Saturday, January 10, 2015

Review: Vornheim

So, I vacillated about buying Vornheim for quite a while.  I was put off by its association with Lamentations of the Flame Princess and left a bit confused by the descriptions of it in reviews I'd read.  It sounded intriguing but probably full of stuff that was weird-and-obnoxious rather than weird-and-very-cool.  But I finally decided to take the plunge (I bought the pdf version) and see what happened.  Happily it turned out to be the weird-and-very-cool variety.

The first thing you notice, right on the cover, is the artwork.  Zak has a style which is very modern and a refreshing change from the typical Hildebrant-based high fantasy or anime-inspired styles one comes to expect in an RPG book nowadays.  One of the first things I do with any gaming book is flip through and check out the art.  Except for the cover and the unusual city map it's all in black-and-white, which I'm fine with.  The city map in the book is also available as a separate downloadable pdf, which is great--I love when handouts, maps, charts, etc. are available like that.

The book is not your typical map with keyed locations, although there are a couple places done up as explorable locations.  I particularly liked the Library of Zorlac, with multiple weird librarians, snakes you can read like books (with a special device), secret doors with specified triggers, and other cool bits.

There is also a little bit of material on the world outside Vornheim which is optional--although they made me want to see Zak do some regional "Vornheim" kits.  I'd also like to know more about the twelve medusa sisters who are said to have saved the world. Zak has lots of stuff on his blog you can rummage through to add in here.

The rest of the book is mostly methods to roll up locations and NPCs quickly mid-play.  Now, I love the idea of a huge, super-detailed "mega-dungeon" style city module.  But I've found that that type of product to be impossible to memorize enough to run smoothly.  The DM spends huge amounts of time reading descriptions during play to keep up with where the players are right now.  This book, however, allows you to roll up only what you need right now and sort of build your version of Vornheim as you go along.  The DM just needs to keep some notes and the city creates itself for future use.

The book also has the Item Cost Shortcut method, which creates five classes of goods to buy named after the penny, nickel, dime, quarter, and dollar [I'd use penny, shilling, crown, pound, and guinea] is fun and perfect for when you don't have (or want) a DM's guide full of prices.  This method is applicable to any game as are most of the lists and rules in Vornheim.

One thing which only gets a little mention is deities and their temples.  When I design up a city for a fantasy RPG one of the first things which go down on the map are all the temples.  For a pre-modern society the temples are big part of the urban landscape.  In many cases the cities are literally built around them, such as in Mecca.  In line with this being a generic city kit, only two deities and their temples are presented.  Both are unique, which is fun, but each only gets a quick description.

Bottom Line: this is a pretty cool book.  If you're thinking about buying it, jump in and get a copy.

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