REVIEW: A Red and Pleasant Land
Zak S’s vampiric take on the Alice's Adventures in Wonderland world of Lewis Carrol doesn’t just give you a universe to play in. It shoves a pillow over your sleeping face and smothers you in a haze-filled fever dream of survivalism, and then it kicks you in the nuts, and then it kicks your nuts in the nuts. His RPG world, A Red and Pleasant Land, spills out eons of never ending slow wars between two vampire factions: the Red King (styled after Vlad Dracula, but not the real one—the Bram Stoker kind) and the Heart Queen (styled after Elizabeth Bathory, but not the real one—the bathtub-full-of-virgin-blood one). These forces vie for control over an equally weird world, one that is no longer in its golden age, but has crumbled from war, neglect, and time. The tone of the piece is one of fear and prey. Playing a non-vampire character is akin to playing a fat pig in a world ruled by wolves, and any misstep can end with you served on a platter. No quarter is given to anyone. No chivalry protects women or children. You are a side of bacon—an afterthrought—a walking menu selection to be plated alongside your friends.
Published for the Lamentations of the Flame Princess setting, the book shakes a strong game mechanic in favor of putting a setting into your hands without overbearing you with boring backstory. The framework is simple, without the pulp commonly associated with older RPG materials, but Zak chooses to forsake lengthy paragraphs for crafted sentences while getting across the same amount of information.
A particularly enjoyable entry for myself was that of the Pale Kin, made more entrancing by Zak's art style: a black-lined, almost bleeding face of twisted terror staring out of the page and into your heart. His beard sloughs onto his ruffled collar like a ragged old, dare I say scrotum? The Pale King is a character of indecision and power, employing the advice of his Mad Hatter and seeking new lands to tax because—from my deduction—"that's what kings do." In the traditional sense of a mad Lewis Carol style world, the Pale Kings taxes make little sense at all, going as bizarre as to tax people for the number of knuckles on their hand. He is a king trapped on his crusade, always teetering on the edge of action—yet not budging, until the player characters come along.
In addition to the monster entries and unique setting, Zak goes back to his Vornheim roots and crams a miniature Dungeon Master's Guide in with his book, giving you toolkits and charts to take his book and make it your own. You will get plenty of use from your d100's since you'll have an inexhaustible number of rolls you can make to surprise your players and yourself. I used several of his charts in my own playthrough with my players, coming up with several intriguing encounters.
One of the most intriguing entries is that of a new character class: the Alice. Whimsically lucky, the Alice (Alistair for a masculine title) encapsulates the titular character of Carrol's work by building a class based on rolls and skill-monkey antics. Though geared mechanically towards Lamentations of the Flame Princess, the Alice class can easily be incorporated into more streamlined fantasy RPG's (okay I'll stop beating around the bush when I say more streamlined fantasy RPG's, I'm just talking about Dungeons and Dragons and maybe Pathfinder so yeah, you caught me). A combination of a Rogue/Thief and a Bard, the Alice would capitalize on a Luck stat if one existed in your RPG character creation. The Alice very muchso builds on a Referee/DM response system, where the DM has a chart of random benefits that can deus ex machina themselves into the situation for the Alice's party to use to their advantage. If you can handle a wild magic sorcerer, you can handle an Alice.
Also, I am quite convinced that the art for the Alice is modeled after D&D enthusiast and member of the I Hit It With My Axe series, Satine Phoenix. Seriously look at it, I even snatched a picture of Satine from her Twitter just to do a side-by-side comparison IT'S THE EYES DAMMIT!
You can purchase A Red and Pleasant Land here.
You can visit Zak S's blog called DnD With Porn Stars here but it may be NSFW because of the porn star bit.