Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Vaults of Vaarn by Leo Hunt

I only have one real problem with this zine, the cover didn't really communicate to me the nature of the awesome stuff inside.

[Response to this comment from my pal @yochaigal1 I disagree. The cover is badass. 12:56 PM · Feb 10, 2021. Yochai is right. I am wrong. The cover is bad ass.]

There are two issues of this zine. I have the second but I just started reading it, so I'm restricting my comments to the first. [Edit: since this posting there has been a third zine and then a hard back compilation.]

Vaults of Vaarn 

VoV is a zine, but I hesitate to use the word. While the aesthetics are 100% zine (in a good way), this booklet contains a full fantasy adventure game in a weird, post-post-apocalyptic world inspired by books like Dune, The New Sun, and Hyperion, as well as the art of Moebius. So it's a zine, but it's also a full game. 

The works named above were the ones Leo cited as points of inspiration. I would add that it feels very much like the weird futuristic fantasy of Vance's Dying Earth. It also finds itself echoing some things established by early post-apocalyptic games like Gamma World

Physical Product

The book is 52-pages, staple-bound, with a full color cardstock cover and black and white interior. A perfect amount of cool line-art (also by Leo) helps break up the text-dense pages and makes sure everything hangs together. The cover has a sweet 80s synth vibe to it, which may or may not be at odds with the interior content. (I think it is. But it's cool, nonetheless.)

The System

According to Leo, the game utilizes a lot of Ben Milton's Knave mechanics. I've only skimmed the latter, but I did recognize the way stats work. You get the standard six, with WIS and CHA renamed. You roll 3d6 for each, "down the line." However, you aren't summing the result of the dice. You find the lowest in each throw and use it as the + bonus as well as a 10+x defense. Meaning if your lowest die is a 2, that stat has +2 for rolls and a defense of 12. Most of the time, during game play, you are rolling a d20, adding your bonus by stat, and comparing it to a target of 15. Contested rolls go against armor value (by equipment) or the relevant stat's defense. Interestingly, the math works out the same whether the rolls are made by the GM for the monsters or by players to react to monster attacks; meaning you can choose to roll dice or have rolls player-facing. 

It's a good system and has a lot in common with the simplicity of newer OSR products like The Black Hack. But let's take a look at the Table of Contents...


  • 1 page of credits
  • 1 page of world lore in 9 points (outstanding!!)
  • 1 page overview of chargen
  • 2 pages of basic rules
  • 1 page on advancement
  • 13 pages covering 5 character types: mycomorphs, cacogens, synths, true-kin, and newbeasts – a huge amount of the space is devoted to awesome "spark tables" that help you create a flavorful character. There are so many possibilities!! 
  • 2 pages of equipment
  • 4 pages of spark tables covering mystic gifts, exotica, and cybernetics
  • The remaining pages are for the GM. They are heavy on inspiration in the form of spark tables and light on text. Perfect! They cover:
    • NPCs, Names, and more Exotica
    • Books, Drugs
    • Oases, Ruins, Arcology Domes
    • Nomads, Bandits, Trade Caravans
    • Petty Gods
    • Desert Encounters and You Found a Corpse
    • Beasts - with about 30 examples
    • Transport types - 7 examples

My First Character

Here is an example character I made while reading the rules (always a good way to check to see if you understand them). I'm not sure I did inventory correctly; I'm going to re-read that part. You have inventory slots equal to your CON defense. Small things can be grouped together. Also your gifts/cybernetics take up slots in your PSY inventory. Everything here was rolled randomly. I want to play this guy. If anything, I feel like he might have too many "things" going on, but some of them are one-use, so...


There's a lot to be said about this zine. More than I have said, certainly. But I hope this is more than enough for you to make a decision. In fact, why are you still here? Haven't you ordered your copy yet? Did I mention the PDF is PWYW? You can find it, and places to order the physical copy (you should do that) at  [Edit: go here now,]

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