Burok Torn: City Under Siege
Burok Torn: City Under Siege Capsule Review by Garrett R. Henke on 13/05/02
Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 3 (Average)
Burok Torn, more than just the average city book.
Product: Burok Torn: City Under Siege
Author: Jeff Harkness and James Sverapa
Company/Publisher: Sword and Sorcery Studios
Line: The Scarred Lands
Page count: 108
Year published: 2002
Comp copy?: yes
Capsule Review by Garrett R. Henke on 13/05/02
Genre tags: Fantasy
In general, I am repulsed by the idea of playing a dwarven character in D&D. I just never liked the stereotypical aspects of this race. Dwarves are generally described as gruff, coarse, mean-spirited, and stubborn. IMHO, this makes the race annoying to no end. Plus, most campaign settings compound these problems by never actually explaining why dwarves act this way. What occurred during their development that forced their culture in such a direction? Almost always, there are no obvious answers to these questions. However, for the first time since I have been playing D&D, Burok Torn, by Sword and Sorcery Studios, actually makes me want to play one of these diminutive beings. Going far beyond a mere ďcity book,Ē Burok Torn gives a powerful history and lengthy descriptions of dwarven culture that truly explains why dwarves act as they do and, perhaps more importantly, why they are perceived in such a light. What follows is a description of each chapter within the text.
Chapter 1: City Under Siege
Without a doubt, this is the best-written chapter within the entire book. Effectively, it describes the history and events that lead to the creation of the dwarven Capitol, Burok Torn, and how these events forged the dwarves into the creatures that they have become. The chapter begins with a lengthy timeline that begins with the founding of Burok Torn 1500 years before the Titanswar, and the 150 years after the victory of the divine races. This timeline is detailed quite well and grants the reader a quick and dirty overview before getting down to the gritty details in the next pages. After the timeline, the next section in the chapter goes through each major event within the history of the dwarven city. This section spends the majority of space on the events of the divine war and the battle against the Titan Chern in particular. It is from this battle that the reader learns the true story of the relationship between the dark elves and the dwarves of Burok Torn. Although I do not want to give it away, the story is both believable and tragic, truly displaying the alien and corrupted nature of Chern. Very few fantasy settings can provide a history with this much detail and authenticity.
Chapter 2: The Dwarves of Burok Torn
This entente of this section is to describe the actual city of Burok Torn itself starting from the outside in. Although it does provide multiple maps of the different sections of the city, this chapter also does as excellent job demonstrating the problems of maintaining an underground city, and how the dwarves overcome such difficulties. For example, the city is actually built around a tall one-mile long hollow core, cylindrical in shape. A series of balconies surround the core, providing entrances to the various strongholds of prominent dwarven clans. Obviously, one would have a great deal of difficulty getting from balcony to balcony. As a result, the dwarves utilize large rune-inscribed stones, called ascent and descent stones respectively, to go up and down within the core. This section also provides the reader with detailed descriptions of the various dwarven defenses that could be used in case of assault. The Ring of Fire is particularly devastating as it involves luring enemy troops into an outer ring in the city and then flooding it with molten iron from the forgesÖ ouch. Despite its impressive attention to detail, this chapter does have one fault, the maps themselves. Although very usable from a gaming point of view, they are not eye-catching by any means. In fact, they seem to appear more like technical schematics than something that belongs in a fantasy game. Admittedly, these are the kind of maps that many old-school gamers are familiar with, but they just are not as impressive as the maps in say Prophecies of the Dragon for The Wheel of Time RPG. Still, this is a very minor problem in an otherwise brilliantly written chapter.
Chapter 3: Of Gods and Kings
This chapter serves multiple purposes. First, it describes each of the kings since the founding of Burok Torn up to the present day king and his royal family. The writer does an excellent job giving each of these kings interesting personalities and fascinating events to keep them unique and not just a list of names. The next section of the chapter demonstrates how the government of Burok Torn functions. It describes the duties of the king and a representative parliament-style body called The Conclave. Twelve dwarves sit on this council of elders and each of the current position holders are described and given stats. Finally, the chapter gives a brief description of the elite soldier types that fight in defense of the city, The Iron Guard(elite infantrymen), The Stone Guard (travelling special forces types), and the Shield Arms (The Imperial Guard). While this chapter is perhaps the second best in terms of writing within the book, it does lack one major item, artwork. In the entire chapter, only one small picture appears that seems to be almost completely unrelated to the writing, besides the fact that it depicts a dwarf. Personally, I would have liked to see a small character portrait for each of the former kings and perhaps the royal family as well. Unfortunately, this lack of artwork is a problem for the entire book. While each picture is extremely well-done, there just are not enough.
Chapter 4: The Enemy Under Scarn
In all truth, I have mixed feelings about this chapter. Effectively, this chapter is about the dark elven city, Dier Drendal. Although well-written and filled with fascinating information and ideas, I canít help but feel that this chapter is out of place. After all, isnít the book called Burok Torn? It seems that rather quickly, the writer leaves the dwarves and focuses on their dark elf enemies. While admittedly itís helpful to know a bit about the people the dwarves are fighting, it seems wasteful to me to include such a large chapter dedicated to them. To make matters worse, the chapter is written from the dwarves point of view, and therefore does not really give any definitive information on the dark elven city, just speculation. While this does grant the reader some insight into how the dwarves really feel about their enemy, itís just too much.
Chapter 5: The Mysteries of the Mountains
This chapter provides rules and descriptions for a few new prestige classes of Burok Torn and one for the dark elves: The Rune Master, Iron Guardsmen, Stone Guardsmen, and Tatto Adept (Dark Elf). The two guardsmen classes are merely extensions of the dwarven defender prestige class with a few new abilities. Overall, they seem to be reasonably balanced and interesting. Obviously, the Rune Master is the most interesting of the new classes. Although similar to runecasters in Forgotten Realms, they are still a bit different. Their inscribe rune feat works in a similar fashion to its Forgotten Realms counterpart except it is a bit more balanced. The description in the feat actually states that a permanent rune works exactly like the permanence spell, an omission within the Forgotten Realms book. However, the interesting part of the Rune Master is how he or she casts spells. Basically, the magic-user inscribes the rune in the air before battle and can keep a number ready to go equal to his or her primary attribute modifier. (INT for Wizards, WIS for Clerics, etc.) Using one of these runes is only a partial action, so one can cast two prepared spells per turn; not a bad ability. Finally, there is the tattoo adept of the dark elves. While this class is interesting and expands a bit on the tattoo magic in the Relics and Rituals book, that book is required to actually use the class at all. This is a weakness of Burok Torn in that it is a waste of a few pages to those who do not have the Relics and Rituals book. Finally, the chapter ends with four new spells and ten new tattoos.
Chapter 6: Adventures
This chapter includes two short outlines of adventures. Without a doubt, this is the weakest chapter within the book. Similar to the DMís Screen adventures (see my other review of the Scarred Lands DMís Screen and Companion), the basic ideas of these adventures are decent, but are ultimately lacking in presentation. The various episodes in the adventures seem to be forced and are little more than vehicles to display the cool aspects of Burok Torn rather than feature the PCs in any strong fashion. In fact, in several of the episodes, the adventure calls for NPCs to come in and save the characters. Thankfully, the adventures chapter is relatively short so not much is wasted.
Chapter 7: Monsters from the Depths
Finally, this chapter gives descriptions and statistics for three different monsters and one template, the Nalthalite, a follower of the dark elven god, Nalthalos, who replaces his or her body with parts from a lead golem. Overall, these monsters are creative and make for interesting encounters with the exception of the unique creature, Spire Drendal. Basically, this is a unique creature that is actually the animated central keep of the dark elf city. The odds that the PCs will encounter this creature are extremely low. However, the stuff about the Natahalites more than makes up for this particular entry.
Overall, Burok Torn: City Under Siege is an impressive book. Despite its few lackings and weaknesses it is a must buy for any Scarred Lands player or GM, particularly those interested in dwarves. Ultimately, the book did not receive fours on both style and substance because of a few problems. The lack of artwork and the unappealing maps brought the style rating down, and the sections on tattoo magic and the Dier Drendal section decreased the substance. Still, this is an excellent edition to the Scarred Lands line. If Sword and Sorcery continues to put out books of this quality and fixes just a few things, it might begin to replace Forgotten Realms as a dominant campaign setting.