Friday, 9 January 2015

A Quick & Dirty Review of A Red and Pleasant Land for fence-sitters

With The Youngling fast approaching two, I discovered this holiday season that I get more time to myself whilst I'm at work than on holidays. The upshot of this is has been very slow progress of late at getting my planned series of posts on Death & Dismemberment Tables completed. I eventually got my copy of A Red and Pleasant Land in the mail about a week ago so I thought I'd do a quick review to keep some content flowing. 

A quick point before my quick review - this review is aimed at a particular group of people. If you fall into the following camps this review us NOT for you: 

1) Old school peeps who don't mind their fantasy with a bit of gonzo (or at least flavours other than vanilla) and are fans of Zak S. People in this group probably already all have a copy (if not why the hell don't you) and there are plenty of rave reviews written by and for this group. 

2) The Hatorz - people who for some reason have a personal dislike of Zak and then let it get in the way of appreciating his creative chops. These folks will be studiously disinterested in ARaPL no matter how good it is.

Ok, so who is this review aimed at? Folks who have an appreciation for Zak's work, are curious - even interested - but just aren't sure if a setting book about Alice in Wonderland meets Vampires is really gonna be their thing. I certainly felt this way, but decided to buy it anyway, so thought I would share my observations. 

I should note I haven't read the book cover to cover, just a series of increasingly deeper flickthroughs (tell me you don't know exactly what I mean), and my first impression is - it's gorgeous. It's hard bound A5 in matte red cloth with gold embossing, it's filled with artwork and is stylishly laid out. It's obviously a labour of love, and you can see where the money Raggi sunk into this has gone. 

So the killer question, how likely am I to run a game in Voivodja, Zak's vision of Wonderland meets Transylvania, inhabited primarily by vampires, talking beasts and oddities? Probably not likely - but there are so many great ideas to yoink that I can easily see how I could adapt aspects into a game set elsewhere. In fact ARaPL is written with this attitude in mind, Zak knows lots of DM's would rather plunder than run a faithful adaptation. For those who do want to run a Voivodja specific game the book shows rather than tells, using maps, art, random tables, monster ecology, and wonderfully fleshed out examples of the quixotic rituals, events and character of the setting. There is also great advice on establishing the tone of the setting, which is quite unique, and I can see could be difficult to bring to life at the table. 

So, should you buy it? That depends. I'm certainly glad I did, even if it gets limited use at the table it's such a beautiful book that it's worth it even as a gamer's coffee table book. That said there are lots of random tables, monsters, hooks and just flat out interesting ideas that I'm sure it will serve as inspiration at the very least. 

If you are currently debating buying ARaPL I suspect the biggest determinant of whether you buy is going to be your wallet. If you like books and don't need to be guaranteed of getting your value for money, buy it - it's beautiful and you won't regret it. If you aren't willing to / can't afford to get it but are interested in having access to the resources contained within, get the PDF, you'll be missing out on the physical beauty of the thing but will certainly be getting good value for money. If you are still fence sitting or are skint / cheapass, I certainly recognised sections in the book which I'd seen in some form or another on Zak's blog. I can only suggest delving through the last year or two's posts for these (looking through Zak's old stuff is never a bad idea anyway).

Given the theme I seem to be working on this blog at present I should make mention that ARaPL contains a Death & Dismemberment Table. It's singled out as specifically for Duelling but could easily function as a simple DADT. It's a simple 1d6 table, all results on which are only injuries - but a nice touch is that if a result is rerolled the combatant is then unconscious (or dead if that's how you want to roll). This means that as wounds accumulate the finishing blow becomes more likely.