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Friday, July 15, 2011

Vornheim: The Complete City Kit - Review: A Must Have for Any DM

If you are a blogger, or follower of the OSR blogging/forums world, chances are you've already heard of Vornheim.  For the uninitiated, Vornheim: The Complete City Kit details the city used by Zak S. in his D&D campaign.  The title, serving itself as a "complete city kit" is a bold one, but it is no misnomer.  As Zak points out in his introduction, the supplement is not so much a detailed overview of Vornheim as it is a tool designed for any DM to use to bring a city to life...on the fly.  

Vornheim is not vanilla fantasy, first and foremost.  This is a city in the vein of something you might see by Neil Gaiman, Tim Burton, or Guillermo Del Toro as opposed to Gygax or Greenwood.  It is a dark, cold, and vast sprawl with twisted black spires and bridges connecting the buildings from above.  It is a place where wizards and sages acquire knowledge and lore by reading the skins of serpents, a nightingale runs a menagerie of twisted and fantastic creatures, and humunculi possess victims by invading their skulls in the most literal sense.  Even if you prefer your fantasy vanilla, however, there is still plenty of very useful and helpful info within its pages.

Within this tome you'll find a brief overview of the city of Vornheim, with just enough information to give you a feel of the cultural climate of the city.  Included are 3 adventures set within its walls, which effectively serve to give the players a sense of the overall strangeness that surrounds the place.  In this way, Zak "shows" rather than simply "tells" you what makes Vornheim tick.  What really makes this supplement shine as more than just a place to run some adventures, are the tables within.  There are tables for influential NPCs with ideas for adventure hooks attached, encounter tables while your players are traversing the city, tables on book types PC's may stumble upon, and even a quick and easy mechanic using a d6 for crafting a room layout should your party enter an area in the city you hadn't prepared for.  As Zak points out, this supplement isn't about detailing every nook and cranny of a city, it's about using quick and interesting resources to help you get to the good stuff without being bogged down in the mire of having to plan for things your players may never see or experience.

The art within is well presented, imaginative and fits in quite nicely with the theme of the book and Vornheim itself.  The dungeon maps and layouts are unorthodox and unconventional in presentation, which might frustrate some people, but taking the time to look it over you'll find it easy enough to get used to.

I unfortunately have not yet received my hardcover copy yet, but as soon as you order, the PDF is made available instantly, which makes this an even sweeter product.  At roughly $26 with shipping, it's a hell of a deal.

Vornheim is, in my opinion, one of the most innovative RPG products I've seen in years.  It is exactly what it claims to be, a city building toolkit designed to make life easier for the DM and provide a vast and interesting urban sprawl for your players.  If you are even remotely entertaining the possibility of a city-based campaign, you need this book.

**UPDATE 7-22-2011**


Vornheim: The Complete City Kit

Having now received my hardcover copy of Vornheim, I'd like to take a moment to discuss the physical print copy.  The book is 6" x 8.5", with a slip cover which contains a fantastic map of the city of Vornheim.  Although the map is not entirely practical for gaming purposes, it is a fantastic piece of art which illustrates the style of both the book, and the city in which it describes.   The paper is not glossy, but still of good quality, and while the font is a bit small, it is certainly not so small as to be rendered unusable.  The outer hard covers include charts which require the roll of a single d4 which can provide you with a multitude of information for various options including locations, attacks, and characters.

The binding is tight and durable, and the compact size of the book allows it to be easily included with your typical gaming resources at the table.  And within this compact tome, is a wealth of city building information that can speed up your urban game sessions tremendously.  I dare say I have never before seen so much useful information packed into one compact book.  While the PDF alone is certainly fantastic, there's nothing quite like having a hardback copy.  As stated previously, this is one of the best and most useful RPG products I've seen in years, and perhaps ever.