|January 15, 2013||Posted by Martin Ralya|
This is the third and final article in my sporadic series on Lamentations of the Flame Princess products: a look at my favorite aspect of Vornheim: The Complete City Kit. (The previous two articles covered Carcosa and Isle of the Unknown.) Like its predecessors, this is a product spotlight and not a review; Phil reviewed Vornheim back in 2011.
Vornheim is a neat book in all sorts of ways. Written by Zak S., the author of Playing D&D with Pornstars (which is NSFW and excellent — it’s one of my favorite gaming blogs), it’s packed with all sorts of useful oddball stuff: tables to see who you meet on the street, notes on city adventures, rules for “urbancrawls” (a city-based take on hexcrawls), detailed write-ups of specific cool places in the titular city of Vornheim, and more. But what I like most are the die drop tools, so that’s what I’m going to focus on in this article.
The concept of die drop tables
This is one of those slap-your-forehead ideas that opens up a whole new tool set: Draw something on a piece of paper, give it two axes or just fully populate it with possible results, and drop dice on it. Where each die lands tells you something, as does the number on each die.
That is brilliant. It’s so free-form that you can turn it to all sorts of purposes to suit your own campaign.
Die drop tools in Vornheim
There are several die drop tools and tables in Vornheim, as well as keys to using them. Let’s tackle the three coolest ones.
The master table
First up is the front cover (underneath the dust jacket, which also has city creation tools on it!), which presents the “master” table
The inside of the cover lists different ways to interpret this table, since the table has no inherent meaning. Using it is simple: Decide what you’re generating, drop a d4, and check the key.
I decided to create a tower, so I dropped a die…
…and checked the key, which said to look to the right of the die for the number of stories (13), down from the die for the number of bridges (6; Vornheim is a city of spires connected by bridges, but for a tower elsewhere I’d ignore bridges and call this result something else), and at the die roll for the number of entrances (4).
What makes this table so clever is that you can quickly create a key that’s specific to your game and use it to generate any damned thing you want. Number of patrons in the inn, how many valuables each is carrying, and their perception score? Done. Number of decks on the starship, number of guards, and number of airlocks? Done.
Want a different scale? Use different numbers or drop a different die, or both. Want multiple results? Drop multiple dice. It’s limitless.
This technique starts with a blank piece of paper, onto which you drop a number of d4s that depends on the size/complexity of the floorplan you want to create. I chose to drop three dice…
..and then I referenced the book to see how to turn that result into a floorplan:
Following those instructions, I generated this building:
That looks entirely serviceable to me. As a shop, the long room at the bottom could be where you enter, while the rest would be storage and living quarters. As a villain’s HQ, the long room would be where the cool thing the PCs are after is kept.
What’s on this street?
From a city creation standpoint, I like this tool the most. It’s also a good example of the third broad type of die drop tool: The first used a two-axis grid, the second started with a blank page, and this one fully populates a page with possible results.
Here’s the populated page in Vornheim:
Need one building? Drop one die; where it lands is the building you get. But creating a whole street seems much cooler, so I dropped four dice:
That got me an art dealer, an asylum, a brewery, and a brothel (topmost die); a granary, a leatherworks, and a livestock dealer/breeder (bottom leftmost die); a hatter and a livestock dealer/breeder (middle die); and a market hall, a tavern/inn, and an ostler (bottom right die). I could interpret the double result for “livestock dealer/breeder” as two businesses, a dealer and a breeder, or one really big business. Die results could be the number of stories, employees, or any other metric that seems useful (or you could just ignore them).
If relative position matters, I could decide beforehand to go right to left, top to bottom, and have that be the order the PCs encounter the buildings in. Or just have buildings produced by a single die drop be adjacent to each other.
That’s a weird street, but it’s an interesting one — and I could easily ignore the oddest results if I wanted it to be more mundane (or build my own version of this table). More appealing to me is to make this a long street or a very peculiar one, and find a way to make it work on the spur of the moment.
Make it your own
In addition to being fantastic in its own right, it’s perhaps even better as a tool for inspiration. Die drop tables and tools are DIY at its best. Reading how Zak uses them, both in Vornheim and on his blog, makes me think of all sorts of ways I can use them myself.
If you’ve got questions about Vornheim or the die drop tools (or other stuff in the book), I’ll be happy to try to answer them in the comments.