RPG Reviews – Scarred Lands Player’s Guide

Scarred Lands Player’s Guide (Onyx Path Publishing)

If you were around during the release of D&D 3rd edition, then the name “Scarred Lands” may be very familiar. Sneaking in just before the release of the Monster Manual, and taking advantage of the new Open Gaming License, White Wolf Game Studios released their Creature Collection – a bestiary of interesting and unique monsters for a teased-at world known as Scarn, and a setting known as the Scarred Lands. They went on to release a massive library of titles for the line and now, Onyx Path Publishing and Nocturnal Media have brought the setting back for the 5th edition of the Dungeons & Dragons game.

This book, while primarily acting as a Player’s Guide, is more a gateway into the setting. DMs will, of course, find plenty of value, with DM-oriented material like monsters and setting secrets. Players will find a lot to make use of – new Class Archetypes, Race Subtypes or revamps, new Races, Feats, Spells, and more. You’ll find most everything you’d want out of a setting book.

The core concept of the setting is that of a “scarred land.” Taking inspiration from Greek mythology, Scarn is a world damaged and altered in a war between the primordial Titans and their children “the gods.” Though the conflict ended over a century prior, the world has been warped and twisted and has not recovered. This book focuses primarily on the peoples and geography of the continent Ghelspad, though 4 others are known and will presumably be covered again in time (the frigid and desolate Fenrilik has just been announced as upcoming). The basic introduction covers the history in brief, as well as the Titans and the Gods individually. It’s a great setup to use, as it gives player-facing patrons and mighty antagonists (the Titans can’t die, so lie sleeping and bound).

Ghelspad as a continent has a long history to draw on. Before the Titanswar it had seen many empires rise and fall – among them dragons, “Ancient Ones”, Dwarves, and Snake-people (Assatthi). Naturally while there is plenty of content presented for DMs and players, this means there’s a lot you can develop on your own and homebrew. While the continent can’t sustain an empire at this point, that isn’t stopping the Calastian Hegemony from growing, which provides a suitable location for war stories and political intrigue. Entries for each kingdom, Free Nation, and City-state provide basic demographics and a couple of paragraphs of detail and flavor. Some of the particularly interesting ones include the Gleaming Valley (home to the hollow knights/legionnaires, a new PC race), the Bridged City (a labyrinth of bridges built in cliffs and canyons), Glivid-Autel and Hollowfaust (rival cities of necromancers), Lokil (a library city), and Mithril (built around a giant fallen golem).

Topographically there’s a lot of blood: the Blood Basin which fills with backwash from the Blood Sea during the Blood Monsoon (The Blood Sea is where the Titan Kadum is trapped at the bottom, whose blood colors the water). The Blood Monsoon also affects the Bloodrain woods (both names become pretty self-explanatory). If names are born from experience or key elements/landmarks, this all makes perfect sense for the survivors of a cataclysmic divine war only a few generations earlier. There are other cool landmarks – a mountain range made from a Titan’s teeth and a mountain pass that turns a whisper into a bellow, or worse. Specific places of power are highlighted a little further, including information learned from Lore checks, possible Encounters, effects associated with the location, and any boon one might derive from the location. The Blood Sea is one – some other cool locations are the Pillar of Non (the only remnant of the old capital of the Empire of Lede, which evokes a ghostly aura to its surroundings), and the Annot Kalambath (a mighty tree dedicated to the Titan Mormo, Queen of Serpents).

I love factions and organizations in RPGs. They’re perfect for group cohesion, plot hooks, and antagonists. Being baked into the setting means they’re something everyone can draw on to flavor their backgrounds and gameplay. Mention of The Zhentarim or Harpers or the Knights of Solamnia in a D&D game immediately evokes a response to those familiar with the worlds they come from. Here we’re given organizations categorized as Arcane, Criminal, Death, Devotional, Mercantile, Military, and Political, which should really cover the span of things. Each category has one organization described in full, including explicit plot hooks, then about one to three others that receive a briefer overview. I can see running a very entertaining game set at the War Colleges of Darakeene or telling a “Black Company”-like story with the mercenary Legion of Ash, while the Cult of the Ancients manipulates events behind the scenes.

One of the draws of any D&D setting is the player character options and the Scarred Lands Player’s Guide does not disappoint. Races are divided into the Divine Races and the Redeemed (formerly known as Titanspawn). The Divine Races were created by, well, the Gods, and the Titanspawn by the Titans. The traditional D&D Races count as Divine, while the new ones are Redeemed (though there are those who remain loyal to the Titans). Not every race from the PHB appears here and those that do are a little more powerful than their original presentations, so modifications are needed when adding races from another book. The subraces appear more as cultures than full-on different strains of the species, which I like, and they’re also more tied to the setting. I particularly like that the “Dark elves” or “Deep elves”, the Drendali, aren’t remotely like the Drow in temperament or society, they just live underground and are super-pale. Besides Elves, you have Humans, Dwarves, and Halflings, then the new races: Asaatthi (snake people), Ironbred (bipedal horse people), Manticora (bipedal lion people), Slitherin (rat people), full Orcs, and the unique Hollow Legionnaires (spirit people who are bound to a suit of armor.) Each race is presented well with enough detail to make good use of them in your game.

New Class Archetypes are available, which should work well in other settings too, though some are a little more tied to the Scarred Lands setting itself. I like the Bardic College of Choristers, who preserve favorable memories and the various Sorcerer Origins (Blessed, Elemental, Titanic Corruption – all really flavorful) the most. However, my favorite part, which I have missed since D&D 3rd edition went the way of all flesh (I never got into Pathfinder), are Prestige Classes! They are optional Classes that characters must multiclass into after meeting various in-game and mechanical prerequisites. The Adamant Champion (a divine warrior of the god Corean), Incarnates (the druidic reincarnation of an old soul who makes use of its past lives, and the Tattoo Adept (a spellcaster who makes use of Tattoo magic) are my personal favorites.

New Backgrounds help characters better fit into the world as they’re divided into Social and Regional “half” backgrounds. You’ll choose one of each and take their benefits. This means you can have an Adopted Canyoneer, or Brigand Beachcomber, or an Adopted Beachcomber or Brigand Canyoneer – lots of expansive combinations are presented. There are a good number of new Feats, many tied to a character’s Race.

While some people may be out there for slightly more generic options they can plug and play into their own game, I appreciate how specific a lot of the Scarred Lands ones are. They’re good to help invest players and characters in the setting and they show how the core rules can be modified and altered to evoke a particular style of game. Things can be repurposed, they just might require a little work.

Besides some new class archetypes for spellcasters, there are a wealth of new spells from power boosts (Mass True Strike), to necromantic arcana like Adamantine Undead, Soul Exchange, or Animate Undead Minion (lots of necromancy focus), to neat utility powers like Beast Rider, where the caster merges with a willing beast to travel with it. Arcane spellcasters also have to contend with Mesos’ Bane, a stain on magic caused by the harm caused to the Titan of sorcery. These are primarily cosmetic side effects (plants wilting nearby) but some options are provided that have mechanical effect. For those who want deeper magic, there are True Rituals – big effect spells that take a lot of time and energy to cast and pack a big punch. With this you can mass-raise the undead, cause all within hundreds of feet to feel significant fear, or raise a temple. A whole pile of new magic items, including the aforementioned magical tattoos, are also included. Cool stuff!

I’ve enjoyed digging into the Scarred Lands. When I played AD&D2E I collected campaign settings on a regular basis and venturing into each was full of excitement and wonder. I get a lot of the same feeling from this book. The cultures and peoples are familiar, yet different and unique in many ways. The world feels lived in and vibrant with a premise that makes it perfect for adventuring. It feels like D&D but also like its own thing, ready for you to build your own epics.

Closing off the book is an appendix that is definitely oriented more towards the DM, but was worth including while waiting for the Creature Collection. It’s a bestiary drawn from the 3.0/3.5 Creature Collection books including some lovely foes like the Blade Beast, which absorbs weapons that hit it, the Bloodman, a humanoid mass of blood and gore, the terrifying Wrack Dragons, the rhino-like Unitaur, the Unredeemed Titanspawn, and Scarn-specific versions of Gorgons, Hags, and Naga.

You can pick up a traditional print copy of Scarred Lands Player’s Guide at Indie Press Revolution or from the below Affiliate links to help support this site!

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One thought on “RPG Reviews – Scarred Lands Player’s Guide

  1. Pingback: RPG Reviews – Scarred Lands Creature Collection (Handiwork Games & Onyx Path Publishing) | The Tabletop Almanac

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