Friday, 23 January 2015

A Red & Pleasant Land - Impressions and Stuff

I've finished absorbing +Zak Smith's latest work, A Red & Pleasant Land; which for those of you not in the know, is a pseudo-campaign setting for use in D&D, retro-clones, and other fantasy-minded RPGs; which is heavily based off of Lewis Caroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and it's sequel Through the Looking Glass; mixed with Eastern European vampire folklore (think Vlad Tepes and Elizabeth Báthory).

There's plenty of reviews out there already that praise this piece of work and one would say I'm fashionably late to the croquet game; regardless, I'll just give my general impressions and note the parts I particularly enjoyed:

I had way too much time on my hands that day...
First off, the book itself is a gem of a gamebook: approximately digest size, covered red fabric, and printed in gold-leaf, it fits nearly perfectly next to our copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Coincidence? Nah...
I'll say now that I'm a big fan of smaller books height-wise for their portability and whatnot; also, I think all hardback books should come with a cloth bookmark; they're too damn useful! What are RPG books mostly used for? REFERENCING; a built-in bookmark doesn't loose your page like a slip of paper can!

Anyway, the layout is top-notch, printed on slightly-textured cream pages that provide excellent contrast to the bold art. The editing is tight with few errors, the largest of which is a printing goof that left us without the last two pages of the book: a map fragment handout and a larger version of a chess puzzle, neither of which is a huge loss; the puzzle already exists a couple times in the book albeit smaller. PDF version is complete and LotFP's website has the missing pages [here].

In the introduction and first chapter, our author gives us the whys-and-why-nots, the who-cares, and the whats about the wonderland of Voivodja (a.k.a the Place of Unreason) and some useful advice for GM's; I particularly like his brief dissertation on both the differences and similarities of 'whimsical' and 'creepy', as I think that both are important for GM's to consider when they set the tone of any game using AR&PL, or any RPG with similar themes.

On a related note, he cites several works to inspire mood and help set the theme beyond the source material (the Missus' owns a copy of Alice by Jan Svankmajer, which I find hypnotically bizarre). One could easily suggest the soundtracks of American McGee's Alice and Alice: Madness Returns for a creepy audio vibe or the Danny Elfman's Alice in Wonderland for something a bit more whimsical. But if I were to suggest a single audio inspiration, it'd have to be the surreal Alice in Wonderland soundscape by Randy Greif: part narration, part weird avant garde project.

The above sampling is only thirteen and a half minutes of a six-hour-long work that spans five albums. To a weird guy like me, this is an excellent audio paring to the strangeness of AR&PL. If you happen across a copy, it makes for good inspiration. Spice in nearly any classic Dracula soundtrack (by Wojciech Kilar, John Williams, Philip Glass, etc.) and you're set.

Anyway, back to my impressions.

The four pages that comprise Chapter II introduce the 'Alice' as a optional character class (for classic D&D rule-sets and the various incarnations derived there-from, though people have made 'Alices' for recent editions like 5e. Just Google it). The Alice has an interesting subset of random abilities/powers that are in a way tied to a meta-plot: the concept here is that the protagonist, despite getting into situations perhaps over their head, has the storyline occasionally conform beneficially to them.

In contrast to the previous chapter's length, Beasts & Peoples takes up a good chunk of the book. Zak has comprised a truly unique bestiary of individuals inspired from all corners of Caroll's works but seen through looking glass darkly. As I've said before, I really dig Zak's art-style and the books wouldn't be a half as evocative if his drawings weren't there to visually support his words. I like how GM's are given four factions to weave intrigue with (if you have factions of vampires, there has to be intrigue), along with a variety of unaligned creatures. 

A pair of Pale Rooks
Likewise the rank and file of the major houses' armies are arranged by four suits and ten ranks for the Card faction, and by eight ranks of pawns below the bishops, knights, and rooks of the three Chess factions. Because all the stats of the lowly orders scale with rank, it's relatively easy to randomly generate basic NPCs on the fly; as it should be. There's also a listing of vampire traits common to all or just to particular factions, ensuring that not all the vampires in the Place of Unreason have the same strengths and weaknesses. It's a tough choice, but I'm going to go with the rooks (all three varieties) as my favourite creatures; again it'd be a close call.

I was compelled to create my own unusual creature from a mix of inspirations: Animated Objects, Axe beaks, Borogroves (obviously), Flamingos used as croquet mallets, the one-legged version Groth-Golka (as depicted on yog-blogsoth), and the staggering variety of Poleweapons.


These miserable, shabby-looking creatures appear as extremely thin, flightless birds standing upon a single leg whose bodies are surrounded by ruffled masses of feathers. The height of borogroves vary as much as the configuration of their heads and beaks, making them superficially resemble various types of medium-sized mêlée weapons or polearms. By gripping fast to any stable perch or surface with their single powerful talon, these creatures swing their hard beaks viciously at any perceived threats.  
HD 4 HP 16 Speed flutter-hop 1/2 as human,  
Armor as chain+shield Intelligence animal Reference ... 
  • Beak Strike: +1d8 (varies) to hit for d8hp damage
  • Mimsy: (once/day) as Ray of Enfeeblement cast by a d8 level Magic-User, but the target must also Save versus Paralysis or be overcome with such misery that they can take no action for the remainder of the spell's duration.
  • If killed, the body of a borogrove becomes very rigid after an hour; provided it's relatively straight, it can function as a weapon of similar design.
A pair of Knights fighting with the plucked and prepared carcasses of dead borogroves
  • Borogroves with blunt, hammer-like beaks are highly sought after by croquet aficionados as status symbols that double as mallets; living specimens tend to fetch higher prices than dead ones. Worth d8x1000gp alive or d4x1000gp dead to prospective buyers. 
  • It is rumoured either the fruit or the nut of the Tumtum tree inebriates borogroves to the point of flimsy paralysis upon ingestion; the other kills them outright.

Like Smith's previous published work, Vornheim, AR&PL gives GM's a basic overview of the setting with a few major adventure locations (such as the Card Castle and the Looking Glass Palace), a basic worldmap (which uses clever rational why it conforms so easily to the grid of graph-paper), and a few sample locations but is mostly an open sandbox with all the tools for GM's to add elements on the fly. Many of these tools are several pages of random tables and drop-tables similar in design to those seen in Vornheim, most of which could be used outside of this particular given setting.

I don't think it needs to be said that I really like this book and have little negative to say about it: It's a solid piece of OSR work. If I had the chance, I'd run this thing in a heartbeat; I'm as equally as eager to drown in the bizarre setting as I am to see if all the tools presented function as well as they appear to.

If what I've gone on about seems intriguing, get this. If not in hardback, in PDF.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Busy New Year

So what have I been up to so far in 2015?

State of the Chap 
  • It's amazing to think that around this time last year I was coping with immense pain, mostly out of stubbornness and hoping the snail's-pace route I was taking through medical system would provide succour come March.
  • As of today, the 17th of January, it'll be exactly one year since I finally took action and checked myself into the hospital to deal with my VHL complications; it wasn't until 10 days following I had my dual surgeries on the 27th/28th, and a week following that I was finally discharged from the hospital. 
  • After a few months of somewhat speedy recovery, I've been in good health since. I'd been exercising during the warmer months, though not so much during the fall/winter. I've gained weight, but since I've always been a rail-thin guy, I'm happy to have the extra poundage. My hope is now I have mass to convert to muscle come when I get off my duff and begin exercising again.
Anyway, enough about me specifically, here's what I've been up to since the beginning of the new year. It's been busy, and yet paradoxically, I took time to write this post:

When I have time to, I've been consuming A Red & Pleasant Land, and hopefully after that the rest of LotFP stuff I received the first week of the new year, such as the revised Death Frost Doom and No Salvation For Witches. Good Impressions forthcoming. I'm also expecting a few other print items to arrive at my door in partial preparation for GottaCon.

Second-hand Loot
I organized a bunch of my old junk, and sold some to get more, smaller junk. I also sold my collection of Arkham Horror stuff to a friend. As much as I enjoy that game, I have neither the time or space for it anymore. I was glad to see it go to a good home.

Amongst the items I acquired was an interesting minigame by TSR called SAGA - Age of Heroes. I like the pseudo-Viking Age theme of it and would like to give it a try but the cardboard chits are unpunched, and doing so might lessen it's collectable value. I also picked up the eighth book of the ridiculous Grimtooth's Traps series, and a couple of modules, one of which was a complete and better condition of Quest for the Silver Sword. Score.

My best friends were to come over this weekend from Vancouver and we were looking to nerd it up hard, but unfortunately I've been unable to get the time off of work because of a busy promotion and limited staff. Hopefully I'll get the chance to see them next month for my own birthday or GottaCon.

Speaking of GottaCon, I've been working on finalizing my schedule:

Note: you might have to manually select the dates above because I can't figure it out to display specifically those days.

Hopefully any future changes I make will be updated above. During the 2-6pm slot on Saturday and possibly Sunday, I might be running a couple Games-On-Demand sessions (I have yet to figure that all out; still trying to build a roster of games I'm comfortable running with little prep).

I'll be running a late night Dread Cthulhu game, and Star Wars: Edge of the Empire game on Sunday; the remainder I'm planning on attending as a player. +Larry Spiel and I are still in the process of writing our dual-table EotE game, but I think the good majority of it is done.

The folks behind the Fate of the Norns RPG were nice enough to send me some material and offer to assist teaching the game via Skype; but unfortunately I've been unable to secure a slot to run the game, let alone confidently grasp the mechanics of FotN. I honestly thought the Runic system was going to be easier to initially grok and less crunchy than it actually is. My enthusiasm for running a new game I'd never learned met unreasonable expectations. :(

During most of the event I plan to dress up as my MC LARP character Kampi, both for larks and for some sweet in-game XP. On Sunday, if I have time to finish it, I might also cosplay a Scoundrel-type character from Star Wars.

And speaking of Star Wars, I've finally introduced my long-time Friday gaming group to EotE via the Beginner Game; they're having tons of fun with it. I'm hoping to bring them through the Long Arm of the Hutt arc before diving into the full game, rolling up characters, etc.

Additionally, I've been in contact with a FLGS on running their Rebellion Day material for Age of Rebellion. They received the game kits last summer but couldn't find the time/people to run the promo adventure. So tentatively I'm going to be running the game on the 31st of Jan. Better late than never!

    A local leather shop and supplier has gone out of business, so the Missus and I grabbed a roll veg tanned leather to fashion into another helmet and possibly a sheath for my new Calimacil Scramasax before they closed their doors. We got almost 12 feet square of leather, so we'll have plenty for future projects.

    The design we're following/aiming for is going to be similar to the Viking Spectacle-style helm constructed [here], but out of leather instead of steel. I'll try to keep posted on our progress. For a sheath, I'm thinking of something similar to this design [here], though I'm sure it won't look as stellar given my crafting skill, but I'm lucky to be working with my talented partner!

    A similar design we're aiming for.

    On Sunday the 25th of this month there is a free Live Action Apocalypse Role Playing Paintball (LAARPP) game that I'm considering attending. If so it should be fun, some friends and I are going as a beach-bum-themed raider band: the Zegema Beach Raiders. (Mostly a inside joke; bonus points if you get the reference.)

    Again on the topic of Star Wars, amongst all the things I've been organizing has been my still-too-large collection of SW memorabilia. Though I just sold off some of it, and I'm planning to sell more, I think a share of the items don't really have any resell value. So I was thinking that next month during the weekend before GottaCon is my birthday, and I might use all these things as decorations and prizes in a Star Wars-themed birthday party. I just need to find a venue as our place is way too small to entertain large groups.

    Incidentally, they could also make excellent table prizes for Rebellion Day/GottaCon games!

    Finally, on the topic of exercising again, I was hoping to get some weapon training for MC during the off season with another group in town since Vanguard is also closed for the season, but alas my work and personal schedule have been preventing so. But the Missus and I have been doing something to together just as awesome: Learning to Swing Dance! We just had our first lesson last Thursday, and practiced what we learnt the following eve at the drop-in dance, both by Red Hot Swing.

    Learning to dance has definitely made me conscious of just how uncoordinated I can be. Hopefully with practice and diligence I'll become at least a passable swing dancer. :)

    Anyhoo, that's me in a nutshell. What've you been up to so far this year?

    Cheers! ;{١