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Author Topic: Review of A Red and Pleasant Land  (Read 1207 times)

Joss Sticks on Jupiter

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Review of A Red and Pleasant Land
« on: August 07, 2021, 01:59:51 AM »
Firstly, I'm writing this to obtain "The Half-King's Tourney", the price of which is a review.

Secondly, I have a disturbing secret...I really like Zak's books and love his artwork. Despite being an old punk rocker from the 80's, I probably don't share a single common sentiment with the guy about life, politics or the world and I'm likely the only person to think better of him *after* all of the allegations.

It should also be noted that I do not play LOTFP, but like a lot of older gamers, I cannibalize newer modules and sourcebooks for use with OD&D and it is in this capacity that I write the following review:

"A Red and Pleasant Land" by Zak S. is a lavish exploration and slight re-imagining of the world of Lewis Carroll's Alice stories. I say slight, because despite expectations, the end result is not that far afield from the original source material. It's less childish and there's an obvious Gothic infusion (think Hammer Films with a hint of LSD), but it doesn't overpower the traditional tone. It's clearly Wonderland and all of the characters are present, just not in the form or role you may remember. The locations differ a great deal, but fit the theme flawlessly.

The book is laid out intuitively by section, an overview of the land itself, various places and customs, an Alice character class, notable monsters and NPC's, then several specific adventure locations. The layout is fairly traditional and the artwork is actually helpful, with most pieces placed near corresponding descriptions. All of the art is done by Zak, including the maps and it's a rare gaming book that offers such a complete and specific interpretation of the author's vision. His art style is an acquired taste, I personally love it, though I understand everyone will not. It's decidedly dark, a little messy with often highly realistic faces amongst twisted and conceptual forms.

How to use the book and how to approach the land itself is fully explored with a lot of options given, from using it as a literal land or nation, and/or simultaneously existing alongside your own campaign world, with an emphasis on campaign flexibility while maintaining tone. Presumably if none of this works, one is encouraged to use the physical book to kill small animals. This is surely intended as a joke, but amongst the current climate of snivelry, I was truly impressed...it would take great bravery to suggest that without a disclaimer now. Worth noting that the publishing date is 2014.

After walking through general descriptions of the land itself, various particular customs and how some gaming issues are handled, the only specific character class is fully fleshed-out, the Alice (or Alistair). It's a sort of general Fool class, statistically somewhere between a Thief and a Magic-User, with specific rules for Exasperation and a lot of random quirkiness. It fills the need *perfectly* and reminds me of the optional classes found in early issues of Dragon and White Dwarf.

Next is the bestiary of sorts, as well as villains and NPC's. All arranged alphabetically, this is where familiar characters from the Carroll books are to be found in varying forms, along with a smattering of related creatures that fit the vibe and a decided influx of vampires and vampirism. This is also where court rankings and faction loyalties are provided, laying a kind of groundwork for what's going on in the different adventure locations and which toadies serve whom. Everything is tied neatly together with Wonderland themes, notably playing card suits.

The focus of the adventure locations are two seperate castles and their surrounding regions. Each castle is mapped, highly detailed, populated and acts ultimately as a high-level dungeon with some story elements and NPC interaction. Though there is a common theme, there's no single story to be told, so DM's can easily approach these locations (and the whole book for that matter) without the need for heavy background or railroading players. Further developed locations include estate grounds, gardens and nearby woods.

Moving past some optional rules for handling particular situations, mostly court and combat related, the final section of the book is dedicated to dozens of profoundly random tables. Including adventure hooks (seduce a pudding), strange wandering animals (warthogs and fireflies), random puzzles and gifts, backgrounds for local folk (meal for a vampire), castle inhabitants (Cheshire Cat and March Hare), dueling injuries, general encounters (little crocodiles and old witches) events (a decapitated lord recapitated), demanded taxes (fee per point of Charisma), intercepted communications and treasure (recipe for biscuits and a change of socks). An immense amount of absurdity and charm fill the lists and are a huge addition of color to the world itself.

Overall, I find "A Red and Pleasant Land" far more usable than EX1and EX2, TSR's "Dungeonland" modules. It's less structured as a linear adventure and much more a kind of pointcrawl, with many options on how to apply it to your existing campaign as well as easily expandable, should your players fall in love with the place. I personally really like the vibe, it's dark without being grimdark, it's absurd without being childish, it's very unique in it's interpretations, but it's a world most of us are familiar with. I wholeheartedly recommend the book (assuming you can find a copy), for those wanting a taste of the weird to drop into their games. Also, as a fan of Lewis Carroll's works, I believe this is the best gaming interpretation that will likely ever be published and it's clear Zak approached this with some measure of respect.

Lastly, there's nothing in the book that would give any indication of the author's politics and these days, in this hobby, that's a beautifully refreshing thing.

VhaidraSaga

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Re: Review of A Red and Pleasant Land
« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2021, 02:19:17 PM »
Firstly, I'm writing this to obtain "The Half-King's Tourney", the price of which is a review.

Secondly, I have a disturbing secret...I really like Zak's books and love his artwork. Despite being an old punk rocker from the 80's, I probably don't share a single common sentiment with the guy about life, politics or the world and I'm likely the only person to think better of him *after* all of the allegations.

It should also be noted that I do not play LOTFP, but like a lot of older gamers, I cannibalize newer modules and sourcebooks for use with OD&D and it is in this capacity that I write the following review:

"A Red and Pleasant Land" by Zak S. is a lavish exploration and slight re-imagining of the world of Lewis Carroll's Alice stories. I say slight, because despite expectations, the end result is not that far afield from the original source material. It's less childish and there's an obvious Gothic infusion (think Hammer Films with a hint of LSD), but it doesn't overpower the traditional tone. It's clearly Wonderland and all of the characters are present, just not in the form or role you may remember. The locations differ a great deal, but fit the theme flawlessly.

The book is laid out intuitively by section, an overview of the land itself, various places and customs, an Alice character class, notable monsters and NPC's, then several specific adventure locations. The layout is fairly traditional and the artwork is actually helpful, with most pieces placed near corresponding descriptions. All of the art is done by Zak, including the maps and it's a rare gaming book that offers such a complete and specific interpretation of the author's vision. His art style is an acquired taste, I personally love it, though I understand everyone will not. It's decidedly dark, a little messy with often highly realistic faces amongst twisted and conceptual forms.

How to use the book and how to approach the land itself is fully explored with a lot of options given, from using it as a literal land or nation, and/or simultaneously existing alongside your own campaign world, with an emphasis on campaign flexibility while maintaining tone. Presumably if none of this works, one is encouraged to use the physical book to kill small animals. This is surely intended as a joke, but amongst the current climate of snivelry, I was truly impressed...it would take great bravery to suggest that without a disclaimer now. Worth noting that the publishing date is 2014.

After walking through general descriptions of the land itself, various particular customs and how some gaming issues are handled, the only specific character class is fully fleshed-out, the Alice (or Alistair). It's a sort of general Fool class, statistically somewhere between a Thief and a Magic-User, with specific rules for Exasperation and a lot of random quirkiness. It fills the need *perfectly* and reminds me of the optional classes found in early issues of Dragon and White Dwarf.

Next is the bestiary of sorts, as well as villains and NPC's. All arranged alphabetically, this is where familiar characters from the Carroll books are to be found in varying forms, along with a smattering of related creatures that fit the vibe and a decided influx of vampires and vampirism. This is also where court rankings and faction loyalties are provided, laying a kind of groundwork for what's going on in the different adventure locations and which toadies serve whom. Everything is tied neatly together with Wonderland themes, notably playing card suits.

The focus of the adventure locations are two seperate castles and their surrounding regions. Each castle is mapped, highly detailed, populated and acts ultimately as a high-level dungeon with some story elements and NPC interaction. Though there is a common theme, there's no single story to be told, so DM's can easily approach these locations (and the whole book for that matter) without the need for heavy background or railroading players. Further developed locations include estate grounds, gardens and nearby woods.

Moving past some optional rules for handling particular situations, mostly court and combat related, the final section of the book is dedicated to dozens of profoundly random tables. Including adventure hooks (seduce a pudding), strange wandering animals (warthogs and fireflies), random puzzles and gifts, backgrounds for local folk (meal for a vampire), castle inhabitants (Cheshire Cat and March Hare), dueling injuries, general encounters (little crocodiles and old witches) events (a decapitated lord recapitated), demanded taxes (fee per point of Charisma), intercepted communications and treasure (recipe for biscuits and a change of socks). An immense amount of absurdity and charm fill the lists and are a huge addition of color to the world itself.

Overall, I find "A Red and Pleasant Land" far more usable than EX1and EX2, TSR's "Dungeonland" modules. It's less structured as a linear adventure and much more a kind of pointcrawl, with many options on how to apply it to your existing campaign as well as easily expandable, should your players fall in love with the place. I personally really like the vibe, it's dark without being grimdark, it's absurd without being childish, it's very unique in it's interpretations, but it's a world most of us are familiar with. I wholeheartedly recommend the book (assuming you can find a copy), for those wanting a taste of the weird to drop into their games. Also, as a fan of Lewis Carroll's works, I believe this is the best gaming interpretation that will likely ever be published and it's clear Zak approached this with some measure of respect.

Lastly, there's nothing in the book that would give any indication of the author's politics and these days, in this hobby, that's a beautifully refreshing thing.

Agreed 100% with what you said here.

Ka'arl Sorcerer of Cha'alt

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Re: Review of A Red and Pleasant Land
« Reply #2 on: September 11, 2021, 09:27:11 PM »
Nice Review! One of my top 10 fav rpg adventure/settings.

VhaidraSaga

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Re: Review of A Red and Pleasant Land
« Reply #3 on: October 06, 2021, 07:04:30 PM »
Nice Review! One of my top 10 fav rpg adventure/settings.


I'm currently running a 12-part campaign with it as one of the adventures in it:
  • Tower of the Stargazer
  • No Dignity in Death
  • Better Than Any Man
  • Hammers of the God
  • Weird New World
  • Lapis Observatory
  • Vornheim
  • Maze of the Blue Medusa
  • A Red & Pleasant Land
  • Frostbitten & Mutilated
  • Deep Carbon Observatory
  • Veins of the Earth

silencio789

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Re: Review of A Red and Pleasant Land
« Reply #4 on: October 17, 2021, 06:26:34 AM »
Nice review.
Zak does good RPG and art.
After really trying hard, I have come to the conclusion he's not a person I want around, and yes I really tried.
Unlike Pundit I am not really sure if Zak really has coherent politics.
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