In keeping with this week devoted to Lamentations of the Flame Princess today I will talk about the campaign scenario A Red & Pleasant Land, written by Zak S., winner of 4 ENnie Awards and 1 IndieCade Award, taking us to a strange world mixing Lewis Carroll and Bram Stoker literary works with other influences to create an adventure setting where its possible to develop some strange adventures...
As I said at the beginning of this review, A Red & Pleasant Land clearly draws inspiration in Dracula gothic novel by Irish author Bram Stoker (which in turn draws inspiration from the historical figure of Vlad Draculea, prince of Wallachia between 1456 and 1462) and the fantasy novels Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, both written by the English author Lewis Carroll and a clear example of absurdist fiction which the author uses to make satirical allusions to his acquaintances and the society of the period.
Both works had been object of many film adaptations through the years as the following videos demonstrate:
And although the author of this scenario don't say it In my opinion it's also possible to detect clear allusions to the Dutch artist M.C. Escher and to Jim Henson and his film Labyrinth as you will see later.
Zak S. had take as a basis the surrealist environment of Carroll's novel and has not hesitated to incorporate elements from classical tales about vampires and other bloodsucking creatures to convert Voivodja, where the adventures of A Red & Pleasant Land take place (the name clearly based in the slavic nobility Voivode), in an even weirder, delirious and dangerous place, a place forgotten by gods or which they do not want to look at.
In Voivodja, converted in The Place of Unreason (which the referee can put in the equivalent Medieval Central Europe of his chosen game world, or in another dimension which can be accessed falling through a hole or going through a looking mirror...), there's a war confronting 2 vampire factions fighting each other for the control of it and where the few remaining humans inhabiting the country are forced to hide to avoid becoming prisoners of the contenders.
Governors of the warring factions are Vlad Vortigen, The Red King, and Elizabeth Bathyscape, The Heart Queen. Nobody knows their relationship and why they fight, perhaps they are lovers or father and daughter, or just rivals who had always hated each other. This war had also attracted other vampire houses, ruled by The Pale King and The Colorless Queen, hoping to profit from the conflict between their relatives while deciding with whom they ally.
Players can play natives of The Place of Unreason, although the author advises them to be from another origin to enable to experiment the same confusion Alice has facing the situations set by Carroll's novels (through a vampiric filter, of course). How characters can reach Voivodja? Zak S. proposes several ways, like characters using looking-glasses to go through them and travel from the War Side to the Quiet Side (which one represents The Place of Unreason depends of the referee plans) or they could go there after a tough travel with characters facing all kind of dangers inspired by Central European folklore, although there's also the chance of a tunnel discovered while exploring a dungeon (something usual in OSR-style games) leading to a garden, or while taking a quiet stroll through one of your city neighborhoods you turn a corner and suddenly find yourself in a completely strange and unknown place and you can not go back...
And talking about characters it's also worth mentioning that A Red & Pleasant Land includes a new character class created specifically for this campaign scenario, based of course in the main character of Carroll's novels (herself inspired by Alice Liddell). Alices (or "Allisters" if male characters) tend to be involved in unexpected situations (ergo, they are unfortunate enough to get into all sorts of trouble unwittingly) as adventure chases them and can't do nothing about it. This character type can be considered a Thief/Rogue/Specialist of Lamentations of the Flame Princess or similar games and also have two own special abilities: Exasperation and Levelling Up
With Exasperation every time the Alice is subjected to stressful situations ("Oh I can’t conceive how I ever fell into this deplorable circumstance!" for instance) she can roll in the corresponding Exasperation table once for every real-time game hour (with a higher dice each time her level goes up) to simulate gods, or destiny, take notice of the character situation and help magically (and it can be countered as such) conjuring potential allies or changing the circunstances around them.
With Levelling Up the Alice may have new Thief/Rogue/Specialist (or the similar class form the referee's ruleset) skills or have special abilities rolling in the corresponding table.
Leaving aside this new character class A Red & Pleasant Land also offers a great set of animals, magical beasts and many varied NPCs, with proper indications for adequately converting them to the ruleset used by the referee and the side the creature owe's allegiance if needed.
In addition to the characters it's also possible to find a wide description of the places where the adventures take place, including Cachtice (El Castell de Cartes, home of The Heart Queen) and Poenari (The Looking Glass Palace, home of The Red King), with encounter tables, particularities and interior plans, that can be considered dungeons which characters (better to be of levels 9 to 13) may want to explore or go inside to acomplish a mission. Aside these castles there's also other three sample locations: Forest, Garden and Interior.
All these locations are represented in the book with illustrations that sometimes recalls us child's building blocks (and all of us got one) and, as I said at the beginning of the article, the Labyrinth film and M.C. Escher works, clearly seen in the following drawings:
|Illustration of one of the interior maps of A Red & Pleasant Land by Jez Gordon|
|Map created by Dyson Logos inspired in the previous map|
To complement all said previously people reading the book also will have access to a set of optional rules including topics like sword duels, manage great battles in Voivodja or mounted combat and tables needed to generate plots, encounters and places, in this case with a numeric table or with a template on which he can directly toss dice, rolling more dice if he wants a more complex map (and surely inventive or experienced referees can create personalized variations for specific adventures and campaigns).
As part of this review I have decided to create some gaming aids to slightly ease tasks of referees willing to use A Red & Pleasant Land. In the following files you will find the reproduction of the generic templates of Forest, Garden and Interior in the three languages in which the blog is written (something that will be useful for those not having the book in its pdf version) with comments about some aspects of its contents and an axonometric grid generated with the online tools available at incompetech that will allow you to have a reference if you want to draw your own perspective maps.
In Spanish: Google Drive | 4Shared
In Catalan: Google Drive | 4Shared
In English: Google Drive | 4Shared
A Red & Pleasant Land conciously departs from conventionalisms in the Old School Renaisance (OSR) or similar games to offer an experience completely new and far from these, a fact that would have to stimulate imagination of active referees and players who like to create their own stories or settings (or adapt the Old School games rules to other settings or genres like David Baymiller carries out at The OSR Libray). Contents of this book can be used as they are shown or are easily adaptable to the referee needs, who can choose which parts to use that fit better with the idea to be developed in gaming sessions, even with any kind of role-playing ruleset because not only the roleplayer lives from the OSR, a possible example I think of while writing these lines is the game No te Duermas by ConBarba (the Spanish edition of Don't Rest Your Head), which I reviewed in this post and whose action could happen perfectly in The Place of Unreason.
This entry it's also available in the following languages: