Sunday, April 8, 2018

Reason Magazine on Dungeons & Dragons

Reason has an article authored by C.J. Ciaramella entitled The Radical Freedom of Dungeons & Dragons. Ciaramella contends that “D&D is a deeply libertarian game.” I’m not convinced, but that’s another argument for another day.

What caught my eye was Ciaramella’s self-contradictory observations about the sexual politics surrounding the game. At one point, he observes:

Although advertisements for D&D in the '70s and '80s always included an obligatory girl player at the table, there was a chauvinistic attitude within the cloistered fraternity of war gamers that lady brains simply weren't wired to be interested in gold and glory. Internal and external surveys from the late '70s showed that the percentage of female players was in the low single digits; one didn't have to be proficient in the "investigation" skill to figure out why girls weren't rushing to play games that included a "harlot table" and where women in the stories were often little more than furniture on which boys could act out their less chivalrous fantasies.

It's an odd assertion. What are the odds that girls or women not playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons were familiar with an obscure table buried in one of several appendices in the Dungeons Masters Guide? The table appears on page 192 of 240. And unless one knows where to look for it, it's hard to find, as there's no reference to it in the table of contents or index.

While the Harlot Table may be infamous nowadays, in the 70s and 80s—before the Internet—the only people who would have been familiar with it for the most part would have been those who used the DMG. A lot of the early-D&D-was-sexist talk is like this: it takes contemporary criticisms of the game and retrojects them into the past as if those criticisms were there all along. Can anyone cite a criticism of the Harlot Table as sexist that was made back in the 70s or 80s?

What’s odder still is that Ciaramella identifies an entirely plausible alternative explanation for why girls and women were not playing D&D in large numbers back in the day. In an earlier characterization of the three core books for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, he writes of the game that:

It looked, in other words, like what would happen if you opened up a preteen boy's imagination and dumped the contents on the floor.

Why would a game that resembled “a preteen boy’s imagination” appeal to girls and women to the same extent as boys and men? It wouldn’t, of course, and there’s nothing sexist about that, unless one thinks that a game should or must equally appeal to a preteen girl’s imagination. I don’t. Neither does anyone reasonable.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Dungeons & Dumbasses: Rob Kuntz Edition

You’ve disappointed Rob Kuntz for the last time. After channeling Oral Roberts—announcing that he could only continue to grace the flock with his presence if it committed to buy a certain number of his planned module-design aid—Rob discovered that a world mired in unbelief had forsaken him. So, alas, the project is no more and, like Middle Earth's elves, he must depart:

I have decided to go in a completely different direction with what Arneson gifted to us, and outside of the RPG Industry. Once I make up my mind it is pretty well set in stone because I have usually assessed all angles prior to such decisions.

I will be exclusively promoting design theory and systems theory for play from this point forward and will be spending increasingly less time on RPG related matter as well.

In the next 6 months I'll probably be finished with my last effort in RPG's, a history, the BOOK, and from there I hope to stay in theory, essays, board games and other. RPGs have run their course.

Such irony, too. I have an idea for an open systems RPG, really good *written and outlined in 2010* but cannot/would not produce as it would be something that people would not play. I would. Gary would have. Arneson, of course. But folks today? Nah. They are stuck with their brand of gaming, don't tale chances and look for sameness, a comfort zone. This is not BITD of wild and carefree meandering, the huge cross sections of science and fiction and history which intersected with design, those days are gone at least as I have attempted to find any comparison to them in this industry.

I have seen this coming, btw, since 2007 and probably even before. No surprise. Thought I'd give it a last shot for the good ole times. No biggy. I have interested parties outside this hobby sphere, in fact much bigger than within it.

He didn’t fail; the hobby failed him. This, of course, is more of the same Arnesonian one-true-way dead-enderism that Kuntz has been flogging for years. It’s Dungeons & Dragons as gnostic cult.

Between this and Frank Mentzer’s recent antics, the hobby’s old-timers are really embarrassing themselves. I wish they’d just go away and I don’t think I’m alone in this opinion.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Secret Doors

Erik Tenkar makes the following criticism of secret doors in dungeons:

I find secret doors to be an overused obstacle. Just how many does a single dungeon level need?

My problem with secret doors is that they are a potential show stopper that even with good play from your players, the dice can decide the door is never found. What lies behind? For all intents and purposes it never existed if the dice decide it was never found.

Concealed doors? Now THAT is something I can get behind. Look behind that armoire. Why are there curtains on this wall? What's under this rug? Good play will reveal with concealed doors what dice may otherwise steal with secret doors.

I think this reflects a poor understanding of the various purposes that secret doors should serve. They should never be a “show stopper,” and if you are not designing boring, linear dungeons that generally should not be an issue. To state the obvious, however, secret doors should not be placed in a fashion that could halt the party’s forward progress in the dungeon.

So what should secret doors be used for? Among other things:

  • to segregate a sublevel that somehow differs from the present level;
  • to secure significant treasure from casual discovery;
  • to conceal a useful additional entrance or exit (e.g., out of the dungeon, to a much deeper level);
  • to serve as a hidey-hole for opponents to lay in wait for or seek refuge from the party;
  • to hide a route that allows quick or safe passage past an obstacle or hazard; or
  • to seal off an especially dangerous foe so that the party does not merely stumble across it.

Nor should secret doors be discoverable by random dice rolls alone. Players should be able to locate secret doors—or at least increase their chances of doing so—through good play. For example:

  • intuition as to where searching might prove fruitful based on room or corridor shape or structure;
  • careful mapping that reveals curious empty spaces in the level; or
  • examination that turns up telltale clues, like footprints that lead up to a blank wall, seams in the masonry that outline a portal, or an unexplained draft that causes torches to flutter.

As for the concern that areas lying behind secret doors might go undiscovered . . . well, this is a game of exploration. It is not a foregone conclusion that the party will unearth all of the underworld’s secrets. There’s no sense of the unknown or adventure in a dungeon that lays bare its mysteries to everyone who stumbles through the front door.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Blueholme: Journeymanne Rules — A Review

Blueholme: Journeymanne Rules
Author: Michael Thomas
Dreamscape Design
Approx. 120 pages
Available on Lulu ($24.99 hardcover; $14.99 softcover)

Blueholme: Journeymanne Rules essentially is a restatement and expansion of Holmes’s basic edition of Dungeons & Dragons, which in turn was a restatement of the original edition of the game and some of its supplements further edited in anticipation of the publication of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Whereas Holmes’s basic edition only covered the first three levels of play, Blueholme aims to be a complete roleplaying game, supporting play through level twenty.

The rulebook is divided into several sections, including but not limited to:

  • 11 pages on character creation that cover four classes—clerics, fighters, magic-users, and thieves—as well as armor, equipment, and weapons;
  • 31 pages of spells: 8 spells per level, spell levels one through seven, for clerics; and 20 spells per level, spell levels one through nine, for magic-users;
  • 9 pages of combat-related rules, which includes some Holmesian elements like parrying, attacks provoked by retreat, and the effect of cover;
  • a 26-page bestiary detailing 123 monsters (more when different subtypes are accounted for; e.g., different types of giants and dragons); and
  • 19 pages on treasure, including a table of treasure types, which are referenced in monster entries, and a wealth of magic items.

In comparison, Holmes’s basic edition was just 48 pages. But Blueholme’s increased page count is not unreasonable given its expanded scope. And Blueholme generally does a nice job of revising and condensing Holmes’s prose while retaining its clarity.

Blueholme likely will not appeal to those who prefer AD&D to other editions. But for those who want a less complicated, more streamlined version of the game, Blueholme is a very good alternative. Class, spell, and monster descriptions are far more concise than those in AD&D. In general, Blueholme is better organized than its inspiration, not that Holmes’s basic edition was poorly organized.

Blueholme’s artwork is strong. Its cover depicts an adventuring party in a cavern gathered before a treasure chest and hoard; a dragon reminiscent of the one on the cover of Holmes’s basic edition lurks behind them in the shadows on the periphery of the party’s light source. Stylistically, the cover art melds old and new in a manner well suited to a restatement and expansion of an older edition of the game; its color scheme, which features gold and aquamarine hues, is appealing to the eye.


[Blueholme’s Cover Art]

The interior of the rulebook includes a lot of old-school style black-and-white artwork, including a really nice callback to the cover art by a different artist that depicts the adventurers in combat with the dragon amidst the treasure hoard. Some of the interior art might be considered too racy for younger readers:

  • a sorceress with ample cleavage;
  • some bare-breasted water nymphs;
  • an amazon archer with exposed breasts;
  • a trio of saggy-titted harpies; and
  • a half-serpent woman who’s mislaid her blouse.

This is not inconsistent with Holmes’s basic edition, which included a buxom, bare-breasted harpy. Nor do I personally find this artwork objectionable (even for younger readers). But some might not care for such nudity or so much of it.

I’m not especially knowledgeable about Holmes’s basic edition (or other editions of the game for that matter); however, to my non-expert eyes, Blueholme appears to emulate its namesake well. A few interesting features traceable to Holmes’s basic edition that differ from at least some other editions of the game include:

  • a five-point alignment system: lawful good, chaotic good, neutral, chaotic evil, and lawful evil;
  • an initiative system that largely turns on the relative dexterity scores of the individual combatants, subject to the following attack sequence: spell-casting, missile weapons, and melee combat;
  • a combat round that is 10-seconds in duration (as opposed to OD&D’s and AD&D’s one-minute combat round);
  • simple rules for magic-users to create level-appropriate new spells and scrolls without first attaining several experience levels; and
  • good and evil clerics are limited to casting opposite versions of certain spells (e.g., cure light wounds for good clerics and deal light wounds for evil clerics).

Like the scroll-making mechanic for magic-users, Blueholme adds similarly simple rules allowing clerics to create holy water and healing potions.

At least one significant deviation from Holmes’s basic edition stands out. Holmes’s basic edition has specific rules as to the abilities of dwarves, elves, and halflings; it also limited the classes available to demi-humans. Blueholme leaves these racial abilities and class availability to the discretion of individual DMs. It does refer the reader to monster entries for demi-humans, which specify various racial abilities that could be applied to characters as well. But this is not the only place the racial abilities of demi-humans are discussed. Racial modifiers for several types of demi-humans regarding thieves’ abilities are included at the very beginning of the chapter on monsters, and some additional rules about elves and secret doors and dwarves and traps are included in an altogether different section of the rulebook. This leaves a bit to be desired in terms of organization.

Like Holmes’s basic edition, Blueholme emphasizes that players can play just about any creature detailed in the section on monsters, subject to the DM’s approval. In particular, it suggests dreenoi—humanoid insect-men—as a racial option in addition to dwarves, elves, and halflings, because Holmes played such a character. But the monster description for dreenoi does not necessarily provide any meaningful abilities for them apart from the possibility of telepathy, which they are said to use only in communicating with one another. For an experienced DM, the lack of default rules concerning the abilities of demi-humans and the classes available to them won’t pose too much difficulty. But less experienced DMs could find the lack of default rules a little more challenging; making demi-humans distinct and interesting while not rendering humans a second-class species can be tricky.

Nor is that the only instance in which Blueholme might be less user-friendly for inexperienced DMs. To take a relatively minor example, the monster entry for "gnoll" provides no clue as to what one is apart from “bestial, vicious, and stupid”; whereas, Holmes’s basic edition succinctly identifies gnolls as “beings like hyena-men.” The same is true of the entry for "spectre." Blueholme says spectres are “incorporeal” but not much else, while Holmes’s basic edition references Tolkien’s Nazgul. If one does not already have a sense of what these monsters are, Blueholme does not clarify matters. For monsters that are well known outside of roleplaying games, like vampires or zombies, descriptions might not be necessary. But for lesser known monsters, like gnolls and spectres, some rudimentary description might be helpful.

Blueholme deviates from Holmes’s basic edition in some minor ways as well. One notable instance—it adjusts the experience points required per level by one so that each class begins first level with one experience point rather than zero. Why? The rulebook does not explain, and this revision is sufficiently atypical that an explanation would be useful. I surmise that this change might have been made to distinguish adventurers from “normal humans,” who are 0-level and belong to no class, based on a couple of references within the section on monsters, specifically the entries for “normal human” and “vampire.” But this is a guess, and its in-game significance is unstated. My hunch is that 0-level retainers who return from an adventure and are awarded experience then take on a class and become first level.

Like any revision or expansion of a prior edition, Blueholme has some material that is new (or at least it’s new to me and appears to have no precedent in Holmes’s basic edition). One of the more intriguing bits is its optional rule regarding light and heavy weapons. Under this rule, one can attack with a light weapon (e.g., dagger) twice per round but rolls two damage dice per hit and takes the lower result; one can attack with a heavy weapon (e.g., great sword; light crossbow) once every two rounds but rolls two damage dice per hit and takes the higher result. Standard weapons (e.g., long sword) allow one attack per round and one damage die. The damage die for all weapons is a d6. I’m not sure how this shakes out mathematically (i.e., whether it confers a relative advantage on the use of light or heavy weapons).

Blueholme’s monster entry for “demon” is another addition. Whether due to space limitations or some other consideration, Holmes’s basic edition consciously excludes demons. Rather than including numerous entries for the various subtypes of demons made famous by OD&D’s supplements and AD&D, Blueholme includes a single entry with a table for generating random demonic abilities along with the guidance that demons “come in all shapes and sizes, and may have wings, extra limbs, horns, scales, tails, or any number of usually grotesque physical features.” A creative DM could expand on this entry with additional tables for physical attributes as well as additional abilities to create a wide array of unique demons (or types of demons). This is a nice way of making something familiar new again while conserving space.

Arguably, the weakest section of Blueholme is the final one on campaigns, which discusses dungeons and the wilderness. This material generally is new. Its shortcomings relate not so much to what is there as what is not; this section spans just five pages and omits key material that Holmes’s basic edition includes, specifically a cross-sectional dungeon map and sample dungeon. Blueholme states that these materials are omitted due to space considerations, however, and that an introductory adventure—The Shrine of Sobek—is available in .pdf for free that discusses dungeons and the wilderness in further detail. This adventure has not been released yet, but it likely will make up for this material’s absence from the rulebook.

Blueholme is very well done overall. Its strengths far exceed any ostensible weaknesses. Many of my criticisms may be attributable to hard choices posed by considerations of space and price point. Personally, I’d rather pay a little more for some additional content, but that’s a judgment call. That said, this rulebook makes me want to run a Blueholme game, and that’s probably the highest praise one can give a product of this nature. Kudos to Michael Thomas for his excellent work.

[cross-posted at Knights & Knaves Alehouse]

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Vornheim: An Anti-Eulogy For A Product that Should Have Been Buried Long Ago

PRODUCT REVIEW

Vornheim: The Complete City Kit (2011)

Author: Zak S.

64 pages

Retail Price: $19.99

Prefatory Note

Zak S. is a polarizing figure; people tend to love him or hate him. This is a review of a book that he wrote, not a review of him, his detractors’ opinions of him, or any of the controversies between them.

Introduction

Since its release, Vornheim has been much-lauded by the OSR community. Most of its reviews are very positive. Many of these reviews offer nary a word of criticism. It’s not that there are not positive reviews that note some shortcomings, or even the occasional negative review, but they are far rarer. I penned this review because I think that Vornheim is a product sure to disappoint most old-school gamers. Vornheim’s many flaws exceed its very modest virtues. It is poorly organized, too fragmentary to serve its stated purpose of providing a complete city toolkit, and its content is too eccentric to be of use to most referees. Vornheim deserves a fair-minded review that identifies these failings in detail. This is that review.

Overview

Vornheim states that its intended purpose is to provide a referee with the tools necessary to run a city adventure “with a minimum of hassle, so you and your players can get to the good stuff.” It is meant to be a “kit” to facilitate the creation of a city “even in the middle of the game.” But it does so within the context of a particular city, Vornheim.

The book gives some general notes on Vornheim and neighboring locales; details three specific locations in the city—a medusa’s lair, wondrous zoo, and library; provides rules or guidelines about navigating in a city, generating building floorplans, the law, non-player character contacts, chases, items costs, and libraries; and includes several random tables regarding aristocrats, books, non-player characters, random encounters, fortune-telling, searching corpses, magical effects, types of buildings, and other subjects. In addition to these contents, the interior of the dustjacket contains a map of a significant portion of the city. The front and back covers of the book contain charts for generating certain random results, such as the hit location of an attack, by dropping a four-sided die on the covers.

The dustjacket art is in color and depicts an androgynous figure battling a peryton with a flail. The dustjacket’s interior city map also is in color. The remainder of the book's art and diagrams are in black and white.

Some Specifics

Almost a third of the book—21 of its 64 pages—is devoted to three very specific locations within the city: the House of the Medusa, Immortal Zoo of Ping Feng, and the Library of Zorlac. These are effectively three adventure locations or miniature adventure modules, for lack of a better description.

Vornheim has a sensibility reminiscent of dark, weird fairy tales. For example:

  • a nearby goblin city’s inhabitants are said to “speak backwards and walk on the ceiling”;
  • a horned goddess’s priesthood once built their temples in “colossal goat-like creatures”; and
  • there are scholars who can read the skins of snakes like books, some are cookbooks.

There is a section on superstitions, which are intended to flesh out the city’s culture. For example:

  • “Cows are considered indolent and undesirable. Anyone bringing a live cow into Vornheim will lose a shoe within a week.”
  • “Pigs must be present at all trials.”
  • “No dog will be faithful to someone who gives leftovers to a crow.”

There are two pages of “player commentaries,” which are observations about the campaign made by Zak’s players. These provide brief glimpses of their experiences in and perceptions of Vornheim.

The city map and building diagrams in the book are somewhat impressionistic in appearance. Readers accustomed to clean, precise maps and floorplans will find little that is familiar. The book does, however, include a shortcut method of generating rudimentary floorplans for ordinary buildings.

The book provides mechanics for “urban-crawling.” These are intended for situations in which adventurers are traveling through the city but their movement is hindered in some manner (e.g., chases, evasions, searches, hostile locals, civil disorder). These mechanics includes guidelines for creating neighborhood boundaries and determining street layouts and destination locations within the city on the fly.

Analysis

The overview should make plain that which is obvious from a quick perusal of the book—Vornheim is very incomplete. Most of the city is left undescribed and undetailed. Apart from the very few locations that are detailed, the referee is left to his own devices other than some thematic notes that often have no immediate game application and some random tables. Zak pitches the spare amount of detail as a virtue, avoiding the exhaustive treatment of the typical city supplement. But he merely replaces too much detail with not enough. The result is a setting too fragmentary to run as written.

As an example of its fragmentary and disorganized nature, consider the Church of Vorn. One gathers that it is a significant force within the city, but the book gives little detail about it. We know only that:

  • its cathedral is a significant feature of the inner city, and there is an impressionistic diagram of it;
  • Vorn is a grim god of iron, rust, and rain;
  • the color brown “is reserved by Vorn, to use on rust” and thus wearing it is taboo;
  • the tenets of their faith require priests of Vorn to use edged weapons rather than blunt ones, as they regard attacking with the latter hypocritical, and they lose a memorized spell if they transgress this tenet;
  • the church may or may not be corrupt, prone to fanaticism, or in the grip of occult influences; and
  • the church administers trial by combat, in which the combatants fight in pools of waist-height rusty water.

These sketchy details are interesting. But they are more of a beginning, not the finished product that should appear in published work. A good referee would need to flesh these ideas out for use.

Moreover, this organized summary of the church also belies the haphazard presentation of this material. These details appear in various sections of the book across pages 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 32, and 59. Instead of getting an organized paragraph or two of material or a bullet-point summary, the reader has to search this information out and organize it for himself. A more useful approach would have been to place this information on the page opposite the diagram of the cathedral, so that it could be quickly read and later accessed for reference as necessary.

This haphazard presentation is a consistent feature of the book. Recall the inexplicable superstition that pigs must be present at trial? That appears on page 10 without context; on page 59 we learn that the people of Vornheim believe that pigs are the only honest animal. They sometimes conduct trials by a ritual known as trial by swine:

7 pigs are tied to the defendant by 10’ ropes and the defendant must go about his or her business in this way for 12 days. If the defendant cuts the ropes, leaves the city, or goes mad, s/he is guilty.

Set aside the silliness of this procedure, why are these details separated by 58 pages? Zak does not need this material to appear in one place; it’s his setting. But this disorganization is a nightmare for another referee who wants to run Vornheim. A referee who wants to make this material his own is going to have to devote a lot of time to this book.

This is not a minor fault. The haphazard presentation is exacerbated by other shortcomings—small font sizes, less than ideal formatting and layout, a hard-to-read table of contents, and lack of an index. The end result is that the book is a chore to navigate and its contents are hard to digest. All of this undermines the book’s stated purpose of assisting the referee to run city adventurers with “a minimum of hassle.”

Setting aside the manner of presentation, the contents are an odd hodgepodge for a supplement that bills itself as a “complete city kit.” As noted, roughly a third of the book is devoted to three specific locations that effectively serve as miniature adventure modules. In a larger supplement, this sort of material would be welcome. But if one only has 64 pages to provide the tools necessary to run urban adventure on the fly, the inclusion of this material is a mistake. The space is needed for other, more essential matters.

The particular locations included are creative. But Zak’s vision is an eccentric one. The inclusion of a medusa with a manor is consistent with the dark, weird fairy-tale sensibility of the book. Opinions will vary on whether this sensibility is an asset or a liability. It has limited appeal for me. More to the point, Zak’s creative vision is well enough outside of the mainstream of fantasy gaming—even broadly defined—that most referees will not share his sensibility. He references Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass as inspiration for Vornheim’s legal system. That should suffice to give one a feel for how bizarre the setting can be and how out of step it is with most old-school campaigns.

Some of the material in the book is difficult to describe as anything more than filler. Inclusion of the player commentaries section is baffling given the space limitations. Consider these two comments:

  • On Vornheim’s taverns: “When I went out in Vornheim I had too much to drink. I had a good time, but I had so much to drink that I probably would’ve had a good time anywhere.”
  • On Vornheim’s NPCs: “Those random guys are fun. . . . I always end up having sex with them to get information and then there isn’t any information. Like I’ll have sex with the vet to have drugs and there’s no drugs.”

I suppose this is the kind of thing that is bound to happen in Zak’s game; his players are porn stars. But of what conceivable use is this information to other referees? The question answers itself.

Other material, if not filler, is still of no use to time-pressed referees and will not be of interest to players. Most of the superstitions fall into this category. By way of illustration: “All cakes must be tasted by the oldest person in the room first, or else they will taste like fish. Except fishcakes, which will taste like rye.”

The last half of the book is devoted to mechanics and tables that are supposed to assist a referee to run urban adventures off the cuff. The tables likely are the most readily usable by other referees. But they once again reflect Zak’s unconventional tastes. Two pages are devoted to generating random aristocrats, and supply details like: “has a peculiar fondness for injured women,” “compulsively shaves women bald,” “only finds joy in the sound of innocent women crying,” and “bathes in the liquefied bone of young maidens.” Not all of the results are this weird, but enough are that it reduces the usefulness of the table. The table devoted to the random generation of non-player characters is equally oddball, including results like: “is a random PC’s mother in disguise,” “is secretly a creative genius on the level of William Shakespeare,” “vomits often” for no reason, and “has an unusually well-maintained collection of doll houses.”

Doubtless this material suits Zak’s style. It is unsuited in most others’ though. The net result is that the tables—which span 17 pages—are of limited use to others. The best that could be said for these tables as a whole is that they might serve as examples to referees for the creation of their own tables. Regardless of differences in taste, however, a true “complete city kit” would have to include more tables on a wider variety of subjects.

Of the mechanics presented in the book, the “urban-crawling” rules have received the most praise. I think they could be used, but very little space is devoted to them—just two pages. This material would have benefited from a more expanded treatment, given how important it is to a city kit that does not feature a complete map of the city. These rules would be less useful, arguably not useful at all, for referees who have fully mapped their own city setting.

Zak’s decision to try to make the entire book useful, including its covers and dustjacket, is innovative. But not all innovation is good. One of the cover charts does no more than simulate a d20 attack roll and its corresponding damage (as well as hit location if desired) through the mechanic of dropping a d4 on the cover. How is this an improvement over just rolling standard attack and damage dice simultaneously? It is not, of course.

I have left the artwork for last, because an assessment of it is much more subjective. As a purely descriptive matter, it is not old-school. Zak's style has nothing in common with artists commonly associated with old-school gaming (e.g., Peter Mullen, Erol Otus). I find it crude and unappealing. But judge for yourself:

[Map of the House of the Medusa]

Whatever one thinks of its artistic merit, this is less utilitarian than a traditional map. Perhaps the best than can be said for this map is that you get what you pay for and the price point is relatively low.

Conclusion

Vornheim is creative, more creative than many other OSR products. But this is a two-edged sword. Its creative direction sharply diverges from what most old-school gamers will find to their tastes.

It is mislabeled. It is not a “complete city kit” by any definition. It utterly fails to realize its stated purpose.

If Vornheim is any indication, Zak has an artistic bent. Vornheim would have benefited from a critical, right-brained editor or collaborator. The absence of such input is apparent from the poor focus, disorganization, and inclusion of much material that is of little or no practical value game-wise.

Vornheim is not entirely bereft of merit. It could be mined for ideas. But mining is hard labor, and the gold in these hills is sparse indeed. A good supplement should save the referee time and work. Vornheim does not.

This book is a missed opportunity. A well-done book that is half city setting and half toolkit for running urban adventures there (and elsewhere) would be very useful. Vornheim is not that book.

April 16 Postscript

A version of Zak's "urban-crawling" rules are posted at his blog. Had I realized this, I would have included a link. Though the online version is not identical to the book's content, it will help readers understand the mechanics.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Blueholme Journeymanne Rules

This kickstarter for a Holmes-inspired retroclone spanning levels 1 though 20 seems very worthwhile.

I'm looking forward to seeing it in print.