Friday, May 28, 2021

Cha'alt: Rated G?!

Last summer when I was developing Square Dungeon with my oldest son, he became absolutely insatiable for more adventure. Once I had exhausted the plot of Sproggiwood, the video game he had initially asked me to turn into a role-playing scenario, and completely exhausted a home-brewed sequel with a plot twice the length of the original, and run several randomized dungeons created with DonJon just to keep him going, I found myself, for the first time since I started playing while playing Dungeons & Dragons 36 years ago, running out of ideas.

At the time, however, I was doing the first few reviews for this blog. I had just finished reading The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence, and was really taken with it s crazy fusion of Science fiction and fantasy. Not mention it s concept of certain places being a Nexus for things to wash up once get lost in time space.

So, I decided to steal elements of "Purple" to open up the idea of a transplanter adventure for my son.

The Goo Out of Time

I created a twist to the campaign where strange black monoliths started appearing in familiar dungeons that he'd already explored. These dungeons became overrun with a fleshy purple creep that in turn created a blight on local life, coating things with a purple mold or a thin violet slime.

Excerpt from "Fungus" from the
Dungeons & Dragons 5e Monster Manual;
 ©2014 Wizards of the Coast. 
If this stuff wasn't cleared with fire, the classic D&D monster Violet Fungus would start growing out of it. And local life would become corrupted and mutated. I also introduced a weird tentacle tree as a monster in a couple of the early dungeons.

I also had strange anachronisms, like killer robots and UFO sightings happen near places that were overgrown. 

This "purple putrescence" became a central theme for an extended series of adventures , as my son tried to burn it away, and set up a team of rangers to locate the monoliths and regularly burn away the infection where they have appeared. 

Eventually, I tied them into a time travelling cult, led by an evil cybernetic Cloghead (the main character race from Sproggiwood.) I made him look and feel like a villain from the Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence: leather, robot parts, and laser blasters for a weapon.

My son ate it up

I came up with the idea that this character had decided to travel back in time to try and change the course of the development of Cloghead society to prevent a coming cataclysm. 

This fit in perfectly with the plot of Sproggiwood, which involves a Guardian Spirit trying to protect the idyllic land it had been entrusted with, Sprogg, from Entropy by going back in time, capturing the Clogheads from tbeir world, and transporting them to his land so that he would have someone would cultivate it and build a civilization.

This mirrored plot structure really appealed to me. 

Sproggiwood promotional banner, ©2015 Freehold Games

Going Gonzo

Cover to The Islands of Purple-Haunted
Putrescence, ©2014 Kort'thalis

Reading Venger Satanis's Islands of the Purple-Haunted Putrescence was my first real exposure to Gonzo gaming outside of Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, which is relatively mild compared to the surreal pop culture mashup of one of his books. I could instantly see the appeal that such a game could have to a kid if we pulled out the sex and gore.

I decided that the reason for the putrescence and the monoliths were appearing was a down to the cyborg's time travel efforts: they had destabilized time space around Sprogg even more intensely than the Guardian Spirit's first attempt. Sprogg was now in danger of becoming another Temporal Nexus like the Purple Islands .

Eventually, my son decided to seek a permanent solution to the problem of these monoliths cropping up, especially as when they were left unattended they started to bring even more alien dangers. 

Cover to Cha'alt; ©2019 Kort'thalis 
Radioactive Desert, Ho! 

By then I had purchased and read Cha'alt, and had that review forthcoming... and Venger had already sent me Cha'alt: Fuchsia Malaise, which ties Cha'alt and the Purple Islands together nicely.

I decided that, to get the means to destroy the monoliths and stabilize time in Sprogg, one of my son's characters would have to pass through a dimensional portal, visit the Sk'bah desert, and there find a Smith who knows how to work with the exotic metals that could cut through the Monoliths .

The Smith was trapped in his fortress of salvaged technology by robots run amok, and in order to forge the sword that my son's characters needed, he had to travel across the Sk'bah avoiding sand worms and sand pirates on flying boats to collect star metal.

Adventuring on Cha'alt only happened for a couple of hours, but I managed to hit some of the major notes: broken alien technology, killer robots, scumbags flying across the desert, deadly traps, and a hostile environment. It was a memorable adventure that my son still talks about.

Cover to Cha'alt: Fuscia Malaise;
©2020 Kort'thalis
I don't think I would ever characterize Venger's work as kid friendly. But, part of the beauty of any OSR product is that you can simply take what you need and leave the rest. In the case of Cha'alt I created a blazing desert full of magic and advanced technology existing side by side, in a hostile and dangerous environment. And I suspect when my son is older, he will want to go back to that Black Pyramid he saw on the horizon... and wonder at my audacity for having used this material when he was so young.

And as an amusing twist, strange monoliths purple sludge, and time traveling robots have all become a staple of my son's games as well. If he gets bored, I have found that a splash of Purple Putrescence immediately catches his imagination.

I think there is a critical lesson in this about gaming with kids. To run a game for kids doesn't mean that you need a kid's game, or that you need to get your inspiration from kid-friendly sources. You can take ideas from anywhere, and bend them to suit your needs. 


  1. I enjoyed that. Sounds like you guys have an amazing shared world for adventuring! Yes, take inspiration from anywhere you can.

    1. It is pretty wild and complicated. At this point he has been to the end of time, helped his favorite wizard ascend to godhood, and passed the torch from his original PCs to a second generation of heroes. There is something about the unconstrained imagination of a child that inspires adults to let go of convention, too.