Publisher: Sword and Sorcery Studio
Series: Scarred Lands: d20
Review Dated: 8th, June 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 9
Average Score: 4.50
I might introduce a brand new way to judge a book for Ghelspad. The little brother test. Only this brother isn’t so little any more, he’d gone away to University for a year where he kept on roleplaying but had managed to stay more or less away from the d20 phenomena. So, when presented with a table laden with recent d20 releases, and I do mean laden, which of the myriad of books do you suppose this errant roleplayer picks up first? Well yes. Of course, you’ve guessed, it was Ghelspad. I have to admit that the appearance of the book is insidiously striking. It tosses any claims of oxymoron out of the window. The book’s hardbound 250 pages and the cover is a bold colour map surrounded by the cracked and scarred earth that frames all Scarred Lands protects. It appeals to the map geeks among us, it appeals to those of us who like their RPGs to be mighty tomes worthy of bashing players around the head with and it appeals first to the eye and then to the brain as you focus in on the details. It’s sneaky.
Let us not judge a book by its cover. Let us judge it by its contents.
The Scarred Lands have been coming along since October 2000, ever since the Creature Collection beat the official Monster Manual to the shelves and did so while looking like an official book and with the words “Core Rulebook” on the front cover. For all it’s sly swiftness, though, the Creature Collection wasn’t that great a book and I’m afraid it put people off the Scarred Lands. It wasn’t later until the likes of Gods and Titans and the Warrens of the Ratmen that the campaign world began to show its brilliance. Except, not really, the Scarred Lands campaign world couldn’t really shine because in all this time it hadn’t been published. We’d been offered up juicy titbits here and there, we’d be carefully teased by Sword and Sorcery Studios and we were left to fill in the blanks. Ghelspad changes all of that.
The Ghelspad book is a campaign setting in the purest definition. If you want to know about the history of the world – then you’ll find it here. If you want extra spells that some ultra obscure cult, in the all but unreachable corner of the world sometimes, practises when the moon is full – then you’ll not find it here. Why some campaign settings go from strength to strength through a constant stream of the latter will always be a mystery to me. Actually, there are 15 pages of prestige classes tucked away at the end of the book (although the last actual content is a black and white map of the world and the very last pages are adverts for White Wolf, the parent company). Prestige Classes have quickly become the most widely churned out and abused game mechanic of the d20 rules, they’re thrown into books with little regard and in Ghelspad that’s true to a small extent. In the book’s defence many of these prestige classes are referred to often enough in the main text of the book and in areas of suitable importance or campaign likely inspiration that their inclusion is warranted.
The history of what is now called Ghelspad has easily been eventful enough to create these eight prestige classes. The history of Ghelspad, as offered by this tome, could easily have created eight hundred prestige classes. The super brief background to the Scarred Lands is that the (nearly) all powerful Titans ruled the land in their own alien way, tormenting the mortal races to their own flavour of morbid interest until the Gods, the children of the Titans, rose up in protested, warred against them – roping the mankind, the elves, the dwarves and the other races in for the ride – and finally subdued them. The war against the titans didn’t happen at the dawn of time, this war occurred a few hundred years ago. Apocalypse meets creation myth. Ghelspad doesn’t content itself to cover only the period of time after the Divine War, instead it finds the space to cover the rule of each and every individual titan and then the rise and fall of every empire since their time. With empires come calendars, languages, alliances, betrayals, histories and legacies and because the book does nothing else but examine past and present Ghelspad the book finds the space to detail all of the above.
There are some nice touches in the history and uber-world setting. Forgive me for being cynical but there are some nice fast ones too. The moons, for example; I hadn’t noticed before (perhaps I’m a lazy reader) but there are two moons above the Scarred Lands. If you hadn’t noticed before then don’t worry; it’s unlucky to mention the second moon and so that’s why it might have escaped your attention. If you must make reference to it then “Forbidden Orb” will suffice. I don’t care if I’ve been lazy and missed the two moons before, I don’t care whether the authors have pulled a sly one, I just love that touch.
The geography of the Scarred Lands is as impressive as the history and wisely enough the two are often tied together. When the titans were banished their bodies crashed to earth, fell into the ocean, were dissolved in the ether of magic or were otherwise incapacitated and it’s the presence of this “corruption” which scars the land so. The history of the Scarred Lands is directly related to its geography. More than that, though, even after the Divine War the geography continued to make itself known – such as during the Blood Monsoon when the titan blood tainted waters of the Blood Sea (yes, it’s red) poured for a dozen years onto the land, flooded swamps and rivers with its presence and finally came to a halt the very day a once mighty dwarf tower finally succumb to the erosion and crashed down from the cliffs.
The vast majority of the book is devoted to the here and now of Ghelspad; the Ghelspad in which most of you are likely to be running your campaigns. It’s all divided into chapters, you have the nations of Ghelspad, then the city states (even those like Mithral and Hollowfaust that already have their own detailed books) and important but otherwise miscellaneous places. Places have their own histories, their own cultures and people. Cities come with maps. Families, nations and city-states have their heraldic symbols on display for your education. There is flora and fauna, resources, languages and of course, as vital to the Scarred Lands, areas have their religions too. In a world where the gods take an active interest, in a world where prayers are answered nearly as routinely (if rather subtly) as they’re made, religion is of utmost importance.
There’s no getting around it. Ghelspad is a wealth of detail and precision. The hardback book is also extremely fairly priced.
There’s no getting around it. Ghelspad struggles to fight off the school textbook image to no small degree. If you intend to sit down and read it from cover to cover then you’re going to struggle unless you’re the world’s biggest Scarred Lands fan or a Campaign World specialist. The book wasn’t designed for that though, I don’t think. The book allows you to flick through the opening the pages, the history of the world and then move to the area of land which interests you the most. Ghelspad isn’t all of the Scarred Lands either. Ghelspad is just a large collection of land in the Scarred Lands.
Ghelspad brings together the offerings of many other Scarred Lands books. To this end it’s not all together a surprise that the book is aided if you’ve read these other books and hampered if you’ve not. There’s no heavy dependence on previous publications but I suspect you’ll notice acutely every single time you don’t have access to the paragraph of explanatory text left to an earlier work.
I liked Ghelspad even if it did remind me a little of history and geography classes at school. I like the initial set up of the Scarred Lands, though, and so I was open to the book before I finally tracked it down (and its arrival in Europe and the UK was delayed). Given that Ghelspad does summarise the gods and the titans and that it is sure to make sure you’re never cut too short of crucial information I think it would make a good as entry point to the Scarred Lands as any of the other books would be, in fact, it’s a better entry point than some of them. I just don’t think it will be such a compelling entry point to the Scarred Lands as Hollowfaust or the Ratmen might be. It’s horses for courses, in the end, and as long as you’re ready for a geo-political styled book then Ghelspad is unlikely to disappoint even if it doesn’t live up to your greatest hopes.