It is much what I hoped it would be, an extremely gamey tool for the table top. I also hoped it would contain great examples of how good gaming content can be, how interesting it can be and the book exceeded both expectations handily.
Zack Smith's A Red & Pleasant Land is extremely good. If you play or run rpg's it is currently the most useful, informative and attractive game product on the shelf right now and should have your interest.
I was grabbing gruesome gaming gobbets immediately. Here is my splash list of favorite first impressions;
Guests (fuckin' hell this monster is beyond totally Pearl Jam before they went big in '89 cool), Instant Dungeon Template, Foreclusions, Sample Locations, The Alice, The Slow War, Conversation Openers...
These are what I found in, I don't know, first two minutes of flipping pages. Innumerable elements from the book which can be just lifted out and used by the enterprising game master in their own campaign. I want that, I pay money for this kind of product. I should say I've put money down on game products many times and rarely get any return like this. The table resources and optional rules section are outrageous gears in which you can learn to drive your games. If you look at these in the book and are lost and mystified on how to utilize them you need to accept the fact you don't know what the point of an rpg is and need instruction. The good news is this instruction is available, for free, in the avalanche of gaming blogs talking about how table top rpg's are awesome and here is why. Just requires cursory note taking.
The hard coded setting material provides endless fuel for players and game master's imagination. Obvious superiority of the campaign material outlined in the small, dense book to anything currently in your library will provide all the hooks you need to enter the adventure into your current game. Or convince you you need to tear down and start over...
Criticising the work will be hard. There will be folks like myself who are in love with this piece, and will be quick to attack weak comments which discounts the books accomplishments. For those who can point out flaws in the work, as nothing is ever perfect, will have to keep it tight, and well, will take more work than my rank praise seems to be to crank out.
I'm the kind of person who doesn't get why something resonates or falls flat with me the first time I experience it. Zack has the talent, like most successful artists, to see these connections. I don't but thankfully I will stubbornly stick to the stink of instinct.
What I learned, what surprised me, what was my takeaway from the book, what helped me find deeper appreciation for the activity I like to spend soooo much time on since I was like eleven was the use of live models in the illustrated artwork. I understood these illustrated characters of the book to be modeled off of the people who actually play in Zack's D&D game. I'm just taking this from the Zack's video taped game session which he made public. Zack's renderings gush affection and respect for his players. That the participants are loved by the author. That this DM recognizes what the point of the exercise is. To honor the players with the best that you can give them every time.
Wow, cool. Missed that for way too many years of gaming.
It is, for those who care to approach the product with open GM eyes, a big holler of how big of a hill you have to climb. How far you have to go to be a good Game Master, how far you have to go to give your players the respect they deserve, and just now, if you have been playing since, I don't know, eleven, the information and support you need to accomplish this mind numbing colossal task is suddenly bubbling out of the god dam internet since 2009 (Zack is not the only one getting it this good, go find them) letting you know you are not alone. Awesome!