When I first got Vornheim it was the pdf version. I started to quickly skim through it. My first reaction:
I skipped the intro and TOC, like I usually do, and went for the first thing after that---a sideways map which I couldn't figure out where or what anything was at a glance, and two pages of a tower unlike any DnD map I've ever seen. They weren't in a style I was used to. So I skipped to the content section. Not seeing a detailed static city plan with all the numbered buildings, my second reaction: WTF? So now I skip to the tables. Ahh, old familiar territory. I like these. I'll go back and read them later, but they're probably the mushroom tables and other weird stuff Zak used in the IHIWMA show, so they likely won't be that useful to me, because people always put stuff from their own games that no one else would use into these things. Then I got to the pages with the numbers all around them. Back to: WTF? Next: Map of the city---how is this at all useful? I can't make out the turns in the road. No numbered buildings, nor any buildings with names on them. Load up the WTF again.
So I skipped reading it in any detail and went back to Grindhouse, which was my more immediate need anyhow, as I was prepping for a game in which it is the base system.
Then Vornheim came in the mail with the boxed set---(note to self---never be a tightwad and choose the cheapest shipping option from Finland again. Raggi's cost-saving delivery system apparently consists of strapping packages to the backs of polar bears and sending them on a leisurely swim across the North Atlantic.)
The first thing I'm confronted with (once I took the dustjacket off it to protect it from tears----I'm like that) is the cover with all the confusing numbers on it that was at the back of the pdf. Because I couldn't make sense of it earlier with a 2 second glance, I skipped it. The rest of the book, content-wise, was more interesting when actually reading it in book form. I could actually focus in and twist and turn pages around to see the stuff which was harder to see on the computer (I don't like playing with pdf sizes, or rotating them, etc. to read something on a screen. Pain in the ass/laziness.) Also, the city content is written in such a way that isn't extremely Vornheim-specific, so it can be lifted for home campaign use.
Upon closer inspection of the charts at the end, they turned out to be way more useful than I figured they would be. They are, as I heard Zak describe it later, good tools to develop your own Vornheim. They were the tools he used to make his city. They are tools to make the city your own, create your own Vornheim. They weren't the random mushroom effect charts from the IHIWMA series that I expected them to be. Neat stuff. Besides, paraphrasing Zak here, who wants to spend a week memorizing the ins and outs of someone's setting, just to have the characters skip the bulk of it and go shopping?
At some point after this I IM'd with Jim that I liked Vornheim, but still couldn't figure out Zak's weird table on the cover thing and some of the other stuff like the city buildings thing.
Then I listened to one of the podcasts that Zak and Jim did, while I was playing the D&D Online MMO. (Khyber server, toon is Drakenforged, if any readers play on there). Anyhow, while slaying gnolls out in the Menechtarun Desert, I hear Zak start to describe the number grid thingy. I hid the toon in a safe place, pulled out the book, and started to follow along. In a few seconds of explanation I got it. The shit's simple as hell. And also potentially one of the most useful things ever made for a DM. Pure fucking mental laziness on my part that I didn't invest the less than 10 seconds of reading which it would have taken to learn the thing in the first place.
That goes back to my first impression of reading the pdf---it's not the standard RPG book. I looked for familiar things and didn't get them. Which really shouldn't surprise me, since it came from Zak. I mean, the guy created this. And he wrote this. The only things readily familiar in style and form were the random charts in the back of the book, so I wrote off the bulk of it at first glance, since it didn't fit my preconceived notions of what an RPG book ought to be.
Don't do that.
You'll miss out on an awesome tool.
I'm glad I gave it a second look. It's a damn good book, full of useful stuff. And its small too. One of my first thoughts when I saw it was "Goddamnit Jim, aren't you ever going to print something the size of the old 1st ed. PHB like I've been asking you to for like forever now? At least it would have made the text easier to read." Based on the podcasts though, I think if he ever did that, Zak would fill up the extra space with even more material at the same font. As well he should. It's good stuff.
I think the size of the book is actually a good thing, because no matter how many other books you have in your DnD-night bag, I guarantee you this one will also fit in there. You can always have this with you in every game. It's a zero-encumbrance item. Plus, now that I've given it a good read, I can't think of anything I would leave out of Vornheim. Based on that, I'll deal with the font because I like the content, and the only way to get all that content into 64 pages was to lay it out like Zak did.
Anyhow, I don't have a formal rating system of stars or thumbs or anything as I rarely do reviews, so I'll just finish by saying its a damn good book with pretty useful tools. You may have to drop your preconceived notions of what an RPG book ought to be, like I had to do, in order to really appreciate it. I'm glad I bought it. I'm gonna use it.
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