A Red and Pleasant Land is… a great deal many things. It’s an art-book, with gorgeous illustrations throughout. It’s an art-piece, with beautiful binding, paper texture, rich colour and even has a silky ribbon-bookmark. It is a campaign setting for a role-playing game, with a unique, bizarre and yet familiar environments full of unique characters. It is a sandbox, with countless places to explore, strange characters to interact with and frightfully dangerous (and usually insane) antagonists to meet (or avoid). It is a resource for Game Masters, full of fascinating random tables to create endless locations, dungeons, creatures and people. It’s also immensely fun to simply pick up and flip to a random page to read or gaze at the illustrations.
This product is a great example of how a gaming supplement can be more than just its text content. The book itself reflects its material and setting: it has an elegant yet slightly mad look and feel, just like a Victorian novel about high society vampires or bloodthirsty queens. In other words, handling the book and reading the pages immersed me into the world that its author created.
The author, Zak Smith, is an incredibly imaginative and creative person. While he is seen as a controversial or confrontational figure within the gaming community, his contributions are, without a doubt, worthy to the hobby. Regardless of one’s opinions of this author, I’d strongly recommend that folks give this book a chance.
The material is roughly split into two halves: descriptions of the setting’s locations, creatures and characters and then many pages of richly detailed random tables and tools for GMs to invent and create wonders.
There are some very witty things in this work. While many of the standard Wonderland tropes are included, they’re handled in really clever ways. I won’t go into detail, because I feel that these are to be discovered by the reader: it’s part of the charming experience of reading this book.
A Red and Pleasant Land is one part Through the Looking Glass and one part Hungarian/Romanian vampires. This happened to be a happy coincidence to this reviewer, as I happen to be in the process of writing a campaign set in a location that is based on 17th century Transylvania. This work just happened to be right up my alley, but I’ve read and reviewed several rpg campaigns lately and so I feel that I can attempt to be critical of elements that I dislike or that I feel are “off”.
While this is officially a supplement for Lamentations of the Flame Princess and is, by default, compatible with OSR games such as Labyrinth Lord, I felt that this could easily be used with any edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Any rules or stat blocks are minimalistic and easy to adapt. I actually look forward to running it myself in the recent fifth edition of D&D and maybe, someday, in Dungeon World.
When I GM this, I plan of covering the gaming table is a feverish mess of props including: a deck of cards, a set of Tarot, chess pieces and, of course a chess board for any combat encounters. I’ll perhaps serve blood-red tea…
I’ll have to keep this brief as it is the day after Christmas and I wish to be with my family and away from my computer. Once again, I whole-heartedly recommend a Red and Pleasant Land for any enthusiast of role-playing games, Lewis Carroll, vampires, old-fashioned books or even simply art lovers.
BONUS LINKS: Alice Character class conversions for other games: