Wilderness & Wasteland: Scarred Lands Encounters
Wilderness & Wasteland: Scarred Lands Encounters Capsule Review by Jason Langlois on 10/01/03
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
An excellent overview of the Ghelspad natural environment, with some useful stuff for any DM.
Product: Wilderness & Wasteland: Scarred Lands Encounters
Author: Ed Bourelle, Christopher Simmons, Jeff Tabrum, Wil Upchurch
Company/Publisher: Sword & Sorcery Studios
Line: Scarred Lands
Page count: 64
Year published: 2002
Comp copy?: yes
Capsule Review by Jason Langlois on 10/01/03
Genre tags: Fantasy
Wilderness & Wasteland is a short, 64 pg. offering from Sword & Sorcery Studios, giving some insight and detail into nature in the Scarred Lands setting. The goal, according to the developer, is to provide a tool kit for bringing the terrain alive and creating appropriate wilderness encounters. You know what’s a real surprise is that it actually does.
The book has a solid structure, with an Introduction, five chapters covering the major terrain types, and an Appendix to detail some Ghelspad specific encounters. Each of the terrain chapters has the same format, presenting information on the terrain, plants, weather, hazards and notes on survival in the particular terrain. This is followed with discussion about the inhabitants of the terrain, particularly animals, monsters and humanoids. Each chapter then ends with a short encounter that is designed to highlight some element(s) of the terrain just described.
The work here is excellent, if necessarily light on nitty-gritty detail (64 pages only go so far). Rather than remaining generic, there is every effort made to create a unique sense of Ghelspad. Some standouts for me include things like the Devouring Storm that sometimes sweeps the Perforated Plains (made up of the pulverized teeth of the Titan Gaurak), or the Shard Trees that are scattered among the various lands (their crystal-coated leaves sound like wind chimes in the wind… but are a danger in a storm). There’s also a nice effort made to identify plants that have magical uses, which further helps to give a unique flavor to the world.
Each terrain type is given a Wilderness Lore task chart, along with a table of the kinds of foods that would turn up in forage or hunting. I rather liked this touch, as it can really go a long way to setting scene (it’s one thing to find deer in the forest, but be forced to survive on cranberries in a bog – even in both are just a successful Wilderness Lore roll). Similarly, weather tables are provided. I usually just wing it with weather, rather than rolling… but it is nice to get a sense for how often it rains or snows.
The encounters are also well done, particularly as showcases for the environment. Whether fleeing the effects of a flashflood in the badlands, a forest fire in the woods, or dealing with the strange flora and fauna of a swamp, each encounter offers a distinct mix of obstacle and monster that goes a long way to building a world, rather than a dungeon. A big thumbs up from me for these, and I intend to incorporate some of the ideas into future design work I do.
As for the many encounter charts that make up the Appendix… well, I’m not much for wandering monsters. On the other hand, these charts are keyed to specific areas of Ghelspad. You don’t get a generic Mountain Encounters chart; rather, Kelder Mountains, around Durrover or Kelder Mountains, Irontooth Pass. As a tool for a Scarred Lands DM, this is invaluable, and worth at least 1/2 the cost of the book.
There is at least one glaring problem I’ve found so far, though. In the introduction, they include a step-by-step discussion of how to build an Encounter Chart. In the text, it says to spread out “50 points for the Equal CR list”, a statement further repeated in the text of the Example underneath it on pg 5. However, in the actual charts shown, the 50 pts is instead spread among the “Less than CR” creatures. A minor mistake, however – I’d be inclined to follow the text in this case.
In summary, Wilderness & Wastelands is a very fine book, with much to offer a DM. Even a DM not running in the Scarred Lands will find something useful here, be it just ideas for how to detail such things in his or her own world. Oh, and it has a kick-ass cover painting!