Monday, December 22, 2014

A Red & Pleasant Land, by Zak S.

If you buy the pdf but never hold the physical version of this book in your hands, then you are missing a key facet of the experience. Much like how Vornheim excels as a physical tool, the ambiance of owning A Red & Pleasant Land is in holding the finished tome in your hands.

This book has a very distinct smell. Maybe mine was dropped into a canal beside a garden in Venice, the red-cloth cover is a little warped and bows outward, as if the book itself is trying to open up and invite me to flip through its pages. The pages have a distinct off-white look to them, which adds to the otherworldly and unusual nature of both the contents of the title and the method by which this volume saw publication. The gold text on the cover has flaked slightly, giving the red cloth a glitteriness which I am not sure is intentional. My fear is that with use the gold will eventually flake off and I'll be left with just a red cloth book, but that would still look cool.

A Red & Pleasant Land takes place in Voivodja, which might be a stand-in for Transylvania, or it might be an alternate dimension lurking behind mirrors. Whatever it is, the land of Voivodja is ruled by families of vampires who identify themselves by card suits. They have an intricately complex society yet many of them seem to suffer from dementia or schizophrenia.

The very first section of the book is called "How to Use This Book" and it suggests using the book as a whole setting, use parts of it, read it and not use it at all, or use it as a weapon. I think the author forgot to suggest that you could also use it as kindling, may you never be so cold that you resort to that option. I plan to use the book as a demiplane of madcapped grotesqueries & violent whimsy to cajole my players with.

The first chapters throw all of the basic information about Voivodja at your game head. You'll learn about the strange nature of the landscape, the bloody customs and traditions of the locals, and Voidvodja's own mirror universe called the Quiet Side. There is even a custom class to work into your gaming group that seems suitable for a campaign set in Voivodja: the Alice. (Yes, that bit is free.)

Roughly 1/4th of the book is composed of monster and NPC descriptions and this is the biggest highlight of the book, with many strange and wondrous versions of creatures to bedevil and bemuse players with. The spine has a red cloth bookmark and I'm currently keeping it on the page with my personal favorite, the Colorless Rooks.

The next 1/4th of the book details two major castles for two of the vampire clans battling one another; Castle Cachtice, the Card Castle, and Castle Poenari, the Looking Glass Palace. There is a lot of information here and it's so dense with oddities and distortions that I know I haven't really absorbed all of it. The beauty of these locations is that each room has a minimal bullet point description that evocatively describes each area without bogging you down in text to read aloud. The weirdness of the castles are largely left to an individual GM's judgment on how to resolve bypassing a room.

The other 1/4th (more like 1/5th, let's just call it 36 pages) comprises "Tables & Resources" at the back of the book and that is where a lot the fun stuff is. 'No Voivodja Required' is what I call it because several of the tables can be used independently of the setting and those that can't can easily be hacked for use in your own campaign. The best part of the "Tables & Resources" section is, in my opinion, the "Relationships Between NPCs" d100 table. Page 174. Go buy the book and look at that page first. I think it's a thing of beauty!

So that's also my final verdict: buy this book.