Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2011/08/23/tabletop-revi-
I read gaming blogs voraciously. My RSS feed is filled with OSR blogs and science fiction RPG blogs, blogs about the 80’s games of my wasted youth and blogs written by new economy entrepreneurs selling their print-on-demand wares. Through my blog reading, I found Zak S. and his blog, Playing D&D With Porn Stars. Not having listened to the podcast I Hit It With My Axe, I had no idea who Mandy Morbid was and what exactly was going on in the city of Vornheim. I was ready to leave his blog and move on when I read an article, the exact one is lost to memory, and I realized something: Zak S. knows what he is talking about. Not only does Zak know what he is talking about, he has amazing ideas.
I apologize now for what may seem like excessive hyperbole. Before I held this book in my hands, I thought the exuberance other reviewers had towards Vornheim was unfounded. People were calling this the best RPG sourcebook in the last ten years, if not since the Golden Age of D&D. How could a 64 page book be deserving of so much praise?
Vornheim is the physical expression of Zak’s particular brand of genius. A slim 64 page volume, Vornheim is roughly the same dimensions of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess boxed set and the original Little Brown Books of Dungeons and Dragons. While it may not match your 1st Edition hardcovers, this is a well-constructed example of the bookbinder’s craft. There are no wasted surfaces on the book, and useful content drips from the pages. The slick, full color dustcover has a moody painting of a purple-maned warrior in combat with a gargoyle and a map of the city on the interior. As with all of the art and words in Vornheim, the painting is a product of Zak S.
Rare is the RPG book that needs a description written on the subject of its cover, but Vornheim is no ordinary book. The cover, sans dustcover, is white with black numbers and text. With a handful of d4’s and the key, which is also printed on the inside of the cover, NPCs, Creatures, Monsters, and Locations can be generated in a few seconds. The back cover can help run mass combats super-fast or just tell you where an arrow his. Without even opening the book, Vornheim justified a place in my gaming satchel. Yes, I carry a satchel.
The interior is split in half. The first half is a description of the cold, grey city of Vornheim. Unlike other city books, like the Volo’s Guides, this is not a street by street description, but instead a collection of facts and rumors, which seem to have equal weight in Vornheim. The richness of the ideas here are palpable. Reading snakes make perfect sense to me, after reading it here, and almost every idea presented is the same way. There is an easy, matter of a fact tone to the weirdness that makes even the blatantly ridiculous work. Flailceratops, a tribute to the oft snickered at Flail Snail, feels right in this context, especially when rendered in Zak’s Mike Mignola and Bill Sienkiewicz informed pen and ink style. That the GM is encouraged to run their own Vornheim and not subscribe to an orthodox continuity makes for a much more useful book.
The second half is a meaty selection of tables and charts. Did the party find a dead body? There’s table for what they might find on it. Searching a library? There is a table for that. Need to generate a floorplan for a building? There is a system for that so simple it makes me want to make a whole castle. Even if you are not playing in a city, the charts included have a use. More than a guide to a city, this is a guide to how Zak runs a game. For a GM who favors a loose, sandbox style of game, Vornheim is a treasure trove of methods for my madness.
In the end, the only negative I can think of for Vornheim is the name. This is not a book about a city, this is a book about all cities. I guess that would explain the subtitle being ‘The Complete City Kit’. Every GM of D&D style games who thinks they might ever have a party wander into a city should take a look at Vornheim. For my money, there is no more useful book for a GM to have in their satchel. Is there a more butch name for a satchel?
[5 of 5 Stars!]