Scarred Lands Gazetteer: Termana
Scarred Lands Gazetteer: Termana Capsule Review by Bochi on 15/01/03
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
Must-have for Scarred Lands fans: rich alternative setting to standard WotC realms.
Product: Scarred Lands Gazetteer: Termana
Author: Anthony Pryor, Joseph D Carriker Jr
Company/Publisher: Sword & Sorcery Studios
Line: Scarred Lands
Page count: 48
Year published: 2002
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Bochi on 15/01/03
Genre tags: Fantasy
Scarred Lands Gazetteer: Termana is an introduction to the second continent of the 3ed D&D Scarred Lands setting from White Wolf’s Sword & Sorcery Studios imprint. As before, with the Ghelspad Gazetteer, a hardcover expanding on the material is planned for later release. For your money you get a floppy book of 48 pages, and a glossy, full color wall poster map of the continent. In this review a certain amount of comparison is made with the Ghelspad Gazetteer: in particular, because some lessons from the earlier work have been learned.
The map is attractive, and bordered with colored coats of arms for the various nations and power bases described in the Gazetteer. I would have preferred to see a larger map area with more detail, and no border – an extensive border takes up a surprisingly large percentage of the space. The artwork is very bright and bold, in the same style as the previous map, which makes the monochrome version in the book rather overloaded with black ink. While it is an attractive piece of work, and perfectly usable as a comprehensive overview of the continent, or as wall decoration for the gaming room, it isn’t so obvious as to where Termana lies in relation to Ghelspad. Somewhere to the south and east, it’s clear, but sooner or later SSS will have to come clean and tell us exactly how big their world is and where all the continents are in relation to each other and climate zones. A major improvement over the previous Ghelspad map is that all the major towns and features mentioned in the Gazetteer appear on the map.
The cover shows a portion of the map, in fact the majority of mainland Termana. The cover is also available as a free download at www.swordsorcery.com/scarredlands and might prove useful for printing map copies for players.
In what is now becoming a recognisable house style, the Gazetteer is presented as the work of two travellers, a lecherous rogue, Diago, and an elven sorceress, Nabila Silverheart. Their two separate journeys of course include all the kingdoms of this southern continent. The entries for each section of the journey are presented in alphabetical order, but the ‘story sequence’ is also provided, so you can read the entries in the order they were supposedly written by their narrators. I would recommend this, as the device of using narrators has been developed to the extent that the entries contain not only information about the place being described, but also references to characters and events in the “meta-story”.
Taking the book in order, it begins with Diago and Nabila telling us who they are. We then get a five page introduction to the history of Termana. There is a consistent and dark theme of loss and betrayal. The Forsaken Elves – “High Elves” in the Scarred Lands Setting – lost their God in the war between Gods and Titans which underpins the entire, and very striking history of the setting. Although they slew the Titan responsible, the only race to manage such a feat, they are cursed to bear only deformed and sickly children. This leads them to steal human children and rear them up to breed healthy half-elves. Opposed to the remnants of the elves are the black dwarves, the Charduni. Rather than living under the mountain and singing about gold in traditional dwarf fashion, these lawful evil dwarves are empire-builders, enslaving nations and raising up grim fortresses to command the land above ground. The Ghoul King, a lich commanding armies of undead, is described as currently defeated and guarded by paladins on Silverisle. Not for long, we suspect. The Scarred Lands setting is very strong on background history, and the short account in the Gazetteer is dense with detail and promises well for future supplements exploring Termana.
Lands And Peoples
Next follows 23 pages (including the map, reappearing as a double-page centre spread) detailing the 21 kingdoms or lands of Termana. These are big by most gaming standards – although they may seem small on the map, even a small country will be several hundred miles across.
Entries start with a panel showing Population numbers and racial breakdown, Government type, Ruler’s name, race, alignment and class levels, Capital and Major Cities with populations, Language, official Religion, Currency, Resources, Allies and Enemies. This is an improvement on the previous Gazetteer panels which had less information. One suspects SSS has looked at some of the competition – for example the Greyhawk Gazetteer from WotC – and included all that information plus a couple of extra lines, so as not to be accused of falling short. Certainly a very welcome improvement, and the creation of currencies for each realm is exactly the sort of trivial but time-consuming detail which DMs like me love to have done for us by somebody else.
The information given about each land varies with the fortunes of Diago and Nabila, and to some extent with the secrecy and paranoia of the nation itself. So the entries give you the sort of information you might expect to gather yourself depending on the politics of the realm you’re visiting.
For example, one of the most successful creations of the original Creature Collection, the Jack of Tears and his Karnival Krewe, is now given a home in Blood Bayou, at the Northeast tip of Termana. But the Jack of Tears is a seriously creepy creature, deadly and deranged, and the Gazetteer entry consists entirely of story. It’s a story worth reading, as Diago and his gang are summoned to appear before the Jack, and barely escape with their lives. But the entry is almost entirely atmospheric – it very deliberately leaves this land and its terrifying ruler as enigmatic as it was before. SSS seems to be making an interesting and conscious decision to hold back hard information in order to preserve mystery. And perhaps that is as it should be, since describing a typical encounter with the Jack of Tears might be more useful than an account of the geography of this chaotic, brooding swampland.
Crunchier are the lengthy accounts of Kasiavael, the Skysight Realm of forsaken elves – there are several nations of the forsaken – or the new nation of Virduk’s Promise, where Ghelspad’s favorite tyrant has established a foothold on the second continent. Virduk’s Promise, apparently securely held but in fact including vast tracts of barely settled wilderness and disease-ridden swamp, might be a good base for adventurers in existing Scarred Lands campaigns to begin their explorations of this huge continent.
Places of Note
While the meat of the book is in the accounts of each nation, nine pages are devoted to ‘places of note’ and geographical regions such as deserts and hills. Scarred Lands products always do this well. Most entries are short but contain useful plot hooks, such as the buried magical archives beneath Mt Syvos, or the hills built up from the remains of fallen Charduni warriors known as the Skullmounds. Two larger entries cover the Gamalganjus Forest, a tropical rain forest which is home to various reptilian races, the only gnomes so far known to the Scarred Lands, and the Terali, a new race of leopardmen.
Races of Termana
A short but very crunchy Appendix details necessary stats for the new races. Jungle Gnomes from the Gamalganjus favor druidic and illusionist classes. Somehow the concept of gnome illusionists hiding in the forest canopy and armed with blowpipes is quite fearsome. Gnolls enter the frame, and can be adventurers, as can the tribal Terali, who favor druid, ranger, or sorcerer classes. In keeping with previous products, human races from particular regions can choose ability bonuses instead of their extra feat at 1st level and these are also listed.
I am in two minds about the success of the device of having two narrators. Read through in narrative order, each expedition tells its own story of Termana, the idiosyncrasies of the narrator and friends become entertaining, and the occasional lack of ‘crunch’ for an entry is easy to overlook. But when looking up an entry for reference, finding half or more of the entry taken up with narrative can be irritating as you pick your way among the jokes or story-references to find the nugget of information you wanted.
The narratives do contain a lot of information either directly or subtly implied, but you have to read carefully and pick them apart to get at it all. The accounts of the Forsaken Elf kingdoms build into a substantial picture of this tragic race and its terrible story: this is one of the most successful creations of the entire Scarred Lands product line, achieving genuinely mythic force.
The overall impression is of a huge continent that is very different from its predecessor, focusing on wars between men, elves and dwarves, instead of the by now familiar Gods versus Titans conflict of the setting as a whole. Anthony Pryor and Joseph Carriker are to be congratulated for a job well done. Production values are of a very high standard, with no glaring errors or typos that I could spot. Tim Truman’s b/w illustrations are solid and atmospheric.
Clearly a must-buy for Scarred Lands fans, and at a very fair price, its few shortcomings may be forgiven. It extends the setting in the style to which we’re accustomed. There are no great conflicts with previous material, although some doubt is now cast on the source of druidic magic, held in the canon-so-far to be from Titans only, but now apparently available from ‘jungle spirits’ too. Hopefully this will be sorted out in later class-based supplements due this year.
For newcomers to the setting, to start a campaign just using the information within Scarred Lands Gazetteer: Termana is very possible. The setting is rich and varied, and if you are looking for heroic fantasy tinged with a decidedly dark and angsty mood, with plenty of high-powered awfulness and dwarven stormtroopers to boot, then look no further. To use it to the full, a DM would also need the Creature Collection – a revised version of which is due out shortly – since that gives details of a number of important monsters and races mentioned in the text. One might also want some information on the Gods/Titans conflict, and so the Divine and the Defeated might be on the shopping list as well, although a brief account of the pantheon is available from the web site mentioned above which is adequate for working out which god rules which alignment. A full hardcover volume on Termana is promised for the future, and supplements for the more interesting individual regions are very likely, so there will be plenty of support for this expansion.