[Review] Cha’alt II; Fuschia Malaise (O5R) Pt II; Section I Subsection Six Act Three

The second part of Fuschia Malaise.

Encounters.
Various wasteland encounters are described. This is the grab-baggiest of Cha’alts chapters. Most of these are essentially little adventuring hooks, but its nice to see lessons were learned since the dark days of Battle for the Purple Islands. NPCs can be teamed up with, always have a goal, and encounters have a sort of dynamic potential going on. On the other hand stats are nowhere to be found, so very often these are used so Venger can sneak in some hooks for you, or find some way to get you to go the Black Pyramid.

There’s no storm in sight, but The Fuchsia Putrescence can be seen on the horizon. It’s coming closer. The screams of men dying by its tentacles are awful to hear. A sky-elf named Tanzor has decided to take a stand. He will not run. Around his neck is an amulet of rare orange-hued crystals. “This will protect me as it protected my father and his father before him.”

There’s a lack of statts that grinds my gears but we are actually still in adventure generation hook mode and I was deceived by the Encounters part. The Fuschia Putresence, the cousin of the Purple Putrescence, is introduced, a gigantic flying save or die event that is worshipped by outlying settlements for the at times restorative properties of its ichors.

There’s also Ghouls, the first statted inhabitant so far? That emerge from the sands when the 3rd and 7th moon of Cha’alt are in the ascendant. Then its more adventure hooks, or mini-adventures, that get more detailed as the chapter end approaches.

The Best One; a meteor is encountered in the desert. It weighs about 150 lbs so it can’t be easily transported. Its substance can be used to make demon-slaying weapons so its valuable, and its filled with Zoth, which can be imbibed to gain power (in this particular example, clearly the properties of Zoth are not fully developed, or maybe this is a particular kind of Zoth). Then a random table with who else is after the meteor is provided so you have yourself a conflict.   

The biggest omission in most of these encounters is a lack of statts, or reference to statts. You’ve designed a wacky micro-stat block that allows you to statt up creatures in an admirably brief (though ruinously ink-inefficient) manner. Why not fucking put it to use?

A Clown Worm is provided. Bred by the Night Clowns of the Black Pyramid, and endowed with terrible hypnotic power, this thing is among the most lethal of Cha’alts inhabitants. Points; the crayons that you occasionally find in Cha’alt actually are of benefit here, earning Venger an honorary seat at the JRPG design school. Good on you, some hidden depth.

You want to earn some points for baby Jesus? Make a big fuckyou random encounter table. D100. I know I know it conflicts with your artistic vision and it would be too mundane. But seriously. D100 encounter table, put in all the horrific monsters of Cha’alt I and now II (S’kbah Sirens, giant robot spiders, deathstalkers etc.). Put entries in there that lead to other tables that you have already made. Voila. Instant useability. We should have had this already.

There’s more about a subterranean subway system with various encounters (again, not bad but not statted) and some rando Sorcerer warlords, one of whom carries one of the pieces of the Keys to Time (pieces of which can be assembled and found throughout the adventure to some truly awe-inspiring purpose). The Encounter section is the most grab-baggiest of the whole and consequently a little weak. I remind the Jury that the foreplay in this one is almost double the length of Cha’alt I, and as I often tell my girlfriend, I have shit to do. Get to the action!

There’s a Thanos stand-in but I found that to be one of the weaker parts, and unlike the Keys to Time, he is not even provided with his own adventure setting (The Holdfast of Isolation or something) in this part. The other interstellar warlords are pretty kickass, and I wanted to share this magic item to give you a feel of the quintessential Cha’altiness of Fuschia-Mailaise, that Venger, through some Black Alchemy, has managed to retain.

Kainon’s blade is a magical +3 two-handed samurai sword with Randy Jackson’s autograph on the blade. It has a keen-edge that critically hits on rolls of 18, 19, or 20. Once per day, the wielder may call upon the ancestors of Randy Jackson to caress their ghostly nut-sacks upon an opponent’s face (giving him Disadvantage for 1d4 rounds).

There’s something about the idea of a savage S&S planet preyed on by the dregs of a decadent hyper-civilization that just works.  
  
84 pages in we get to the Scenarios. Finally. First general observations, then specifics.

In general Venger’s stuff has become playable again. Gone [1] are the incoherent railroading days of Dead God Excavation and Battle of the Purple Islands. Back are the Liberation of the Demon Slayer glory days. That means balls to the walls weird, unique magical items, gonzo, lethal encounters, with a few carryover effects from Cha’alt, so encounters will very often be linked, in odd ways, to other encounters in the same, or even altogether different adventure locations. This gives the material some much needed coherence because, in classic Vengerian fashion, there is a flagrant, almost joyful disregard of verisimilitude. One can easily find a cluster of refugees one room removed from a horrible monster, with questions of how everyone manages to move without it turning into a violent shitshow gleefully handwaved. Faction play exists but is often impenetrable, with links and agendas within and often between various adventures leading off into some nowhere hell-scape. You have to learn that its okay if you cannot connect all the dots and sort of just run with it. On the other hand, the hints and references to other locations help the GM string everything together and facilitate exploration so there is that.

Encounter Balance is a distant dream, sneeringly cast aside, and save or die is common, as it must be to deal with the more fast-paced, increased healing capabilities of the PCs. Good mapping is disdained, the gorgeous maps are sometimes linear or rely on a gimmick (such as portals) but lack the sort of complex looping environments that characterize great dungeon maps. Elysium is an exception, of course.

The appeal of Cha’alt and Fuschia Malaise continues. The normal procedure of Dungeon Crawling is expanded to almost ludicrous proportions, to the point where you can, and will, encounter almost anything. The appeal is that you must constantly be on your toes and you cannot rely on ingrained dungeon bashing instinct to carry all of the day. The drawback is that this type of game is superficially engaging but lacks a certain depth over time.

Encounters themselves are NEVER boring. There is always something going on, some off-beat ability, some lingering sub-plot or agenda, an opportunity to interact, some weird magic item or bizarre encounter, to the point of defying categorization. Indeed one does not master Cha’alt, one only suffers it, and learns to have a good time doing so.

The First two adventures are linked, located in the same general area, and both belong to the now-deceased Sorcerer Vr’oomkad. The Fuschia Flesh Pits is the first location, and it is messy. A hallway that splits into three hubs, with two keys that lead to rooms via the Sorcerer’s portal device is about all there is to it topologically.
There’s the odd weird tendrils on the wall or giant mutant clams and monstrous flesh creatures to keep the blood pumping, Great old one worshipping priests that fire laser beams from their face, and one does meet a Night Elf who is actually Vroom’kads murderous ex-wife that tries to betray you in the end (a staple of hack adventure writing surely). As a standalone location it does not really work, as an adjuct to the Tower of Vro’omkad its pretty rad, and where else might your character die by failing to answer the riddling of murderous oompah loompahs?

 It’s got that Venger taste but he clearly needs warming up. Maybe he is getting old?

Tower of Vromka’ad
Not really a tower but a series of hubs connected via a single portal that can be activated by touching colored beads, most of which are in the tower entry, some of which are in the flesh pits. My tip is to NEVER DO THIS since you lose a vital component of dungeon crawling, which is exploration, which is driven by options but not by unlimited options. If you just give all the rooms at once the order becomes arbitrary and the PCs are going to kick them in one by one, with all the usual challenges of exploration (encumbrance, limited resources, random encounters, ways back) entirely absent.

As a series of encounters its about on Par with Cha’alt. Psychotic manticores. Three champions wielding enchanted blades vying for supremacy. There’s the odd people clashing in one room but each room is really an island, bearing almost no relation to the others. At times rooms seem almost a parody of faction play; three people are arguing about how to play Candy Land with missing cards until one turns orange and starts going insane until he melts into a puddle of goo. The odd chance of a cascade effect; an elf trying to resurrect his dead master, is not given mechanical support.

I feel there’s some missed chances too. You find a pudding that holds a bunch of items such as the missing Candy Land cards or a key to a snuff box but it contains a simple purple idol, without a gold piece value. There’s a sphere of annihilation in there but, as is almost universally the case, it’s not really taken advantage of [2]. It kind of needed that extra step to make it cohere into…well, something.

Tomb of Va’an Zayne
An improvement, and maybe the most Cha’altian of the bunch. The map is nonlinear, albeit it close to symmetrical. It flirts with a good introduction, the first room is filled with a writer’s workshop and the second one gives you a chance to unleash or master a 15 HD greater Demon upon Cha’alt to probably do your bidding but MAYBE destroy you. This is what I want from my Cha’alt.

And also this.

The infernal and arcane symbols covering these walls communicate a variety of stories. A man wearing a black bathrobe with silver trim gazes upon the glyphs. The man’s name is Arthur-5. He’s from the Dome City, exiled because of his grotesque and archaic preferences – he only wants to have sex with women. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Arthur-5 prefers women who were born female, as opposed to those who merely identify as women or transition into womanhood via surgery and hormone replacement.

Shine on you crazy diamond. Objects in some rooms are often the solutions to problems in other rooms. The problems are bizarre, but that’s the appeal. When was the last time you needed to figure out how to travel through time to get past an encounter? Bizarre NPCs with secret agenda’s, but in a way that is not hacky or scripted, can be found as the PCs wander throughout the temple, in search of the Keys of Time. Great Old One worshippers are trying to astrally project themselves back into time to awaken their hideous God but they are heckled by luminous energy beings that disrupt their concentration. Ironically a means to replenish the planet can actually be found in the tomb, though you will have to kill a 23 HD great Old One to do so. What else? There’s at least 2 ways to destroy the entire planet, a staple of Cha’alt, and there is an AI Gumball Machine God. There’s actual factions here and little sub-quests, its kind of nuts and it doesn’t make sense spatially but its fun, wild and keeps you on your toes.

It’s got a little bit of all. Weird traps that must be circumvented in clever ways (a scepter kept in a beam of light that disintegrates everything it touches). Strange monsters. Bizarre treasure. Little faction with sub-quests. Key hunts. Esoteric setting lore. Lollygagging. THIS is what I want from my Cha’alt and it provides damnit.

Elysium.
The second contender for the best adventure in FM and easily one of the best things Venger has written to date. The Tech-base where Zoth is being refined, guarded by a ‘laser-field’ and as much it must be carefully infiltrated, which opens up all sorts of possibilities for interesting gameplay. It conjures up images of infiltrating the Death Star or the Penal Colony of Rura Penthe and that’s good shit.

The drawback here is that Venger does not include any sort of patrol schedules, procedures for when alarms are sounded, or other sophisticated devices beyond the individual level. There’s a chance of spell failure while the reactor is up, another interesting tactical hurdle.

Has there ever been a stellar starbase infiltration adventure? I ask because this reads like 65% of the best starbase adventure ever made. Some polishing up and you’ve got a real gem.  
Scientists. Techies. Soldiers. The elite Fuschia Guard. The glowing yellow ball Security System called Berzerk. The base commander is rebelling against the Federation. There are Zedi light-saber fighting in one of the hallways. Laser caltrops. The style is a little less gonzo, coming halfway close to unironic 70s space opera silliness and is actually perfect. There’s xenomorphs to unleash from containment, a monstrous birthday cake to fight (okay maybe it IS still silly) a Guardians of the Galaxy ripoff, runaway giant Venus Fly trap monsters, space cantinas with potential allies, its charming is what it is.

The reactor is protected by a forcefield, and you’d need the retinal scan or fingerprint of base-commander Vansor Reiki to deactivate it…Venger that’s damn near a smart tactical objective. AAND Vansor Reiki has an escape craft? People have plans? I was a bit disappointed the brothel had only three hookers though.

Very awesome.

S’k’bah Pilgrimage.

Welcome to hell. Venger’s experimental piece de resistance. A series of encounters stringed together by an urge to fight demonic bees. You are carried from bizarre encounter to bizarre encounter in a meaningless cavalcade of one-off encounter that take place without rhyme or reason. The encounters themselves, as is so often the case, are not bad but it all come across as an incoherent mess that makes it hard to do. I mean, don’t get me wrong, taking quests from a smoking fish while wandering the desert looking for demonic locusts to kill and before you know it you are underground, helping drow elves fight other drow elves is probably not boring, but the way this is structured makes it almost useless. Draw a graph maybe so people can see what encounters lead to where in a choose your own adventure style. You fight Kali? I couldn’t make heads or tails of this, nor figure out its point. You fight IT in the tunnels below Cha’alt, and the Drow want you to repair their plama reactor? I’m lost dude.

What else is there to say? I am growing increasingly fond of the CDS rules for Cha’alt, included in the appendix, which walks a narrow line between rules-light without turning into dungeon world. Races have been bogged down to a single line but do include all the regular PHB rules, as well as droids, pixy fairies, reptillains, demons and Crystallines. Classes are stripped down, leveling up is per adventure, character sheets are for wussies and you are allowed a single distinguishing feature. At this rate its damn near playable, and it shows. Something about character creation in 5 minutes GO GO GO just appeals.

So what do I think about Fuchsia Malaise; While it lacks the awe-inspiring shotgun blast of gonzo weirdness of the Black Pyramid and it suffers a bit from what I will affectionally call Alpha Blue syndrome in that its organization starts to deteriorate as the series progresses, there is much that is laudable in Fuchsia Malaise. The hooks and background stuff, while it drags on for too long, brings with it many useful hooks and flavorful encounters to facilitate hours of wonder. The adventures vary in quality from the more Kra’adumek like Fuchsia Flesh pits to the very awesome Tomb of Va’an Zayne and the almost stellar Elysium.  

While there are things to gripe about, from the higher percentage of background fluff and hooks to the quality of some of the adventures, let there be no doubt that Fuchsia Malaise is a good expansion for Cha’alt with two stellar entries, and if you find yourself using it already and wanting more of it, it is most certainly worth getting.

But let us all pray to K’t’ul’u that Mauve Shadows will have a new level to the Black Pyramid, or maybe a dungeon set in the Fuschia Putrescence, and not so much setting lore and hooks and shit. We have enough of those.

I’d set it at ***, a good sequel but lacking the transcendent gonzo-powers of its predecessor.

 [1] With one exception
[2] I intend to rectify this with Vaults of Oblivion


5 thoughts on “[Review] Cha’alt II; Fuschia Malaise (O5R) Pt II; Section I Subsection Six Act Three

  1. Solid review, hoss. Glad you enjoyed it. Some prefer lore and hooks, others want dungeoncrawling. Can’t please everyone, but I tried.

    Regarding the tower of Vromka’ad, playtesters were blown away by the concept of exploring rooms via colored orbs.

    Like

    1. “but lacking the transcendent gonzo-powers of its predecessor.”

      I believe the gonzo transcends. I may be wrong, but what it lacks in utter gonzo, it makes up for in the other adjectives… eldritch, science-fantasy, and post-apocalyptic.

      “Indeed one does not master Cha’alt, one only suffers it, and learns to have a good time doing so.”

      Also, wanted to touch on that statement. Profound, hoss! Especially when you consider the meaning of Cha’alt – greatness through suffering. Not sure if that was in your mind when you wrote it or a happy accident. Either way, awesome!

      Like

    2. Fuck WordPress ate my reply.

      I like the idea of the tower, I didn’t like the fact you dumped all of them at the beginning. I think placing some entrances and exits in other rooms makes exploring it more dynamic.

      [Transcendence]

      Lemme put it this way; Cha’alt: Tarantino. Cha’alt II; Robert Rodriguez.

      But still, 2 books in and no signs of stopping, I’m curious to see what part III will bring.

      Like

      1. There are certainly opportunities for the GM to “Jaquay” that dungeon, do some crazy shit.

        Knowing what I know now, I should have thrown in some colored hazmat suits and imposters – all my kids are playing Among Us! WTF?!?

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s