Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Vornheim: The Reviewening


I will start by telling a little customer service story.  I haven’t traditionally been a huge Jim Raggi fan, but I gotta tell you, he’s good at customer service.

I ordered Vornheim from the LotFP online store about 5 weeks ago.  Last week I was getting a bit antsy about it not being in my hands, so I wrote Jim an email through the store support contact.  I received a reply promptly (accounting for time difference) which apologized for the inconvenience, laid out the standard timeline for shipping to my location, described some potential reasons for the delay and offered to buy me another copy from a north American vendor (since he’s sold out)  if the product did not arrive within a certain amount of time.

I’ve worked in customer service, people.  I was a customer support call center manager.  This is HOW THIS SHIT IS DONE.  Armed with the information that a) the delay was within the range of expected shipping time, b) Canadian customs sometimes slows stuff down arbitrarily and c) I had an alternative if I was unhappy with the wait, which the vendor would pay for himself – I was happy to wait a few more weeks.  And lo and behold, Vornheim arrived late last week.

So from one customer support professional to another – fabulous job, James Edward Raggi IV.  Top f’ing notch.  It’s pretty likely that Jim knew that he wouldn’t have to buy/ship me a copy from a North American vendor, but he made the offer, and that is huge.  Much of customer service is managing expectations and providing options, and that was deftly done here.

On to Vornheim.

This book is smaller than I expected.  There is a certain expectation I have for physical dimensions of RPG supplements, and this book does not conform to that.  But that isn’t bad.  This is a very convenient size for an rpg book.  I could fit it in a coat pocket if I wanted to.  And the contents make me want to.

When I actually read the book, it’s incredibly DENSE.  There is more practical, useful, interesting stuff in this book than in all the 4e books I purchased.  There is NO wasted space.  The INSIDE OF THE DUST JACKET has a map on it.  It’s like working in a well-designed ship galley kitchen.  Everything is right there within reach and no space is wasted at all.

This is the chocolate brownie of role-playing supplements.  It’s small, chewy and tasty.  Getting a bigger piece would almost be overkill.

I quite like the multi-column random tables.  They are a great use of space, since they can be used straight across with a single roll or rolled on multiple times.  The dice-drop tables are also handy.  I’ve spent some time deciphering all the things they could be used for, and I feel that I’ve only just scratched the surface.

The book is also fairly edition-neutral, which is a good thing.  I’m mostly playing D&D Next right now, and I can use the stats and tools pretty much straight across.  A handy-dandy “Later Editions Conversion Table” is also included, plus the dice-drop charts support ascending or descending AC, depending on your preference and system.

I’m a little bit less in love with the included adventures.  They are interesting and all, but I can’t help but feel that the space they use would have been better served with more tools.  And make no mistake, this book is a toolkit.  There are tools for quickly building street maps, tools for populating businesses, for naming taverns, for organizing relationships between NPC’s.

Portable, incredibly useful, interesting art, helpful tables and not a single square inch of wasted space.  This book is fundamentally different than what you see coming out of any major RPG design company.  I can only wish that Gary Gygax was as good at book design as Zak S is.

The only downside is that it took a long time for me to get it.  But Jim Raggi dealt with that problem in an admirable fashion.  Thanks, Zak and Jim – now I have to reevaluate what I expect from BOTH and RPG supplement AND an RPG seller.