the former, and much of the time the latter bugs me as well, but some of it looks good and there’s a lot of traditional art besides.

I think I covered almost everything...oh! There's an appendix in the back for Venger's Crimson Dragon Slayer d20 rules, but if you don't care about that (likely because you already have a d20 ruleset of choice) it only eats up 6 pages out of the 218 page count. The guy that played it and liked it used something else, too.

Overall Cha'alt looks pretty good. You can tell a lot of time and effort was put into it. There are some things I would have changed (and what game or supplement doesn't have that), but not anything that ruins the whole. If you like what you see, check it out! There's even a 30-something page preview up on DriveThru. Doesn't get you to the pyramid, but it will give you a pretty good idea of what you're getting into.

You can now get a physical copy of Dungeons & Delvers: Black Book in whatever format you want! We've also released the first big supplement for it, Appendix D, so pick that up if you want more of everything.

The first issue of The Delver, a magazine featuring fungal-themed content for both players and GMs (including an adventure in which myconids find religion), is available!

Our latest Dungeon World class, The Ranger, is now available.

Dwarven Vault is our sixth 10+ Treasures volume. If you're interested in thirty dwarven magic items (including an eye that lets you shoot lasers) and nearly a dozen new bits of dungeon gear, check it out!

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).


  1. Thanks for the review, hoss! I appreciate you taking the time to drink Cha'alt in like a fine wine. Remember to swallow... don't spit.

  2. You KNOW I always swallow. I'm a classy motel hookup like that!


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