Monday, June 25, 2012

Belated Vornheim Review

So I bought the 'Vornheim Complete City Kit' PDF last weekend, and it, too many dates, and wicked sunburns have distracted me from posting the next play report. Hot damn this is good stuff.

Im Schacht - M. Hutter 2011

Vornheim is the city that the idealized older punk neighbor kid would have run in 1985 (in that it's hard edged psychedelia of the best kind) - though I don't think the mohawked high school dude that ran games for 10 year old me and lived the down the way would have run it as cool in actuality - his interests seemed to include: weed, hill giants, and girls that filled out 'Echo and the Bunnymen' T-Shirts with distinction.  Yet there is a real DYI 80's punk aesthetic in Vornheim, though I think it's mostly the literal aesthetic/layout and the spirit of trusting the reader to figure out how to use the product themselves and handle any randomly generated contradictions.  As a play world, Vornheim is inexplicable, vast, beyond your understanding, always fascinatingly strange, and more jaded than you can ever be.  It's astounding that Zak S. manages to catch this feeling, but he does, and that is laudable.

I am only half way through it because it is dense and lovely with odd tangential detail that inspires one to think of new things - certainly the HMS Apollyon now has aquatic vampires that slumber in black algae choked halls. Suffice to say the writing within Vornheim, and the thought behind it are easy to grasp and quite concise, though dense with evocative imagery.

Let's also talk about one amazing aspect of this book - the art.  It's not your standard "drawn by talented amateurs of the late 70's", or artists trying knock off that style, that most OSR products contain, nor is it the flashy post manga, WOWified dynamic muscle art of current WOTC/videogame fantasy art (I like both of these - even the gratuitous shoulder armor -  but that's not the point).  Vornheim contains art by one of the better 'young' fine illustrators out there right now.  Yeah, this amuses me, 'cause I originally found Zak S's RPG blog through looking at art online.  The guy is talented - back before I re-embraced this hobby I remember seeing his pieces in the SF MOMA and thinking - "Wow, that's the best stuff I've seem in a while."  He illustrated Gravity's Rainbow for kicks.  Gravity's Rainbow is also a good thing to keep in mind while reading Vornheim - both are dense, beautiful, and thought provoking, but intentionally unstructured and very strange.  I am more inclined to think Pynchon's editor should have told him to cut parts and cool down on the mescaline than I am to think Zak's should have, (because Vornheim is actually tightly written and concise, showing no sign of mescaline) but there is a similarity in the sentiment and psychedelic descriptive density. I think a lot of back story for Vornheim can also be found "On the Road of Knives"....

I am perhaps gushing too much, and sadly I'm not sure how much of Vornheim I can use in my own campaign.  Though ASE is weird, it's a domesticated gonzo weird, not an unadulterated Alejandro Jodorowsky weird. ASE is 'Thudarr the Barbarian', Vornheim is 'Holy Mountain'.  Only in Vorheim would an old man with leopard heads for breasts that shoot magical elixir make sense.  With ASE I will settle for inexplicable silver skeletons and crystal skulls.  This is not to denigrate either of these products - it's just different approaches to strange.  I think that I can snatch elements here and there and even wholesale chunks from Vornheim for use, and this makes me happy, but I also fear that I'd lack the constant creativity to run a Vornheim game in the setting as it's written.  All this considered, if you're like me and you got confused by Euro prices on the LOFP site - do buy this PDF somewhere (I hope that money is going to Raggi and Zak - if not I will have to donate to a kickstarter or something as recompense) - it's an amazingly thoughtful and exciting resource for under the price of a good ham sandwich (at least in my overpriced land of decadence and artisan ham). Even if you are running some kind of simple "Scottish dwarves with beards and elves with musical voices and foppish habits" campaign using only the White Box (which I bought off of Dave Arenson for $20 when I was 12, but lost to the thrift store when I moved out of my folks place to be hip) Vornheim will inspire you in some way or another, and inspiration can rarely be had.  If nothing else all can use its conception of Medusas - not simply trick monsters, but arch schemers.

Finally - any chance I get, and I will get, because Sub-Captain Tsu of the Fist wants my PC's scared and in his debt,  I will use the table and a randomly selected result to determine what insane legal system is used at the PC's trial. All the lawyers round the table should love this, even if only two are litigators. In general it's things like this that make Vornheim a goldmine - great thinking on subjects one didn't realize were absolutely necessary to playing, but are actually absolutely necessary.

Of course I realize most folks who would read this blog have Vornheim already, but if not - do pick it up.

Note: This is by far the most read post on this blog, it's as if Vornheim has some magical power to draw interest, and well it should. Strange I never expected this to be anything more than an aside written after a few drinks as an explanation why my party's adventures (Nell tries to play ninja with limited success) are delayed this week.


  1. Here's one reader who has it has already. In my group's current campaign that is on summer drydock for a moment I'm cross-pollinating Denethix with Vornheim content. When I started my version of ASE I decided that Denethix which was only bare bones in the module would be cross between Ancient Rome and Edwardian London and in such context maybe the Vornheim pieces fit better.

  2. I actually don't own Vornheim - it will be interesting to read how the fusion of the two products works out

  3. @ Jonas - I think they cross pollinate well, at least the free flowing city mapping and many of the tables work nicely. I don't think I could properly shoehorn the adventure locations in which is too bad. Also do take a look at Zak S's art on Road of Knives it feels very Vornheim...

    @ Pat - It might be hard to notice, but I recommend picking up the PDF if you feel stalled because it's just stuffed with strange and inspirational strange.

  4. Sadly, from what little I know about Vornheim from reading about it (it does sound scrumptious) I doubt my group would care for a saturated dose. I do need to see what I could glean from it however.

  5. I am using Vornheim in my own homebrew setting that is documented at: I know . . . The last thing the world needs is yet another RPG blog.

    1. Good work, I've only managed to use bits an pieces, but I am looking forward to Mr. Smith's next project, the Alice in Wonderland thing.

    2. I need to look into this new project that you speak of.


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