Your Prince is proud to present you with another exciting installment in my interminable review of Dracula/Alice in Wonderland Punk-Mashup campaign setting Red and Pleasant Land. Today we shall be taking a look at RaPl’s monster section. In part II of this review I hinted at the fact I thought it was very good. I stand by that statement even though some of the monsters are fucking stupid. I will attempt to articulate why.
Its kind of challenging to review a monstrous manual or a monster section. I should do it more often. There are several ways to go about it. My attempt will be to find a sort of general trend and provide examples where needed, rather then going through it monster for monster. Red and Pleasant Land has 49 pages worth of monsters. As can be extrapolated from what I have described so far, the monsters consist mainly of disturbing variations on the personages and creatures described in Alice in Wonderland and Vampires and sometimes they are one and the same thing. And puns. So many silly puns.
Attempts are made to ease the conversion process by adding a reference to each creature entry. For example, The Red King has a 16th lvl fighter entry, giving a general indication of what kind of template the creature is based on. This works fairly well, and I approve.
Let us begin with the Vampires(and RaPl has a shitload of vampires). All Vampires in RaPl must either Charm or grapple before they may commence their level draining bite. RaPl foregoes the usual immunities to normal weaponry and regeneration, reasoning that with the amount of fucking vampires running around, it would get old quick. Vampires can only be permanently killed if they are staked or exposed to direct sunlight, anything else and they assume some sort of alternate form varying from vampire faction to vampire faction, flee and reassemble elsewhere in the form of a chesspiece or playing card which is INVULNERABLE. This means you either stake the fuckers while they are still alive (a challenging prospect at the very least) or you find their hideout and try to get their invulnerable card or chesspiece shape into the sunlight(and risk them reforming as you carry them along). No xp for temporarily murdering them.
The Vampires of Voivodja are divided into 4 factions. You have your Red King obviously based on Vlad the Impaler, who ruled all of the Land of Unreason when it still made sense, your Heart Queen who is the usurper, the Pale king who is still undecided on who to back(and his retainer, the mad hatter) and the Colourless Queen who has designs of her own. Each faction is similar to a side of chess in make-up; each has a king, a powerful servant(or servants), undead bishops(anti-bishops with blasphemous creeds and abilities that inhibit divine magic), Rooks(lumbering antropomorphic behemoths that serve different purposes depending on the faction, ranging from oracles to essentially living battering rams), Knights(like knights only vampiric) and pawns(the vampiric commoners). The Heart faction further complicates matters by having 4 different pawns(based on the suites, so clubs diamonds etc.) and a jack but I digress. All have different abilities(sort of, the knights are all very similar), bizarre quirks or grotesque appearances. Each has notes on how it interacts with players and, often, with other creatures, which is what makes them good. Random sample, Red Pawns have 15 ft needles for legs and stride across the land, impaling small creatures.
Considering a large percentage of your stay in voivodja is going to involve talking to, yelling at, working for, working against and especially murdering FOOKIN VAMPIRES I give this section my reluctant stamp of approval. I’m not that into the silly/whimsical side of fantasy or bizarre vampires, I like my fantasy like I like my coffee, pitch black and laced with goverment issued heroin, but these are alright. Some have special abilities are nice and varied and bizarre(Power Word: Crawl, [Ask riddles that inhibt movement, cause damage on a wrong answer], a weird eelcurse that causes anyone under 5HD the target touches or kills in combat to transform into a pile of lampreys that bite and attack and die after 4 rounds etc.) and occasionally disgusting and puerile(Tashia’s Hideous Vomiting(like the laughter), Blasphemous Frolic(anyone within 50 feet needs to save or get the urge to desecrate, vomit on and fondle corpses).
Of particular note are the decapitated kings, petrified beheaded bodies of the rivals of the queen of hearts. Placing their heads(one would need to find those first, plot hook!) on their bodies restores them. Placing the wrong head on the wrong head creates hilariously psychotic anti-monarchs for great fun(and Zak wrote out a bunch of results for which head on which monarch).
If we exempt some critters(mome raths, weird giant flowers with heads, a weird snake-gilla monster that burrows up your orifices and attacks one specific organ, the jub[a symbiotic hunting pair of a giant flightless bird and a reptile with glowy eyes] and miniature crocodiles) the rest is based on or inspired by classic mythology and the works of Lewis Carrol. Notably missing is the bandersnatch, frumious or otherwise. The reverse aging and perpetually drunk Mad Hatter and his companion, the Al-miraj in service to the Pale King, The deeply troubled age-changing Jabberwock, the sphinx that chases eternally the unicorn but never catches it, a flightless Gryphon that, like the sphinx, is a good source of information[but only if you get him drunk first], a carrion-crawler smoking caterpillar presiding over a giant mushroom that shrinks and grows as the strange tides of time in Voivodja twist and turn, chesire cat etc.
And I forgot the Guests. Basically, each faction is trying to bolster its forces with summoned guests from various lovecraftian outer dimensions. These guests may be randomly generated in what I can heartily recommend as one of the greatest random daemon generator ever seen, have random abilities, most of which are great and interesting and in general, succeed in being really fucking creepy and disturbing and outerworldly. Seriously. There was one ability that liquefied your bones and organs with each round no save permanent unless magic heal, another that grants fucked up wishes, lava for blood etc. Most are very good and interesting and disturbing. These are great.
My enthusiasm for this menagerie of farcical grotesqueries is not very high. I am not a big fan of the weird bizarre aesthetic(the rooks fucking rock though). So why do I think the monster section is very good? I think its very good because they are firmly enmeshed within the setting, have their own motivations(however brazenly illogical), have relationships with other things in the setting, have codes of conduct so as to facilitate interesting roleplaying and not merely the snicker-snackering of heads from necks, set the theme, most have unique and interesting abilities [without going overboard] and the rewards for killing them or helping them often involve far more then merely gold. Murdering the jabberwork for example, stabilises the age of the hatter and gives one an indication of the age of the Slow war, allowing the players to predict shit and use that to their advantage(though sadly Zak does not give an example). Its a good bestiary because it fits the setting and theme perfectly. Still not sure if I like Red and Pleasant Land or not.
Next up, the two castles and the sample adventure locations.
Update: In retrospect I should have cought this. The Rooks are based off of Tweedledee and Tweedledum/Humpty Dumpty. The mome raths and the organ burrower(the Tove) are also the spiritual descendants of the worthy works of Carrol. I apologize for my deficient scholarship and hope no one was harmed.