tldr; buy this unless you loath "off the cuff" style of DMing.
Another NTRPG Con 2011 purchase. I've read some of Zak S. Vornheim blog posts but dropped off blogosphere several months ago and didn't even know this book existed. I recognized the art style and name right off.
Was sadden by hardback (and slipcover) until I learned it was "only" $17.50 Which ain't bad for a 64 page book let alone a hardback one. The entire book is, of course, in the proper digest size. Since the cover and back of the hardback is actually used to roll dice on the hardbackness is nice and the binding lays perfectly flat. The inside of slipcover is a map of Vornheim and instructions on using hardback. Every inch (indside of hardback cover, the normally blank facing page, back cover, every bit of paper is filled. And the fonts used are on the small side (but not microscopic). This book is a stuffed with gaming goodness as much as a little book can be.
The art I believe is all Zak's. Whose style I'll wager is polarazing. I like it. Although, a few of his drawings are maps, even if you don't care for his art the amount is not so overwhelming and the other content is worth it. The layout is nice, clean and seems that it would facilitate rapid, easy in game use. The production values including printing, materials, and binding are high. Props to author and publisher in equal measure.
Vornheim The Complete City Kit as the name might suggest is a schizophrenic work. On the one hand it describe the cold, creepy city of Vornheim. On the other it proffers a philosophy and tools to run city adventures "just in time".
Rough break down of what you get. Page of introduction. Page of regional map and key. Six or so pages of Vornheim overview, personalities, background etc. Several more pages dedicated to various locations (actually cool mini dungeons) around Vornheim. House of the Medusa, Immortal Zoo of Ping Feng, Library of Zorlac. Typical Vornheim tower and player (this book is the content Zak uses in his game) commentaries. Together provide enough meat to get a feel for the style and atmosphere of Vornheim as well as plenty of hooks/inspiration/space to make it your own. And some ready to run for when DM is caught pants down.
Next are, for me, the exiting parts of running city "on the fly". Urban crawl rules. Instant floor plans, chase system, libraries, shop locations/demographics, NPC connections. And lots of charts and generation systems (the front/back covers), ~22 pages. Tables: Aristocrats Books, city NPCs, City Shopkeepers, Contacts, Directions, Encounters, Fortunes, "I search the Body", Legal Situations, Magic Effects, Taverns and Games, Buildings. There's also a further reading list (always like) and conversions to 3x.
I like/agree with the JIT style of gaming, I like this book. It's maybe not perfect but for $17.50 it doesn't have to be. It's a valuable addition to one's gaming arsenal and I recommend DMs pick it up if only to read/explore Zak's style of running city adventures. Personally I'll be using it in my Gold & Glory campaign if the players ever make it to Nindus, The City of Necromancers.
Good: bang/buck, the several extractable "systems" for city adventuring, Vornheim's not another squeee! clichéd, magic == technology, badly faux fantasy city.
Bad: (I dig it) but if you don't subscribe to the "on the fly", "off the cuff", a "100 entry table is better than a 100 page description" philosophy of DMeering this book is not for you. Some content has been published on Zak's blog (but like he said in intro it'd be kind of lame to call something complete if 1/4 of the tables were on the Internet.)
Ugly: slip covers are a PITA, but book is still 100% usable after I stuffed slip in drawer.
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