My Bookshelves

Certain circles have recently discussed the size of my gaming collection. To put questions to rest, I photographed it. This will be a rather graphics-intensive post – there’s a lot of collection.

Not shown are a few Ravenloft books and a handful of folio-sized Space: 1889 books. Also, I just realized I forgot to take a close-up of the bottom-right corner of the primary shelves. And now I’m in a different town. Annoying. It is quite readable in the main picture, though.

The primary game shelf


The secondary shelf

The Planescape stuff I got, laid out on a table because it won't fit in the shelves

And some close-ups:







Here we go.


Review – Vornheim: The Complete City Kit

I recently purchased a copy of Vornheim: The Complete City Kit. Then, even more recently, I purchased another copy to give as a gift. It was an easy decision, as it is laughably cheap for its page count of 64, hard covers and book jacket. Also, it’s a pretty damn good book.

Vornheim is written by Zak S. of Playing D&D with Porn Stars (and indeed, I do not think I have ever seen quite so many adult entertainment professionals credited in a roleplaying game book) and I Hit It with My Axe, and published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

With a pedigree such as that, you might be forgiven for assuming it filled with gratuitous depictions of sex and gore. However, it is not so! To the contrary, it is printed chock-full (and I mean full) of tools, advice, and game material for running a fantasy city. Any city, not just Vornheim.

When I say “full”, I am not exaggerating. There’s precisely two blank pages in the entire book, and those are most likely due to the difficulty of printing on both sides of the flyleaf. Apart from that, there are charts on the covers, the rules for using them on the inside covers, and the city map is on the inside of the book jacket. The layout is tight and there are a couple of tables where the type is positively minuscule.

So, it’s crammed to bursting, but crammed with what?

Vornheim is not a traditional city sourcebook, in the vein of Sharn: The City of Towers or City of Lies or City of Splendors, or the rest. For one thing, it doesn’t have “City of” in its title. Also, it does not describe all that much of the city itself. Instead, it gives the GM the tools to run the city, or any other fantasy city. There is some description of Vornheim itself, and some adventure locales such as the medusa Eshrigel’s manor, and a few pages of ideas, rumours and legends of the city. My favourite is how the clerics of Vorn are forbidden to use blunt weapons, for they are a sign of hypocrisy.

Most of the book, however, is dedicated to GM tools for running a city adventure quickly. There’s a fast guideline for determining the prices of mundane items, there are guidelines for drawing floorplans and street maps, random charts and tables for aristocrats, other NPCs, stuff found on dead bodies, shopkeepers, whatever. Also, many of them do not work by rolling numbers but by dropping d4’s on top of the page (or the covers) and checking where they land. This is delightfully innovative.

The NPC tables also come with several columns, so that with a single roll, you can get a full premade aristocrat or other NPC, or you can roll several times for something different. For example, if I request my dice bot for 6 d100 and apply the numbers 54, 6, 16, 35, 84, and 62 to the Aristocrats chart, I get… Orrik von Klaw, the Minister of Imports and Licences, an energetic man, full of black humour (and with an unfortunate addiction to white mushroom powder). He is also the friend of… (and let us turn to the random NPC table, with the numbers 99, 38, 36 and 78…) Gorn the Fondler, a chandler who also happens to be an officious busybody who writes down information on everybody he meets.

The tables are a very quick way to produce NPCs with personalities. The charts on the covers will also spit out their classes, levels and hit points if need be. The NPCs they produce remind me a lot of another Lamentations of the Flame Princess book, People of Pembrooktonshire. The genre of the book is definitely weird fantasy. The NPCs will range from quirky to outlandishly strange (my favourite result in the NPC chart is “Has bizarre fungus colony growing in stomach. Knows it, and sings/recites poetry to it each night before going to bed. If slain, the colony will escape.”).

But then, if you want an ordinary NPC you can just not roll for that column.

There are also weird things like the idea that all snakes are actually books that can be read by those in the know, and they constantly hiss out their titles. Ordinary snakes are ordinary books, such as coral snakes usually being cookbooks, while the magical species of serpentine creatures will be unique poetry or the like. Dragons are books of magic.

What few stats there are for some stripe of retroclone (and monster stats for those are more or interchangeable anyway), with one page right at the end giving condensed 4E versions of them all. For the most part, though, the book is wholly system-independent and can be used with equal ease in any edition of D&D or GURPS or whatever fantasy game you’re running.

Once I next run a game set in a fantasy metropolis, I will most certainly have my Vornheim by my side, whether it be set in Sigil or Kaer Maga or the City of Greyhawk. I think you might want to take look at it, too.

Review: Ultimate Magic

Paizo Publishing recently released a shiny new hardcover for Pathfinder RPG. It came amidst much buzz and brouhaha. Now that I have my copy and have had time to pore over it, I may give you my thoughts.

Ultimate Magic is an interesting book. It is mostly a player option book in the vein of Advanced Player’s Guide. New stuff for players, primarily in the form of new options and increased customization for their characters. Whereas the APG tried to have something for everyone, UM is solely for spellcasters. Its companion volume, Ultimate Combat is coming out later in the year. In addition to the character options, though, UM has some interesting new things that go beyond just new spells and feats. The most significant of these is the alternative spell system, words of power, but it is not the only new thing here.

Let’s see what the book has eaten.

The Regular Features

Much like the APG, Ultimate Magic has a load of new archetypes, new feats and new spells for the player characters. It kicks off with the biggest new thing, the magus base class. It is the newest attempt to tackle the age-old problem of creating a balanced, functional character that combines melee combat with arcane spellcasting. This one has a long and… not all that glorious history, really. Bladesinger, eldritch knight, spellsword, hexblade… the attempts have been many and they have been either too powerful, too weak, or too bland.

While I’ve yet to see the magus in actual play, I think it might be the best yet. It is not a simple class, though – while the magus arcana abilities make it very customizable, it will take time for a new player to really wrap their head around how the magus plays. The class gets two-weapon fighting abilities with spells (stab someone in the face and cast a spell at the same time) and can deliver touch attack spells through their weapons. With the appropriate magus arcana (much like rogue talents), they can also deliver ranged touch attack spells like this, and they can also temporarily grant their weapons magical enhancements. In the right circumstances, a high-level magus can drop a small bucket of damage dice while wielding a penknife. As they progress in levels, they will also unlock better armour proficiencies, with a 13th-level magus lobbing fireballs in field plate. They have a fairly limited spell list, mostly attacks and buffs, and slow spell progression. The BAB progression is the same as the cleric’s.

Overall, I like the magus and will be interested in seeing how it performs in the field. May have to rewrite some NPCs in the Serpent’s Skull campaign, or perhaps even pregenerate one as a PC for my Planescape one-shot…

Then there’s a pile of archetypes and other new stuff for all the spellcasting base classes that have come before. You can see that the one they’ve had the most fun with is the alchemist. There’s a new discovery called “tumor familiar”. There’s an archetype called preservationist, who stores summon nature’s ally spells in bottles. “Dire tiger, I choose you!” Other alchemist archetypes include the psychonaut, the reanimator and the vivisectionist. It’s like the police lineup of mad professors. Awesome stuff.

The bard get the masterpieces, abilities that are related to their Perform skills and can be taken as either feats or replacements for new spells. Their archetypes include the geisha and my own favourite, the celebrity, for the character who is famous for being famous.

Nothing else really jumped out at me, except for the new summoner stuff. They get the aquatic eidolon base form, and the broodmaster and master summoner archetypes, which both come with the feature of having a metric crapload of summoned creatures on table. This can be hellishly slow of the player doesn’t know precisely what they’re doing and have all the stats with them. Fortunately, there’s a sidebar which says as much. (Personally, after a few sessions in 3.5 that felt like drinking tar, I now maintain a house rule that nobody summons anything unless they’ve brought the stats with them. I also have text files with prepared stats for the summoned creatures of any character that I play.)

Oh, and the witch gets the major hex “cook people” and the grand hex “witch’s hut”, which animates a small dwelling. Among the wizard’s new stuff are the metal and wood elementalist schools, in anticipation of the Jade Regent adventure path later this year.

There’s also 17 pages of feats and 45 pages of spells, including such wondrous magics as mad monkeys and rain of frogs. There are no new magic items.

Handily, an appendix at the back of the book provides us an expanded list of possible familiars for the Improved Familiar feat, adding the new lowbie outsiders from Bestiary 2. There are also just plain regular new familiars, such as the fox, the pig and the turtle, as well as a few more unusual creatures. Unfortunately, no penguins.

The New Weird

Then there’s the really new stuff. Well, new to Pathfinder RPG. Older versions of the game have seen their own interpretations of some of these.

First up, there’s the spellblights, magical diseases or ailments that only affect spellcasters. These may be acquired either by casting a spell in an area of spellblight or through a curse spell. There are also optional ways, such as rolling a 1 with the Use Magic Device skill or having a spell fizzle due to arcane spell failure (there’s always a save, though). Spellblights include stuff like spell addiction.

There are rules for spell duels, which I found a bit bland. While I suppose that you could recreate any of these scenes with them, it’s up to the players at the table to provide the flavour, because the rules themselves feel… unexciting.

Following that, we get rules for binding outsiders, along with true names and long lists of individual outsider and elemental types and the specifics of summoning them and binding them into service. Then come the rules for making, modifying and repairing outsiders. Then, expanded rules for spellbooks, followed by a 12-page treatise on designing your own spells.

Then we come to one of the more interesting bits in the book, the Words of Power.

It’s an alternative spellcasting system, where you start with a set amount of building blocks and then mix and match them to form the spells that you cast. This means that you have greater flexibility in arranging the effects of your spells – while the ordinary wizard is limited to his fireball and lightning bolt, the wordcaster can produce endless variations of them without resorting to the use of metamagic feats. On the other hand, since the amount of power words is fixed and limited, they cannot duplicate the more specific spells in the other casters’ repertoires, such as, for instance, prismatic spray (though the individual effects can be produced as separate spells, I think). You get all sorts of summoning, damaging, draining, healing and divining effects, so a wordcaster can fulfill all the main tasks of a regular caster of the same class in a game, no problem.

The words of power system can exist in a campaign and even in a single character alongside the regular Vancian spellcasting system, and at least looks balanced (as it should be, after all that playtesting). I am intrigued by its applications, and will definitely be whipping up a couple of NPCs utilizing the rules. (This book is throwing so many curveballs at my players that it’s not even funny.)


Well, it’s solid Paizo work. I’m not too excited about all of the additional material, but especially the new rules are all highly situational and I haven’t really encountered those situations yet. In general, though the stuff in it seems neatly written and balanced and stuff, and that which is obviously broken has already received impromptu errata on the forums, the book somehow fails to get me all fired up like Advanced Player’s Guide did. Okay, I’ll admit that mad monkeys is pretty awesome. Still, it’s missing that je ne sais quoi.

However, it’s a good book, especially if you’re playing a caster and looking for new options. Also, like all the PFRPG hardcovers, the PDF version retails for $10, for a 258-page file. Even if it you end up regretting the purchase, it’s unlikely you’ll regret it all that much.

Personally, I think I’ll have to see the material in action before I can really judge its final worth. Obviously, I must get a summer game going, now that the Serpent’s Skull campaign is on a break until the autumn semester.

News: RPG Blog Alliance and Stalker RPG IRC channel

There is a new networking site for roleplaying bloggers out there, the RPG Blog Alliance. It is more community-oriented than the old RPG Blogger Network, which has also been suffering from technical issues lately. There’s a forum, they’re processing new memberships quickly and the site looks pretty good, and it’s caught on with the bloggers, too. I’d bookmark it if I were you. Just sayin’.

Also, though I have no news about the Stalker RPG to announce, we did put up an English-language IRC channel for the game, in IRCnet. It’s called #stalker-rpg. Since the game has been out in Finnish since 2008, we have no real reason to be tight-lipped about any of its contents, either. The game’s author, Ville Vuorela, goes by the nick Burger or Burger2 or some variant thereof, while I am NiTessine. Everyone is welcome!