mordicai caeli (mordicai) wrote,
mordicai caeli

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Vornheim: The Complete City Kit by Zak S.

From Nornrik they came,
black teeth sharp, hair white as salt,
the Shark Elves, White Elves.

Zak S. is the alt-porn grognard behind DnD With Pornstars & I Hit It With My Axe, so I knew what I was getting into when I ordered this. That is to say, I've seen bits & pieces of it, both on the blog & in play-- & at art shows-- & I was eager for more. Zak's site is my major point of attachment to the "Old School Renaissance," & Vornheim embodies the best facets of the movement, if you ask me. I don't need lists of überpowerful NPCs & the like, & I'm not looking for a map of every single domestic home-- & that is the whole impetus behind Vornheim. It doesn't supply endless banal details but rather gives you the tools to come up with them on the fly yourself. It is in large part a DM toolbox, with the side perk of providing inspiration & a launch pad for new ideas, much like The Dungeon Alphabet. The book is punctuated by Zak's artwork-- to me the heavy lines evoke an almost White Wolf-esque feel, like early Guy Davis. Or Hieronymus Bosch, if he decided to focus on architecture. There is also a great deal of thought put into the layout of the book-- it crawls with cunning charts & maps. The inside of the dust jacket is a map, the cover of the physical book are seemingly arcane charts with clear instructions on the endpaper in the front, the maps manage to express three dimensional information in new ways, & the back is filled with tables. Tables that seem like they might actually be useful, & are definitely fun. Lets see-- let me just give them a quick spin, see what happens. Ought to give you a taste of what you can expect:
  • Aristocrat: Genevieve Of the Glove keeps a small but powerful relic inside her cane, but does not know how to activate it. She is the current regent of Vornheim, & is sentimental & fragile, & dressed in silver & white silks. (rolled 69, 70, 98, 43, 51).

  • Encounter: Doivel & Spoyt, powerful & notorious pair of overweight brothers obscurely connected with the theatre industry wallow in the gutter, wearing opera clothes & smiling. Wave pleasantly & tipsily to party. Will reappear at margins of PCs lives-- for good or ill-- from now on, depending on how they were treated at this moment. (Rolled 78).

  • Tavern: The Fizzing Cudgel, where they have "basilisk fights," & the boar's head over the bar secretly knows the common tongue. (Rolled 8, 3, 13, 1).
In tone, the city of Vornheim owes a debt most notably to the cities of Lankhmar & Viriconium, though Zak S. isn't simply recapitulating, by any means. The lens of the game throws up interesting shadows, & Vornheim capitalizes on that-- the Candelabraxian Peryton & the small black marble carried by the Religion Librarian are good examples of that (22, 31). I admit, it is the details that hook me; I want to hear more about the demon with the head of a boat, the body of a bloated man, & the legs of a spider (9)! A festival called the "Day of Wolves" (7)? What is that all about? & then-- here is the kicked that both explains why this is a good book & why the hobby is the best-- I can go tell the story of that demon, or the secret mythology of the holiday. Zak has some clever ideas about quick-building maps by writing down numbers-- "ONETWOTHREE" & they all connect as roads, the O as a circle, the zig-zag of the W, dead-ends of the little line in the middle of the E, that kind of thing (37). he mentions that this is more shorthand than anything else, that the streets don't have to literally spell out "ONETWOTHREE". Hey, maybe I'll use it & have a city where the roads do spell out numbers. See-- that is how a hook is supposed to work. Notions like God's Chess or the enforcement of Sumptuary laws give you ideas, & they don't spell the whole thing out for you, because you aren't a puzzlewit. You are a gamer & you can fill in the blanks yourself-- that is half the fun.
Tags: books, dnd, haiku, rpgs, zak s

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