Saturday, 22 August 2020

[Musings] Reviews & Ratings

One night during my vacation in Rijeka I had a vivid dream of finding new issues of PC-Guru and 576 KByte at a newsstand. These two were the defining gaming magazines of my childhood. I was an avid reader of them from 1997 till 2003. After that I stopped caring about gaming magazines, because the editors I adored were mostly gone, the magazines got ridiculously expensive, and internet access became available for me in high school. When I saw that both of them had the old layout and editorial staff I started digging for my wallet, then woke up.

PC-Guru rating StarCraft

Besides the utter disappointment that it was all just a dream one thing kept bugging me: their info boxes. Both magazines had them, usually at the end of their reviews. These summarized basic stuff about the game (developer, publisher, requirements, etc.) and the editor's opinion presented in the form of a single mighty percentile value. 576 KByte even had a short tl;dr section above the final grade, and rated each of the game's four major attributes: visuals, playability, length/replayability, and sound.

576 Kbyte rating
Might & Magic VI

I really loved the percentile ratings, especially how counterintuitive they were. For many readers these numbers didn't serve as the closure of a review, but as the beginning. While I usually read the magazines cover to cover, I too prioritized reviews about games that got excellent or horrible rating over the others. I also found amusing how people interpreted the ratings. One would think that on a scale of 1 to 100 a game with 50% rating is mediocre. Even the editors told us so! Yet the general rule of thumb among readers was that games with less than 75% were not worth bothering with. Make it 80% if you are picky.

This got me thinking about improving my reviews a bit. A terse information box will not only help the reader find basic stuff about the product quickly, but also allow me to throw out trivialities from the text - like page count and format. I will also use percentile ratings from now on, because they are awesome. I have three reviews in the pipeline: Tunnels & Trolls Japan Adventures, Monsters! Monsters! 2nd edition, and Fuchsia Mayonnaise... Maladies... or something like that. They will be perfect to experiment with the new format. Stay tuned for more!

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Sunday, 9 August 2020

[Homebrew] It's a Kind of Magic

The magic-user's choice.
Abandon hope all ye who enter here! These heretic house rules were written in the blood of massacred sacred cows. They haven't been properly playstested, because our Old-School Essentials campaign has been in stasis since the plague, when the highest level character just hit level 4. The reason for experimenting with spell points and throwing out memorization is as old as the hobby: most of my players are ambivalent, or at best neutral towards spell slots. I also tampered with clerics, so they have magic at level 1, and don't get both level 3 and level 4 spells on the same level. We'll see how these rules work out in the end, though so far my players liked them and I'm not that worried that it will horribly upset balance or break the game. Or maybe I just don't give a fuck anymore after running DCC RPG for years.

Preparing Spells

Spell casters don’t have to memorize spells. Users of arcane magic can cast any spell within their spellbooks, while users of divine magic can cast any spell from their spell lists.

Spell Points

Instead of spell slots, spell casters use spell points (SP) to cast magic. Casting a spell costs 1+spell’s level spell points. Recovering spell points requires a night of good rest.

Spell caster classes have the following amount of spell points:
  • Illusionists, Magic-users: level x 4 SP.
  • Clerics, Druids: level x 3 SP.
  • Bards: (level-1) x 2 SP.
  • Rangers, Samurai: (level-7) x 2 SP.
  • Paladins: (level-8) x 2 SP.

Spells become available at the following levels :

Maximum spell level by class

Lv

Ill, MU

Cl, Dr

Brd

R,S

P

1

1

1

-

-

-

2

1

1

1

-

-

3

2

2

1

-

-

4

2

2

1

-

-

5

3

3

2

-

-

6

3

4

2

-

-

7

4

5

2

-

-

8

4

5

3

1

-

9

5

5

3

1

1

10

5

5

3

2

1

11

6

5

4

2

2

12

6

5

4

3

2

13

6

5

4

3

3

14

6

5

4

3

3


Spellburn

When running out of spell points, spellcasters can burn their own hit points. The chance of success is equal to the chance of copying spells (OSE Advanced Fantasy Genre Rules p. 50.) with a penalty of (missing spell points x 10%). The caster spends the remaining spell points to cast the spell, then takes damage equal to the missing amount of spell points.

Success: The spell is successfully cast.

Failure: The spell fails, roll on the table below.

Healing: Spellburn damage temporarily reduces the maximum hit points, which can only be recovered through natural healing.

Spell Mishaps

When spellcasting fails during spellburn roll on the following table to see what happens. In case of thieves failing with scrolls the spellburn damage is 1d6.

Spell Mishaps

1d20

Result

1-2

Spell fails, no further harm done.

3-4

Etheric backlash doubles spellburn damage.

5-6

Etheric explosion, in a 100’ radius everyone suffers the spellburn damage.

7-8

Caster stunned for spellburn rounds.

9-10

A random spell of manifests. Its level is equal to the amount of spellburn

damage taken.

11-12

Spell backfires at caster! If the spell is harmless, be creative with the result,

or choose another spell of the same level.

13-14

Reversed spell! If the spell has no reverse, be creative with the result,

or choose another spell of same level.

15-16

Temporary loss of random ability score equal to spellburn damage.

With each day of rest 1 point of the ability score returns.

17-18

Caster unable to cast spells for spellburn turns.

19-20

Caster knocked out cold for spellburn turns.


Friday, 3 July 2020

[Kickstarter] They Came For Your Money

Possible future picture of PoN after
The Palace of Unquiet Repose is released.
The best thing about the pandemic is that all the money I couldn't spend on travel can be blown on ebay and Kickstarter. And July started all gun blazing on the Kickstarter front.

There are 4 days left of the Dunkeldorf: The Prancing Peacock campaign, which I don't want to waste any more word on - I have already talked enough about it.

There are 3 days left of the Giant Slayer!! campaign by Paul Smith (aka Creative Sculpt Studio / Dark Hollow Miniatures), who has been churning out all kinds of cool Oldhammer miniatures in the last few years, from chaos warriors through beastmen to badass mutant mollusks. Despite its name the Giant Slayer!! campaign offers more than a rude giant slayer standing atop a giant's head - which is a scene near and dear to me, because it pretty much happened in my high school Warhammer FRP 2e campaign too more than a decade ago. There are also two lovely valkyrie giant slayers wearing various levels of armour, and a valkyrie sorceress apprentice inspired by Fantasia.

A few days ago Prince of Nothing announced on the Age of Dusk blog the inevitable coming of The Palace of Unquiet Repose. The campaign hasn't even started yet, but the hype is real. Will the dutch luminary's magnum opus shake up the slumbering OSR scene? Will this nordic pundit become the long-waited messiah ushering a new golden age of old-school gaming? And most importantly: will he write a fair and humble review about his own work on his blog?

That's a pretty solid start for the second half of 2020.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

[Miniatures] Dunkeldorf Prototypes and Painting Hans the Joyful

Like last year, the fine folk running King Games DK sent me some promotional material for their new line of Dunkeldorf miniatures. The box was larger than I expected: besides the resin prototypes, stickers, and some art, it also contained a cool mug, which will surely see some use during my painting sessions. The miniatures I received were a cupboard, some containers with food, Philipp der Pfau (the mascot of the Prancing Peacock inn), Hans the Joyful (a merry patron holding a tankard of foaming beer), and Franz the Mutant (your quintessential tentacled Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay mutant). Writing a preview about my first impressions felt half-assed, so I decided to set my current projects aside, paint one of the prototypes, and write a "How It's Made" special about the process.

From Denmark with love.

Have no illusions: this won't be a tutorial. I started painting miniatures only three years ago. I work slow, I don't use any fancy techniques, I don't know much about colour theory, and sometimes I don't even touch my brushes for weeks. It is a secondary hobby for me to supplement tabletop rpgs, and also a way to chill - until I spill out a pot or drink from the wrong mug. So instead of lessons, get ready for a recollection of my fumblings accompanied by rants and shitty photos.

As I mentioned above, the minis are made of resin, a material I'm not too fond of. Despite my prejudice I was pleasently surprised with what I got: the details were crisp, the material felt sturdy, and the only preparation I had to do was washing them well with warm water and dishwasher liquid to remove the remaining mould release agent. Of course I managed to drop a mini in my mug of water, and as I hastily reached for it Archimedes' principle kicked in, and I flooded the entire table.

The prototypes drying in company of some
Creative Sculpt Studio beastmen and slimes.

After everything dried I glued the minis unto the bases they came with. Here I ran into a small issue with the resin: the tabs were very thin compared to the slots. In case of metal you can bend it with a plier until it fits, but with the rigid resin that wasn't an option. In the end I glued Hans and Franz to the base by the foot with some UHU super glue. I prefer gel super glues, but alas I couldn't find it anywhere, so I had to go with liquid, which was almost empty, and its tube was broken leaking glue all over my desk and fingers. It felt like elementary school DIY classes all over again.

Silence before the storm.

Once I was done with the bases I fixed the figurines on a box with Blu Tack and grabbed my brand new rattle can of Army Painter Matt Black Primer to prime them. I usually cover my minis black, because I work from dark to light colours, plus accidentally leaving some black in the recesses doesn't stand out like a sore thumb. I shook the can vigorously (dare I say violently) until I heard a rattling under the bottle cap. It turned out the cap came off - an unprecedented accident so far for me.

After fixing the cap I put on my mask (originally given to me to fight Papa Nurgle, but I'm flexible), and primed the minis with short bursts until they were covered nice and smooth from all angles. Something I learned at my own expense is when it's hot it's better to spray from a shorter distance, otherwise the paint dries before it hits the mini, resulting in a rough surface. I didn't repeat that mistake this time. I left the minis out for half an hour. I would have left them out longer weren't for the coming rain. Nevermind, I can endure the smell of acryllic. Heck, I even enjoy it a bit. It might have something to do with helping my father spraying cars when I was a child.

I see a mini and I want it painted black...

At this point I was still unsure which figurine should I paint. Franz the Mutant is a far more interesting chap, he looks like someone stepping right out of The Enemy Within campaign. There were already plenty of images floating around the internet of him though, so I went with Hans the Joyful instead.

Hans the Joyful still looking grim.

The time has come to come up with a colour scheme. The official images show Hans wearing a yellow shirt and a lovely purple doublet. I decided to do something different: my Hans is a burgher wearing more mundane, dirty colours. After some Googling I decided to give him an off-white shirt, red doublet, and black boots. I did hesitate a bit about the red because of the awful quality of most red paints.

Googling for references.

After I figured out the colours I assembled the triads for them. For those unfamiliar with the term, a triad consists three shades of a colour which you will use to build up layers from dark to light. Some manufacturers, like Wargames Foundry and Reaper Miniatures sell their paints in triads, which is extremely helpful for beginners. I have found a handy reference for Vallejo triads too on The Bolter & Chainsword forums, though the more experienced I become the more I diverge from them. The Paint Color Comparison Chart and Miniature Paints Color Matcher are also invaluable tools for picking colours. 

The colours I used for Hans - from dark to light, with additional comments:
  • Skin: Foundry Flesh triad. I used to have ssues early with getting skintones right. After I got tired of fooling around with the bazillion skintones I already had I bought the Foundry flesh triads, and never looked back. Because Foundry paints are relatively thin I don't paint them directly over black. For the skin I slapped on a layer of VMC[1] Flat Brown first.
  • Shirt, feather: Foundry Boneyard triad. My go-to warm white, be it skeleton, linen, fur, etc. Similar to the skin, I painted it over a layer of VMC Flat Brown.
  • Doublet, beret: VGC[2] Terracotta shaded with a mix of Citadel Druchii Violet and Agrax Earthshade, VGC Gory Red, VGC Bloody Red. I washed the terracotta with the Druchii Violet and Agrax Earthshade mix to darken it a bit. The glossiness of VGC Gory Red made painting the transparent VGC Bloody Red over it a pain in the ass. If I could do it again I would go with my VMC reds instead.
  • Boots, belt, trim: CdA[3] Black, CdA Iron Grey, CdA Dark Grey. In the end I shaded the leather with a wash made from VGI[4] Black, to make the transition smoother and the black leather feel more... leathery.
  • Belt buckle: CdA Brass shaded with VGI Brown, CdA Brass, CdA Bronze. I bought these as parts of a bronze triad, but the middle tone (CdA Dwarven Bronze) was rubbish and didn't fit the rest of the colours anyway. The shade and light colours on the other hand are great (my girlfriend calls CdA Brass her favorite gold), so I ended up darkening the CdA Brass with brown inks and washes, and using the CdA Brass as the midtone.
  • Beer foam: P3 Rucksack Tan mixed with P3 Moldy Ochre, Foundry Boneyard 5B, Foundry Boneyard 5C. I did not want to use the entire Boneyard triad again, so I tried to mix up something more amberlike for the beer. Ironically it ended up very similar to the Foundry Boneyard 5A. Oh well...
  • Tankard: VGC Charred Brown, VMC Flat Brown, VGC Beasty Brown.
  • Tankard metal rim: P3 Pig Iron shaded with VGI Black, P3 Pig Iron, P3 Cold Steel.
  • Trousers: P3 Greatcoat Grey, P3 Greatcoat Grey mixed with P3 Ironhull Grey, P3 Ironhull Grey.
The tools of my trade:
  • Citadel S Layer: My go-to workhorse brush since I started painting. Has a good tip, it's fine for layering and highlighting too. I call it the "slayer brush".
  • Citadel M Base: For painting larger surfaces, especially during colour blocking. Its bristles got scruffy after first use, and I couldn't fix them ever since.
  • Citadel S Base: For those times the Citadel M Base brush is too big. Seems to be better than its big brother, it only has a single bristle that doesn't know its place.
  • Citadel S Dry: Solid drybrush I guess, I've been using this for a while, and the previous one had a decent lifespan too. I wish it was smaller.
  • Windsor & Newton Series #7 Sable Brush 0: I fucking love this brush. Sharp and short, perfect for painting small details - like eyes, tattoos, lips, eyebrows.

Once I had my paints, tools, mug of water, and dirt cheap homemade wet palette ready, I started colour blocking with thin layers of the darkest shades. I try to do colour blocking as neat as possible, though no matter how precise I am there is always something to clean up - like the face around the eyes. When doing the eyes I first paint them the same colour as the face, then darken the recesses around them with a brown ink. This outline makes the eyes pop, and they also won't look like stickers on a plastic puppet.

Damn, you're ugly.

Next I started layering with midtones. I only left the deeper recesses dark. Hans had some nice folds on his clothes and salient facial features that made picking out the higher parts easy. When I couldn't figure out what should be emphasized I drybrushed the area slightly with the midtone to highlight what's worth picking out. I keep having problems with layering boots for some reason, so I usually drybrush them entirely. Otherwise I avoid drybrushing if possible, because it's hard to control and can mess up neighbouring colours. I neatened up the area around the eyes, and used my sharpest brush to pick out the eyeballs using Foundry Boneyard 5C, and  the teeth Foundry Boneyard 5B (he doesn't brush them very often).

Now even creepier with white eyes.


After finishing the midtones I began highlighting the topmost parts with the lightest colours, using layering for larger surfaces and edge highlighting for the edges.This was the time when I noticed, that the hair feels more like thick strands of spaghetti. More and thinner locks, or not having a shoulder length hair would help a great deal in avoiding the hair looking like a rasta. The feather's barbs were awkward too, but that's less visible, and when I can't find a feature I can just paint it in where I feel it should be. In the end it's the shades what make your miniature feel three dimensional.

I used my sharpest brush to paint a thin black vertical line over the eyes. It's a good idea to do this with the iris being closer to the nose. The eyes will be assymetric anyway, but with the irises leaning outward the mini will feel squint-eyed - though in case of Hans I toyed with the idea of doing so to make him look really wasted.

Still in need of some final touches.

After all the above I took some time to fix small mistakes and paint missing features - eg. I tinted the lower lip with some mix of red and pink, and evened out the irises using Foundry Boneyard 5C. Once done I sealed Hans with a layer of Vallejo Polyurethane Glossy Varnish, left him dry until the morning, fixed some more mistakes that revealed themselves in the light of the morning Sun, then finished the entire process by sealing him with Vallejo Polyurethane Matt Varnish.

I was lucky enough that my friends fucked up plenty of varnishings before I wanted to seal a mini for the first time, and they wree kind enough to tell me which varnishes to avoid. Initially I used Coat d'Arms varnishes. They were pretty good, but noticably dulled the colours and ate the highlights. Later I discovered Vallejo's polyurethane varnishes, which didn't mess with my work and dried much faster.

Ready to have a good time!

Hans the Joyful is a rather simple, yet characterful miniature full of potential. I'm considering getting another one to paint it squint-eyed, drool leaking from his mouth, vomit spot on his boots, black hole among his teeth. Life is too short to repaint the same stuff over and over again though! The Prancing Peacock campaign is full of other intriguing characters, and I still have plenty of unpainted minis all over my room. The next one victim will be Franz the Mutant. I might write a post about him too, but I can't promise to finish that before the campaign ends.

If you want to see what others did with the prototypes, check out #dunkeldorf on Instagram, or The Dunkeldorf Community on facebook. If you want to know more about the project visit dunkeldorf.eu or the official Dunkeldorf Miniatures facebook page.

By the way I found my gel superglue between my shelves and the desk when I dropped something...

[1] Vallejo Model Color
[2] Vallejo Game Color
[3] Coat d'Arms
[4] Vallejo Game Ink

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

[Kickstarter] Dunkeldorf: The Prancing Peacock

Last year King Games from Denmark had a kickass Kickstarter campaign to produce a line of medieval townsfolk miniatures heavily influenced by the Warhammer/Oldhammer style. The second campaign called the Prancing Peacock started just today, with a focus on the titular tavern and its patrons. This time the lineup is a mix of hand and digital sculpted minis, though I didn't notice it by my own thanks to the consistent style. I still have a huge pile of unpainted Dunkeldorf metal and resin on my shelves, but that won't hold me back from supporting this one too because I'm a sucker for good old-school metal minis I can use for grimdark low fantasy campaigns.

When the first Kickstarter started I had an interview with Nicki about the project, who was kind enough to send me some samples about what to expect. I just got a notification with a tracking number from PostNord, so expect another preview in the coming weeks. Time to get a rattle can of black primer...

Nomen est omen, there is even a peacock mini!

Monday, 25 May 2020

[Homebrew] Our BX/OSE Combat House Rules

The following hodgepodge is a glimpse at the house rules we use in our Old-School Essentials campaign Portals of Eremus. Some of them were borrowed from other games and supplements, others are my own. Some of them have been already used in previous campaigns, others were first introduced for Eremus. The goal was to spice up B/X combat without making the process too cumbersome. Only time will tell if they succeed at that or not, but so far they worked fine for us - especially the weapon properties!

If you are looking for complicated combat rules, you are in the wrong place.
Check out Player's Option(TM): Combat & Tactics instead.


Death and Dying
At 0 hit points the player character loses consciousness and begin to bleed out, losing 1 hit point per round until healed. Death is instantaneous when the current hit points reach half the character's Constitution score (round up) in negative. E.g. a character with CON 17 dies when reaching -9 hit points.

After regaining consciousness, the wounded character needs a full week of bed rest. Until completely rested the character moves at half the normal rate, cannot carry heavy items, and receives penalties in combat.

Being reduced below 0 hit points leaves the character with a hideous permanent scar.


Disarming
When attempting to disarm a successful hit doesn't cause damage, but forces the defender to make a saving throw versus petrification or lose the weapon being held.

Distance: The weapon falls at the owner’s feet if it is of the same size as the attacker’s weapon, or lands 1d10 feet away if smaller. Recovering the weapon takes a round.

Limits: Weapons held in two hands cannot be disarmed. Disarming can only be used against weapons of the same length or shorter.


Fumbles
When the character misses by 10 or more on a natural 1 roll on the following table to see what happens:
 1d20 Result
 1-2Just a minor inconvenience. Laugh it off. 
 3-4Weapon slips. -2 to the next attack roll.
 5-6Weapon damaged. -1 to damage rolls until repaired.
 7-8Weapon stuck in something. It takes an attack to free it.
 9-10Weapon dropped or thrown. It lands 1d10 feet away.
 11-12Attacker slips. +2 to the next attack of the enemy.
 13-14Attacker stumbles. Free attack roll for the enemy.
 15-16Attacker falls. It takes a round to regain footing.
 17-18Attack roll against self. Classic.
 19-20Attack roll against nearby ally, or damage self when there is none in reach.


Grappling and Overbearing
When grappling each attacker makes an individual attack roll. Those attackers who hit roll their hit dice totals and compare their sum against the defender's hit dice total roll. E.g. two 1 HD orcs trying to pin a level 3 cleric roll 2d8 versus 3d6.

Attackers have higher total: The defender is pinned and can be executed or knocked out for 1d6 turns next round. Before that defender can try to break free, or another grappler can join the fray to pull the defender out.

Defender has higher total: The attackers are beaten back and stunned for a round.

Draw: No one manages to get the upper hand this round. 


Parrying
When parrying the character’s total melée attack bonus* is added as an Armour Class bonus that round. The bonus is only added against missile weapons if the character has a shield. The parrying character can't attack until next round.


Tripping
When attempting to trip a successful hit doesn't cause damage, but forces the defender to make a saving throw versus petrification or fall prone.

Regain footing: Can be done next round during the movement phase.

Limits: Must use weapons that can hook the victim’s leg. It’s impossible to trip creatures without leg. Creatures with more than two legs gain a +1 bonus to their saving throws per additional leg.


Weapon Properties
Crushing weapons (club, mace, staff, stone, torch, warhammer, etc.) get a +2 bonus to attack rolls against heavy armour (chainmail and above)**, unless the armour is of much harder material. E.g. a wooden club against plate mail does not get any bonus. A natural 20 that hits*** stuns the defender for 1d6 rounds. Another successful strike from a blunt instrument knocks the defender out for 1d6 turns.

Piercing weapons (arrow, bolt, dagger, javelin, lance, polearm, short sword, spear, etc.) impale foes on a natural 19-20 that hits. Impaled creatures suffer a damage roll from the weapon again when they do strenuous activity, or when the weapon is forcefully extracted. If the weapon is held by someone the victim is held at bay until the weapon is removed. Extracting the weapon forcefully costs an attack, while doing it carefully to avoid additional damage requires an entire turn.

Slashing weapons (battle axe, hand axe, polearm, sword, two-handed sword, etc.) can cleave, which allows a free attack against another foe within reach after killing someone. On a natural 20 that hits the weapon causes double damage. If the victim falls to 0 hp the attack tore off a random limb.

Some weapons can be wielded in different ways, changing the damage type. Depending on the weapon this can result in reduced damage, or the weapon handled as another weapon that’s more fitting for the situation - eg. attacking with a spear’s shaft counts as a staff.


* I assume attack bonus and ascending armour class.
** In case of monsters I use the following rule of thumb: hide and fur count as leather, scales count as chain, hard shell count as plate.
*** By this I mean the attack would hit even if the natural 20 wasn't automatic success.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

[Review] Cha'alt, Part III: Fear and Loathing in the Black Pyramid

Artist's rendition of Venger showing up in the comment
section asking when the next part is coming. Hoss in blue
is me telling him "next Friday".
With the pandemic forcing me into home office and pausing all my current campaigns I thought I will have more free time and can finally proceed with blogging, video games, and other stuff I neglected lately. That didn't go as expected, but the stars are right now, the end is nigh, so fasten your seatbelts and get ready for the climax of Venger's magnum opus!

The final chapter of Cha'alt devotes 116 pages to describe the Black Pyramid, a stupid gonzo funhouse dungeon unlike anything you've seen before. Most of this immense page count is spent on the 111 rooms of the fungeon*, but it takes a while until the book gets there, because the chapter has a meaty prelude about setting up and running the adventure. There is another hook about forcing the party at gunpoint into the dungeon, a bunch of rumors, tables for random events when leaving, wandering monsters, NPCs and factions, loot table, and weird local flavour. If improvisation isn't your forte it's well worth making notes in advance, because some of the results are random or vague, and might catch unprepared GM with his pants down. If you are good at it and used to Gamma World and Arduin level eccentricities, then you can comfortably run it with minimal preparations. An unexpected pizza delivery, a 23rd century soldier joining the party, and seeing on return that the Old Ones fucked up the world are completely normal occurences. There are some more mundane encounters and events, but those aren't boring either thanks to some intriguing or weird bit.

The status quo in nutshell is the following. After aeons of being controlled by Ara'ak-Zul, the evil god carried over to Cha'alt through the black demonic stone the pyramid was built of, six New Gods joined forces to imprison him. These six New Gods have been jointly ruling over the Black Pyramid ever since. Meanwhile Ara'ak-Zul is waiting for a chance to break free, gather minions, and take revenge - though at the moment the best he can do is causing nightmares. Meanwhile the group known as The Caba'al are hellbent on gathering magic items hoping they can manifest an omnipotent God when they have enough - though the best they could accomplish so far was obliterating room #112. Besides them there is a wealth of minor factions down there. Because of the volatile nature of time and space within the dungeon, they rarely know anything about what's going on more than one room away. Some of them have fixed relationship, for everything else there is a random chart with 1d6 results going from ignorance, through friendship, to all-out war.

There are two useful sections that give the GM advice that help running the module. The first is the Black Unicorn, which is basically a the black cat from The Matrix: it appears when reality is altered. It is a tool to retcon and change stuff, but should be only used sparingly due to its frustrating nature. The second is There Are No Coincidences, which recommends letting the players make up connections, and rolling with it. It helps both the players and the GM managing the Chaos and making sense of the place, and might even give some cool ideas the GM or the author never though of.

The dungeon itself is a mess of polygonal rooms connected by tunnels floating in the void. The rooms are seperated into regions based on the coloured stripe of light running through its top - which is actually zoth, but milking it too much makes the pyramid devour the thief or damage its integrity. By default traversing the different coloured regions needs an access crystal. These are prized possessions of the NPCs, but for one shots Venger recommends dropping the idea and letting the players explore.

A slice of the dungeon-point-crawl.
For those who like describing dimensions in details, the Black Pyramid will be a nightmare - not only because the irregular shapes, but also the lack of exact information about distances. There are squares on the map, but no scale, and even the descriptions emit such details. Considering the nature of the place this seems fitting, and might be even a deliberate middle finger: "don't bother with feet, rounds, and other bullshit, they would only distract you from the cool stuff  going on in the room!" If you really want to map the place without going insane, consider it a point crawl.

The rest of the chapter describes the individual rooms. If I would try to describe them in general, I would end up throwing around the usual words I have been doing for three articles. If I would just pick some encounters I liked, I could spend hours with choosing my favorites from the 111. To stay in spirit with the product, I chose three entries randomly using my d111.

18: The Museum 

Besides sculptures, paintings, and statues there are arcane scribblings on the wall which can only be discerned by the light of a magic weapon. It's the confession of a prisoner who had to retrieve a relic and murder to escape from the pyramid. There is also a sun-elf curator and a death priest arguing about a dangerous exhibit, the Xa'an Pyllek.

"The Xa'an Pyllek is a confusing jumble of colorful shapes where black tentacles seem to attack dripping chartreuse stars and streams of magenta and crimson blood infused with blue polka-dots scribble over purple smears. It's a spectacular mess, like the birth of an extra-dimensional god.

Those who gaze at Xa'an Pyllek are temporarily transported to an unknown galaxy where intruders are habitually detained, tried in a court of law, and eventually disintegrated by the Federation for spying, colluding with the Zetorlans, and obstructing justice. Everyone who stares too long at the Xa'an Pyllek must roll on the following random table..."

A d6 table follows with various results from disintegration to heartfelt apology and compensation. You can also bribe the judges with magic items, technology, or 1000 credits, which earns you a reroll.

42: The Cracked Obelisk 

"In the center of this room, an obelisk of smooth dark stone looms taller than a man. A swarthy human wearing sand-colored robes and a fez atop his head studies the obelisk by the chartreuse light from the ceiling band. The distant sound of a horn echoes throughout the room. The sonorous vibration gives an impression of wretched beggars searching through fog and darkness for the last vestige of extinguished light."

That's one fucking sweet introduction with its straightforwardness and evocative words. The man is a geologist wanting to preserve a few artifacts before Cha'alt blows up, and finds a joy in murdering assholes. The obelisk is slightly cracked and is the prison of Ara'ak-Zul. Tampering with it will fuck with the players, breaking it will release a 23 HD deity who looks like a "writhing mass of human arms with outstretched, blood-stained hands", and has 90% magic resistance, immunity to normal weapons, and 7 attacks which can possess humanoids (up to 1000). If the party manages to kill him somehow he leaves behind a black crystal shard that destroys anything it touches. Cool stuff.

That reminds me,  there is an abundance of solo creatures with shittons of hit points in the dungeon. Not that surprising after the previous sections.

101: The Author

Okay, I won't go into too much detail here. A za'akir accompanied by his monkey-lizard inhabits this room, busy writing... stuff. He has a paperweight the Caba'al and the Lich King also want to acquire.

"In all honesty, the paperweight has the most power of any artifact or relic within The Black Pyramid. It contains a shamefully obscene amount of magical energy. Enough to rouse dread K'tulu, feed him ice cream, get him all riled up, and put him back down for an afternoon nap. Unfortunately, there's no practical application. Essentially, it's just a paperweight… and yet, that paperweight has more than enough raw power to bring Cha'alt to its knees… or would have if it actually did anything besides just sit there and weigh papers down."

Zarga'an is just one of the many epic level monsters in the Black Pyramid.
The deeper one gets in the rabbit hole, the more is revealed about the dungeon. It's a rollercoaster of pieces coming tomegether thanks to some revelation, and falling apart because of contradictions, until you die or come to a conclusion. Is that the truth, or just the above mentioned There Are No Coincidences taking effect? It doesn't matter. Reality in the Black Pyramid is subjective. I can easily see players arguing about it and asking the GM after they finish the adventure. Needless to say, a good GM answers only with a smile and saying "Perhaps..."

The book ends with an afterword by some guy called Prince of Nothing (never heard of him), the Crimson Dragon Slayer d20 system (not my cup of tea), backer names, index, and a secret message I didn't bother to decipher. Playtesting is mentioned several times

Reading and re-reading Cha'alt was a fun ride. It made me smile, sigh, cringe. It made me realize how lightly games get labeled "gonzo" and "weird" by the rpg community. It made me question whether what I see is part of a bigger picture or it's my mind playing games. Like its author, the module is an enigma that will bamboozle you, troll you, and is probably smarter than it seems. If you were looking for a post-apocalyptic setting with a bizarre dungeon, and don't mind silliness, randomness, mindfuckery, and Venger, then by all means buy a copy of Cha'alt.

Tl;dr: Cha'alt is the Twin Peaks of gonzo science fantasy adventures.

Where to find it: You can find the module in pdf on DriveThruRPG. I have no clue what's up with the print edition. Venger will likely show up in the comment section and tell you how can you buy it.

Other parts of the series:
Part I: Planet of Apostrophes
Part II: Dungeons and Demon Cat-Snakes

* That was an unintended typo, but seemed fitting enough to be left in.

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