[Games Anatomy] A Red and Pleasant Land

At the time of release, the buzz about Red and Pleasant Land was that it would completely revolutionise the way we played Dungeons and Dragons and totally blow all our minds with its sheer inspirational quality. This is of course hype, which is short for hyperbole and also for things people say about products in order to make you buy them. Since I own and actually quite like Vornheim and am interested in everything Red and Pleasant Land is all about, I bought the thing, read through it, wrote several thousand words about it and then promptly failed to do anything with it for months. Now that it’s won an Ennie or three it’s probably time to bring those words out and give them an airing. The goal here is, of course, to derail the hype train and rummage the wreckage for evidential scraps.

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If you squint, you can identify how Zak has mashed up his source material, and maybe derive some insight into a creative process that’s sadly not discussed in explicit detail. Think about Alice in Wonderland. Identify a couple of incidents. Break them down into what actually happens and build them up into gameable D&D stuff (for the Lamentations of the Flame Princess imprint, of which more later).

The superficial features of Wonderland are there. Cheshire Cat? Check. Queen of Hearts? Check. Chessboard landscape? Check. The structure of Wonderland is there. Arbitrary and pointless behaviour/advice/conventions? Check. Surreality achieved through distortions of time, distance and relationships between objects? Check. A disconnection with the outside world, to which we can return when the pretence of structure collapses entirely. Checkity check check.

Wonderland is reduced to its elements, the things that make it distinct from stock Eurofantasy, and those elements are reassembled into something which is more open to player intervention, more blood-all-over-the-place and heavy metal in its aesthetics, and then that bloody steak is extended/muddled/tainted (delete as applicable) with the baked potato of Transylvanian vampire goings-on and the crunchy but barely there side salad of namedropped Arthuriana.

Anyway. The book. I bought the PDF so you’ll be spared any of the tedious business about covers, binding and paper quality and we can get straight into tasty, nourishing content. It opens with the DM section, which seems logical enough for a campaign/setting/supplement sort of thing, and offers…

A map of Voivodja, already on square paper for your gaming convenience, not particularly attractive but functional. Random encounter table sits neatly off to one side, colour-coded and laid out so you roll a different kind of die depending on what kind of terrain you’re in and cross-reference to one table. No duplication, keeps everything tied to a thematically appropriate set of grobblies. Some same-old stuff like trolls, wolves, giant bats, some Wonderlandy stuff like mome raths, and yes, there is a chance to fight a Jabberwock.

Flavour text about Voivodja, woven in and out of the gameables with varying success. It’s OK. It’s a little breathless, but it does the job of making me mildly curious and it’s never long enough for the style to grate as hard as the usual selfindulgent RPG tripe. Reads a bit like China Mieville (no wonder he likes it) and features the occasional wrench out of the purple prose and back into gamerese banality as Zak’s inherent ironic distance makes itself apparent.

Regular permission from the author to use it in the way that you see fit, instruction to avoid stock Eurofantasy tedium, encouragement to use the Quantum Ogre because this isn’t Discworld II [redacted: see comments]. Sad that he feels we need to be told, sad that some people probably do.

Surprisingly few random tables. A couple of concepts, like the three-dimensional co-ordinates in Voivodjese terminology, which is nice flavour but which you’d have to train yourself and your group into parsing (and Zak essentially admits that making up some imitation-Carrol nonsense is what you should be doing anyway), feel like a look-up table there on the page would be called for.

I know the setting has to be introduced, but I thought Zak’s big thing was that setting should be apparent from things like random tables and map keys and play aids, and that is how we should be told about your world. A foolish consistency is of course the hobgoblin of small minds, and this is more game-focused than the first, invariably fluff chapters in yr. average RPG would be, but I feel like he’s off form with some of this. It’s still mercifully short, and a lot more useful than making me wade through a ten page short story and a forty-page gazetteer before I get to the rules.

The gameables that do exist are bullet-point lists of how things like duelling, time travel and croquet work in Voivodja, as well as notes on major plot points that could/should happen and ways to find Voivodjan shit in the real world. I’m not entirely sure what Red and Pleasant Land wants to be at this stage, since this feels like bowling underarm, like it’s meant to be for new or inexperienced folks who don’t think of things like this themselves… but then, it’s a LotFP book and what are the odds you’ll have heard of it if you’re not already into the D&Ds? Anyway, duels and croquet are both decent, but my favourite of these sections is Behaviour of Creatures in Voivodja. Basically, people in Voivodja behave like idiot Transylvanian gamers having an Interwebs elbow-fight, which at least means the roleplaying shouldn’t be remotely challenging, arf arf…

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Next up: custom class, the Alice. Short version: it’s a LotFP Specialist with marginally worse HD/saves/skills, a scaling table to roll on every hour of in-game time to make the plot go forward, and a d100 table to roll on every time you level up, giving bonuses to odd stuff, the bonuses being derived from Wonderland (as you might expect). A slightly bumbling protagonist who’s been dunked into a world they don’t fully understand, but greet with determination to make the best of things. Like the Carcosa Sorcerer, it’s a class that represents its surroundings (and let the comparison stop there, please).

Presents the prospects of an all-Alice party, a lone Alice being escorted by more seasoned adventurers, or potentially applying the modifiers/bonuses to the Alice to another class for different formats of adventure (I immediately think of the Tim Burton film – Alice/Fighter, presumably – or maybe something a bit Simon-the-Sorcerer-ish with Alice/Magic User). It also raises a chord with other fish out of water protagonists – it could very easily be the Lyra or the Bilbo if you wanted to redraw the d100 table to reflect another literary vision.

All this could be managed without making up a new class (adding the d100 table to other classes would do), but it’s harmless, a bit inspiring, and you can just gleefully skip over the chapter if you’re one of those twonks who won’t accept anything that wasn’t squeezed out by Gygax himself.

People and Beasts are next.

Firstly: Elizabeth Bathyscape is the sort of first-edition WFRP pun name that’s only funny once. The only way I would touch that with a barge pole is to fence her about with all of her elaborate aliases and then have her real name be a) ridiculous and b) her secret weakness or something. Mr. S. says the head vampires are to be played as puzzle monsters rather than giant pools of hit points, after all.

Secondly: the efforts to make this both a LotFP book and a system-neutral inspiration manual might well clash in this section, since there’s a callout about the inconsistency of Da Roolz at higher levels and the need to adopt their spirit rather than the details. We’ll see how that turns out.

Thirdly: alignment seems to have fucked off, to be replaced by allegiance to one of four factions. I like this sort of thing, but I can see how it might be seen as a betrayal of core principles by people who think that alignment is there to govern who may turn whom and by what means, or that they need to categorise their character according to a top-down framework.

Ordinary Animals get a single column and a generic statline corresponding to what size your character’s been shrunk down to, which seems fair enough and in keeping with the source material. Other creatures are often directly Alice-derived with a “this is how they interact with D&D adventurers” twist, or are chessboard-based factional monsters like the White Bishop – a vampire cleric that has a recurring turns-into-toxic-white-slime motif. The Queens and Kings get a two-page spread, including a list of goals, means, and characteristics for adventure, which is… actually a lot more helpful than the “here’s a lengthy description of stuff that’s apparent from the rules” flavour text.

As is usual for LotFP products and for visions derived from Realms of Chaos, there is a HUGE set of rules for summoning randomly-generated eldritch abominations, chiefly composed of endless random tables on which you’re advised to pre-generate something horrible in advance (always stay one summon ahead). It feels impractical, burdensome, and at odds with Zak’s usual insistence upon flow and ease of reference, but it does at least ensure a suitably jumbled-up horror. I feel that a trick has been missed here; if you’re going to borrow the four-factions-of-demon thing from Warhammer, as is done here, then I think having a sort of semi-consistent demonic footsoldier for each (a kind of panic-button summoning, in essence) wouldn’t kill anyone.

Also, having had a go at poor Elizabeth, must admit: I’m actually laughing at some of the jokes in this section. The Insufferable and Crashing Boars raised a chuckle in particular, modelled as I suspect they are on typical internet commentators. It’s nothing overly sophisticated, this, but it’ll get a snort out of most tabletop dwellers and it adds a touch of character to the random encounter tables. Random encounters are not usually a part of my game: I can see why D&D has them but I find them to be timewasting. I’m disinclined to make my players fight a bear just because they’re travelling and something dangerous is ‘supposed to happen’, or because I want to wear down their resources to prolong the crawl experience. HOWEVER: the prospect of a herd of bickering pigs all insistent on telling you the most interesting thing that happened to them last week is entertaining enough (the first time) to make me consider it. It could do with a Pig Anecdote table, though: like the summoned horrors, these little detailed fiddly parts are the sort which often cause games to hang and I think tables for those are more useful than “what’s the monster in this square then?”, which is a much easier decision to make on the spur of the moment.

Section ends on rules for inconveniently vampirised PCs and a suitably pedantic ritual of reversal.

Two dungeons: the castles of the Red Queen and King.

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The maps are the first thing I’ve actually disliked. They’re not Zak’s worst ever, though: at least this time he’s actually drawing rooms rather than making a collage of things that are sort of like the thing that’s there. That concept-mapping stuff is doubtless brilliant if you’re an art student but I’m a visual illiterate and often I just want to know if the cheesery is upstairs or downstairs from the throne room and roughly how many rounds it’ll take to get from one to the other.

The two-dimensional representation of three-dimensional spaces in a style that’s actually useful for dungeoneering navigation isn’t easy. Mapping in Voivodja – where, in one case, there’s a right-angle straight up as gravity begins to misbehave dramatically for a goodly third of the castle’s internal architecture – is supposed to be a fool’s errand anyway. I think Zak’s Escher efforts are a fine demonstration of that principle, but they are also dense, crowded, and not easy on the eye. The example I’ve given is the most conventional of them.

Zak’s art is, I reckon, supposed to confront and unsettle. That’s fine in a gallery exhibit, but ease and flow and visual comfort are slightly more important in something that’s meant to illustrate what something looks like or how a space fits together. Vague depictions, jagged handwriting, cramped layout and a lack of soothing white space may be economic use of the page and may suit the author’s artistic priorities, but they make the book and especially the dungeon maps awkward to work with at a glance, and I want to look at a map and immediately tell where things are, not have to squint my way through intense visual clutter. Obviously, I don’t expect everything that works for Zak to work for me, especially in a volume which feels more and more like a section of his campaign notes, typed up and illustrated and shuffled into something to use or inspire, but it is something which might affect the usability of the work.

Anyway, dungeons. Both are written up without the tedious block of prose – just bullet points indicating what’s actually important, and a general passage at the beginning to set up what kind of castle they are, what you might reasonably expect to find on an ad-hoc basis. So far, so not TSR, so good.

(Although, one more gripe… if I read one more passage about how the furnishings are worth twice their weight in gold… It’s just maddeningly unhelpful if we don’t know how much they weigh. Perhaps that’s the point, but I would just like to look at something and see how many glods it’s worth and how heavy it is, not have to draw upon a wealth of pre-existing thoughts that I don’t have about tapestries and valuation. It’s another of those moments where there should be a quick answer to something and instead there’s a chance for the DM’s brain to hang while thinking about minutiae.)

The Red Queen one – Cachtice – is mostly of note for its constantly reshuffling/extending/collapsing architecture, its gravitational fuckery, and the denizens treading out their rather frustrated little lives as though it’s all perfectly normal. Gravity becomes a creativity/solution toy for some of the more conventionally dungeon-ish environments further up/across (much like shrinking or growing is necessary for Alice to move around the original Wonderland). The upper tiers are also notable for the plethora of impaled virgins in increasingly elaborate dioramas.

Poenari, the Red King’s palace, is more conventionally dungeon-ish and more Dracula-ish. As our author notes, it could be played as a straight-up, albeit frustrating, dungeon crawl, with additional funny-voices-and-intrigue roleplaying introduced via the intrigues of the Red Brides. Evil vampire duplicates of the PCs, three NPCs with mutually contradictory agendas and reasons to inveigle adventurers, objects which somehow realign the texture of a final encounter… this is a bit more conventional, in fact a lot of these things are things an early-career DM would in all likelihood think of by themselves. The imaginative bit is that the outwardly normal-looking near-deserted castle (full of little torture chamber vignettes, some of which have knock-on effects on others) unfolds into a sort of disconnected internal architecture, built around a single puzzle room, which is where all the interesting shit is.

Said interesting shit is laid out on another Zak map, distinct from that of the conventional castle, which, credit where it’s due, is easier to make sense out of than the last one. This may be because he’s not trying to cram everything onto one page, and instead he’s accurately representing the spatial relationships and making something that’s useful for a DM who’s not him. Likewise, the illustration and the verbal ‘if you’re having trouble with this’ notes for the inside-out puzzle room are actually helpful, in a belt-and-braces kind of way that supports different kinds of engagement with something tricky. The notes on the golem room cover a range of things that players are likely to try and do, or do by accident, in a room where there are things mimicking and duplicating their actions, and this can be played for advantage or disadvantage by canny players, and there’s potentially a risk of being unfair or inconsistent as a referee, and it’s all staked out pretty clearly. This whole dungeon feels less… showy… than the Red Queen’s one – this is the dungeon where Zak tries to help us out rather than blow our minds, and where he seems to have thought about where people are likely to brainfreeze and provide resources for that.

If you’re now thinking that the dungeon with the most interesting architecture could stand to be the one where there’s less other nonsense going on to detract from that, while the dungeon with the most interesting social dynamics should be the one where those dynamics aren’t obscured by the practicalities of getting around, congratulations, you think like me. As it stands, one of the dungeons feels comparatively overdone compared to the other, as though more effort has been made to render it unconventional.

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After that there’s a clutch of sample locations – two-page maps ranging from the adequate to the inconvenient (the Garden location is either supposed to be a series of free-floating objects in space or it’s one of those conceptual-space maps where only the important stuff is shown, and the Interior one is basically Zak’s Escher fanart with some notes stuck on it).

Some decent house rules for nobility, duelling and military command (which, correct me if I’m wrong, appear in the Original Game but not in LotFP, and which are actually quite sensible and player-focused rather than ghastly wargamerese); one new spell; and a clutch of tables and resources, the character of which will be familiar to anyone who knows jack-all about Vornheim, the Porn blog, or dropping dice on a Kindle and weeping.

Sample tables include origin stories for native Voivodjans (similar to D&D 5’s backgrounds); Wonderland oddities of the [Verb] Me variety; arbitrary taxes, background events, and idiotic conversation starters. Some of the brainfart opportunities from earlier are filled in, although I still think it’s better design to have things near the things that need them (like a dedicated chart for the Pig Anecdotes and a look-up table for the terminology used in mapping). There are also player handouts – a copy of the bullshit chess puzzle from the Red King dungeon and a fragmentary, defiled copy of the map. And that’s yer lot. What of it?

Well, it’s not bad. It’s an above-average setting book, and I suppose it does do for LotFP what Slaves to Darkness does for WFRP, so mission accomplished Zak, well done. (I don’t, however, think that Realms of Chaos is actually the best RPG book ever, but that’s an argument for another time.) If LotFP had been my first RPG and this had been my first setting book I’d a) be deeply fucked up and b) feel like I’d had a decent enough grounding in how these things are meant to work. I could go on and make up my own campaigns and adventures having got a feel for how the game is played.

(For anyone who’s counting, I’m interested in the find-a-croquet-hoop-in-some-horrible-far-flung-place hook, the vampires-come-through-mirrors-and-abduct-fresh-blood-for-their-grand-guignol-Wonderland hook and the Red King’s dungeon run as-is, ’cause I have one player who loves anything remotely to do with Alice and another who’s goth as fuck and crazy for the American McGee games: both of them will eat this stuff up wholesale.)

It does a more clear and more engaging job of ‘vampire-themed RPG with politics and weirdness’ than anything White Wolf have spewed up in the last ten years and, despite some overlap in territory, it’s not the blatant reskinning of Ravenloft that I’m sure someone out there was expecting. It’s definitely… not bad.

It’s also not a life-changing revelation. I don’t feel like a complete idiot for having bought it – a few bits have inspired me, a few rooms in the dungeons have raised a curious eyebrow, a few jokes have made me titter. BUT I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. While there are specific things in here of which I might not have thought, I don’t feel that any of it has lifted the scales from my eyes. I keep harping on about how it feels like a more entry-level product than it is and maybe that’s the answer, maybe it’s pitched at people who have trouble breaking out of the usual D&D experience rather than people who have trouble breaking into it.

In sum: valuable for the inexperienced, if any of them are coming direct to LotFP-land, though how that might happen I’ve no idea. Unnecessary for anyone with significant DM experience, though worth a look. Possibly best read as a demonstration of how you can break down and rebuild inspirations to make a setting: try to pick apart the process rather than blithely use the product.

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  • Zak Smith

    I don’t encourage people to use the Quantum Ogre. Where’s that?

    • Von

      You didn’t do so directly, but there was something which seemed reminiscent of it. It might have been the part about having the dungeons randomly connect to other locations if you felt like it. On rereading, I don’t believe that’s an accurate comment on my part, and I’m perfectly willing to redact it.

      • Zak Smith

        Yeah, better do that. I mean: deciding where randomly generated content connects in a place that follows Lewis Carroll logic is one thing–having players make choices that don’t mean anything is quite another.And advice I’d never give.

        • Von

          OK, so I’ve gone in twice and tried to edit the post: WordPress allows me to edit and even press the Update button, but apparently that’s as far as my authority goes. This isn’t the first technical issue we’ve had with this post, either. My apologies: a redaction will be forthcoming just as soon as someone can work out how to implement it.

          While you’re here and while the subject’s in play: there are grounds on which I have a tiiiny bit of sympathy for the Quantum Ogre. The original terms on which the Ogre is defined are very spartan: if you’re the sort of DM who lovingly prepares elaborate resources which never get used, I can see how it’d be more tempting and less… sinful, for want of a better word, to ensure that those resources are used. There are better ways to work around it, mostly to do with session and campaign structure, but I can see a grain of merit in it.

          No point in doing it for random content though, I agree.

          • Honestly, all your technical issues are browser related. If you were to jump in with Firefox or Chrome you’d be fine.

          • Von

            All right, I’ll try it in Firefox. How come it’s only the House WordPress where I have this problem, though? The other site interfaces work fine.

          • I’d guess it’s related to the plugins used here and/or the theme used. One of those variables is causing fits with your browser.

          • Zak Smith

            I think finding ways to acquire the reward of the prepared content or set-piece while not paying the cost of having the players lose long-term investment in the idea of their choices mattering is an interesting subject.
            But I think it bears a more complex examination than the situation the Quantum Ogre typically presents: A fork in the road that is purely cosmetic.

          • Von

            Agreed. Although, in the most superficial of terms, the effect is the same (player choice has illusory significance), moving a generic encounter with a generic ogre just because you want there to be an ogre there is… let’s say “not something I’d advise players to do either”, or “bloody stupid”. Whichever you prefer.

          • Zak Smith

            I don’t know what you mean by this ” (player choice has illusory significance),”

          • Von

            It’s almost the same thing you mean by: “having players make choices that don’t mean anything”.

            The significance of the choices made by players is illusory if the players don’t know or have reason to suspect that the option they choose doesn’t matter. The choice presumably still means something to them unless they know it’s an illusion.

            However: to the best of my knowledge,
            this is all territory that Courtney (it was Courtney, right?) covered in
            the original posts on the Quantum Ogre. I don’t think we need to rehash that. I’d be interested in the conversation about finding ways to acquire the reward of the prepared content or set-piece
            while not paying the cost of having the players lose long-term
            investment in the idea of their choices mattering is an interesting
            subject, but maybe another time?

            Also, redaction issued.

          • Zak Smith

            cool. thanks for taking time to take a look at the book in such detail

          • thanks for coming over and talking about this. I was unaware this was a thing, and so I am about to buy it just due to your being involved- I’m an unmitigated fangirl.

          • Zak Smith

            Thanks! If you’re an unmitigated fangirl then you might want to check the blog more often, since this thing’s been being talked about over there for quite a while

          • I remember seeing the art and loving it. I check in less frequently than I would like due to running this madhouse, and I fully admit to glossing over LotP related stuff as it is not my cup of tea at ALL. However, this is a much appreciated reminder to read your site more often!

          • Zak Smith

            Just about the only time I post about LotFP is when talking about this book (and Vornheim) because LotFP published it

          • I know all about Vornheim (I own two copies because my friends love me) but somehow missed this. I promise I will do better at admiring everything you do!

  • Thuloid

    Good post, though it honestly took me a bit to tell what precisely you were talking about, and I had to google a few things: Quantum Ogre, LotFP, Vornheim, China Mieville. But then, I haven’t actually DMed anything in a couple years, and haven’t DMed a D&D edition past…2nd, I think. Simply not up on what the market holds. But an interesting dip into a world I’m not really part of right now.

    Pity about those question marks, though.

    • Von

      It took a fair amount of wrangling to get the wretched thing posted at all. Goodness knows why. Future transmissions will, I hope, be less contaminated.

    • fiendil

      I found this when googling quantum ogre. Hope it’s a hypothetical conversation, cos I went into spasms at the end of it…

      https://www.reddit.com/r/rpg/comments/2b3qsx/the_quantum_ogre_a_dialogue/

      • Von

        It’s a thought experiment which doesn’t adequately address complex situations arising from play. As I said to Zak: if I have put a lot of effort into making resources for an encounter I will take steps to ensure that those resources get used. Actually, that’s not strictly accurate: it’s more that if I am damn sure that an encounter needs resources I will break play to prepare those resources before resolving it. There’s no risk of wasted effort that way.

        • fiendil

          Looked at as a thought experiment illustrating that it’s the job of both the player and the gm to create a story, the player to not demand that he gets to play in god mode, and the job of the gm to create interesting challenges with player agency, and to not let the player play in god mode (unless there’s a very good dramatic reason to do so), that makes a lot more sense.

          I don’t do or see much rpg these days, but this week I had conversations with two gms. One said he’s got a player who gets *really* stressed when bad things happen to his character, so he’s got to gm with that in mind, which is a bit of a challenge. And the other said that because he’s both busy and lazy, he doesn’t want to do homework, and wants adventures to be presented so that he can present them as he reads them, without having to use quantum ogres and such.

          (I just know I sucked at GMing, the times I’ve tried it, but it’s interesting getting into the thought processes of people who do make it work.)

  • johnwhytenz

    Hi Von,
    If you do not want your pdf copy please feel free to email it to me. I’m short on funds and would quite like to try running it, it might kill my players from frustration (at least now I’ve read your review) but hey that could be an improvement right?

    • Von

      I’ll consider it. I am actually half tempted to take up Mr. S’s suggestion in ref: having Voivodja lurk on the other side of mirrors in another game world, though. Since I run a pseudohistorical game with vampires in it, set in Transylvania, I’d rather not look a gift horse in the mouth.

  • Cedric Ballbusch

    It’s been awhile since I read through my copy of LotFP, but as I recall it invest a fair amount of time of ‘newbie instructions’. Which, I thought odd since I assumed anyone in possession of a copy of LotFP would have to be a fairly hardcore RPGer.

    • Von

      I sometimes wonder if they’re one of those things that authors feel they just have to have. They do no harm in a set of core rules – there’s always the chance that someone will pick THIS up and it be their first RPG – but that doesn’t stop them feeling a little at odds with the work itself.

  • The design in that book looks very cool. I like it. I don’t think I’d ever run my players through it though because I’m not a big fan of adventures based on an extended reference to another work. Generally the lighter the touch in terms of inspiration the better for my taste, but I do understand that a lot of people like “inspired by” adventures. I also can’t stand China Mieville’s writing 😛

    I got the impression from what you wrote that Lamentations of the Flame Princess is some sort of D&D variant. What exactly do you mean by that? That it (and thus this Red and Pleasant Land book) are easily compatible 3rd party things, or just that they are D&D variants more broadly?

    • Von

      It’s a bit more than an extended reference, but I take the point about being able to see what came from where.

      The amount of my friends and acquaintances who can’t stand Mieville’s writing is beginning to concern me.

      Lamentations of the Flame Princess is a variant D&D rules set, which I’d describe as “basically OD&D with ascending Armour Classes and some neat house rules for a less-Dark-Ages-more-early-modern society in the background”. Red and Pleasant Land is definitely written for something like D&D but the emphasis on describing what things do, rather than what they are, means conversion is a matter of “read this description and work out how to mechanise that in your game”. They’re written with sufficiently clarity that that’s not difficult.

      • “Red and Pleasant Land is definitely written for something like D&D but the emphasis on describing what things do, rather than what they are, means conversion is a matter of “read this description and work out how to mechanise that in your game”. They’re written with sufficiently clarity that that’s not difficult.”

        Well that sounds good.

        In case you’re worried that there is some sort of Mieville backlash in the offing, I’ve always hated his writing. A bunch of my online D&D friends on the Paizo boards were extremely excited by him back in the early 2000s. I bought Perdito Street Station and I just couldn’t get past the first two centimetres of it. I tried three times before I sold it. Then a few years later I tried to read the City one, in case it was just that I didn’t like his first book, but no. Also couldn’t get into it.

        I like what he stands for, I like the idea of him, I even like the idea of his stories. I just can’t stand his writing.

        • Von

          It’s definitely an acquired taste. I enjoyed Iron Council immensely once I’d decided to sit down and enjoy it, if that makes sense. If I’d come in with The City And The City I might have been less charitable: that’s a book that’s not as clever as it thinks it is.

          As a matter of interest, have you read Gormenghast?

          • You know, I haven’t. I picked it up last year for the first time after meaning to read it for years. I think I got about ten pages in, thought “wow, this is astonishingly good writing” and then put it down because I didn’t feel as though I had the resources at that time to read it and enjoy it properly.

            Funnily enough, I had a similar reaction to Perdidio Street Station, except I didn’t feel the writing was great. I don’t have much patience for reading florid and convoluted styles. I generally appreciate sparseness and economy much more.

          • Benderisgreat

            Everyone should. It’s pretty good, although it’s a shame Peake became physically unable to finish writing the series as he had planned it.

          • Von

            It’s a tragedy, but Titus Alone is such a glorious fever dream that it’s almost worth it. ALMOST.

  • fiendil

    I’ve been vaguely eyeing this one as a curiosity. I’ve not roleplayed in about 12 years, but I’m another one with a thing for the American McGee games.

    No idea if I’d ever find anything constructive to do with it though…

  • Also, Von- this is my favorite thing you’ve written by far. THANK YOU!!!!! for going back to RPG land. Boss Lady APPROVED

    • Von

      Awww. My pleasure.

      I could stand to do more reviews of LotFP stuff, if that’s a thing in which people are interested. Or Dark Albion now that it’s out. Or… what did I just download… Dreams of Ruin. More RPG content?

      • Benderisgreat

        Since LotFP stuff is usually batshit insane, I endorse and approve of more reviews/playest articles/etc of it.

        • Von

          I was going to do Carcosa next but my mate the Prince of Nothing has started covering it and Kent wrote a thoughtful review that said most of what I’d say.

          I would add only that Carcosa’s “roll all your dice and consult a chart to see which one actually counts” damage-dealing mechanic is aggressively bloated, and the randomising of hit points at the start of every combat is… well, I can see what he was trying to achieve, but ultimately it’s a faff.

          • Benderisgreat

            That last line is indicative of a lot of what I see of the LotFP stuff.