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Confession time: In my 15-ish years of roleplaying I've never played Dungeons & Dragons, any version. In fact I've never played any of the traditional swords & sorcery games released in those early days of roleplaying. And I've never played any of the recent 'retro-clones' such as Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord. So how come I'm reviewing this, a product published under the banner of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, a big mover in the old school renaissance?

Because it doesn't take an old school roleplayer to see this book is brilliant.


Tower of Pudding & Wine

Vornheim is the fantasy city used by Zak S. in his gaming, he of the excellent blog Playing D&D With Pornstars. It's definitely in the domain of weird fantasy, a sprawling city maze. It's not your traditional faux-medieval city. It's the sort of place where nobles play giant chess with braindead albino halfling pieces. The sort of place where once a year the city gates are thrown open to let the wolves in. The sort of place where there is a legal system known as 'trial by pie'.

Yeah that sort of place.

Vornheim: The Complete City Kit is even harder to qualify than the city itself. It suggests it's a city book, but that probably fills your head with ideas of boring descriptions of districts and important people. The stuff that would help you run your games in the city Zak has created. It's not that... well not exactly.

When Zak's players are running around Vornheim it's not all plotted in his mind or on paper. There are some regions, and some details, but the Vornheim Zak runs is part planned, part randomly rolled and part made up on the fly. This book let's you do the same. It's all the tools you need to run a city game in Vornheim as Zak does.


Spire of the 3 Idiots

Let's talk about style. Zak is not only some crazy roleplaying genius but he's a skilled artist as well. There's not that many illustrations but those that are there are pretty cool. He has a punk, chaotic style which works well with the setting but is not going to be to your taste if you like your illustrations clean and clear. Check out the front cover for a good taste of what's inside (for me it's awesome).



I'm reviewing the pdf version here, but it seems obvious that this was designed as a physical product. The author even goes to say as such. It's a pity that it couldn't have been changed even a little for the pdf. Most pages have very thick black border that look cool but would be a horrible strain on your ink to print out. Thankfully there the few pages that you definitely need to print (to roll dice upon) are borderless, but it would have been nice if Zak had made some concession to the pdf crowd.


Flailceratops

Having said that this isn't your bog standard city book, the book does start with the normal details – though I use 'normal' lightly. There are notes on how people live, laws and religion. But it's all dealt with breezily, to give you a feel for the place rather than provide a reference you keep needing to look back to. You're not going to find out the name of the second cleric of the grand deity or what the commander of the watch is called. Instead you'll learn that any man who brings a live cow in the city will lose a shoe within the week, or so the superstition goes.

The book is more interested in the oddities of the city. Such as the nobles breeding incredibly slow pets to show how rich they are (as the wealthier you are the less you have to work and the more time you can spend slowly walking your tortoise). There's quite a lot on the reading of books off the skin of snakes (and bigger beats), and a few personalities such as a killer homunculi and a mysterious wyvern who lives at the bottom of a well.

There's even a map of the city and its surrounding environments. I think. It's completely mad and unintelligible.

There are adventures and dungeons too! From an interesting meeting in a medusa's home to a completely insane lost zoo including a flail-headed dinosaur. Sweet. Stats are for the Lamentations of the Flame Princess rules but are pretty light on the ground and I don't think a GM needs too much imagination to convert them to his or her chosen system. But we're almost half way through the book and so far I've not really explained any more than the wacky city. Why is this book going to shake up GMing?


Spire of Unspeakable Hogs

After running games for a while you tend to get complacent. Supplements give you new background, but there's very little advice for GMinf because what else could you need to know? The whole concept of old-school gaming would seem to reinforce that – things were good back then and we don't need none of this innovation nonsense. There's nothing new we can learn.

So when I read some of the techniques Zak has come out with... well, I gasped. There is something new out there. There are tricks you can use in running your games. They are simple and brilliant and why did no-one think of them earlier?

I don't want to explain too much, as I don't want to be giving away the secrets for free, but I'll give some teasers. There are tricks to mapping out the streets a player travelled involving rolling dice on a black piece of paper and using both the numbers and positions of the dice to map the city. There's a similar quick way of coming up with building floorplans using D4s. There are rules for determining position of districts based on the size of words, and the costs of items based on syllables. All these can be done quickly, on the fly, and look like you had it planned all along.

Plus there is a way of working out factions in a city based on playing a game of chess. More for between games that one, but it's still remarkably original. So pretty in awe of this part of the kit, that's for sure.

And of course all of these ideas are not specific to the Vornheim setting. I could see using the street mapping rules for adventures in sprawling hive cities in Dark Heresy (1st Edition).


The Knife & Troglodyte

The last part of the book is mostly made up of random tables. Yeah us roleplayers love our tables, but they are dime a dozen nowadays. Fortunately here they're mostly twisted enough to bring Vornheim alive by creating interesting NPCs, tavern games and fortune readings amongst other things. They're a pretty fun read, and though fairly out there for more traditional games I can see them being useful for other slightly off kilter settings such as Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

One idea that did catch my eye was a matrix you can use for up to four NPCs to randomly decide the relationship between them. Pretty clever stuff. There are also extra rules and tables for generating shops and other buildings around a particular street, involving rolling dice onto a page of the book. It's smart and rolling dice is always fun.


Unsettling Toad

The biggest problem I have with Vornheim: The Complete City Kit is that it's going to make all other city sourcebooks seem dull by comparison. Here you have the tool for running a memorable city for your players, not just some generic town the players sell loot at between the real adventures. And if you don't plan on running Vornheim itself the techniques described are easily applicable to any urban adventures, even beyond the fantasy setting. A great resource for any GM that shows what RPG supplements should be all about.
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Brian Leet
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Zoom, to the top of my wishlist. Great review!
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Ashfield
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Pushing a lesbian old growth union-approved agenda since '94.
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Awesome... I love Zak's weird approach and shall make this one of my rare RPG purchases.
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John Middleton
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Stats in this book are NOT for Lamentations. You need to change the AC by adding one to the second AC value (the Basic RPG one) in every case except unarmored NPCs, which are base AC 12.

The stats in the book are for all Oe versions of D&D. There are two ACs listed, the first is straight LBB D&D Oe and Swords & Wizardry descending AC. The second is for the Basic Fantasy RPG.

There is a conversion page (64) for 4th edition usage.



This is a fantastic book, and if you are at all interested then buy the print version, its only 15 to 20 dollars from IPR, Noble Knight, or Troll and Toad. You really want the print version to take advantage of the design elements of the game, plus its hardback and inexpensive.
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Simon Crowe
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DegenerateElite wrote:
Stats in this book are NOT for Lamentations. You need to change the AC by adding one to the second AC value (the Basic RPG one) in every case except unarmored NPCs, which are base AC 12.

The stats in the book are for all Oe versions of D&D. There are two ACs listed, the first is straight LBB D&D Oe and Swords & Wizardry descending AC. The second is for the Basic Fantasy RPG.

There is a conversion page (64) for 4th edition usage.


Oops. Thanks for the correction.
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John Middleton
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No problem - happy to help out.


Great review, by the way.
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The Few, The Proud, The Steves
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I just listened to an interview with the author (and his gaming group, and James Raggi) about this on All Games Considered (episode 150, but it doesn't appear to be in our database!). It made me even more interested in the product, it sounds really innovative! You can download it here (episode date was May 24).
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Nick Sula
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And here's another interview with the author about this book on the Save or Die Podcast. This looks (and sounds) like an amazingly useful supplement, can't wait to get a copy myself!
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Sebastian Werner
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The PDF's are marked down to less than $2 at the moment on RPGNow
http://www.rpgnow.com/index.php?filters=0_0_0_0_0&manufactur...

Lets see how useful it will be for my own 4E Sigil.
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William Hostman
United States
Eagle River
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Gaming in Greater Anchorage area, Alaska since 1978. Looking for Indy-willing RPG players in Eagle River (or willing to drive to Eagle River). Geekmail me if interested.
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Plastefuchs wrote:
The PDF's are marked down to less than $2 at the moment on RPGNow
http://www.rpgnow.com/index.php?filters=0_0_0_0_0&manufactur...

Lets see how useful it will be for my own 4E Sigil.
It's back up to $9 in PDF...
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