Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A Red and Pleasant Land reviewed

Last Thursday morning while I was at my PC, I kept getting little notifications in the lower right corner of my screen. The first was that "_A Red and Pleasant Land_ is available in (whatever "cloud" thingy we use)."  Then about five minutes later, it was removed. A few minutes later it appeared again just to disappear again a few more minutes later. Finally I shot a message to Peryton to find out what the heck was she doing. She didn't know I was awake and wasn't sure if I wanted to read Zak S.'s campaign setting A Red and Pleasant Land-- for some reason a simple text message wouldn't have worked. As I am game for anything off-kilter (that means fantastic and weird) a C.S. Lewis allusion and an RPG book sounded just fine. Thus it appeared again. The overall experience was like a like a very, very slow-motion Blue Light Special at Kmart.

I continued on my merry way writing about zombies, mapping Cleveland for a game scenario, and trying to research the number of police shootings of unarmed people for the past five years. There was more than a little beer involved, so this process was taking a while. Around 10pm that night, Peryton walked up from behind to say "You've been mentioned in the 'Special Thanks' section of Red' Land." More than a bit surprised, I stopped what I was doing to look at my Kindle, and wallah "Tom K" was being thanked by Zak S, amid roughly two score of others. My surprise isn't so much at that a superstar in Indy gaming would notice the time I mentioned him, it's the fact that anybody thanks anybody anymore in this "hobby" that isn't falling out of his, or her, bed, err sandbox or giving him money this day and age. Good to see. 

So I spent this last weekend reading the product during the slower parts of my work shifts.

Always an "Alice" to me.

The Part You're Actually Looking For

Sure, we all know that Alice went down the rabbit hole, but how often do we decide to do the same ourselves and game there? In this little ditty, the creator of Vornheim crafts an homage to the works of Lewis Carroll, and other fantasists of the same ilk. He also gives it Adventure Gaming nuggets of context and creatures.

A Red and Pleasant Land is the latest game supplement by Zak S for Lamentations of the Flame Princess Games. It is available in PDF and print, about $15 for the PDF and $35 for print version. With more than 175 pages of content (closer to 200 pages) including illustrations and maps by the author and Jez Gordon. In this work, the reader is invited into the Place of Unreason.

When I say "crafted" I mean crafted. Now as a guy that crafts my own game items, I have to say that this product is definitely wrought together by a creator that has a vision in mind as to the treasure that the audience is going to receive. From the cover to the "psychotropic*" maps at the end of the work, the overall effort is a complete experience for the artistic eye. While being economical in energy, the author himself paints his illustrations in an unapologetic fashion that can be quite alluring at times. The graphics and "maps" that tie the project's themes into its whole bring together the wide range of options and ideas arrayed.

 The literary styling and rules matrix is where the energy is spent. Zak S does a fine job of capturing the atmosphere of the writings of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. There is plenty of red meat for the gamer that doesn't care about reading and all that, what with vampire courts and fiefdoms, with new critters to encounter! I believe it's D20 driven. There is also a card play aspect, as in regular playing cards, with PC and NPC interaction based off of the suits that I, myself, find more than a bit alluring. I need to look a bit deeper into the text and see if there is something there that I do all the time with playing cards in RPG sessions. If this last inkling is indeed occurring, that is an added plus to the game.

 The author, Zak S, just in case you've forgotten, is somewhat self-aware of the role we game authors (not designers!) play in the industry, has a section called "How To Use This Book." In this section he has four options. I paraphrase them here: 1.) Use It As It Was Written. 2.) Use The Parts You Like, Wherever You Like. 3.) Sigh and Put It Down. 4.) Dump It into very instinct-driven animals.  To turn things on their head, as the author likes to; it's not often I, in the role of product reviewer, get so much help from the reviewed as to a rating system. 

My choice is to use this product where I think it fits into my game sessions. I also have started recommending its usage to family and friends. I mentioned to Peryton, already a fan of Zak S, "I'd use this in my Qalidar campaign.", two days later she announced to me, "Hey I think I'll do Red'Land as a scenario at BASHCon." There actually is no mind control there, she, the author of Qalidar, read the book days before I did-- I just wanted to show blocs of folks will like it.

Using my own personal rating system, I'll rate this a King Kong on a scale of Smurf to Godzilla. The lacking part is a color cover. The art work on the cover should've set the standards for the inside while a professional cover would've increased the viewing potential.

Still a good work. A nice literally homage, done with gamer-mindedness in mind.


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