Monday, September 2, 2019

Interview with the purple tentacled mega dungeon writer

It's been a minute since I sat down over some bubbling slime and had a discussion with Venger Satanis. 

And since the tentacled one just put out a new RPG setting called Cha'alt, I figured now was a good time to catch up with him.

1.  So I hear that you released Cha'alt! Give me the elevator pitch.  

Cha'alt is eldritch, gonzo, science-fantasy, post-apocalypse adventuring for the OSR, but also with 5e D&D in mind.  It's 2 normal sized dungeons, a sleazy space bar, and a megadungeon surrounded by a radioactive wasteland.  The campaign setting is an ultra-light "kitchen sink" and is mostly there to support play in and around The Black Pyramid - that's the megadungeon.  
Note:  Get Cha'alt here.  

2.  I really like that you included Crimson Dragon slayer in the back on the book.  Was that always the plan?  

There's almost never a plan!  Actually, how that came about was I needed to playtest Cha'alt on Roll20 and needed a rule-set that was both old school and Basic 5th edition D&D.  My online games are all short and text only.  So, there's no time for complicated backstory, figuring out feats, determining ability scores, etc.  If we only have 60-90 minutes to play, we have to move things along or else nothing gets accomplished.  I created Crimson Dragon Slayer D20 and gave the free PDF to players so they could get up to speed without too many surprises.  Once the entire book was finished, it seemed like a good idea to include the 5 or 6 pages of rules in case anyone wanted to have them in a printed form, rather than just PDF.

3.  Prince of Nothing helped you out during the process of creating Cha'alt, what role did the Prince play? (he?) 

Yes, he's a dude.  Prince of Nothing looked at everything and gave me advice, both general and specific, on various encounters, the setting, and whatnot.  What I value him most for was pushing me harder when my energy waned; it kept me from slacking off when I needed to be vibrant and awesome.

NOTE: Prince of nothing blog here. 

4.  Reading thru the preview I really dig all the stat blocks, it’s pretty straight forward D&D, and should be relatively easy to pick up and run.  Was this a design goal? 

Yes, one of the few pearls of wisdom I've gleaned from reviewers such as Bryce of Ten Foot Pole is that the text should help the GM run the adventure.  If it's not easy to pick up and run, that's yet another obstacle in the way of a satisfying game.  Some gamers are young with lots of time on their hands.  I'm not.  I'm 44 with 5 kids, a wife, career, and this hobby.  I need things to be quick and easy or else it probably doesn't get done.

5.  What has the response been so far? 

Really positive. I've heard it compared to The Temple of Elemental Evil mixed with Expedition to Barrier Peak and Tomb of Horrors.  I think that's a justified comparison.  
Unlike everything I've created up to this point, it's super long (218 pages) and deep.  There's lots of stuff going on, layers and layers that most people won't see just by reading it.  Unfortunately, to really know the full measure of Cha'alt, it really needs to be played... and then I think it'll be considered one of the greatest RPG books ever made.  

6.  Did you run a kickstarter campaign for this? 

Yes, I did.  I wanted to give it the premium hardcover treatment, so I raised over $10,000 to help pay for the art, layout, cartography, and off-set printing of 2,000 books.  Believe me, 10k wasn't enough.  But, thank Cthulhu, I was able to borrow money in order to see the project through.  

7.  I gotta say as per usual, the art is fucking amazing!  Was there any one piece you found that kicked the whole thing off? 

I think the one with the black pyramid sticking out of the desert, the alien sandworm in the background, and adventurers in the foreground getting ready to either fight that worm or flee into the pyramid.  Once I saw that, Cha'alt really started to solidify into reality.

8.  So tell me about this black pyramid? (also why isn't it purple dude?) 

I needed a new schtick, or color, rather.  Cha'alt ain't the purple islands, hoss!  
The Black Pyramid is a megadungeon half-sunk into the desert.  Numerous rumors and legends have been passed down for generations about it. The thing was built with stone from some nightmare plane of existence.  And it's big enough to have both civilized communities and grotesque monstrosities living almost side-by-side with each other.  The size and shape is trans-dimensional, like the Tardis.  
There's lots more, but I'll leave the rest up to your imagination.  Suffice it to say, you could run a robust campaign for months just using The Black Pyramid.  

If gamers do like The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence, they'll love Cha'alt.  Feel free to mix and match, as well, since both have a similar vibe.

9.  I read that your printing the book with Friesens, when will that be due?  
(Note: I live very close to them.)  

Well, there's a slight delay on the printing because I upped my order to meet demand, and the interior paper is higher end than usual.  So, I should have the books in early October, tentacles crossed.

10.  What are you playing at home? What system? 

Are you running any published adventures or your own home brew playtesting? 
Putting the finishing touches on Cha'alt and dealing with everything at work and home has stressed me out beyond belief.  I haven't done any gaming for a couple months.  Instead, I've been watching movies with friends and painting miniatures.  Actually, later this afternoon will be my first Roll20 game since the playtesting ended last Spring.

Flashing forward a day, that session was great.  I came up some new ideas and ways of presenting the world.  My hope is that Cha’alt, it’s essence, sticks in the GM’s imagination enough that he can spontaneously riff and adlib as much as he wants because the weird pulp sword, sorcery, and starship fundamentals are so strong.

Also, The Black Pyramid claimed another PC’s life.  So, now the count has grown to 14 [see below].

11.  When you were writing Cha'alt, what were you listening to/watching/reading etc? 

I tried to re-watch a number of inspirational works in order to get me in the mood.  Land of the Lost, Dune, Star Wars, Heavy Metal, Logan’s Run, Zardoz, etc.

The world of Cha’alt has an Arabian Nights feel crossed with the American southwest, like New Mexico… except reskinned to resemble Mos Eisley by way of Arrakeen.  

When at home, working late at night, I’d usually have some dark ambient “music” playing in the background.  Especially when I was working on The Black Pyramid.  I wanted to get the fun to disturbing ratio just right.  It’s kind of like a horror movie, but an enjoyable one that occasionally goes to “11” like Evil Dead II or something. 

12.  Since we last spoke in 2015, you've released a pile of stuff!  Where does all that inspiration come from? 

All the great fantasy, sci-fi, horror, exploitation, and comedy that I’ve absorbed in my 44 years on this Earth.  Clearly, H.P. Lovecraft is a huge inspiration to me.  Pretty much everything I create has one or more tentacles attached.  

13.  How many characters have been killed during the playtesting of Cha'alt? 

Hmm, good question.  I’d say… maybe a Devil’s dozen, 13 or so.

14.  Ever think of writing a vanilla high fantasy adventure?   

I’ve thought about it, but if you’ve played in one campaign with elves, humans, and dwarves braving a haunted forest to get to the dark tower of an evil wizard… then you’ve probably played hundreds.

15.  Have you managed to get out to any cons in the last few years? What were you running? Any con tips for someone like me whose never been?  

The only convention I’ve been to in the last couple years has been Gary Con, and just before that Game Hole Con.  Wish I could do more but with 5 kids, it’s too much for my wife to handle all on her own.  My wife just went to brunch with some of her friends for part of the day and it was fucking nuts – so much screaming and chaos!

At Gary Con earlier this year, I playtested Cha’alt to get a sense of how it would be perceived by random gamers I’ve never met before.  Obviously, my home game is full of people who like my style and aesthetics.  But what about “normal” gamers?

The old school version (Swords & Wizardry, I think) went very well.  However, the 5th edition gamers didn’t like the minimalist Basic version of 5e that I used.  In the end, they enjoyed themselves, and it was a lot of fun.  5e gamers have a lot of preconceived notions.  They’re not as flexible and forgiving as the old school, generally speaking.

16.  How long did it take to complete the writing for Cha'alt?   

 From the first inkling to the finished product, about a year.  That would be July 2018 to July 2019.  I really buckled down in January when the Kickstarter began.

17.  How many levels is the black pyramid? 

I agonized over the pyramid’s interior for quite a while.  For the longest time, I conceived of it as a standard pyramid buried in the sand.  The top part, entrance, would be small levels and they’d get bigger the further down the adventurers traveled.

But then I just said fuck it, and decided to make the pyramid’s interior one big sprawling level of weird shaped rooms connected with mesh corridors surrounded by an unquiet void.

18.  Just looking at Drivethru, and Alpha Blue is super popular, what do you think makes it so fucking awesome? 

 I’d like to think it’s the VSd6 system, but that’s not it.  Alpha Blue’s strength comes from its vintage sleazy sci-fi essence.  In a massive field of fantasy RPGs, sci-fi RPGs, superheroes, horror, westerns, spies, and everything else under the sun, only a select few focus on trying to get laid in zero gravity.  Sex makes Alpha Blue popular.  Sex is fucking awesome.  I should know.  I watch people doing it on the internet all the time!

Grab Alpha Blue Here.

19.  Any plans for more "how to like a fucking boss" books? Perhaps Volume 2 of both?   

 Yeah, one day there will be more “like a fucking boss” books.  I don’t know exactly what they’ll be about, but a subject that needs to be grabbed by the horns. 

20.  I watch Inappropriate Characters once in a while, how did that all start?

RPG Pundit wanted to do a regular video series and was looking for a co-host.  He narrowed it down to me and Grim Jim Desborough.  I said, “Why not all three of us.”  That was it.

Inappropriate Characters Youtube Channel:

21.  Another question about Inappropriate Characters, I am aware of the RPG Pundit's books, has Grim Jim released any books? 

 Yes, he wrote Machinations of the Space Princess, which helped pave the way for Alpha Blue, actually.  He created an RPG based on John Norman’s Gor series of novels.  Grim Jim has done a bunch of stuff.  He’s a very creative guy.

RPG Pundit stuff:
Grim Jim Stuff:

22.  Ever think about doing a live Venger D&D show (ala Critical role, but you know with purple slime, demons and radiation)?  

Now that you say it like that, it sounds kind of awesome.  Yeah!  Sure, I’ve thought about it.  I’m not good with tech stuff, but now that Cha’alt is finished, maybe I’ll explore that.  

23.  What are you excited about in the scene right now? 

 The OSR’s “death” is kind of interesting.  It’s like the band’s broken up and every individual or extremely tiny faction is off doing their own thing.  That’s good, but also bad.  I blame politics as much as I blame natural cycles of human organizing principles.  Nothing lasts forever.
One day, I think the best people, meaning the most creative, in the OSR might get back together to accomplish something tremendous.  But that’ll have to wait for a time when people can take a joke and get off their high horse.  My advice: focus on the actual work, rather than the community.

24.  We all know that G+ blew the fuck up, and everyone is on all different platforms.  Do you think it was a good thing in the long run? 

I’m still sad about G+. I invested a lot in that platform and had to re-start my social media presence after it blew up.  I think G+’s demise contributed to the OSR’s fracturing.  It separated us, forcing various people to grow in unexpected ways.  So, good and bad, like most things.

25.  Where do you get your RPG news from?

 I still read blogs and check the major RPG sites, even though I’m not a fan of their rules, policies, culture, and what they go on and on about.  It helps to know what other people in the hobby/industry are talking about.

26.  Ever get to be a player in D&D games? 

Rarely, but that’s something I’d like to get back into.  The next convention I go to, I’ll have to make that a priority.  Maybe I’ll wear a disguise and join an OSR game that’s using Cha’alt… just to see how it’s being used, step into that world as a fellow traveler, instead of the creator. 

27.  Other than traditional D&D, what other games do you like playing (tabletop or board games)? 

I enjoy the classics. Awhile back, I ran some Call of Cthulhu, Paranoia, and recall a couple years before that GMing Encounter Critical, 1st edition Vampire: The Masquerade. It’s one of my goals to run Toon again, just like I did back in High School.  Amber: Diceless Roleplaying, too.
Someone on the internet keeps asking me to try out one of those new wave RPGs, either powered by the apocalypse or Fate.  I can’t remember which.  I’m not opposed to trying that, since I want to keep growing as an RPG designer.

28.  What's next for Kort’thalis? 

I’m still on break.  Making Cha’alt, for me, was like Merlin changing that dude’s appearance so he could bang that girl and take the castle.  I have to rest in order to recover.  While I keep scribbling ideas, I’m not ready to actually create anything at the moment.  The act of creation takes a lot more than a good idea and getting started.  There’s an act of will required to continue on ‘till the finish line.  That’s something a lot of would-be writers lack.  At the moment, I’m lacking it, too, because I’m just creatively exhausted from the year-long process that Cha’alt took.
However, once I’m ready again… I really need to do more for The Outer Presence and Blood Dark Thirst.  I’ve neglected them, and want to support those RPGs – for both myself and the fans.
Stay tuned by checking on my old school RPG blog:


  1. I will probably reformat this when I get some time. I apologize if it's difficult to read on mobile

    1. I'm reading it on my phone now, and it looks good. Had to scroll a tiny bit couple times, that's it.

      Thanks for the opportunity, hoss. Much appreciated!

    2. Good interview, backed cha'alt and it's chock full of usable game info and the setting is consistently over the top compared to most supplements I've seen and that's what free my attention. Vengers stuff is not mainstream but it is good and if you know your table and read people then you'll know if it's for your games or not.