The first game of the New Year, in our new apartment, was the kick-off of a campaign centered around Red & Pleasant Land by Zak S. For those not in the know: imagine Alice & Wonderland, if it was ruled by warring vampires mirroring Elizabeth Bathory and Vlad Dracul. I’m holding off on a formal review until my hard copy arrives, but I’m going to say this: I was impressed with Vornheim, as it wasn’t so much a complete guide to a city but instead a delightful toolkit set to a particular style and flavor of the author’s game. R&PL is much the same: it’s a very “broad stroke” setting. The details of the land are plentiful, but with tons of wiggle-room for you to make it your own. Folks wanting every location mapped out and scrutinized will be displeased; game masters like me who just want a flexible framework, with plenty of tools to assist, will be very happy.
Probably the best feature is how the book encourages for liberties to be taken. Although it’s designed for the Lamentations of the Flame Princess rules set, it’s written in a way that makes it easily adaptable to any preferred flavor of D&D. Also, the book is written in a verse that pretty much screams “Do what you want with this, it’s your game.” So I pulled out my RPG scalpel and began slicing and stitching as I saw fit.
Alice Northgood is the only daughter of wealthy aristocratic land owners, known all over for their pear orchard and grape vineyard. Although tall, healthy, and book-smart, Alice is also a bit of a firecracker and trouble maker. She’s been caught numerous times dabbling with witchcraft, as well as some other larcenous pastimes. She also has a knack for impulsive actions, which lead her further into trouble.
Beth is a devoted Paladin of St. Cuthbert. Hailing from a troubled past, she follows a zealous path of vengeance and retribution against corrupt forces.
Frang is a druid, the last of his tribe, and loyal friend to Beth after she slayed the witch who had cursed him into forced servitude for years.
Beth & Frang were visiting the town of Southwold for its annual Pear & Wine festival. After a night of festivities, a crier interrupts their hangovers for a call to aid. The Northgood estate was in dire need of any adventurers who were experienced in “hunting down and dealing with witchcraft and devil work.”
Answering the call, Beth and Frang arrived at the Northgood estate to inquire about the matter. They were met with a hysterical mother, and a bitter father, who were “deeply embarrassed” by the afflictions of their daughter Alice. She had woke up that morning without a reflection, instead finding only a note (in the mirror) in her hand writing that said “HELP ME.”
The suspected source of this “devil’s mark” was the young vistani lad, Zsilvester, that Alice had apparently “lost her virtue” to the night before. Agreeing to aid the family, Beth and Frang (with an insistent, won’t-take-no-for-an-answer Alice) set out from Southwold into the “Fair Forest” in search of the Vistani Encampment, in hopes of tracking down Zsilvester and, hopefully, young Alice’s reflection.
- We are playing with Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition rules.
- We are using the Ability Score Proficiency variant rules from the Dungeon Master’s Guide. One caveat is that instead of picking a second Ability proficiency tied to the character Background, I opted instead to just simply let the Background be the proficiency. My only rule is they don’t stack, and I have final say if an action allows a background proficiency bonus.
- For The Alice character class, we are using David Rollins’ 5e version. It’s less random, but still feels like an “Alice” character should.
- The “Quiet Side” of the Looking Glass is actually the D&D game world the players originate from. I’m striving to keep it somewhat whimsical, yet macabre, kind of like a Terry Gilliam sort of fantasy. Aristocrats are over the top with their poshness, bandits and peasants are dirty to almost obscenely comical levels, etc. It’s human centric, but Dwarfs and Halflings are around.
- Vistani replace Elves. They often travel the mists between the “Quiet Side” and the land of Unreason quite frequently.
- Alignment is kept to the 3-scale system (Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic) as interpreted by Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
- Also, obviously from the synopsis, I’ve altered the rules about merging with the “twin” when traveling to the other side. I haven’t decided if this was a freakish case for The Alice, or if it’s just going to be how I roll.
- We’ve also chosen to forfeit XP. Instead, every couple adventures will net a level-up. I started everyone at 3rd level, went ahead and bumped them up to 4th at session’s end (first time gaming in months, plus we had a long 8+ hour session.) My goal is to bring the campaign to an end around ~12th level.
Session 1 Recap
- Bandit Ambush: On their journey through the woods in search of the Vistani Encampment, the PCs happened on a couple “merchants” with a broken wagon wheel. This was meant to be a bandit ambush, but upon seeing the Paladin lift the wagon up while the druid attempted to affix a temporary sled, they were slightly intimidated. However, the Paladin noticed the tumbling of the bandits hiding in the wagon, and immediately called for them to identify themselves.
This turned into a nasty combat that resulted in a couple bandits being cleaved in half by the Paladin’s great sword, another taking a point-blank shot from Alice’s flintlock pistol, and the contents of the wagon being set on fire by the druid’s flame blade spell. At one point, Alice exasperated “Why must these types of conflicts ALWAYS be resolved with violence?” which resulted in her pulling out a second pistol as if by magic from her bodice, unloading it at the cab driver’s face (who just missed her with his crossbow.) One bandit fled the scene, another was brought to his knees to repent his wickedness. After soiling his pants and being harassed by Alice’s prestidigitation, he wept loudly and openly as he shamefully marched back to town defeated.
- The Vistani Encampment: Alice opted to enter the encampment boldly, but in a manner that didn’t threaten the inhabitants of the encampment. She approached playing her lute, with Frang banging away on a tambourine (and Beth rattling her alms box to the rhythm.) This made a good impression upon the Vistani, whose Matriarch informed them that Zsilvester had already moved ahead to the village of Kraighten to “trap some hares and kittens.” The player characters had never heard of this town, but were ensured that it was “deeper in the woods.” They were offered a place among a Vistani trade caravan that had intended to travel that way by night. Although put off-guard by their choice of travel time, the players suspiciously accepted to tag along.
(( At this point we broke for supper.))
- The Lurkers in the Woods: When we returned to gaming, I pulled a dick DM maneuver and announced “Okay, your characters wake up in a dark, foggy woods. You see no trace of the Vistani caravan, your personal belongings are still on you, but your horses are also missing.” Luckily, my players are cool when I pull a stunt like that. So the druid shifted in a wolf form, and attempted to track the scent of the Vistani in hopes of finding where they went. The characters were so focused, in fact, on the tracking that they totally didn’t see the giant, four armed, withering yellow humanoids with multiple faces and scythes for hands.
For those keeping score at home, what I did here was mix “The Guest” monster tables from page 47 of R&PL along with the Quick Monster Creation rules on page 247 of the DMG. I wanted something to A) Freak the players out (and let their characters know they weren’t in Kansas anymore) and B) Something that would kick their ass but could be dispatched.
So, as I had hoped, the Paladin walked right into Mr. Scythehands while Mrs. Scythehands accosted Alice with “hugs.” Frang attempted to grapple Mr. S with thorny vines, only to see them ripped away. Alice unloaded both of her pistols into Mrs. S, causing her to be at death’s door reeling in agony. Mr. S was eventually taken down, and Mrs. S was “mercifully” killed when it was obvious she could only communicate in screaming vowels with her 10 mouths.
- The Hamlet of Kraighten: The characters stumbled, eventually, into the hamlet of Kraighten. In R&PL terms, this was an “Orb Loc” (a human settlement ritually protected from the vampire King & Queen’s attention.) The inhabitants were oddly dressed, and likewise found the character’s peculiar — especially the Alice, who decided to strip down at the nearest fountain and change into less-bloody clothes. They rested up, disturbed some locals asking about mirrors (the town keeps no mirrors), and learned that Alice’s lover had once again evaded them to the town of Southwall (not Southwold, although directions sounded similar.)
For those keeping score at home: Yes, Kraighten is the small Irish town from The House on the Borderland.
- Riots in Southwall: The final act of our first session entailed the players riding back to Southwall. The town looked like their familiar homestead, but engulfed with the oppressive wooded canopy that has loomed over them since outside of Kraighten. To their surprise, they were first taken aback by the multi-colored. animalistic guards patrolling the city — all adorned in black uniforms with red crowns. Wanted posters with Alice’s face, claiming her to be “Enemy of the State, Bride of the Terrorist, and member of the Queen’s Court” were plastered all over. A few of them, though, had the words: EXECUTION TODAY stenciled over them.
They stumbled onto the town square, where the inhabitants jeered at the hooded figure being brought out for beheading. An exotic, wiry bird-man began to shout out a list of the crimes this “Malice Southcut” had comitted against the Red King. Alice herself was in the crowd, having disguised herself as a muddy peasant, and approached the stage in order to use her Mage Hand to muffle the bird-man’s speaking. Frang attempted to sabotage the staged disguised as an executioner/torturer, only to be unmasked. Guards drew pikes on Beth and Frang, but Alice remained incognito in the crowd. Frang shapeshifted into a rabbit (unaware of what that symbolizes in the land of Unreason), and fled out among the panicky crowds. Shots rang out not only from Alice’s pistols, but from a masked Zsilvester upon the rooftops as he fired his musket into the crowd (with everyone going “GASP! THE TERRORIST!”)
With the guards distracted, Alice unchained Malice, and together they both sprang into the crowd attempting to flee. Beth was engaged with the guards, taking some nasty blows and struggling to keep her guard up. Alice tripped over some townsfolk, causing Malice to trip over her, and both were engaged heatedly with some guards. Frang decided that, now that the town was in riot and chaos, to unshift and let loose a flaming sphere to roll around the town square. Malice managed to escape, Alice continued stabbing her assaulter with her daggers, and Beth broke off from her attackers as a ball of fire rolled over them.
- Pinning Down Malice: Alice had recalled in her exasperated state that her favorite hiding place entailed taking a dumbwaiter used for laundry at the local Inn from the backside of the building up to its attic. She managed to sneak her way in, with Beth following (Frang kept guard outside), and behold! Malice was inside laying low. After some arguing (including a heated discussion and some name-calling when it was revealed Zsilvester had slept with both of them) Malice admitted that, on her side at least, she and Zsilvester were involved in a rebellious plot against the Red King, whose armies were keeping the townsfolk corralled like cattle for feasting. Malice also explained, frantically, that until things go back “to normal” on her side, she cannot be Alice’s reflection (especially since their estate had been taken over, and the parents are likely eaten on her side of the Glass.)
Alice aggressively imposed that she needed her reflection back, to which Malice proclaimed “Oh, mom and dad are embarrassed because some gypsy plucked your flower? Over here, they’re likely being interrogated, if not devoured already. Fuck it, I’m going over to the Quiet Side.” This resulted in a crazy fight where Alice attempted to cuff Malice’s feet, and then was looking down the dual-pistols Malice kept in her bodice (Frang’s out of character comment: “Sucks to fight yourself sometimes!”) Beth, however, saved the day as she Abjured the fear of St. Cuthbert into Malice. From there, it was decided to lay low for an hour or so, and then sneak Malice out of Southwall. The plan was to move her to safety in Kraighten, and from there discuss what actions need to be taken so Alice can get her reflection back.