In much the same fashion as the Vigil Watch series, Yugman’s Guide to Ghelspad helps flesh out the continent of Ghelspad in the Scarred Lands. Where the Vigil Watch focuses more on setting, Yugman’s Guide is exclusively player character mechanics: Races, Class Archetypes, Backgrounds, Gear, and Spells.
Each Part is between 18-21 pages including cover and credits. They’re tightly written with some interesting and fun-looking options.
Update: The series has now been collected into a single volume. I’m adding reviews of Part 5 and 6, based on the content contained in the collection.
The first part introduces us to three new races: Broadreach (Wood) Dwarves, Half-Elves (Ghelspad-specific), and revisited Hollow Legionnaires.
“Wood” dwarves are a new variation that break the traditional stereotype of animosity between elves and dwarves. Rescued by the elves from the necromancers of Glivid-Autel, these dwarves have attempted to recover their old traditions but have also drawn on their mountain cousins and the Broadreach elves. In contrast to the dour dwarven folk of other settings, these spend their time on cheerful celebrations and art. Mechanically they’re similar to Keller dwarves from the core book and are otherwise very perceptive and dexterous.
Half-Elves are really interesting on Ghelspad. I like the core D&D rules, these half-elves aren’t born of humans and elves, but rather elves and any other mammalian species. They might visually appear as a hybrid or lean towards one parent or the other and are mechanically part elf and part any other race. Racial Traits are a mix of both as are Ability Score Increases. It’s a cool way to set them up and the rules could even be used for a mix of any other two races.
The Hollow Legionnaire variant is very cool. They are still spirits animating a suit of armor but now receive variation with Subraces based on the Spire in which they were reborn. Each Spire gets a different Ability Score Increase and a specific new ability – from increased speed, to bonus abilities in combat, or spell resistance.
Clerics, Druids, Fighters, and Warlocks get expanded treatment in Part One. Clerics receive the Poison Domain – frequently used by those who act as assassins and investigators. The Domain is granted by Sethris, the Spider Queen rather than Mormo and an increase in level results in an increase in arachnid-like features.
Druids, those Titan-worshippers, are inducted into the Circle of Blood, who boost their spell effects through the expenditure of their own Hit Dice or the sacrifice of the lifeblood of others.
Fighters can now train as Goreguards – gladiators in the city of Fangsfall with a connection to the Titan Gaurak. While some of their abilities are a little more gladiatorial, but most involve taking on the ravenous, monstrous aspect of Gaurak. These allow bite attacks, immunity to edibles, and supernatural fortitude. Fighters can also take the Archetype of the Liliandeli Archer: a forest-oriented archer who hunts and slays evil creatures.
Though Venom clerics don’t tend to worship Mormo, Warlocks who have made the Pact of the Serpent certainly do. Worshippers are primarily those who identify as women and they gain a lot to poison or avoiding traps.
The new spells and invocations are themed around the spellcaster options introduced here, with a variety of venomous “bite” spells and other poison-themed abilities. “Inquisition” stands out as a means to extract information from a target.
Part Two of Yugman’s Guide to Ghelspad introduces two more races, subclasses, and expands on backgrounds.
The really nice thing about smaller supplements like this is the ability to expand on core elements without requiring a full supplement of a couple of hundred pages. Part Two focuses more on criminal and aquatic-related parts of the setting.
6 new Social Backgrounds are provided – 3 for Criminal Societies and 3 for Mercantile Societies. On the Criminal front, there’s the “Japhinian Dynasty”, a group of powerful spellcasters who grant a minor connection to the weather; the “Kilharman League”, noble houses who flex their status to get what they want; and The Scaled”, a famous group of wizard-thieves with a very tight and well-organized organization spread across Ghelspad. On the other criminal front, sorry, Mercantile front, “Charek’s Fellows” are smugglers who can get you where you want to go. As a background, they are trained to see what’s out of place, and make sure they can also hide what the need to. For the more martial-oriented, the mercenaries of “House Asuras” use their combat experience to be very mindful of traps and the vigilantes of “House Juvnal” can sneak away, kill their target, and return without anyone suspecting them. Much like in the core book, these help tie characters to specific setting elements that are readily referenced through the content. Like PCs being members of the Harpers or Zhentarim, revealing your companion has been one of The Scaled for much of the campaign will be very entertaining.
The two races in Part Two are the Scrag and the Tritons, mortal enemies and rivals for control of the seas of Scarn.
The Scrag are 8-foot, troll-like aquatic people, divided into castes of workers, warriors, shamans, and warlords. Before the Divine War a Jarl led the Scrag, but once the Titan Kadum fell, the empire dissolved. They are physically strong and hardy, amphibious, unflappable, and able to regenerate from serious wounds, much like trolls.
The Triton were created by the God Corean and appear humanlike with silvery-blue/green coloring, scales, webbed fingers and toes – everything one might need to traverse the seas. With the creation of the Blood Sea, they have divided into Clearwater and Blood-tainted Tritons, the latter altered by their environment. Once highly militaristic, they have changed their path to a more peaceful society, though still vigilant against servants of the Titans. Both are able to exist on land and under the water. The Clearwater are gifted with water-control abilities and the Blood-Tainted exhibit chameleon-like abilities as well as a berserk rage.
Two new Rogue subclasses are presented. The “Blood Sea Pirate” is a reaver that has been altered by the blood of Kadum, granting it a powerful rage ability and making it very intimidating. At higher levels it gains resistance against a number of environmental effects and can grow when it frenzies. But it’s not just a brute, at its height it becomes a rallying symbol for its allies as it strikes feat into its enemies.
The “Master of the Scaled” continues the expansion of the famed rogues. They are burglars and illusionists, those who are the heart and soul of the organization. They are Charisma-based spellcasters and smooth-talkers. At higher levels they are impossible to trap and masters can magically summon friendly members of the group to aid them. One of those types of allies are spies, but they only remain with you for up to one hour, so you’ll need to make use of them quickly (or house-rule an extended duration).
Five new spells cover the different topics of this “chapter” – Summoning Aquatic creatures or illusion effects. I like “Tattoo Item” the best, which turns a nonmagical object into a small tattoo that can be retrieved later. Alchemists also gain access to “Blood Sea Alchemy”, which uses the unique flora and fauna of the region to create poisons and enhancements.
Part 3 explores the arcane side of Ghelspad through Arcane Societies, Spellcaster Subclasses, and new spells.
If you like shadow magic, shadow planes, and shadow societies spreading their influence across Ghelspad, the Penumbral Pentagon is the group for you. Descendants of the ancient Slarecians, their ultimate goal is to use the Plane of Shadow to cover Scarn in darkness. Operating from their multi-location Penumbral Fortress, or so everyone thinks…small cells work to execute their plans. Due to their connection to Shadow, the “Slarecian Descendant” background allows them to instinctively know if another person or thing is connected to Shadow, Slarecians, or a member of the Pentagon. I like this Background a lot, even for PCs, but I tend to find “Plane of Shadow” elements lots of fun in fantasy rpgs.
The Phylacteric Vault is a group of scholars with a much more benevolent approach to magic on Scarn – they want to use magic to aid and benefit the people of the world so frown upon destructive magic and are more impressed with the practical infrastructural effects of the art. As a background benefit they can expect support and assistance with their research from other members. They make a good PC organization and Background, but I could see them being great antagonists for PCs who don’t practice their particular views on magic.
Continuing the concept of PCs being in a grey-area of morality, The Society of Immortals is the last Social Background/organization in Part Three. They are scholars of the mysteries of death, practicing their necromantic arts to best understand life. While they could be a greater threat to Ghelspad, their strict and scheming hierarchy keeps them too internally-focused. Their presence unnerves strangers and they can only have undead familiars.
The spirit world is strong on Scarn and the Sorcerer Archetype “Spirit Walker” is heavily connected to it. At 1st level they choose a spirit guide (a representation of a part of the world, animal, plant, location, etc), that will accompany the Sorcerer throughout their life. Their abilities are focused around their connection to the spirit world and primarily involve the summoning of allies. For Wizards, they receive the Arcane Tradition of High Astrologer, which uses the study of the constellations to assist their magic in a meta-magic sort of way. They can more easily counter and redirect spells by drawing on the sympathetic connections between all magic, contact other planes, even reverse time through manipulation of the cycles of magic. Foes of tyranny and the Titanspawn, the Vigilant Arcanist Tradition uses their magic to bolster the determination and drive of their allies, allowing them to move faster and farther in a day without worrying about sleep or food and water.
There’s a wealth of 21 new utility and combat spells for your use. “Bone Spikes” will cause sharp bone spurs to sprout from the target, who can then do serious damage during Grapples. “Burning Sails” allows a ship to move without wind and cause onlookers to become frightened during the duration – it may have limited usage but it’s really cool. “Dead Man’s Eyes” is a low-level divination effect for investigators, but may have an unpleasant side effect. “Steal Sleep” heals the caster at cost of the target’s energy. The most delightfully outrageous new spell, in my opinion, is the grisly “Escape the Bonds of Flesh” which forces a skeleton to rip itself free of its body.
Part Four introduces Social Backgrounds for Devotional Societies and Political Societies. The Minister of the Adamantine Church belongs to the largest group of Corean worshipers. While they can sometimes be obsessive about hunting down evil, many still trust the church, so PCs with the background will be able to make good use of that. If crafting is your jam, the Cult of the Forge is perfect for you. Smiths and creators, they aim for perfection and can create most any non-magical item. Finally, the devotees of the demigod Hwyrdd the Rogue can be “Roguish Rebels”, spreading the ideal of freedom throughout the land. Though they can often be disagreeable, they are excellent listeners and talkers, able to learn the wants of others and help them overcome their obstacles to freedom.
For the Political Societies, there are the Courtesans of Idra, the Nalthalites, and the Shadow Walkers. The Courtesans are a gender non-specific group who consider performance, seduction, and love-making to be art forms. They are a holy order in a sense, but their tendencies to wind up in the courts of power mean they can wield great political strength and are an excellent intelligence network. The Nalthalites are worshippers of the demigod Nalthalos, Lord of the Dark Elves, who lives in Dier Drendal itself, ruling his people. They are not necessarily priests but act as agents of their lord and slowly work magics to encase their bodies in metal and rock, becoming mighty golems over time. The Shadow Walkers are the agents of the demigoddess Drendari, Mistress of Shadow. Enemies of the Slarecians and the other shadow-oriented groups, they work Drendari’s will and aim to destroy “shadow magic.” Each of these Social Backgrounds are only available to those with Spellcasting or Pact Magic, receiving new spell options for Cantrips and levels 1-5 that fit their theme.
Adding to the growing list of setting-specific Class Archetypes, we are introduced to the Paladin Oath of the Thorned Purifier. These are Paladins who once worshiped Chardun but now focus on learning mastery of pain and pleasure and the boundaries of sensation. To them, torture removes weakness from the world. They engage in submissive/dominant relationships with this purpose in mind. It should be noted that consent is considered essential by them and in all honesty, they’d be pretty shitty PCs if it wasn’t, so it’s good that it’s so clearly stated.
These Paladins can recover HP after casting Inflict Wounds, force Disadvantage on others, gain advantage on Charisma ability checks, transfer damage, or send victims to Chardun’s domain. Key to the operation of this archetype is the sidebar on Sexual Violence in Ghelspad. It reminds the reader that discussion and consent among players is critical to using this subclass and to not even consider it if anyone will feel unsafe. Obviously it’s good to have that sort of discussion in general and it’s great that it was addressed in the text itself, to avoid any misunderstandings of the intent of the Archetype. The other Archetype requires less table discussion. The Rogue receives the Envoy – fixers and influencers who wield a glib and persuasive tongue, able to avoid detection and weaponizing favors.
Part Four also contains a couple of new pieces of mundane gear that is reminiscent of the old Aurora’s Whole Realms Catalogue in function (as they each effectively have a special effect). The new magic items are delightful, among them the Chest Bellows tattoo, which assists becalmed ships and gives me an image of Avatar-esque sailors pushing their vessel with their lungs. With regards to the new spells, I most like the two dialogue-based ones – “Halting the Wayward Tongue” prevents the target from discussing a particular subject and “Riddle-Speak” causes eavesdroppers to hear a different conversation than the one occurring. Both very cool and fun for intrigue-based campaigns.
Part 5 brings us Social Backgrounds for Death and Military Societies. Besides the Hollowfaustian necromancers, the former are made up of divine cults of assassins – one focusing on bringing the good death and the other utilizing witchcraft in the service of Belsameth to…also kill people. They’re both fun and flavorful, but the Hollowfaustians grabbed my attention the most, as they did back in the 3.5 days. Essentially they’re a city of necromancer who treat their powers as utilities, as well as phenomenal cosmic abilities. They study death and animate the dead from an academic point of view, making for an interesting society to engage with and a disaster waiting to happen. You could easily set a number of adventures focused on the morals of using necromancy for these purposes and how they can go wrong.
The military societies are good, with the most interesting (in my mind), being the War Colleges of Darakeene. These are five academies who train individuals in martial pursuits including basic infantry, hammer specialists, warmages, scouts, and marines (also spellcasters.) They all look like fun and I appreciate how you could use that background as the focus of a military campaign. Especially since Scarred Lands separates Social and cultural Backgrounds, it means characters of the same school can still have very different backgrounds.
Three new subclasses appear, all martial-oriented: the Barbarian Path of the Steppes Archer, Fighter Dragon Knight, and Monk Way of the Sacred Chain. The Steppes Archer uses the Barbarian Rage feature to become an intense archer, able to withstand hits as it unleashes ranged fury on its opponents. As expected, it’s also a mounted-combat focused subclass, gaining Animal Handling and improved rising capabilities, as well as a Bonded mount. The Dragon Knight also gets a bonded mount – one of the mock dragons of the Calastian Order of the Black Dragon. Weapon-wise Dragon Knights are lancers and as they gain levels they start to share more of the features of their mount, culminating in the ability to breathe acid as an attack! The Way of the Sacred Chain are devotees of Chardun and Calastian operatives and bodyguards. Their abilities incorporate the spiked chain into their monk weapons and allow them some thematic abilities with it – tripping, intimidating, pulling oneself to locations or swinging on it. With a little reskinning you could even use this as a Castlevania Belmont archetype, which should give you a clear sense of that granted abilities.
Finally we get two new races: half-orcs and minotaurs. Like half-elves, mechanically half-orcs combine their own traits with their non-orc parent, which is a nice way to keep everything diverse and avoid stereotypes. While non-orcs may hold a level of distrust, being much more inclusive, orc societies happily welcome half-orcs. These are not your first edition half-orcs. Minotaurs are awesome. Created by the Earth Mother Denev, and capable of some mighty physical and combat feats, their society is more focused on nonviolent conflict resolution, so they have the Labyrinth. This is a minor psychic plane to which minotaurs can send others to avoid physical conflict. Of course in the hands of PCs it will be an excellent softening attack, but intent and usage don’t always correspond.
I like a lot of Part 5. There are some fun rules and setting additions that offer a lot to a Scarred Lands campaign and help further flesh out the setting. Some of the subclasses are a little specific, but again, it’s to showcase the setting.
Part Six wraps the series with two new Ranger Subclasses, some spells, and magic items.
Focused on the Hornsaw, the Hornsaw Sentinels protect the great forest from intruders. If you want your dual-scimitar wielding ranger then look no further. If you want a ranger tied to unicorns – this is your subclass. They have a sacred connection to Hornsaw unicorns and can gain their serrated horns as scimitars, gain a juvenile hornsaw as a companion, and at the highest levels, physically manifest aspects of the hornsaw – like a horn coming out of their forehead. They’re a pretty melee-focused subclass and look like they’d be a hefty match, especially once their companion comes along.
The other subclass is the Bounty Hunter. A little more generic (but therefore universally applicable in-setting), they are excellent nemeses for their quarry, gaining enhanced investigative and locative abilities to help track down their target. Not as intense as the other inclusion but extremely useful.
Of the five new spells, “Sethris’ Potency” and “Weapon of Nature” are my favorites. The former increases the Save difficulty of poisons, making it a fun tool for DMs; the latter enhances weapon attack and damage but also adds a flavorful elemental effect. The True Rituals are epic: you can call down plagues, awaken a forest to defend itself, even strip magic from an individual, but I think I like “Marriage” best. It’s literally a marriage ceremony that grants all those engaging in the bond enhancements when aiding each other. It’s a great character-building event and is 100% open as to what the actual cultural ceremony entails, so there’s no classification as to what “marriage” means.
My favorite of the new magic items are the Castaway’s Jacket and the Portable Window. The window is just that – a window one can place on any surface to look through, and the Jacket is a, well, life jacket (preserver) that magically homes in on the shore. Considering the quantity of nautical material available for Scarred Lands that is incredibly useful.
Part Six is a good conclusion to the series with some flavorful and fun additions. I think the True Rituals are probably my favorite part, being very campaign-enhancing and able to provide new story seeds.
I really like the Yugman’s Guide series. Besides presenting a lot of mechanical content there’s also a fair bit of setting lore mixed in among it in a way that really helps flesh out Ghelspad and provide a number of plot hooks. You can find them for sale at DriveThruRPG through the above Affiliate Links or click here for the collected volume!