|Lamentations of the Flame Princess publisher James Raggi and a copy of the new print run of Vornheim.|
The blog has been quiet for a while since Gen Con. Who knew that getting a house ready for going to market was so much work? I certainly didn't. I also didn't expect to haul as many bags of rock as I have the last couple of months. Regardless, "real life" work has eaten up all of my free time of late, and cut into my ability to write both here, and over at Bleeding Cool. Being a grown up sucks.
So, this post isn't about my talking about the fun of landscaping and painting. No, it is to talk about the eminent return of Zak Smith's Vornheim supplement. Today, Lamentations of the Flame Princess publisher James Raggi informally announced that the new print run of Vornheim was done, and ready to be flung out into the world again. The second print run is double what the first was, with 4000 copies this time. Considering that Smith's latest A Red & Pleasant Land has just about gone through its print run in 9 months, I expect the second printing of Vornheim to move just as quickly (if not faster).
For those who do not have a copy, you might be asking "What is this Vornheim of which you speak?" Ostensibly an OSR product, I see Vornheim's place now as being more the opening shot of the OSR offshoot that has been named "DIY D&D." Where the OSR would be philosophical and exploratory about discovering the play styles of older games, and revisiting the older rulesets in a way that would make them available again in ways that wouldn't require spending hundreds of dollars on eBay, the DIY D&D movement focuses on play that is happening now, with or without older rulesets, and how you can create material that grows organically from play. In a way, DIY D&D is very much a return to the idea of the early days of the hobby, the idea that groups generated the material that they needed for their table themselves, using their chosen ruleset as their foundation.
When gaming became big business in the 90s, there was a move away from this idea, mostly because gaming companies wanted to make money from campaign settings, character option supplements and many other things that groups had previously made mostly for themselves. Yes, some of these things would eventually be published, like the Arduin Grimoires or any of the Judges Guild material, but that consumerism wasn't the focus of gaming groups.
With the release of Vornheim, Smith triggered a return to that Do-It-Yourself mentality. Yes, Vornheim was published in book form, and pieces of it appeared over time on Smith's blog, but the primary idea of Vornheim isn't to sell you something that you drop into your game world and play until you kill all of the monsters in it. No, the idea of Vornheim is to teach how to do it yourself, how to build a city that will engage and intrigue your players and get them to want to have their characters explore it. This is why Vornheim's subtitle is The Complete City Kit.
The idea of Vornheim the book is to give to GMs a set of tools that will allow them to create their own interesting and unique fantasy cities. There have been a lot of fantasy city settings over the time of gaming as a hobby, and a business. What makes Vornheim so different, and much more useful in the long run, is how it shows GMs and players how to make their own worlds, their own cities. The setting of Vornheim is an example of how you can use the tools in the book Vornheim to make a city. It is a worked example, and not just a bunch of stuff thrown together to fill out a book, because the setting of Vornheim was developed over years of play. This is the two big things for DIY D&D from my viewpoint: make things that are useful for your game and use your game as the basis for what you make.
There is a huge amount of different between the feel, and utility, of gaming material that is written for the sake of filling a book, and material that is written to fill in the gaps in a campaign. While our hobby was built on the idea of the latter, it has evolved into being about the former. Big books are written to fill spots on supplement treadmills, because gamers have been conditioned to let game designers do their thinking, do their working for them, instead of realizing the simple reality of tabletop gaming: the best stuff is that which grows out of play, at the table. Getting back to this mindset is what makes DIY D&D so important, probably in some ways more important than the OSR out of which it grew.
The reason that Vornheim and Red & Pleasant Land have sold so well isn't just that they are so much more creative than a lot of what is being made in the D&D space, but because of the idea that they give permission again to GMs and players to do more than just engage with material as it it, but to make it their own. Our group ran Red & Pleasant Land as a classic Marvel Super-Heroes game set in 1970s NYC. Would we have done this without the idea of DIY D&D? Probably, but we're probably also not the most representative of gaming groups either.
Outside of all of this, Vornheim is a great toolbox for a fantasy GM to have. It ranks with the Midkemia Press book Cities for usefulness in creating and filling out a fantasy city. One of the things that makes Vornheim useful is the fact that most of the tools are designed to be used on the fly. I don't think that I have gotten as much use out of a random chart as I have the "I Search The Body" chart in Vornheim. The Urbancrawling rules let you make sections for your city on the fly. The front and back cover drop tables speed up combat and creating adversaries for the PCs. There are a lot of useful things to be found in this book.
Not only that, but there is going to be a renaissance of use of this book. People will be using it at their tables, and bloggers will be talking about how great it has been to use it in their games. Those 4000 copies are going to go a lot more quickly than anyone thinks, and then they will be gone for a while again. Does anyone really want to be one of the people who has to watch everyone else talk about how cool this book is, and how much they've enjoyed it in their games? Don't be that person.
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