I've meant to review the extraordinarily talented Zak Sabbath's city toolkit Vornheim for awhile now. I know that this little masterpiece has been around for quite some time, but I figured that I should add a few kind words about this book, since I have it on hand behind my screen at all times. For those of you haven't yet had the opportunity to read Vornheim, you are doing yourself a disservice - especially if an urban setting figures prominently within your campaign setting.
I have always loved urban settings. Probably every since I first read Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar series. Zak, in typical fashion, subverts everything you'd expect to find in the typical city guide. Instead of lambasting the reader with street names, prominent NPCs, shops, taverns, plots, and intrigues, Zak provides the tools for GM create all these things on the fly.
He does provide a little bit of fluff about his version of Vornheim, a frigid, landlocked burgh of crumbling towers, covered bridges, and slow-moving pets. He provides all this information with a bit of a nudge and wink. I suspect, too, that Zak is a huge fan of Burroughs, and that he employed the cut-up method when he devised some of the zany customs, jurisprudence, and superstitions of the people reside in his city.
Zak is quick to assert, also, that the intent of his book is to inspire the reader to make Vornhein their own. This is most readily apparent in the sections that outline rules / suggestions for urban crawls, generating the various shops on a city block, easy urban cartography, and much more. He also provides tables to quickly generate nobles and NPCs, random floor plan generators, random events, tavern names, etc. In short, you have pretty much everything you need to keep a city interesting.
The only criticism I have about this book is that I wish there were more of it. I know that Zak kept it short so that it remains accessible, but I would've enjoyed a few more random tables, or even a few more anecdotes about Vornheim. Be that as it may, the book is delivers an extraordinary amount in a small amount of space, so, I can't really complain. So, if you've heard about Vornheim, but you've been ambivalent about picking it up, rest assured that you'll get your money's worth.
Thanks, Zak for taking the initiative and creating such a quirky, utilitarian book for a new GM.