The setting book is a beast that anyone who has been into RPGs for awhile knows, and most of the time they are an unadulterated waste of money. After all, the reasoning goes, I can just make my own setting, and it would probably be better than what I'd have to pay money for. Right?
Most of the time, yes. However, in this case we've been given a setting book that is well worth the money. Vimary is one of the brick craphouses of setting books, and aside from a few minor flaws stands as a near perfect example of how to make a setting book.
Vimary is divided into 5 chapters, each dealing with it's own aspect of the island called Vimary. If you are looking for information outside the island, you won't get it till Into the Outlands comes out -- this book is specifically concerned with Vimary, and it profits from the narrow focus with greater detail than most setting books ever achieve. All of the chapters are written 'in character', except for the fifth chapter, which is exposition.
The first chapter is a quick introduction, written in the voice of Altara Ven, one of the best known fallen in Vimary. It gives a nicely atmospheric and quick glimpse at the land and the issues that will be dealt with at greater length in the rest of the book. It does a nice job of setting up the rest of the book, but gives very little information that someone who had read the main book would not already know.
Next up is "Living History" a chapter about the history of Vimary. Written from the point of view of a Tera Sheban lorekeeper it gives both a good run down of how Vimary came to be, as well as a good feel for the problems of the present that grew out of the mistakes of the past. The section is very atmospheric, but also laid out in a linear enough style that if you want to find some fact from the text it is not too difficult to dig it out.
The third chapter, and the longest, is "Vimary Revisited." In this chapter we are thrust into the midst of a rather gruesome story. A Z'Bri has captured a member of each of the factions of Vimary, and is torturing them for information. The spilling of their guts is what gives us our information about the island and it's peoples. We are given information on all the main groups in Vimary, including on the Z'bri when one of the captives turns the table on her 'captor'. This section is hefty, and gives wonderful atmospheric detail.
"Faces in the Mirror", the fourth chapter, is written from the point of view of Dhallia herself. In this chapter the trickster leads her new toy through the land of Vimary, and points out some of the main movers and shakers of the land. We get a good deal of the skinny on the internal politics of the tribes, several secret conspiracies, and a rather gruesome amount of detail about the Z'bri.
The book finishes off with out of character exposition. "Beyond Myth," focuses on how to actually -use- all the information you've been given in this book in an actual game. A large amount of it will be obvious to experienced weavers, but could be useful to new storytellers. The real meat of this section is in it's listings of groups and weaver's secrets, which is something that you can really sink your teeth into.
I have to admit that I found it very admirable that the present and the past were not treated as separate entities in this book, it gives a historical cohesiveness that is all too often lacking in setting supplements. As you read this book you can clearly see how Vimary developed as an organic unit, which makes suspension of disbelief so much easier than in settings that are clunked together solely to get an end result.
The atmosphere of this book can not be praised enough either. When you read through the book you really start to feel the pulse of Vimary, the lives and fears of it's inhabitants. While we are all used to this happening in novels, I can honestly say that I had never felt that for a setting book before. The sheer evocativeness of the text is amazing. The writing is truly alive, and the authors are to be commended.
And besides all this wonderful writing we also get one thing that I love beyond measure in a setting book - maps, good maps. We get maps of Vimary, of the underground, of the Rust Wastes, of Hom, and of just about everything else. The pictorial nature of the maps makes them particularly useful, showing the lay of the land in a way that no description ever could. Bad maps are a waste of space, but good maps like these are worth their weight in gold.
First off, the standard disclaimers for dealing with Dream Pod 9 material, it was rather expensive for the page count, and there were a fairly high number of obvious typos. However, I feel that that horse is already dead and shall refrain from beating it any further.
My main complaint against this book is that the in character narrative style can make it very difficult to dig out a relevant fact or image in the middle of a game. It's rather irritating to be flipping madly through pages looking for a relevant quotation while your players start to throw things at each other. The first couple sections handle the situation rather well, but the hefty third chapter can be a bit labyrinthine at times. I can't help but think that a bit less dedication to in character flow might not have made the book a bit more useful.
I strongly suspect that Mr. Soulban wrote the sections of the Z'Bri, and all I can say is, "GROSS!" There were sections in this book enough to churn my stomach and force me to make ichy faces. For those of you who didn't think that the Z'bri write ups in the main book were terrifying (or nasty) enough, read these sections and I can just about guarantee that your mind will change.
If you play Tribe 8 in the original setting this book is invaluable. If you want to see how to put together a setting book then this book is a good place to start. Well set up, illustrated with love, and so alive it jumps off the page, Vimary is the setting book to get.
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)