The Vigil Watch series, for the Scarred Lands 5E setting, is a collection of shorter supplements focused on certain geographic locations of Scarn. At only 8 pages of content each, it’s a tight fit, but they all do a good job of presenting the location and the gameable elements of it. The first three also contain very nice maps, two of which could turn into battlemats, with the third more “city and environs”.
Update: Since my original review, the Vigil Watch series has been collected in a single volume. I’ve added sections on parts 5 and 6: The Festering Fields and Lokil. As you can still purchase the individual parts I’ve written about them separately and will provide links to all the products.
For the buccaneers at your table, the Blood Sea is a perfect place to set a swashbuckling game of piracy and plunder, sailors and shipwrecks. This title provides focus to the area in the Blood Sea known as the Toe Islands. They are five small islands used as bases for pirates in the region and are said to be the literal toes of the titan Kadum, the one whose blood makes the Blood Sea the Blood Sea.
Each island gets a paragraph of two of summary, relevant mechanics that could also be lifted for similar regions (for example, specific diseases, navigating inclement weather, the dangers of reefs, or landing on rough shores), and potential encounters. The five islands include mist-laden and cursed(?) Algos; volcanic and mineral-heavy Cyri; the tropical jungl of Mori, home to the Water Runner Tribe of druids; rocky Roh Ahnon, where the powerful pirate band “The Empire of the Sea” makes their headquarters; and Thalien, covered in abandoned ruins – including a site perfect for a great “dungeon”.
The supplement also includes “Tears of the Weeping Maiden”, an adventure that delves into the mystery of one of the Toe Islands. It’s more than an outline but is still relatively brief in description, though the events could vary in actual play length, depending on if the DM wants to elaborate on any segment and bring in elements described earlier in the description of this particular island. It’s an expedition-style adventure, so has much opportunity for spills and thrills (and kills!).
As we move westward from the Blood Sea, we come to the land south of the Plains of Lede and the settlement founded by the Riders of Mansk, led by one Tivvien Klesh. The Yorling of Mansk began as a simple camp, which became an outpost, then a town, and grew to a bastion of stability in the region near the Blood Basin. Harking back to the early days of the game, Mansk is a perfect location for players to use as a base while they adventure in the region and build up a reputation. There’s enough information for a DM to build upon and flesh out over time.
While an adventure isn’t included in this chapter, there are plot seeds involving the bands of manticora who occasionally trade in Mansk, the politics among the local barbarians who consider the founders of Mansk to have given up their old ways, and a local’s missing sibling.
Mechanics-wise, this chapter has statistics for a number of local threats, including new Titanspawn and Unredeemed orc threats.
As we continue west past the Kelder mountains, skirting the forest of the Ganjus along the northern border, and following the lake to its southwesternmost point, we arrive in the spiritual heart of the burgeoning Manticora Confederacy, the city of Leoni.
Having only had brief detail in the Scarred Lands Player’s Guide, this is a nice chapter to read through to learn more about the manticora. They are semi-nomadic, so permanent settlement in the city is only now becoming more frequent. While the city is relatively calm inside, the compromises some of the manticora have needed to make is a good jumping-off point for intrigue and political plotlines. Little plot hooks involving the residents or locations are sprinkled throughout the text, with a number of more explicitly presented encounters providing story/adventure ideas.
If the manticora are going to feature heavily in your game, either as NPCs, or if there’s a PC in the group, this is a great chapter to read to learn of festivals, customs, and culture. Like Mansk, it’s also a great location to use as a home base, offering many amentities to adventurers and acting as a good staging ground for adventures far afield.
Speaking of nomads and city-states, chapter 4 focuses in on the Redeemed Ironbred. Rejecting their creator and with no settled home, hunted by their Titanspawn brethren, their culture is nomadic with a really cool structure. A roving city-state, the Iron Citadel is a concept or idea of the Ironbred people rather than a fixed fortification, and it’s presented with as much detail as a city or settlement would have, covering structure, warfare, trade, culture, etc. What’s also neat is it’s not homogenously Ironbred either, as a number of orcs are also members of the Iron Court.
Beyond the cultural information, which is really nicely written, the geography of the Sweltering Plains is covered, along with the dangers of the land. There are examples of and rules for specific hazards, as well as some additional antagonists to use. Like the other chapters, it feels like a lot gets packed in a small space.
If I perused a map of Ghelspad and saw that my upcoming journey would cross the Festering Fields, I’d buy more supplies and take the long way around. Oh you mean in the game where I have magic weapons, spells, healing potions, etc? I’d still go out of my way to avoid it.
The Festering Fields is the site of an ancient battle between the Titanspawn and divine armies. Due to the blood spilt and unimaginable number of deaths, it’s been infused with a necromantic energy that makes it extremely inhospitable. The only plant that grows is blackweed, a moss that thrives on death.
The DM will be rolling for multiple random encounters each in-game day. The fields are full of undead, and other enemies, who the PCs could easily stumble upon. Much of the non-adventure content of the chapter is focused on generating these random encounters. It should be noted that if run RAW then no consideration is given for PC level (specifically addressed in the text.) I think that’s bold and refreshing these days – let the players figure out if a fight is worth it and keep their characters on their toes while they traverse this extremely dangerous terrain.
The monster encounters have their stats all referenced to either the Creature Collection or the SRD, though there are a few new ones in the included adventure, from peons to villains. What’s new is the rules for a Zombie Horde. Beginning with the rise of a moderately dangerous number of zombies, things escalate and get really out of hand, showing how the PCs could get very overwhelmed in a very entertaining and terrifying manner. The weather over the Festering Fields is no less dangerous and rules are included to replicate that. In short – it’s super-dangerous to go here.
Which brings us to the included adventure, “Damnation Trail,” which positions the PCs on the edge of the fields, needing to cross to deliver some alchemical supplies. A harrowing encounter in some ruins breaks up the anything-but-monotonous journey and both days travel exhibit a good example of how to DM traveling across this terrain.
As much fun as it would be to run the adventure as a one-shot, I think this chapter would be best used by making sure the players can see the overall map of Ghelspad, and only alluding to the Fields’ danger. That way it can build up some momentum in their heads so that when they do cross it, it’s only as a last resort. The adventure book is still perfectly good and would be a good motivator.
Lokil wraps the Vigil Watch series with a library – because who doesn’t love a good library location and scenario?
Formerly the Library of Perfect Order, a temple to Hedrada, it is the only original surviving structure after the Titanswar. It’s described very evocatively- a brilliant building surrounded by volcanic rubble and near lava flow. You’re given info on the Monks of the Order of the Closed Book, one of the highest echelons of Lokil, as well as the various wondrous items held by the library (no spoilers: most are books.) The site also boasts a mine, which holds many plot seeds and secrets. People go missing, creatures break through to the surface, and the Order has to go beat them up. Good stuff overall.
The accompanying adventure is a teaser featuring a descent into the deeper Archives of the library in an attempt to drive off the creatures that are clawing their way up from the deep. It’s brief, with a little combat and some other challenges, sowing future plot seeds and giving the PCs access to the library in full. It’s scaled for levels 4-10, so is very accessible, and a good way to set up a permanent base for a dungeon crawl campaign.
I still don’t have a favorite, though I’m now a little partial to The Festering Fields and Lokil, as they all have very different utility, so it’s hard to compare. Chapters 1 and 2 remind me of The Isle of Dread and the wilderness adventures centered around Threshold in the Expert (Blue) Box. Chapters 3 and 4 present unique and interesting locales, primarily highlighting non-traditional peoples and cultures in F20 games. Chapters 5 and 6 are more combat scenario focused – so there’s something fun in all of them! You can follow the Affiliate links in the chapter titles above or this link to DriveThruRPG to pick up the collected version!